The Death of the Public


We are heading into a thoroughly privatized society—if you can call an agglomeration of people without a cohesive narrative ‘society’ anymore.

I've watched the changes for quite some time. For example, every time I drive the freeway in Los Angeles, I see HOV lanes (“High occupancy vehicle”—for those who live in lower density areas of the country, once commonly known as “carpool lanes.”) converted into FastTrack lanes.

HOV lanes were designed to reward drivers for carrying more than one person, letting them bypass heavier traffic during peak hours. These drivers lighten traffic, decrease pollution, and spawn a sense of being ‘in it together’ which is one of the important aspects of society—or shall we say, the sense of there being a public good.

Now, cash-strapped municipalities and states are switching over from carpool lanes to FastTrack lanes. For a price, one buys a transponder, and then pays a toll per mile, to shorten commutes for those who can afford the hefty price tag. Lexus lanes, they’ve come to be called.

My tax dollars built those carpool lanes. But now I cannot use them.  The public is being shunted aside, its good held in little esteem when stacked against the convenience and extra revenue from the wealthy. My teeth hurt when I see these lanes, with the zippy Mercedes and Porsches on them, conveying the affluent to work on MY dime, as the rest of us in our aging vehicles creep along in the traffic.

Today, the FCC just voted to end Net Neutrality, giving away yet another public good, the free and equally accessible internet, to the communications giants ATT, Verizon, Comcast etc. as an early Christmas present, so that they can collect their own tolls on our once public space, and slow down the clients of competitors.

And we, the public, are once again to be reduced to just a privatized body like a passed-out coed, there to be raped by the big boys.

Digital TV was extolled as a great advance on regular analog television with its free airwaves, but once we’d giving up our tubes and aerials to control by the telecommunications companies, we were stuck. In my neighborhood, only ATT ‘works’.  and it’s at least $100 a month just to get the major broadcast networks.

Since last January, it has become clear that our entire government has turned out to be nothing more than a series of piggy banks for the extremely wealthy to break open and rob the first time they had a clear shot at doing so.  The Education piggybank is being looted by privatization shill Betsy De Vos—undermining public education and handing out vouchers out of pieces of the living hide of the People, in favor of schools which have no basic curriculum, religious schools that further deplete the already poor grounding its ‘customers’ have in external reality, and for-profit schools—a veritable candy shop of scam.

Corrections, even more sinister, has become an increasingly privatized area of national life.  Private prisons, the handing over of the living bodies of US citizens and even children,into the hands of for-profit companies, is one step from actual slavery. If people must be incarcerated, this is an responsibility too grave to hand over to the profit motive and out of reach of public oversight. These are American lives.

Then there’s the use of “contractors” privatizing our army. Our foreign policy is being executed not by the US Armed Forces, carefully controlled by government, costs weighed against impact and our responsibility to the public, but delivered into the hands of private entities--the right to wage war on human beings without the Armed Forces’ level of scrutiny and responsibility to the body politic, to our values and our society. We’re allowing private entities to make money off war, to distort our foreign policy and lives of people around the world.

Let’s turn to the privatization of public lands--even our national monuments, opening them up for pillage and plunder, asking the public to pay huge entry fees for its own parks, because the Park Service cannot “afford” to keep them open otherwise—when we can “afford” to give billions away to the private sector. None of this is for the good of the people, it’s just the big grabbo while the gettin’s good. Using public land for the benefit of private interests has been going on a long time--for example, Forest Service clearcuts for $1 an acre--but this is selling off the land itself, never to be returned.

Now comes the biggest piggy bank of them all—the US Treasury—being cracked open by the GOP Tax Bill for the biggest rape of the unconscious public we’ve seen yet, fast and hard, raping not just this generation but generations to come. Without even a desultory accounting by the Congressional Budget Office—oh, don’t look at the men behind the curtain—they’re ready to pass this. Like the President, it’s another pig in a poke. They’re ramming it home before anybody gets a chance to see what it’s really going to cost--This isn’t your business.  We promise, you all will get some of it, if we happen to leave a crust or two on the table. 

And what is left to pay for this party?  A corporate tax rate of 20%? Oh, there are always those last remaining piggy banks—Medicare and Social Security. The last safety net at the end of society in America.

What nightmare non-society do these politicians and their masters want to live in? Why would they want to create such a hell? 

You see, dear friends, the masters of America are going to take fine care of themselves--on compoundlike private streets and ranches and in heavily patrolled gated communities, coming and going on private planes, surrounded by bodyguards, and leaving the public—where?

 But there will be no public. There will just be a bunch of dazed, raped and bleeding people too busy trying to get medical care and to take care of their dependent elders and support their unemployed, debt-strapped children to protest—or if we do get our backs up, we’ll find we’re breaking one of the many laws against freedom of expression which are also being hammered into place, and private squads of heavily armed ‘militia’ will be there to enforce it.

That’s why it’s important to keep our eyes on the prize. To support public space. To fight the creeping privatization of our advanced society every step of the way. Our cities must fight the temptation to make quick money off of Lexus lanes at the expense of the dignity of the public. Our representatives must fight to keep public spaces public, and stop this fatal contracting out of significant roles of government into private hands. Let’s embrace the term public again, and celebrate and protect the public good with our very public votes.