Conservatives call for selling off federal public lands

Here’s our weekly analysis of privatization in the news and communities nationwide. Not a subscriber? Sign up.

This week’s highlights

Governing for the Common Good

1) National: A commission created two years ago to analyze the state of American democracy by the elite American Academy of Arts and Sciences has issued its report, which contains 31 recommendations. “These recommendations are meant to take a fresh look at our founding ideals and documents. The commission first defined the challenges our democracy is facing, rising inequality, political polarization, a surge of white nationalism, a lack of trust in our nation’s institutions, a fragmented media environment.” The word racism does not appear once in the 84-page document, and the word police only occurs a single time, in the assertion that after the 2012 school shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School “discussions” prompted “police departments around the country to create policies that deployed resources in line with citizen-established priorities.”

2) National: Calls to reformdefund or abolish the police in the wake of the police murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis have ignited a widespread national discussion on police violence, racism and public safety. On Friday, the Minneapolis City Council voted to “eliminate the Minneapolis Police Department as a charter department and create a new public safety organization,” and develop an alternative plan for public safety. 

“Some proposals have focused on ending heavy-handed police tactics like no-knock search warrants and military-style raids on the homes of suspects,” The New York Times reports,  “restricting the flow of military gear to police departments and banning the use of military equipment on protesters. A common thread has been the tendency of police departments to consume ever larger shares of city budgets.”

Last Tuesday, the General Board of the AFL-CIO “adopted a comprehensive set of recommendations to take concrete action to address America’s long history of racism and police violence against black people.” This included “supporting recommendations put forth by the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights to crack down on police brutality while protecting the due process rights of all public service workers.”

In an op-ed in USA Today, AFSCME President Lee Saunders wrote “No union contract is or should be construed as a shield for misconduct or criminal behavior. In fact, the four officers in Minneapolis were fired the day after George Floyd was killed, and now they’ve all been charged. (…) And ugly rhetoric from a labor leader, such as the opinions expressed by the president of the independent Minneapolis police union, who is a disgrace to the labor movement and should resign, does not provide an excuse to bash unions.”

The Writers Guild of America East, an AFL-CIO affiliate, passed a resolution calling on the labor federation to disaffiliate with the International Union of Police Associations. “We, the Writers Guild of America, East, support the right of all workers to have a union. But we believe that police unions are incompatible with the AFL-CIO’s stated goals: ‘to vanquish oppression, privation and cruelty in all their forms,’ and to improve the lives of working families and pursue social equity. As long as police unions continue to wield their collective bargaining power as a cudgel, preventing reforms and accountability, no one is safe.” Philip K. Howard of the centrist think tank Common Good has weighed in to say that to prevent contracts from protecting bad cops accountability measures must be strengthened.

As concrete proposals emerge, it is vitally important that efforts to reprogram police department budgets to better service communities be monitored closely by elected officials and citizens lest they become a cover for the privatization of public safety by private security companies. Already right wing think tanks such as the Reason Foundation and Independent Institute have seized the chance to call for police privatization, proposals for which have been around for decades but have repeatedly failed to gain public support. Recently Chicago hired three private security firms to protect shops, grocery stores and pharmacies.

3) National: “Good Jobs First stands with all of those demanding permanent systemic change to policing, criminal justice and all other forms of institutionalized racism,” the organization says. “ Many of the private, for-profit prisons in the prison-industrial complex have received ‘economic development’ subsidies. Communities like Ferguson, Missouri have made racist, revenue-driven policing practices a way to offset tax base stress they suffer because of excessive tax abatements and tax diversions in tax increment financing. And in a truly outrageous development in municipal finance, taxpayers in some cities are taking on debt burdens for ‘police brutality bonds,’ to pay for the enormous costs of legal judgments and settlements for police violence and misconduct. Economic development programs and procurement policies can be anti-racist when they require community benefits such as local hiring and favor the hiring of people of color and of dislocated workers and returning citizens and veterans; when they require jobs be accessible by public transportation; and when they favor workers’ freedom to choose union membership.”

4) National: The Center for American Progress is urging Congress to strengthen federal food assistance to support essential workers during the coronavirus crisis. “That millions of workers must turn to federal assistance to put food on the table is already an indictment of America’s weak labor laws and reliance on poverty wages. This analysis finds that the workers whom Americans rely on to keep them safe, healthy, and fed must often rely on SNAP to meet those same needs.” 

5) National: The Department for Professional Employees of the AFL-CIO (DPE), has launched an initiative to educate and connect with professionals about how organizing unions can protect their health and safety. “As stay-at-home orders are lifted and employers begin to call employees back to their physical offices, the only legally-protected way for professionals to have a say in these important decisions is with a union,” said DPE President Jennifer Dorning. 

6) National: Let’s hear it for USPS employees and the efforts of the American Postal Union to keep them safe during the coronavirus pandemic despite the threat of privatization. Government Executive says “in addition to snow, rain, heat and the gloom of night, we can now add COVID-19 to the list of hurdles postal workers routinely overcome to deliver the mail. As the United States begins to reopen on a state by state basis, there’s one large workforce that has been having a very different pandemic experience from most: federal employees. Unlike some private, non-profit and local government sectors, federal employees have largely continued to work during the pandemic, many of them teleworking. Postal Service employees, in particular, have been critical to keeping commerce flowing, allowing millions of their fellow citizens to shelter in place.” Despite the tremendous risks they face, “the Postal Service may now be leading the way in terms of setting the protocols that will need to be in place when, eventually, everyone else returns to work and school.” 

7) California: A bill asking California voters to repeal Prop 209, the decades-old anti-affirmative action law, has advanced in the legislature. “By a vote of 58-9, the Assembly passed ACA5, which would strip language from the state Constitution prohibiting the consideration of race and sex in public education, employment and contracting. It is the first major step toward rescinding the law, a decision that would ultimately be left to California voters. If approved in the Senate by a two-thirds vote by June 25, the measure will appear on the November ballot, giving the state a chance to weigh in on the issue for the first time in a generation. Voters could repeal Prop. 209 by a simple majority.” 

8) Kentucky/National: The Louisville Metro Council has voted unanimously to ban no-knock search warrants after the police shot Breonna Taylor dead in her home in March. The mayor, Greg Fischer (D) has vowed to sign it. A similar measure is being considered in Congress as part of a package to address police violence, but is meeting resistance from Republican lawmakers.

9) New York: The state has become one of the first states to ban the use of chokeholds by law enforcement and has repealed a half-century-old law that has kept police disciplinary records secret. Gov. Cuomo has signed the bills. “This is not just about Mr. Floyd’s murder,” Cuomo said. “It’s about being here before, many, many times before. It is about a long list that has been all across this country that always makes the same point: injustice against minorities in America by the criminal justice system.” 

10) International: As American transit lines face catastrophic drops in ridership and revenue due to the pandemic, Japanese and French metros have gotten control of the situation. “One reason for the absence of detected clusters on public transit is highly encouraging: Passengers seem to be paying attention to safety guidelines. Riders in both Tokyo and Paris have been wearing masks—a habit long ingrained in Japan anyway—and have been maintaining as much social distance as possible. Observers of Japan’s low transmission rate for public transit have also noted that transit riders there tend to travel in silence—significant since speaking is a very effective disperser of virus-infected aerosol.” 

Education

11) National: On Thursday In the Public Interest, the National Education Policy Center, the National Superintendents Roundtable, the Network for Public Education, Local Progress, the Schott Foundation, and the Shanker Institute hosted a webinar on the limitations and possibilities of online learning in public education in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. “While the pandemic has required a shift to distance learning, ultimately we know that in-person classroom teaching, learning, and interaction is the best way to provide a well-rounded and equitable education. Despite this, edtech and online education companies see the crisis as an opportunity to further privatize and profit off of public school students.” [Watch the video, about an hour]

12) NationalA debate over the stationing of “resource officers” and police in schools is spreading around the country. Steps to remove them or consider removing them are taking place in DenverMinneapolisMarylandArizonaOregon,Washington StateVirginia, and North Carolina. “The national reckoning over police violence has spread to schools, with several districts choosing in recent days to sever their relationships with local police departments out of concern that the officers patrolling their hallways represent more of a threat than a form of protection,” The New York Times reports.

Jan Ressenger, the former chair the National Council of Churches Committee on Public Education, says “one positive development following the tragic police killing of George Floyd and the nationwide outpouring of grief and outrage has been that a growing number of school districts are choosing to handle student discipline in the school itself without armed police patrolling their school hallways and pushing students into the juvenile justice system.”

13) National: The Wall Street Journal reports that “The Results are in for Remote Learning: It Didn’t Work; The pandemic forced schools into a crash course in online education. Problems piled up quickly. ‘I find it hectic and stressful.’” Louisiana, Kentucky, Mississippi, West Virginia and Washington, D.C., “have the largest percentage of unconnected students, ranging from 26% to 28%, more than the national average of about 20%. New Hampshire, North Dakota and Utah have the lowest percentage, ranging from 10% to 12%. Many districts plan to offer summer school, likely remotely, to get students caught up and help combat ‘Covid slide.’ But some educators worry that the same remote learning that wasn’t effective in the spring won’t have changed much for summer.” [Sub required]

14) NationalA Senate HELP Committee hearing on reopening the nation’s schools surfaced multiple problems. “‘It is likely that some schools will need to keep their physical buildings closed, either fully or partially for all or some of our students,’ Sen Patty Murray (D-WA) said. ‘Students facing some of the greatest challenges during COVID-19 [are] low-income students, students of color, students with disabilities, English learners, homelessness.’ Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) also questioned Denver Public Schools Superintendent Susana Cordova on what would happen if schools were having children do distance learning and parents are unable to work from home—an issue that disproportionately affects those with lower incomes.” [Watch the hearing, about 2 hours]

Sen. Murray said in her prepared remarks that “While I’m glad we have the opportunity to hear from the witnesses today, we need to hear from [Education Secretary Betsy DeVos], especially about her efforts to push her privatization agenda in the K-12 system and her flawed interpretation of the equitable services provision in the CARES Act.”

15) Alabama: For the first time, Alabama has shut down a charter school for failing to meet conditions of pre-opening, lack of adherence to generally accepted financial standards, and failing to establish community support for the school. “Opponents said the charter school wasn’t needed, that the five existing Washington County schools are successful academically and that money diverted to the charter school would harm their existing schools. (…) In a statement, Alabama Education Association  President Sherry Tucker said, ‘AEA has consistently said we support good charter schools. Woodland Prep was not going to be a good charter school.’ AEA Associate Executive Director Theron Stokes said the revocation was ‘a long time coming.’” For an in-depth report see Josh Moon’s story in the Alabama Political Reporter on “How a group of concerned citizens killed a bad charter school.” 

16) California: @LA_StudentsDsrv is circulating a questionnaire to students on whether the LAPD should be defunded. The Los Angeles School Police Department is the largest independent school police department in the United States.

17) FloridaEight struggling schools in Hillsborough County will be overseen by only one consulting firm this school year. “The one-year contract will pay MGT about $4.1 million. Tampa-based MGT, which is run by former legislator Trey Traviesa, takes over from Phalen Leadership Academy, an Indiana company that was hired in 2018.” 

18) Missouri: In a letter to the editor, Larry Myers, a retired non-custodial employee, takes issue with University of Missouri’s plan to outsource the jobs of its custodians. “Using temporary help, which is what privatization amounts to, means that those individuals have no vested interest in the university, which is reflected in their job performance. They have no incentive to report, in fact may be discouraged from reporting things, such as theft, that are ‘outside of their job description,’ so to speak. Some savings are realized in the short term, but there are negative consequences for the university and, certainly, for the loyal employees who will be impacted the most.”

19) Pennsylvania: The Port Allegany school district is considering outsourcing food service operations. “A statement received from the Port Allegany Education Support Professional Association takes issue with the proposed move, stating that Port Allegany residents feel the cafeteria staff “are like second mothers to (their) children” and are in opposition of the change. “We are distressed that the school board and the administrators have continued their efforts to fire us,” said Joyce Stehle, president of the Port Allegany Education Support Professional Association, which represents the 12 cafeteria employees. ‘We have been trying to negotiate and settle a contract with a living wage to support our families, and instead they have tried to intimidate us by threatening our jobs.’”

Infrastructure

20) National: Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D) says House Democrats will bring a sweeping infrastructure package to the floor by the end of this month. The package, authored by Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Peter DeFazio (D), “would lay out a plan to put millions of people back to work and is expected to include funding to expand broadband internet access at a time when millions of Americans are stuck at home. DeFazio plans to mark up his bill in the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee on June 17, Hoyer said, and the package will head to the floor for debate and a vote June 30-July 2.” [Check back here for video of the 10AM markup this Wednesday]

Out in Montana, they’re asking “Where’s the long-awaited funding for high speed rural internet, which is arguably more important today than it’s ever been before?”

21) National: Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) is warning that corporate interests are driving a plan for Wi-Fi in Yellowstone. “Pushing for final approval during a pandemic, Yellowstone has reversed its own policies barring Wi-Fi inside historic buildings, excluded competitors from bidding, and even chain-sawed 100 trees to improve signal clarity.”

22) Florida: The Jacksonville city council is putting a tighter leash on any future efforts to privatize the city’s electrical facility, JEA. A past attempt to privatize the utility has been mired in scandal and landed in the courts. Proposed legislation would “require any future sales attempt to go through City Council first for it to decide whether even exploring privatization is warranted.” The legislation “would propose a City Charter amendment on the Nov. 3 ballot for Duval County voters.” Meanwhile, the majority of JEA’s senior leadership team has been placed on administrative leave as a federal investigation proceeds. Interim JEA CEO Paul McElroy reportedly said “I have concluded you as individuals and as a group have lost the confidence of management, employees, City Council, the media and the community.”

23) MississippiDoes the future of desperately needed rural broadband expansion lie in cooperatives? “Mississippi is now seeing how legislation can swing open the door for rural broadband expansion. In January 2019, former Gov. Phil Bryant signed the Mississippi Broadband Enabling Act, removing a 1942 regulation that prevented electric cooperatives from offering anything other than electricity to their members. Since the bill was approved, nine of Mississippi’s 25 electric co-ops are in the process of building fiber to the home in their coverage areas, said Brandon Presley, northern district commissioner of the Mississippi Public Service Commission. Another three co-ops are in the planning stage, and six more have expressed interest in moving forward if the Mississippi Legislature allocates money for high-speed Internet service from the $1.25 billion the state received through the federal coronavirus relief package.” 

24) Missouri: In a letter to the editor of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Fred Blumenthal says good riddance to the Lambert airport privatization efforts. “If the city has an asset that makes money, like an airport, it ought to keep it, and manage it publicly and as skillfully as possible. Turning ownership over to private parties will not better serve the public. Politicians should not be tempted to kill the goose that lays the golden eggs.” 

Meanwhile the Post-Dispatch reports a firm tied to billionaire Rex Sinquefield, who has been pushing airport privatization for years, has pumped more than $300,000 into a petition drive to keep his crusade alive. “Pelopidas LLC, founded by Sinquefield associate Travis Brown, reported giving in-kind donations of $167,500 and $74,583 on Friday. That’s in addition to an earlier in-kind contribution of $74,583 on May 28. The contributions went to St. Louis Rising, a committee trying to get on the Nov. 3 election ballot a city charter amendment that would require city officials to restart consideration of leasing Lambert to private operators. Mayor Lyda Krewson halted the process last December.” 

25) MissouriBolivar voters have approved a plan to privatize the city’s water and wastewater systems to Liberty Utilities. The state public utilities commission has to OK the deal. Watch those rates. 

26) Pennsylvania: The Norristown Council will be voting tomorrow on whether to privatize its wastewater treatment and sewer system. David McMahon of Norristown Opposed to Privatization Efforts (NOPE) says, “there has been a rush to privatize water utilities throughout Pennsylvania since 2016, when legislation was passed shielding water companies like Aqua PA from any risk in buying systems like ours because they would be guaranteed to recoup their costs through PUC approved rate increases. So while Council presents this sale as a windfall for Norristown, it is in fact a backdoor loan through a water company at an unknowable, non-negotiable but absolutely increasing future rate. And with further loss of local accountability. We insist that Council give us the full 60 days for the public to weigh in on this issue. After all, the residents and businesses of Norristown will bear the impact of this decision for decades to come, and we deserve the time to study not only this proposal but better, less costly alternatives.”

Criminal Justice and Immigration

27) National/Arizona: “We’re begging for your help because this is a life or death situation,” says a letter signed by 70 detainees held at the CoreCivic-managed La Palma Correctional Center in Eloy. “There have been 78 confirmed cases of coronavirus at the La Palma facility since testing began in February, with 14 current cases, according to ICE data. Overall, the agency has had a total of 1,810 confirmed cases as of this week. For months, numerous immigrant advocacy organizations and human rights groups have been pushing for ICE to release detainees in its custody as the pandemic grew. The new accusations come amid ongoing criticism of the agency’s health and safety standards and after a warning from doctors over the health risks inside detention centers.”

28) North CarolinaThe state prison system has contracted with a private, for profit security firm  to provide armed guards at some prisons across the state. “The private security guards will receive training and equipment from DPS and are scheduled to be on the job by June 22. The hired guards will staff towers, conduct roving patrols and perform security screenings, the prison spokesman said. A provision allowing the state to temporarily hire private security guards to staff state prisons was included in the COVID-19 Recovery Act, which was passed by the legislature and signed by the governor in early May. A second bill, passed by the legislature and still awaiting action from the governor, would allow the state to continue paying for private security guards for up to two more years.” 

Public Services

29) NationalStates and cities are hemorrhaging jobs. “Governors and local officials are struggling to meet payrolls amid a pandemic that has dramatically hiked government costs and sapped tax revenues. The U.S. shed 585,000 government jobs in May almost entirely at the state and local level, even as the rest of the economy began to show signs of recovery. Now state and local governments are looking to Congress for help as lawmakers begin to consider another round of economic aid. The job losses in government—which totaled more than 1.5 million in two months, according to Labor Department data — could get worse without a federal backstop, state officials and some members of Congress say.” 

30) National/Washington: In a letter to the editor of Heraldnet, Ann M. Vergara of Arlington, Washington, says “I just put in the mail 20 Emmerson Kelly post cards (with matching stamps) to various Washington state and Washington, D.C. politicians of both parties, asking them to do what they can to stop the privatization of the U.S. Postal Service. (…) The Postal Service has been under siege for some time, through under funding and a pre-funding of the pension plan, and lately, by direct verbal attacks from President Trump. Even FedEx, for example, uses the service to deliver packages for them. More importantly, there are people who do not have access to broadband communication, and depend on the mail carrier to bring them bills, magazines, etc. And, if course, vote-by-mail! I have voted in California (at a neighbor’s garage), in Hawaii (at the elementary school) and here (by mail). I really like the convenience and security of putting my ballot in the mail.” 

31) California: LAist reports that applications to live in Los Angeles public housing surged last month, “a sign of the pressure Angelenos feel from a housing crisis coupled with a pandemic that has cost thousands their jobs.” But there are few openings. CNBC says a housing “apocalypse” is coming as coronavirus protections across the country expire. Anthony Dedousis of Abundant Housing L.A. says “coronavirus reveals the need for a New Deal on housing in California.” Nationally Politico reports that Black communities are facing a mass eviction crisis.

32) OklahomaNorman officials say they will scrap a plan to privatize the animal shelter. “Norman Police Chief Kevin Foster, who spoke at the Norman Animal Welfare Oversight Committee meeting, said the city received at least 150 letters and emails asking that it halt its plans to hand over operational control to the Oklahoma Humane Society. (…) The move could have saved the city an estimated $150,000 a year, and city officials believed it would expand animal foster care and other programs. Local animal welfare advocates though opposed the plan. Critics were concerned employees would not enjoy the same rate of pay and benefits, and that the shelter should remain under local control to ensure best practices were followed to ensure the highest live-animal release possible.” 

33) International: New polling shows that Ontarians support public long-term care facilities. Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) President Warren (Smokey) Thomas “says the first steps are obvious: less privatization and more inspections and staff.”

Everything Else

34) NationalTrump has given federal agencies only 14 days to slash regulations. “Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen, a consumer advocacy nonprofit watchdog, was critical of the initial news that the administration was planning to double down on deregulation to spur an economic rebound. ‘The deregulatory measures the administration has already taken during the pandemic—rolling back a smog rule, gutting the clean cars fuel economy rule (the most important U.S. climate change program), effectively waiving enforcement of environmental rules—have done far too much damage already,’ he said.”

35) NationalRenewed efforts to sell off Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac will set off a new round of battles over the federal role in the housing market and the risks of privatization. “While the proposal still has a long way to go—from receiving public comments to weathering a potential political turnover—before it is implemented, its current framework of substantial capital reserves and various risk buffers, among other requirements, is already anticipated to impact mortgage borrowers.” 

36) National: The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) says provisions’ in the upcoming National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) “could be used to not only benefit the Pentagon’s military personnel but also to improve the workplace for the agency’s civilian workforce and employees across the executive branch.” In a letter to House and Senate appropriators, AFGE “also calls for Congress to include prohibitions and restrictions on arbitrary civilian workforce reductions, inappropriate privatization, misuse of temporary hiring authorities and proposals that would create ‘short-cuts’ in the hiring process for certain positions.” 

37) NationalThe Financial Times and The New York Times have in-depth articles on plans by major U.S. foundations to issue “social bonds” in an unprecedented effort to access debt markets to support their current efforts to back up grant recipients heavily stressed out by the COVID-19 crisis. “The $13bn Ford Foundation, backed by carmakers Edsel and Henry Ford in 1936, has appointed Morgan Stanley and Wells Fargo to raise $1bn in 30 and 50-year social bonds,” the FT reports. “It is thought to be the first philanthropic use of these instruments, which have recently grown in popularity among investors. Proceeds from social bonds are earmarked for projects deemed to make a positive impact on society.”

38) New Jersey: Renewed efforts are afoot to protect Liberty State Park from privatization or commercialization. “The Jersey City Council will vote on a resolution in support of the Liberty State Park Protection Act later this month, an update to a nearly identical measure passed last year when the state bill was just emerging. With the state legislature beginning a new session, the city wants to again urge lawmakers in Trenton to pass the bill, which stalled in Januarywhen the state Assembly did not hold a vote on it.” 

39) Utah/National: Salt Lake Tribune columnist Kathy Stephenson warns Utahns against privatizing the state-operated liquor system. “Many Utahns would like the state to get out of the alcohol business. But a new study says Washington State residents—who voted to privatize liquor sales in 2011—regret making such a move. In fact, voters would likely reject liquor privatization if the vote took place today, according to the study from the California-based Alcohol Research Group. The study, published in Preventive Medicine Reports, found that Washington residents who voted in favor of ending state controls on liquor sales were 2.59 times more likely to want to change their vote than residents who voted against it. The change was large enough that the measure would fail if voted on today, according to the group, funded by the federal National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.”

40) Think Tanks: Good Jobs First has launched a COVID Stimulus Watch website.

41) Think Tanks: Trying to take advantage of a crisis opportunity, the right wing Heritage Foundation has weighed in with a report backing private energy extraction from our national parks. The report is written by Heritage’s coal, oil and gas specialist Nicolas Loris, who complains that “political agendas and bureaucratic priorities” are inhibiting “energy development,” which Loris hopes his plan will “incentivize.”