Public officials have been dipping into the public purse since time immemorial. But in the case of Sonia Pitt, erstwhile director of homeland security and emergency response for MnDOT, there’s perhaps a larger lesson than simply the power of true love to trump morality and judgment. Though a government employee, Pitts’ story should serve as a cautionary tale about privatization, that kneejerk rightwing answer to all our ills. Pitt appropriated public money for personal gain. In a nutshell, that’s what privatization is really all about.
Despite what you might think, I am not a big government guy. As a putatively free people we need to be on guard against concentrations of power wherever they arise, whether political, commercial, or military/paramilitary. When I think about the neo-fascists currently running the White House, I am thankful that in this country the state does not have an absolute monopoly on force. And frankly, I’m a little nauseated by the current liberal pieties about the virtues of government – don’t the folks swept up in today’s call-and-response praise of government and government efficiency remember the Viet Nam War? Haven’t those singing out of this hymn book ever run afoul of the IRS, the DMV, the VA, the Minneapolis Public School District or some other impenetrable government bureaucracy? Government shouldn’t be any bigger – or smaller – than absolutely necessary. Government should also be held accountable for every single dollar it collects from thee and me.
And that’s the rub with privatization. Accountability. Privatization, as the term is currently employed, does not, in reality, just mean turning over functions to private companies that government has heretofore performed incompetently or wastefully. No, what we should have learned by now is that the call for “market competition” in everything from education to health care to military force (think Blackwater) to espionage (Blackwater redux) to – well, you name it – really means the privatizing of public money. Our money. The “commonwealth.” That is to say, using government to collect taxes and then turning that revenue over to private companies – or in the case of Pitt, private individuals.
In this regard privatization is an ideology that all but openly encourages corruption, as demonstrated by the ongoing boondoggle in Iraq, that neo-con wet dream of a completely privatized, unregulated, free market paradise. It is an ideology rooted in contempt for the very idea of accountability – a contempt that is a hallmark not coincidentally, of the Bush Administration and its many epigones across this fair land or ours. Like the Pawlenty regime.
Why, after all, did it take Carol Molnau more than three months to can Pitt? Why did it take an investigation by arguably Minnesota’s finest public servant, Legislative Auditor Jim Noble, AKA The Incorruptible, to force the Pawlenty Administration’s hand and return Pit to the private sector? Pitt was AWOL for 10 whole days after the 35W bridge collapsed. Ten days in which she did not feel the need to return home to perform her duties as MnDOT head of homeland security and emergency response.
Gee, doesn’t that job title seem to imply that she might have had some small role to play in the disaster’s aftermath? Wasn’t her failure to show up in August sufficient grounds to dismiss her on the spot? You’d think so, wouldn’t you? But no. To have taken that step would have required Tim Pawlenty to embrace the notion that one of his appointees needed to be held to the same standards of accountability as ordinary mortals. It might also mean that he also needs to show his sidekick and FOT (Friend of Tim), the truly incompetent and unaccountable Carol Molnau, the door. Even worse, it might mean that he’d have to step up to the microphones and admit that, at least in some small way, he too is accountable for bridges that collapse on his watch.