Your weekly rundown of news and analysis about the corporate takeover of education, water, and other public goods—and about the people fighting back. Not a subscriber? Sign up.
- A deep retrospective look at the disastrous Chicago parking meters privatization deal over a decade ago.
- On their Belabored podcast, Sarah Jaffe and Michelle Chen interviewed In the Public Interest’s Executive Director Donald Cohen about his new book The Privatization of Everything, co-authored by Allen Mikaelian.
- Republicans are urging states to ignore the Biden administration’s infrastructure funding guidance.
First, the good news
1) National: Don’t miss it. This Wednesday at 7 pm Eastern paying subscribers to David Sirota’s The Daily Poster can join in for a real time chat with Donald Cohen, author of The Privatization of Everything: How the Plunder of Public Goods Transformed America and How We Can Fight Back.
2) National: Writing on The Real News Network website, Molly Shah takes aim at the use of so-called public-private partnerships in the response to the pandemic and beyond. This is part of a wider struggle to gain public control over society. “Donald Cohen, co-author of the new book The Privatization of Everything, points to the vaccine crisis as an example of how privatization has failed us all. ‘It’s clear to me that the health of all of us depends on the health of each of us, everyone needs to get it. When you put it in the market it is a complete disaster,’ Cohen told TRNN.”
3) National: On their Belabored podcast, Sarah Jaffe and Michelle Chen interviewed In the Public Interest’s Executive Director Donald Cohen about his new book The Privatization of Everything, co-authored by Allen Mikaelian. “Over the past several decades, we have witnessed an extraordinary transfer of wealth and power from public ownership into private hands. The shift of public goods—such as public lands, transportation and utility infrastructure, healthcare services, prisons, and schools—into the control of corporations has paralleled a conservative turn in American politics, in which “free markets” are championed as the most efficient and effective means of managing social services and distributing public resources. But privatization has taken a toll on both the quality of the goods and services on which the public relies, and on democracy as a whole.” [Audio, at 27:00 into the podcast].
4) National: The National Education Association’s Mary Ellen Flannery interviewed Donald Cohen on The Cost of Privatization in America. What to do? “First off, we have to realize that privatizers have played the long game and we need to play the long game, too,” says Cohen. “This is not about finding the right message or just doing the right campaign. Nothing happens without people, in motion, over time. The second is the idea war. [Privatizers] have won a propaganda victory on ideas like ‘business is more efficient.’ We need to wade back into those battles. Efficiency is fine, but when you outsource jobs [such as school food service or custodial jobs] to private companies, the ‘efficiency’ is just that you’re just cutting wages and services. When they say they’re “more efficient,” ask them what they’re going to spend less money on. At the same time, we need to lift up the positive things that public agencies do, all around us. We don’t do that enough.”
5) National: Route Fifty looks at The 311 Lifeline: How Governments Enhanced Call Centers During the Pandemic. “When a streetlight is out or trash pickup missed, residents often turn to their city’s 311 call center to report the problem. But municipal call centers took on elevated importance during the coronavirus pandemic as cities expanded their role, offering new services like Covid-19 vaccine appointment bookings or hotlines to help people understand financial assistance programs. While some municipal governments struggled with vaccine management software, New Orleans officials opted to integrate appointment bookings into their existing 311 call center platform.”
6) National: The Biden Administration has outlined plans for a national EV charging network. “The focus on high-traffic corridors is one of many details included in new guidance released Thursday by the Federal Highway Administration. The 31-page document outlines how states should prepare to spend $5 billion in new federal money for chargers included in the recently passed infrastructure law. The FHWA will release more details in 90 days, when it issues formal requirements, rather than the overview it released Thursday.”
7) Maine: Bus drivers have fended off a plan to privatize school transportation in Camden. “The 12 bus drivers serving Camden-Rockport area schools have said ‘no’ to plans to hire a private company to handle transportation, prompting that company to withdraw its bid. ‘We have been unanimous when we all discussed it,’ said bus driver Patrick Garrett. ‘We are not going to work for anyone who will give us less.’ The bus drivers have been firm with the Five Town CSD/MSAD 28 that they will only continue to drive buses if they have a contract guaranteeing them continued pay and benefits. Garrett said he is most concerned about some of the bus drivers who do the work to maintain their health insurance.”
8) International: “Our solidarity will grow”: CUPE Ontario’s call to action against the rise of hate. Canadian public sector workers have stood up against the blockades. In Ottawa, CUPE Ontario “was proud to join the Community Solidarity Rally and March. Let’s remember that however disappointing this has all been, there’s been so much to be hopeful about as well. Because while their disruptions have spread, so have our demonstrations—our demonstrations of solidarity, of community, and of care for one another in the face of hate. Watch the video by Conway Barry and read our statement to find more ways we can fight back together.”
9) National: Education Week has collected the long list of topics Republicans want banned from the classroom. “What started in early 2021 as a conservative effort to prohibit teachers from talking about diversity and inequality in so-called ‘divisive’ ways or taking sides on ‘controversial’ issues has now expanded to include proposed restrictions on teaching that the United States is a racist country, that certain economic or political systems are racist, or that multiple gender identities exist, according to an Education Week analysis of 61 new bills and other state-level actions.”
Paul Street says “the Red State assault on teaching actual American history is only getting started. (…) Across the country, the violence that the RNC calls ‘legitimate political discourse’ is on regular display with right-wing threats and attacks on election officials, public health officials, school board members, teachers, nurses, school nurses, doctors, prosecutors, and elected officers.”
10) Idaho: The Idaho Public Charter School Commission voted unanimously Friday to not renew Another Choice Virtual Charter School’s performance certificate, which means the school must start the process of closing its doors by June 30, 2022. “The decision followed an emotional hearing about issues at the Nampa-based online school that specializes in serving at-risk students. Issues ranged from low and stagnate academic achievement to board and administrative oversight issues.”
11) Ohio: William L. Phillis, a former teacher, principal, superintendent, and assistant superintendent of public instruction, and now executive director of the Ohio Coalition for Equity and Adequacy of School Funding, says“EdChoice vouchers do not fit the mold of the constitutionally required system of common schools. The common school accepts all comers. Private schools select their enrollees and thus, can and do discriminate on the basis of race, religion, behavioral issues and disabilities.”
12) South Carolina: The Charleston Post & Courier says the new Republican voucher bill “is less unreasonable, but it’s still a bad idea.” The editorial goes to the heart of the issue: “If a parent doesn’t like her children’s school bus driver, should the taxpayers be required to pay for an Uber to take these children to and from school instead? If a child doesn’t like the school’s cafeteria food, should taxpayers give him money so he can order a pizza delivered to the lunchroom? And if you aren’t satisfied with, say, how often the police cruise your neighborhood, should taxpayers be required to pay for a private security system to make you feel safer? House Republicans advancing school choice bill offering $5,000 yearly to 5,000 K-6 students. If you answered yes to any of these questions, you’re going to love what the leadership of the S.C. House has planned for your tax dollars.”
13) Wisconsin: “Republican bills to expand vouchers, break up the Milwaukee public school district and punish schools that went virtual during the pandemic are not responsive to Wisconsinites’ real concerns, says brand-new Assembly Minority Leader Greta Neubauer (D-Racine). “I’m glad Republicans feel the need to discuss education,” but what Wisconsinites want is more investment, “not partisan efforts to break apart school districts or restrict funding for kids as part of a political game.”
Milwaukee School Board President Bob Peterson said the proposal would be a disastrous disruption for families who depend on MPS for education, meals and other support. “It’s reminiscent of the previous failed attempts to take over the Milwaukee Public Schools and it’s destined to be a losing proposition,” Peterson said. “Implementing this plan would restrict heavily the choices that current families and students have as they choose schools they wish to go to.”
14) National: Republicans are urging states to ignore the Biden administration’s infrastructure funding guidance, The Hill’s Mychael Schnell reports. “Federal Highway Administration Deputy Administrator Stephanie Pollack wrote in the December memo that her agency would “implement policies and undertake actions to encourage—and where permitted by law, require—recipients of Federal highway funding to select projects that improve the condition and safety of existing transportation infrastructure within the right-of-way before advancing projects that add new general purpose travel lanes serving single occupancy vehicles.” This, of course, is kryptonite for the road privatization lobby, which sees no limit to the number of privatized toll lanes soaking up motorists’ fees on the nation’s highway.
15) National/Puerto Rico: A bankruptcy judge has greenlighted the privatization of Puerto Rico’s electrical grid. Next comes an end run around elected officials to push through a debt deal. “In the next few weeks, the Puerto Rico legislature will decide on whether to pass the board’s requested legislation for the proposed PREPA debt deal. The Oversight Board is considering ways of completing a debt deal without legislative support. (…) On Monday Tom Sanzillo, director of finance at the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, told The Bond Buyer, ‘I am hearing that there is not legislative support for the PREPA debt transaction.’” [Sub required].
16) Colorado: Road-happy Colorado is turning a skeptical eye on more asphalt, says the New York Times. “The new $1 trillion infrastructure law invests billions in climate-friendly programs like electric car chargers and public transit. But it also gives states $273 billion for highways over five years, with few strings attached. One analysis from the Georgetown Climate Center found that this money could significantly increase emissions if states keep adding highway lanes.” This will surely fill the coffers of the right wing pro-privatization Koch empire, which has asphalt interests, with public money.
17) Kentucky: Bo Johnson, Kentucky state director of the National Conference of Firemen & Oilers (a district of SEIU 32BJ), told unionized employees of Kentucky American Water that though workers did not vote to approve a tentative agreement with the company, they would not strike Friday night and will keep negotiating. “‘The Union is still pursuing the unfair labor practices against the Company, but bargaining on Friday did produce some gains, so the Union is hopeful good faith bargaining can continue.’ Robert Smith, secretary-treasurer for NCFO, said in the release, ‘so the strike has been called off.’”
18) Illinois/National: Dave Byrnes of Courthouse News takes a deep retrospective look at the disastrous Chicago parking meters privatization deal over a decade ago. “‘We’ve seen pushback to the neoliberal consensus from both the left and the right,’ Geismer said. ‘Some people blame neoliberal policies for the rise of Trumpism. And to the left, a lot of the labor militancy we’ve seen in the last few years is a response to it.’ The future of neoliberalism in Chicago and beyond is uncertain, Geismer said. With both left- and right-wing populism growing alongside the gap between wealthy and poor, it’s unclear how long centrist free market policies will remain viable. For Democrats in their big city bastions, she opined, the best path forward may be a return to the working class politics that they once relied on. ‘I have hope that with this labor action, [the Democrats] can claw back to being a working class party,’ she said. In the meantime, remember to bring some extra cash if you plan a road trip to Chicago between now and 2084. Parking can cost up to $7 per hour.”
19) International: Brazil’s federal audit court will resume its analysis of the potential privatization of the state-run power company Eletrobras on Feb. 15.
Criminal Justice and Immigration
20) National: The latest nationwide data shows that local spending on jails tops $25 billion. Jail costs rose even as crime and admissions to jail fell. “Nationwide, crime and jail admissions decreased between 2007 and 2017, yet spending on jails increased 13%, to $25 billion, over that same span, consuming almost 1 in 17 local budget dollars. Although prisons have been the major focus of corrections budget discussions in the past, the cost of jails may face increased scrutiny as counties and municipalities face mounting fiscal pressures from the economic downturn associated with COVID-19. Safely cutting jail costs could provide needed budget relief for local jurisdictions in the coming months and years, and a key strategy to reduce jail spending is further lowering jail populations.”
21) National: Bail reform is working, says Rodney Holcombe, New York Criminal Justice Director at FWD.us, a prison reform and immigrant rights group. “It’s clear we must move quickly to put an end to the uptick in violence that is happening all across the country. Thankfully, a number of evidence-based strategies are being suggested to address the problem. On the other hand, some strategies are being built on unfounded theories about the 2019 bail reform law, incorrectly connecting this policy to the spike in crime. These claims are completely unsubstantiated and simply not true.”
22) National: On Thursday CoreCivic held its quarterly earnings call. See the transcript here [registration required]. Revenue of $472.13M (-0.28% Y/Y) missed expectations by $9.14M.
From the company statements: “The BOP experienced significant declines in their inmate populations in the last decade, and we have significantly diversified our business to other government partners. Our last remaining prison contract with the BOP is our McRae facility in Georgia, which expires in November of 2022, representing less than 2% of our total revenue. We anticipate that contract will not be renewed and have already begun marketing the facility as a potential solution to other government partners. Following the anticipated nonrenewal, revenue from the BOP will come exclusively from multiple smaller residential [indiscernible] facilities providing services through our community segment.”
“In early January of this year, we were awarded a new contract with the State of Arizona to care for up to 2,706 adult male residents at our La Palma Correctional Center for the Arizona Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation and Reentry. We were deeply honored to be selected by the state, following a public competitive procurement process. The new contract has an initial term of 5 years and includes an option to extend the term for an additional 5 years. This new contract represents the largest contract awarded to the private sector by any state corrections agency in over a decade, which is expected to generate approximately $75 million to $85 million in annualized revenue upon reaching full utilization while the La Palma facility currently supports the mission of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, our largest federal customer, by caring for approximately 1,800 detainees. As a result, we are currently working with both the Arizona Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation and Reentry, and ICE on a plan for transitioning resident populations from ICE detainees to residents from the state of Arizona.”
The company is pivoting to surveillance, converting young undocumented migrants into an income stream. “In fact, just this last month, ICE issued a formal procurement for a new case management ATD [nonresidential alternatives to detention] program, specifically for young adults. The program is intended to provide monitoring services for participating non-dangerous, low flight-risk young adults, ages 18 to 19 within a framework that promotes compliance with immigration obligations, until removal or other resolution of their immigration cases. This program is designed to assist young adults who age out of the custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement, ORR, O-R-R, the agency that is responsible for carrying for unaccompanied minors apprehended along our Southwest border until they reach age 18. We are actively evaluating those procurement details, and we know that these case management services are consistent with the type of case management services we can provide in our community segment.”
23) Arizona: Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva (D-AZ) has sent a letter to “to Arizona Governor Doug Ducey regarding his increased budget request for the Arizona Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation and Reentry (ADCRR) despite the state having the lowest prison population in a decade and in addition to the many concerns that linger at ADCRR. Governor Ducey’s budget proposes ADCRR to receive at least $1.5 billion in funding, making it the third largest budget in the State and comes during a time when the prison population is closer to 2005 levels. In the letter, Rep. Grijalva also calls out the lack of transparency and accountability within ADCRR and its private prison affiliates. ADCRR is the only state agency without independent oversight and has no oversight over private prison companies.”
24) Oregon: Inmates at Oregon’s only federal prison are reporting dire medical care. “Cancer patients have not received treatment for months. Inmates who say they’ve attempted suicide have not received the medication or mental health treatment they’ve requested. In December, a man died in his cell, according to the Feb. 4 court filing. It’s the fourth person in the last year who died while serving their sentence at Sheridan. Lisa Hay, Oregon’s federal public defender, described the problems inside the Bureau of Prisons run facility as below the standards required by the U.S. Constitution.”
25) Think Tanks: The Penn Program on Regulation’s Regulatory Review has published a report on Reforming Health Care for Patients in Prison. “This lack of mandatory standards or oversight has led to pervasive inadequate care. One study found that among incarcerated individuals with a persistent medical problem, 20 percent of those in state facilities and 68 percent of those in local jails went without care. Prison medical staff also commonly fail to perform routine gynecological exams, to screen for prevalent infectious diseases, or to administer prescribed medications. Few prisons provide comprehensive medication-assisted treatment for people with substance use disorder, despite the high prevalence of the condition found among the incarcerated. Some activists attribute this pattern of inadequate care to increasing privatization, as states seek to constrain rising correctional health care costs. In an ongoing class-action lawsuit in Arizona, incarcerated individuals allege that the state’s private health care contractor has provided “grossly inadequate” care that has led to preventable injury, disfigurement, and death. The facilities at issue in the case are NCCHC accredited, casting doubt on the efficacy of the current accreditation process.”
26) National: The Texas Standard reports on why the post office is finally headed toward financial stability. “Christopher W. Shaw, author of ‘First Class: The U.S. Postal Service, Democracy, and the Corporate Threat,’ spoke to Texas Standard about the legislation’s significance, and the future of the postal service. Listen to the interview above or read the transcript below.”
Question: “I know in the past that’s been discussed, but is that currently on the table, the possibility of privatization?”
Answer: “It isn’t something that’s on the front burner right now, but it is something that is constantly an issue when postal matters are discussed – that it should be more like a business and less like a public service. So it’s always there in the background.”
27) National/Think Tanks: Pew’s State Fiscal Health Project has released a new issue brief, Local Tax Limitations Can Hamper Fiscal Stability of Cities and Counties: 3 ways states can help localities improve budget flexibility and resiliency. “As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, local governments across the country face the formidable task of committing resources to rising health care needs while maintaining services their communities expect, including schools, parks, and libraries. At the same time, the pandemic has created significant economic uncertainty for local leaders, with many experiencing large revenue shortfalls that make balancing budgets all the more difficult. When local governments struggle, states pay a price, too—because of lost jobs, reduced tax collections, diminished services, and, in extreme cases, costly state bailouts. To minimize harm during economic downturns and support localities’ financial stability over the long term, states could review any policies that restrict local budget flexibility— including the policy that is the focus of this issue brief: limitations that states impose on local taxation.”
28) Michigan: The Morning Sun reports that Mid-Michigan mental health providers are concerned about attempts to privatize the system. “Joseph Sedlock said the privatization of the state’s mental health system would cause considerable, if not irreparable harm to over 390,000 mid-Michigan residents. Sedlock, chief executive officer of Mid-State Health Network, the mental health service provider for 21 Michigan counties, including Isabella, Gratiot, and Clare, said the proposed legislation, if enacted, would significantly undermine a public mental health system developed over the last 58 years. Two pieces of legislation floating around the halls of the Michigan State Capitol would alter the way the state’s $3.6 billion Medicaid-funded mental health system functions, potentially changing how 300,000 low-income, mentally ill Michiganders are supported and treated.”
29) National/South Dakota: Veterans are mad that Trump’s VA privatization isn’t working, the Dakota Free Press reports. “Veterans gathered at a meeting in Sioux Falls last night to complain that one of Donald Trump’s dumb ideas, the Community Care program, isn’t getting them the free, government-paid access to private healthcare providers outside the Veterans Administration health care system that they expect. Senator M. Michael Rounds, an alleged stupid jerk who hates Trump, was at the meeting and reminded folks he opposed the program in the first place: In the hot seat was Lisa Simoneau, the director of the Sioux Falls VA Health Care System who oversees the Community Care program. U.S. Sen. Mike Rounds sat near her, listening to the complaints and promising his office would do something to help.”
30) National: Happy Valentine’s Day. Good time to think about the “privatization of intimacy.”
31) National/California: A home Super Bowl is good for the Rams. But is SoFi Stadium good for Inglewood? asks American historian Frank Andre Guridy. “Sports fans may not realize the total impact of developments like these. Numerous critics and activists have repeatedly exposed how new sports facilities built for colossal events are Trojan horses. The Olympic Games, for instance, have come to symbolize a kind of gentrification juggernaut that uses sports facilities to displace vulnerable working-class communities across the world. In the United States, stadiums once built solely to house sporting and cultural events have been converted into centerpieces of real estate land grabs by sports franchises and developers. SoFi Stadium is an example of this trend, and it exposes the potential problems tied to these developments.”
An excellent senior thesis on this subject was produced at Claremont Colleges. Dropping the Ball: A Political and Economic Analysis of Public Subsidization for Stadium Construction Projects Subsidization for Stadium Construction Projects,” by Max Fisher. Have a look at it. “My thesis aims to further illustrate the pervasive problem of stadium construction, and the various machinations used to place the burden on the taxpayer. These results reinforce the idea that not only is stadium construction a bad deal for the taxpayer, but that the process is harmful in other, non-financial areas.”
32) National: When private equity becomes your landlord, what happens?
33) National: The always interesting economist and market guru Barry Ritholtz has produced a useful analysis of The Super Wealthy versus the Merely Rich. “Wealth and wage inequality touch on many of my favorite topics: Saving & Investing, Wealth & Wages, Real Estate & Consumer Spending, Behavioral Finance & Cognitive errors. People often make erroneous assumptions about the wealth and/or wage inequality data—they think it is bad, but it’s much worse than they assume (see chart at right). This is a mostly (but not exclusively) American issue; Europe for example has less income and wealth inequality than we do here. Most of all, it presents an opportunity to think about complex issues from vantage points that include financial, psychology, behavior, policy, even temporal. This is why I am always keen to check out any new analytical tool that gives us a fresh way to analyze the associated data.”