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The Public Be Damned

The Public Be Damned

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The newest revelations about fraudulent excesses by the private brokers licensed by the state to oversee publicly funded daycare activities prove many things, but one in particular: When the people's business is turned over to private caretakers, it is the private individuals who tend to get taken care of, not the people.

The grandiose graft committed by the proprietors of Cherokee Daycare Services should not be regarded as relevant in a local sense alone. In fact, it may represent our nation's future, writ large, should the advocates of privatization (or "outsourcing," as it's also known) have their way in matters ranging from education to postal affairs to national security. Aside from the philosophical issues that arise from such transfers of authority, there is the immeasurable difficulty that those actually answerable to the people have in maintaining oversight of those firms enjoying the taxpayers' largesse. State government officials, as well as the private accounting firms charged with keeping tabs on Cherokee, have testified to the magnitude of the problem. And pilferage and rake-offs that may have totaled in the hundreds of thousands locally can be expected to add up to billions on a national scale.

Beyond the question of private rake-offs is the matter of reduced efficiency. This got to be a specter last year during the congressional debate on the crucial airport security bill. A few diehard Republicans in the House of Representatives (led by that body's two Dickensian eminences, Armey and DeLay) almost prevented passage of the measure, which had been approved by the Senate without a single nay vote. They held out for private security firms to have a piece of the action, even though it was private security firms that had been the problem in the first place.

Now the issue relates to the bill, passed last week and signed into law by President Bush, that establishes a Department of Homeland Security. The public is probably reassured by the very sound of the name and no doubt assumes that it represents an expanded commitment to the idea of national security. Various observers, including the valiant Sen. Robert Byrd of West Virginia, have pointed out, however, that, on the contrary, the bill does not begin to restore billions that have actually been cut out of legitimate security undertakings by an administration intent on its all-important tax-cut agenda. Worse, it provides obvious boondoggles to select corporations and gives the administration authority to fire federal employees in favor of those employed -- and perhaps underprotected -- by these favored firms.

Worst of all, the bill allows U.S. government contracts to be awarded to firms that have moved the skeleton headquarters of their operations offshore solely in order to avoid U.S. taxes!

The bill is loaded with such giveaways. It should have been labeled the Great Corporate Welfare Bill, and it demonstrates anew the indifference -- and cynicism -- its backers seem to show toward the country's actual security needs. It is one more illustration of the new tendency to establish a government of the special interests, by the special interests, and for the special interests. Lincoln would have been as outraged as we are.

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