Combat engineers and heavy equipment operators with Combat Logistics Battalion 3, 2nd Marine Logistics Group (Forward), install a metal culvert during a bridge construction project in Haji Hanif Khan, Afghanistan, March 8. Haji Hanif Khan is a small rural community located in Afghanistan's Helmand province. Cpl. Daniel Woodall
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Weekly Privatization Report 2-20-2018

1) National: The Trump administration’s long-awaited infrastructure plan has been released to very weak reviews. Donald Cohen of In the Public Interest, writing in the American Prospect, says the plan is a scam and a fiction. “First, it’s a fiction. There is no $1.5 trillion plan. It’s $200 billion—that’s all the federal government says it’s going to spend—but then it’s not that either. That $200 billion doesn’t factor in the billions in cuts to transportation, water, energy, and other projects. The Highway Trust Fund that states and cities rely on is zeroed out. Budgetary shell games (a.k.a. budget cuts) are not the new investment that will fill the gaping need in American drinking water, waste water disposal, transit, roads, bridges and other vital infrastructure.  (…) But it’s not just a fiction. It’s also a scam. Trump has come up with a scheme that sounds so good, it’s hard to believe it’s true. In fact, it’s not. It’s really a plan for the privatization of American public infrastructure—like Trump University, which promised students that they could make millions for a small investment in tuition, but which only made Trump richer. Trump’s plan promises to give out ‘incentives’ that will stimulate billions in private investment—and control—of water systems, roads, and other basics of life.”

The plan paves the way for the privatization of federal buildings and other assets, such as energy infrastructure (Bonneville and TVA), and, says Cohen, incentivizes privatization or private profiteering from interstate highways, interstate rest areas, transportation, transit, airports, public water facilities, Veterans Affairs facilities, and public lands. [See also In the Public Interest’s fact sheet on How Trump’s Infrastructure Plan Incentivizes Privatization]

2) National: The Trump administration has launched an effort to undermine or get rid of Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin, who has sought to find practical and bipartisan solutions for the VA’s problems without resorting to the massive privatization assault favored by Trump’s right wing allies in Congress, the corporate health sector, and the anti-government, Koch-backed group Concerned Veterans for America (CVA).

@JamesDeNofrio says “not all VA whistleblowers drink the privatization Kool-Aid. For veterans in rural western Pennsylvania there is 1 private PCP accepting patients & wait is more than 2 months. A private hospital in our area just cut dialysis because it was not making $$$. We need to FIX the VA!”

3) National: Mary Grant of Food and Water Watch offers “5 Reasons Trump’s Infrastructure Plan Is Bad for Communities and the Planet.” She says “the plan reads like a to-do list of How to Give Public Land and Water to Wall Street. The end goal: to privatize our local water systems and public services so corporations can make a profit. Meanwhile, everyday people will pay the cost: price increases, a lack of public accountability and a loss of jobs.”

4) National: CoreCivic reports it is strongly profiting from “improving utilization trends across the portfolio for United States Marshals and Immigrations and Customs Enforcement facilities,” and is expecting more to come: “Finally, it is important for investors to know that over the last ten plus years, if ICE gets an increase in detention funding from one fiscal year to the next, that serves as the new base going forward.”

In its earnings call on Thursday, CEO Damon Hininger said CoreCivic has responded to the RFP issued by Idaho “to house and manage up to 1,000 adult male [medium?] security offenders outside the state,” and is hoping for more opportunities in Arizona should the need arise. He also said the company expects to begin receiving prisoners in its Lee “adjustment center” in Kentucky, and is “actively engaged in discussions with the [Colorado] Department of Corrections regarding a new lease agreement.” It is also “engaged in discussions with the Department of Corrections in Oklahoma for a potential lease of our 2,160-bed Diamondback correctional facility.”

At the federal level: CoreCivic has “submitted multiple facilities for the CAR 19 procurement and an award announcement is expected in the second half of 2018.”

Then this tidbit: “There are also indications from the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico that the Governor’s fiscal plan to address the territory’s debt crisis includes potentially moving up to 3,200 offenders off the island in order to reduce the annual budget for the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation and this could start as early as July 1 of this year. We have successfully worked with Puerto Rico a few years ago when they housed a population at one of our Oklahoma facility and we would be pleased to do so once again should they choose to proceed with this plan.”

5) National: Grassroots Leadership reports that a victim of sexual abuse at the CoreCivic-run Hutto Detention Center in Taylor, Texas, has been forced into solitary confinement and ICE is demanding she recant her testimony. “Laura was told she would not be released from solitary confinement until she publicly stated that she had not been sexually abused. ‘This should not be happening in America. Here you have a woman who came forward to report rampant sexual abuse inside of a federal facility. Instead of protecting her, and ensuring the abuse stops, ICE is now putting Laura in solitary confinement with the expressed intent of tearing her down so she will do as they say. This is against the law. There is an ongoing FBI investigation and ICE is trying to convince this witness to change her story.’ said Claudia Muñoz, immigration programs director at Grassroots Leadership. ‘This is one of the most egregious abuses I have ever witnessed.’”

6) National: GEO Group also reported its fourth quarter and full year 2017 results last week. In an earnings call, chairman and CEO George Zoley led off with a report on GEO’s criminal justice reform and prisoner rehabilitation operations, before his CFO Brian Evans went on to tout their just-announced $200 million stock buyback (sure to be of interest to the company’s directors, including Zoley, who reportedly holds nearly a million shares). GEO expects to complete a new 1,000-bed ICE Processing Center in the Houston area in the fourth quarter of this year. They also note that Trump’s “proposed budget for fiscal year 2019 includes the funding requests for ICE to support the hiring of 2,000 additional ICE law enforcement officers and 750 border patrol agents as well as a total of 52,000 detention beds, an increase of almost 13,000 beds over the funding levels under the current continuing resolution.” Their separate financial supplement contains a full current list of contract expiration datesfor prisons and community-based services and youth services facilities.

7) National: The Southern Poverty Law Center adds an important point to the debate on justice reform in “They Served Their Prison Sentences, But They’re Still Locked Up.” Correct Care Solutions is spotlighted. “Since their only path to being released is to advance in treatment, offenders sent to Littlefield have effectively been detained there indefinitely. For Correct Care Solutions, that’s good news. It says it will run out of bed space by 2019 and be forced to expand its current operation or build another facility. The incentive to rehabilitate offenders and graduate them from treatment? Nonexistent.” SPLC says “the first step to fixing it is to eliminate the profit motive from the correctional system.”

8) National: When the National Rifle Association rode to the rescue of the private prison industry, and fattened itself in the process: “Although the NRA lost on the assault weapons front, it got what it wanted in one respect: funding for prison construction increased threefold. That was on top of its own concurrent successes at the state level. In 1993, in the midst of what advocates on all sides agreed was a serious crisis, Texas held a referendum on a $1 billion bond for prison construction. The NRA spent big on advertisements in support of the initiative, which would expand the state’s capacity by 37,000 beds. It passed, along with a package of reforms designed to make it much harder for convicted felons to go home early. (A $750 million bond for school construction failed, however.) That was a driving force in what the Houston Chronicle described as “the biggest prison construction boom in U.S. history”—18 new state jails at a cost of $3 billion, in just five years. CrimeStrike lobbied successfully for similar construction projects in Mississippi and Virginia. States needed prisons in part because the NRA was pushing a legislative agenda designed to keep them full.”

9) National: Waste Management, one of the leading companies in the trash privatization business, issued its annual report last week, noting inter alia that  “our operating expenses could increase as a result of labor unions organizing or changes in regulations related to labor unions.”

10) National: Jeremy Mohler of In the Public Interest talks about the possible privatization of Reagan National and Dulles International airports, and about Trump’s infrastructure plan, with Eugene Puryear. [Audio, at 92:30]

11) National: Not missing a beat, the security industry has just made a pitch to ensure it gets a slice of the Trump privatization pie. “As we drive toward privatization, one thing is clear—we need to provide economic incentives or direct regulation to encourage leading practice in security and resilience. The compliance-oriented standards and best practices developed by the 60-member Interagency Security Committee or the legal liability protections of its Safety Act Program are a starting place for how we can consistently drive security that rises above voluntary frameworks into the marketplace. If the federal government expects more private ownership of infrastructure, it must ensure security moves beyond being viewed as a cost center and gets the same billing as profitability.”

12) National/Texas: Veteran anti-toll conservative activist Terri Hall pans Trump’s plan to toll the interstate highways. She says Trump-backers “may be asking, what good does it do to put money back in one pocket through tax cuts only to take it out of the other with confiscatory toll taxes, especially in the hands of private, for-profit, global corporations?” Her doggedness—and the political success of the Texas anti-toll/anti-P3 movement—is giving Robert Poole, the Searle Freedom Trust Transportation Fellow at the Koch-funded Reason Foundation, which loves tolls and privatization, fits.

13) National: Sharp-eyed catch by @AlecMacGillis, citing a New York Times piece: “Wife of WeWork founder, with no background in education, is starting a chain of for-profit elementary schools called WeGrow. Tuition for toddlers is a mere $36,000 per year.”

14) NationalMay 14-21 is Infrastructure Week. The steering committee includes the  U.S. Chamber of Commerce and AFL-CIO, among others; sponsored by HNTB, Siemens, AECOM and others.

15) Florida: Miami-based charter school investors have scored $5.5 million in EB-5 funding from the Trump administration to set up a charter school. “The lender has also worked with MG3 Development Group to build a 153,000-square-foot charter school near Delray Beach. Under theEB-5 program, foreign investors (as well as their immediate family members) can invest $500,000 in a job-producing project in exchange for an immigration visa. The U.S. government only issues about 10,000 new EB-5 visas per year.”

16) Louisiana: The Singleton Charter School has been warned by state education officials about its role in standardized test cheating. “Most of those tests were voided because students got accommodations meant for those with special-education needs. Some were voided because too many answers had been changed from wrong to right, indicating cheating.”

17) Maryland: A charter school principal tells the Real News that there is no evidence that privatization is good for students. “Pushing back against the national wave of school privatization, Baltimore principal Matt Hornbeck says equitable funding and high-quality teachers are the keys to educational excellence.” [Video, 13 minutes]

18) Maryland: Baltimore city leaders staged a protest against Trump’s infrastructure plan, saying it leaves cities behind, and against water privatization, saying “Baltimore is not for sale.” [Video, 1:46]. They hope other cities will follow suit and push back against privatization.

19) Massachusetts: Efforts to organize a union at independent charter schools have spread from Cape Cod to Western Massachusetts, “creating what could potentially be a new labor movement,” the Boston Globe reports. “They will be represented by Local 2322 of the United Automobile, Aerospace, and Agriculture Implement Workers of America. ‘Unions have a long history of empowering workers in our country and around the world, and we are eager to bring the benefits of collective bargaining to our community,’ said Elmo Wright, a high school math teacher and member of the bargaining committee, in a statement. At least two charter schools—in Harwich and Marlborough—have teacher unions, while faculty at two Boston charter schools this week overwhelmingly approved efforts to create unions.”

20) Massachusetts: A candidate for the Democratic nomination for the 3rd Congressional District, State Rep. Juana Matias, has raised  “a large chunk” of her campaign funds “from advocates for the expansion of charter schools,” reports the Eagle Tribune. “Democrats for Education Reform, a New York-based charter school advocacy organization, chipped in $5,000 at the end of 2017, and various members of the organization’s Massachusetts’ advisory council have also contributed to Matias’ campaign. One of the organization’s founders, New York investor Whitney Tilson, contributed $1,000, according to FEC documents. DFER’s Massachusetts State Director Liam Kerr has donated a total of $5,400 to Matias.”

21) Missouri: Rex Sinquefield’s involvement in efforts to privatize St. Louis Lambert International Airport is a “non-starter” for some Aldermen, even after a vote to require periodic report-backs. “Meetings every 60 days to have an update on where we’re moving forward in a process that has been flawed from the very beginning is putting lipstick on a pig,” said 20th Ward Alderman Cara Spence.

22) Nevada: Two charter schools face possible closure over student performance. “Quest Preparatory Academy already has an authority-approved receiver running the day-to-day operations, mostly due to financial issues. The school’s financial problems date to 2012, when the authority threatened to revoke its charter over allegations of improper payments. A 2013 audit found suspicious spending by the principal at the time. Joshua Kern took over in 2015, and has continued to face money problems.”

23) New York: The Buffalo News says the state made “the right decision” in closing Oracle charter school. “The institute found that students graduating were not prepared for college and career. It didn’t matter that its graduation rate is higher than the city school district’s over all. The academic trend at Oracle is downward. Students were suffering.”

24) Puerto Rico: San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz tells Amy Goodman and Juan González, “We’re facing privatization on the energy front, we’re also facing privatization at the point of education… It almost seems like the perfect storm for disaster economics or what they call disaster capitalism.”

25) International: As a backlash builds in Britain against the privatization of public assets and services, the Labour Party has released a 48-page paper on Alternative Models of Ownership that says “the process of privatization has further increased the areas of society that are not subject to democratic decision-making.” Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour leader, spoke at a conference held to discuss the issues of public ownership and privatization, and said that Britain’s energy system should be brought under public control.

26) International: Pressure is building on the British government to stop promoting privatization through its aid budgets overseas. “Even more alarming is the government’s promotion overseas of Private Finance Initiatives (PFI)—or Public Private Partnerships (PPPs) as they are known outside the UK. The Financial Times reported in September that despite condemning PFI schemes in the UK (with Boris Johnson even comparing them to ‘looting’), various Tory ministers continued to promote the model overseas to the world’s poorest countries.”

27) International: A clever poem about privatization—from the 18th century.

28) Think Tanks: The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives has published a report on the privatization of trash collection in Winnipeg. Privatization has created low-paying jobs where workers have no job security, no health and safety protections and very little say in when they work. “Trashed documents a dramatic drop in wages and working conditions under the privatized, sub-contracted scheme, and found many of the subcontracted workers were living in poverty. As temporary workers, they had little to no control over their schedules, and didn’t know from one day to the next if they would have work. (…) CUPE 500 continues to fight to bring this service back in house. Earlier this month, the city decided to use in-house workers to collect waste from multi-family residences like apartment buildings and condos. The pilot project gets underway in 2020.” [Trashed: How Outsourcing Municipal Solid Waste Collection Kicks Workers to the Curb, by Ellen Smirl]

Legislative Issues

1) National: Trump’s infrastructure plan is setting off a season of legislative jockeying. The plan, which the White House is referring to as a legislative framework, would require major changes in some bedrock environmental laws such as the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), for which highway ‘public private partnership’ projects must seek approval. The question is whether Congress will enact these NEPA bypasses.Arnold & Porter offers an assessment. “The plan sets forth multiple legislative proposals to streamline, consolidate, expedite, and in some cases eliminate, the environmental review and approval procedures for infrastructure projects under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and other environmental statutes. Although the prospects for legislation are unclear, if adopted by Congress the plan would significantly alter the environmental law framework for such projects. The White House also devoted an important section to brownfields and Superfund reform. (…) These and other issues related to infrastructure review and permitting will be explored in depth by leading experts at a conference in Washington, D.C. co-sponsored by Arnold & Porter and the Environmental Law Institute on May 10, 2018.”

The plan would also, says EPA Week, “significantly diminish EPA’s role in the review process but require several amendments to bedrock environmental laws including the Clean Air Act (CAA) and Clean Water Act (CWA), making their likelihood of succeeding slim. The proposal also largely ignores risks from climate change for any new project, such as sea-level rise, increased floods or extreme heat.” But a source notes “that once a statute is opened for a narrow amendment, it often becomes ‘a Christmas tree’ and invites all kinds of proposed changes. ‘They could write a limited bill and the question is, would this Congress allow such a thing to sit on the table? If they open a portion would it trigger people’s desires to open up other things? . . . It would seem that is a distinct possibility.” [Sub required]

2) Kansas: @KansasDems say “Colyer’s privatization of KanCare has been a complete disaster. We MUST reverse Colyer and Brownback’s agenda and expand Medicaid!” On Friday, the Wichita Eagle reported that Maximus “is so out of compliance with its contract that it could face fines of more than $250,000 a day.” Working conditions for public vs. private staff are starkly different, contributing to the privatization fiasco. “The company runs a clearinghouse that is designed to sort through the state’s Medicaid applications, but Kansas’ Medicaid director on Fridaydescribed a sense of despair among workers during a recent visit to the Topeka facility. The clearinghouse includes Maximus workers and state workers, with about 350 in total. ‘It’s night and day. It’s a completely different work environment on our side of the house and their side of the house and I think that’s because we at the state value the employees that work for us,’ Kansas Medicaid Director Jon Hamdorf said.”

 

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