First, the Good News

1) National: AFSCME President Lee Saunders has commended the Biden administration for its action to support nursing home staff and residents by proposing tighter staffing rules. “The Biden-Harris administration has stepped up to the plate to address nursing home staffing. Now, it’s also time for Congress to do its job. Hospital-based staffing is at the breaking point, with RNs leaving the bedside and fleeing the profession altogether. Minimum staffing ratios in acute care facilities are desperately needed, and AFSCME calls on Congress to meaningfully address this problem by adopting legislation like the Nurse Staffing Standards for Hospital Patient Safety and Quality Care Act, sponsored by Congresswoman Schakowsky and Senator Brown. Nursing home workers are not alone in confronting dire staffing shortages. This is a challenge in all areas of public service—corrections, sanitation, schools, social service agencies and more.” AFSCME will be submitting a public comment on this proposed rule.

2) National: States are stepping up to play their part on school meals after a popular pandemic-era program from the federal government expired. “Eight states—California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Mexico and Vermont—have enacted permanent policies to provide free meals for all students. Nevada is doing so for at least this year. Pennsylvania is providing free school breakfasts for everybody. And Illinois lawmakers authorized universal meals but did not allocate the funding to provide them. Meanwhile, many districts like Louisville have used preexisting federal community eligibility programs to extend universal meals at the school or district level.”

3) National: Five major renewable infrastructure projects show the value of the NEPA permitting process, the Center for American Progress reports. “NEPA supports meaningful stakeholder engagement that is essential to deliver timely projects and mutually beneficial outcomes, including by smoothing approvals and community trust for similar projects in the future. These case studies demonstrate that recent permitting reform efforts have been misguided. Further federal action on permitting reform must protect and support robust and meaningful public engagement to ensure better and more resilient infrastructure projects are delivered faster. Coordination between project developers and community stakeholders is the foundation of a just and equitable clean energy future.”

4) National: The National Labor Relations Board continues to play a key role in strengthening union organizing and bargaining efforts across the country under Chair Lauren McFerran and General Counsel Jennifer A. Abruzzo. The mineworkers union reports that “the director of Region 10 of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), Lisa Henderson, has ruled in favor of the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA), blocking a decertification vote at Warrior Met Coal in Brookwood, Alabama. The UMWA has claimed that the decertification attempt was caused by Warrior Met’s unfair labor practices. The Region’s decision supports the UMWA’s claim.”

5) California: Blind and visually impaired workers at the LightHouse are launching a union drive. “”Calling themselves LightHouse United, the aspirational union has received the support of workers in all five of LightHouse’s locations across Northern California, with 61 out of 87 eligible workers signing union authorization cards, a support rate of 70 percent. If it wins recognition, LightHouse United would be the first union serving visually impaired workers in the Bay Area—and probably the first in the state, according to workers.”

6) California: The latest effort by a billionaire consortium to buy more land for their private city has been turned down by the Solano County Water Agency, Bloomberg reports. “‘The Flannery group has approached the water agency on multiple occasions looking to purchase either the entirety or a portion of Petersen Ranch,’ Chris Lee, general manager of the Solano County Water Agency, said by phone Friday. ‘All offers were rejected.’” [Sub required]

Flannery is backed by former Sequoia Capital Chairman Mike Moritz, LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman and venture capitalist Marc Andreessen, among others. The documents show that while some landowners in Solano County didn’t accept substantial offers by Flannery for their land, plenty did: The investors have purchased at least 52,000 acres of farmland since 2019.”

But not so fast. KCRA reports that Solano County is firing back at the plutocrat plan. “On Wednesday, Bill Emlin released a lengthy statement. In part, he wrote, “The voter-approved general plan and Orderly Growth Ordinance allows only for agricultural uses on the majority of land California Forever has acquired.” The release also explained that the county told Flannery in 2018 that the purchased land is limited to agricultural use. Emlin said a ballot measure approved by voters would be the only way to change the ag land designation to proper zoning of urban development. He also pointed out land use policy has centered around the protection of Travis Air Force Base.

“For decades, Solano County residents have consistently decided at the ballot box that preservation of agricultural land is priority,” the County said. “In addition, a cornerstone of County land use policy has centered around protection of Travis Air Force Base from any encroachment that may impact its viability.” Emlin said beyond the ballot issue, there would also be an entitlement and permitting processes involving county, state and federal agencies. California Forever said it will ultimately ask the voters to approve any proposed project. (…) ‘We will continue to keep the community informed as new information becomes available. It is the County’s hope to have frank discussions with California Forever regarding Solano County’s long-standing land use policies and their expressed vision.’” Read the county’s press release here.

One thing is certain. Any ballot measure campaign pitting county residents against the deep pocketed billionaires would be the mother of all debates on the relationship between privatization and democracy.

7) Colorado: Governor Jared Polis (D) has turned to apprenticeship programs to help boost lagging state employee ranks, according to the Denver Post. “The number of apprenticeship programs in Colorado state government is set to increase by 50% in “the next nine months amid a push by Gov. Jared Polis to boost the state’s workforce and expand employment opportunities. Polis signed an executive order Thursday requiring the ramp-up. The order mandates that by 2025, all of the state’s 19 departments offer work-based learning programs — something that seven have now or are establishing. The order also seeks to add 100 new apprenticeship programs in the private sector by the end of June 2024 with technical aid offered by the state. Polis said the state has not been immune from workforce challenges experienced by other industries. In August, The Denver Post reported that nearly a quarter of state government jobs are vacant.”

8) Florida: The City Commission of Lake Worth Beach has declared the town Florida’s first sanctuary city for the LGBTQ+ community. “Mayor Betty Resch told CBS News, “Lake Worth Beach is a vibrant and diverse city with a proud history of embracing the gay community. Today we continue that tradition by ensuring our city remains a welcoming place for LGBTQ+ people.” CBS also indicated a similar proposal has been made in Tallahassee, Florida. Lake Worth Beach and the greater Palm Beaches are known for their LGBTQ+ culture and population, which is supported by the Compass Community Center, an organization that has been serving the LGBTQ+ community for 35 years. The group offers mental and physical health services, youth programs and community events.”

9) New York: The Teamsters are congratulating Gov. Hochul (D) for signing a bill protecting worker free speech rights(S.4982/A.6604) into state law. “‘We are grateful to State Senator Jessica Ramos and Assemblymember Karines Reyes for sponsoring this bill, to all the state legislators that voted in favor of the bill, and to Gov. Hochul for signing it into law,’ said Thomas Gesualdi, President of Teamsters Joint Council 16 in New York City. ‘This legislation is critical in protecting workers’ free speech and their right to organize without being intimidated by employers and overpriced union-busting consultants.’”

10) Indiana: The EPA and Indiana American Water have entered into a Consent Agreement and Final Order addressing alleged violations of the Clean Air Act regulations that implement Section 112(r)(7) of the Clean Air Act. “The Facility’s covered process is stated to consist of the usage, storage, handling, and movement of chlorine from the cylinders, through the chlorine pipes, to the injectors.” Have a look at the amazing list of 22 violations Indiana American Water is said to have committed. A civil penalty of $146,474 was assessed.

11) National: With the recent focus on water, including an infrastructure advisory committee’s  recommendations to lift some barriers for privatization, this is an opportune moment to remind readers of a number of In the Public Interest resources available that explore the importance of public water and the risks of privatization. In the Public Interest has long taken a deep interest in water resources—who owns them, who controls them, and who benefits from them—always advocating that a common good such as water belongs in public hands.

These include:


12) National: What does it actually mean for schools to be public? Education Week reporter Mark Lieberman looks at the issues. “School finance, policy, and history are complicated and difficult for even the most studious academics to parse. But striving to answer these questions is essential, Backer and other scholars say. Only then can we have a more informed debate about whether the current American education system undermines its public bona fides—or has the capacity to live up to them. (…) Attending public school is one of the few activities the overwhelming, vast majority of Americans do. It’s an opportunity for exposure at a young age to the foundations of a functioning democracy: an exchange of diverse ideas, interactions with people from a wide variety of backgrounds and experiences, a firsthand look at how the government can serve its constituents. The institution serves to benefit the people who make up society. To the greatest extent possible, it should belong to them, too.” {Sub required]

13) National/Think Tanks: Responding to a Brookings report that “the U.S. teacher shortage exceeds 55,000 unfilled positions, and interest, prestige, and satisfaction related to the teaching profession have reached 50-year lows,” education historian Jack Schneider says, “a year ago, @BisforBerkshire and I began pointing to alarming indications of a looming crisis. And I recall a lot of smug reactions that we were wrong and teachers were ‘all talk.’ We did this to ourselves by not respecting educators as professionals, and by not listening.”

14) National/Think Tanks: The National Education Policy Center (NEPC) has refuted CREDO’s recent report on charter school gains. “The report shows very small differences favoring charter schools and has been repeatedly trumpeted by charter school advocates as having policy significance—as weighing in favor of charter school expansion. A review reveals, however, how the report’s main findings fail to meet the minimum baseline experts consider to be meaningful. In fact, CREDO itself has labeled these small differences as ‘meaningless’ and ‘small’—back when they found charter schools to be on the losing end of those differences.”

15) North Carolina: The Charlotte Observer reports that “last month, the General Assembly passed a new law—over the veto of Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper—that transfers the state board’s authority to approve and renew charters to a Charter Schools Review Board. In response, the state board approved a new policy on Thursday that says state and federal funding can’t be given to new and renewed charters unless the state board gives approval. The review board will have to submit its decisions to the state board for review before taxpayer money is disbursed.” So the state board of education has reclaimed its charter school authority. State board chairman Eric Davis said during a discussion of the policy Wednesdaythat the state board must retain funding authority over charter schools to ensure fiscal accountability. “The reason why I firmly believe that the board should continue to focus on our financial accountability stems from the truth that over the last few years seven charter schools have closed, five of them with questionable financial situations, which are currently being reviewed by federal officials,” Davis said.

16) Oklahoma/National: The state board of education is being criticized for announcing a partnership with PragerU, a right wing propaganda outfit that releases shallow and biased history videos for students. Ja’han Jones writes that “Florida and Oklahoma are just the first two states to welcome PragerU’s propaganda into classrooms, and the organization is making moves on a third. In Texas, Democratic members of the state’s Board of Education have teamed up with experts and activists to denounce PragerU after the organization announced last month that it was partnering with the Lone Star State. (The Texas Board of Education refuted the claim, saying instead that PragerU had just taken steps to become an approved vendor in Texas.) As I’ve said previously on MSNBC, we need to view these right-wing efforts to whitewash social inequality as part of a campaign to re-create that disparity in the present and the future.”

17) Pennsylvania: This is a crucial period for education policy in the Keystone State. “Public education advocates said Thursday that to succeed in drafting a blueprint for an equitable funding system, the General Assembly’s Basic Education Funding Commission must expand its scope and correct past flaws in its work.  (…) The 15-member Basic Education Funding Commission, which will hold the first three of ten hearings in Allentown on Tuesday, Harrisburg on Wednesday, and Philadelphia on Thursday, is made up of three Democrats and three Republicans from each chamber of the General Assembly and three members of Shapiro’s administration. They include the chairpersons of the House and Senate Education Committees, Rep. Pete Schweyer, D-Lehigh, and Sen. David Argall, R-Schuylkill, and Deputy Education Secretaries Marcus Delgado and Angela Fitterer and Natalie Krug, the director of budget analysis in the governor’s budget office. The commission must submit a report by Nov. 30.”

18) Wisconsin: Ruth Conniff, writing in the Wisconsin Examiner, reports on how anti-government ideologues have targeted Wisconsin public schools. “For decades, Wisconsin has been at the epicenter of the movement to privatize education, pushed by the Milwaukee-based Bradley Foundation, a mega-wealthy conservative foundation and early backer of Milwaukee’s first-in-the-nation school voucher program. That program has expanded from fewer than 350 students when it launched in 1990 to 52,000 Wisconsin students using school vouchers today. This year school privatization advocates scored a huge victory when Democratic Gov. Tony Evers, a longtime ally of public schools, agreed to a budget bargain that includes a historic bump in the amount of tax money per pupil Wisconsinites spend on private school vouchers. The rate went up from $8,399 to $9,874 for K-8 students and from $9,405 to $12,368 for high schoolers. Not only is the amount of money taxpayers spend on private education increasing, in just a couple of years all enrollment caps come off the school choice program. We are on our way to becoming an all-voucher system.”


19) National: Over the past decade, the privatization industry has learned to be more careful with the language they use and the claims they make about privatization. After years of scandals and project failures owing to bad math (projected toll revenue bloopers), crooked politics (the Chicago parking meters boondoggle), costly deals (municipal sale-buybacks), service failures here and abroad, and other disasters, they’ve learned that language matters. Nevertheless, the P3 boosters still occasionally blurt out their founding mythologies designed to deceive whoever in the audience has hit the snooze button on these deals. Chief among these is that P3s are a free lunch and public projects = more taxes; that the public sector is inherently wasteful and infrastructure is costless if privately financed, even if mountains of tolls and fees that are off the government’s books are feeding the P3 beast’s banks with other people’s money.

Now, faced with declining interest in their P3 models, it seems they’re flipping the argument in the service of the same boosterish PR okey-doke. Here’s a good example from the just-released issue of Public Works Financing. “If public sponsors can get federal grants instead of raising funding for their project, they’ll certainly take the free money—but will they abandon the P3, too?” [Public Works Financing, August 2023, p. 1; emphasis added—ed.]. There it is, the idea that the rubes think federal money falls from the skies instead of from their taxes, and that P3s with $17 bridge tolls or stratospheric Lexus Lane tolls that never touch the government’s revenue coffers are a great deal. Well, isn’t that what the PR industry is there to do—market the same bad soap to you by tweaking the jingles?

20) National: As the country gets hotter due to global warming, America’s schools are facing a massive challenge to install air conditioning, Hechinger reports. “July 2023 was the world’s hottest month on record. And America’s schools weren’t built for this. According to a 2021 study by the Center for Climate Integrity, more than 13,700 public schools that did not need cooling systems in 1970 have installed—or will need to install—HVAC systems by 2025,based on the increasing number of very hot days during the school year. Total estimated cost: over $40 billion. The good news is, there are many design and architectural innovations that can keep students, faculty and staff comfortable, while also creating healthier, greener and even more engaging places to learn. And there’s federal funding to pay for it.”

21) Maryland: The state has requested a federal grant to finance the American Legion Bridge, thereby killing off delivery of the project through a so-called public-private partnership. “The announcement is a significant change of strategy from that championed by Moore’s predecessor, former Governor Larry Hogan, who tirelessly advocated for the $6‐billion ‘OP Lanes’ P3 as the preferred solution for addressing the area’s congested highways.” [Public Works Financing, August 2023; sub required]. Moving beyond the P3 industry’s regrets, Gov. Wes Moore’s project still faces hurdles,moco360.com reports. “But not everyone’s buying it. The project retains elements of Hogan’s plan that prompted lawsuits and which critics derided as unsustainable and inequitable, such as tolled express lanes derisively dubbed ‘Lexus Lanes.’”

22) Maryland: Advocates are urging expanded public hearings about Baltimore’s water and sewer system. “Advocates are calling into question the locations of the Task Force meetings and the lack of a virtual participation option at every meeting. None of the meetings will be located in central locations within the city, and none are in the majority Black neighborhoods in West or East Baltimore—despite the disparate impacts of unaffordable water bills and the E.coli contamination of last year in West Baltimore. The Task Force will have two virtual meetings, one in mid-November and another in January. The final report is due to the legislature on January 30, 2024. Throughout the process, a coalition of local organizations have urged the task force to conduct racial and economic equity assessments, preserve local ratepayer and labor protections, hold public hearings and a robust comment period, and exclude privatization options that would undermine local control.”

23) Ohio: How about some methane gas to go along with your picnic in the public park? “Over the last 10 years, oil and gas companies have swept across the Ohio Valley region, striking deals with area residents—landowners can lease their land for companies to frack beneath it, and in return, they’ll receive a small part of the profit. Now, the state wants in on these leases. Ohio lawmakers passed a law to permit fracking beneath state-owned lands — including several of Ohio’s state parks and wildlife areas. The legislative groundwork to allow fracking beneath state-owned lands was laid over a decade ago,” the Columbus Dispatch reports. “Gov. Mike DeWine has pledged that none of these potential wells would cause any disruptions to visitors at state parks. A growing number of locals are skeptical of his pledge. Now, stakeholders are divided over whether the state can both preserve and profit off of its public lands. ‘This is 3% of our land in Ohio that has been set aside for these parks and wildlife areas,’ said Cathy Cowan Becker, co-founder of grassroots environmental group Save Ohio Parks. ‘They’re meant to be protected.’”

Save Ohio Parks has sent out an alert that the Oil and Gas Land Management Commission will be meeting on September 18 at 9:30 AM “to consider industry applications to frack several Ohio state parks and wildlife areas.” [Register here]

24) Wyoming: Is it more expensive in the long run to convert public power utilities to renewables rather than stick with fossil fuels? The debate is on in Wyoming. Writing in the Cowboy State Daily, State Rep. Jon Conrad (R-Mountain View) says Rocky Mountain Power’s proposed electricity rate increases “are blatantly offensive.”

Wyofile reports on the standoff. “‘Rocky Mountain Power has been pulled by a radical left-wing agenda to invest in unreliable [renewable energy] generation,’ Rep. Clark Stith (R-Rock Springs) said.” But “the company says its continued reliance on fossil fuels is responsible for the bulk of rising expenses given the price volatility of those commodity markets. Its shift to more renewable sources of energy—along with federal production tax credits—has saved Wyoming ratepayers an estimated $85.4 million, according to Eskelsen.”

Public Services

25) National/Tennessee: Families Against Mandatory Minimums, a national advocacy group, has called for a federal investigation into Trousdale Turner prison, which is operated by the private, for-profit corporation CoreCivic. In their letter to the U.S. DOJ Civil Division, FAMM says “In addition to publicly reported information about the conditions at Trousdale Turner, we have received disturbing letters and emails from individuals incarcerated there, their families, and even former staff. Allegations include sub-par medical care, neglect of medical and physical needs, sexual and physical assault by staff, and use of force, threats, and retaliation by staff. Families report to us that incarcerated loved ones often go hungry, have cell doors with broken locks, live in unsanitary conditions, and are denied essential medicine. Others report that gangs run various pods in the facility and that contraband drugs are rampant. These conditions of confinement seem similar to if not worse than those deemed unconstitutional by the Civil Rights Division and U.S. Attorneys for Alabama in their April 2, 2019, report on Alabama’s state prisons for men.”

FAMM also states, “Tennessee has fined CoreCivic, which operates Trousdale Turner and three other prisons, almost $20 million for maintaining substandard conditions in their facilities. Despite these fines, the state continues to renew and extend CoreCivic’s contracts. We have confidence that a thorough Justice Department investigation will determine whether Tennessee is living up to its constitutional obligations.”

26) National/International: There is a must-read account in The Nation this week of what it’s like to work inside the McKinsey corporate and government consulting octopus. In “Confessions of a McKinsey Whistleblower,” Garrison Lovely reports on what it was like to work there and what McKinsey is up to. Lovely reminds us that “McKinsey embedded itself within Donald Trump’s government to help ICE ramp up its deportation machine. (…) One February morning, the roughly 15 of us working on the team got on the phone with Richard Elder, then a senior partner managing the relationship with ICE. He compared our work for ICE to previous projects implementing Obamacare, which he said many McKinsey employees objected to but worked on nevertheless.

‘The firm does execution, not policy,’ Elder said. This was a common refrain at McKinsey. At Rikers, I had asked my team about the possibility of eliminating cash bail, which would have reduced the number of people passing through the jail at the time by roughly 45,000, or well over half, and was told that ideas like this were ‘out of scope’ because the firm ‘doesn’t do policy.’ If we just do execution, I asked, what would have stopped us from helping Nazis more efficiently procure barbed wire for their concentration camps?”

27) Iowa: The public is giving State Auditor Rob Sand a grilling over Iowa’s privatized Medicaid system. “Johnson County Public Health Director Danielle Pettit-Majewski asked Sand about increasing oversight of Iowa’s managed care organizations, a $7 billion program with privatized Medicaid. ‘I feel like [the program] is set up to help Iowans fail,’ Pettit-Majewski said. ‘We have the least amount of information to be successful with the information.’ Iowa now has three health insurance companies, or managed care organizations, running its Medicaid program: Amerigroup Iowa, Molina Healthcare of Iowa, and Iowa Total Care. The Medicaid program serves over 700,000 low-income Iowans.”

28) Maine: Mainers are preparing for a ballot initiative in November to determine if they will take public control of their highly unpopular private utilities “and convert them into Pine Tree Power, a nonprofit authority that would be run by an independent board. Backers say it would improve reliability and bring down rates. And, they argue, this is a critical time to take back public control of utilities, as Maine embarks on a mass electrification drive that will transform its energy system. The Pine Tree Power campaign has won the support of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and environmental groups like the Sierra Club. But despite progressive backing, fault lines have emerged over the proposal that do not split neatly by political affiliation. Opponents, including some Democrats and utility workers, are skeptical that the authority can deliver the savings it promises, and worry about the risks involved in overthrowing incumbent utilities.”

29) Virginia: Moves have been afoot in the state legislature since the beginning of last year to privatize the state’s liquor operations. The last effort failed, but the issue hasn’t gone away. “Roben Farzad, host of Public Radio’s Full Disclosure, and All Things Considered host Craig Wright talk about the industry that generated $1.5 billion in sales last year and why The Commonwealth is so reluctant to let go.” [Audio, about 4 minutes]

All the Rest

30) National: Brad Onishi of the excellent Straight White American Jesus podcast had a terrific analysis of Project 2025, the Heritage Foundation’s dystopia staffing project and thousand page manual on how to dismantle American democracy and government. Among Onishi’s points: “Do not let anyone tell you that conservatism in this country is about smaller government. It is not. It’s about a huge government that will do things [such as] policing women on Texas highways and pulling them over to ask them if they’re going to have an abortion. Does that sound like small government to you?” [Audio, at 46:00]

31) National: As states begin to get their policy acts together on artificial intelligence, the corporate lobbyists are swarming in to control the process and its outcomes. “Lobbyists for the tech industry are hedging their bets as Washington gears up to consider new AI laws this fall—not just pressuring Congress, but also fanning out to state capitals to stave off more serious restrictions nationwide. In California, lobbyists for the software industry are helping shape the state’s main AI bill. In Connecticut, they’re in frequent contact with the senator now prepping a major push on AI. Lobbyists are also already in talks with interested legislators in New York, Massachusetts and Illinois, working to influence the conversation before AI bills are even introduced. The new lobbying campaigns are driven by concern that states often act faster than Washington on tech issues, and can sometimes impose far tougher rules on companies. If they’re successful, tech lobbyists could nip tough AI regulations in the bud and neutralize the threat of new rules from state capitols—regardless of where Washington ends up.”

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