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Ship date: September 15, 2005. Pre-order: www.bkconnection.com

More Reviews and Articles

Who Cares - Uncovering the corporate conspiracy

By Joe Burns jburns@cnc.com

The Cape Cod Register October 27, 2005

"As I was walkin' - I saw a sign there
And that sign said - no tress passin'
But on the other side .... it didn't say nothin!
Now that side was made for you and me!

- Woody Guthrie, "This Land is Your Land"

A sure sign that summer is officially over is the removal of the signs on many local beaches that informed strollers that they were treading on private property and unless they were toting a fishing pole and a pail of bait they'd best keep on walking.

Ownership of the shore by those who already own the view and the instant beach access always seemed a bit much. There are just some things that should be left in the public's hands - Social Security for example. The push to privatize a public safety net and turn it into a golden parachute for a handful of CEOs is scary, but so are a number of other corporate incursions into the public domain, from the public square to health care.

The corporate conspiracy is the topic of "The Fox in the Henhouse" (Berrett-Koehler), a newly published paperback by Si Kahn and Elizabeth Minnich. Kahn, a folk singer and songwriter of some repute, is also a longtime civil rights, labor and community organizer. Minnich is a feminist philosopher and educator. The couple also have a Cape connection, having vacationed here for years.

They make the case that the goal of big business is to tap into the public sector as deeply and often as they can. It can range from private use or ownership of public land to managing, supplying or subcontracting services that might otherwise be maintained by local, state or federal government. The purpose, Kahn and Minnich propose, is not simply to gain control of a secure source of revenue; it's also to kill off competition and weaken the power of government to the point that it is no longer able to regulate in the public interest.

In terms of Social Security, it means draining the pool that would provide retirement benefits for workers and adding income to companies that are even now bailing out on retirement benefits for their former employees. In terms of health care, it means that instead of pooling our resources to create a universal non-profit health care program for those who need it, we count on drug companies and HMOs to deliver for-profit goods and services for those who can afford them.

Locally, privatization can be seen in the trend to sub-contract some services in order to save towns money in health care coverage, vacation pay, union wages and retirement benefits. Of course that means the money paid to the sub-contractor has to be less than the cost of the items eliminated from the town budget. The only way that can happen is if the sub-contractor cuts his cost, and the best way to do that is through lower wages and fewer benefits than the town had provided.

So what, you might say. I`ve got bills of my own to pay and that's one less expense that my tax dollar has to go toward. Wrong.

The argument that private hands don't reach into public pockets is a myth-conception and a deliberate deception. For some dipping is simply business as usual. Take Wal-Mart for example. Praised by some for its ability to control costs, the retail chain does so through public subsidy. Quoting an article in the New York Times, Kahn and Minnich point out the lack of health care coverage for Wal-Mart employees costs California taxpayers $32 million a year. The same is true in other states. In Georgia, $10 million in state money is spent to provide health care coverage for the children of Wal-Mart workers who couldn't afford health care coverage. "Fox in the Henhouse" suggests that by subsidizing businesses that rely on public funds to help keep their costs down and profits up, such as Wal-Mart's, we're not only adding to the government costs but also providing the means to drive out mom and pop businesses, thereby undermining the local economy and increasing the public burden.

The point is that privatization is a scam that provides less service at greater cost, and weakens our ability to act in our behalf. But it's not just a matter of money. Privatization also robs us of our national wealth: our public land. It turns our schools of higher learning into human resource training centers for business and industry.

Privatization even undermines our very ability to assemble and speak our minds, as gated communities, strip malls and privately owned shopping centers replace neighborhoods and public squares. As example Kahn and Minnich cite the case of a man who was arrested by security guards at a shopping mall in Albany, N.Y. for wearing a T-shirt that read "Give Peace a Chance."

Like the Cape shorelines, many of our public gathering places are now privately owned, and with it comes a decrease in our ability to assemble or to speak our minds. Try standing on a soap box in Patriot Square or Independence Plaza and you'll get a sense of how privatization works. An eye opener that could even give conservatives cause to reconsider, "Fox in the Henhouse" connects the privatization dots. And if you don't like the picture, well you shouldn't.

"In the squares of the city - In the shadow of the steeple.
Near the relief office - I see my people. And some are grumblin' and some are wonderin'
If this land's still made for you and me."
- Woody Guthrie.

If you have an idea for a "Who Cares" column, you can call Joe Burns at 508-375-4936 or e-mail him at jburns@cnc.com.

The Capital Times

Madison, Wisconsin
November 30, 2005


Our views

Si Kahn: Carry it on!

Almost two decades ago, folk singers Pete Seeger and Si Kahn leant their voices to a classic cycle of protest songs from the civil rights era and beyond, “Carry It On.”

This week Kahn, one of the epic figures in contemporary American folk music and activism, is living the title of that CD in Madison, where he is carrying on the struggle for social and economic justice that has consumed most of his 60 years.

Kahn is focusing much of his energy while in Madison on his opposition to capital punishment and what has become known as the prison-industrial complex. A longtime battler against for-profit prisons and the schemes of corporations to “employ” inmates at jobs that used to be performed by public workers and unionized employees of private sector firms, Kahn has done much to help explain why prison reform is a moral, social and economic issue…

The Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. told us that, while the arc of history is long, it bends toward justice. Madisonians are indeed lucky that Si Kahn – who has done more to bend that arc than most – is doing some of the work with us this week.

More money, less service

October 30, 2005
Paul J. Nyden
West Virginia Charleston Gazaette

Si Kahn — a writer, singer and community organizer for 40 years — is visiting Charleston today to talk about his new book, written with his wife Elizabeth Minnich.

“The Fox in the Henhouse: How Privatization Threatens Democracy,” just published on Thursday, makes a powerful case that privatizing government programs hurts a lot more people than it helps.

Kahn and Minnich describe the growing roles that large private companies play — and hope to expand — in running schools, prisons, military bases, public lands, health-care services, workplace safety and Social Security.

Tax dollars are not being saved. Put simply: Tax dollars are taken away from poor and middle-class Americans and handed over to the wealthiest.

“Privatization is an agenda more or less forcibly imposed on governments that lessens their powers in favor of the largest corporations,” Kahn and Minnich write.

“I believe in grassroots organizing, in doing things where you are,” Kahn said during an interview last week.

Working with the West Virginia Council of Churches and the Appalachian Center at Wheeling-Jesuit University, Kahn has visited West Virginia several times in the past year.

“Recently, I have been working on prisons, private prisons and alternative incarceration,” said Kahn, who now lives in Charlotte, N.C. (Grassroots Leadership, his group that offers advice to Southern activists, has a Web site: www.grassroots leadership.org.

“We put out a report about the need not to privatize prisons, jails and detention centers. What does the expansion of the prison industry cost West Virginia in lost revenues for schools and public education? It undermines public education.

“West Virginia is not getting bigger. And it is not getting smaller. It is amazing how constant its population has been. West Virginia also has an aging population and one of the lowest crime rates in the country.

“Yet, in the last 10 years, the prison population in West Virginia has more than doubled,” Kahn said.

“The Fox in the Henhouse” is filled with powerful examples of the impact of privatizing government functions.

Last Dec. 22, insurgents in Iraq blew up a U.S. military mess hall in Mosul, killing 22 people.

In the past, the U.S. military, even during training exercises, fed soldiers at different times, then had them disperse after picking up their meals.

Things are different now.

Ralph Peters, a retired colonel, said, “Instead of security, what we saw [at Mosul] was convenience and efficiency. But it just baffled me that this base and this chow hall ... had been attacked before with rocket fire, with mortars. And we were still crowding these troops, not even staggering the schedules.”

Privatizing means many jobs will never be done well again.

“A couple of nights ago, I was talking on a radio station in Oregon when a guy called in who lost his job when they privatized custodial services at his school, giving the work to a cleaning agency,” Kahn said.

“The caller said, ‘We were the custodians. But we were also the caretakers. I had responsibility to make sure our kids were safe, that they were protected. That is what a custodian does.

“‘We don’t just sweep the floors. We make the schools safe. The new cleaning service — they don’t care who they hire. It can be a different person every day. They do not offer safety. They do not offer care and love,’ he said.

“What are we doing to our kids?” Kahn asked. “Doing the right thing costs money.”

“The Fox in the Henhouse” argues privatizing government services has become a growing problem since Ronald Reagan’s presidency.

Privatization “is a purposeful, planned, global, political agenda with dramatic consequences for the lives of people in the United States and around the globe.

“The difference between the values and goals of privatizers and ... of those committed to the public good is the great divide of our times,” the book states.

To contact staff writer Paul J. Nyden, use e-mail or call 348-5164.

Advance Comments

While we stare at American Idol, the privatizing corporations and their right-wing political buddies are running the Constitution through a paper shredder. Like this excellent and timely book says, these days the foxes aren't just guarding the henhouse -- they're on the inside. Unless we want to be devoured by the corporate foxes, we chickens better get organized. Reading The Fox in the Henhouse is a great place to start.

Jim Hightower, New York Times best-selling author and publisher of the
populist newsletter, the Hightower Lowdown

The Fox In The Henhouse is one of the most important political books of the year. The authors make a compelling moral case that American treatment of prisoners has silently been shifting from a function of a civilized society to a means of profit with decreasing regard for essential and long held moral boundaries. No one can talk authoritatively about the moral climate of America without taking into account the issues this book brings to light.

Danny Goldberg, CEO, Air America Radio

If you care about your children's education, the quality of the air you breathe and the water you drink, affordable health care or Social Security, you need to read The Fox in the Henhouse. Privatization proponents are working to turn everything from national security to the national parks over to for-profit corporations, with no public accountability or government oversight. Si Kahn and Elizabeth Minnich have raised the alarm in their fascinating and compelling book. And they have given us a blueprint of how to organize now to protect our country and our future.

Jan Schakowsky, U.S. House of Representatives

Every working person in this country, whether they are represented by a union or wish they were, needs to read this book. It tells us not just what we have lost, but how and why we must organize, fight back and win.

John Sweeney, President, AFL-CIO

Inspiring to read, The Fox in the Henhouse will be of great value to organizers, activists, citizens of conscience in these perilous days ahead. At a time when nothing less than our democracy is at stake, when extremists want to roll back our hardearned rights and achievements, it offers a spirited blueprint for all citizens who care about renewing America's best and most generous traditions.

Katrina vanden Heuvel, Editor, The Nation

In this engaging, disturbing book, Si Kahn and Elizabeth Minnich raise and confront critical ethical and moral questions about the nature of privatized power and corporatized politics in our society today. If you care about the future of our public democracy, please read The Fox in the Henhouse.

Rabbi David Saperstein, Director, Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism

The Fox in the Henhouse is a wake up call for all who care about our democracy and the assault on public services. While prisons for profit are the most alarming aspect of this trend, what the book reveals are the ideological underpinnings of privatization driven by the same greed that produced Worldcom and Enron.

Larry Cohen, Executive Vice President, Communications Workers of America (CWA)

This book is a roadmap for activists as we fight for and win an America and a world where the values of a caring community, responsibility for each other and a government that protects the public interest triumph over leaving everyone - no matter how vulnerable - on their own.

Jeff Blum, Executive Director, USAction

It is way past time that the destructive move toward privatization is exposed for how it can undermine democracy and economic opportunity. The "ownership society" really means you are just on your own. Si Kahn and Elizabeth Minnich do us a great service with The Fox in the Henhouse, providing both the expose and ways in which we can fight back.

Heather Booth, President Midwest Academy

This book has some fancy long words in it, but it also has some great stories and songs. You'll learn what some of the long words really mean - the long words used by high and mighty people in this land of the free. Remember, Ben Franklin was age 81 when the U.S. Constitution was finally put together 218 years ago. A woman asked him, “Mr. Franklin, what kind of a government do we have now?” He replied, “A republic. If you can keep it.”

Pete Seeger, Musician

This is a desperately important book. With poetry, stories and hard analysis, it demolishes the privatization myth that threatens everything decent and human in our society – and shows the way back to a way of life that is not for sale.

Charles Derber, author of People Before Profit and Hidden Power

In The Fox in the Henhouse, Si Kahn and Elizabeth Minnich offer an eloquent and passionate analysis of the massive threat to American democracy posed by privatization. They present a frighteningly clear exploration of the corporate takeover of the public sphere that is rapidly eroding fundamental rights and freedoms, erasing the “public good,” and eviscerating democracy itself. Theirs, however, is a prophetic call to action, not despair. “We the People” must reassert the primacy of the public good over private profit for the sake of us all and before it is too late.

Sara M. Evans
Author, Tidal Wave: How Women Changed America at Century’s End
Regents Professor of History, University of Minnesota.

The Fox in the Hen House is a fitting metaphor for privatization, the transfer to the corporation of government's functions to defend citizens and protect their welfare. In rural life, the fox kills not only the hens it needs for its meal but the whole lot. With style, stories and wit, Si Kahn and Elizabeth Minnich show how to keep the fox out of hen-house America and offer an alternative vision of one nation unprivatized. Best of all, they prove engaging and engaged leaders and role-models.

Peter D. Kinder
Founder and President, KLD Research & Analytics, Inc.
co-author, Investing for Good and The Social Investment Almanac

Si Kahn and Elizabeth Minnich do not simply file a clear and pointed brief in The Fox in the Henhouse against privatization, but as activists and organizers they draw the connections between predatory profits and the constant, relentless deterioration of the public good. Only in the public sphere and through public service in the broadest frame of people and participation, as well at the smallest level of community building jobs, where dedication and sacrifice are matters of principle, not worn out and archaic beliefs, can democracy grow and survive. This book documents the struggle from the headlines and frontlines down to the grassroots, where every person counts, and every voice must be heard.

Wade Rathke, Chief Organizer, ACORN

The Fox in the Hen House is a fun, soulful and inspiring read. An essential guide for anyone concerned that corporate robber barons are looting our common wealth and public services.”

Chuck Collins, United for a Fair Economy

The relentless corporate campaign to turn public goods -- such as education, criminal justice and public health -- into private commodities is one of the great unreported scandals of our time. The Fox in the Henhouse exposes this threat to democracy and community in a narrative that is clear, convincing and, yes, inspiring. If you care about America’s future, read this book.

Jeff Faux, Founder, Economic Policy Institute

Kahn and Minnich have written a highly readable treatment of a subject that is usually addressed with impenetrable academic prose or wonkish policy-speak. The result is both a compelling discussion of the consequences of unbridled corporate power and a thoughtful essay on the human condition.

Philip Mattera
Director, Corporate Research Project of Good Jobs First
Author, Inside U.S. Business (Irwin 1994)

If you care about the American ideal of the public good, if you value your own privacy, if you recognize civil society as an essential ingredient in the recipe for democracy, read this book NOW and get organized against the forces of evil. With incisive analysis and passionate protest, in prose and in song, Kahn and Minnich link together the corporate assaults on our personal lives and our public institutions and make it clear that we are losing not only select battles but the war. An every more greedy private sector that has no interest in how or whether we survive their grab for power and control has launched a full scale assault against the democracy to which we owe all our hard won protections, and they are winning. It is not only our prisons, but our army, our public spaces, our right to privacy that are being taken over. Unless we organize and fight back in ways and on issues that are outlined here, we will lose the America we cherish.

Ruth Messinger, Executive Director, American Jewish World Service

In accessible and understandable language, this book deals with critical issues soberly and with the right touch of song, poetry and history.

David Cohen, Co-Founder, Advocacy Institute; Past President, Common Cause

In an age in which we are daily asked to turn over decision-making power...and power itself...to unelected and unaccountable parties, Elizabeth Minnich and Si Kahn give us a lucid, readable and compelling picture of privatization and consolidation of corporate influence that would make Tom Paine proud. With Kahn's trademark plain-spoken language and Minnich's probing insight we are given tales, terminology and tools to take back our democracy. The Fox in the Henhouse should be required reading for every patriotic American.

John McCutcheon, President, Local 1000, American Federation of Musicians

Few books manage to do what The Fox in the Henhouse does. In speaking truth to power, the book provides analytic and political tools for challenging corporate America's sale and erosion of democracy, remembers and honors legacies of struggle and resistance, and moves us to a vision of hope as well as the possibility, indeed the urgency, of action challenging the privatization of our lives and dreams. A carefully researched, lucidly argued, eloquently written book--a must-read for all educators, social justice workers, and people concerned about democracy.

Chandra Talpade Mohanty, Educator
Author, Feminism Without Borders, Decolonizing Theory, Practicing Solidarity

The American people are rejecting privatization of Social Security because it undermines both retirement security and our mutual responsibility to one another. The Fox in the Henhouse alerts us to other corporate schemes to privatize other important areas of what should be the American commonwealth. This important book will equip Americans to stand up to the right-wing drive to put everything, even our criminal justice system, under the control of unaccounable corporations.

Roger Hickey and Robert Borosage, Campaign for America's Future

This book explores the most important issue that we face, eclipsing even the nuclear power industry, and the war, as the corporations underlie and explain what is otherwise senseless.

Scott Ainslie, CEO, Cattailmusic.com

The Fox in the Henhouse is clearly meant to remind us that corporate power and great concentrations of wealth threaten democracy. Neither our public rights nor our private and community lives are the driving causes of globalizing corporations. Profit, not democracy, is their bottom line. It is urgent that we keep all our public goods from being sold off to the private sector.

Nan Grogan Orrock, Georgia State Representative; President, Women Legislators' Lobby

The Fox in the Henhouse centers itself in the struggle to right injustice, from Jim Crow and the convict lease system in the past century to the for-profit private prisons that help create the outrageous mass incarceration so many suffer from today. Elizabeth Minnich and Si Kahn are determined to bring these abominations to light and unrelenting in their insistence that justice for all must prevail.

Van Jones, Founding Director, Ella Baker Center for Human Right


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