Public Versus Private. Corporations Versus People.

Ever since President Ronald Reagan said, “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are I’m from the government and I’m here to help,” conservatives have attributed virtually all of our problems to the federal government. They believe that the government cannot do anything well. As a result, they have continually cut taxes in order to starve the government of revenue, making it less effective and less efficient so it better lives up to their expectations.

At the same time, conservatives have pushed to privatize many government functions. Private, for-profit contractors now handle many of the functions that our military once did, including food service, transportation, supply and security. Both state and federal governments have awarded contracts to private prison corporations. Public education now competes for funding with private charter schools. Even our most sensitive spying and surveillance programs have been outsourced to private companies as evidenced by the revelations surrounding Edward Snowden.

But are these private entities really better than the government? Is the government really the problem? Much of the evidence says no.

The jury is still out on whether or not privatizing our military is a good idea, but there have been numerous embarrassing incidents in which private contractors were accused of committing war crimes. As for private prisons, studies have shown that they cost far more per inmate than public prisons, even though private prisons refuse to accept high security prisoners and those with chronic illnesses. And a study by Stanford University has shown that private charter schools perform no better than public schools.

Moreover, the 2013 Customer Rage Survey by Customer Care Measurement and Consulting and the Arizona State University W. P. Carey School of Business found that the percentage of people with customer service problems grew from 32 percent in 1976 to 50 percent in 2013. And 56 percent of those who complained in 2013 remain unsatisfied. Most telling is the fact that 98 percent of the most serious customer service problems involved private companies. Only 2 percent were associated with the government!

How can that be? Is it possible Reagan was wrong?

The truth is, our government is ultimately accountable to us. It may seem big and uncaring, but one election can change everything. On the other hand, today’s giant financial institutions and multinational corporations have little accountability to customers. Certainly, you can move your account from a large bank to a smaller one, but the likelihood is that it, too, is controlled by a large holding company. You can switch insurance companies and find that the new company is just as difficult to deal with as the previous one. Likewise, you can get rid of your cable company, but your satellite provider may not be any more responsive. Indeed, it may be worse.

The problem is not a matter of public versus private. Most customer service problems stem from bureaucracy – both public and private.

But our most serious problem involves both public and private institutions. It centers on the alliance between government and large corporations based on disproportionate access and influence. Consider, for example, the alliance between the George W. Bush White House and Richard “The Dick” Cheney’s former company, Halliburton, which was awarded billions in no-compete military contracts for Iraq and Afghanistan; or the alliance between Ohio congressional representatives (both Republican and Democrat) and the Ohio contractor for Abrams tanks which was awarded a contract for additional tanks that the Army neither wants or needs; or the alliance between Arizona Governor Jan Brewer’s staff and a private prison company which led to the company receiving multi-million dollar contracts for private prisons. There are many, many more examples.

Not surprisingly, many of the government’s most outspoken critics are conservatives who will gladly spend money to enrich their districts, their states, their corporate friends and themselves.

“Private Eyes” Given A Whole New Meaning.

Recent revelations about National Security Agency (NSA) snooping on phone records, emails and Internet history have been used by some politicians to attack President Obama. Really? He not only inherited these programs from Dubya. By most accounts, he placed new restrictions on them.

Whatever the case, government spying on American citizens should be openly debated by all Americans and our representatives. Only the American people should decide how much privacy we’re willing to sacrifice in exchange for the prevention of terror attacks.

But while the media and Washington have been focused on each new revelation of the NSA program, several aspects have been relatively ignored.

One is that those collecting the information are not government agents or employees. They’re private companies. Edward Snowden was an employee of Booz Allen Hamilton, which is a publicly traded, for-profit corporation that has sucked up billions in revenue from government agencies such as the Department of Defense, all branches of the U.S. military, U.S. Intelligence, the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Energy, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of the Treasury, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the National Security Agency.

As a result of the political right’s fascination with privatization, companies like Booz are now handling many of the tasks the government used to. The belief, although not proven, is that awarding government contracts to such companies will save money.

Apparently, it also makes information related to these tasks less secure.

Not satisfied with revealing aspects of the secret program, Edward Snowden has told the South China Morning Post that the US has been “hacking Hong Kong and China since 2009.” Great! So after turning many American citizens against their own government, Snowden is now attempting to turn other nations against it, too.

Another surprising aspect of the Snowden leak is that Booz Allen Hamilton was paying him a salary of $200,000! This is a 29-year-old who dropped out of high school, dropped out of the Army, and possesses a GED. According to his social media sites, his real expertise is playing video games.

Finally, after revealing classified information about what he considered to be US government abuses, Snowden moved to China, saying that he admired Hong Kong for its commitment to free speech! (Perhaps he should talk to a few of my Tibetan friends about China’s commitment to free speech. He can find many of them in Chinese prisons.)

Not surprisingly, all of this has made Snowden a “hero” to the tinfoil-hatted Glenn Beck. Upon reading an account of Snowden’s revelations and his flight to Hong Kong, Beck tweeted “I think I have just read about the man for which I have waited. Earmarks of a real hero.”

On the other hand, Richard “The Dick” Cheney scurried out of his hidey hole and pronounced Snowden a “traitor.”

For me, this poses a real dilemma. If Beck praises someone as a hero, I can usually count on that person being a lunatic. And if the black-hearted Cheney calls someone a traitor, I can usually count on that person to be the opposite.

So now what am I to believe?