1) National: Want to know what Donald Cohen, executive director of In the Public Interest, thinks are the best books about the battle between democracy and oligarchy? You’re in luck. Shepherd.com, which helps readers connect to books and authors connect to readers, asked Donald, who cowrote The Privatization of Everything, for some recommendations.
2) National: Kansas, Idaho, and Georgia have stopped the school privatization train, at least for now. Jennifer Berkshire has the receipts on her Have You Heard podcast, with interviews of some of the “amazing organizers” who brought it about. “School privatization has been on a roll this year. But then the ‘fund students not systems’ express hit a wall in states like Kansas, Georgia, and Idaho. So what happened? We talk to public education advocates in all three states and come away with some lessons in effective organizing, not to mention a much-needed dose of inspiration.” [Audio, about fifty minutes].
For more, see Jennifer Berkshire’s new article, “How to Fight the Right’s Moral Panic Over Parental Rights” in The Nation. “Red Wine and Blue launched a series of Troublemakers Trainings to help instruct suburban moms on how to teach their friends and neighbors to fight back. And even as Republicans broadcast their intent to use the school wars to win back suburban voters, Paris and her colleagues were convinced the strategy would fall flat. ‘You’re going to claw back suburban moms by scaring them? How dumb do you think we are? That lit the fire,’ Paris says.” But the message has been mixed, writes Berkshire. “Democrats aren’t helped, of course, by the decades-long support that party leaders have voiced for school privatization in the name of innovation and student achievement. Now, as Republicans beat the drum for school vouchers, national Democrats often struggle to articulate how their particular brand of school choice is any different.”
3) National: Some economists have begun offering proposals to protect the workers most likely to be affected by artificial intelligence, reports The New York Times. “Workers could benefit, for example, from paid leave policies that allow them to take time away from their jobs to develop new skills. Germany already has a similar program, in which workers in most German states can take at least five paid days a year for educational courses, an initiative the labor minister recently said he planned to expand. (…) ‘If the government sets the agenda in developing technologies that are more complementary to humans, that would be very important,’ [Daron Acemoglu, an economist at M.I.T.] said. ‘Industry is looking to the government for leadership.’”
4) National/New Book: Veteran financial journalist Gretchen Morgenson, who doggedly dug up corruption and other scandals in the banking industry over the past few decades, has a new book out (with Joshua Rosner). In These are the Plunderers, Morgenson and Rosner “show how companies absorbed by private equity have worse outcomes for everyone but the financiers: employees are more likely to lose their jobs or their benefits; companies are more likely to go bankrupt; patients are more likely to have higher healthcare costs; residents of nursing homes are more likely to die; towns struggle when private equity buys the main businesses, crippling the local economy; and school teachers, firefighters, medical technicians, and other public workers are more likely to have lower returns on their pensions because of the fees private equity extracts from their investments. In other words: we are all worse off because of private equity.”
Ralph Nader just interviewed Morgenson for a must-listen episode of his podcast. Morgenson says “the disappointing thing about the Justice Department is that when they bring these cases against the companies that are doing Medicare fraud (like in the Manor Care situation), they don’t move up the corporate ladder to the owner of the company. The Justice Department does the work on the particular company that is owned by private equity, but they don’t go up the ladder. And that has a way of allowing the firms—like Carlyle in the Manor Care case— to escape scrutiny and to escape accountability. So that would be an ideal thing to change.” [Audio, about an hour].
5) National/Ohio: The Toledo Blade editorial board congratulates Senate Banking Committee Chairman Sherrod Brown, (D-OH) and other lawmakers for pushing for public pension plans, which are heavily invested in private equity, to be made more transparent. “‘Because private fund advisers’ fees are calculated based on fund asset valuations, the accuracy and transparency of fund asset valuation practices is crucial to prevent overcharging of investors and to mitigate conflicts for private fund advisers,’ Mr. Brown wrote. Inflated claims of performance are used to justify the fees and expenses that are paid to private equity managers. Since 2018 OPERS has paid its private equity fund managers almost $1.3 billion.”
6) National: Two researchers at the public University of Massachusetts Chan Medical School have led the creation of perinatal mental health tools. “Tiffany Moore Simas, MD, MPH, MEd, the Donna M. and Robert J. Manning Chair in Obstetrics and Gynecology and chair and professor of obstetrics & gynecology, led the charge on two clinical practice guidelines published May 18 by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), with contributions from Nancy Byatt, DO, MS, MBA, professor of psychiatry, obstetrics & gynecology, and population & quantitative health sciences. The guidelines augment resources in which Drs. Moore Simas and Byatt have played major roles in developing…”
7) National/Minnesota: Max Nesterak, deputy editor of the Minnesota Reformer, reports that Minnesota lawmakers have approved nine major worker-friendly changes. “‘This bill is a big damn deal,’ said Sen. Erin Murphy, DFL-St. Paul, during a news conference. The labor bill (SF3035) includes a Democratic wish list years in the making that will affect virtually every worker in the state. The bill mandates paid sick days, bans noncompete agreements, boosts funding for workplace safety inspectors and increases protections for workers in nursing homes, Amazon warehouses, meatpacking plants, construction sites, hospitals and public schools. Democrats are also advancing a host of other labor bills that will create a statewide paid family and medical leave program, expand unemployment eligibility for hourly school workers and give hospital nurses a greater say in staffing levels.”
8) National/Washington: Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) says, “Thanks to the Infrastructure Law, 244 new projects have been funded in Washington State. That’s $2.9 billion for road and bridge improvements, clean water access, and energy-efficient upgrades—Democrats are delivering!”
9) National: While it certainly doesn’t solve the problem of water distribution in the West, “the Biden administration reached a landmark deal with several western states to stave off an immediate crisis with the Colorado River and the communities that are dependent on it. Luke Runyon of KUNC Public Radio says, “these states essentially agreed to take less water from the Colorado River. So, we’re looking at California, Arizona and Nevada. They have agreed to significant cutbacks to their use over the next three years. And, really, this is an attempt and to kind of live within a shrinking river. Climate change has been ravaging the Colorado River for more than 20 years now. It’s a significantly smaller river. And what we found is that we need to use a lot less water in order to match the declining supply that we have in this—in the Southwest. (…) This is really a short-term solution to get the river’s negotiators to 2026, which is when its current managing guidelines expire. So, this is not a solution to the river’s fundamental gap between water supply and demand. This just builds slightly more stability and certainty into water supplies for those” states.
The Congressional Research Service has just issued a new report on the issue, “Management of the Colorado River: Water Allocations, Drought, and the Federal Role.”
10) Texas: Good news out of Texas? Indeed, on two counts. First, state lawmakers failed to pass “a measure that would allow parents to use taxpayer dollars to fund private school tuition or cover home-schooling expenses.” But, says the Texas Tribune, this “all but assures Gov. Greg Abbott will call the Legislature back for a taxpayer-funded special session to try again.” Well that should be quite a rodeo. The other good news is that an effort to ban faculty tenure in public universities has failed in the state legislature. “On Saturday, in a surprise move, senators backed off their position and accepted the House’s counterproposal, which solidifies tenure in state law and places more power to make future changes to tenure in the hands of state lawmakers rather that individual university system boards.”
11) International/National: Can workers help control artificial intelligence? Yes, they can, says Daniel Bertossa of PSI. Listen to the RadioLabour podcast here. [About 7 minutes]
12) National/International: Jennifer Berkshire explains how the mini-industry to trash public education in the U.S. works. “One rule about education news in the US is that anything bad gets seized upon while things that disrupt the failure narrative get completely ignored. Case in point: latest international reading results. You can find story after story celebrating Poland & the UK, but the US? Nada.”
13) National: DeSantis’ entry into the presidential race has set up an opportunity for President Biden to strike back against his reactionary education policies in Florida. “President Joe Biden and the other Democrats in the presidential race will likely push against DeSantis’ narrative that schools have become places for liberal indoctrination. That could take a number of different forms, Curran said. For one, Biden will likely attack conservative education policies, like school choice expansions, curriculum restrictions, book bans, and limits to LGBTQ+ student rights.” [Sub required]
14) Arkansas: Bully tactics in the Marvell-Elaine school district aim to smother opposition to school privatization, the Arkansas Times reports. “The first thing Secretary Jacob Oliva did before the Marvell-Elaine School District entered a contract with the Friendship Education Foundation? Fire everyone. It’s one part of state leaders’ larger plan to control the narrative of LEARNS. We see why the state is trying so hard to re-write the story; Marvell-Elaine schools aren’t really “saved” when the Department of Education swoops in and cleans house. Which is why plaintiffs filed a second motion in their lawsuit against the state ahead of the scheduled June 20th hearing.”
15) Iowa/National: Gov. Kim Reynolds (R) is positioning herself to connect on school privatization with Republican presidential candidates likely to campaign in her state, the Wall Street Journal reports. “The school-voucher program that Gov. Reynolds got passed this year came after two failed attempts that included opposition from some Republicans in rural areas, where private schools are less common. Reynolds weighed in on 2022 primary races for Republican legislators who had opposed her education plan. Eight of nine she backed won their primaries.” At least 19 states are considering student funding for private schools and home schooling in wake of pandemic, the WSJ reports. “Becky Pringle, president of the National Education Association, said voucher programs are being pushed by politicians who seek to privatize public school systems. (…) Ms. Pringle said her union, which counts more than three million members, would mount legislative and legal efforts to stop their growth. ‘Ninety-percent of this nation’s students are educated in public schools,’ Ms. Pringle said. ‘So we have to do everything to make sure that our public schools are funded.’” [Sub required]
16) New York: ProPublica reports that New York City charter schools are writing their own rules when it comes to calling 911 on students having a mental health crisis. “Success Academy officials have been trying to push him out of the school because of his disability — an accusation similar to those made by other Success Academy parents in news stories, multiple lawsuits that resulted in settlements and a federal complaint. When giving him detentions and suspensions didn’t stop Ian’s tantrums, Blanco said, the school started calling 911. If Blanco can’t get to Ian fast enough to intervene, a precinct officer or school safety agent from the New York Police Department will hold him until an ambulance arrives to take him to a hospital for a psychiatric evaluation—incidents the NYPD calls ‘child in crisis’ interventions.”
17) Pennsylvania/National: The Philadelphia Marriott is facing criticism for hosting an upcoming conference (June 29 to July 2) that features Moms for Liberty, a small band of ultra-activists campaigning for book bannings across the country. “Local LGBT-allied advocacy groups and activists have been planning a series of public responses to the Summit, including rallies, protests and demonstrations. They have also been organizing email campaigns, phone zaps, and petitions aimed at Marriott and challenging the hotel’s decision to host what is being characterized as a hate group.” A group of concerned officials sent a letter to Marriott demanding an explanation: “As the area’s elected officials, we urge you to reconsider your decision to host Moms for Liberty’s national convention at your hotel. We would like to understand the rationale behind this decision and request a written response addressing the following questions.”
18) Texas: Well it was probably inevitable. Artificial intelligence is being integrated into schools for alleged safety reasons. “In recent years, schools across America, with the help of private companies, have been significantly ramping up surveillance on students, largely in the name of keeping the children safe. Now that there is big buzz about artificial intelligence, or “AI,” it should come as little surprise that peeping adults will increasingly employ AI to aid them in the surveilling of school students. Last week, the Dallas Independent School District was boasting about its new pilot project, undertaken along with the company Davista. The pilot project, the school district says, uses AI to extensively monitor each student and then sound the alarm if a student deviates from his “baseline” behavior. Talk about stifling. Doesn’t growing up tend to involve moving away from your baseline? And since when does being a kid mean you should have no privacy? Tough kids, that is not how the AI sees things.”
19) National: The debt ceiling extension bill, which some feared would become a wholesale bonfire of permitting regulations for infrastructure, especially energy infrastructure, was not as extreme as it could have been, David Dayen reports in the American Prospect. “Permitting: The hopes of a grand bargain on permitting large energy and infrastructure projects mostly dissolved into nothing. There are minor changes to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) that mostly just write down what the Biden administration was implementing anyway. These include things like designating a single lead agency for federal environmental reviews, and faster timelines for writing those reviews. (Environmental impact statements will need to take two years; environmental impact assessments, one year.) Large projects are supposed to be expedited by codifying the “Fast-41” approach that’s already an executive order. The scope of the law, and the timelines for public challenges, remain the same. There’s supposed to also be an agreement in some way speeding up approvals for transmission lines, to connect them to renewable energy, but apparently it’s only a study of some techniques to do so. Kyrsten Sinema came in at the last minute to try to make transmission reform friendlier to monopoly utilities, huzzah.”
Still, the issue will continue, Bloomberg reports. “While the outcome signaled a win for progressives who oppose broad changes to a bedrock environmental law, McCarthy said the continuing effort would include a range of energy issues. He said he pledged to Biden to continue working with the White House and Democrats ‘because we need energy—all forms of energy, especially for our grid—to double.’” [Sub required]
However, climate groups have blasted the legislation. “‘This agreement is far from a compromise,’ said one campaigner. ‘It’s a surrender to Big Oil and Republican hostage-takers in Congress.’ In exchange for an increase of the United States government’s arbitrary debt limit, the Biden administration ‘betrayed the American people,’ one climate campaigner said Monday, by accepting a deal that requires the approval of all remaining permits for the planet-heating Mountain Valley Pipeline and weakens the government’s ability to stop further pollution-causing projects.”
“What this deal really does is hurt the government’s capacity. Clean air and water, consumer product safety, labor laws, public lands, agricultural conservation—most of the stuff we think of as “the government” will be hit by this. “‘Flat spending’ implies a further reduction in real government funding per person after a decade of Obama-Boehner austerity, followed by Trump’s assaults on the administrative state,” wrote Jeff Hauser of the Revolving Door Project.”
20) National: The Congressional Research Service has published a timely report on “Funding and Financing Highways and Public Transportation Under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA).” Must reading for anyone following privatization issues in the infrastructure space. “The IIJA made further changes to the funding structure of highway and public transportation programs by providing additional non-trust fund sums via advance multiyear supplemental appropriations. Advance funds are effectively guaranteed because they are not subject to subsequent annual appropriations acts. The IIJA provides advance appropriations totaling an additional $47 billion for highways and $21 billion for public transportation over FY2022-FY2026. In addition, the IIJA expands the use of authorizations subject to future appropriations acts. Such use of large general fund amounts, in addition to HTF monies, is likely to be a point of discussion during the IIJA reauthorization debate in FY2025-FY2026.”
21) National/International: Infrastructure investors are clamoring for public subsidies in the midst of a frenzy over the profit-making potential of green hydrogen, the Financial Times reports. “Unlike its most common form of production, known as grey hydrogen, which is extracted from natural gases in a carbon-intensive process, the green version relies on renewable energy, such as solar or wind power, to split water into hydrogen and oxygen. It creates no carbon during a production process called electrolysis and emits only water when it is burnt. Some 1,000 new projects globally have been announced to date, requiring total investment of $320b.” Its realization would require massive investment in infrastructure—pipelines, ships and storage sites. [Sub required]
22) National: Bad apples in muniland, the Bond Buyer reports. “The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority has fined Little Rock, Arkansas-based Crews and Associates $50,000 and its former head trader and chief executive Rush F. Harding $30,000 for their roles in selling municipal bonds with markups to an affiliated bank, with Harding having violated MSRB Rule G-18 on best execution and Rule G-17 on conduct and the firm violating Rule G-27 on supervision.”
23) Michigan: Another ‘public-private partnership’ for university infrastructure is raising fears about privatization. “A public-private partnership over sustainability has put the privatization of Eastern Michigan University back into focus for faculty. Eagle Energy Partners will pay $115 million to the university to provide immediate cash for various university projects, while the university agrees to pay the firm for 50 years to modernize and maintain its energy infrastructure on the Ypsilanti campus. The multi-decade deal, done at other universities such as Ohio State or Georgetown, provides quick capital for university investments, officials said. However, faculty members question whether another deal with a private firm is wise given the $11-million lawsuit filed in late March over a parking repair dispute.” [Sub required]
24) New Jersey: The planned revitalization of Liberty State Park will be accomplished without privatization, says the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP)’s Commissioner Shawn LaTourette. Previous efforts to privatize and commercialize parts of the park have been defeated by well-organized and determined community members. “The DEP’s current plan calls for a makeover of the soon-to-be-remediated interior, the northern, southern, and waterfront sections in three phases. ‘I will not relent in the legal truth of the fact that the privatization of public land is not a thing, period, full stop,” he said in a virtual press briefing ahead of an open house. “It’s in that spirit that we offer the options to the community that are based in what is provided by our institution, routinely, to communities all across New Jersey, and that we can certainly pursue here.’”
25) West Virginia/National: “Manchin Gets Mountain Valley Pipeline Deal Into Debt Bill,” Bloomberg reports. “The language in the debt bill would force agencies to take all necessary actions to permit the construction of the pipeline and would give the DC Circuit jurisdiction over future litigation involving the project. For years, its approvals have been challenged in the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. (…) Mountain Valley Pipeline’s developers, a group led by Pittsburgh-based Equitrans Midstream Partners LP, have said the pipeline is 94% completed, but that it still needs permits to build across streams and protected habitats.” [Sub required]
Many community activists are outraged. “‘Singling out the Mountain Valley Pipeline for approval in a vote about our nation’s credit limit is an egregious act,’ said Peter Anderson, Virginia policy director with Appalachian Voices. ‘By attempting to suspend the rules for a pipeline company that has repeatedly polluted communities’’ water and flouted the conditions in its permits, the president and Congress would deny basic legal protections, procedural fairness, and environmental justice to communities along the pipeline’s path.’”
26) National: David Sirota reports that “Medicare privatization now lets private insurers fleece $20 billion a year in overpayments. Meanwhile, privatized Medicare plans are wrongly denying roughly one in five claims, according to regulators. What stage of capitalism is this?”
27) National: The for-profit takeover of Medicare is a huge scam, Matthew Cunningham-Cook and Andrew Perez report in Jacobin. “Humana is the most prominent example of how insurers have built a major cash cow out of systematically overbilling Medicare Advantage, the private Medicare program operated by private interests. These overpayments are symptomatic of a broader profit-driven policy agenda that seeks to completely privatize Medicare, one of the nation’s most popular social programs, and lock program recipients into subpar private insurance plans, even when they get sicker and need the best care possible.”
28) National: Wall Street’s next big play is garbage, reports the Wall Street Journal. “The green push by the U.S. and state governments is turning trash into treasure and boosting the firms that handle America’s garbage.
Shares of the biggest players in the U.S. trash business, Waste Management and Republic Services, have traded at record highs since President Biden signed the climate, tax and healthcare bill in August. A recent decline notwithstanding, the stocks are popular picks on Wall Street to ride the sustainability boom higher. (…) WM and Republic are building plants to isolate methane from the fumes emitted by rotting garbage and pipe it into the natural-gas grid to be burned in power plants, furnaces and kitchens. (…) Landfill owners are forecasting hundreds of millions of dollars in additional profit from rising demand for materials and tax incentives for making energy from emissions that would otherwise seep into the atmosphere.” [Sub required].
Are towns and cities going to recoup any of these profits from what is, after all, their garbage? And what about this?
29) National: Media headlines have been quick to report that veterans’ healthcare was increased by the debt ceiling bill. However, VA privatization hawks Steve Early and Suzanne Gordon say there’s an essential backstory here.
First of all, the fact that veterans’ benefits weren’t cut was due to the stout resistance of a member of Congress. “Fortunately, a VA patient, elected to Congress last year, took the House floor to accuse the Republican majority of passing a ‘B.S. plan’ that’s ‘an absolute betrayal and a disgrace.’ As former Navy Officer Chris Deluzio (D-PA) noted, House Republicans are ‘threatening to blow up our economy and to push us into default unless we agree to cuts to the VA and veterans, and to so much else. There is not a single protection, not a single one for veterans in their bill. …Millions of veterans are going to be screwed by this plan. They won’t get the care they’ve earned, and they will have to wait longer for benefits.’”
Secondly, the reports of increased benefits have served to obscure the wider challenge to veterans’ care posed by rampant privatization. “That forthcoming paid media blitz will have one downside. It will further obscure the fact that current threats to veterans’ programs are not just coming from the House majority or conservative Republicans in the Senate like Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) Biden himself is harming, rather than helping, veterans by undermining public provision of their care. Nevertheless, Moran, along with former Democrat Kyrsten Sinema, has just introduced a “Veterans Health Empowerment, Access, Leadership, and Transparency for our Heroes (HEALTH) ACT of 2023, that would force the administration to expand VA privatization even further. As this political collaboration illustrates, the incremental defunding of direct care for nine million veterans has always been a bi-partisan project.”
30) National: As we go to press, the debt ceiling legislation has not yet been passed by both chambers of Congress and signed by the President. So just in case, here’s a list of which states will suffer the most if we crash through the debt limit. “Washington, D.C., where 1 in 4 jobs are tied to the federal government, would be hardest hit, becoming the ‘poster child’ for a financial disaster, they said.”
31) National/Wisconsin: The Wisconsin State Senate recently took up the question of whether private provision of public services is cheaper than public provision. This important subject is often obscured behind other issues concerning outsourcing. Marquette Professor Philip Rocco takes on the debate. “Tons of examples here, but let’s take a recent meta-analysis of studies in domain of solid waste + water. No statistically significant evidence of cost savings resulting from private production.” Rocco point to this article by Germà Bel, Xavier Fageda, and Mildred E. Warner, which says “The results suggest that to ensure cost savings, more attention be given to the cost characteristics of the service, the transaction costs involved, and the policy environment stimulating competition, rather than to the debate over public versus private delivery of these services.” There are other studies.
32) Tennessee/National: PowerSwitch Action is spreading the word that a new report is out on state preemption—conservative state lawmakers blocking local democratic action to improve people’s lives, State Interference in Tennessee. “Since 2010, states across the country have increasingly been using preemption to thwart local policies that are important for creating thriving communities. 2 This has resulted in local officials having less freedom to make decisions that are best for their residents. States are interfering in a broad range of policy issues such as local zoning, housing, infrastructure, and working families. When it comes to policies that directly impact working families, Tennessee ranks among the worst states in the country due to the legislature being influenced by corporate interests.”
33) International: Are scandals at the large accounting firms going to affect how public administrators and lawmakers view these companies’ very lucrative government consulting practices? The most recent scandal, at PwC, directly involves its government practice. Calls to kick them out or break them up are mounting. Real and perceived conflicts of interest are at the heart of the scandals. “The suspension of nine PwC partners — including members of its executive and governance board—is the latest escalation of a scandal that erupted in February. PwC suspended nine partners and pledged to publish the findings of an internal review later this year as it works to contain a tax leak scandal engulfing its Australian operations. The company has been under intense public scrutiny after the release of emails showing it had used confidential information about changes to tax laws from the government to win new business.” [Sub required]
34) Think Tanks: Trigger warning: very wonkish. When governments set out to regulate artificial intelligence, what are they regulating? Hal 9000 or your old school 4-bit calculator? Rylan Schaeffer, Brando Miranda, and Sanmi Koyejo, computer science researchers at Stanford University, are out with a pre-print paper analyzing whether, basically, large language models are becoming sentient. Their conclusion? “Via all three analyses, we provide evidence that alleged emergent abilities evaporate with different metrics or with better statistics, and may not be a fundamental property of scaling AI models.” [“Are Emergent Abilities of Large Language Models a Mirage?” arxiv, 22 May 2023]. More accessible is the Congressional Research Service’s new report, Generative Artificial Intelligence and Data Privacy: A Primer.