Friday, September 19, 2008

Does McCain Want to Replace FEMA with Fedex?

After the appearances of McCain and Obama at the recent forum on service at Columbia University, most of the pundits were saying that there was not "a lot of contrast between these two candidates” (MSNBC) - or something to that effect. Not one person mentioned McCain's comments about the private sector.

When talking about service programs, McCain took great pains to “ doesn’t always have to be run by the government" and then he laid out his philosophy. “My philosophy is, lets not have government do things that the private sector can do or other organizations can do. That’s just my theory of government.”

Let's break that statement down a little. Is there anything that the private sector couldn't theoretically do? The Bush administration certainly doesn't think so. They've been desperately trying to privatize social security. They're giving billions of our tax money in no-bid contracts to well-connected private companies in Iraq. Intelligence is now largely in the hands of private contractors.

In fact, private contracts in general have exploded under the Bush administration and now account for 40 cents of every discretionary dollar in the federal budget. Think about that for a second. Your hard earned money is being taxed and then given to huge private companies. And I'm not talking about thousands of dollars, or millions. They are receiving billions. And what have those companies done with your money?

Blackwater "private security" was kicked out of Iraq after murdering civilians. STIS was given 320 million dollars for building an Iraqi power plant that was never built. Bricks of money were sent to Iraq and just disappeared into the ether. If you want to get really depressed, read Matt Taibbi's article, The Great Iraq Swindle.

To the Reaganites (and as often as they mention Reagan it appears all Republicans are Reaganites) "government does not solve problems, it subsidizes them." To these people, government is always bad, or at least worse than the alternatives. Apparently, they believe that the minute a person steps over the threshold of a government building to take a job, they are immediately evil. It's the Invasion of the Body Snatchers theory of government. (Although that would explain a lot about Cheney.)

Republicans have been telling us that government is evil and inept since I was in diapers, and they have been doing a damn good job of proving their point. Perhaps the best example of this was during hurricane Katrina. FEMA was in shambles after the Bush administration was through gutting it, privatizing it, and appointing political fundraisers to head it.

When McCain was asked about the government's role in disasters, like Katrina, he admitted that “the role of government obviously is the primary role," but then he went on to say that "I don’t think frankly if Fedex or Target or any of these organizations had been in charge we wouldn't have had a truck full of ice ending up in Maine."

Would Fedex have done a better job than FEMA? They certainly couldn't have done worse, but it is not because people who work for a private company are inherently better and more capable. It is because Fedex would never hire a CEO for disaster relief who had done nothing but run a horse track.

I understand peoples frustration with taxes, government, and bureaucracy. When I see the salaries of Halliburton executives, knowing that my tax money is paying that salary, it makes my skin crawl. But rather than just take the Republican bait about all government being bad and all taxes being evil, we need to start having sensible conversations about what government is and should be.

Of course, if we look at many on the left, their feelings about the private sector are a mirror of Republicans feelings about government. As much as I hate the Walmart-inization of everything, not everyone who works for Walmart is automatically evil. And a new government agency for every problem isn't the solution either, Democrats.

Is it that government corrupts or that power corrupts? Is there any organization that would be impervious to greed? Is the problem that we rely too much on "representatives" rather than direct democracy? I'd love to have a real conversation about that, rather than what passes for a conversation in our system, which goes like this:

Republican: They are just a tax and spend democrats.
Democrat: Republicans don't care about you.


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