Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Betsy DeVos, Privatization and . . . Fallujah?

Posted By on Tue, Nov 29, 2016 at 2:44 PM

I'm taking a side trip to Iraq, 2004, to create a—Full disclosure: not entirely fair—linkage between events during the Iraq War and Betsy DeVos, Trump's pick for Secretary of Education.

I'm a few days late to the DeVos story, but there's still lots to be said. You can sum up her philosophy of education in three words: Privatize, Privatize, Privatize. ("Do you want to supersize monetize that order of privatization, Ms. DeVos?" "Oh, absolutely!") But first, the Iraq War, and Fallujah.

For a number of reasons, the U.S. turned the Iraq War into a highly privatized mission. We needed more boots on the ground than our armed forces could provide, and besides that, the Bush administration believed that anything a government worker or soldier can do, an employee of a for-profit private company can do better. The private forces totaled about a third of the military presence in Iraq.

In 2004, four private security contractors working for Blackwater USA were escorting a convoy of trucks near Fallujah when they were ambushed and killed. The four men's bodies were burned, mutilated and dragged through the streets. The outrage in the U.S. over the brutal killing was partly responsible for the first Battle of Fallujah, which was the largest military operation since the U.S. took control of Iraq. It did not go well. Civilians fled the city, the U.S. attacked from the air and from the ground with little success. The battle ended with the U.S. withdrawing from the city and turning the operation over to a Sunni security force, which soon turned its weapons over to the insurgency and faded away.

So, one of the primary triggers for the Battle of Fallujah was the death of four Blackwater mercenaries, all very qualified for their jobs—three retired Navy SEALs and one retired Army Ranger. Was it just one of those things that happen in the fog of war, or was it a Blackwater blunder? Did the company scrimp on giving the men the equipment and the backup they needed in order to keep operating expenses low and profits high? The families of the men thought so, and they sued Blackwater, demanding details of the operation. The company said it didn't have to provide any information. Governmental regulation of the company was minimal, and transparency wasn't required. In fact, Blackwater countersued the families, saying the men's contracts forbade them or their families from suing. In 2012, the parties reached a confidential settlement, meaning the events leading up to the killing of the four men will never be known.

The founder of Blackwater is a man named Erik Prince. He's the brother of Betsy DeVos, born Betsy Prince, Trump's choice for Secretary of Education.

Whether it's in their blood or in their upbringing—whether it's nature or nurture — we'll never know, but the Prince siblings both appear to have a passion for privatization and profiteering. Both believe, whether it's a publicly funded private mercenary army or publicly funded charter schools and vouchers, the private sector can get the job done better than a government army or government schools, and no evidence to the contrary will shake their beliefs.

You know, that's enough for this post. I'll save the story about Betsy DeVos, "education reform"/privatization and dark money for another day.

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