As deaths spike in India, pharmaceutical companies are fighting free vaccines

Your weekly rundown of news and analysis about the privatization of education, water, and other public goods—and about the people fighting back. Not a subscriber? Sign up.

Highlights

1) National: The White House has laid out its “Made in America Tax Plan,” designed to help pay for a national program on infrastructure development—the American Jobs Plan. “This report describes President Biden’s Made in America tax plan, the goal of which is to make American companies and workers more competitive by eliminating incentives to offshore investment, substantially reducing profit shifting, countering tax competition on corporate rates, and providing tax preferences for clean energy production. Importantly, this tax plan would generate new funding to pay for a sustained increase in investments in infrastructure, research, and support for manufacturing, fully paying for the investments in the American Jobs Plan over a 15-year period and continuing to generate revenue on a permanent basis. 

“To start, the plan reorients corporate tax revenue toward historical and international norms. Of late, the effective tax rate on U.S. profits of U.S. multinationals—the share of profits that they actually pay in federal income taxes—was just 7.8 percent.1 And although U.S companies are the most profitable in the world, the United States collects less in corporate tax revenues as a share of GDP than almost any advanced economy in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).”

So can American companies afford it? Well to take just one example, Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway swung to an $11.7bn profit in first quarter and now sits on a cash pile of  $145.4bn while $6.6bn was spent on stock buybacks. [Sub required] 

2) National: The Senate passed a $35 billion measure for clean drinking water. “Investments in water infrastructure can often be a hard sell politically. ‘A lot of these are invisible investments. Distribution networks are underground, people can’t really see them,’ said Maura Allaire, professor of urban planning at the University of California, Irvine. ‘It can be really hard to invest—until a catastrophe happens.’ The Biden administration is aiming to fill some of the existing gap as a part of the American Jobs Plan, which promises $111 billion for water systems. The administration praised the new act, saying in a statement that the bill ‘aligns with the administration’s goals to upgrade and modernize aging infrastructure.’ If approved by the House and signed into law, funding from the new bill would come in incremental increases to state water infrastructure budgets from 2022 to 2026.” The bill now goes to conference.

“The Senate bill would authorize $14.65 billion for the Clean Water State Revolving Fund and another $14.65 billion to the Drinking Water SRF over the next five years,” Bond Buyer reports. “SRFs act as infrastructure banks by providing low-interest loans for drinking water infrastructure projects. As money is paid back into the state’s revolving loan fund, the state makes new loans for other projects. These recycled payments of loan principal and interest earnings allow the state’s fund to ‘revolve’ over time.” [Sub required]

3) National: Writing in the National Catholic Reporter, Michael Sean Winters says President Biden’s address to Congress “announced that government focused on the common good was back and that the democratically expressed will of the people insisted on a more activist government.” 

4) California: H/T @JeongPark52: “This is interesting… Some residents in parts of Kern County will get additional CalFresh (food stamp) benefits to buy safe drinking water starting March 2022.” 

5) New Jersey/National: After years of protest, Essex County is ending its ICE jail contract. “But immigrant rights groups and some relatives of former detainees expressed skepticism. It was clear that the decision had been impelled by ‘dollars and cents,’ said Amy Torres, executive director of the New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice, rather than by any moral imperative not to hold people in what she described as dangerous conditions.”

6) International: U.S. companies are required to disclose their in-house lobbying operations. The British trade union movement is demanding the same be done in the U.K. “The NAO points out that there is too little information in the public domain to conduct an effective analysis of the performance of, and rewards for, major contractors delivering publicly funded services. Neither the Cabinet Office nor the Treasury have reliable or complete data on contracts let in Whitehall. Nor is there consolidated data for the NHS, local government or the devolved administrations.”

Education

7) National: Steven Singer of the gadflyonthewallblog, asks if unions can defang charter school vampires? “So how do unions change this system? Most obviously, they put a check on the nearly limitless power of the charter operators. Now you have to pay a living wage. You can’t demand people work evenings and weekends without paying them overtime. You have to provide safe working conditions for students and staff. And if you want to cut student services and pocket the difference, the staff is going to have something to say about that – AND YOU HAVE TO LISTEN! How much will union power beat back charter bosses? It’s hard to say. But there is no doubt that it will play a moderating influence. And how much it does so may depend to a large degree on the individuals working at the school and the degree of solidarity they can exercise against their bosses. One thing is for sure, with a union the gravy train is over.” [For more see below in Pennsylvania and Propel Charter Schools].

8) National: Anti-privatization activist Diane Ravitch expresses dismay over two Biden education picks. “It would be gratifying to hear either or both explain why they the multi-billion Race to the Top failed, why Common Core had no impact (yet cost hundreds of millions) to implement, whether they have changed their views about VAM (evaluating teachers by student test scores) and charter schools. It appears that Rodriguez and Carmel Martin will make policy, not Secretary Cardona or Deputy Secretary-designate Cindy Martens. Biden is looking to the future with his sweeping domestic policy plans. But in education, he is looking in the rear-view mirror to the architects of Obama’s failed programs.”

9) National: A former Obama White House adviser has been arrested for allegedly stealing over $200,000 from charter schools he founded. “Seth Andrew was charged by prosecutors in the US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York with wire fraud, money laundering, and making false statements to a bank. Prosecutors say Andrew helped create a network of charter schools based in New York City in 2005, and left the network in 2013 for a job at the US Department of Education, and later became a senior adviser in the Office of Educational Technology at the White House, where he continued to be paid by the charter school network. Prosecutors say Andrew left his role in the White House in November 2016 and cut ties with the school network in January 2017. (…) Andrew was the founder of Democracy Prep Public Schools, a network of more than 20 public charter schools from Harlem to Washington, DC, according to an email sent to Democracy Prep families and alumni Tuesday morning that was released to CNN.”

10) Arkansas: Olivia Paschal of Facing South reports on objections by parents and education supporters over a voucher program for students with disabilities. “I’ve watched this state privatize public education every piece of the way,” state Rep. David Tollett (R), superintendent for the Barton-Lexa School District in Phillips County, said in the House floor debate prior to the vote. State Rep. Gary Deffenbaugh (R), a retired educator, asked, “The question is, who are private schools accountable to? Who has oversight over them?”

11) Florida; The Sun-Sentinel has compiled a list of ten shameful decision by Florida’s broken legislature. “Transgender kids: For sheer cruelty, this one beats them all. Republicans revived a bill thought dead and used their raw power to ram through a ban on transgender female athletes competing in girls’ and women’s high-school and college sports (SB 1028), sticking it in a charter school bill. This heartless ostracizing of a marginalized community took place despite protests from Democrats, such as Sen. Victor Torres, D-Orlando, who made a deeply moving speech about his trans granddaughter. ‘We don’t need this!’ Torres shouted. ‘But obviously some don’t care.’ No, they don’t.”

12) Florida: The Leon County School Board has rejected the application of a charter school. “There were not enough details for me to think, alright I really really know that they are ready to go with this because I just didn’t see those t’s crossed and the i’s dotted,” said Board Chairwoman Joy Bowen. “And school board member Rosanne Wood is concerned about resources being spread thin with the introduction of another charter school. ‘Tallahassee Classical School is at 46% capacity. Governor’s Charter is at 56% capacity and that’s one of the schools that this school named they were going to take students from,’ said Wood. The state funds schools based on enrollment.”

13) Idaho: A state investigation into Monticello Montessori Public Charter School has raised new concerns over reimbursements and the future of its preschool. “‘The current preschool structure is a violation of the school’s performance certificate and may be considered cause for a non-renewal recommendation if the issue is not remedied,’ the commission wrote. The commission raised concerns that there was no documented connection between the tuition fees for preschool and the utility and facility costs. It also warned that any state or federal dollars that went into the preschool may count as a misuse of public funds. The preschool charges an annual tuition of $1,828.75, according to its pre-kindergarten program student registration form. The investigation found that there was an unusually high number of employee reimbursements between July and December, which the commission could not find an explanation for. The current budget did not include health insurance for any of Monticello’s full-time employees, which is required for all employees.”

14) Indiana: Senate Minority Leader Greg Taylor has voted against the state’s budget, even though it passed the Indiana General Assembly with bi-partisan support. “Taylor said he was concerned that the amount of funding for charter school vouchers was too high. He also does not support the state taxing federal unemployment benefits Hoosiers received in 2020, while business Paycheck Protection Program loans will not be counted toward state income tax. Those loans also were forgiven by the federal government under the American Rescue Plan.”

15) IndianaWriting in Chalkbeat Indiana, Stephanie Wang puts a faulty charter school application under the spotlight. “Calling him ‘brilliant’ at working with students, the influential charter incubator The Mind Trust gave Al-Nasir a two-year, $800,000 fellowship last summer to develop Stemnasium Science Math Engineering Middle School. But a Chalkbeat investigation found that the rosy charter pitch painted over troubling details—lawsuits, financial troubles, questionable academic credentials—that escaped notice by city charter officials and The Mind Trust.”

16) IowaA new charter school law is on Gov. Kim Reynolds’ (R) desk. “Critics are worried conventional public school systems serving large, diverse populations, like Des Moines public schools, will suffer financially as a result.” Little Village magazine reports that “the Legislative Services Agency was unable to determine what financial impact the bill would have in its Fiscal Note on HF 813, largely because it’s unknown how many new charter schools would be founded if groups can obtain their charters from DOE instead of local school boards. But another problem was that the bill lacks specifics regarding funding of a new charter school.”

17) Minnesota: Separate but equal redux? Diane Ravitch reports that elites are proposing a constitutional amendment to enable segregated schools. “A number of its charters are segregated by race and ethnicity, intentionally so, because the charter industry believes that segregation is culturally affirming. This situation led to a lawsuit to assure the rights of children of color in the state. So now leading figures in the state charter lobby want to pass an amendment to the state constitution that would make segregated schools acceptable, while adding that school quality would be determined by standardized tests.”

18) Missouri: Outgoing Columbia Public Schools Superintendent Peter Stiepleman has “urged members to contact state legislators to oppose the current Senate bill which would expand charter school vouchers. ‘We cannot become complacent, because public education is under attack,’ he said.”

19) New Hampshire: Check out the latest Have You Heard podcast with Jennifer Berkshire and Jack Schneider. “Two decades ago, the Free State Project announced an audacious plan to make New Hampshire a utopia for libertarians. Now one of their central goals – privatizing education – appears within reach. Have You Heard heads to the Granite State to explore New Hampshire’s shifting political terrain and why what began as a fringe political movement is no laughing matter. Guests: Matthew Hongoltz-Hetling, author, A Libertarian Walks Into a Bear. ” [Transcript]

20) Oklahoma: Almost 200 school districts “are asking the Oklahoma Supreme Court to stop the state Board of Education from implementing a proposed settlement that would increase funding to charter schools.” The Purcell Register reports “the Oklahoma statutes clearly provide a mechanism for charter school funding and expressly prohibit a charter school from being able to levy taxes and issue bonds,” the filing states. ‘The SBE seeks to allow charter schools to do indirectly what they are clearly prohibited from doing directly as based on current law.’”

21) Pennsylvania: The Department of Education, legislators, and school leaders are urging action on charter school accountability and reform, according to a state media release. “The pandemic has increased the urgency for legislative action as charter school and cyber school taxpayer costs and enrollment have soared. Sens. Williams and Brewster are the prime sponsors of SB 27, which protects taxpayers by reining in skyrocketing charter school costs, holds low-performing charter schools accountable to improve the quality of education and increases the transparency of for-profit companies that run many charter schools. In February, Governor Wolf unveiled common sense and fair bipartisan charter school accountability reform.” 

22) Pennsylvania: The staff at Propel Schools, the largest charter school system in Allegheny County, has voted overwhelmingly to form a union. “‘It was thrilling to be part of democracy in action as Propel educators overwhelmingly voted to have their voices heard and form a union,’ Anna Marie Joyce, a Propel teacher and union organizer, said in a statement. ‘We look forward to working with the administration in our common goals of providing excellence in education to our scholars and supporting a fulfilling and vibrant teaching community.’ Propel staff had been working on the union drive with the help of PSEA officials since August.” 

WESA reports that “the National Labor Relations Board conducted the vote-by-mail election over a three-week period starting in early April. The union will cover full- and part-time non-supervisory staff, including teachers, counselors, nurses, and others. Nationally, only one out of every 10 charter schools is unionized, according to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.”

23) Tennessee: Writing in The Progressive, Andy Spears, publisher of Tennessee Education Report, says Tennessee’s plan to privatize schools is a warning sign for the rest of the country. “Education advocates around the country should beware these sorts of moves—power grabs cloaked in the guise of ‘assistance or guidance,’ legislation to extend failed reform models, and/or the repackaging of proven reform failures as something shiny and new.”

24) TennesseeThe Metro Nashville School Board has denied the applications of two charter schools. “The district’s Office of Charter Schools found the application did not provide enough evidence that it could support students with disabilities or provide intervention services. Board members, including Gini Pupo-Walker, agreed that number of students who speak Spanish or would be interested in the dual curriculum is continuing to grow in Nashville. (…) Despite an impassioned speech from board chair Christiane Buggs, the board’s debate was more productive than charter school debates have been, several board members and district officials said later. 

Buggs expressed concerns about whether transporting students of color—many of the district’s lowest-performing schools serve mostly minority students—to other areas of the city to attend successful charter schools would exacerbate racial disparities in the district.”

25) Tennessee: The head of the private, for profit prison company CoreCivic, Damon Hininger,  has left the board of trustees of Belmont University. “A student group spoke out last year against Hininger’s placement on the board. They condemned university ties with private prisons. In a statement after Hininger’s departure, the group said it would continue to push for “systemic change” to keep people with CoreCivic connections off the university’s board moving forward.”

26) Washington: On a 25-24 vote, the state legislature just sent SB5096 to the governor’s desk. “It will establish a state capital gains tax on extraordinary profits from the sale of stocks & bonds to raise revenue for education, early learning, & childcare investments like the #FairStart4Kids Act.” 

Infrastructure

27) National: Prospects for agreement between the two dominant parties in Congress on an infrastructure package are remote, The Hill reports. “Cassidy’s comments indicate that Democrats could be forced to pass the president’s infrastructure proposal through budget reconciliation, a procedural process that requires only 51 votes and would allow the party to ignore Republican opposition should Democrats suffer no defections. Democrats have floated the possibility of doing so in recent weeks after the president’s COVID-19 relief package was signed into law using the same process.” Between now and then the Republicans will be floating alternative proposals. Yesterday The Washington Post urged us to keep a close lookout for bogus numbers.

28) NationalThe Economist is bullish on the potential long term impact of the Biden infrastructure initiative. “New transport investments could subtly reshape America’s economic geography. Past spending has had profound effects on the location of activity. America’s interstate highways drove the country’s socially transformative suburbanisation, for example.  (…) A reassessment of Fogel’s estimates of the impact of railways by Richard Hornbeck of the University of Chicago and Martin Rotemberg of New York University, which considers their wider impact on the economy, suggests that without the railways America’s GDP in 1890 would have been around a quarter smaller. The massive shift in population they brought about altered not only the American economy but the very idea of what America was and could be. A new era of large-scale infrastructure investment would necessarily be less revolutionary than the railways and roads of the past. Yet it might nonetheless prove surprisingly transformative in its direct economic impact, its knock-on effects on private industry–and in the psychological spur it provides to a country that could do with a bit of reinvigoration and renewal.” [Sub required]

29) VirginiaThe Town of Waverly is privatizing its drinking water system. The WRIC report on the sale contained no information on rate increase limits under the new regime. 

30) International: “Airport privatization is back,” crows Infrastructure Investor—but in Brazil, not St. Louis. “The Brazilian government announced last week that it had raised 3.3 billion reais ($588 million; €491 million) from the privatisation of 22 airports, with the majority won by Brazilian infrastructure company CCR, as reported by Reuters. The sum is similar to that raised by a previous airport privatisation package in the country in 2019. That is all the more remarkable given the nature of Brazil’s covid-19 situation, as a second wave continues to sweep the nation and dampen demand for air travel. Even during an downturn, this auction shows that investors are willing to look past covid-19 for a sector previously known for trophy assets.” [Sub required]. As the saying goes in the privatization industry, “desperate government is our best customer.”

31) International: Brazil’s right wing government has privatized Rio’s water and sewage treatment infrastructure. “The auction was almost canceled, after lawmakers who voted in favor argued the heavily indebted southeastern state could not auction Cedae, until it finalizes a new aid package from the federal government. But interim governor Claudio Castro, an ally of the President, issued a last-minute decree ordering the auction to go ahead.” 

Criminal Justice and Immigration

32) National: The Miami Herald reports that the Biden administration may renew a contract with the GEO Group’s South Florida immigration detention center “despite the president’s past pledge to do away with private detention facilities and over the vehement objections of immigration advocates.” Biden responded on Thursday to protesters who demanded that he shut down detention centers by asking for “another five days” and vowing to close all private prisons during a speech in Georgia. That would be tomorrow.

33) National: On Friday the Wall Street Journal had an in-depth piece on the earthquake that is about to rattle the business models of the private prison industry. “Closing immigration detention centers would be a big hit to the prison companies, as ICE contracts made up 28% of 2020 revenue for both Geo Group and CoreCivic, according to company filings. (…) What about at the state level? Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, a Democrat, signed a bill in April to ban private, for-profit prison companies that contract with local, state and federal agencies from operating in the state. The bill could close one of the nation’s largest immigration jails, the Northwest ICE Processing Center in Tacoma, when the contract for that prison expires in 2025. GEO Group said it employs 370 people at the jail.” 

Minesh Patel, director of corporate credit ratings and leveraged finance at S&P Global Ratings, says the uncertainty facing the companies has led him to take “a week-by-week view of the industry.” GEO Group stock is down almost 40% in the past month, and hit a 52-week low on Friday.

34) National: Erica Zunkel, associate clinical professor of law and associate director of the Federal Criminal Justice Clinic at the University of Chicago Law School, and James Zeigler founder and executive director of The Second Look Project in Washington, D.C., say time is up on Joe Biden’s promise of prisoner release. “President Joe Biden declared April Second Chance Month, sending a strong signal to the tens of thousands of men and women serving extreme sentences in our federal prisons. But talk is cheap, and while the administration’s rhetoric is promising, second chances remain few and far between in a federal criminal system where the Department of Justice continues to thwart the administration’s goals by opposing the release of individuals who are rehabilitated and do not pose a risk to the public. Making good on his commitment to criminal justice reform requires more than rhetoric. The Biden administration’s Department of Justice must change course.”

35) National/Georgia: ICE has transferred out the last women at Irwin County Detention Center, according to a lawyer for former detainees, Business Insider reports. The facility ois operated by LaSalle Corrections. “The Irwin County Detention Center outside Atlanta was the subject of a congressional investigation last year after a nurse at the privately-run facility, Dawn Wooten, alleged that women there were being sterilized without their consent. A review of medical records, as well as interviews with immigrants detained there, found that women underwent an unusually large number of gynecological procedures, many alleging they were performed without informed consent. Last year, the Mexican government confirmed at least one of its citizens had been the victim of an unauthorized surgery while detained there.” 

36) Alabama: Republican State Auditor Jim Zeigler, Birmingham Democratic state Rep. John Rogers and two others have filed law to block Gov. Kay Ivey’s plan to have new prisons built and leased to the state. “The lawsuit, filed in Montgomery County Circuit Court, alleges Ivey’s plan to have the private prison company CoreCivic build and then lease two of three new prisons to Alabama runs afoul of the Alabama Constitution and state laws. The state would operate the prisons while CoreCivic would maintain the buildings, according to Ivey’s plan.” Despite the fact that financing by Barclays and others has fallen through, Ivey apparently hopes that someone else will invest in private activity bonds that would enable the deal to proceed anyway.

37) Kansas: The Leavenworth County Commission is discussing taking over a CoreCivic private prison. “Commissioner Vicky Kaaz said she wanted to know what the county’s federal representatives are doing to provide protections to the county if the county takes over the facility. (…) Commissioner Doug Smith questioned why the Kansas Department of Corrections would not take over the CoreCivic facility. Sheriff Andy Dedeke, who attended Thursday’s work session, said he believes new state legislation would be required in order for the Department of Corrections to take over the facility.”

38) Texas: Opening statements and testimony begin today in a civil case involving William Scott Jones, who claims he was beaten and permanently disabled in 2018 while in Bowie County custody for a misdemeanor. “At the time of Jones’ arrest, the Bowie County jail was managed by LaSalle Corrections. LaSalle managed operations at the jail from February 2013 until February of this year.”

Public Services

39) Texas: Texas Supreme Court has held that “a contract between a temporary staffing agency and Waste Management that labels workers as independent contractors isn’t enough to defeat evidence that an injured worker suing the company is considered an employee under the Workers’ Compensation Act.”

40) U.S. Virgin Islands: A lack of funding, antiquated facilities and deficient equipment are burdening waste management, the director says. “To combat the impact the hurricanes had on bin sites, landfills and transfer stations, Merritt said the Waste Management Authority had to utilize available federal funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and Department of Housing and Urban Development. In total, the authority is juggling 72 projects, of which 56 have obligated funding. These projects will help firm up the authority’s infrastructure, clear debris and remove waste, but Merritt said even once the projects are finished Waste Management will still be laden with challenges.”

Everything Else

41) National: Common Dreams reports that dozens of congressional Democrats and Sen. Bernie Sanders have “urged top Biden officials to release unredacted copies of multi-billion-dollar coronavirus vaccine contracts that the Trump administration negotiated in secret with major pharmaceutical companies last year—and refused to divulge to lawmakers. In a letter (pdf) to Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, 50 lawmakers from the House and Senate argue that public knowledge of the specific terms of the vaccine contracts “has become all the more important as manufacturers talk of boosters and seasonal immunizations, while considering ‘post-pandemic’ price increases.’” 

42) National/InternationalAdam H. Johnson reports that “In 2020 @ProcterGamble donated to the following groups lobbying against #TRIPSwaiver so poor countries can manufacture generic vaccines:
$54K -NFTC
$280K – Chamber of Commerce 
$300K – Business Roundtable
$35K – IP Owners
[$]30K – Information Technology & Innovation Foundation”

On Friday the Los Angeles Times reported that Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna refused to join the World Health Organization’s COVID-19 Technology Access Pool (C-TAP) for vaccines. Now the India surge is causing crisis. “We could have had production hubs in South Africa, Vietnam, Senegal, Latin America, you name it—and when India had a problem, you wouldn’t have destroyed production for the whole planet,” said Matthew Kavanagh, the director of the Global Health Policy and Governance Initiative at Georgetown’s O’Neill Institute.

43) National/Puerto Rico: The Bond Buyer reports that “the Trump administration victimized Puerto Ricans a second time with arbitrary red tape that delayed the disbursement of federal disaster money in the wake of Hurricanes Maria and Irma, hamstringing the island’s economic recovery. That’s the conclusion of experts who have read a matter-of-fact 52-page new report by the independent inspector general of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development that was released last week. The report found that the White House Office of Management and Budget played a key role in prodding HUD to add additional requirements for Puerto Rico to access the disaster aid.” [Sub required]

44) National: “As an evangelical kid, I was terrified of the rapture—and so was everyone I knew. Years after I left the faith, I wanted to understand the power it held over us all,” writes Joshua Rivera in Slate. “Pastors from Franklin Graham to Cary Gordon have worked to make the evangelical faith synonymous with their domestic agenda: the preservation of white supremacy and minority rule, the continued privatization of the public sector, the continued marginalization of the LGBTQ community, and victory in the never-ending culture wars.”

45) New York: As the private waste hauling company Waste Management returns for a third time to get a license to run garbage and construction waste through the Port of Albany, nearby residents say it’s a case of environmental racism. “‘This is a low-income mostly minority community,’ said neighborhood resident and activist Dominick Calsolaro. Indeed, the South End neighborhood next to the Port is classified as an environmental justice area. Such locations, due to their high poverty and minority populations, are afforded extra considerations when industries look to locate businesses that could add to pollution. Waste Management’s application comes about 18 months after state and local officials discussed ways they could ease the heavy truck traffic and accompanying diesel fumes wafting through the neighborhood, especially along Route 32 and South Pearl Street where the Ezra Prentice subsidized housing complex is located.”

Researchers have found “a correlation between lower income locations and the probability of potentially polluting firms choosing to locate there.”

Photo by Ninian Reid.