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- Susan Harley, managing director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch Division, warned in a statement last week that Trump’s sabotage of the U.S. Postal Service amounts to a “coup attempt in the making.”
- The Walton family-backed Equitable Facilities Fund, “a relatively new startup whose mission is ‘to make it easier, faster and less expensive for charter schools to put down roots in sustainable facilities’” went to the bond market last week to price a $141 million deal.
- DC-area toll revenue has plunged 90% amid the coronavirus pandemic, raising huge questions about the future of tolled public-private partnership road projects.
1) National: Happy 85th birthday, Social Security. Nancy J. Altman, James Roosevelt Jr., Tomlin Perkins Coggeshall say “just as enacting Social Security was a solution 85 years ago, expanding Social Security, while requiring the wealthy to pay their fair share, is a solution we should embrace today. While Social Security faces a long-term shortfall, the benefits are completely affordable. Indeed, several currently-pending bills—one with 208 co-sponsors—expand benefits and increase Social Security’s dedicated revenue to restore it to long-range actuarial balance.”
2) National: Amy Hanauer, executive director of the Institute on Taxation & Economic Policy, says “the debate in Washington over additional COVID-19 economic relief is bigger than this moment. It is a debate over the current and long-term role of government. (…) The biggest danger we face right now is that politicians will fail to get this health crisis under control and Americans will continue to get sick or die. The second biggest danger is that elected officials will fail to help families and communities, leading to foreclosures, evictions, and impoverishment—and also torpedoing the economy. With their inaction this week, the Senate seems determined to do both. Hold on everyone, we’re in for a sickening ride.”
3) National: Writing in The New Yorker, Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor goes beyond the debate over “police or no police” to look at deeper change. “The call to defund the police captures both the enormity of the crisis and the need for an enormous response. It draws attention to the continuity of police funding even as other parts of the public sector have been depleted. Cities across the country are a living testament to this, with privatization and other market-oriented solutions summoned to fill the gaps.”
“The momentum from the June uprising has subsided,” she writes, “but police racism and abuse has not. As liberals and conservatives converge in efforts to undermine the demand to defund the police, this redistribution has never been more important.” In a panel discussion on the Black Lives Matter movement on Friday, Elizabeth Hinton, Robin D. G. Kelley, Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, Brandon M. Terry, and Cornel West explored a “Third Reconstructionist” or “abolitionist” approach involving broader structural change than New Deal-type responses. [Transcript; video, about an hour and a half]
4) National: Debbie Berkowitz of the National Employment Law Project and Terri Gerstein of the State and Local Enforcement Project at the Harvard Labor and Worklife Program look at what states and local governments are doing for worker safety, and urge them to do more. “This combination—workers getting sick and OSHA’s conspicuous absence—doesn’t seem to offer much hope. But Virginia recently showed a possible way forward, last month becoming the first state to enact a comprehensive COVID-specific workplace safety standard. Oregon has announced plans to be next. (California already had a rule about airborne diseases before the pandemic, covering only health care workers and first responders).”
5) California: Santa Clara County is providing Universal Basic Income to former foster youth. “Providing UBI to Santa Clara County’s transitioning foster kids is literally a lifeline for them at this devastating time,” said Gisèle Huff, the president of the Gerald Huff Fund for Humanity, a universal basic income advocacy group that helped the county stand up the program. “It opens the door to making it available to all marginalized people who desperately need a floor to stand on.”
6) Colorado: Rep. Joe Neguse (D-CO) says “the role of government—state, federal, local—to be a resource and provide a lifeline to a community that is struggling is just so critically important, and I’ve always felt that way. It’s why I decided to run for office in the first place. If ever there were a time for our government and our leaders to be responsive, now would be it. (…) I have immense faith in the ability of our republic to get things done. So part of my obligation is to show that can be the case, to show what good governance looks like.”
7) Florida: Striking a blow for transparency and the public interest, Florida circuit court judge Virginia Norton has ordered NextEra Energy Inc. to disclose how much it bid to purchase Jacksonville’s public electrical utility JEA. The order is key to opening up the details of the privatization deal. “Council members were eager to hear what the bid was because it was the missing piece in figuring out how much executives stood to make in the sale of the utility as a result of the controversial performance unit plan,” the Jacksonville Business Journal reports. “So once you know how much you can sell JEA for, what the offer was, then you plug that into the performance unit plan equation, and you find out how much these executives were thinking they were going to make,” said council member Rory Diamond.”
< br />8) Georgia: Food stamp use is skyrocketing. “According to DFCS data, there were about 605,000 households receiving almost $161 million in SNAP benefits in July 2019. By this past June, nearly 848,000 households were receiving more than $301 million in benefits. The average monthly benefit also increased by nearly $100 per household in that time, due to the state increasing the amounts recipients could receive to the maximum allowed based on their household size because of the pandemic.”
9) Maryland: The Baltimore Sun editorial board says our best COVID-19 strategy is looking out for the common good. “Here’s what we should all be thinking about whether blushing bride or boardwalk vendor; you can frame it anyway you like: What is best for everyone? What is best for the neighbors? For the state? For the nation? What is best for the most vulnerable among us?”
10) New York: Monroe County lawmakers have renamed the public Greater Rochester International Airport the Frederick Douglass-Greater Rochester International Airport. “Richard Glaser, the petitioner, collected nearly 5,000 signatures to change the name of the airport. ‘Frederick Douglass holds an unparalleled place of prominence in the history of Rochester and Monroe County,’ Monroe County Executive Adam Bello said in a statement last month.”
11) Wyoming: Sheila McGuire of the Uinta County Herald takes aim at anti-government dogma in the West. “People in our neck of the woods are hard-working, rugged folks carrying on time-honored traditions and a disappearing way of life. I don’t deny that. I do, however, refute the claim that their ancestors did it all on their own because it simply wouldn’t have been possible and wouldn’t have occurred as it did without the role of government. We still carry on similar mythologies in all sorts of ways.”
12) International/National: A collaboration between public and private entities is building out an open-source project aiming to broaden access to early alerts for earthquakes.
13) National: The Walton family-backed Equitable Facilities Fund, “a relatively new startup whose mission is ‘to make it easier, faster and less expensive for charter schools to put down roots in sustainable facilities’” went to the bond market last week to price a $141 million deal. The deal “being run by RBC Capital markets consists of $109 million of national charter school revolving loan fund revenue bonds for the Arizona Industrial Development Authority and $32 million for the California Infrastructure and Economic Development Bank. The bonds have been given a ‘social’ designation from Kestrel Verifiers. Social bonds are a burgeoning area in the municipal market as issuers and investors alike become more aware of the intrigue from a growing investor class that wants a signifier of how municipal bond proceeds are being spent.” [Sub required]
14) National: In a guest post on the In The Public Interest website, Sharon Krengel, policy and outreach director of the Education Law Center calls out education secretary Betsy DeVos’ obsession with privatization, no matter how serious the public school crisis is. “Even during a pandemic that’s hitting the U.S. hard and caused every state to physically close schools, she has not wavered from her agenda of using public dollars to subsidize private education. Her boss, President Trump, has spent the past few months trying to help her out, pushing private school voucher policies that have failed for years to gain congressional support. Now come two federal bills that make no illusions about diverting taxpayer dollars to private schools, even though the nation’s public schools are struggling mightily to reopen their doors while simultaneously improving virtual learning for students who will still be at home.”
15) New York/National: What’s the alternative to the privatization of public schools? The New York State Network for Youth Success and the New York State Community Schools Network have released an evidence-based strategy for reopening New York schools using the “community schools” model, which has provided critical support to students and their families need as the pandemic has unfolded. New York State Network for Youth Success.
16) National: The Network for Public Education says “Amazing. Most schools are closed. COVID is raging. And yet in July there were 29 news stories with charter school scandals.
17) Arizona/National: Calls for a national sickout are mounting as an Arizona public school district is forced to abandon its plans to reopen today after more than 100 teachers and staff members called in sick. “‘We have received an overwhelming response from staff indicating that they do not feel safe returning to classrooms with students,’ Gregory Wyman, district superintendent, said in a statement on Friday. ‘Now some activists in Arizona, which saw a high-profile teachers’ strike in 2018, said they hope teachers across America will adopt a similar strategy to keep educators safe, as some parents and politicians continue to push for schools in the US to reopen during the coronavirus pandemic. ‘I’d love to see a nationwide sickout,’ Kelley Fisher, an Arizona kindergarten teacher who has led protests in the state, told Reuters on Friday.”
18) California: Capital & Main reports on how California schools are adapting to the age of the pandemic. Read the series here.
19) California: The Los Angeles Daily News reports on what LAUSD parents can expect when schools reopen and students must report to teachers tomorrow. The schools will operate under a tentative agreement with UTLA that was overwhelmingly approved on Friday. “Full instruction will start Thursday, Aug. 20. At times teachers will conduct sessions in real-time and other times through assignments working independently or in small groups. District teachers will begin reporting for work on Aug 17 for two days of preparation and planning. The afternoon of Aug. 18 will be used for making initial contact with students and families, based on the tentative agreement announced Aug. 3. Unlike in the spring when grades were put aside, grades will be issued for online classes this fall.”
20) California: The charter school wars in Los Angeles have reignited over conflicting views on new rules governing charter school openings, LAist reports. “LAUSD is adapting its guidelines to account for sweeping changes to California’s charter law, which granted districts statewide more powers to block new charters from opening. But the changes to state law—part of Assembly Bill 1505—also mean that existing schools with strong academic track records should have an easier time staying open. The California Charter Schools Association argues LAUSD’s new policy oversteps its new powers, and could effectively ‘ban new charter schools and close existing quality schools.’ But LAUSD leaders say the charter association’s concerns actually stem from AB 1505 itself, not district overreach.”
21) California: Union-school district negotiations have never been this tough. “‘A changing reality has created the biggest obstacle to negotiations,’ said Shannan Brown, executive director of the San Juan Teachers Association, which represents teachers in the San Juan Unified School District in Sacramento County. (…) But bargaining on what distance learning should look like, along with disagreements over side issues, like paying for teachers’ child care, has proved problematic, and agreements don’t go far enough, said Wesley Smith, executive director of the Association of California School Administrators. (…) An underlying, often unstated, tension has been disagreement on which reopening and distance learning issues can be bargained. All districts have a contract with teachers that spells out the length of the day, instructional time and staffing issues like job transfers. Most districts view curriculum decisions as their prerogative.”
22) Georgia: But the situation is even more fraught and dangerous in places without unions. “In mid-July, the group, which Ms. Webb said currently counts hundreds of members, picketed outside a board meeting. A former English teacher, Miranda Wicker, 38, became its spokesperson–a necessity, she said, because current teachers lacked union protection and feared retaliation if they spoke out. ‘They’re terrified,’ Ms. Wicker said. ‘They’re being asked, literally, to risk their lives.’”
23) Georgia: Although the state is cutting $1 billion from local K-12 school budgets, “state support for private school vouchers through tax credits and direct state funding face no budget cuts.”
24) Puerto Rico: A spreading corruption scandal has engulfed Puerto Rico’s former education secretary, Julia Keleher, who closed hundreds of schools and implemented the island’s first charter school, hoping to expand their presence on the island. “Keleher, who resigned in April 2019, is accused of giving school property to a private company in exchange for living in a luxury apartment complex for six months on a $1 lease even though an agreement stipulated a $1,500 monthly rent. Keleher then bought the apartment and received a $12,000 bonus in connection with the purchase when such bonuses rarely exceed $5,000, officials said. Her attorneys have said she is not guilty.”
25) International: A message from David Archer of ActionAid: “Many thanks to those of you who joined our webinar on Sustainable Domestic Financing of Education in the Post-COVID context, that took place on 28th July. For those who missed the webinar you can now see a full recording of it here: Webinar recording – domestic financing of education post-covid-19. Emerging from this webinar we have drafted a ten-point Call to Action on Domestic Financing, which you can access here: Call to Action on Domestic Financing of Education post-Covid. We are looking for organisations to sign on to this Call to Action by 4th September—which you can do most easily simply by sending me an email with your organisation’s name and email. We plan to then circulate this Call to Action widely the following week when schools start to re-open in some countries.”
26) National: In a major victory for environmental and public interest campaigners, Trump has pulled the nomination of William Perry Pendley to permanently head the Bureau of Land management. “According to Lena Moffitt, director of the Sierra Club’s Our Wild America campaign, ‘Pendley’s tenure as head of the Bureau of Land Management, like the entire Trump administration, has been a disaster for our public lands. At best, he’s demonstrated a total disregard for the health of our communities and our wild places, prioritizing giveaways to polluting fossil fuel corporations. At worst, he actively worked against marginalized communities.’”
27) District of Columbia/Virginia/Maryland: DC-area toll revenue has plunged 90% amid the coronavirus pandemic, WTOP reports. “That’s according to new figures revealed in a financial report to investors by Transurban, the Australian transportation company that manages and operates the toll lanes, which was published Wednesday.” The drop-off in revenue raises serious questions about the sustainability of toll road “public-private partnerships” that depend on toll revenue to pay off their operating costs and debt. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) has proposed a multibillion dollar toll road expansion PPP project for the Capital Beltway and I-270, and is in the midst of a crisis over the possible failure of the Purple Line light rail “public-private partnership” (see below).
28) Maryland: A state judge has issued a temporary restraining order “requiring the companies managing construction of the Purple Line to stay on the job until at least Sept. 14, while they and the state continue to argue about hundreds of millions of dollars in cost overruns.” The Maryland Transit Administration is suing Purple Line Transit Partners for breach of contract. “Without an agreement, the state has said it is prepared to take over contracts with subcontractors and manage the highly complex construction itself.” Meanwhile whatever the outcome, the environmental damage has already been done.
The Washington Post is in a near panic at the prospect of a collapse of the “public-private partnership,” warning that all sides will be left with egg on their faces and “taxpayers may be left holding the bag”—as critics of this deal warned from Day 1 but were rebuffed by Pollyannaish P3 boosters and hucksters in both the private and public sectors. The Post’s suggestion? That a rescue “is worth it.” But by whom it doesn’t say. Watch your wallets, Marylanders, the P3 storm cloud is about to burst on you.
29) New York: Covid-19 killed New York’s coastal resilience bill, and people of color could bear much of the cost. “The bill was widely supported by legislators and advocacy groups alike, many of whom expressed shock and disappointment at the postponement. The wait, they argued, could ultimately cost New York more money in the long run, as storms get worse, and delaying climate action could further harm the state’s communities of color, with broader consequences across the nation.”
30) Missouri: Opponents of St. Louis Lambert International Airport privatization rallied against a petition drive to recall Alderman Cara Spencer, a staunch, vocal and informed opponent of the billionaire-backed privatization crusade. “Josie Grillas, a spokeswoman for STL Not for Sale, said the petition drive is meant to intimidate elected officials and activists opposing a plan to lease St. Louis Lambert International Airport to a private operator. ‘It’s time we as a community stand up and say this is unacceptable, that we will not stand for this manipulation of democracy in St. Louis,’ Grillas said.
“The group, which says private Lambert operators would put profits ahead of public interest, vowed to support Spencer in canvassing the ward and helping anyone who signed the petition legally retract their support. Their opposition to the recall effort also drew support Monday from Treasurer Tishaura Jones, Comptroller Darlene Green, and Aldermen Annie Rice, Jeffrey Boyd, Megan Green and Brandon Bosley. ‘Today it’s Cara Spencer, but it could be another ward a different day and we are here to say that if you oppose privatization, if you believe in the public’s interests, STL Not for Sale has your back,’ Grillas said.”
St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Tony Messenger, who has been exposing the bad privatization deal since Day 1, has more details on the role of high priced consultants and their bac kers. “Adolphus Pruitt wants to make sure Andrew McKenna gets paid,” says Messenger. “Pruitt is the longtime president of the St. Louis city branch of the NAACP. Lately, he’s been pushing a ballot initiative that might go before city voters in November. The measure would ask voters to decide on a rush job of a new airport privatization plan with one of the primary purposes being to make sure that the previous consultants on the privatization plan that Mayor Lyda Krewson killed get paid the bonuses that they didn’t earn. McKenna is one of those consultants.”
Criminal Justice and Immigration
31) National: The Government Accountability Office reports that DHS acting Secretary Chad Wolf, who has come under wide criticism for civil liberties violations and brutal tactics in Portland; and acting Deputy Secretary Ken Cuccinelli, the hardline immigration opponent, are ineligible to serve based on their improper appointment. “Upon Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen’s resignation on April 10, 2019, the official who assumed the title of Acting Secretary had not been designated in the order of succession to serve upon the Secretary’s resignation,” GAO says. “Because the incorrect official assumed the title of Acting Secretary at that time, subsequent amendments to the order of succession made by that official were invalid and officials who assumed their positions under such amendments, including Chad Wolf and Kenneth Cuccinelli, were named by reference to an invalid order of succession.”
GAO also says “we have not reviewed the legality of other actions taken by these officials; we are referring the matter to the Inspector General of DHS for review.” Could these “other actions” include presiding over or signing contracts with private, for-profit prison and immigration detention companies?
32) National/Georgia: A second ICE immigrant detainee has died from Covid-19 complications at Stewart Detention Center, which is operated for profit by CoreCivic. “Azadeh Shahshahani, legal and advocacy director for Project South, told the AJC that Guillen-Vega’s death was preventable. ‘There is no reason that a 70-year-old should have been held at a deadly facility in the midst of a pandemic,’ Shahshahani said. ‘How many more tragedies (have to happen) at Stewart before people are released and the government shuts down this horrendous facility?’”
33) National: Route Fifty’s Emma Coleman reports that “many local criminal justice leaders worked to reduce the number of people in county and city jails at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, but in recent months some jails are filling back up.”
34) National: Here’s a flashback to Sen. Kamala Harris’ position on private prisons during her presidential campaign. “End the use of private prisons. Less than 10 percent of our prison population is held in private facilities, but it is nevertheless still necessary to end the profit motive that drives these private prisons, as it is inhumane to profit off of imprisonment and allow a system that continues to create incentives that are contrary to the goal of helping people rehabilitate themselves and return to the community. Kamala also believes we must end private detention centers for undocumented immigrants.”
In 2018, Harris and a number of other senators “sent letters to GEO Group and CoreCivic, the two largest private immigration detention contractors in the United States, to request information about the companies’ compliance with federal immigration detention standards following a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Office of the Inspector General (OIG) report about unsafe conditions and mistreatment of immigrants at a number of privately-run immigration detention centers. The senators also wrote separately to Nakamoto Group, a private company responsible for auditing immigration detention facilities, about the company’s questionable record of reviewing conditions at those facilities.”
35) California: The Intercept takes us inside the California Institution for Men, the prison where California’s coronavirus outbreak exploded. “CIM was patient zero for the pandemic in California’s prisons. The facility was at 120 percent of its official capacity when its outbreak began, and about 200 particularly vulnerable inmates were transferred to other institutions in late May. But because they were only tested weeks before the transfer, they brought the virus with them. As a result, San Quentin went from being virtually virus-free to having more than a third of its population test positive. Twenty-five people incarcerated there have since died.”
36) National: Trump’s privatization of Covid-19 hospital data tracking is proving disastrous, as critics warned. “The order raised alarm that the data could be politicized or withheld from the public. But the authors of the letter expressed additional concerns. They said that the transition from the C.D.C. to the private vendor, TeleTracking Technologies, has left hospitals ‘scrambling to determine how to meet daily reporting requirements’ and that C.D.C. data experts had been sidelined.” Sure enough, the company, which describes its relationship with the government as a “public-private partnership,” is withholding contracting and performance information from the public and refusing to answer Senators’ questions, arguing that it has signed a nondisclosure agreement with the Trump administration. This despite reports of unreliable information.
37) National: “What we’re not going to do is allow the president to suppress votes and rig an election,” says U.S. Senate candidate Marquita Bradshaw of Tennessee, reacting to widespread reports that Trump is hobbling the U.S. Postal Service in a bid to suppress Democratic votes in November and steal the election. Common Dreams reports that “Susan Harley, managing director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch Division, warned in a statement Thursday that Trump and DeJoy’s sabotage of the Postal Service amounts to a ‘coup attempt in the making.’
‘Trump and his election saboteur aide Louis DeJoy must stop their demolition of the Postal Service,’ said Harley. ‘Mail-in voting is an absolute necessity to ensure Americans can exercise their right to vote amid the worst pandemic in a century—which Trump has also made dramatically worse—just like everything else he touches.’”
Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has called the House back from its August recess to deal with the USPS crisis. “Alarmingly, across the nation, we see the devastating effects of the President’s campaign to sabotage the election by manipulating the Postal Service to disenfranchise voters,” Pelosi wrote to colleagues. “Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, one of the top Trump mega-donors, has proven a complicit crony as he continues to push forward sweeping new operational changes that degrade postal service, delay the mail, and—according to the Postal Service itself—threaten to deny the ability of eligible Americans to cast their votes through the mail in the upcoming elections in a timely fashion.”
There is widespread concern that Trump is setting the stage to privatize the postal service. David Sirota reports that Trump’s postal service chairman has led the Senate GOP’s $100 million Super PAC.
38) New Orleans: Black sanitation workers in New Orleans are still on strike three months later. On Friday they held a solidarity event to press their demands: $150 per week in hazard pay; Proper distribution of PPE; Living wage of $15 an hour; Better working conditions; Fix unsafe, broken trucks; Recognition of City Waste Union. “NOLA’s ‘hoppers’ have been on strike against Metro Services Group since May 5. Metro subcontracts through PeopleReady, which is owned by TrueBlue Inc.—headquartered here in downtown Tacoma. This is our second solidarity picket here in Tacoma. If you’re a union member, wear your colors and bring your fellow workers. All who are in solidarity with labor and Black lives are welcome. TrueBlue’s racism and union-busting stops with us. We won’t stop until they’ve won!” The struggle for decent treatment of sanitation workers in New Orleans has been going on for a long, long time. [Watch the Southerly community’s documentary, “On Strike for Everybody.” About 5 minutes. Check out Southerly].
39) National: What does the selection of Kamala Harris mean for municipal finance? The Bond Buyer’s Brian Tumulty has some thoughts. “Biden made his most notable mark with the public finance sector early in the Obama administration for his key role in implementing the February 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act’s infrastructure investments, which included the enactment of direct-pay Build America Bonds. Dee Wisor, an attorney at Butler Snow in Denver, said Biden might delegate a similar role to Harris next year if they are elected and Congress enacts infrastructure legislation as an economic stimulus.” [Sub required]
40) Nevada: Hospital workers in Las Vegas are calling for an investigation of practices by the private, for-profit hospital chain HCA. “The workers, who are members of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), say that HCA Healthcare hospitals they work in are understaffed to serve the volume of patients and that they lack sufficient personal protective equipment such as gloves, masks and face shields. A particular concern is that the hospitals are now reportedly allowing employees who have a mild to moderate case of COVID-19 to return to work in 10 days if their symptoms have subsided without getting tested again to confirm that they’re no longer sick with the virus.”
41) International: Critics of trade and investment agreements have long pointed to the pernicious effects of so-called investor state dispute settlement (ISDS) clauses that allow foreign investors and firms to sue other countries’ governments. Well here’s a new twist: they’re being used to sue desperately cash-strapped governments over Covid-19.
42) Think Tanks: The Project on Government Oversight (POGO) is launching a new newsletter, Corrupted. “We’ll give you the rundown on the illegal corruption (such as bribery and criminal scheming) that’s been going on during the novel coronavirus outbreak, in addition to the ‘legal’ forms that systemic corruption can take. We’ve seen time and again what corruption looks like in our government—whether it’s officials going through the revolving door or capitalist cronies filling cabinet positions—and now we’re seeing it on full display during a pandemic.” It will be sent out every Thursday. Sign up here.