How the Trump administration botched the vaccine rollout

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Highlights

1) National: In “Martin Luther King’s Radical Anticapitalism,” Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor writes, “In a story published a week before his assassination, King told Jose Yglesias in the New York Times magazine, ‘In a sense you could say we are engaged in the class struggle.’ The civil rights movement had not cost a dime, he said, but the movement to uproot poverty and inequality throughout the country would ‘be a long and difficult struggle, for our program calls for a redistribution of economic power.’ Even as King recognized the need for a broader, multiracial struggle to successfully engage in a ‘radical revolution of values,’ he still understood the dialectic connecting the black movement to a larger reckoning in the United States.”

2) National: In an effort to make a clean break from the Trump era, President Biden plans to roll out dozens of executive orders in his first 10 days on top of a big stimulus plan and an expansive immigration bill. The New York Times has reported that “Mr. Biden and members of his party are eager to systematically erase what they view as destructive policies that the president pursued on the environmentimmigrationhealth caregay rightstradetax cutscivil rightsabortionrace relationsmilitary spending and more.” The administration’s $1.9 trillion relief package includes a $400 unemployment boost, $1,400 checks, and billions in additional aid. States and localities could get help, and schools could get help to reopen

In a memo to incoming White House staffers, Ron Klain lad out executive actions Biden will take, including extending a pause on student loan payments, rejoining the Paris climate accords, a mask mandate on federal property, and extending eviction restrictions.

3) National: In a comprehensive article on the role of local government as the Biden/Harris administration takes power, Daniel Block, executive editor of the Washington Monthly, urges Biden to use federal power to liberate localities. “At a time when Republicans are openly trying to suppress the freedom of local communities to govern themselves, Biden and his party have an obligation to fight back. That won’t be easy without strong majorities in Congress. But by rediscovering the older progressive tradition of using the federal government to help cities and towns, Biden will find that there is quite a bit he can do by executive action. Democrats will also discover that this strategy is not only good policy but also good politics. Poll after poll shows that local governments are far more trusted than the federal government.”

4) NationalFast food workers went on strike Friday to demand $15 an hour and a union. “The strike was organized by supporters of Fight for $15 and a Union, the labor advocacy group that has been pushing to raise the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $15 an hour and grant collective bargaining rights to fast food employees, who are disproportionately Black and Brown. Fight for $15 organizing director Allynn Umel said her organization’s cause is one King would have championed, noting that the civil rights icon marched in support of labor rights for Memphis sanitation workers the day before he was assassinated in 1968. ‘There are workers in the South still continuing to carry on that legacy to fight for racial and economic justice because they know those fights are intertwined,’ Umel told CNN Business on Friday.”

For more see the Berkeley Labor Center’s new research brief, The Public Cost of a Low Federal Minimum Wage, by Ken Jacobs, Ian Eve Perry, and Jenifer MacGillvary, which finds that lower wages cost taxpayers over $100 billion a year. “Passage of the Raise the Wage Act would move these working families in the direction of self-sufficiency and reduce their utilization of safety net programs. A $15 federal minimum wage would release some of the pressure on the safety net caused by low-wage industries, and allow state and federal dollars to be more effectively targeted.”

5) Upcoming Event: This Thursday the CUNY School of Labor and Urban Studies will be sponsoring “The First 100 Days: Policy Priorities for Labor & Social Justice Movements.” The first panel will include Dorian Warren, President of Community Change, and Judith Browne Dianis, Executive Director of the Advancement Project. The second panel will include Felicia Wong, President and CEO of the Roosevelt Institute, and Ellen Dichner, Distinguished Lecturer in Labor Studies at CUNY SLU.

Education

6) National: Cindy Marten, superintendent of the San Diego unified school district, will be deputy secretary of education under Miguel Cardona. “With a 32-year career as an educator, including as a principal, vice principal and literacy specialist, she took a similar path as Biden’s nominee for secretary, Miguel Cardona,” the Washington Post reports. “A classroom teacher for 17 years before becoming superintendent, Marten worked in one of the city’s most ethnically diverse and economically struggling communities, where she established a biliteracy program and other initiatives.” In 2018, Marten called for greater local control in the review of charter applications.

7) National: While public schools face dire economic circumstances, private schools cashed in on federal Paycheck Protection Program money. “New York’s public schools averaged $386,000 in federal aid. But Poly Prep Country Day School, a private school in Brooklyn with more than $114 million in the bank, got a $5.83 million P.P.P. loan. Public schools in Washington, D.C., averaged $189,000 in federal funding. But a P.P.P. loan for $5.22 million went to the Sidwell Friends School, the Washington alma mater of Sasha and Malia Obama. This week, as the federal governmentreleases a second round of P.P.P. loans, watchdog groups are following the money.” 

8) NationalDo charter schools pick their own students and therefore falsely boost the comparative statistical performance of their privatized model? Kevin Welner, director of the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado at Boulder, responds to a recent column by The Washington Post’s Jay Mathews denying that charters do that. 

“With my colleague Wagma Mommandi, I have researched charter-school access policies and found upward of a dozen different ways that these schools can and do shape their enrollment. While few charter schools have the equivalent of bouncers at the door, many more have bouncers inside the schools (e.g., push-out discipline policies) or use other approaches to shape their enrollment. We wrote about these approaches in a book chapter in ‘Choosing Charters,’ an excellent edited book (our chapter plus 14 others by top charter-school researchers) that should be required reading for anyone engaged with charter-school policy issues.”

9) California: Students, staff and parents are concerned that a community-based charter school in Oakland will be crushed if a big operator takes it over. Civicorps Academy “is run by Civicorps, a nonprofit. Its board of directors is considering whether to bring in a larger charter school to run the school. (…) If Civicorps partners with an outside provider, it says it will mean changes in the teaching staff. Critics say the entire teaching staff of seven will lose their jobs. (…) ‘Why replace a school that is actually making a difference,’ says one former student who spoke at the rally. The board of directors  is scheduled to vote on January 20.”

10) California: Four staff members at a San Diego charter school will stay in their positions after the San Diego Unified School Board voted unanimously to let them keep their benefits. “The vote came Tuesday, after lobbying by leaders, parents and other supporters of the school, Gompers Preparatory Academy. Some supporters had feared the four founding employees would leave Gompers if they were to lose their benefits. But critics say those benefits the founding employees get from San Diego Unified are more generous than what Gompers gives its employees, and that Gompers should improve benefits for all of its employees. The controversy has become part of an ongoing, years-long conflict between Gompers’ leadership and the Gompers’ teachers union.”

11) CaliforniaA charter school has backed off a push to reopen after it gave an ultimatum to teachers. “Prior to the announcement, Cameron Curry, who runs several North County charter schools, was so insistent on reopening that he told his employees in a video on Jan. 4 that they either had to return to campus or work with his human resources department to leave their jobs. He said 70 percent of families indicated in a community survey they wanted to return to school. (…)

“Voice of San Diego talked to one staff member at Classical Academies who asked not to be named for fear of repercussions. They said they and their colleagues, concerned by a lack of support from leadership, opposed Curry’s ultimatum and said they should be able to decide when to return to school, particularly now that intensive care unit capacities are dwindling locally, and coronavirus cases are growing. The teacher said they’re relieved school leadership listed to them and pushed back reopening schools for larger groups. The teachers’ concerns aren’t unusual, but Classical Academy employees have fewer job protections because they’re not supported by a teachers union.”

12) ConnecticutA secret plutocrat has donated $25 million to help open a charter school in downtown Danbury, which would still need state money. “The fate of the proposed Danbury Prospect Charter School remains in the hands of Hartford, however, where Democratic lawmakers from the city’s own delegation are opposed to funding its year-to-year operations. Charter school supporters hope the donation from the unnamed philanthropist will change that. (…) Members of Danbury’s Democratic state delegation have argued that the charter school would take state aid away from Danbury public school students. State Sen. Julie Kushner, who won re-election in November running against the Prospect School, said on Thursday that the proposed career academy at The Summit was ‘the greater opportunity.’”

13) FloridaThe Hillsborough County School Board is formulating a new policy on charter schools. “‘Our board has taken a new shape,’ said Jessica Vaughn, one of the new members, during a heated discussion at Tuesday’s board meeting. ‘It’s important to have these conversations.’ The options are many. The board can take an anti-charter stance when applications for the schools come before them for approval, although they would risk incurring steep legal fees under a state system that considers charters an important component of school choice. They can lobby in Tallahassee for more authority to approve or deny schools. Some would like to see the board more involved in the vetting process, which now happens entirely at staff level. Others would like to provide the public with more disclosure about what they see as deficiencies in many charter schools.”

14) Indiana: The Gary Common Council has voted unanimously to throw its support behind state legislation banning the creation of new charter schools citywide. “Council President William Godwin, D-1st, said a new charter or charter-like school—especially one like Polytech that targets gifted students—will detract from the public school corporation’s enrollment, finances and future academic success. Godwin and Councilwoman Tai Adkins, who noted herself to be a Purdue West Lafayette graduate, said Gary voters overwhelmingly supported Gary schools’ $71 million operating referendum in the recent election. ‘To abandon (the public school system) here would be disgraceful,’ Adkins said.”

15) Pennsylvania: The state’s 500 school districts “are projecting a $475 million increase charter school tuition costs this year as parents sought new ways to educate their kids in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, a new report has found. Tuition payments to cyber-charter schools make up a staggering $350 million of that tally, the survey by the Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials found, and that spending increase “was noted by many survey respondents as a top financial concern for next year, followed by assessment appeals and state funding.” [Read the 33-page report]

16) PennsylvaniaPennridge School Board is scheduled to vote on joining a resolution on charter school funding already signed by more than 400 school districts in the state at its Jan. 26 meeting. “‘This is all about making sure that what we’re paying is fair,’ committee Chair Megan Banis-Clemens said. ‘The purpose of this resolution is to ask for a more fair funding formula for charter school education, and especially cyber charter education,’ Bolton said in a telephone interview.” Superintendent David Bolton says charter schools are receiving “well beyond what it actually costs to educate the student, especially in a cyber when they don’t have the same type of overhead costs that a brick and mortar charter school would have.”

17) Think Tanks: Diane Ravitch has a review of three books on “how an argument for segregated schools became a rallying cry for privatizing public education.” She writes, “the choice zealots would have you believe that they want to ‘save poor kids from failing public schools,’ but the history of school choice tells a very different story. School choice began as the rallying cry of Southern segregationists, determined to prevent desegregation and integration of their schools. School choice was their response to the Brown Decision of 1954.”

Infrastructure

18) National: It seems certain that the issue of municipal broadband will be the subject of an ever sharper debate between deep pocketed companies and citizen activists. What is in the public interest? John Lunt, the general manager of Greenfield Community Energy and Technology, Greenfield, Massachusetts’ Municipal Broadband provider, says “municipal broadband has an important role to play for 21st-century communities. Internet is increasingly recognized as critical infrastructure. Cities and towns all over the U.S.A. agree. They also recognize that they have a prominent role to play in developing and maintaining this important asset. Over 330 municipalities, including Greenfield and GCET, operate successful municipal broadband networks, and that number grows every month.” It is also a federal issue

But obstacles to municipal broadband remain, and the industry’s knives are out. In an op-ed in The Hill on Saturday, Sarah Oh of the Technology Policy Institute, which has been funded by the Charles Koch Institute, weighed in against public broadband. 

19) National: Writing in Southerly, Bailey Basham says the South’s communications infrastructure can’t withstand climate change. “The federal government hasn’t funded the upkeep of decades-old power and phone lines, or install fiber optic cabling to connect more people to the internet. And they’re running out of time. According to a 2018 study, within 15 years, more than 4,000 miles of fiber optic cable necessary to transmit data across the U.S. will be underwater.”

20) National: Jeremy Nichols, the climate and energy program director for WildEarth Guardians, says good riddance to Trump and his selling off of public lands to private interests. “Trump has made it a goal to sell as much public land as possible for fracking over the last four years, but thankfully after today, the administration’s pro-fossil fuel, climate and science denying, anti-public agenda will finally come to an end. That’s because today marks the last federal oil and gas lease sale to be held under the Trump administration. The sale involves nearly 7,000 acres of public lands in New Mexico, where the oil and gas industry has aggressively demanded the right to frack the sacred Greater Chaco region and pushed to drill at unprecedented levels in the Permian Basin.” 

21) Maryland: Political leaders from central Maryland are pushing lawmakers for a massive infusion of money into the state’s existing bus and rail system. “The plea for funding was issued by Baltimore Mayor Brandon M. Scott (D), state lawmakers and the top elected officials from Baltimore County, Anne Arundel County, and Howard County at a news conference at the Johns Hopkins Metro Station in Baltimore on Monday. They were joined by representatives from Johns Hopkins University and Health System and a union representing transit workers.” 

22) Michigan: Former Michigan Governor Rick Snyder (R) and eight others are to be charged in the Flint water poisoning scandal. “Flint’s water problems can be traced back to 2014, when city and state officials switched the city’s water supply from the Detroit Water System to the contaminated Flint River in an effort to cut costs. That decision exposed residents to extremely high levels of lead and prompted more than a dozen lawsuits against those involved.” For more check out Michael Moore’s podcast on “Rick Snyder’s Crimes Against Humanity.” See also Jordan Chariton and Jenn Dize’s “How a Flurry of Suspicious Phone Calls Set Investigators on Rick Snyder’s Trail.”

23) Pennsylvania: People living in York are speaking out over a plan to privatize the city’s wastewater treatment plant. “One resident said the plan would be good for local businesses, but another said public infrastructure should remain public, and worried about big rate increases after the three-year freeze.” 

24) Pennsylvania: A panel of administrative law judges “has recommended that Pennsylvania reject the proposed $276 million sale of Delaware County’s sewer system to Aqua Pennsylvania, saying too many unresolved issues entangle the proposal, which would be Pennsylvania’s largest privatization ever of a public water or wastewater system,” the Inquirer reports. “The recommendation by two hearing examiners to reject the proposed sale of the Delaware County Regional Water Quality Control Authority (DELCORA) is likely to carry much weight with the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission, which must approve or reject the sale by March 26. But the PUC is not obligated to follow the recommendation.”

Delco Times reports that “the recommendation issued Tuesday had three major findings: That Aqua failed to establish a record by which the commission could determine whether the proposed acquisition ‘promotes the service, accommodation, convenience and safety of the public in some substantial way’; that outstanding issues regarding DELCORA’s legal ability to transfer its assets ‘significantly prevent’ a reliable determination of the appropriate ratemaking rate base; and that Aqua had failed to attach its rate stabilization plan as part of its application.”

25) International: French trade unions have written to President Emmanuel Macron asking him to drop the planned ‘Hercules’ restructuring deal proposed for the publically-owned power group EDF. In December, electricity and gas workers in France went on strike in defense of the public ownership of energy. “According to the unions, the proposed changes would undermine EDF’s ability to continue to operate as an integrated public utility, would jeopardize energy security and jobs, and would ‘go against the general interest.’ Under the scheme, both EDF Blue and EDF Azure would remain public companies, while EDF Green would be opened to private investment — a classic example of ‘socializing the costs while privatizing the profits.’”

Criminal Justice and Immigration

26) National: David Fathi, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Prison Project, says things could change quickly for private immigration/prison companies once Biden takes office. “The administration could make various policy changes that would simply reduce the number of detained immigrants, thereby reducing demand,” he said. ACLU has sent a letter to DHS Secretary-Designate Mayorkas ahead of his Senate Confirmation hearing outlining initial steps he should take to secure the fundamental restructuring of civil immigration enforcement.

27) National: Angelika Albaladejo asks if President Biden will keep candidate Biden’s immigration reform promises. “As President-elect Joe Biden enters office with a Democrat-controlled Congress by his side, immigration rights advocates are calling on his administration to shift resources out of the country’s sprawling immigration enforcement system and into community services. But with billions of taxpayer dollars already earmarked for detention and deportation, and powerful political and corporate interests aligned to continue operations, Biden will face hurdles to making transformative changes, experts and advocates told Capital & Main.” 

28) National: On Wednesday CoreCivic will be making a presentation at Noble Capital Markets’ Seventeenth Annual Investor Conference. “A high-definition, video webcast of the presentation will be available the following day on the Company’s website, www.corecivic.com, and as part of a complete catalog of presentations to be rebroadcast on Channelchek, www.channelchek.com, next month.” 

29) National: CoreCivic has provided tax allocations of its 2020 dividend distributions.

30) National: GEO Group’s quarterly cash dividend is down more than 50%. In July of last year it was $0.48 per share. On Friday it was declared at $0.25 per share.

31) National: It looks as if Netflix may be in trouble for using the GEO Group logo. Netflix faced tough questions from a Florida federal judge in a trademark and defamation lawsuit “over its use of private prison operator The GEO Group Inc.’s logo in the fictional TV series ‘Messiah,’ with the judge saying it was frankly ‘unclear’ why the streaming giant had to use GEO’s name.”

32) Colorado: The Denver’s City Council has approved community corrections contracts in a step to move away from private prison operators. “The two contracts replace halfway house services lost when City Council ended contracts with CoreCivic and GEO Group in the summer of 2019, which offered about 500 beds. In February 2020 it renewed a contract with CoreCivic as a stopgap for up to 250 treatment spots through June of this year.”

A Denver resident, Florence Sebern, won an open records lawsuit against the city over the proposed deal on group living. “The proposal was created with the help of the Group Living Advisory Committee. On that committee were some people who could stand to benefit from the changes, like a representative from the GEO Group, which runs community corrections facilities.”

33) Florida/NationalSo will the GEO Group end its campaign contributions to Sen. Rick Scott (R), who is under heavy criticism for voting against certifying the Presidential election results as a Trump-inspired violent mob attacked the Capitol? “‘A lot of these corporate executives are saying “we don’t want our brand associated with those who have made this decision.” Ultimately their brands could suffer,’ said NBC 6 political analyst Carlos Curbelo. According to Curbelo, corporate money can account for 25% to 40% of all donations in some congressional races. ‘I’m sure there are a lot of principled corporate leaders out there but they are also looking out for their interest and their bottom line. They don’t want to be associated with what many, many Americans, the majority for sure, consider a violation of our democratic norms. A violation of these basic ground rules,’ Curbelo said. Some of the fundraising Scott will do in the weeks ahead will likely go to help his fellow Florida Senator Marco Rubio in his reelection effort in 2022. Sen. Scott will also try to win back the Senate seats Republicans lost in Arizona and Georgia.” GEO Group contributed substantially top Scott’s campaign

34) MichiganCOVID vaccines will not be mandatory for guards and staff members at GEO Group facilities, according to Christopher Ferreira, manager of corporate relations. “A representative from GEO Group, the company that owns and operates the North Lake facility, told the Daily News that the vaccine will be an option for employees.”

35) VirginiaFive State Senate Democrats team up to kill a bill that would have eliminated private prisons. “A senate panel killed the bill after Senator Joe Morrissey, a Democrat from Richmond, said the profit motive is also a problem at state-operated prisons, where he says inmates are gouged for things like aspirin or phone calls. ‘They pay $1 or $1.10 or $1.50 a minute,’ he said. ‘It is that profit, which the patron said he is trying to take away, still remains in this bill.’ Morrissey joined four other Democrats on the committee who killed the bill, allowing the GEO Group to continue running a private prison in Virginia—at least until the current contract expires in 2023.”

It seems there may also be a conflict between the goal of ending private prisons and “the possibility that the legislation might have an unintended consequence of closing halfway houses. At issue is a part of the code outlining ‘any physical betterment or improvement related to the housing of inmates.’ Businesses that operate reentry programs are concerned Ebbin’s bill might jeopardize state contracts with reentry programs.”

36) Think Tanks: The Marshall Project has a state-by-state look at coronavirus in prisons

Public Services

37) National: Eve Ottenberg has a few choice words on how the Trump administration botched the vaccine rollout. “Some argue that states cannot just lean on flu vaccine distribution systems, because the COVID vaccine is something new with different requirements. But preparation has been lacking, to say the least. If the Trump regime really planned to burden the states with this, money should have been allocated, MONTHS AGO, so states could have vaccine delivery systems up and running. But that’s not how magical thinking works in Trump’s white house. Somehow the logistics are expected to sort themselves out. When they don’t, and if this catastrophe – eclipsed recently by Trump’s storm troopers ransacking the Capitol – comes into focus, you can be sure Trump will blame the governors, if he even cares to give the matter any attention, which appears doubtful.” 

Everything Else

38) National: Phil Mattera of Good Jobs First dissects corporate America’s newfound loathing of Trump in this week’s Dirt Diggers Digest. “At the moment, Corporate America is frantically trying to distance itself from Trump and his confederates. Trump himself has become a pariah. Social media platforms have banished him. His banks have severed ties. The PGA Championship will no longer be held at his golf course in New Jersey. The Wall Street Journal urged him to resign. The National Association of Manufacturers called for the use of the 25th Amendment to oust him from office. (…) It is fine for big business to come out now in favor of democracy, but that does not completely free it of responsibility for the series of events that led to necessity to fill the Capitol with armed troops to protect it against another assault from U.S. citizens. That culpability comes in various forms.”

39) National: State and local regulatory battles are the horizon on many issues, including municipal broadband, minimum wages, preemption of local regulations and so forth. Want to keep up? Here is a useful list of links to the pages of state regulatory boards and offices in all 50 states.

40) National: What is in the public interest vis-à-vis banning political speech on social media platforms? Here’s an exchange on the subject in two separate articles in Counterpunch by Jonathan Cook and Rick Pemberton. For a discussion of some of the legal issues involved listen to Briahna Joy Gray and Virgil Texas’ discussion with Zephyr Teachout and Glenn Greenwald