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- Local protests to #SaveUSPS are picking up steam.
- The Trump administration transported ICE’s partially privatized tactical teams by for-profit contract flights to a for-profit prison in Virginia to quell protests against racial injustice.
- A state judge has left Maryland taxpayers holding the bag in the Purple Line public-private partnership fiasco.
1) National: AFGE’s Women’s and Fair Practices Departments today launch their first Black Labor Week, dedicated to providing education and empowerment. “These events are open to everyone interested in increasing their knowledge and awareness. Today at 7:30 pm Eastern, “Black History: Race and Racism in America.” Tomorrow: “History of the Labor Movement in Connection with the Civil Rights Movement.” On Friday, which is National Black Voter Registration Day, AFGE will hold a session on “The Power of the Black Vote.”
2) National: A number of states and counties are mandating Covid-19 testing for agricultural workers. “‘There is no question that we need to escalate our response to this pandemic, and we know that additional focus must be placed on agricultural workplaces,’ [Governor Jay] Inslee said in a statement that alluded to the fact that farm workers in Washington are largely Latino. ‘From the data, we know that people of color have been disproportionately impacted by this pandemic, and while we have much work to do to address that, this is one step in the right direction.’”
3) Nebraska: Omaha and Sarpy County are nearing an agreement to share wastewater services, with the county sending wastewater into Omaha’s system. “The City of Omaha has told the elected officials leading the sewer project that Omaha’s system can process the additional waste. The wastewater agency behind the project—made up of the mayors of Bellevue, Papillion, La Vista, Gretna and Springfield, as well as the chairman of the Sarpy County Board—recently approved the partnership with Omaha. The agreement is still subject to approval by the Omaha City Council. The partnership is a ‘win-win’ for Omaha and the county, said Dan Hoins, Sarpy County’s administrator.”
4) Songs for the Common Good: Donald Cohen, executive director of In the Public Interest, makes the case that musicians and artists are essential workers too. “To that end,” he writes, “a few months ago I started an online house concert series called Songs for the Common Good to help musicians make up for lost revenue. It features artists who write songs about our common history, songs that help us break down barriers, and songs that lift up public values. (…) Next up is Amythyst Kiah, who also performs with Rhiannon Giddens, Lely McCalla, and Allison Russell as Our Native Daughters. Her song, “Black Myself,” was nominated for a Grammy and won best song at the 2020 International Folk Music Awards. The show is Saturday, September 26, 8pm ET/5pm PT. Tickets are $10-$20. All the money will go to the artist. I’m calling it Songs for the Common Good for a reason. In the Public Interest has been writing about our pro-public ideas and agenda all year—from public health to communication, food, water, and shelter. These public goods shouldn’t be privatized commodities available only to those who can afford them. They life’s essentials that we can only provide to all if we do it together.”
5) District of Columbia: Charter school construction will be a key item for the DC Council this fall. “Charter schools in D.C. have long campaigned for more building space in the city. In January, Bowser announced that KIPP D.C., the largest charter school operator in the city, would build a new campus at the former location of the Ferebee-Hope School in Ward 8. Now, the council must approve the agreement. In July, [Council Chairman Phil Mendelson] introduced a bill that would do that, but it’s still in the early stages of the legislative process.”
6) District of Columbia: D.C. State Superintendent of Education Hanseul Kang, who oversaw the expansion of charter schools in the District, is stepping down next month. She will become the executive director of The Broad Center, which recently relocated to Yale University. Last year Diane Ravitch reported that “the Edythe and Eli Broad Foundation now owns complete control of the schools of the District of Columbia. With the appointment of Lewis Ferebee, former su perintendent of Indianapolis, where he collaborated with the Mind Trust to expand privatization, D.C. is now a Broadie district.”
7) Indiana: The Gary Common Council is considering endorsing the school corporation’s proposed $71.2 million tax referendum. “The vote, set for later this month, would signal a major show of support from Gary City Hall with weeks left to go before the question is posed to voters on the Nov. 3 ballot. (…) Some in attendance questioned the value of passing this referendum while public distrust is still alive and well in Gary, and the district’s finances remains largely still controlled by the state. But several community members, including former Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson and New Shiloh Baptist Church pastor Corey Jackson, spoke in support of the ordinance. (…) Gary Teachers Union president GlenEva Dunham said pay raises and improvements to student curriculum are long overdue. ‘It’s time to put up or shut up. It’s time to invest in our children or not. … Anyone complaining don’t have skin in the game. You don’t work here,’ Dunham said.”
8) Missouri: A fake Facebook post about St. Louis schools “went viral with the MAGA crowd, and racism ensued,” reports St. Louis Dispatch columnist Tony Messenger. But a government worker blew the whistle. “Gaddy, frustrated by the amount of disinformation he sees on social media, decided to do something about this post. (…) Gaddy got a quick answer. The post wasn’t true.”
9) Oklahoma: The Epic Charter School scandal trial looks as if it will wrap up in December. “The Oklahoma Statewide Virtual Charter School Board, which oversees the Epic One-on-One virtual school, argued in a friend-of-the-court brief that state auditors should be able to review records for the Learning Fund. That money supports students’ education at a public charter school. This makes them subject to a state audit regardless of whether the school keeps the records or a company, said attorney Marie Schuble, who represents the virtual charter school board. Mai approved the board’s friend-of-the-court brief to be formally included in the case. The full brief originally was filed July 15.”
10) Pennsylvania: An Easton charter school is losing its fourth principal in four years. “The email sent Tuesday from Easton Arts Academy Elementary Charter School’s CEO doesn’t say why William Wright left just as school started this year. CEO Chadwick Antonio confirmed Wright’s departure. (…) The school has seen considerable administrative turnover since it opened in 2017. Wright was the school’s fourth principal. The chief academic officer, CEO and solicitor were fired in 2019. Their ousters followed a lehighvalleylive.com report on employee complaints of a toxic work environment at the school. (…) The school has seen considerable administrative turnover since it opened in 2017. Wright was the school’s fourth principal. The chief academic officer, CEO and solicitor were fired in 2019. Their ousters followed a lehighvalleylive.com report on employee complaints of a toxic work environment at the school.”
11) Pennsylvania: The state Department of Education says the public system will have to provide transportation for nonprofit nonpublic students and that it will reimburse them for the service. “Any such transportation is required to be provided during regular school hours on such dates and periods that the nonprofit nonpublic school is in regular session, according to the school calendar officially adopted by the nonpublic school, the DOE states.”
12) National: The Federal Accounting Standards Advisory Board (FASAB) has released a new podcast on “public-private partnerships.” The podcast “features FASAB staff members Robin Gilliam and Domenic Savini, as they discuss important aspects of accounting for public-private partnerships, also known as P3s, and the work FASAB has completed on the P3s project to date. FASAB completed the first phase of the P3s project in 2016 with the issuance of SFFAS 49, “Public-Private Partnerships: Disclosure Requirements.” Robin interviews Domenic on the results of the first year’s implementation of SFFAS 49 and what the second phase, concerning measurement and recognition, may bring us in the near future.” [Audio, about 9 minutes; Transcript]
13) National: The New Republic’s Kate Aronoff says Trump’s fire sale of public lands for oil and gas drillers has created a political backlash. “Controversy over the Trump administration’s public lands approach has led to novel alliances that have already claimed at least one victory. Last month, the White House withdrew its bid for acting BLM Director William “Perry” Pendley—a fierce advocate of public lands privatization—to officially head the bureau. For now, he’s still nominally in charge. But putting him officially at the helm of the BLM was deemed too much of a liability in the party’s attempts to reelect Republican Senators Cory Gardener and Steve Daines, who are facing Democratic challengers in Colorado and Montana, respectively. And given that even some generally pro-leasing officials opposed one of the more recent sales in Utah, it’s possible the past four years of BLM-sponsored plunder may hurt Republicans in other states as well. Showering fossil fuel executives with giveaways may not be such a great political strategy after all.”
14) National: Strained rural water utilities are buckling under the pressure of the pandemic. “Rural water and wastewater systems have largely been left out of federal and state pandemic relief, and yet they play critical roles in local economies. Homes rely on them, of course, but so do small businesses such as eateries and large companies such as manufacturers and processing plants. As the virus stretches further into smaller communities, these systems are fighting for their survival under long-standing economic and structural weights.”
Stateline reports that “a bill introduced in the U.S. House would help by providing $1 billion in operational and revenue loss relief for small water systems through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service. Another bill would establish a permanent bridge loan to directly support the operational costs of water and other utilities that have experienced revenue losses because of the pandemic or future covered emergencies. The bills remain before House committees.”
15) National: Private equity has come up with what they call “a three-step action plan to save U.S. infrastructure”: an infrastructure bank; an industry advisory group to “assist state officials to implement PPPs” and “select the right investor partner”; and, you guessed it, tax cuts on infrastructure investors from overseas. Will privatization, cozy insider deals, and tax cuts save our highways, water utilities and school buildings? We report, you decide.
16) Maryland: A state judge leaves Maryland taxpayers holding the bag in the Purple Line “public-private partnership” fiasco. Contracting companies may now leave the project after they demanded taxpayers pick up cost overruns. The ruling enables the unravelling of the 36-year P3, one of the largest in the country, which included a private operations and maintenance component. “Maryland transit officials have said that the state will complete the light-rail line even if the companies leave but that doing so would add one to two years of further delays. (…) The impact of any potential job losses remains unclear because Maryland officials also have notified about 170 subcontractors and suppliers that they are prepared to take over managing the line’s completion. State officials haven’t said whether the state will do that, hire a new construction contractor, or pursue another long-term public-private partnership. In addition to delaying the project further, experts say, finding a new contractor or private partner would probably make it more expensive because new companies would have to assume more risk. The current construction contract is for $2 billion.”
One clear lesson: careful public contracting matters: The judge “said MDOT appeared to ignore ‘clear, direct and absolute’ contract language that gave PLTP the right to walk away if a dispute lingered more than a year. ‘There is a public interest in the court’s refraining from rewriting contract provisions that sophisticated parties entered into, on even ground, while represented by counsel.’”
Another clear lesson: make sure the private partner has real skin in the game, not just talks a good game. A good thread on all this from Kevin DeGood. “At this point in the project, the state has put in all the money and the Purple Line Transit Partners are going to walk before their money is on the line.”
17) Maryland: To make matters worse, it turns out “the Maryland Transit Administration would have to divert funding from MARC commuter rail and other state transit services to complete the Purple Line if the construction contractor is allowed to quit over cost disputes, the agency’s chief testified [last] Tuesday.” So how much of Maryland’s future transportation financing will be eaten up by the Purple Line fiasco? Did the Capital Debt Affordability Committee run this scenario back in the day when they approved the PPP?
18) Missouri: Rex Sinquefield, the billionaire who has been financially backing efforts to privatize St. Louis Lambert International Airport, is backing away from Travis Brown and Brown’s Pelopidas consulting firm. “The breakup comes on the heels of a recently abandoned effort to privatize St. Louis Lambert International Airport. A renewed effort, financed by Pelopidas, to get the issue placed on the November ballot was pulled last week. Brown was forced to defend accusations that he was pursuing the last-ditch effort mainly as a way to recover some $44 mi llion a Sinquefield-funded nonprofit, Grow Missouri, had spent on the first privatization attempt that Mayor Lyda Krewson killed in December. Those consultant costs were to be reimbursed, but only if a privatization deal was reached.” [Sub required]
19) New Jersey: Politicians, activists, and nature lovers gathered at Liberty State Park over the weekend to host a rally where they urged the state legislature to pass the LSP Protection Act. “Here we are in the same fight every year, whether it’s a water park, a golf course, or a marina, or a hotel or privatization, it’s the same thing,” said Democratic Jersey City Mayor Steven Fullop. The Jersey City Times reports that “with the early afternoon sun beating down upon him, Sam Pesin, president of Friends of Liberty State Park called on Governor Murphy to support the Act and ‘to once and for all protect our urban park after 44 years of overwhelming opposition to privatization.’ Pesin lay the blame squarely at [billionaire Paul] Fireman’s feet. ‘Fireman’s political contributions and the lies spread by his lobbyists, various bought-off surrogates, and a phony front group threaten the Act’s passage and Caven Point,’ he said.”
20) New Jersey: The state is raising gasoline taxes and expanding the use of “public-private partnerships” to boost its infrastructure. “In 2018, early in his administration, Murphy enacted Bill S-865 which expanded the state’s definition of what qualifies as public-private partnerships to include roads, bridges, public facilities and other types of infrastructure. The bill also allows public funding to contribute to PPPs costing more than $100 million, or to projects costing less than $10 million. Murphy knows he can make $2 billion per year for infrastructure revitalization go a lot further if project costs are offset by private investors,” says Infrastructure Investor. Where have we heard that before? [Sub required]
21) West Virginia: West Virginia American Water is buying up the troubled Page-Kincaid Public Service District.
Criminal Justice and Immigration
22) National/California: A Kern judge rules against a motion filed by the ACLU for a temporary restraining order against the city of McFarland to stop two ICE detention centers from operating there. “The ACLU claims McFarland violated the Brown Act when it allegedly denied public access to a meeting in April in which the city council approved permits to have the GEO Group convert two jails into ICE detention centers. The judge’s ruling means GEO can proceed, and it was given the green light Monday to start receiving detainees.”
23) National/California: Human Rights Watch has submitted comments to the Adelanto Council about allowing GEO Group to repurpose the Desert View Modified Community Correctional Facility into prisons for federal inmates and immigrant detainees.
“Human Rights Watch has documented serious abuses at Adelanto Detention Facility, operated by GEO, including severely substandard medical care that contributed to the deaths of several people at that facility. In recent months, outbreaks of the novel coronavirus at detention centers across the United States, including at facilities operated by GEO, indicate that the inadequate health measures in these facilities are not enough to keep the people in these facilities, including staff, safe. In light of this record, we are deeply concerned by a permit that would expand the number of people in facilities operated by GEO. The public health crisis in detention facilities across the world due to the Covid-19 pandemic underscores what is at stake when people are held in unsafe facilities. We urge you to deny this Project.”
24) National: The Trump administration transported ICE’s partially privatized tactical teams by for-profit contract flights to a for-profit prison in Virginia to quell protests against racial injustice in Washington, DC. “‘They needed to justify the movement of SRT,’ said the DHS official, referring to the special response teams. The official and the former ICE official spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive internal decisions. They and another DHS official briefed on the operation characterized the tactical teams’ travel on ICE Air as a misuse of the charter flights. (…) The use of the teams was part of the Trump administration’s effort to “dominate” racial equity demonstrations nationwide. ICE special-response teams deployed to civil unrest and protests this summer in Washington, Buffalo, New York, Houston, Dallas, San Diego, San Francisco and Los Angeles, according to a GAO report published Thursday. More recently, federal agents have been sent to Kenosha, Wisc., and Portland, Ore.”
Read GAO’s new report, “Federal Tactical Teams: Characteristics, Training, Deployments, and Inventory.” “Federal tactical teams can include either federal law enforcement officers or contract personnel working for federal agencies in a law enforcement capacity, both of whom are authorized to carry firearms and make arrests,” the report says.
25) National/Indiana: Notre Dame students staged a virtual Strike for Black Lives on August 31, and one of their demands was for the university to cease investing in private prisons and detention centers. “Among the stocks which make up the mutual fund are CoreCivic and GEO Group, two of the larg est private prison and detention center corporations in the nation, which respectively own 120 and 125 facilities across the U.S. [Madeline Whitney, one of ND SRI’s founders] said investing in these corporations represents a ‘massive violation’ to Notre Dame’s Catholic values, which include the “utmost protection of life and dignity of the human person.’ ‘As institutions that run for profit, there is a strong incentive to fill each bed and keep people locked up for longer in abhorrent, inhumane conditions,’ Whitney said. ‘Through their investment, our faculty and staff are directly profiting off these human bodies.’”
26) Alabama: The cost of Alabama’s prison “public-private partnership” has soared. “Some state lawmakers have questioned the lack of public details about the project, including who will own the prison buildings after the 30-year lease runs out. Sen. Greg Albritton, R-Atmore, told the online news site AL.com that he has questions about finances that haven’t been answered.
‘What happens when or if the owner fails to make payments, goes bankrupt, has other financial issues, and then the bank tries to repossess?’ he asked. ‘Where is the state in that regard?’”
27) National: “Severe budget cuts don’t create small government. They create failed governments,” Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly (D) tells the House Committee on Financial Services.
“The hearing was held Thursday as Senate Democrats blocked Republicans’ effort to pass a slimmed-down coronavirus relief proposal. The measure included funding for expanded unemployment insurance, the Paycheck Protection Program for businesses, schools, and coronavirus testing and vaccine development. But unlike a much larger proposal approved by the Democrat-led House in May, it did not include any more direct funding for state or local governments.”
28) National: Steve Early and Suzanne Gordon say “if Trump is re-elected, it will be full speed ahead again for VHA privatization and, eventually, veterans’ hospital closings.” As part of this Republican outsourcing push, “Secretary of Defense Mark Esper is now trying to cut Pentagon spending in the one place where it’s actually needed—the Military Health System (MHS). Esper wants to trim $2 billion allocated for direct care for 9.5 million active-duty personnel, military retirees, and dependents over the next five years. This will force more service members and their families to go off base and use their Tricare insurance to pay for treatment in a private healthcare system that’s currently overloaded with COVID-19 patients.”
29) National: Trump moves to end diversity training in the federal bureaucracy. “Contracts for diversity training at federal agencies go back decades, though an initiative started through an executive order signed by President Barack Obama in 2011 moved to standardize and improve diversity efforts across the executive branch. The Governmentwide Inclusive Diversity Strategic Plan issued in 2016 as a result of that order focused on a New Inclusion Quotient, which called on agencies to ‘provide training and education on cultural competency, implicit bias awareness and inclusion learning for all employees.’”
Law professor and critical race theory scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw took to social media and called Trump’s move ‘McCarthyism 101.’ “M.E. Hart, an attorney who has given hundreds of diversity training sessions for the federal government and businesses, spoke to The Washington Post about the importance of racial awareness training. “If we are going to live up to this nation’s promise—‘we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal’ — we have to see each other as human beings, and we have to do whatever it takes, including taking whatever classes make that possible,” Hart said. ‘These classes have been very powerful in allowing people to do that, and we need them more than ever. There’s danger here.’”
Deans of the five University of California law schools have also weighed in to support diversity training including Critical Race Theory.
30) National/Pennsylvania: John P. Richards, president of the Pittsburgh Area Retiree Chapter of the APWU, issues a call for local-level action over threats to the postal service. “For too long too many have pooh poohed the alarms about privatization threats coming from the Trump administration and his minions. The current trend is to look only to national to oppose our adversaries. A word of advice to our active colleagues – – –GET OVER IT! THIS IS NOT THE TIME TO REST ON YOUR LAURELS, IF EVER THERE WAS A TIME. NOW IS THE TIME FOR MASS ACTIVITY TO ALERT THE PUBLIC ABOUT WHAT IS GOING ON, AND THE DANGER THAT THEIR POST OFFICE MAY BE LOST.”
31) National/Indiana: Demonstrators have rallied outside the Valparaiso post office to protest USPS changes. “‘I’m very much against the privatization of essential services in this country,’ Drew Wenger said. Valparaiso Democrats are sending a mailer to registered voters to detail how to ask for an absentee ballot, he said. ‘I guarantee you it’s going to be a very high turnout election year,’ Wenger said. A record number of absentee ballots were cast in Porter Count y this spring, more than 15 times the 941 cast in 2016.”
32) National: After a 17-month investigation, House and Senate Committee leaders have released a staff report detailing “extensive abuse of nearly $6 million in taxpayer funds by Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) Administrator Seema Verma, who retained private communications consultants with strong ties to Republican political circles in order to arrange media appearances, secure profile pieces, book private meetings and lunches, chauffeur the Administrator during out-of-town travel, and handle a communications strategy focused on boosting her public profile and personal brand beyond her role as CMS Administrator. The consultants charged rates of up to $380 an hour, far exceeding the salaries of federal employees, who were sidelined by the Administrator, her aides, and the consultants.”
According to the report, Verma used private contractors to develop a strategy to privatize Medicaid. “At the same time that congressional Republicans were trying to repeal the ACA—one of the laws that Administrator Verma is responsible for implementing—the Office of the Administrator solicited advice from Keith Nahigian on how CMS should frame arguments promoting the privatization of Medicaid and tasked O’Donnell with editing talking points for Administrator Verma that included, among other things, why she believed ‘Obamacare has failed.’” (p. 21/24pdf)
33) Georgia: Is privatizing emergency medical services in a pandemic a good idea? The idea is now being pushed in Georgia. “Despite assurances to the contrary, some Brantley residents believe the commission is closer to choosing than they might publicly be indicating. County resident Justin Thornton has helped organize demonstrations against the move, saying the commission is not being up-front and honest about its intentions. He pointed to correspondence between Brantley County Manager Toby Harris and representatives of Atlanta ambulance service Grady EMS going back more than a year and a draft contract between the two to provide ambulance services.”
34) New York: The Buffalo Chronicle reports that the city is considering a massive privatization of the Buffalo Urban Development Corporation (BUDC) and the Buffalo Urban Renewal Agency (BURA). “BUDC is currently Co-Chaired by Brown and Dennis Penman, whose expertise as a local real estate executive could help structure privatization deals in ways that accelerate the city’s redevelopment,” the Chronicle says.