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Weekly Privatization Report 2-6-2017

1) National: Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist David Cay Johnston, who has written widely about private rip-offs of the public sector, launches “a new kind of news operation for the Trump era.” Its mission: “Others quote Trump Tweets. We report on what this administration does. Want to know how the Trump administration will affect you? You have the right to White House news. Find out what you can do before changes take effect. Before any law, rule or policy is altered, DCReport will alert you. And show you how to exercise your Constitutional rights to challenge changes detrimental to your rights and protections as a citizen, consumer, worker, investor and voter. We will never tell you what to do, but we will equip you with hard facts so that you can decide. Despite official barriers preventing your involvement in government decisions, you can make your voice heard.”

2) National: John Knefel of Truthout asks whether federal judge Dolly Gee’s order that immigrant family detention must conform to the law will now be massively breached, as Trump moves to vastly expand ICE detention and the use of county jails and for-profit prisons. “Trump’s orders instruct the Department of Homeland Security to add to an already existing wall along the southern border, to defund sanctuary cities, and to deputize local and state cops as immigration enforcement agents. One of the orders also calls for new construction of immigrant detention centers, which Thomas Homan, the new head of ICE, confirmed in a press conference on Tuesday [at 9:50]. ‘We’re in the process of identifying additional detention capacity,’ Homan said. Promises like that are terrifying immigrant communities around the country, who often already harbor justified mistrust of law enforcement.”

3) NationalPublic Works Financing leads this month with a front-page road industry wish list on expanding private involvement in infrastructure. The “Fast Track Now” program for ‘public private partnerships’ was penned by “a private toll road developer active in the U.S. market since 1995 who requested anonymity.” Among the items: Private investment will be “fast tracked through federal permitting and approval processes”; DOT would lead a multi-agency “SWAT Team” to “ensure permitting and environmental priority for priority projects”; TIFIA approval within six months; environmental permits in “less than 1 year”; FHWA to delegate NEPA approvals down to the states; up to $10 million per project of federal cash “to study PPP/privatization possibilities”; tolling of federal highways; removal of FAA restrictions on private investment in airports, “allow partial privatizations” and give “FAA grants to study privatization possibilities” for airports. They would also like for a tradeable market to be created for any tax credits that would be part of a federal infrastructure program (think of the commissions!), and for key restrictions on new Private Activity Bond issuance to be eliminated. Elsewhere in the issue a P3 financial advisor calls for “public subsidy ‘gap funding’” even for projects with revenue streams. [Public Works Financing, January 2017; sub required].

4) National: The Trump administration is rolling back enforcement and monitoring measures for abuses by predatory for-profit colleges, and appoints a leader of the Christian right, Jerry Falwell Jr., to head the effort. The Chronicle of Higher Education reports that he will use a November 30 policy memo of their trade association, the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, as a blueprint. “The two-page memo, written by David L. Warren, president of NAICU, highlights several areas “ripest for deregulation in higher education,” including new rules on teacher education, a federal definition of the credit hour, and regulations that require states to create additional consumer protections for students. It also names the new overtime rules, the gainful-employment regulation, and the borrower-defense-to-repayment rule as other possible target areas.” Falwell’s new role can, of course, benefit his own university.

5) NationalPublic Works Financing highlights the role that CG/LA Infrastructure, a Beltway consulting group, is playing in developing the Trump administration’s infrastructure plan. “CG/LA’s signature marketing event is an annual conference where 100 private developers present details of their projects to investors and others in public and private meetings. The next North American Infrastructure Leadership Forum will be held in Silicon Valley in October 2017.” [Public Works Financing, January 2017; sub required]. CG/LA is headed by Norman F. Anderson, who says his people spent a year before the election developing an infrastructure plan, and has just released an “industry x-ray.” CG/LA will be holding its Global Infrastructure Leadership Forum next month in Montreal. The keynote speaker will be Daniel M. Slane, the infrastructure director in Trump’s National Economic Council. “Led by members of the new Trump Administration, this session will provide participants with an in-depth look into the pipeline of priority projects and new policy initiatives to spur a successful, dramatic increase in infrastructure investment.”

6) National/District of ColumbiaWriting in the Washington Post, Jeremy Mohler of In the Public Interest applauds the District of Columbia for ending its 20-year contract with CoreCivic to operate one of the city’s jails, and reminds us that even as Trump moves to expand incarceration for profit nationwide, it can be resisted at the state and local level. The move was a victory for ReThink Justice DC, “formed three years ago to advocate for the end of CoreCivic’s contract and to stop the city from signing contracts with other private corrections corporations.” Mohler writes, “despite what Trump says or enacts, we must continue to keep our eyes on what’s in front of us. Reform must continue locally, and it can—local jurisdictions have a say in what happens in their criminal justice systems. This will be all the more important to remember as the District considers building a new jail.”

7) National: Rachel Tabachnik of Talk to Action explains how through tax credits and vouchers, taxpayer dollars are being used by private religious schools to teach creationism, revisionist history and hostility toward other religions. “Non-evangelical and non-fundamentalist Protestant denominations are described as liberal, a dirty word in these texts.  [Researcher Frances R. Paterson] dedicates an entire chapter of her book [on Christian school curricula] to examples of anti-Roman Catholic bias, which is taught to students beginning around the fifth grade.  Catholicism is described with terms such as distorted, false, and error.  A Bob Jones high school text states, ‘The seed of error that took root during the fourth and fifth centuries blossomed into the Roman Catholic Church—a perversion of biblical Christianity.’”

8) National: As Betsy DeVos heads for a confirmation vote in the Senate as early as today but probably tomorrowSarah Jaffe interviews school privatization opponent Jesse Hagopian as part of Truthout’s “Interviews for Resistance” series. Among other things, Hagopian, the senior editor of Rethinking Schools, urges teachers to fight to strengthen their unions’ capacities to wage a steady campaign against school privatization. “It is really critical to form a caucus inside the union to gather together like-minded social justice advocates and begin to present your ideas to the broader union, to help make your union strong enough to fight back against the privatization attacks and to help raise social issues like the Black Lives Matter movement. Oftentimes, beginning with a study group is a good way to go, getting a book to read.”

The Washington Post’s Valerie Strauss points out that “DeVos supporters can’t seem to believe that many people who are not connected to the unions could have their own reasons for opposing her nomination for education secretary,” including even Eli Broad and Democrats for Education Reform. And Teen Vogue.

9) National: The Trump administration is preparing for a major political-and-astroturf PR campaign from within the Education Department as it pushes ahead with its radical privatization agenda. Politicoreported on Friday that “seven new names have been added to the list of Education Department hires in the Trump administration.” They include Nate Bailey, a former Republican flack who assisted the PR firm Edelman in their corporate campaign for TransCanada on the Keystone XL pipeline fight. According to Greenpeace, Bailey “developed and implemented Edelman’s energy-related political and grassroots advocacy program for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce that has opposed climate legislation.”

10) National: David Shulkin, President Trump’s nominee for Veterans Affairs (VA) secretary, says he will not privatize the VA. “Shulkin took over VHA following a scandal that emerged in 2014 over long wait times for veterans seeking health care and subsequent cover-up efforts. In the scandal’s wake, many conservatives have pushed to privatize VA health care. Trump during his presidential campaign also called for greater privatization of VA’s health care system. Officials on Trump’s transition team last month said Trump was considering a ‘public-private option’ for the VA. (…) When asked whether Trump might try to pressure him into privatizing the system, Shulkin said Trump ‘knows I will follow my values.’ However, Shulkin added that he and Trump both ‘share a common vision that we have to do a lot better for veterans.’”

11) National: CoreCivic, formerly Corrections Corporation of America, will release its fourth quarter 2016 profit numbers this Wednesday after market close, and will hold its conference call the next morning at 11 am eastern time. The GEO Group will release its fourth quarter 2016 numbers on February 22 before the market opens, to be followed by a conference call at 11 am eastern.

12) National: The Project on Government Oversight (POGO) “emphatically condemns” the Congressional vote to gut the anti-corruption provision of Dodd-Frank covering bribes paid by oil and gas industries to U.S. and foreign officials. “The claim that Cardin-Lugar would damage the ability of American companies to be globally competitive was always bogus—as international companies are already subject to similar rules. Rather, it’s about keeping vital information away from the public, lest we find out, for example, that the US government isn’t receiving its fair share of taxes from natural resources extracted from public lands.” On Saturdaythe Romanian government retreated from its efforts to weaken an anti-corruption law in the face of massive public protests.

13) National: Hollywood figures are gearing up to fight Trump over funding for the arts and humanities, and on his plan to privatize the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. “Actress Alfre Woodard, a member of the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities under Obama, is among those raising her voice. “The NEA and NEH are enlightened collaborations between the U.S. government and its citizens, bringing the best and varied artistic expressions of who we are as a people into the public square,” she told Variety. “It is vital to the health of a democracy that government supports art, artists, humanists.”

14) NationalThe privatizers are taking aim at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, and its billions in public assets.

15) NationalA responsible billionaire contractor has rejected an offer to build Trump’s wall, saying it is “the most idiotic thing I’ve ever seen or heard in my life.” Caroline Willis tells us what else we could buy for $14 billion.

16) National: A survey by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) shows that federal refuge and range staff overwhelmingly feel their jobs are “more dangerous” as extremists push for the privatization of federal lands.

17) National: Teachers Advisors LLC, which operates as a private subsidiary of TIAA-CREFhas boosted its stake in the GEO Group private prison company.

18) Louisiana/NationalThe National Labor Relations Board rules that “charter schools in New Orleans are subject to federal law on unionization. That means if employees can muster a majority vote, the boards in charge of their schools must recognize and negotiate with their unions.” But that doesn’t mean “that negotiations are about to start any time soon. One of the schools in question, IHSNO, still has to address an unfair labor practices complaint against it. And even after that, the fight is likely to continue in the courts.

19) Louisiana /NationalSecurus, GlobalTel and other companies have found a new way to exploit families with incarcerated loved ones—video visitation. “As advocates for the families of the incarcerated have slowly begun to win the battle against prison phone call price gouging, the companies who profited from the high prices have found new ways to provide services to the nation’s prisons. And in nearly every case, those new services have come at a significant cost to inmates and their families.”

20) MissouriDavid Richardson, a lawyer for developers and real estate interestswants to “privatize” St. Louis’ airport. “In St. Louis, 300,000 people can’t support paying for the redevelopment of its own airport or other necessary infrastructure, and looking at creative ways to doing a public-private partnership where you actually would privatize it and do a lease is something that other cities have done that I’d like to see St. Louis start to consider.”

21) International: Labour councilors in the London borough of Haringey are pushing to privatize £2 billion worth of public housing. “The Haringey Defend Council Housing organisation has described it as an ‘absolutely terrible policy,’ continuing, ‘The whole plan is about increasing house prices. It’s morally wrong. They [the Labour Council] should stop doing the Tories’ dirty work.’”

22) Revolving Door News: Donald Trump has elevated Cheryl LaFleur, a former top utility executive, from commissioner to chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. David Cay Johnston sees price rises ahead and says “this may create a field day for Wall Street firms that specialize in gaming electricity markets to raise prices. (…) LaFleur’s promotion raises the specter that we will see a repeat of the 2000-2001 California energy crisis, when Enron gamed the so-called energy markets to artificially inflate prices and rake in enormous profits while leaving Californians in the dark.” FERC barred members of the public from attending a meeting on January 20.

23) Think Tanks: At an AEI panel discussion on “How Federal Policy Affects Native Americans,” participants kicked around the idea of privatizing Native American trust lands. Asked about the issue, Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, House Natural Resources Chairman, says, “No one is working on that yet. But what—what the book raises are those questions and you actually put it in the context there of what has happened in the past. Are we going to repeat it? Or are we going to do it in a different approach to it? So no, no one is working on that now, but over the next couple of years, two to four years, I hope that is an approach that’s going to be explored. Because it’s a crux, a key element, if you’re going to make significant changes in allowing greater flexibility and greater autonomy.” [Transcript, SEC Wire, January 30, 2017].

Writing recently in Alaska Indigenous
, Aqukkasuk said, “Whether we like it or not, Saglutupiaġataq (‘the compulsive liar’ in Iñupiatun) is now president of the United States and Republicans control Congress. Federally recognized Alaska Native and American Indian tribes should brace for the worst, including the possibility that Congress may move to terminate federally recognized tribes. The termination era of 1953 to 1968 involved Congress stripping tribes of their lands and criminal jurisdiction. The policy was thinly disguised as an attempt to lift American Indians and Alaska Natives out of poverty by assimilating them into mainstream society. However the real goal was to privatize and ransack American Indian and Alaska Native lands.”

Legislative Issues

1) NationalHouse Republicans backed off a bill to sell 3.3 million of public land after a national uproar. “House bill 621 had ignited a firestorm of indignation from conservationists but also from hunters and fishermen, who contribute to the $646bn generated by outdoor recreation across the US each year. ‘Once that bill was introduced, the hornet’s nest was kicked,’ said Land Tawney, president and CEO of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, a group that supported public land rallies in opposition. ‘What happened last week was just a small fraction of the ire the sportsman community has been feeling.’”

2) National: The House Energy and Commerce Committee holds hearings on transportation infrastructure policy. AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka tells the committee “policies such as Davis-Bacon, project labor agreements, Buy America and 13(c) transit protections ensure compliance with community wage standards, and that we spend American taxpayers’ money in America and create jobs through smart procurement policies. These longstanding laws ensure that infrastructure investment creates good jobs, and that workers’ jobs, contracts, wages and benefits are not simply stripped away to produce a low bid or through privatization.”

3) NationalAnthropologist Amanda Harv sends out a plea for help in fighting HR 520, the National Strategic and Critical Minerals Production Act. “It will allow new mining in National Forests. Mining scars are irreversible.” [HR 520]

4) NationalCongress is attempting to promote drilling in the national parks. “In late January, Arizona Congressman Paul Gosar introduced H.J. Res. 46, which would repeal updates to the National Park Service’s ‘9B rules’—safety and enforcement standards for oil and gas drilling in more than 40 national parks. If Gosar’s resolution passes, it would remove protections to avoid damage from oil and gas drilling in national parks. Why does Congress want to put national parks in harm’s way?” The National Parks Conservation Association is calling on people to get in touch with their members of congress.

5) Nebraska: Lawmakers continue to wrestle with the problem of deciding upon the best model for caring for neglected children. Concerns are being expressed about a bill that would continue a current system of alternative care which involves leaving children in their homes. “The bill ‘removes transparency and accountability in the child welfare system,’ said Sarah Helvey, a staff attorney for the group Nebraska Appleseed. Helvey pointed to the state’s failed effort to privatize child welfare services, which led lawmakers to conclude that the Legislature needed stronger oversight of child welfare services. She said her group has concerns about families in the program understanding their rights and receiving the services they need, rather than just referrals to other assistance programs. Julia Tse, a policy associate for Voices for Children in Nebraska, said her group hasn’t seen hard evidence that the program works as intended.”

6) New YorkGov. Cuomo has vetoed a bill to privatize the New York Racing Association.  But “in his 2017 budget plan, Cuomo proposes reestablishing control by a private board of directors (see part NN of the revenue bill). But that doesn’t mean the governor is giving up on his quest for increased oversight of NYRA. He proposes enhancements of the state Franchise Oversight Board to allow it to require in certain circumstances an independent financial review of NYRA’s books, a corrective action plan be put in place and other actions be taken.”

7) Texas: Judges and foster care providers clash over a lawmaker’s proposal to drive further privatization into the system. “Please don’t privatize and further fragment the state’s function in serving as the final safety net for children,” Travis County District Judge Darlene Byrne told the Senate Health and Human Services Committee. Scott McCown, a UT Law professor and director of the Children’s Rights Clinic, opposes aspects of privatization under SB 11. “McCown said he recognizes the good done by Carson’s organization, but said it could all be accomplished without the state turning over case management. (…) McCown also said privatizing case management would put caseworkers out of jobs and halt any improvements within the system.”

 

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