- Now is the moment to invest in creating good jobs
- Bot and sold: will AI fuel monopolies?
- Will Philly say no to Yass?
First, the Good News…
1) National: Shahrzad Habibi, Research and Policy Director of In the Public Interest, says new public investments are creating new jobs. Let’s make sure they’re good ones. “The enormous investments in the American economy made by the Biden administration are having and will continue to have a huge impact on the lives of all Americans. But there’s an important argument to be made that we can and should work to make that impact even larger, especially for working families. Writing in The American Prospect, Xavier DeSouza Briggs, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, and Madeline Janis, the co-executive director of Jobs to Move America, note that ‘America’s dominant economic paradigm that free markets and freewheeling capital alone have created the nation’s critical industries and enabled them to flourish.’ That view, they say, ‘denied the important role that government plays in shaping the nation’s economy.” The current moment presents an historic opportunity to reshape that paradigm and recreate what they call an “industrial policy for all.’”
2) National: The question of how to regulate “artificial intelligence” (AI) has sprung up to become a major issue concerning the role of government, exactly at the moment when the U.S. Supreme Court may be poised to gut the federal government’s ability to regulate by applying sound science and public policy in the public interest. Lina M. Khan, chair of the Federal Trade Commission, is trying to get out ahead of the issue of AI and its risks.
Last Wednesday, she wrote a very clear and concise op-ed in the New York Times spelling out some current dangers and future risks of AI, focused not on ideological dangers of AI but on concrete problems experienced by the public now.
“While the technology is moving swiftly, we already can see several risks. The expanding adoption of A.I. risks further locking in the market dominance of large incumbent technology firms. A handful of powerful businesses control the necessary raw materials that start-ups and other companies rely on to develop and deploy A.I. tools. This includes cloud services and computing power, as well as vast stores of data. Enforcers and regulators must be vigilant. Dominant firms could use their control over these key inputs to exclude or discriminate against downstream rivals, picking winners and losers in ways that further entrench their dominance. Meanwhile, the A.I. tools that firms use to set prices for everything from laundry detergent to bowling lane reservations can facilitate collusive behavior that unfairly inflates prices—as well as forms of precisely targeted price discrimination.”
Events are moving fast. President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris met with private industry leaders last week to discuss the outlines of a framework for publicly regulating AI. The role of private corporations in this whole process will be central, as will the issue of public trust in the technology. Also, one of the prominent figures in the AI world, Geoffrey Hinton, left Google after spending years there in order to voice his views on AI without affecting the company. Hinton was criticized for not speaking out on the risks of AI sooner, especially since he was at Google when there was a mass purge of AI ethicists. “Two years later, Google AI researchers Timnit Gebru and Margaret Mitchell were fired from the tech giant after they released a research paper that highlighted the risks of large language models, the technology currently at the center of concerns over chatbots and generative AI. They pointed to issues like racial and gender biases, inscrutability and environmental cost.”
3) National/Florida: Demonstrations took place across the country denouncing right wing restrictions on teaching and book bans, Education Week reports. “Teach-ins at university campuses, community book drives, read-alouds of banned books on social media, and rallies in front of the College Board headquarters in both New York and Washington, D.C. These were among the activities taking place across the country on Wednesday as part of the Freedom to Learn national day of action spearheaded by the African American Policy Forum, which has been critical of state laws restricting how teachers can discuss race in the classroom. The forum is led by Kimberlé Crenshaw, law professor and civil rights scholar at Columbia University Law School.” [Sub required]
Recently, the Wall Street Journal had a bombshell report exposing the College Board for reportedly misrepresenting how much input its faculty and expert structures had in the decision to gut its African American studies AP course as Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) brought political pressure on it. Nishani Frazier, a University of Kansas professor who sits on the AP course’s development committee, wrote, “‘We all know this is a blatant lie. In fact, the major changes which occurred came from my unit— and not once did AP speak with me about these changes. Instead, it rammed through revisions, pretended course transformation was business as usual, and then further added insult to injury by attempting to gaslight the public with faux innocence.’ The course was ‘edited behind our backs,’ she wrote. ‘What is unsaid is the failure of AP to recognize both its own institutional racism and how its own lies and capitulation precipitated the creation of a monster of its own making.’” [Sub required]
4) California: San Diego city workers are getting a significant raise under a new contract with the city. “‘MEA’s entire leadership team, staff and legal counsel have all been single-minded in waging a multi-year advocacy campaign to achieve more competitive pay and benefits for MEA-represented employees,’ said Michael Zucchet, the union’s general manager. ‘These increases will help the city retain existing employees, make it easier to recruit new ones to fill chronic vacancies, and will have a direct and positive effect on city services’ he said. ‘This contract definitely helps cut into the city’s compensation gap with other jurisdictions, though with inflation there is still work to be done in the future.’ The other union that reached a new deal is Local 127 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. The City Council is expected to approve the new contracts this month after they are ratified by members of both unions.”
5) Florida: A student-led coalition—The Coalition Against Period Poverty—has pushed Florida lawmakers to pass a bill that would allow school districts across the state to offer feminine products to students at no cost. Watch the WPTV News in-depth video report. [About 12 minutes].
6) Pennsylvania: Privatization is on the ballot in Philadelphia. Progressive mayoral candidate Helen Gym is still leading in the polls in the run up to the Philadelphia municipal primary on May 16. However, an avalanche of right wing ad money is pouring in to try and defeat her, much of it from billionaire Jeffrey Yass, a former board member of the Koch-funded Cato Institute and political enemy of John Fetterman. The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that “Brendan McPhillips, Gym’s campaign manager, said in a statement that Yass, an advocate for charter schools, is ‘bankrolling a false smear campaign against the only candidate in the race with a real vision to invest in Philly’s public schools.’” For more background on Gym watch this video of a discussion including her from a Netroots Nation event [What Philly Taught Us: How Philadelphia Activists Beat School Privatization to Restore Local Control]; and Daniel Denvir’s interview of Gym and Nikil Saval. [Audio, about 49 minutes]
7) National: The New York Times did an interesting spread on Vivek Ramaswamy, the long shot far right millionaire candidate for the GOP presidential nomination. Beside reporting on Ramaswamy’s dictatorial and obviously unconstitutional approach to governing, Jonathan Weisman reports that he “wants to eradicate teachers’ unions.”
8) National: Jennifer Berkshire and Jack Schneider sat down with Daniel Denvir, host of the Dig podcast. “They go deep into origins of our current education wars, how bipartisan teacher bashing laid the groundwork for today’s attacks on ‘woke’ educators, and what the recent victory of Brandon Johnson in Chicago can tell us about the state of the education reform movement.” [Audio, about an hour and forty minutes]
9) National: An AFSCME/DC37 member, Linda McPherson, speaks out about the staffing crisis in Head Start programs. “‘Head Start teachers are preparing babies and toddlers to become successful in school and life as guided by evidence-based brain and developmental science and provide them with nutritious meals and snacks,” said McPherson. But McPherson explained that inadequate investment in Head Start—and in education more broadly—has led to a staffing crisis within the program. Too few families who might benefit from Head Start are able to participate. ‘Because of inadequate investments, only 36% of Head Start-eligible families and 11% of Early Head Start-eligible families are able to participate. Low wages in the program are further restricting access and have created a workforce crisis,’ said McPherson. ‘Why are there staff vacancies? Because the pay is too low,’ she added.”
10) Connecticut: A Danbury charter school has been approved but is the only one left off the state budget. “Charter school advocates argue that the schools offer parents and students a choice and have unique characteristics that allow them to run independently from their home districts, providing more room for innovation in their curriculum and teaching styles. Opponents counter that charter schools, in a sense, privatize public education as they strip away investments into local districts and offer only a select number of students the opportunity to potentially thrive in another school while others, who may be stuck on a wait list, are left without resources. What makes Danbury unique in Connecticut is the intensity of the debate between the charter school’s opponents and supporters, as local organizations, teacher unions, state legislators and parents remain deadlocked over the best options for educating their children. The lack of compromise has contributed to the delay in the school’s opening since its approval over five years ago.”
11) Florida: The Ledger reports that “a dual-language charter school primarily for the underserved children of migrant farmworkers is expected to open in August in Mulberry, according to leaders of the school’s operator, Redlands Christian Migrant Association. Juana Brown, charter school director for RCMA, shared their plans April 25 during a Polk County School Board workshop in Bartow, saying the new Mulberry Community Academy will add kindergarten and first grade next school year to the current preschool-aged programing already offered on its campus. ‘We are bringing children of migrant farmworkers and other agricultural workers a program that first and foremost continues the RCMA model,” Brown said by phone Wednesday of the new charter in Polk. (…) In addition to the state and school district, RCMA has partnered with the Charter School Growth Fund, which helps finance charter schools, whether just starting out or scaling up.”
12) Ohio/Think Tanks: The Thomas B. Fordham Institute, relying partly on research by the Charter School Growth Fund, has produced a new report, “Reinventing Ohio’s Charter School Sector, 2015–2023: Ohio’s successful charter turnaround—and what’s needed next.” The report essentially argues that Ohio is moving past its scandal-ridden recent charter school history. “The first part of this report documents the clean-up that took place in the wake of those accountability reforms. (…) The second part of this report focuses on charter funding, which also impacts the performance of the sector. (…) The Buckeye State is no longer the ‘wild west’ of charter schools, as dozens of low-performing schools have closed, and more than forty sponsors have departed.”
13) Ohio: Denis Smith, a retired school administrator and former consultant to the Ohio Department of Education’s charter school office, has written a powerful op-ed in the Ohio Capital Journal warning about the civic fragmenting effects of school voucher programs. “Make no mistake. The educational voucher scheme, fueled by dark money groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which itself helps to fuel astroturf groups nationwide that are intent on undermining public education, has enabled the pro-voucher and school privatization movement to achieve critical mass in the last few years. (…) In an essay, Senator O’Brien asks: ‘Why can’t parents spend their tax dollars at the school they choose for their children?’ Really? The answer is quite simple. It’s about the constitution. It’s about the meaning of a ‘system’ of common schools, of e pluribus unum. It’s about democracy, where we elect our neighbors to oversee our public schools and ensure that public funds are spent for public, and not for individual, private purposes, as vouchers are purposely designed to accomplish.”
14) Ohio: In a hard-hitting letter to the editor of the Dayton Daily News, Jim Lemanek of Beavercreek denounces state-level inaction and unresponsiveness to his concerns about public education. “I sent a message to Ohio Representative Brian E. Lampton, Ohio Senator Bob D. Hackett and Governor Mike DeWine, asking each of them three questions. 1) Why do they want privatize Ohio schools? 2) When are they going to fix gerrymandering? 3) When are they going follow the March 24, 1997, twenty-six years ago, Ohio’s Supreme Court declaration the state’s method of funding public education unconstitutional? No response from any of them. The recent election had dozens of school funding issues on the ballot. 30% of them failed, which hurts students the most. I cannot find the cost of the putting the levies on the ballot and the time superintendents and school board members put into every levy. Fix school funding and most of that goes away. Gerrymandering is keeping power.”
15) Texas: A massive amount of right wing, pro-privatization PAC money poured into yesterday’s school board races. “Texans for Educational Freedom, a political action committee, or PAC, has donated tens of thousands of dollars to several local school board candidates on the ballot May 6. The conservative PAC made vast donations last election cycle to State Board of Education candidates opposed to alleged indoctrination in public schools, such as the supposed teaching of critical race theory. The strategy was an effective one: TEF-backed republican LJ Francis flipped District 2 in south Texas, giving the GOP a two-thirds majority on the State Board of Education.”
But this time things seem to be looking up. Late update from Jenny Cohn: “Christian nationalist extremists (shown in red), won some school board races in Texas, but they lost many more than they won. The good citizens of Texas are waking up to the threat of Christian nationalism and saying, ‘Hell, no.’” Here’s a short video of what she’s talking about.
16) National/Pennsylvania: Community Legal Services of Philadelphia has submitted a comment supporting the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s 2020 proposed rule “Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing” (AFFH) with recommendations to ensure a comprehensive effective rule. Lack of action and funding has forced some agencies, in desperation, to turn to privatization to address the housing crisis. “The subsidy contracts on over 1,700 affordable housing units in Philadelphia are slated to expire over the next five years, with over 3,400 units at risk over the next decade.7 Most of these units are in neighborhoods where market forces make it unlikely that the properties’ private owners will see much, if any, financial incentive to maintain the subsidy contracts, many of which do not provide sufficient financial support or encouragement to keep up with maintenance on the aging units. Additionally, the Philadelphia Housing Authority, the largest single landlord in the city and one of the largest housing providers for low-income residents in the country, has hundreds of currently vacant units and hundreds more at risk of becoming uninhabitable due to rapidly growing maintenance costs and continually declining funding for the agency. The housing authority is turning increasingly to privatization or jointly funded ‘revitalization’ projects that do not result in one-for-one replacement of low-income units and risk full privatization at the end of the initial contract term.” [See comment, pp. 4-5]
17) National: House Republicans are trying to gut broadband permitting, and Democrats are pushing back. “While Democrats do not necessarily disagree with the concept of letting companies build broadband faster, they differ on how to go about it. (…) For their part, Democrats and local governments are particularly worried that a time limit on permit approvals would destroy state and localities’ leverage in being able to negotiate with broadband providers. That, in turn, would weaken their ability to get companies to address issues like “digital redlining,” in which wealthier areas have better service. The experience of New York City and Los Angeles illustrates the disparity that can happen when local officials don’t have power to leverage with companies, said Ernesto Falcon, senior legislative counsel of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital civil rights organization.”
18) Alabama: State and local health authorities discriminated against Black residents over sewage, and “ignored the risks of raw sewage for residents in a rural county,” the Justice Department has found. “The officials have agreed to change their practices. The Justice Department said it had reached an interim agreement with the health departments of Alabama and one of its rural counties over practices found to discriminate against generations of Black residents.” Kristen Clarke, the assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s civil rights division, “added that the authorities were aware of the disproportionate burden placed on Black residents, but had failed to remedy the situation. The investigation was the Justice Department’s first environmental justice inquiry, carried out over nearly 18 months. The department will reopen the investigation if the Alabama Department of Public Health fails to comply with the terms of the agreement.”
19) Florida: The Florida Times-Union’s redoubtable investigative reporter, Nate Monroe, has an update on the electric utility privatization scandal, which seems to be moving toward a conclusion. “Prosecutors indicated they plan to call Pam Rauch, FPL’s vice president of external affairs and economic development, who was part of a team the company had put together to work on its JEA bid. The upcoming hearing, set to begin May 15, is intended to force federal prosecutors to demonstrate the evidence they marshaled to indict Zahn and Wannemacher is not tied directly or indirectly to sworn statements the two men provided to city attorneys in 2019 about their involvement in the JEA privatization controversy—statements for which they received Garrity protection, meaning their contents can’t be used to incriminate them.”
20) New York: The conflict between citizens who have been battling for years to bring the dysfunctional, privately operated Long Island power system back into the public sector, and Wall Street interests who stand to profit from the continued privatization of the system, has intensified in recent days. A scandal over the inappropriate behavior on Zoom of a consultant involved in preparing the report that recommended remunicipalization broke into the media.
The executive director of the state transition commission, Rory Lancman, responded by saying “‘The annual savings identified in the draft report (nearly $50 million), derived from a wealth of available financial and operational data on LIPA and PSEGLI, is intended to be the “independent, financial impact analysis” you seek… As members of the Advisory Committee, you have the opportunity to raise any perceived deficiencies in the information contained in the draft report or relied on by the commission.’”
Assemblymember Fred Thiele (D-Sag Harbor), said he expected “opponents of public power will use the incident to delay the process and ultimately cast aspersions on the report.” PSEG, he said, “is going to do everything they can to undermine this effort, and unfortunately an incident like this is fodder for them.” [Sub required]
21) New Jersey: Eleana Little, a candidate for Hudson County Executive, comes out strongly against the privatization of Liberty State Park, which developers have been pushing. “I’m an active member of the Friends of Liberty State Park, and have traveled to Trenton on multiple occasions to speak out against privatization of our public land. (…) I support the Friends of Liberty State Park and I support the DEP’s plans for both passive recreation and 61 acres of free active recreation. This is a public park. We can debate what the appropriate mix of active vs. passive recreation is (personally, I think both are important), and what sorts of improvements could be made – for example, I think a shuttle bus service would make the park more accessible for folks without cars (the park is large and many parts are removed from public transit, and not everyone can bike or walk those distances). But we shouldn’t accept any privatization.”
22) Texas: The Lone Star State’s water infrastructure is facing a possible crisis, but will the Republican-dominated state government—and voters—take the necessary action? “Texas has a historic state budget surplus and an expected influx of $2.5 billion of water funding from the federal government, making water advocacy groups and stakeholders feel cautiously optimistic. A bipartisan group of state lawmakers coalesced around water issues in January under the new Texas House Water Caucus. And lawmakers are poised to pass a bill that could inject billions of dollars into new water supply projects and repairs to water infrastructure. But it’s not a done deal yet. And voters likely will have the final say in the fall when they’re asked to approve a constitutional amendment that would create a new fund to fix our broken pipes. Here’s what you need to know.”
23) International: An influential Philippine Senator is resisting proposals to privatize the country’s major airport. “Sen. Risa Hontiveros on Sunday said greater focus on accountability and better management of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport and other air terminals—and not privatization of these facilities—will address deteriorating conditions in the country’s airports. In a statement, Hontiveros said privatization of NAIA and other airports is not a ‘silver bullet’ or the right prescription to the growing issue of failed services in our air terminals. ‘This is an issue of performance and accountability—services at the NAIA will not improve, even if the private sector will manage it, if there will be no reforms in the system of management of the NAIA and other airports in the country,’ she continued. The statement comes after talks of privatization of NAIA was again raised following a recent power outage that disrupted dozens of flights in the Philippines’ main air terminal.”
24) National: Private security guards are replacing police across America, Time reports.” “Private security is going to take over everything,” says Boyer, the Philadelphia armed guard. He adds that a father recently hired him to take his two children to the movies, armed with a shotgun, to make sure they were safe. (…) Residents and business associations in upper-middle class neighborhoods like Lincoln Park, Chicago, Neponsit, N.Y. and San Francisco’s Marina District have chipped in extra money to hire private security because residents report feeling unsafe. By contrast, in New Orleans, a city where the median income is about half that in Beverly Hills, police response times have tripled, from 51 minutes in 2019 to 146 minutes last year. (…) Wealthy cities can also attract more police officers because they have the tax base to offer high wages and benefits. Seattle, for instance, is offering an $80,000 salary and $30,000 signing bonus. But poorer police departments can’t come close to matching that kind of money, says Wexler, with the Police Executive Research Forum. “This is what keeps police chiefs and mayors up at night—who are going to be the future police officers in their city,” he says.”
25) National: “Medicare is being privatized, right in front of our faces,” writes Dan Burns in LEFTMN. “Seniors go with MA because the plans, which often offer (for example) full dental and prescription drug coverage, make more sense for them in the here and now than traditional Medicare does. Well, that plus downright overwhelming, not to mention at times apparently criminal, sales tactics. The obvious solution isn’t ‘reforms.’ It’s Medicare For All.”
26) National: An auditor shortage could hurt local governments, Route Fifty reports. “Public sector finance departments have been under heightened pressure for the last several years as they have not only navigated a pandemic and wave of retirements, but have also been tasked with managing and reporting on millions of dollars of new federal funding. In addition, as I reported for Route Fifty almost two years ago, the demand for government auditors in the private sector has likely increased because more localities will be subject to the federal government’s single audit requirement. Under the rule, governments that spend $750,000 or more of federal awards in any given year are subject to the federal Single Audit Act, which requires they submit an external audit to verify they’ve spent the money according to the guidelines.” It gets worse. “The slowdown in audited reports has already had financial consequences. Last week, S&P Global Ratings withdrew its rating for 64 local governments and districts because they have yet to produce their audited 2021 financial report.”
27) New York: Unions are backing an initiative to bar local and state agencies from assisting federal immigration enforcement agencies. “All told, 25 unions signed onto backing the bill, including 32BJ SEIU, District Council 37 and United Auto Workers, Region 9A. New York already has measures on the books to limit ICE coordination, including prohibiting the agency from making civil arrests in courthouses. Republican legislators have in recent years opposed measures meant to bar federal immigration enforcement from working with New York officials, blasting efforts to bolster New York as a ‘sanctuary’ state.”
28) New York: Having chest pains? Well the price for taking a public FDNY ambulance to the hospital has jumped a whopping 54% in New York City—from $900 to $1,385. “Oren Barzilay, president of Local 2507, a union that represents uniformed emergency medical technicians, paramedics and fire inspectors, says this hike is unwarranted. (…) ‘It’s a life and death situation, an Uber driver is not trained. They don’t have the drugs that we have, they don’t have defibrillators, they don’t have narcotics,’ Barzilay said. According to the FDNY, the hike comes because of inflation and raised emergency medical service salaries. The union says the FDNY is just trying to make more money. ‘Whoever came up with this solution or blaming game on EMS people to increase these rates should be fired,’ Barzilay said. ‘It’s insulting, offensive and uncalled for.’ Barzilay is worried people won’t get ambulances who need them.”
29) Rhode Island: West Warwick Public Schools and concerned parents are investigating reports that a school bus driver with the private First Student company was “speeding and blowing stop signs.” One mom said “‘I was fuming, and I was scared.’ (…) Students came home crying and “traumatized” after the turbulent ride home. ‘She did say that kids were screaming,’ the mom said when she questioned her daughter about what happened. ‘He was braking and hitting stop signs. Scary stuff, I just can’t even imagine.’ (…) In Rhode Island, bus monitors are required by law on every school bus for grades K through 5. NBC 10 News reached out to the spokesperson for First Student regarding the bus monitors but did not hear back.”
30) International: The May 29 election could further define the private sector’s role in health care, CBC reports. “In this crucial moment, there’s consensus that some kind of change is required to ward off pressure on the system. In Alberta, both the United Conservative Party and New Democratic Party have broadly pledged to protect public health care. But the debate truly lies at the boundaries of the system, where the division between public and private pay is blurred. Whoever wins the provincial election will be a key participant in a national debate that will define what happens next to one of Canada’s most cherished symbols of identity. So do solutions to Alberta’s health-care crisis involve an increased role for the private sector? Are such moves likely to be effective? And what does each party leader believe?”
31) New Hampshire: Sandra Ringelstein of Moultonborough, in a letter to the editor of the Laconia Daily Sun, says privatization is hollowing out the public sector. “Under the guise of less government we stand to lose much. I am deeply concerned about the trend by many of our politicians to push toward privatization of industries and services here in New Hampshire. We saw an attempt by Free Staters to dismantle the Gunstock Mountain Resort in Belknap County and the slashing of budgets that threatened a public school in Croydon. I hope we don’t see the same trend toward our own award-winning Carroll County nursing home. When public money is diverted from institutions, they are doomed to fail. When public dollars are moved from public schools, under the deception of “choice,” the quality of education that exists for everyone is jeopardized. When public funds and the successful management of county nursing homes are limited, access is diminished for those across the economic spectrum. There is a growing political shift to dismantle the foundations of public sectors, from public schools to county-run nursing homes.”
32) Texas: Bryan Slaton, a Republican state representative who once tried to pass a law making abortion punishable by the death penalty, has been expelled from the Texas House for having sex with a 19-year old staff aide and acting to thwart an investigation into the matter. “The aide’s friend told the committee that the woman, who had never had sex before, said she had unprotected sex with Slaton and obtained Plan B pregnancy-prevention medication from a drugstore the next day. (…) Last year, he called for a blanket ban on minors at drag shows, saying it was necessary to protect children from ‘perverted adults.’” Slaton has been rated “unfriendly” by Texans for Public Education
33) International: On June 26 Toronto will be holding its mayoral by-election. Housing is a major issue, and Ric Amis says privatization has exacerbated the problem. “Ontario Place, the Ontario Science Centre and housing co-ops were all public projects funded by the provincial government. The fight against Therme Group is a fight against the privatization of public space and services, which are the direct cause of the housing crisis we now have. It’s not an either/or.”
Photo of sculpture “OY/YO” by artist Deborah Kass in front of Philadelphia’s Weitzman National Museum of American Jewish History: Peter Miller