How private contractors are driving Biden’s border policy—just like they did with Trump

Your weekly rundown of news and analysis about the corporate takeover of education, water, and other public goods—and about the people fighting back. Here’s a direct link to this blog post. Not a subscriber? Sign up.

Highlights

First, the good news…

1) National/New Resource: The first article in the recently created Border Chronicle is a humdinger. Written by Todd Miller, it’s got lots of well researched and smartly contextualized information on the intersection of the Biden administration’s border policy, the role of mega-contractors and small contractors driving the border industrial complex, an analysis of the role of private prison companies such as GEO Group and CoreCivic, the industry connections of Alejandro Mayorkas, and much more. 

“When we conceived the idea of The Border Chronicle, the anniversary of the attacks of 9/11 seemed like the most logical place to start. We both began our careers as border journalists and researchers in the late 1990s, and over the years we have watched and written about the exponential growth of the border security industry since the attacks of 9/11. Todd kicks off our inaugural week with a story about the Biden administration, which has pledged to create a ‘humane’ and ‘fair’ immigration system. But to do this, the administration will first have to get past the policies held over from the Trump era. It will also have to look in the mirror, since both Democrats and Republicans have heavily invested in developing the massive border security and detention industry. And so far, as Todd reports, Biden’s administration hasn’t departed much from past practices.” [Subscribe here; see also Todd Miller and Nick Buxton’s February 2021 report, Biden’s Border: The industry, the Democrats and the 2020 elections]

2) National: In an update from the House floor, The Project on Government Oversight says that the ground may finally be shifting on military spending. “While the House rejected the amendment we championed to cut the $25 billion the House and Senate added to the Pentagon budget in committee, we saw an impressively close vote. A total of 142 House members voted to cut the budget—the highest turnout for Pentagon cuts we’ve seen in a very long time. We’re also excited to report that the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee backed cuts to the Pentagon budget, support from leadership for lowering Pentagon spending we haven’t seen in years.”

3) National: In its just-released Fall Newsletter, PowerSwitch Action (formerly the Partnership for Working Families) reports on some notable victories, including a California Superior Court Judge’s ruling Prop 22 unconstitutional; AB 701, the Warehouse Worker Protection Act, passing in the California legislature; Santa Clara County voting for the early closure of Reid-Hill Airport; the implementation of the Jumpstart Fund in Seattle ($20M a year for the Equitable Development Initiative and $20M for the Green New Deal); and the Massachusetts Transit Board’s adding of  seats for worker and environmental justice representatives. Subscribe to the newsletter.

4) National: In the wake of a near-total ban on abortion services in the state of Texas, some states and cities are moving in to try and fill the gap. “Proactive legislation saw its most prolific year in 2019,” reports Amy Littlefield in The Nation, “following a wave of state-level progressive victories that put seven more state legislative chambers and seven more governorships under Democratic control. States and the District of Columbia introduced 944 measures to protect reproductive health and justice and enacted a record number of laws to protect and expand abortion access: 15 across nine states, according to the NIRH.” 

5) MinnesotaWho has the tastiest water in Minnesota? St. Paul and the dozen east metro suburbs served by St. Paul Regional Water Services now hold the official title. “By unanimous decision, the water utility recently won a statewide competition naming it the “Best in Glass” for drinking water taste, as determined by a panel of industry experts in a blind taste-test. The annual conference for the Minnesota section of the American Water Works Association was held this month in Duluth.”

Education

6) National: Jeff Bryant, Chief Correspondent for the Independent Media Institute, has been connecting the dots between right wing assaults on public vaccination and the study of structural racism in schools. “A clever tactic yes, but the underlying strategy is part of a larger ideological effort by rightwing radicals to perpetuate their historical privileges and keep members of marginalized groups from participating fully in civic life.” [Watch a short Jordan Klepper video on the anti-maskers]

7) National/Ohio: Steven Yoder of The Hechinger Report says that despite mediocre records, for-profit online charter schools are selling parents on staying virtual. The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, a charter advocacy group, wants to move toward funding virtual schools based on performance. “But some education experts are skeptical that such changes will make a difference. “As soon as you put profit in the mix, then you put marketing in the mix,” said Carol Corbett Burris, executive director of the Network for Public Education, which issued a report critical of for-profit charters in March 2021. “A lot of these parents, I think, are victims. They are victims to the marketing push.” She wants to see online learning taken out of the hands of for-profits altogether.” 

8) National/WisconsinTalk of austerity is destroying public higher education, writes political scientist Neil Kraus, and that’s the point. “The point of all this is to say that we in public higher education need to start thinking more consciously about how we’re thinking and talking about our budgetary situation. We are public institutions. Austerity is a political choice that reflects the preferences of the powerful. If we simply reiterate the language and assumptions of austerity without questioning them, who are we representing? Not our students, that’s for sure.”

9) CaliforniaThe collapse of a publicly-funded Los Angeles charter school brings charges that charter regulators are not doing their job. Writing in Patch, Carl J. Petersen, says “the next challenge for these parents will be to find a new school for their children as the Public Policy Charter ‘school is being closed [on] October 1.’ As a publicly funded agency that is subject to California’s Brown Act, the governing board’s decision to cease operations should have been made in a properly noticed meeting that was open to the public. However, no mention of a possible closure is included in the agenda for the meeting held on September 7, 2021. Instead, parents were informed by a robocall after they had dropped off their children for school.” 

10) California/National: The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission has sued Choice Advisors and Matthias O’Meara for allegedly providing municipal advisory services to charter schools without being registered. “The defendants are also accused of failing to disclose Choice’s registration status and conflicts of interest to its clients. Lawyers have not yet appeared for the defendants.” Read the 23-page SEC complaint.

11) Colorado: The Denver Channel reports that a charter school in northwest Denver has been temporarily shuttered “amid allegations staff members hit students and grabbed some young students so hard, they left bruise marks on their arms.” 

The reports involve alleged abuse of undocumented families and children. “‘Ms. A’s been there, I think, 12-13 years, and now she’s no longer there,’ Willetto said. ‘She quit because of the administration.’ ‘The principal stepped down and some of the teachers got fired, and other ones said if things didn’t change, they were going to walk out today,’ Forsythe said. Parents and grandparents also allege much of the abusive behavior was directed at undocumented families. ‘I understand that we should all go through the immigration process the right way, but they’re afraid to go (to school) because of what could happen,’ Forsythe said. ‘If they’re going to get immigration called on them, if they’re going to get harmed in some way. When you start taking things out on children, that’s wrong.’ ‘Every kid and every parent has the right to take their kids to school wherever they want to take them,’ Willetto said. ‘And not to be afraid to take your kid to school.’”

12) District of ColumbiaWriting in the Washington Post, a former member of the D.C. Public Charter School Board describes a disturbing scene at a DC charter school in which he observed some parents and children being turned away on a particular morning. “‘Well, they may have had the wrong color shoes. Or maybe they had the correct color shirt, but it didn’t have the school’s insignia on it.” –“They have to go back home for that?” –“Unless they want to spend the day in a behavior support room.”

“Incredulous, I pressed my friend for details. I discovered that children as young as 3 years old could spend an entire day in seclusion, away from their classmates, if they were wearing the wrong color shoes. I am dumbstruck. Is this even legal? This sort of interaction between students and staff was not uncommon in no-excuses charter schools I visited over the years.”

13) Illinois: A closed Chicago Public Schools charter school has left a student without the transcript he needs to go to college. “It turns out, after a final graduation in 2015, the charter school operator’s contracts weren’t renewed in 2016. In 2017, Chicago Public Schools took Prologue to court for allegedly mismanaging $25 million in public funds. The complaint also noted that the school failed to provide student records, like transcripts. CPS told CBS 2 they advise Prologue’s former students to reach out to either the Illinois Network of Charter Schools or to the Illinois State Board of Education. The ISBE said to reach out to CPS. A notice on the Illinois Network of Charter Schools website said please contact CPS’ Office of Innovation and Incubation. So far, no response.” 

14) Minnesota: An embattled charter school superintendent has offered to give up financial controls after an investment debacle. “The HCPA board also approved the contract for an outside attorney to conduct an external investigation into Hang’s decision to invest $5 million of the school’s money with hedge fund Woodstock Capital. A recent lawsuit revealed the school lost $4.3 million dollars of its investment. Jeanette Bazis of the law firm Greene Espel will lead the investigation at a rate of $350 an hour.”

15) Oregon: Some parents are pushing back on a rule that says no more than 3% of students can leave public schools to attend virtual charter schools in the state. “The charter school representatives we spoke with said they hope state lawmakers take another look at what they say is an outdated rule that prevents families from having a choice.”

16) Pennsylvania: Gov. Tom Wolf (D) has proposed new regulations to increase transparency and accountability to improve the quality of Pennsylvania charter schools. “The proposal has been submitted by the Department of Education and sent to the General Assembly, the Independent Regulatory Review Commission (IRRC) and the Legislative Reference Bureau. The package is published in the PA Bulletin and is open to public comment until Oct. 18. The department encourages all interested students, parents, educators, stakeholders and the general public to submit comments to RA-EDCharterRegs@pa.gov. After the public comment period, the department will finalize the proposal and submit it to the IRRC for the last step in the review process. Wolf expects the new regulations to go into effect by 2023.”

17) Pennsylvania: Robert Griffiths of LebTown offers a comprehensive view of the pros and cons of Gov. Wolf’s proposed regulations to tighten up accountability and transparency in the state’s charter schools. “The following recommendations were included in the report: a special education funding system that reflects the actual cost of providing special education; a statewide tuition rate for online charter schools of no more than $9,500; assurance that school districts have access to basic information concerning the charter schools’ operation and performance; and assurance that a charter school’s board of trustees includes representatives from the communities it serves.”

18) Think Tanks: “Are cyber charter schools a good option for families who want an alternative learning model,” ask  Margaret Sturtevant, Karis Stephen, and Soojin Jeong, “or do they endanger educational progress and equity and waste taxpayer dollars?” On Saturday the Penn Program on Regulation hosted a conference on Regulating Cyber Charter Schools.

Infrastructure

19) National: Media reports say it is unlikely that the infrastructure bill will be voted on by the House today as originally intended by Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). But negotiations to work out a floor and voting schedule to get both the infrastructure and budget reconciliation bill through are continuing

20) National/New Jersey: Newark Mayor Ras J. Baraka says “a fresh influx of federal cash for broadband and clean water programs promised in a bipartisan infrastructure bill now being debated in Washington would still be a ‘godsend’ for the city… ticking off the city’s continued infrastructure needs: its water and sewer system, water pump stations, sewer lines, flood mitigation and resiliency upgrades. ‘The barrier is money,’ he said during the briefing, which focused on the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act’s broadband, water, resilience and equity provisions. ‘That’s the real barrier, with full transparency, to being able to get these things done.’”

21) IllinoisPrivatization is trying to make a comeback in Illinois. Today the state Senate Transportation committee will have a joint hearing with the Senate Executive Sub-committee on Procurement to discuss SB 1900. “Senate Bill 1900, proposed by State Senator John Curran [R], intends to make Illinois a more inviting state for private investment in infrastructure by creating the Public-Private Partnership Act and Infrastructure Investment Commission. The commission would assist public entities with identifying and operating projects where a public-private partnership may be appropriate.” Watch your wallet. 

22) KansasWichita has finalized its decision to privatize the Century II Convention and Performing Arts Center and outsource operations to a private company. “Tuesday’s decision was unsurprising, as the City Council had already passed a budget assuming privatization of Century II. But it was met with strong opposition from Save Century II organizers and other community members worried about the future of the building, the Wichita Wurlitzer organ and city employees. The contract was first made publicly available on the city’s website Monday, less than 24 hours before the vote. ‘How can you vote on this today?’ Save Century II founder Celeste Racette said. ‘I’ve heard numerous questions you had about the contract. I have numerous questions myself about the contract.’ Mayor Brandon Whipple and Council member Jeff Blubaugh voted against the decision.”

23) New Jersey: Demonstrators held a rally at Liberty State Park on Saturday to demand protection for the state park from privatization. “‘This is a major crossroads, as tens of thousands of people before you have, and many of you yourselves have done for many years,’ said Sam Pesin, the president of the Friends of Liberty State Park, at the rally. ‘We’re putting democracy into action to protect the sacred and scarce urban open space and urban nature from privatizers.’ The rally urged Gov. Phil Murphy and the New Jersey Legislature to pass the Liberty State Park Protection Act, which would protect the park from privatization if passed. A previous version of the bill failed to pass in the previous legislative session, and a new version of it is currently in limbo as the legislature is out of session.”

A counter-rally “consisted of the friends of Florida billionaire Paul Fireman, who has tried to cram a golf course onto the grasslands here amid new mutterings of turf fields as lawmaker leadership insists on leaving the park unprotected,” InsiderNJ quoted Pesin as saying.

24) New York: A new Buffalo Bills stadium partially financed by the public will have privatized seats for select customers. “The Bills’ least expensive PSLs in their proposed new stadium are expected to begin around $1,000, Raccuia said, and the requirement to buy a PSL will apply to every season ticket holder. (…) ‘Basically, PSL money is generally treated as the owners’ contribution’ toward stadium financing, Zimbalist said, ‘so that if a stadium costs $1 billion and the owner sells $300 million worth of PSLs, and does nothing else, then they would say 30% of the stadium is being financed by the owner. But of course the PSLs are being bought by the fans.’”

In his book, Bad Sports: How Owners Are Ruining the Games We Love, Dave Zirin says “in addition to publically financed stadiums, sports owners also have been filling the financial gaps by spiking season ticket prices, building more luxury boxes, and spreading the pernicious plague of what’s known as ‘personal seat licenses,’ which effectively reserve the same high-end seat for the well heeled all season (p. 28). 

25) Pennsylvania: The state Department of Transportation has named three finalists to administer a bridge tolling project. PennDOT is considering placing tolls on the Interstate 79 bridge near Bridgeville. Macquarie, Kiewit, and Cintra are in each of the three groups, respectively. “Since the announcement in February that PennDOT was considering tolling the bridges, the reaction has largely been negative. Lawmakers have vowed to stamp out the proposal, and officials in South Fayette Township and Bridgeville borough have said a bridge toll would increase traffic and wear and tear on roads and streets that are already clogged with traffic, and hamper business development. Earlier this month, PennDOT had a workshop meeting with community leaders near the bridge to find out what roads might see increased traffic if the bridge is tolled. State Rep. Jason Ortitay, R-Cecil, whose district includes the area around the bridge, dismissed the meeting in a news release as ‘a dog and pony show that PennDOT put on to check off a box.’”

Criminal Justice and Immigration

26) NationalPressure from a union, the National Federation of Federal Employees, is keeping a GEO Group private prison open for at least six months despite President Biden’s executive order supposedly ending private prisons. The ACLU, which has long fought to take the profit motive out of human imprisonment, has vigorously protested in a detailed must read 12-page letter to Biden, saying the extension is “the latest episode in what has become a disturbing pattern of schemes by private prison companies to thwart Executive Order 14006.” 

The ACLU concluded the letter as follows: “GEO’s involvement in perpetuating harm at WRDF could have been over on September 30, 2021. Taking the Administration at its word as expressed in the Executive Order, it should have been. Yet, despite months to prepare for the contract’s termination, it was extended for six months at the last minute. The White House now has the opportunity to use those six months to ensure that President Biden’s Executive Order regarding private detention facilities still has meaning. We therefore encourage the White House to intervene to ensure that (1) GEO’s contract to operate WRDF is not renewed or extended any further, (2) the facility shuts down on schedule at the end of the current six-month extension, including by encouraging federal prosecutors to pursue alternatives to detention, and (3) moving forward, USMS includes in any Intergovernmental Agreement for detention services a provision that prohibits subcontracting to private prison corporations.”

27) National: Bloomberg Law reports that the GEO Group “convinced a federal judge in Florida to shave down most claims in a proposed class action alleging it misled investors by downplaying the risks associated with lawsuits the company faced over its facilities’ conditions, leading to a stock drop. Steve Hartel sued GEO Group for a variety of allegedly false statements. Defendants were accused of underestimating to investors the potential losses stemming from lawsuits over the conditions of its prisons and the treatment of people housed at other facilities…” 

28) National: CoreCivic, the private, for-profit prison company, has sold junk bonds to try and tackle its debt. “The private prison industry has been facing dwindling financing options in recent years after major banks announced they would no longer lend to the industry, as well as credit rating downgrades and increased environmental, social and governance concerns from investors,” Bloomberg reports.

29) National: Is the Biden administration going to hire private contractors for operations in Guantanamo to incarcerate Haitian refugees? They are denying it. “The statements by US officials on Thursday came following the media coverage on the advertisement from last week, looking for a new contractor to run the migrant and refugee center on the US naval base, which also houses dozens of remaining prisoners detained as part of the so-called ‘war on terror.’ (…) The lesser-known migrants center once held thousands of Haitian refugees in the early 1990s but has not been used to hold refugees in recent years, though the US government has continued to maintain it.”

30) National/New York: Several members of Congress have written to President Biden imploring him to take over the Rikers Island jail complex, which they say New York City “cannot be trusted” to manage. A city attorney said in court “ that the city would work with New York State to amend a law limiting who could be employed by the city’s Department of Correction. That change would allow the city to hire private staff to work in some positions at Rikers. The proposal drew a fiery response from a union representing correction officers, which said in a statement that the plan was ‘reckless.’ ‘Poorly trained and insufficiently vetted private guards assigned to Rikers will only pour gasoline on this inferno,’ said Benny Boscio Jr., the head of the Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association.”

The New York Times reports that plans to replace the prison complex are moving ahead, but that human rights activists “are unsatisfied with this approach. ‘It is impossible to design one’s way out of the problems of the criminal justice system and the violence perpetuated by it,’ said Isabelle Kirkham-Lewitt, director of Columbia Books on Architecture and the City and editor of ‘Paths to Prison: On the Architectures of Carcerality.’ The prison system, she said, is inherently unjust. ‘The idea that better or more humane sites of confinement will make for better, more humane carceral systems or justice system is, I think, a really damaging myth.’”

31) Michigan: The Mackinac Center Legal Foundation, which has been backed by the right wing Koch and Bradley foundationshas ginned up a test case on religious freedom grounds to try and get the courts to allow parents to spend money from their Michigan’s Education Savings Plan to put their kids in private schools. That is now constitutionally prohibited. “Parents get an income tax deduction when they make a contribution to the Michigan Education Savings Plan. The savings plan usually is used for higher education expenses but the 2017 federal Tax Cuts and Jobs Act expanded the program so it could be used for public, private or religious K-12 schools.”

Public Services

32) National: Chuck Zlatkin (@ChuckZlatkin) legislative and political director of the New York Metro Area Postal Union (APWU), shared some photos from the Rally to Save the Public Post Office: Dump DeJoy & Bounce Bloom(watch the video of the rally, about an hour) in front of Brookfield Asset Management’s NYC office. Corporate effort to privatize the post office were center stage.

In an email, Zlatkin says “Ron A. Bloom is the Chair of the Postal Board of Governors & also the Vice Chair & Managing Partner of Brookfield where he heads up their $60 billion investment fund.  Recently, the Washington Post had an expose that showed that Postmaster General Louis DeJoy has purchased $305,000 in bonds from his boss Ron A. Bloom’s company: Brookfield. DeJoy also helped give a $125 million contract to his former company XPO Logistics from the Postal Service. Somehow DeJoy is allowed to keep $30 million in stock that he has in XPO.  Bloom’s company also holds 1.2 million in stock in XPO Logistics. While Bloom and DeJoy are having a time of it, the people who depend upon the Postal Service are facing a further slow down in mail delivery which begins on October 1; a twice-yearly raise in postal rates, shorter hours at post offices,  elimination of transporting mail on airplanes – all mail will be transported by truck, and the closing of mail processing plants.  This is done under the guise of efficiency and saving money. The real impact of the DeJoy-Bloom plan is the de facto privatization of the post office and no concern for the well-being of the American people who depend upon a public post office.”

33) CaliforniaPlans by state officials to possibly privatize California’s publically-owned fairgrounds are raising concerns. “Few places across the state have seen this debate play out as intensely as in Orange County, where fair board members a decade ago argued that Sacramento wasn’t a friendly landlord or neighbor to Costa Mesa and kept the property underutilized. Yet their plan to fix those problems—privatization—triggered ferocious community pushback and even a local District Attorney probe that eventually cleared fair board members of corruption allegations over the effort to privatize the property.”

34) Colorado: The state’s ability to respond to COVID-19 was blunted by decades of disinvestment in critical public services, In the Public Interest’s Shar Habibi tells Public News Service. “Shar Habibi, research and policy director for In the Public Interest, which along with the Colorado Fiscal Institute co-authored the study, said below-market wages for public-sector workers, who reported loving jobs they view as important, also hurt the state’s ability to respond. ‘These are jobs like providing housing assistance, or working in mental health care, providing road maintenance, protecting Colorado’s public lands,’ Habibi outlined. ‘But what we heard was that there wasn’t enough staff and capacity to do this work.’” Habibi also “noted public investments can play an important role in ensuring that older Coloradans, communities of color and low-income residents are not left behind. ‘And research shows that one of the best ways to ensure an equitable recovery is to ensure robust and well-funded public services to meet the needs of all residents, including more vulnerable residents,’ Habibi contended.” 

35) Nebraska: A public watchdog has recommended that privatization be ended in child welfare services management. “The inspector general’s report says Nebraska should terminate its contract with St. Francis, arguing that the provider hasn’t met several of its contractual obligations over the last two years. It also recommends that Nebraska return to its practice of having the state manage cases in the Omaha area. The 12-year experiment “has provided the state with a significant amount of data, all of which suggests that the privatization of case management has not delivered the intended benefits,” Inspector General Jennifer A. Carter said in the report. The report came as the Legislature’s Executive Board voted to subpoena St. Francis to force them to testify at a hearing and provide lawmakers with documents related to their management.”

36) Nebraska: “We’re not privatizing the library,” says Omaha Public Library board president Mike Kennedy. “‘That will never happen. Just trust me,’ Kennedy said, ‘Rest assured, we’re not privatizing the library, and that the Omaha Public Library Board will still be controlling its libraries.’ ‘There is no such plan,’ said Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert in a statement released Thursday morning. ‘Social media posts suggesting the Omaha Public Library system will be privatized are completely false… It is unfortunate someone has started an irresponsible social media campaign that encourages rumor and speculation. ‘Posts on social media, attributed to a public records request, outline planning between the city of Omaha and Heritage Services, a 501(c)(3) organization that helped get the DO Space technology library up and running at 72nd and Dodge streets.”

37) North CarolinaA “disastrous” plan to privatize commercial building inspections in North Carolina has been hatched by a Republican lawmaker. “Under the proposal, the private inspectors would be immune from liability for mistakes or even negligence. Brody said that’s because they’re performing a government function, but Rep. Deb Butler, D-New Hanover, called that absurd. ‘If you’re paving the roads with your private business or if you are hauling trash in your private business, which are governmental functions, you don’t have immunity,’ she said. Allowing builders to choose their own inspectors would almost certainly lead to backroom deals and fraud, Butler said, which could have tragic consequences. ‘We’re talking about public safety,’ she said. ‘We have seen buildings recently fall in Florida and hundreds of people die.’” 

38) International: On Saturday, voters took to the polls in Iceland, with a key issue being the state of the healthcare system. “This has renewed discussion over whether further privatization is needed, or whether it would make matters worse, and that discussion falls more or less within ideological lines; Icelandic conservatives say they believe giving people more options would relieve some stress on public health, while those to the left of center believe allowing for more privatization will cause further deterioration in the public sphere.” 

39) International: We Own It, the British anti-privatization campaign group, has written an open letter to Labour Party leader Keir Starmer taking him to task for backsliding on public ownership of public services. They “ask for clarification on why this is the case, and to offer five reasons why public ownership of public services must continue to be a core policy for the Labour Party.” Their five points: Public ownership is popular, can help Labour tackle key challenges, saves money, can give people more control, and is a common sense policy.

Everything Else

40) Michigan/Think Tanks: A new study in the journal State and Local Government Review says that cities under emergency management—such as Flint at the time of its mass lead poisoning—“have had different experiences with their drinking water services than similarly financially stressed cities. Water rates were likely to rise dramatically and quickly; water service shutoffs were more likely to have been used; and decision-makers were more likely to pursue privatization.”

Photo by postmodern sleaze.