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Possible Cause of Death: Privatization

Posted on Jul 15, 2010
AP / Gregory Bull

By Moshe Adler

When a branch fell from a tree at the Central Park Zoo in New York City last month, killing a 6-month-old baby and severely injuring her mother, who had been holding the infant, Mayor Michael Bloomberg declared it “an act of God.” But in all likelihood it was the act of a mayor. 

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The Central Park Zoo is public, but its management has been contracted out. Surely the mayor should be familiar with the repeated failures of contracting out in New York City over the past two centuries. The City Council ordered an investigation of these failures in 1825, and the investigation concluded: “The contracting system has not given satisfaction to the public.” In 1826, a follow-up committee decreed that contracting out should be discarded and explained why: “Private interest is too frequently at variance with public convenience and therefore ought to be abandoned.” 

The problems are the same now as they were then: Contracting out diminishes the level of know-how of the government on the one hand, and contractors save money by cutting corners on the other.

The rationale for contracting out is always the same: cost cutting. The taxpayer will save money, it is argued, because the workers of private contractors get lower wages and fewer benefits than city employees get, and because the workers of these contractors have no protections against arbitrary dismissals. But there is no reason why a contractor who cuts his costs by paying low wages will stop there. When the client is the public, nobody really owns the store and supervision is inevitably lax. It is too easy for the contractor to cut costs by cutting corners under such conditions. 

Public concerns about the problems with contracting out are often allayed by the depiction of the contractor as worthy; indeed the contractor for the Central Park Zoo is the august-sounding Wildlife Conservation Society, founded in 1895. But a contractor cannot defy the rationale for its contract in the first place, and in order to bring its costs down, the Wildlife Conservation Society did not hire its own workers to prune the trees, but instead hired a subcontractor.


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City officials told The New York Times that the tree in question had been pruned twice since December. But pruning requires expertise and is time-consuming. Different trees must be pruned at different seasons, and random pruning of branches is counterproductive: Branches should be examined one by one to identify those with weak attachments to the stem that should be removed (with cuts that do not harm the tree) and those that should be maintained because they are essential for the tree’s well-being. The U.S. Forest Service recommends that pruning be done by professional arborists, and it provides consumers with information that they should use in order to determine the competency of the arborist they hire. Were the workers of the subcontractor competent professional arborists? The New York Times apparently did not ask this question. But it is precisely because tree maintenance requires expertise and great diligence that the responsibility for it should lie within the city, and that the person responding to reporters’ questions should be a city arborist.  Initially, city officials did not even know exactly who was in charge of maintaining the tree.

When asked about the role of contracting out in the baby’s death, Mayor Bloomberg responded that “the city can’t do everything.” But who in the New York metropolitan area owns more trees and who has owned them over a longer time than the city? The city government is the most fitting keeper of its trees, yet even within Central Park the responsibilities for trees is not only privatized but also fragmented: The zoo is entirely within Central Park, yet, despite the ambiguity it appears that the zoo’s trees are the responsibility of the private Wildlife Conservation Society while the trees in the rest of the park are the responsibility of the private Central Park Conservancy. Regardless of the official lines of responsibility, each private organization makes its own decisions about how to maintain the trees and each is trying to do so on the cheap. With no continuity of service and no centralization, knowledge and expertise cannot be developed. On a sunny, calm summer day branches do not simply fall off properly maintained trees, but to defend privatization the mayor would have us believe in the supernatural.

Why do public employees provide better public services than those provided by private contractors? Are they more scrupulous? Like employees in any other type of work, most public employees deliver a good job for fair pay and think nothing of it. And like employees in any other type of work, some public employees game the system. The problem with contracting out, and the reason it so frequently fails, is that it gives an advantage to the unscrupulous minority. The body that awards the contract is not a private party acting on its own behalf but officials acting on behalf of the public, and the level of vigilance is not the same as that which occurs between private parties. As a result, the contractor who has no compunctions about cutting corners is more likely to get the contract both because his price is lower and because he can afford to spend more money lobbying for the contract. 

Contracting has been known to fail for 200 years now, yet Bloomberg insists on continuing the practice. In April, he appointed Stephen Goldsmith, a former mayor of Indianapolis known as a preacher of privatization, as deputy mayor. The death of an infant is too high a price to pay for an ideological commitment to privatization. Enough is enough.

Moshe Adler teaches economics at Columbia University and at the Harry Van Arsdale Center for Labor Studies at Empire State College. His book “Economics for the Rest of Us: Debunking the Science That Makes Life Dismal” (The New Press) won a 2010 IPPY (Independent Publisher Book Awards) Gold Medal.

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By SGater, July 20, 2010 at 7:54 am Link to this comment

What good would public workers have done with the tree how do you know they would have spotted the dead branch and removed it?

Just because they are private contractors makes them bad or incompetent? No. Do you think they left the branch there on purpose? Come on people stop over reacting again.

Why does there always have to be somebody to blame, it was a freak accident a terrible accident, but an accident none the less.

My thoughts are with the family.

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By "G"utless "W"itless Hitler, July 20, 2010 at 5:52 am Link to this comment


IF but some vengeful god would call to me
  From up the sky, and laugh: “Thou suffering thing,
Know that thy sorrow is my ecstasy,
  That thy love’s loss is my hate’s profiting!”

Then would I bear, and clench myself, and die,
  Steeled by the sense of ire unmerited;
Half-eased, too, that a Powerfuller than I
  Had willed and meted me the tears I shed.

But not so. How arrives it joy lies slain,
  And why unblooms the best hope ever sown?
—Crass Casualty obstructs the sun and rain,
  And dicing Time for gladness casts a moan….
  These purblind Doomsters had as readily strown
Blisses about my pilgrimage as pain.

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By wildflower, July 19, 2010 at 9:47 pm Link to this comment

Re Leefeller: “Public Service should not be contracted, (my opinion) not sure prisons are a public service?”

Enforcing our laws on behalf of the community and our nation is a key government function so I believe prisons are inherently governmental. Some States like Ilinois have banned the privatization of prisons for this reason:

“State of Illinois Private Correctional Facility Moratorium Act.”

Sec. 2. Legislative findings. The General Assembly hereby finds and declares that the management and operation of a correctional facility or institution involves functions that are inherently governmental. The imposition of punishment on errant citizens through incarceration requires the State to exercise its coercive police powers over individuals and is thus distinguishable from privatization in other areas of government. It is further found that issues of liability, accountability and cost warrant a prohibition of the ownership, operation or management of correctional facilities by for?profit private contractors.

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Leefeller's avatar

By Leefeller, July 19, 2010 at 8:44 pm Link to this comment

Public Service should not be contracted, (my opinion)  not sure prisons are a public service?

Any public service which does not have competition may be a good way to look at something which may qualify being for public benefit, not someones profit?

There does seem to be a trend towards privatizing, or contracting everything from schools to prisons.  We have even seen the same mental direction used towards Social Security and Medicare.  Money sitting to be used.

Hell, how about the military?  Take off the Service and you have what seems to be the contractors sucking money from the US overseas exploits. 

Okay Police and fire are they public service or should be they be for profit?  Seems to be a trend to destroy many public programs simply by tagging them as socialism.

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By Wakefield, July 19, 2010 at 2:44 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

It’s just an accident. I’m quite sure that a scan of the net would reveal people being critically injured or killed by the actions/structures that government has in place or used unionized labor for the contracting. That is not an anti-government charge, but to point out that things happen.

There are numerous (if not the majority) of situtations where non-union work or business activity that is technically beyond the bounds of union work period (like sole proprietorships or partnerships) perform work just fine.

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By Wakefield Tolbert, July 19, 2010 at 2:38 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

umm….wait a second here.

Not sure about the great state of New York, but if it’s anything like those that surround it and here in the deep south, surely there are hundreds of professional tree surgeons firms who’d be happy to do that work at a “capitated” rate in the same way Medicare farms out part C stuff to private insurers for a set fee, etc.  Grief. The only ones capable of doing this kind of work must work at union wages?

Gotta be kidding me. Hundreds of landscaping and tree cutting and trimming firms are in my area who’d know themselves, or point you to the firms who’d know the routines and seasonal schedules of almost any tree found in North America—and it’s unlikely the great branch caper came from something overly odd or exotic. There’s one just down the road that does a great deal of private work in this area.

Cost-cutting, or just “cutting it right”—whatever. It can be found quite well for less than the usual unionized fare, and certainly for SOMETHING less now that the average government union worker outpaces his private sector compadre by 76% in wages and beneftis. Some of these positions are the equivalent of paying 100K a year for flipping burgers all day.

Again—ya gotta be kidding on this stretch.

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By Ayn R. Key, July 19, 2010 at 10:14 am Link to this comment

I’m not playing a word game.

Sub-contracting is not privatization.  They are not even related.  One is very distinct from the other.  There seems to be a desire on some parts to say that one is the other.

Even private prisons are instances of sub-contracting and not privatization.  They get all of their business from the government, and they would not exist absent the government.

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By wildflower, July 19, 2010 at 9:07 am Link to this comment

Re Ayn R. Key: Now the prison system has been privatized?  They are not private contractors accepting government prisoners for government pay?  They only take private prisoners from private sources? It’s sub-contracting people”

It’s a little late in the game to playing word games, isn’t it? Afterall, the term has been around for several decades now. And exactly what is your point anyway?  It seems to me the issue is the important thing.  Anyway, Ayn R Key, just so you are up-to-date on “privatization” and prisons:

“. . . Today, the privatization of prisons refers both to the takeover of existing public facilities by private operators and to the building and operation of new and additional prisons by for-profit prison companies. . .

The modern private prison business first emerged and established itself publicly in 1984 when the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) was awarded a contract to take over a facility in Hamilton County, Tennessee. . .

. . . CCA and The GEO Group are major contributors to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a Washington, D.C. based public policy organization that develops model legislation that advances tough-on-crime legislation and free-market principles such as privatization.

Under their Criminal Justice Task Force, ALEC has developed and helped to successfully implement in many states “tough on crime” initiatives including “Truth in Sentencing” and “Three Strikes” laws.

Corporations provide most of the funding for ALEC’s operating budget and influence its political agenda through participation in policy task forces. ALEC’s corporate funders include CCA and The GEO Group.

In 1999, CCA made the President’s List for contributions to ALEC’s States and National Policy Summit; Wackenhut also sponsored the conference. Past cochairs of the Criminal Justice Task Force have included Brad Wiggins, then Director of Business Development at CCA and now a Senior Director of Site Acquisition, and John Rees, a former CCA vice president.”

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By Ayn R. Key, July 19, 2010 at 7:56 am Link to this comment

Now the prison system has been privatized?  They are not private contractors accepting government prisoners for government pay?  They only take private prisoners from private sources?

It’s sub-contracting people, nothing more.

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By wildflower, July 19, 2010 at 3:33 am Link to this comment

Re Jean Gerard: “Probably the worst example of death by privatization is the U.S. prison system, ?such as it is—and it is a system, that is, systematic sanctioned abuse, robbery ?and exploitation.

It’s a good example, for sure. Any responsible lawmaker with minimal common sense should be able to figure out why the “privatization” of our prison system will not work - it’s just asking for injustices and systematic corruption so many ways.  Even judges are getting involved in schemes to jail for profit:

“. . . the judge, Mark A. Ciavarella Jr., and a colleague, Michael T. Conahan, appeared in federal court in Scranton, Pa., to plead guilty to wire fraud and income tax fraud for taking more than $2.6 million in kickbacks to send teenagers to two privately run youth detention centers run by PA Child Care and a sister company, Western PA Child Care.

While prosecutors say that Judge Conahan, 56, secured contracts for the two centers to house juvenile offenders, Judge Ciavarella, 58, was the one who carried out the sentencing to keep the centers filled.

“In my entire career, I’ve never heard of anything remotely approaching this,” said Senior Judge Arthur E. Grim, who was appointed by the State Supreme Court this week to determine what should be done with the estimated 5,000 juveniles who have been sentenced by Judge Ciavarella since the scheme started in 2003. Many of them were first-time offenders and some remain in detention.” [NYT/Ian Urbina]

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By shawn, July 18, 2010 at 6:14 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Thank you to Warren Meyer, DaveZx3, and Roger Mexico for sensible responses to this article among many irrelevant, ignorant, and downright pathetic ones.
I’m not sure what is more amazing:  That this article made it onto a site I have had (until now) a lot of faith in, or the plethora of completely unrelated responses that make no point whatsoever related to this (absurd) article.

But let me bring up a couple points I agree with from other:

From Mr. Mexico:
‘It’s unwise to pretend that keeping these services in-house wouldn’t come along with it’s own set of issues. In my own city, government run utilities offered sub-par service due to lack of competition.’

Mr. Meyer makes some important points particularly: ‘...nature is complex and unpredictable and sometime inscrutable.’

and this:
‘I don’t know what arborists Mr. Adler talked to, but certainly they are correct that this process takes some expertise.  However, they were either incompetent, or Mr. Adler is not reporting his full discussion with them, if they said that even the best expert can reliably identify every tree or branch that is likely to fall.’

I have to agree with Mr. Meyer.
Quite simply:  Branches fall.
Sadly, and with all due respect, little children (and adults) sometimes are in the wrong place at the wrong time.
To spend time debating ‘responsibility’ for this accident, or worse, legal liability is stupefying.  It is certainly disrespectful to the family of the poor child who has been lost.
And worse, to somehow bring this terrible tragedy into a ‘public VS private’ debate is ridiculous.  I’m not saying having that debate is wrong, but the premise behind this article only makes me shake my head in disbelief.

I’m not going to say much about the ridiculous follow-up comments I’ve read here too…Just that those people just make me sad and a little bit scared to be honest.  Blind rage, ignorance, escapism, and idealism are a few ways to describe them.

As for you Mr.Adler, and particularly Truthdig, you could do a lot better.  This is a shameful waste of space on what I thought was a respectable site.

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By Ayn R. Key, July 18, 2010 at 3:05 pm Link to this comment

gerard, who says that what we have now is some sort of capitalism?  I guess the same people who think, for reasons unknown, that sub-contracting is the same thing as privatization.

Corporatism is not capitalism, and sub-contracting is not privatization.

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By gerard, July 18, 2010 at 2:43 pm Link to this comment

I have a question:  How and when did the word “privitization” become sanctified in America?
When and how did “public works” and “public welfare” get such a bad reputation?

Who promoted “capitalism” first as the “best” system, then the only “patriotic,” non-stigmatized economic system?

What action or situation in the U.S. proposed/
established the system that, without a second thought and in spite of all evidence to the contrary, is generally considered “ethical” even though it robs people routinely and treats the poor like dirt?

How did such exclusive notions become the main substance of one major political party, and too sanctified to attack from any other point of view?

When you stop to think about it, it’s just bizarre!

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By drbhelthi, July 18, 2010 at 1:54 pm Link to this comment

“Privatization” is just another name for “mob
practices” within U.S. governmental organizations,
regardless of the level, whether US Defense Dept. or
city government level.

Kick-backs to the appointed or “elected” bozos who sign the
contracts, and lowered wages for the employees hired on
to do the work, without SSA or insurance coverage.

It doesn´t take five grains of brain to figure this one out.

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By Leefeller, July 18, 2010 at 10:13 am Link to this comment

Public services should should never be used to make profit, look at the Post office?

Locally in my area, we are having this problem with disposal sites, on who should run them. As usual with privatization the bottom line is the bottom line and it has nothing to do with service, I am sure prices will go up.

Cutting corners of a service, would seem to diminish the good of the service. 

“The problems are the same now as they were then: Contracting out diminishes the level of know-how of the government on the one hand, and contractors save money by cutting corners on the other.”

Years ago I worked for the State Highway system as a public employee, our first priority was to keep the highways open and safe, so when we did any work we used every safety tool at our disposal and moved traffic along as quickly and smoothly as possible.  Well when private contractors became more common place, traffic waiting became the bottom line and safety seemed lacking. I imagine the contracts can have contingency covering these things.

Though I do not find government all bad nor do I find all contractors bad.  Again, I believe public services should be maintained by public entities and never be used for profit.

Wall street and banks are only the tip of the ice berg.

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By Ayn R. Key, July 17, 2010 at 7:31 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Richard_Ralph_Roehl, wildflower, are us SURE they are in favor of privatization, or merely sub-contracting which is something completely different?

One is the cause of many problems, the other gets the blame.

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By jean gerard, July 17, 2010 at 6:20 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Probably the worst example of death by privatization is the U.S. prison system,
such as it is—and it is a system, that is, systematic sanctioned abuse, robbery
and exploitation. Tens of thousands of inmates have NOT committed a violent
crime but are in on some drug possession charge or a lesser offense.

From these tens of thousands of people they are gleaning huge profits, paid to
them at taxpayers’ expense.  They are run as a profit-making businesses by
private corporations with little oversight and absolutely no incentive to
decrease the number of inmates by letting them out.  When the prisoners are
set free, the company loses money.

What a rotten system—compounded by moral turpitude of all varieties. 
Juveniles are subject to the same exploitation, most of them in confinement for
minor crimes with little or no possibility for education or job training.

Can you imagine the venality of keeping people in prison in order to make
money off of their confinement?  No wonder our country is going down the
tubes.  There are movements for reform, and studies indicate that reform is
vital—but as is all too common, not enough people care enough to intercede.

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By diamond, July 17, 2010 at 4:02 pm Link to this comment

Oh come on Rico. Don’t you think I know an old fashioned, reactionary, red baiter when I see one? Next thing you’ll tell me you’ve got a tape you found in a pumpkin patch that proves Mr. Adler is planning an insurrection.

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By jean gerard, July 17, 2010 at 3:27 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

To argue over the merits or evils of “privatization” versus “public services” on
the basis of ideology is a waste of time.  Look at the results.  Chances are you
will find that, while public service businesses have many flaws (inefficiency,
incompetence, graft, cheating) the results of predominantly private greed are
much more widespread and damaging—pollution, environmental destruction,
damage to food products, unfair labor practices, inadequate health care, rotten
prisons with far too many inmates, plus insufficient public education—and on
top of all that,  the same inefficiencies, incompetence, graft and cheating as
found in public services—but just hidden behind expensive litigations and
prejudicial courts.

The problem is that private businesses are actually rewarded for bad behavior
because they are given tacit permission to cheat, steal and exploit without limit
so long as they profit from it and can pay their investors.

Such a lopsided system could never have taken over 98% of the wealth of the
country if the investors had been less greedy, more public-spirited, and if
the average Joe/Jane had not been convinced by propaganda that greed is the
best, the only possible “system” that “works.” 

Surprise.  It isn’t working.  Now what?

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By jean gerard, July 17, 2010 at 3:09 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

This matter of not wanting to share responsibility for others is probably one of
the core problems of the U.S. today.  It was always a hidden danger, from the
very beginning when everything was up for grabs—money, land, power—
take what you can.  There’s more where that came from.

Then the freebies began to run out.  But by that time we were already spoiled,
already brainwashed into “each man for himself” “independence” “freedom”
“liberty” “the rocket’s red glare” and all the rest of it up to and including Wall
Street, hospitals throwing indigent patients into the street in front of homeless
shelters, city councils zoning out shelters as “public nuisances”, and ultimately
2% of the population owning 98% of the wealth of the country. Snatch!  Grab!

Shared responsibility is and always was the keystone that held humans
together in workable groups, no matter where or when.  I am my brother’s
keeper.  You are your sister’s sister.  We are family.  All else dies, dries up and
blows away. 

The USA is getting some object lessons in what ails it, and every one of us no
matter how old or young is being asked to help the country get over “rugged
individualism” and work together in the interests of survival.

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By Richard_Ralph_Roehl, July 17, 2010 at 1:10 pm Link to this comment

Privatization? Down here… in voter fraud $tate of Flori-duh… the vicious $ociopaths running the criminal $yndicate in the $tate Legislature in Tallahassee would like to privatize everything. This includes the public streets, the public sewer systems, the public air waves, the bridges and dams, the public water treatment plants, the fire departments, the police departments, the prisons, etc.

Yesss… stop and think a moment about PRIVATE prisons. That means prisons will need to make a profit… and MORE PRISONERS MEANS MORE PROFITS! Equally bad… releasing a prisoner means a loss of profit. So… beware pot-heads! Inhaling to the Chief with euphoric $moke will mean, mean, mean a long prison term at $lave labor… which is the core essence of capitalist/fascist $ystems.

WHERE THERE IS NO INSIGHT, THE PEOPLE PERISH! This is why the United $tates of Perpetual War Profiteering (in Iraq-nam, etc.) is doomed to fall into in$ignificance… as it ‘inexhorribly’ devolves into a third world banana plutocratic $tate (all for the KKKristian/Zionist glories of Israel).

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By wildflower, July 17, 2010 at 9:49 am Link to this comment

Re Kerryrose: “It is the same dilemma over and over again. Private profits against public good.  The public always loses in this country.”

The pubic is beginning to wake up though - in some cities, at least. Public Citizen has an interesting report “Waves of Regrets” on “what some cities have learned and other cities should know about water privatization fiascos in the United States.  The report includes a great number of case studies:

BUFFALO, NY—Two years after a five-year contract was signed between the city and RWE subsidiary American Water Services, the shamelessly pro-privatization U.S. Conference of Mayors bestowed one of their shiny Outstanding Achievement awards to the “innovative…partnership.”53 When the contract was up for renewal, RWE thought they’d up the ante, and go for a ten-year contract. Alas, RWE also brought estimated double-digit rate increases, so the city said thanks but no thanks, and the council voted unanimously to bring the system under public con- trol. City officials determined that by putting the troubled water system under public control, rate hikes could be held to 4 percent, instead of the 12 percent hike RWE proposed.54 The city ultimately began negotiations with the Erie County Water Authority to assume control of the system.55

BRIDGEPORT, CN — Between 1996 and 1999, PSG (since purchased by Veolia) gave $700,000 to two close associates of Joseph P. Ganim, the mayor of Bridgeport, Conn., in order to obtain a contract to operate the city’s wastewater treatment plant. Ganim was subsequently convicted in U.S. District Court on 16 counts, including counts of extortion and bribery in connection with taking kickbacks for steering the city contract to PSG. The associates and eight other defendants also pleaded guilty to charges in connec- tion with the case.66

ROCKLAND, MA — The city terminated Veolia’s contract to run the town’s sewer plant in February, 2004, amid embezzlement charges involving a sewer department official and a local company executive. The men were charged with embezzling more than $300,000 from the Rockland Sewer Department.67 The termination came on the heels of a forensic audit that suggested the bidding process by which Veolia was selected to run the plant was rigged, as well as an investigation by the Massachusetts Office of the Inspector General into whether
the original bidding process was rigged in Veolia’s favor.68

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By jean gerard, July 17, 2010 at 9:35 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Sad/funny thing is—public to private, private to public—makes not the
slightest difference in the end.  How come?  Both “systems” are run by people—
human beings with all the same virtues and the same flaws.

Why is the feeling on both sides so strong, for or against one system or the
Why is it not clear from the get-go that the root cause of failure is the lack of
integrity of the people, who tend to corrupt any system because they are blissfully
ignorant of root causes?

Does each side honestly believe that merely by changing the system, things will
improve?  Or is asserting a belief just a way of avoiding the truth?

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By balkas, July 17, 2010 at 7:45 am Link to this comment

I have concluded yrs ago that most humans have—save american indigenes—lived in lawlessness; possibly for the last 10 to 15 k yrs.
Or to make the idea clearer, we lived under ‘laws’, written for and against us, by clerico-patrician lowlife or mafia.

Anent this phenomenon, US is an exact copy of sumer, persia, greece, rome, russia, china, egypt.

However, as far as i am able to observe correctly, US ‘educators’ [priests,robber barons and baronesses,shareholders]have been more successful than any other mafia gang in convincing ab 99.99% of americans that US is a noble, just country! 

Regarding peoples such as crees, mohawk, apaches, zunis, et al they had no laws at all. There was no need to have laws, because these people had no concept of hoarding more than others.
And, then, they had no priests to ruin such an ideally-structured society.

In short, socialism [or egalitarianism] did not hurt or extirpate them, but people led by priests did.
Oh, how well history teaches!!; i.e., if it be taught for protreptic value [instructive]instead as a mystory. tnx

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By Spooky-43, July 17, 2010 at 7:31 am Link to this comment


Have I tuned in to the Glenn Beck show by accident?  I thought only he could come up with such absolutely idiotic presumptions.

The accident was a possible result of an error by a tree pruner.  WTF does that have to do with privatization? 

Before you make such asinine comments, at least check your dictionary.  Privatization is the transfer of ownership or operation of a government business or function to the private sector.

Last I knew, the government was never in the tree pruning business.  So how in the f—k can this article be about privatization?

Do you people have a clue, or do you just make everything up as you go along?

Privatization is the incidence or process of transferring ownership of a business, enterprise, agency or public service from the public sector (government) to the private sector (“business”). In a broader sense, privatization refers to transfer of any government function to the private sector - including governmental functions like revenue collection and law enforcement.[1]

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By wildflower, July 17, 2010 at 5:54 am Link to this comment

Good article.  I would only add that in addition to diminishing the level of know-how of the government, privatization also makes way for more corruption.

In spite of the so called rules and guidelines, it’s amazing how many government “contracts” end up in the hands of some friend, relative, and/or campaign business donor of some lawmaker – and if it’s not the “contract” itself that is questionable, it’s the employees working for the contractor, and/or real estate that houses the contractor/sub-contractor that is connected to some friend, relative, and/or campaign donor of the lawmaker.

Indentifying this kind of corruption in an audit becomes almost impossible because the lines and connections have become either so blurred or the auditing firm that has been contracted to review the government contract is owned by some friend, relative and/or campaign business donor of the lawmaker.

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By DaveZx3, July 17, 2010 at 2:38 am Link to this comment

Thanks to the professionalism and knowledge of posters like Ayn R. Key, Warren Meyer and Gary Rose.

They show the absurdity of this article and the absurdity of the hysterical comments from the “far left” TD regulars.

How can people be so uninformed as to how these things work as to find some type of idealogical threats or conspiracies in the sub-contracting of municipal tree pruning?

Is there any municipality that does their own arborist work?  I doubt it. 

In my town, a few years may go by with virtually no arborist work required, but then a few ice storms or high winds could bring an army of contractors in for weeks to clean up the mess.  Clearly these people cannot be on the permanent payroll of the city. 

Also, it is virtually impossible to stay on top of the safety hazards posed by large trees.  A few high wind days or ice storms quickly render otherwise safe trees totally unsafe.  There is not enough time or money available to continously certify every tree totally safe, irregardless of your professionalism or work ethic.

This thread shows how sick some of us are becoming.  Instead of kind words and sympathies for the victims of this tragic accident, the idealogues have to use it, as everything else, to criticize and blame everyone who holds an opposing political idealogy.
I do believe no less than 30 prominent politicians, past and present, were named in this thread, even though they have virtually no connection whatsoever to the accident.

The last paragraph of this article ranks as one of the most absurd I have ever read on TruthDig.  And the last sentence is absolutely over the top.  Adler should be ashamed for writing that.

God bless the family of this tragic accident.

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By jean gerard, July 16, 2010 at 6:34 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Unfortunately, in modern life, far more money, time and effort are spent on
trying to avoid responsibility than in taking it on.  The vast majority of
contracts, and legal suits that result from their breeching, are centered around
trying to free somebody from having to take responsibility. Recent examples of
this widespread immorality have been presented to us in spades—oil spills,
mine accidents and pollution scandals. to name a few.

Taking responsibility is supposed to be a sign that signifies being an adult
rather than a child. 

Why have we developed an entire culture based on NOT taking responsibility?
Why do we spend far more time on this TD site, blaming somebody else rather
than trying to figure out what we might do to make situations better?
Why is everything Obama’s fault—or the fault of some other leader, politician,
editorialist or co-commenter?

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By PatrickHenry, July 16, 2010 at 5:04 pm Link to this comment

I think an act of fate is more appropriate than an calling it an act of God.

Luck is when opportunity meets preparedness, I guess it works in reverse as well.

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By ofersince72, July 16, 2010 at 3:55 pm Link to this comment

How has this Democrat/Republican duopoly been working
out for you, the ecology, civil liberties, peace,
justice, conservation, prison system, drug warfare,
economic equality, ?????????????????????????????????????

  Or are we here as with most liberal websites just to
sound and “feel real good” to relieve a conscience
because we feel we are part of a privilaged class that
the duopoly will continue to pamper?

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By Ayn R. Key, July 16, 2010 at 3:37 pm Link to this comment

Privatization is not the same as subcontracting.

Any failure of subcontracting is not the same as a failure of privatization.

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By ofersince72, July 16, 2010 at 3:23 pm Link to this comment

We deserve the John Boehners the Nancy Pelosis the
Harry Reids, the Mitch McConnels, the Louie Gohmerts,
the Maxine Waters’, the Barney Franks,
and all of the phoney faux “progressive” lawmakers
We , as a nation deserve every bad thing that can happen
to a nation,  a bunch of sweet talking , spoiled citizens

But,  the   rest   of   the   world   does   not

  deserve   the policy   of the United States of

America…........So at   least let us   give   the

innocent   of   the   world   a   chance….

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By ofersince72, July 16, 2010 at 3:16 pm Link to this comment

This country deserves another Barrack Obamo, or
John McCain , or Sara Palin , or Alan Grayson, or Mitt
Romney, or a Sharod Brown, or Russ Feingold or a
Ron Paul, ect.

  We deserved nothing better, and we sure didn’t deserve
any socialized medicine while we are murdering scores
of thousands of innocent human beings all around the
world, we deserved this privatized medicine that we are
getting and are going to continue to get for years to
come. What made Americans feel they were worthy of any
type of health care sysem while children are being born
mutated from uranium depleted weapons that killed their
mothers and fathers.

  Yes, we deserve very much the leadership we have been
getting , but the rest of the word doesn’t deserve these
criminal murderers we have running the show ,,,,so
please push Public Citizen and the Green Party to get
their act together and find us a candidate that can
wreck some havoc on this political system we have, then
support them with some money every month and lets take
this country back from the thieves and murderers that are
running the show now.

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By richard roe, July 16, 2010 at 2:24 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

One should not be able to escape responsibility by shifting the blame to some invisible entity that thrives on killing babies with tree branches. 

Whoever owns the trees is responsible for their maintance & thus this child’s death. 

There are legal precedents for this perspective; Just a few years ago, the City of Pacific Grove, CA lost a million dollar lawsuit for this very reason.

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By ofersince72, July 16, 2010 at 2:21 pm Link to this comment

Now,  the only way to flush the stench out of the

  Democrat Party is to quit supporting those liers

  tramps , thieves, and murderers even if it means that

  Repubs take control for a while again…so what….
  they have control anyhow.

  Flush this corrupt Democrat Party right down the
  toilet where they belong and rebuild it according to
  the great ideals that most of you Democrat supporters
  have.  Make them be want you want them to be,  you
  can not do this by supporting their corrupt policy.

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By ofersince72, July 16, 2010 at 2:10 pm Link to this comment

And if all you Democrat Party supporters wouldn’t

  have let those types bully you around for the last

  twenty five years,  the Democrat Party might have

  still been repairable today…

  However,  it is not even repairable from within at
  this point since all Democrat lawmakers now practice
  the policy of Limbaugh economics.

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By ofersince72, July 16, 2010 at 2:04 pm Link to this comment

Ever since you Rush Limbaugh and Glen Beck parrots have
started having such influence on our country, it has
fast tracked into debt and down the tubes…......

while a few at the top get fithy rich….

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By ofersince72, July 16, 2010 at 1:59 pm Link to this comment

Along with the two decades of privatization

came two decades of federal deficets…..

  Where is all this saved money,????  From what I see

our government is more inefficient than ever and more

wasted of fucking public money then ever.

screw you privitization hawks and your lieing lips.

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By ofersince72, July 16, 2010 at 1:51 pm Link to this comment

Who murders better???
  A well paid mercenary that recieved their training
from the U.S. military.

  or a private in the U.S.  army

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By ofersince72, July 16, 2010 at 1:47 pm Link to this comment

All government inefficientcy lays to the fact that no
government official will attest too.




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By ofersince72, July 16, 2010 at 1:30 pm Link to this comment

Privatization….using public money to contract out
services for the public.  They are then providing public
services with public money.  Most are not unionized.

A perfect example is the in house cleaning services
provided by the state. These are state services that
are federally subsidized for the disabled, handicapped,
and elderly.  All states have this service, it is a
needed service although at times abused.

Before they were “privatized” in this state, the workers
had health care and a living wage.  This meant stable
in house services and the employee able to understand the
needs of every recipiant. They also had paid vacations,
and holidays.  The services rendered were efficient and
the “customers” very happy.

  Since this service was “privatized” about fifteen years
ago, there is still just as much money being spent by the
state and the state is getting about the same federal
subsidies, however , the money is now going to a million
and one little companies that have opened up to provide
these cleaning services.  Of course, profit is the major
motive of these companies.  The employees work for minimum
wage, they do not recieve on bit of health care, nor do
they get paid vacations or holidays.  This means a high
turnover of employees, and because of this, never get
trained properly.  When I say a high turnover,  I mean
just about weekly.  In this small town there are at least
a dozen different companies that contract out to the state
for these services.  Everyone of them are run poorly,
none of them are concerned about the disabled and elderly
“customers” that they serve and the only motive is cost
cutting and profit….There is much graft, the oweners
that own these little companies are making huge profits
and living well, driving around in their Cadillac SUVs
and living in huge beautiful homes,  their employees
subsidize their wages with food stamps and some recieve
medicaid, while the disabled and elderly are mostly
  The trouble with privatization, is that some of us have
memories, many of us remember the eighties when rant
about the inefficientcy of government started so govt.
officials could hand out millions in public money to
operators like I mentioned or big companies like Halibutt.
  We also have memories of the public school system back
in the fifties and sixties, how well they functioned
how good the majority of the teachers were and the over
all efficientcy in which they operated.

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By berniem, July 16, 2010 at 12:40 pm Link to this comment

Yo, Bloomie! When are you going to quit using the ol’ “god dunnit” excuse? One more time; THERE AIN"T NO GOD TO DO NO ACTIN”!!!!! Just like somebody getting hurt on someone else’s property the owner of said property can be held liable if negligent. In this case a private contractor who agreed to provide maintenance and failed to do so satisfactorily as is the city that hired and failed to properly supervise the provider. And Bloomie, cut the crap about the city not being able to do everything! Maybe if you would have donated some of those millions you spent on getting your egotistical butt elected mayor for park maintenance, maybe the kid would be alive today and that poor. ol’ imaginary god guy wouldn’t have got the blame again!

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By velville, July 16, 2010 at 11:53 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Why not have the civic groups who complain about the way that the government and its contractors arrange to cut the limbs, scour the commodes, pick up the trash, and do the other things necessary to maintain the park?

Then, perhaps, it will be so impressive that the NYT and others will go after the Mayor and members of the Council to get off their fat duffs and join the fun?

We have accept the fact that all needs cannot be met by the taxpayers and some need to be met by the civic minded.  Of course, if Rep Charley Rangel were to pay his taxes…and were the Mayor to importune the courts to release nonviolent inmates in orange suits to pick up the trash, rake the leaves, scrub the commodes…

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By jean gerard, July 16, 2010 at 10:26 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

garryrose66:  Thanks for pointing up some of the technical hazards of
management of the public’s tree-cutting business—technicalities all made
necessary by the more-or-less universal (by now) human lack of vocational
scrupulocity.  (There’s that word again!)

The government official has to be scrupulous about whom he contracts, and be
sure that the contract is scrupulously worded to avoid risk to the city (which
means that the contractor bears all risk). 

If the contractor subcontracts the job, same process—to assure that the
subcontractor bears all the risk.

If, then, the subcontractor wishes to put all the risk on the worker,  he will
demand, either overtly or covertly, that agreements between them be worded
in such a way that the worker can be made liable if necessary.

And of course in the end it will be the worker’s baby who ultimately pays for
the accident to somebody else’s baby whose mother hung it on the limb of an
unscrupulous tree.

Nice idea, scrupulosity.  But where did it get lost and where can it be found?
If everybody had some ... but there I go again ... if .....

(Of course it could have something to do with shared responsibility.  But then
again, that’s socialism?

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By Warren Meyer, July 16, 2010 at 10:09 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

(oart 2)
Mr. Adler is is correct, I think, to put a heavy weight on incentives.  He feels that the incentives problem makes the diligence of public employees inherently superior.  What incentive, after all, do public employees have other than to do the right thing for the public, while profit making companies will tend to cut corners to improve profits.

First, there are certainly companies that cut corners, and the great thing about a free market is that these guys tend to get weeded out through competition.  The only exception to this is in government contracting, where mindless low-bid contracting (my private company almost never takes the low bid when we are looking for a contractor) and poor supervision give corner-cutting private companies room to thrive.  I would argue that the continued existence and use of these type companies is a government failure rather than a private one.  Incredibly, Mr. Adler seems to agree when he makes this statement:

  “The body that awards the contract is not a private party acting on its own behalf but officials acting on behalf of the public, and the level of vigilance is not the same as that which occurs between private parties”

As to employee incentives, while in theory public employees are supposed to serve the public, in practice their incentives tend to be an awful mess.  A big part of this problem is that they are almost impossible to fire.  Combine this with a seniority-based pay package, and there is absolutely no incentive to perform.  I laughed when Mr. Adler wrote this:

  “The rationale for contracting out is always the same: cost cutting. The taxpayer will save money, it is argued, because the workers of private contractors get lower wages and fewer benefits than city employees get, and because the workers of these contractors have no protections against arbitrary dismissals.”

In fact, public “protections against arbitrary dismissals” in practice become public protections against any dismissals.  The difficulty, for example, in firing a NY teacher is well documented.

Further, if a tree falls and kills someone, and there is a liability claim, the taxpayer pays for it.  What do the public managers care?  In fact, you can see this in Mr. Adler’s article, the public agency’s relative indifference to this incident.  Do you really think the agency’s indifference would not translate to workers?  What super-men is Adler positing for these public tree removal jobs—their bosses are indifferent, their pay does not change if they do a good or bad job, and they can’t be fired—but they somehow have a ruthless dedication to excellence? Have none of you been to the DMV??

If the same event were to happen in an area we manage, the claim costs me personally money.  You can bet that if we hire indifferent employees who do a bad job, they are gone, usually in weeks.  If I was stuck for years, as the public is, with every employee we made a hiring mistake on, I would have to shut down the company.

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By Warren Meyer, July 16, 2010 at 10:08 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

As turnkey operator for over 150 parks with many trees, part of our duty is to identify “hazard trees” that present a danger to the public and prune or remove them.  We do so in close cooperation with the USFS.  I don’t know what arborists Mr. Adler talked to, but certainly they are correct that this process takes some expertise.  However, they were either incompetent, or Mr. Adler is not reporting his full discussion with them, if they said that even the best expert can reliably identify every tree or branch that is likely to fall.

We have an aggressive hazard tree program that is conducted with US Forest Service experts looking over our shoulder, and we still miss lots of trees and branches that fall.  That is because nature is complex and unpredictable and sometime inscrutable.  Whenever we have had an accident of a tree falling and damaging something, we have an expert come out and do a post-mortem, and almost every time the diagnosis is that there was no reason to believe that branch or tree was in danger.

The contractor for tree trimming therefore could be bad or could be good - this single event does not shed much light on the problem.  Since Mr. Adler is an academic at a prestigious university like Columbia, I am sure that to be so certain, he must have done a real analysis which would logically compare incident rates with falling trees either between periods in New York with both public and private operation of the tree trimming, or else compare between cities that use different methodologies.  Given this obvious analysis, it is odd that he would not share the results with us in this article - surely a professor at Columbia isn’t just trying to draw an ideological conclusion from a single data point concerning a function with which he is not very familiar.

One wonders, further, if public servants are so flawless, why someone in New York City hasn’t thought of the idea of supervising private contractors with a public expert.  This is the kind of 90/10 solution we use with the USFS, with the Forest Service getting 90% of the cost benefit of private operations while still supervising the tree trimming and removal with a tree expert from within their organization.  This strikes me as falling into the same category of many other critiques of privatization, where the failure (if there is one in this example) is one of public management of the process rather than privatization per se. (to be continued)

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By garyrose66, July 16, 2010 at 9:29 am Link to this comment

I am a risk manager of a california municipality. The author of this article misses three extremely salient points that take his discussion off track.  First, there is nothing evil, wrong or even incompetent about government contracting services.  In fact, if done correctly (more on what correctly is, in a moment)it saves the taxpayer significant amounts of money and it provides far better service to the public. The important thing is that it be done correctly.  The liability lawsuits that are following this tragic death in the park will uncover how well NYC did. There is no reason for New York City to have on their payroll sufficent professional tree experts to maintain all their trees.  The cost of having that many experts would be staggering and the public, if they were aware of the cost would be offended.  It is perfectly suitable to contract this activity out, but only under the following conditions.  First the City project manager must be a professional arborist who knows what the correct level of service to buy. Then, the project manager needs to set up a contract that transfers all the libility for poor performance to the contractor and their insurance.  Then the level of service in terms of picking trees and their limbs to manage is set by the City expert and is established in the contract as the acceptable level of service, below which the contractor is penalized financially. Under these conditions, the City can hire a contractor and will get appropriate service for a reasonable price.  The second point ignored by the authyor is that most municipalities must by law accept the lowest bid received.  Low bidder laws are good for taxpayers but very risky in terms of getting the correct level of service desired.  This is why when you hear rich business people running for office and they say we need to run the government like a business you should run screaming in the other direction.  When low bid contract laws are in place, it is impossible to run a government like a business by law, and if the rich businessperson candidate doesn’t know that they are either incompetent or lying. But back to the trees.  Third, the author missed the point that it is imperative that the City transfer the risk to the contractor- through the exact terms of the agreement- and to ensure through the contract that the contractor can only sub contract services under liability and insurance conditions that exactly mirror those between the prime contractor and the owner/city.  That way, despite the inherent cost and corner cutting nature of low bid contracts, the onus for performance is on the contractor to manage their subs properly, because if they fail to manage the trees properly and a tree branch kills someone, the loss is on them, not the owner of the tree, the City.

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By lyco, July 16, 2010 at 9:13 am Link to this comment

You are on target for condemning the neoliberal agenda, but I think you miss the big picture. The issue is capitalism, not simply privatization. Our society is powered by the corporate drive for profits, and not simply “cost-cutting.” The dynamic set in motion at the end of the post-war boom has seen a massive attack on wages, workers’ rights and the drive to privatize. More recently, we’ve seen an intensification of this neoliberal program, with efforts to privatize up to “the sky, itself,” was how, I believe, Naomi Klein phrased it (with the Supreme Court’s campaign finance ruling institutionalizing the “privatization"of candidates for public office), accompanied by structural adjustments of the IMF type. Attacks on working class people from both ends (production and consumption) and privatization, in turn, have both facilitated and been products of the decimation of industrial manufacturing and its replacement in the U.S. with financial speculation and services. Now, the problem with your formulation is two-fold. First, it seems to see privatization as an excrescence, an aberration. Looked at historically, it simply isn’t. Second, the government is joined at the hip with big business. Even without the Supreme Court’s stamp of approval, this would be the case.The fact of the matter is, our government is a wholely owned subsidiary of corporate America, it operates within the market and, ultimately adheres to its laws. Billionaire Bloomberg exemplifies this. So, too, does the Obama administration’s handling of the BP crisis. The U.S. government and its local variants are IMPLEMENTING the neoliberal agenda for a reason, and the reason is structural, not whim. Are they exempt from the same kind of bottom-line reasoning as corporations? As a public employee, I would emphatically deny it. In fact, looking at the BP gusher, at administration of public schools and innumerable cases in which public authorities have allowed public goods to deteriorate precisely to create “self-fulfilling prophecies” of failure, ripe for privatization, I would say the U.S. or local governments are no more competent to manage public goods than their corporate bosses. For a start—but only for a start—I agree with the call to halt privatization and to nationalize private enterprises that are public necessities or are engaged in criminal negligence (BP…). But, this also has to be accompanied with the demand for open books, public accountability and public control over these services.

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By drbhelthi, July 16, 2010 at 8:50 am Link to this comment

Colleagues of Bloomberg and Goldstein, who run the

privatized “U.S. Federal Reserve,” who created the

current repeat of the 1920s depression, say they are

doing “God´s” business.  Their “God” is found in the

cash register of the Rotschild family.

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By Monalisa, July 16, 2010 at 8:47 am Link to this comment

If the limb fell onto some homeless guy and not
an innocent baby, do you think this story would
be getting much attention?
It’s a tragedy, don’t get me wrong. But, I think
this was just a terrible accident. Now, if branches
were falling off all the time and killing people
then, I’d say “there’s a problem here” but, this
article doesn’t mention a recurring problem.

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By bogi666, July 16, 2010 at 7:59 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The real reason for privatization is GRAFT,CORRUPTION, BRIBERY that’s why it exists. It’s that simple. It’s easy, a contractor, then a sub contractor and then independent contractors. This makes an audit virtually impossible.

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By balkas, July 16, 2010 at 7:34 am Link to this comment

The prestidigitation; i.e, substituting the word govt for people, doesn’t work with me.

S, if one wld say: people know how to do chores-work correctly and govt does not, that wld make sense.

Govts or managements and public ‘servants’ are usually selfserving; they all also serve their masters—a minority of people.

And minority of people have their own mansions, lawns, trees, ponds or lakes and gardeners to look after branches that may fall.

So, why wld private governance also look after anything that is public as well as own property?

Did capone, luciano, jefferson, bush, queen elizabeth, or even u and me? tnx

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By Fat Freddy, July 16, 2010 at 7:19 am Link to this comment


Yeah. And we could design cars like tanks, so that when they get into accidents, no one would get hurt. The problem is nobody would be able to afford them.

Accidents happen, people get hurt and sometimes get killed. It’s a tragedy. To suggest that more government regulation and/or control is going to prevent accidents, with little or no cost to the public and/or consumers, is naive. People also die in NYC from falling debris from old deteriorating skyscrapers. They call it “getting chunked”. So, let’s have the government go around and inspect every inch of every building in NYC and force the owners to make the repairs. Then, nobody will die from getting chunked. Plus, we can mandate that everybody wear a hardhat. That will save lives.

Nothing like a knee-jerk reaction to a one in a million accident. If this happened every day, that would be a different story.

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By thebeerdoctor, July 16, 2010 at 7:12 am Link to this comment

My, how the ‘business is good and kind’ mindsets come out of the woodwork. Go on now: swallow your corporate soma and repeat your Newspeak mantra: privatization is good! privatization is… now open your copy of The Fountainhead or Atlas Shrugged and read, until you fall into the deep and restful slumber of monetary freedom. And as the pharmacologically induced state of enlightened self interest takes precedent, you will totally ignore the voice of organized labor, which is telling you: bugger off you bloody sod.

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By balkas, July 16, 2010 at 7:06 am Link to this comment

Any ideas on my observation that US governance: subsuming constitution {a set of laws or ‘laws’}, jurisprudence, cia, fbi, amy, congress, etc., had been privatized some 25o yrs ago?

If that may be true, then, one can deduce from the general observation, that a vast nummber of americans own next to zero or even zero of US governance!

OK, the fallen branch killing a baby had also been privatized.
And now lest’s look at the cause of privatizing army and branches and not just branches!

The cause in both cases is the same; at least to me:diminution-disvaluation of some people and over-valuation of some people; usually a minority.

Don’ go anywhere w.o. mulling this over. Or if u reject the observation i posited above, please postulate ur own or even postulate—but publicly—that the event in question is causeless. tnx

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By Tobysgirl, July 16, 2010 at 7:06 am Link to this comment

kerryrose, the best response to rico is simply to skip his idiocies. I know people who have chaos in their heads need to give it to other people; it’s the only reason I can possibly think of for him hanging around.

The best statement on here is that New Yorkers got the government they deserve. I used to love New York, lived there off and on for eight years, and now I don’t even want to visit.

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By tedmurphy41, July 16, 2010 at 6:28 am Link to this comment

As with all privatisations, the bottom line is paramount otherwise why do it.
If the staffing had be kept at a level where the Park was kept safe, by regular inspections of everything that makes up the Park, including the trees, then this “act of God” factor would be greatly reduced.
This highlighted incident is, unfortunately, man-made, with the object of saving some money the sole reason.
You can now ask yourselves, what price a life?

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By Gregory Todd, July 16, 2010 at 6:17 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I am a big supporter of Truthdig, and a total opponent of Bush-era GOP thinking, which indeed emphasized ‘privatization’ as the cure for everything—but this particular article is really baloney.  The city nearly went under in the 1970s, and (this from memory) around that time the Central Park Conservancy was formed by New Yorkers who lived around the Park, many with wealth, to try to step into the void left by the chaos of plunging finances.  It is only in the last 15 years, thanks to their sustained work, that Central Park is looking really good, has been restored to much of its original state, and is very safe.  The zoo is run by the Wildlife Conservation Society, who run the Bronx Zoo.  Of course they “contract out” their tree maintenance; any operator of parks will contract out specialized work like cutting down trees. 
This is naive and deeply uninformed piece, especially for a professor at Columbia.  Unfortunately, it does more harm than good by making the author, and his cause, look ridiculous.

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By rico, suave, July 16, 2010 at 5:46 am Link to this comment

Right on GWH!

“Government know-how” is a perfect oxymoron.

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By "G"utless "W"itless Hitler, July 16, 2010 at 5:35 am Link to this comment

The performance of the DOT in my state argues strongly against this thesis.  It’s chock full of slack asses, incompetents, and the socially challenged.  In short, it’s full of the folks that can’t get a job in the private sector.

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By rico, suave, July 16, 2010 at 5:33 am Link to this comment


Do you believe there is any such thing as a communist? If you do, then can I ascribe to you support for McCarthyism and a reawakening of the Red Scare?

To believe someone is a communist is NOT to be a McCarthyite. Bone up on your Aristotle.

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By Fat Freddy, July 16, 2010 at 5:13 am Link to this comment

This piece is nothing but pro-union propaganda. The next time you’re in Philly, shoot across the river to the Camden aquarium, and see what privatization has done. That place was a shithole when it was run by a state funded conservation group. All they had were a couple sand sharks and horseshoe crabs. Now it’s leased to a private entertainment company and I think they’ve expanded it twice, and there’s a plan in the works for more. The profit motive does not provide incentive to merely cut costs, it provides incentive for expansion and innovation. The best qualified people control operations, not people who merely scored higher on a civil service test, or who are “friends” with the right people. Privatization reduces corruption, cronyism and stagnation.

Public sector union employees know that they are going to get a raise every year, they can’t be fired, and have a nice pension and benefits package when they retire. Most promotions are based on a test score, not performance. It’s a perverse incentive system. They are not held accountable, unless they really fuck up. Ask your mail carrier why he works for the Postal Service, and I’ll bet he says it’s for the pension. Then ask him what the ratio of supervisors to employees is.

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By thebeerdoctor, July 16, 2010 at 4:40 am Link to this comment

I once attended a writer’s conference where William Gaddis, author of the novel JR, was one of the guests. Gaddis asked: “when does free enterprise become monopolized capitalism?”
Where does Gresham’s law become an established fact?

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By diamond, July 16, 2010 at 1:46 am Link to this comment

Yes, Rico I agree. Bring back McCarthy and the House Unamerican Activities Committee I say. Reds under the beds, reds in your head, reds everywhere, marching up the walls and across the ceiling. The horror, the horror.

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By C.Curtis.Dillon, July 16, 2010 at 1:22 am Link to this comment

Just one comment rico, suave:

I see you are a pilot.  That means that every day you sit behind the stick of your airplane, you depend on those private sector pass-overs who manage the air traffic control system.  They seem to do a pretty good job given the number of planes in the air and the really small number of controller caused accidents.  So I suggest you be a bit more careful about what you say.  There are many dedicated people working in the public sector and there are many highly incompetent people working in the private sector.  I know ... I’ve been on many planes where the pilots were less than professional, less than competent (I used to fly for a living, being on planes almost every day for 4 years).  Could you be one of them?

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By Kess, July 15, 2010 at 10:39 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The best Adler could do is use notes from a city council meeting that took place nearly 200 years ago…unbelievable.  Before he decides to go on more rants about the evils of the private sector, he may want to consider the benefits he gladly accepts by teaching at PRIVATELY FUNDED Columbia University.  What a hypocrite.  Of course, that’s par for the course for liberals.

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By kerryrose, July 15, 2010 at 6:37 pm Link to this comment

I’m afraid suave,

That calling someone a ‘communist’ here is not exactly like going on FOX and calling someone a communist.

It’s not that scary.

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By rico, suave, July 15, 2010 at 6:19 pm Link to this comment

My opinion, not a fact: Moshe Adler is a communist.

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By rico, suave, July 15, 2010 at 6:12 pm Link to this comment

Central Park, NYC, is one of the great democratizing success stories of America. It was built explicitly to allow the bourgoisie and the hoi poloi to mix and mingle of a Sunday afternoon, and it has been a resounding success.

“Contracting out diminishes the level of know-how of the government on the one hand…”

THE GOVERNMENT HAS ZERO “LEVEL OF KNOW-HOW”!!! The “government” is populated by private sector pass-over hacks! It has never had “know-how”!

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By rico, suave, July 15, 2010 at 6:04 pm Link to this comment

“But in all likelihood it was the act of a mayor.”


You people are insane.

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By TheHandyman, July 15, 2010 at 5:15 pm Link to this comment

Once again, here is proof there is no GOD. Bloomberg points his finger and blames GOD. GOD didn’t reply. Nor if the city gets sued will GOD show up in court to take the blame, testify, or pay the bill. People always talk about saving the Public money on these private contracts but when the city has to pay a couple of million or more they never add that money into the overall cost of the private contract, do they?

But, New Yorkers got the government they voted for, didn’t they?

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By Roger Mexico, July 15, 2010 at 5:08 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

While this article does an excellent job of focusing attention on the dangers of contracting and cost cutting measures, to assert that government employees would do a better job simply because they don’t have the same penny pinching mentality displayed by private contractors without so much as a single bit of data offered as proof is ridiculous.

It’s unwise to pretend that keeping these services in-house wouldn’t come along with it’s own set of issues. In my own city, government run utilities offered sub-par service due to lack of competition. Privatization solved this problem but brought new ones with it.

Solutions to these issues should be a little more nuanced then ‘privatization bad, in-house government programs good.’

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By David Fox, July 15, 2010 at 4:44 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

If you call this an act of god, then you have to make the next leap which is that god hates babies.

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By Smoove, July 15, 2010 at 4:22 pm Link to this comment

“Why do public employees provide better public services than those provided by private contractors?”

Some empirical evidence to support this claim, please.

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By jean gerard, July 15, 2010 at 4:09 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

A private contractor was guilty because he handed a job over to a private
subcontractor who was guilty because he did a poor job, made a mistake, cut
costs.  A public employee might have made the same mistake, but the record
tends to show that public employees tend to be more scrupulous.  They are
also apt to paid more, generally speaking. 

But—the problem is conscientious workmanship, or lack of it, not pay level or
who manages the job.  Sad to say, pay level is not necessarily synchronous with
level of scrupulosity.  (Is that a word?)

Some of the best paid workers in the world (Wall Street financiers) are totally
unscrupulous.  Guys who peddle drugs on street corners in L.A. are
unscrupulous, too.

It is hard to find people to clean public toilets scrupulously.  Yet people who
are “too scrupulous” often become a laughing stock, and the Army teaches tens
of thousands of young men how to be totally unscrupulous in killing “the

At present we have a number of Senators and Representatives representing all
of us more or less unscrupulously, who will soon be running for office again,
using millions of unscrupulous dollars collected from unscrupulous donors
who have just been endowed by the Supreme Court with the right to be totally
unscrupulous without fear of apprehension or punishment.

No wonder babies get killed!

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By kerryrose, July 15, 2010 at 3:02 pm Link to this comment

It is the same dilemma over and over again. Private profits against public good.  The public always loses in this country.

For instance, water, heat, and electricity are monopolies where I live.  Maybe everywhere.  If my bills are so high as to be unbelievable there is no where else I can go, there is no other utility company.  Not only is this privatization, but it is monopolization.  One always seems to become the other eventually.

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