The Austin Chronicle

The Hightower Report

By Jim Hightower, June 24, 2011, News

Privatization: The Road to Hell

A recent article in the satirical newsweekly The Onion disclosed that President Obama had come up with a surefire plan to balance the federal budget: Rob Fort Knox. "I've got the blueprints," Obama is quoted as saying, "and I think I found a way out through a drainage pipe."

Unfortunately, in today's political climate dominated by howling winds from the far-right fringe, there's no longer any room in American culture for satire. Sure enough, some laissez-faire extremists at such corporate fronts as the Cato Institute and the Heritage Foundation (funded by the libertarian Koch brothers) are presently howling for the government to sell all of America's gold stored in Fort Knox. Noting that gold is going for nearly $1,500 an ounce and the vaults hold millions of ounces, a fellow from Heritage made this keen observation: "It's just sort of sitting there."

Uh, yeah, professor. Like Mount Rushmore, the Grand Canyon, the Lincoln Memorial, and other national assets – being there is the point.

Yet, these ivory tower ideologues are using the current brouhaha over the budget deficit as an opening to push their loopiest fantasies of selling off all of America's public properties, facilities, systems, and treasures to create a no-government, plutocratic paradise. Just spread our public goods out on tables, like a flea market from hell, and invite the global rich to buy it all.

For example, the government could raise billions of dollars to retire that pesky deficit simply by selling our interstate highway system, says another Koch-funded fellow. Americans would then have to pay tolls forever to the corporate owners, but hey, he exclaims, remember that tolls "work for the River Styx; why not the Beltway?"

What a perfect metaphor for privatization! According to ancient mythology, dead souls must pay a toll to be ferried across the River Styx and enter the depths of hell.

Vermont: First in the Nation

"We have a problem; we need to solve it."

This comment by Democratic House Speaker Shap Smith of Vermont reflects a no-nonsense, hands-on, can-do attitude you don't often find in legislatures these days. Instead, when most so-called "leaders" are confronted with a problem, they tend to say, "We need to cover it up," or "We need to turn it into a political football." But Smith and a majority of his Vermont colleagues refused to play games with one of the biggest issues confronting them and the people of every state: affordable health care for all.

They knew that the current high-cost, low-quality, you're-on-your-own system was literally killing people, even as it was draining the budgets of governments and businesses. Costs of health care in Vermont have doubled in the last decade to roughly $5 billion a year and continue to go up by $1 million a day – even as 47,000 Vermonters have no coverage and most others have only DGS health insurance: Don't Get Sick.

Angry about this, a strong grassroots campaign for universal care has been steadily building across Vermont, culminating this year in House Bill 202. This bill would establish a state health "exchange" authorized to set up a single-payer-style health care system, dubbed Green Mountain Care.

The bill faced the usual opposition from special interests and know-nothings (one House Republican decried the very idea of universal coverage as the "keystone in the arch of socialism"). But with stout public support, Green Mountain Care passed the House 92-49 and the Senate 21-9. On May 26, Gov. Peter Shumlin, who had made this issue central in his campaign last year, signed the bill, making Vermont first in the nation to go to the core of necessary reform by enacting a single-payer law.

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