Progressives increase pressure to cut privatization from bipartisan infrastructure deal

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Highlights

1) National: A new documentary, The Price of Privatization, has been released, covering all aspects of the privatization of public services and assets. A must-see for anyone concerned about privatization in the Biden-Republican infrastructure initiative. It features Donald Cohen, executive director of In the Public Interest, David Dayen, Diane Ravitch, John Nichols, Lisa Graves, Thom Hartmann, Shar Habibi, Lisa Bloom, and Peter Montgomery. Directed by John Wellington Ennis, produced by Holly Mosher. [Video, around 46 minutes].

2) National: Indivisible, along with more than 25 progressive organizations, has sent a letter to Democratic leadership, urging them to reject harmful pay-for provisions in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework that would privatize our public infrastructure. The groups, which include organizations like In the Public Interest, the Center for Economic and Policy Research, Take on Wall Street, and AFSCME, warn that including these provisions, like private financing authorities, public-private partnerships, or asset recycling would surrender public control of infrastructure projects, and would be antithetical to the goals of the overall package. [Read the full text of the letter]

3) National: Writing in the Financial Times, privatization critic and Emeritus Professor of Urban Planning at Columbia Elliott Sclar says the Miami building collapse shows the need for condominium finance reform. “Presently the only recourse for a condominium is to assess individual unit owners for their share of the full cost, no matter how great,” says Sclar. “Contrast that with a co-op building. In the latter case residents own shares in the corporation that owns the building, not their individual units. Faced with an extraordinary capital expense the co-op corporation is able to obtain a mortgage on the entire property to finance the needed work. In essence co-ops can effectively finance major capital expenses at far lower overall cost than can be done when collective capital improvement finance relies on unit-by-unit financing.” 

Amelia Pollard goes more deeply into the disastrous history of ideologically and corporately-driven deregulation. “The generation of condos that erupted at that time is now collectively turning 40—an age when many high-rise buildings start to show serious signs of wear. The decade was notorious for lax building codes, with Ronald Reagan’s own Housing Department mired in scandal (at one point, the Justice Department was investigating over 600 cases related to Reagan’s HUD). And with the decade’s political winds dominated by deregulation, the self-governance of condos became popular. State building codes in an era of deregulation also were lacking.”

4) National: Politico reports that House Democrats are looking to change how Americans get around—by breaking states’ decades-old fondness for building highways. “The bill’s supporters say the old system is unsustainable. ‘We have to begin to look at alternatives,’ House Transportation Chair and bill sponsor Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) told POLITICO in the run-up to the bill’s passage in June. ‘You can’t pave over the whole country.’ The bill, H.R. 3684 (117), would erect new bureaucratic hurdles for states seeking to spend federal money on laying asphalt, while steering them to more climate-friendly options like transit. It also would give cities more power over selecting and funding transportation projects—boosting the leverage of Democratic-led enclaves in red states such as Texas, where Houston is engaged in a high-profile fight with the state’s DOT over a highway expansion local pols don’t want.”

5) National: From Dr. Kelly Doran: “Psst…guess what? CDC recently updated its guidance on homelessness and it continues to recommend that unsheltered people / encampments NOT be cleared unless moving people to an ‘individual housing option.’ (…) They further add ‘Encampment disbursement should only be conducted as part of a plan to rehouse people living in encampments, developed in coordination with local homeless service providers and public health partners.’” 

6) National: Ralph Nader calls on the Biden administration and Democrats to undertake a major effort to build public support for regulatory action. “This stasis is the work of corporate lawyers who, with the help of allies in Congress and the courts, have so gamed these agencies as to delay the best-intentioned rule-making process for years. Long enough to outlast presidential terms of office. With small budgets, inadequate staff, weakly worded laws and constant congressional harassment, regulatory leaders are beset by headwinds and logjams that trespass on eternity. Unless the Bidenites take their enthusiasms to publicized agency and congressional hearings that turn these ‘kitchen table’ issues into popular electoral agendas, this remarkable executive order will cause little more than dashed expectations for millions of its promised beneficiaries.”

7) International: Adrian Murray and Susan Spronk look at Anti-Privatization Movements in the Global South: P3s and Women’s Human Rights. “On March 29, 2021, we caught up with Corina Rodriguez Enriquez and Masaya Llavaneras Blanco, researchers with Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era (DAWN) “a network of feminist scholars, researchers and activists from the economic South working for economic and gender justice and sustainable and democratic development.” DAWN’s recent report details the impact of various public-private partnership (PPPs) on women in countries around the world, such as Ghana, Peru, Fiji, India, Sierra Leone, and Zimbabwe.” 

Education

8) National: As efforts to ban or censor teaching about structural racism spread across the country, Mark Lewis Taylorand Paul Street look at some of the political and ideological dynamics driving the crusade. “These already sequestered white, wealthier groups are threatened by critical narratives about American history that expose a long-existing alliance between the creation of predominantly white schools and the privatization of public education, Taylor writes. “This is part of the legacy of US structural racism, in short what [Journalist Jeff Bryant], whose beat focuses on the charter school system and the privatization of education, documents as the well-established synergy between racism and private white schooling. That synergy is still at work in the “school choice” movement’s advocacy of programs that sustain predominantly white homeschooling and voucher-enabled privatized schools.”

Street points out that “It’s not just a southern thing. A bill signed by Iowa’s white-supremacist governor ‘Killer’ Kim Reynolds in mid-June makes it a crime to teach the following concepts in the state’s public educational institutions from kindergarten through PhD:

  • “That the United States of America and the state of Iowa are fundamentally or systemically racist or sexist.”
  • “That any individual should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress on account of that individual’s race or sex.”
  • “That meritocracy or traits such as a hard work ethic are racist or sexist, or were created by a particular race to oppress another race.”

9) California: Reclaim Our Schools Los Angeles has issued a new policy brief making a powerful case for community schools, The Schools Students and Families Deserve: The Community Schools Model as a Blueprint for Transforming Public Education in Los Angeles. “During this time, students, school staff, families, and community members have shown courage, resilience, creativity, and determination in the face of overwhelming odds. As we close out the 2020 – 21 school year and look towards the Fall, we find ourselves at a crossroads. Do we return to an era of public education that was underfunded and under siege by the forces of privatization? Or do we double down to build the movement for racial, social, and economic justice as a springboard to reimagine public schools in Los Angeles as hubs of vibrant community life, democracy, and student enrichment? Students, families, school staff, and community leaders are demanding nothing short of transformative change that reaffirms the promise of public education. Community Schools are the vehicle for delivering on this promise.”

10) California: Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) Board Member Nick Melvoin, a stout defender of charter schools, is seeking reelection. Writing in Patch, Carl Petersen, a parent advocate for students with special education needs and for public education and an elected member of the Northridge East Neighborhood Council, states Melvoin “was caught red-handed passing confidential information to the California Charter School Association (CCSA) as the charter school lobbyists sued the district in an attempt to stop bond funds from being used to make school campuses more accessible to those with disabilities. Melvoin and Monica Garcia were the lone votes to renew Prepa Tec charter schoolfor another five years despite the fact that only 3.26% of this school’s students met state standards in math and the school was $485,718 in debt and had no cash reserves. He openly mocked me for asking why the LAUSD had allowed the Community Preparatory Academy (CPA) to operate for five years despite obvious fiscal and academic concerns. The former Executive Director for this school later pleaded guilty to embezzling 3.1 million. As I speculated, she was using the charter school as her own personal piggy bank during the five years the school was allowed to operate by the LAUSD.”

11) FloridaThe Hillsborough School Board will be holding an emergency meeting tomorrow to discuss its conflict with Republican state education officials over its rejection of charter schools. “The move last month to deny renewal of Kid’s Community College Charter School, Pivot Charter School, SouthShore Charter Academy, and Woodmont Charter School came because of problems related to large class sizes, poor academic records, and financial difficulties.

Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran responded with a letter that stated the decision appeared to be “contrary to law” because the schools were not given enough notice.

But the school board stood firm on their vote. Jim Porter, the school board’s attorney, said the decision was made legally. (…) The Hillsborough County School District could face repercussions that include a dramatic loss of funding. The school board will meet in an emergency session at 8 a.m. Tuesday to decide whether to reconsider their votes against renewing the contracts.” So much for local control.

Infrastructure

12) National: David Dayen, executive editor of the American Prospect, joined Sam Seder and Emma Vigeland on the Majority Report to talk infrastructure politics and policy and lots more. [Video: at 20:30, about 40 minutes]. For the latest state of play on the many moving parts of the infrastructure and American Families Plan legislation see Dayen’s The Senate Budget Deal Kicks Off a Flurry of Negotiation. An interesting question: “There’s also the fact that Republicans could use this agreement as an excuse to pull out of Portman-Sinema; there’s already been talk of that. At that point, you’d have to fold that bill into the reconciliation package, and that could reopen that whole agreement, which was changed to court Republican support. Would Democrats put privatization in a Democrat-only bill?”

13) National: Among the key developments is that Senate Democrats say they are close to a deal on a budget resolution that will pave the way for them to pass a sweeping, multitrillion-dollar bill later this year. “Members of the bipartisan group, which now totals 22 members, are working to turn their proposal into legislative text,” The Hill reports. “Democrats could bring that measure to the floor as soon as [this] week, though there’s skepticism that the group will finish by then.” 

Yesterday Republican Sen. Rob Portman (Ohio) threw cold water on the idea that text will be wrapped up this week, and there has been some well founded suspicion that the GOP is actually trying to tank the bills while appearing bipartisan. Dayen ran through the scenarios on privatization and the bipartisan infrastructure framework with John Iadarola of The Damage Report. [Video, about 10 minutes] 

14) NationalShailly Gupta Barnes, Policy Director at the Kairos Center, says Don’t Go Small on Infrastructure. “We can do a lot better than this—and in fact, we can do more than Biden has proposed, too. In June 2019, the Poor People’s Campaign released a Poor People’s Moral Budget that made two essential points: First, we have abundant resources to meet everyone’s needs. And second, investing public resources to meet everyone’s needs will strengthen our economy.

Inspired by this vision, members of Congress introduced the Third Reconstruction Resolution this spring. This plan offers a much broader vision of what it means to fully address poverty and economic insecurity, including around infrastructure.” 

15) National: In the Public Interest’s Jeremy Mohler says We Have a Jobs Crisis and an Environmental Crisis. The Answer to Both Is a Civilian Climate Corps. “Biden has a chance to deliver for working people and a healthy climate if he listens to progressives when it comes to a promising proposal that could potentially create millions of good-paying, green public jobs: The Civilian Climate Corps (CCC). The CCC would be a government jobs program that puts people to work directly combatting the climate crisis. First envisioned by the youth-led Sunrise Movement, the program would aim to ​‘conserve and restore public lands and waters, bolster community resilience, increase reforestation, increase carbon sequestration in the agricultural sector, protect biodiversity, improve access to recreation, and address the changing climate.’” For this to happen, “funding for the CCC will have to find its way into a future budget reconciliation package, which wouldn’t require Republican votes to pass.” For more on the Sunrise Movement’s backing for the CCC idea, see Evan Weber’s (the Sunrise Movement’s political director) discussion with David Dayen

16) National: The deadline for registered lobbyists to file their quarterly activity reports, which will show how much has been spent on lobbying for infrastructure money (such as the transportation industry), for the second financial quarter is tomorrow, July 20.  “It’s likely businesses under the ‘infrastructure’ umbrella will spend millions on lobbying to direct some of the money in the bipartisan deal and the reconciliation deal toward their companies. Democrats plan to bring earmarks back this year, and those earmarks will allow provisions to be written into legislation dictating contractors for federal projects and stipulating where money can go.”

17) Florida: A North Miami Beach water privatization plan could affect 80 city works, says AFSCME. “Ignore the fact that the FBI is probing the City of North Miami Beach’s proposal to hand the operation of its entire water system over to a private company, and brush aside that the third-ranked company bidding for the project, the French firm Veolia, has ties to lead crises in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; and Flint, Michigan. (…) ‘Payroll—spending on the actual people who deliver reliable and safe water—is going to be a large expense,’ AFSCME Florida spokesperson Mark McCullough tells New Times. ‘A for-profit company has to do just that, deliver a profit, so they will keep cutting back on their employees to do that. And when those cutbacks don’t match the projection’s needs for Wall Street, they will cut back on safety, maintenance, and make even deeper cuts through layoffs and shredding what is left for the employees who remain.’”

18) New Jersey: Food & Water Watch says that a proposal to privatize Cumberland County’s sewer system is flawed. “Food & Water Watch—which is based in Washington, DC and has a New Jersey office — raised a host of concerns with the proposal in a recent memo to the Cumberland County Utility Authority Commissioners. The proposed deal has sparked an intense controversy in the community over the past two months, leading CCUA executive director G. Steve Errickson to announce his resignation last  month, saying that the frenzied push to secure a deal has ‘made it impossible for me to continue to do my job.’”

19) Puerto RicoPuerto Ricans fear blackouts during hurricane season. “The privatization of the country’s electric grid was announced three years ago by former Gov. Ricardo Rosello. LUMA’s contract with the government was announced during his successor, Wanda Vazquez’s administration, but Pierluisi supported it once he took office in January 2021. While blackouts and power outages weren’t infrequent in some areas of Puerto Rico before LUMA, some residents say conditions have worsened since the new company has been in control. Sylvia Giansante, a resident in San Juan, said “power outages were not frequent,” but that changed in the last month. But “ever since last month,” she said, “the power goes out every two days.”

20) Texas: Writing in the Bond Buyer, Mary Scott Nabers, president & CEO of Strategic Partnerships, Inc., says successful Texas bond elections are signaling “stabilizing government activity.” She writes, “the activity level in government marketplaces is close to an all-time high. Pent-up demand and critical issues are driving public officials to launch essential projects of all types. It is a good time to be a contractor or supplier to the government. Not only do government entities have new federal funds destined to reach them soon, but citizens also are supporting bond elections in record numbers. The following upcoming opportunities represent the diversity that will be available to contractors throughout the U.S.” [Sub required]

21) Think Tanks: Jonathan Vincent Pace reports that he is working on a project on internet infrastructure privatization. “Through a postmortem of privatization, this grant project develops a framework for multisector infrastructural governance that addresses structural obstacles to internet access by allocating regulatory authority to market, state, and civil society actors. This framework will be distributed through a technology policy handbook that details the composite structure and enduring problems of infrastructural governance. As a set of policy proposals, the handbook is intended for lawmakers, technologists, and civil society advocates who work in the space. As a topical introduction with accessible language and professional illustrations, it addresses an increasingly-curious general public concerned with the state of technology.”

Criminal Justice and Immigration

22) NationalDaily Kos reports that the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) says it’s seeking government records relating to Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) “deplorable practice of refusing to free gravely ill immigrants only until they’re near death. Immigrant rights advocates have long said federal immigration officials have done this in a contemptible attempt to wash their hands of responsibility. (…) The group cites the recent death of Martin Vargas Arellano, who contracted COVID-19 while detained at the notorious Adelanto prison in southern California. ICE steadily refused to release him, even after his advocates noted his preexisting conditions made him particularly vulnerable. Only until he had worsened did officials free him. He died in a hospital three days later. ‘After releasing him from custody, ICE did not report his death, and Vargas Arellano’s own family and counsel did not find out about his passing until weeks later, after they filed a missing person’s report,’ the ACLU said.”

23) National: Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY), Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Ron Wyden (D-OR) have drafted legislation to end the federal ban on marijuana, which could lead to the release of thousands jailed under federal drug charges. President Biden’s spokesperson said he is still against federal legalization, putting him at odds with the Senators. In its 2020 annual report, CoreCivic flagged drug legalization as a risk factor to its business: “For instance, any changes with respect to drugs and controlled substances or illegal immigration could affect the number of persons arrested, convicted, and sentenced, thereby potentially reducing demand for correctional or detention facilities to house them.” Biden was among the most aggressive politicians in the 1990s pushing a tough on crime agenda that spurred the proliferation of private, for profit prisons.

24) National: Is the GEO Group poisoning immigrant detainees at one of its facilities? “The federal Environmental Protection Agency has issued a warning to the private prison company that runs the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement facility in Tacoma.

The EPA says the Florida-based company, GEO Group, exposes detainees at the facility to pesticides multiple times a day with out the opportunity to change into clean clothes. Some detainees have complained of headaches and other illnesses they believe the chemicals have caused. The ICE detention center in Tacoma, where more than 1,500 can be placed while they wait for their immigration cases to proceed, has also recently experienced a COVID outbreak, with dozens of detainees testing positive.”

25) NationalGEO Group has added prominent right wing lawyer Charles J. Cooper to its defense team for a retrial on claims that it paid detained immigrant workers just $1 per day, a proceeding slated to begin in October after a mistrial last month. Cooper has been a key strategist and activist in the anti-civil rights movement (he was once head of the Federalist Society’s Civil Rights Practice Group) and was part of the legal team of Gov. Jeb Bush for his fight against the right of ex-felons to vote. 

26) National: Andrew Moss, emeritus professor at the California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, says the Biden administration has taken a wrong turn by joining up with the GEO Group in its lawsuit to defend private, for profit immigration detention. “Given the climate of fear churned up by the Trump administration, it will be challenging to move the nation forward on an alternative path. But countless rights activists and organizations have already done much to pave the way: reframing narratives about the value of immigration—and affirming human rights and human dignity. If he chooses to take the challenging, but more enlightened, path, Mr. Biden and his administration would hardly be going it alone.” 

27) New YorkThe New York City corrections officers’ union is suing the city over working conditions. “It was hell.” The New York Times reports “a lawsuit filed this week by a union that represents New York City’s jail officers accuses officials of creating an inhumane working environment at the Rikers Island complex during the coronavirus pandemic, compelling officers to work brutally long shifts in unsanitary and often dangerous conditions. The suit, filed by the Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association, comes two months after a federal monitor’s report that found a ‘pervasive level of disorder and chaos’ at the city’s jails. The filing followed a string of scandals, reports of surging violence and the deaths of a half-dozen people behind bars. The Department of Correction’s new commissioner, Vincent Schiraldi, who was appointed by Mayor Bill de Blasio in May and began work last month, called the allegations in the lawsuit “disturbing” and pledged to act.” 

Public Services

28) National: Writing in the Bond Buyer, Tom Kozlik, Head of Municipal Research and Analytics, HilltopSecurities Inc., says Rescue Act funds should remain with state and local governments. “There has been a troubling development as some lawmakers have proposed clawing back part of the $1.9 trillion of American Rescue Plan Act relief to help fund [infrastructure]. Specifically, some have proposed repurposing some of the $350 billion allocated to state, local and tribal governments. This would be a mistake. (…) The state and local government labor market, which previously represented one out of every eight jobs in the U.S., remains challenged. The total number of jobs is still 1.2 million below its pre-pandemic high. This is almost 300,000 jobs less than what was observed during the post-Great Recession’s bottom. Jobs did not bottom-out in state and local governments until four years after the Great Recession ended in June 2009. They did not return to the pre-Great Recession peak until the summer of 2019. This sluggish recovery in state and local government jobs contributed to the U.S. economy’s slow growth trajectory.” [Sub required]

29) New Jersey: The possible privatization of school crossing guards was a hot topic at the Millburn Township committee meeting. “Councilwoman Maggee Miggins mentioned, ‘I don’t think we should be leaving this up to some corporate interest in California.’ She added, ‘I am not for spending money on privatization or contracting with a California company for work we should be doing ourselves.’ Her words were met with applause. (…) Mayor Tara Prupis, Deputy Mayor Richard Wasserman and Thall-Eglow voted to contract with ACMS for a year. Miggins and Councilman Sanjeev Vinayak voted against the contract.”

30) New York: CUNY’s Professional Staff Congress reports that “the Municipal Labor Committee (MLC) and the NYC Office of Labor Relations (OLR) have voted to move all city retirees, including CUNY retirees, from traditional Medicare with supplemental city insurance to administration by a for-profit, privatized Medicare Advantage plan. This will have huge implications for present and future retirees.” The move came only days after the proposed contract was announced. (…) Whatever its provisions, a plan to shift the cost-saving burden to union members and municipal employees does not bode well for the future. Higher costs may be demanded of union members down the line. The answer is not privatization. It is to continue Labor’s fight for a single-payer public healthcare system and a system for New York that serves municipal workers fairly. Until then, it is important to take a step back and look at options that can make that goal a reality.”

31) Pennsylvania: SEIU Local 668 has denounced a move by the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services to award an Area Agencies on Aging contract to Maximus, an out-of-state, for-profit company. “Please reach out to the Governor’s office and demand that he stop the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services from outsourcing and privatizing AAA work. Call Governor Wolf at 717-787-2500 and tell him: Don’t privatize the AAAs! Do not award Maximus critical Aging Assessment work. Let the Area Agencies on Aging continue to do the work they’ve performed with expertise for years.”

32) International: Channel 4, one of Britain’s major TV networks, is pushing back against the Conservative government’s plan to privatise it. “The moves to potentially privatise the 38-year-old public service broadcaster came as Channel 4 on Tuesday argued it had proved its viability by returning its best-ever financial results during 2020, despite the pandemic. Alex Mahon, chief executive, warned that the shift to a for-profit model would potentially endanger the broadcaster’s spending outside London, its support for independent producers and its reach with younger audiences.” Others are urging the government to turn it into a social enterprise. “We simply cannot allow valuable national institutions to be sold off to those with the deepest pockets. Channel 4 has a vital role in supporting the emergence of new talent, ensuring better regional representation and offering an independent, critical voice to those in positions of power.” [Sub required]

Everything Else

33) National/Florida/CaliforniaIs the public going to be on the hook for billions if private Florida and California buildings become uninsurable because of global heating? “As private insurers pull back, more homeowners are buying coverage from Citizens Property Insurance, a state-owned entity that was meant to be the insurer of last resort—a backstop for people who could not find coverage on the regular market. Now, instead of being a backstop, Citizens provides more residential insurance policies than almost any private insurer in Florida, according to state data.”

34) National: Blackstone, the private equity behemoth, is scooping up billions of dollars worth of rent-controlled apartments and rental houses, introducing an even more powerful monopolistic element into the privatized housing “market.”  The Financial Times reports that “the deal covers 678 ‘affordable housing communities’ in cities including Boston, San Francisco and Seattle, according to a person familiar with the terms. All of the developments have received tax credits from the US government in exchange for agreeing to stringent restrictions on rent and occupancy that are intended to make it easier for people on low incomes to find homes.” Are taxpayers swimming against the tide in trying to address the critical shortage of affordable housing? [Sub required]. 

35) NationalFull time minimum wage workers can’t afford to rent an apartment anywhere in the United States, CNBC reports. “People working minimum wage jobs full-time cannot afford a two-bedroom apartment in any state in the country, the National Low Income Housing Coalition’s annual ‘Out of Reach’ report finds. In 93% of U.S. counties, the same workers can’t afford a modest one-bedroom. (…) Additionally, the report finds that Black and Latino workers are more likely to spend more of their income on rent, as they make less, on average, than white workers. Over 40% of Black and Latino households spend more than 30% of their income on rent, compared to 25% of white households.”

36) National: Writing in Responsible Statecraft, Kelley Beaucar Vlahos says the privatization of war and state-backed subversion using mercenaries is turbocharging global instability and violence. “The details in both stories are sordid, but the common thread is this: guns for hire have always been around but after our 9/11 wars the proliferation of private military companies with sophisticated weapons, well-trained leaders, and money seeming to burn cannot be ignored. As Sean McFate, author of The Modern Mercenary: Private Armies and What They Mean for World Order (2015) likes to say, it would be impossible to stuff this genie back into the bottle. Not only did we conjure the djinn of the modern industry by outsourcing security throughout the Iraq and Afghanistan wars — think Blackwater, Dyncorp, Triple Canopy — but made it a lucrative opportunity for the millions of veterans of those wars. And it’s not just an American game. Plenty of companies working with governments all over the world see the benefit of waging conflicts under the radar with hired mercenaries—just ask the Russians.”

Photo by Charles Edward Miller.