How New Orleans activists kept greedy developers from draining the public library’s budget

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Highlights

1) National: Governing for the common good, the U.S. Supreme Court rejects a Texas case trying to overthrow the election results. A Republican Congressional staffer said of GOP Hill supporters of Trump’s efforts, “Never thought my work would include trying to destroy democracy. Privately they all say Trump lost, but publicly they’re terrified of him. It’s embarrassing.”

2) National: Suggested items for the Biden agenda are pouring in. Labor lawyer Brandon Magner has ten things Biden’s national labor relations board should do to jump-start industrial democracy. On this see also Lawrence Mishel, Lynn Rhinehart and Lane Windham’s EPI report explaining the erosion of private-sector unions. Some folks at the ACLU have produced a Disability Rights To-Do List for President Biden. And Jimmy Tobias, writing in The American Prospect, explains how Biden could shut down oil and gas leasing on federal lands. On veterans’ care, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America says if confirmed as Secretary Denis McDonough “must resist pressure to unnecessarily privatize additional functions of the VA. The private sector plays a critical role partnering with VA, but it cannot replace VA. Its care should be strengthened—not expanded into the private sector.” And Udi Ofer and Jeffery Robinson at ACLU have produced a criminal justice to-do list for the new administration.

3) NationalStates are stepping in to keep small businesses afloat. “The Colorado legislature held a special session last week to pass an economic aid package. Ohio is offering a new round of grants to restaurants, bars and other businesses affected by the pandemic. And in California, a new fund will use state money to backstop what could ultimately be hundreds of millions of dollars in private loans. Other states, led by both Republicans and Democrats, have announced or are considering similar measures. But there is a limit to what states can do. The pandemic has ravaged budgets, driving up costs and eroding tax revenues. And unlike the federal government, most states cannot run budget deficits.”

4) California: Jeffrey St. Clair reports that “a mere two hours into his term, new Los Angeles District Attorney George Gascon ended cash bail; the death penalty; sentence enhancements; solitary confinement; trying children as adults; and the criminalization of homelessness, mental health, and addiction.  The LAPD and some of his own prosecutors (there are 1,200! of them in LA) aren’t pleased with the changes and are seeking backdoor ways to subvert them…”

5) FloridaRebekah Jones, a government data scientist and COVID-19 whistleblower, has taken on the Florida governor’s efforts to fudge the numbers for political reasons. “Rebekah Jones mostly uses Twitter to share updates on the Covid-19 pandemic in Florida, from the number of new cases to the test positivity rate in the southern U.S. state. But on Monday Ms. Jones, a 31-year-old climate scientist who was fired this year from her job at Florida’s health department, instead posted a 30-second video showing police, guns drawn, entering the home she shares with her husband and two young children. Ms. Jones, who alleges she was fired after refusing to manipulate official Covid-19 figures, blamed Ron DeSantis, Florida’s Republican governor and an ally of President Donald Trump for the incident, in which police seized her phone and laptops. ‘This is what happens to scientists who do their job honestly,’ she tweeted. ‘This is what happens to people who speak truth to power.’” [Sub required] 

6) Indiana: Northwest Indiana’s Congressmember-elect Frank J. Mrvan, D-Highland, who is reportedly seeking a seat on the powerful House Appropriations Committee, stresses the important role of government in protecting the most vulnerable. He wrote a column for NWI.com’s  ongoing series “Out of the Shadows: Spotlight on Sex Crimes,” which takes “a deep look into sexual offenses and how our system and society deals with those offenses.”

7) Louisiana: A coalition of community-based activist groups scored a notable victory on election day in New Orleans, keeping greedy developers and their political friends from siphoning off the public library’s budget for years to come. For the story listen to Frances Gill, a key activist in the struggle, on Doug Henwood’s Behind the News [Audio, at 40 minutes]

8) Louisiana: How did New Orleans’ new progressive DA, Jason Williams, win the election? A grassroots army and a drumbeat of “change.” “Williams supporters say his appeal goes far beyond his personality. From the start, Williams presented himself as the clear change candidate who would wipe away the policies of sitting District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro. And not just policies: He spoke in searing terms about ending Louisiana’s ‘Jim Crow’ criminal justice system.”

9) Pennsylvania: Philadelphia has approved a new residential construction tax and changes to a property tax abatement program, paving the way to new bond sales to aid the city’s poorest communities. “The new 1% development impact tax on residential construction will take effect in January 2022. Another bill that passed Thursday’s city council meeting reduces the real estate tax abatement for commercial construction by 10%. Kenney supported the legislation after striking a compromise with Clarke exempting commercial properties from the construction tax and delaying implementation of the reduced tax breaks. Kenney had previous concerns that the changes would slow the city’s economic growth.” [Sub required]

10) International: “Civil servants are the foundation of any good democracy” says Yawa Hansen-Quao, executive director of Emerging Public Leaders, a public service fellowship recruiting civil service leaders across Africa. “The civil service is ultimately responsible for translating campaign promises made by politicians into concrete policies and programmes. The civil service is uniquely positioned to be the anchor institution that serves the country at all times, including during elections when political parties and candidates compete to determine who wins the mandate of the people to govern for another term, and it is time for voters and leaders alike to take note. (…) Elections make headlines, but civil servants work behind the scenes to strengthen the entire democracy. The future of the civil service, and the services it provides, depends on our ability to recruit, develop and support the next generation of leaders.”

11) Think Tanks: Pew’s Mental Health and Justice Partnerships Project has some good research on treating people experiencing mental illness and substance abuse instead of pushing them into criminal incarceration and punitive programs. “People with mental health conditions—including bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and severe depression—are jailed more than 2 million times each year, often for misdemeanor crimes. Three-quarters of these individuals have co-occurring substance use disorders. The Washington Post noted in 2018 that 1 in 4 people shot by police the prior year suffered from mental distress, according to a report by the Treatment Advocacy Center.”

12) Songs for the Common Good: Save the date, February 7, for the Karine Polwart Concert – all the way from Scotland

13) Think Tanks: The San Diego-based Center on Policy Initiatives announces the application window for its Students for Economic Justice (SEJ) Summer Fellowship is open

Education

14) National: “Is this new kind of public school coming to your neighborhood? It should be” says In the Public Interest’s Jeremy Mohler. “There’s a new kid on the block. One that shows much more promise when you actually look at the data. Community schools are public schools that partner with local communities to create the conditions students—and communities—need to thrive. That means connecting schools with services provided by nonprofits and other public agencies, like mental health care. That means after-hours learning for students and parents, like culinary arts. Most importantly, that means more parent and teacher involvement in the school’s decision-making process.” 

15) NationalKimberlé Crenshaw joined FAIR’s CounterSpin to discuss the damaging effects of Trump’s war on the teaching of Critical Race Theory in American schools and government institutions. “Trump’s September executive order on ‘combating race and sex stereotyping’ banned any training addressing racial or gender diversity for federal employees, government contractors and the US military. The effects were immediate and chilling—not just the end of workplace diversity trainings, but academics forced to cancel lectures, research projects suspended, curricula scrubbed for fear of running afoul of what’s being called the Equity Gag Order. And yet this obviously suppressive effort has been largely shrugged off by media that ought to be sounding the alarm. Oh, McCarthyism—how can we miss you if you won’t go away?”

16) California: The San Diego County Board of Supervisors has voted 3-2 to approve a charter school for Rancho San Diego. But “‘in the event of non-compliance, they will get a written notice to respond… should they fail after 30 days,’ the school could be faced with possible revocation of the permit. ‘Basically, put the onus on the school.’ Desmond said. ‘You’ve got to show us how you’re going to do it. If you don’t comply, there will be action.’”

The issue is not entirely closed, however. “Janine-Page, a land use attorney who lives near the planned school site, said her group appreciated Jacob going to bat for them, but was disappointed in the Supervisors decision as a whole. She said SOS2 is going to take legal action in January. ‘We are going to file a petition and appeal to the courts,’ she said. ‘The board put a very vague, untenable process back into county staff’s hands without any oversight or due diligence. This is staff that used old, manipulated data and did not tell the truth.’”

17) Florida: A former Renaissance Charter School employee was arrested and charged with stealing school electronics and pawning them across Broward County. “The investigation into Coleman’s alleged crimes was prompted by the school principal, Lynette Self, who reported a theft to the Coral Springs Police. It was later determined the school was missing a large number of electronics, including laptops and tablets, and police were eventually able to trace the transactions back to Coleman.”

18) Illinois: The Teachers’ Retirement System of the State of Illinois has increased its emerging manager program, Infrastructure Investor reports, “with an eye towards increasing diversity, equity and inclusion within its investment programme, the pension fund announced this week. The pension plans to take steps to improve its ability to measure investment managers’ diversity in the overall fund, too.” [Sub required]

19) Illinois/National: Kenzo Shibata, a Chicago educator, has just released a free feed of his Class Time! podcast. Have a listen.

20) MichiganThe state’s charter schools are up in arms over a suggestion by Michigan State Board of Education Vice President Pamela Pugh that charter school funding be slashed by 25%. [Listen to Pamela Pugh’s comments; video, about 5 minutes]

21) NevadaState research shows discipline inequities in charter schools. “Within Nevada charter schools, Black students and students with disabilities are more likely to be involved in incidents resulting in suspensions than their peers. The data reflects state and national data about inequities in education—a topic the State Public Charter School Authority is taking steps toward addressing.”

22) New Hampshire: As Education Secretary Betsy DeVos heads out the door, a wave of federal charter school expansion money is on the way to New Hampshire. “At a meeting Friday, New Hampshire’s Joint Legislative Fiscal Committee voted, 7-3, to accept the first $10.1 million of the $46.5 million five-year grant, beginning the next phase in what New Hampshire Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut called a ‘transformation’ of the state’s school landscape. If approved in full over five years, the funds are expected to ultimately help create an additional 27 charter schools to New Hampshire’s existing 29, both by allowing current schools to replicate themselves in new locations and providing start-up money for new schools.”

23) North Carolina: Lincoln County is on track for the COVID-19 “extreme risk” category. The workplaces named include First Student bus company

24) Oklahoma: The charter school that ate Oklahoma. Two members of the Oklahoma Statewide Virtual Charter School Board have been blocked from any action affecting the Epic virtual charter school because of conflicts of interest with the school’s co-founders. “After an enrollment spike over the summer, Epic is now the largest public school district in the state with 58,251 students. Thousands of students and teachers were left to wonder whether their school would exist in a year’s time when the statewide virtual charter school board voted Oct. 13 to begin an administrative process toward termination. The board will host hearings March 8-11 to review evidence and testimony on a litany of alleged contract violations by Epic, stemming from a scathing state audit of the school. Epic will present evidence and witnesses in its defense.”

Meanwhile, a former member of the charter board has accused Gov. Kevin Stitt (R) of trying to stitch up a private settlement between Epic and the board. “To suggest that we have private ways of just sort of making this go away, or get dealt with, it’s not appropriate,” John Harrington told News 4.

To top it all off, public officials are irate that Epic stands ready to reel in a financial bonanza from taxpayers. “School finance chiefs from many of the biggest districts in the state are calling on the governor, attorney general and state superintendent to intervene ahead of a looming financial windfall for Epic Charter Schools. In a letter sent this week, chief financial officers from 14 school districts called on state leaders to see to it that Epic’s upcoming midyear adjustment in state funding be ‘stayed or modified’ until Epic’s student ‘enrollment numbers and other business practices are verified to be lawful and compliant.’” An email from the district officers says “we simply cannot stand by and watch as our districts struggle with the inevitability that awaits all the districts adversely impacted by the predatory practices of this organization.”

25) Pennsylvania: New data from the state Department of Education shows that the pandemic has caused a small but significant enrollment decline at traditional public schools, while increasing the share of cyber charter students. “It’s also revealed an interesting divide. While public schools in urban and suburban counties have lost students, schools in more rural counties have largely tread water. Overall, preliminary enrollment data shows a 1.7% drop in total public school enrollment, which equates to about 30,000 students statewide. The dip was more pronounced in kindergarten, where enrollment fell from 115,275 students last year to 110,803 students in 2020—nearly a 4% decline.”

In an op-ed on Thursday, Cindy Murphy, president of the Otto-Eldred School District Board of Education, said this trend should have parents extremely concerned. “First is the financial implications this enrollment increase will have on school districts. To put this impact into numbers, school districts can collectively expect as much as a $350 million increase in their cyber charter tuition bills this year alone, due to the pandemic-generated cyber charter school enrollment increases.” Second is the dismal academic performance of cyber charter schools. “Cyber charter school proficiency rates on the most recent state assessments were, on average, more than 24% lower, and four-year graduation rates were more than 33% lower than traditional public schools.”

26) Rhode Island: State Rep. Gregg Amore (D) says a pause is needed in charter school expansion. “Traditional public schools serve the overwhelming majority of students in their communities and Providence students deserve the opportunity to see the turnaround promised to them fully underway before resources are diverted.  Significantly expanding charter schools or seats was not highlighted or even mentioned as a strategy for improvement in the Turnaround Action Plan for Providence Public Schools (TAP).” 

27) UtahA publicly-funded charter school in Utah’s most racially diverse city is all white. “That’s the question. How do you start a charter school in West Valley City and enroll no students of color?” said Brooke Anderson, a data specialist for the Jordan School District. She has looked at the racial demographics at every school in Utah and says Vanguard is the least integrated in the state. Utah has a long history of forced segregation.

28) West Virginia: In the wake of school boards in Monongalia and Preston counties rejecting an application to set up charter schools, Republican lawmakers are seeking to bypass local school districts by passing legislation that would create a state authorizing board. They also want to eliminate the state’s existing three school cap on charter schools so they could access federal funds to support charter school expansion in the state. 

Infrastructure

29) National: Matt Casale of U.S. PIRG has a terrific piece in The Hill cautioning people to exercise some discretion as they eagerly anticipate a major infrastructure package. “Throwing money at the problem, however, is not the solution. We should not rebuild the same old infrastructure, the same old way. When spending on infrastructure, we need to make sure that the projects we fund are more than ‘shovel ready;’ they must also be ‘shovel worthy.’ The projects that we choose to invest in should be ones that are going to make American lives better. We should not invest in outdated infrastructure that is going to exacerbate the problems from air and water pollution to global warming that we are actively trying to solve. In short, we need a blueprint for infrastructure that will make America cleaner, healthier and more resilient, like U.S. PIRG laid out in our recent report. It should be noted that I work at U.S. PIRG. The plan should include strategic investments in five key areas essential to protecting public health and addressing climate change: energy, water, natural infrastructure, solid waste and transportation.” 

30) National: As California water futures began trading last week, critics warned that the market could generate price bubbles and scarcity. “Farmers, hedge funds and municipalities alike are now able to hedge against—or bet on—future water availability in California, the biggest U.S. agriculture market and world’s fifth-largest economy. CME Group Inc.’s January 2021 contract, linked to California’s $1.1 billion spot water market, last traded Monday at 496 index points, equal to $496 per acre-foot.” Regulators have welcomed the water futures as a risk management tool. [Sub required]

Yahoo reports that “a recent study published in the journal Earth’s Future and highlighted by Harvard University found that by 2071, almost half of the 204 fresh water basins in the country may fall short of meeting the monthly water demand. The projected shortage comes down to two key factors: increased demand as human population in the U.S swells; and diminished supply because of climate change. But shortages are already happening in many parts of the U.S.” 

Will the spot market add to the shortages? The United Nations is warning that it might. However, analysts and investors suggest the fears might be overblown, the Financial Times reports. “Critics say the contracts may prove difficult to trade, given the highly localised nature of water pricing and regulation.” 

But concerns are being voiced even within industry quarters, no doubt because any market-driven shortages would bring down a government hammer against contract holders and the market in general. “‘The one asset class that I don’t want to see open to potential manipulation or upward price pressure via financial markets is the one resource that all of humanity needs for its survival,’ said Simon Puleston Jones, former head of Europe at the Futures Industry Association, a U.S. trade body. ‘We need to think now about the potential direct and indirect negative consequences of treating water as an asset rather than a resource.’” [Sub required]

31) National: Are energy investors quietly moving toward agreement with the economic and political analysis of the water defenders? In their own publications they’re spilling the beans: “U.S. oil demand is poised for a long-term decline as the world transitions to more sustainable fuels. So what happens when the industry’s supporting infrastructure is no longer needed? More than 220,000 million miles of oil pipelines crisscross the United States. The odds are that, if current energy trends continue, a good portion of this infrastructure might no longer be needed in the future.” [Sub required]

32) National: The Federal Accounting Standards Advisory Board (FASAB) will be meeting on Tuesday and Wednesday, and among the items to be discussed is Federal Accounting for Climate-Related Events. [See the slide deck]

33) Maryland: In the midst of the pandemic and severe strains on its budget, public health and transit facilities and social services, Maryland is going to have to come up with $100 million by the end of this month—i.e., in a little over three weeks—to pay off the contractors who were supposed to bring a new level of efficiency to the construction phase of the ill-starred Purple Line light rail P3. The Board of Public Works is to meet Wednesday to consider the deal, and is over a barrel. The overall price tag is still unknown, according to the Washington Post. “It’s also unclear how many of the previous cost escalations, such as those related to the design of a CSX crash wall and problems with state environmental approvals, remain. ‘We won’t know the full cost until a new construction partner is brought in and gets back to work,’ said Del. Marc A. Korman (D-Montgomery), a member of the House Appropriations Committee.”

34) Nevada: Can sports stadiums serving private teams find their way into municipal bond reserve funds during a crisis? Yes they can. “Clark County, Nevada’s draw on reserves to make a December 1 payment on bonds used to finance Allegiant Stadium, the home of the NFL’s Las Vegas Raiders, doesn’t materially change the county’s credit quality, Moody’s Investors Service said. The county withdrew $11.6 million from a reserve fund to make a $16 million debt payment on the $645.1 million in bonds issued in 2018 to help finance the cost of the stadium, according to a Nov. 25 filing on the Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board’s EMMA website.” A pandemic-related dip in the hotel tax revenues triggered the move. [Sub required]

35) International: Infrastructure Investor has a brief survey of what the investment picture in transport will look like over the next few years. “So, through all of this profound change, how can investors best allocate to infrastructure?” A familiar theme arises: “New opportunities could arise through privatisations as government balance sheets come under more pressure to pay for the huge support packages launched this year. ‘In the shorter term, there will be opportunities for infrastructure investors prepared to move quickly, as the pandemic unearthed distressed investments and new [merger and acquisition] situations,’ says [Peter Stonor, global head of transport, infrastructure and industrials at VTB Capital.].” [Sub required]

Criminal Justice and Immigration

36) National: Despite drastically reducing the population at the Northwest detention center in Tacoma and avoiding the kind of massive outbreaks afflicting Washington prisons, “immigration officials on Thursday reported another detainee there tested positive for the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, bringing the number up to 22.” GEO Group runs the facility for profit. “Angelina Godoy, director of the Center for Human Rights at the University of Washington, said an upcoming report by the center will show detainees ‘are still reportedly held in close proximity, have to line up together at the medical clinic,’ and ‘go out to the yard at the same time.’ ‘GEO didn’t make mask use mandatory for its employees inside the facility until Oct. 16. That’s inexcusably late,’ she said. And testing has been inadequate, she said.” 

37) National: Mother Jones’ Madison Pauly reports on how CoreCivic’s defamation suit against one of its critics backfired. “‘To me,’ [Morgan] Simon says, ‘it reads like a frickin’ Onion headline, the idea that you have to fight a defamation lawsuit to say that prisons separate families. Of course prisons separate families. In every instance.’ She plans to stay involved in activism, including pressuring the incoming Biden administration to bring place financial regulations on corporations linked to the criminal justice and immigration systems. Ms. L was released from Otay Mesa and reunited with her daughter in the spring of 2018. Two and a half years later, more than 500 other children taken from their parents by the Trump administration have yet to be reunited.” Simon told Newsweek, “I’m not telling anyone they need to invest a certain way. I’m telling them that other options exist, and that is what most people are not aware of.”

38) National/AlabamaIn the midst of Alabama prison P3 negotiations, the federal government has filed suit against the state, contending that conditions at state prisons violate the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments. “In September, [Gov.] Ivey announced two consortiums had been chosen to enter nonpublic discussions on financial terms for the purchase of land and to design, build, finance, and maintain three turnkey correctional facilities. The Alabama Department of Corrections will lease and staff the facilities. One consortium is Alabama Prison Transformation Partners, a group that includes Star America; BL Harbert International; Butler-Cohen; Arrington Watkins Architects; and Johnson Controls Inc. The CoreCivic team includes CoreCivic; Caddell Construction; DLR Group; and R&N Systems Design. The ADOC didn’t’’ immediately respond to questions about the status of P3 negotiations.” [Sub required]

39) National/ColoradoFederal prison staffing in Florence is a “logistical nightmare” amid the coronavirus pandemic. “Calling the strain on correctional officers ‘ridiculous,’ a union vice president is speaking out about short-staffing issues that worsened during the coronavirus pandemic at the four-prison Federal Bureau of Prisons complex near Florence. ‘We have a logistical nightmare,’ said Christopher Tyndall, a correctional officer who has worked at the medium-security Federal Correctional Institution for 16 years. As vice president for the American Federation of Government Employees Local 1169 union, which represents employees at the complex, he is allowed to speak out about staffing issues. ‘Obviously morale is down because of staffing issues. Mandated overtime is affecting our health, sanity and marriages,’ Tyndall explained. He said the staffing issues actually started when many workers at the nation’s highest security Supermax prison began to retire six years ago. The Bureau of Prisons has never been able to catch up, he said.”

40) National: Amherst Prof. Austin Sarat explains why inmates should get a COVID-19 vaccine before the rest of us. “Given this country’s generally unforgiving attitude toward the incarcerated, putting them toward the head of the vaccine line would not be an easy political choice. Yet there are compelling reasons to do so.” In line with the ACIP recommendation, “the Federal Bureau of Prisons quickly announced that it will give vaccine priority to its prison staff.” But “neither the ACIP guidelines nor the Bureau of Prisons said anything about inmates, even though their living conditions can pose even greater risks than conditions  in nursing homes and long-term care facilities. This silence raises what a New York Times report called the ‘chilling prospect’ of ‘another prison outbreak that kills scores of inmates after the only preventive was reserved for staff.’”

Public Services

41) National: Doug Henwood has a rather sobering analysis of the government jobs picture. “Public employment has not seen any recovery; governments at all levels shed 969,000 workers in March and April, and another 344,000 since, for a total of 1.3 million. More than half those losses come from local government education, and another quarter from state government education. COVID-19 is ravaging our schools, and the state and local fiscal crises have yet to bite fully.”

42) National: Writing in Lawfare, Jim Eisenmann argues that by creating a new type of federal position, Schedule F, “President Trump has empowered federal agencies to move scores of career federal employees into positions that would eliminate their current job protections—and shift political employees into career roles.” Critics are calling on Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer to move legislation blocking the executive order. Former OMB employees have criticized the executive order as “fundamentally damaging.”

43) California: The Bond Buyer reports that the California Health Facilities Financing Authority won its Deal of the Year in the Far West category for its inaugural sale of bonds that fund housing for mentally ill homeless people. “The deal represented the first time the U.S. muni market had seen a large bonding program to support homeless housing secured directly by taxes on high-income residents, according to the nominators, who also said the structure could be replicated in other states contemplating passing a similar tax.”

44) New YorkShould Rochester go ahead with a new $95 million library as part of a mixed-use P3? The city council will meet today to review design concepts and a potential tax levy, with a potential decision in March. “Analysis of the potential tax impacts to pay for new proposed construction range from a 8.1 percent to 11.9 percent property tax levy increase, depending on the length of a loan and potential interest rate. Due to the potential increase of tax need and revenue decline amid the COVID-19 pandemic, city staff is suggesting the options be reviewed as part of a future discussion of council priorities, according to information sent to the council Thursday.”

Everything Else

45) National: While the approval of COVID-19 vaccines has been greeted with widespread relief and anticipation, concerns about corporate influence on the drug approval process haven’t gone away and if anything have multiplied due to the deregulatory frenzy of the Trump years and his crude pressure on FDA for quick approval. These concerns are longstanding.  Saying the quiet part out loud, Phil Mattera of Good Jobs First looks at AstraZeneca’s vaccine stumbles. “The combination of Trump Administration incompetence and the questionable track record of companies like AstraZeneca and Pfizer is giving ammunition to vaccine skeptics. We can only hope that the FDA review process makes a convincing case for the safety of the vaccines and that the new Biden Administration shows greater skill in working out the details for their distribution.”

Photo by Infrogmation of New Orleans.