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- Look up how your local and state governments are using American Rescue Plan money.
- Likely coming soon: free bus service in D.C.
- Pennsylvania immigrant detention center will close early in the new year.
First, the good news…
1) National: Friday’s jobs report had some good news on government employment. “Government added 42,000 jobs in November, mostly in local government (+32,000). Government employment has increased by an average of 25,000 per month thus far this year, compared with 38,000 per month in 2021. Since February 2020, government employment is down by 461,000, or 2.0 percent.”
2) National: Writing in The American Prospect, veteran organizer Kelly Candaele reports on a new union rising in the South—the Union of Southern Service Workers (USSW). “Inspired by the Fight for $15 movement to raise minimum wage laws and improve working conditions, they will forgo using the cumbersome and deeply flawed National Labor Relations Board union election process to obtain their goals. Direct action and collective power are key to their approach. Of the 10 states with the lowest union membership, seven are located in the South. In South Carolina where Harris lives, only 1.7% of wage and salary workers are members of unions. In Georgia where Beachum works, 4.8% of workers are in unions. It is not surprising that the South has the lowest minimum wages, $7.25 an hour, of any region in the country. The USSW was founded as an intentionally multiracial movement, focused on breaking through the historical currents of white oligarchical business and political domination that stymied prior unionization efforts.” The article was produced by Capital & Main.
3) National: In the Public Interest’s Jeremy Mohler reports on how the federal government is helping people survive the Covid and inflation crises by investing in public goods. “Take a moment to look up how your local and state governments are using American Rescue Plan money. Open the Treasury’s dashboard, click on ‘Projects by Recipient,’ and filter by ‘State/Territory.’ I’ll end with the words of our research and policy director Shar Habibi, who wrote this back in October in an op-ed published by the Progressive magazine, the Mercury News, and other publications: ‘This [spending] counters a common attitude that the government is incompetent and that government programs make us less free. Certainly, things like corruption and over-policing can happen when public institutions are captured by the powerful few. But the last few years have shown what is possible when we make government work for us.’”
4) National: PowerSwitch Action reminds us that “It’s been 10 years since the start of the @fightfor15
& @NelpNews just released a report reflecting on the movement’s impact on the racial wealth gap, unions, and our economy overall. Check it out!” From the report: “To commemorate the landmark 10-year anniversary of the Fight for $15, this report analyzes the movement’s impact beyond wages. We focus on three measures: the movement’s impact on the racial wealth gap (as measured by comparing the median net worth of white workers versus workers of color), its impact on unions (as measured by membership, coverage, and median hourly wages), and its impact on the overall economy (measured by the multiplier effect).”
5) National: After a seven-year vacancy, the U.S. Senate has confirmed a Pentagon Inspector General. “The vote comes one day after the Project on Government Oversight, a Washington-based watchdog group, sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., urging the Senate to confirm Storch’s nomination. ‘We are deeply troubled by the fact that the Department of Defense has operated without a permanent inspector general for almost seven years—the longest gap in Pentagon history,’ Geoff Wilson, the director of the Project on Government Oversight’s center for defense information, wrote in the letter. ‘During that time, Pentagon spending has increased by more than $200 billion,’ he added.”
6) District of Columbia: “Wow: DC plans to make all buses operating within the District FREE to all riders, starting in summer 2023,” says Slate Senior Writer Marc Joseph Stern. “We’ll be the first major U.S. city to have free bus service. Also adding overnight service for 12 bus lines and giving all DC residents a $100 monthly subsidy for bus/metro.” But Mayor Bowser is throwing some cold, or at least cool, water on the idea. “On Friday, speaking on WAMU Radio, D.C. Council Chair Phil Mendelson said Metro’s board of directors would also have to approve the plan. A D.C. Council committee is set to vote Tuesday on whether to advance the Metro For DC bill proposed by Mendelson and Councilmember Charles Allen. The Council is also considering providing all D.C. residents with $100 monthly subsidies to use on Metrorail, buses outside of D.C. or anywhere else SmarTrip fare cards are accepted.”
“‘Public transit’s a public good. I’m not going to means-test your sidewalk, or your library, or your school. It also costs an incredible amount of money to create a means-tested program. When 70% of bus riders are earning less than $50,000 a year, we don’t need to do a lot of complicated math,’ said Councilmember Charles Allen, who has been pushing similar measures for three years, at a press conference Thursday.”
7) District of Columbia: Veteran writer, guitar player and author Tim Shorrock says “two years after Janeese Lewis George became the only self-identified democratic socialist on the D.C. Council, she is pitching a plan to cut the free market out of part of the city’s housing sector.” The Washington Post reports that following the lead of her fellow democratic socialist lawmaker Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), Lewis George has labeled her bill a ‘Green New Deal for Housing.’ The proposal would authorize D.C.’s local government to buy properties and convert them into social housing. It includes prioritizing building housing near Metro stations, to reduce the climate impacts of car commuting, and other environmental standards for the social housing buildings. Seven of the council’s 13 members have signed on to the bill.”
8) Florida/National: Public transparency matters. In a court filing, “the federal prosecutor leading the criminal case against JEA’s former top executives said the amount of evidence available in the public record—in minutes of the utility’s board meetings and public documents like internal agency emails and spreadsheets—were critical pieces of information that helped develop the heart of the grand jury indictments, which he characterized as a ‘very unusual’ dynamic in a federal criminal investigation.” The Florida Times-Union reports that “Federal investigators began focusing on JEA in the early days of January 2020, a few weeks before the JEA board of directors fired Zahn for cause. The month before, State Attorney Melissa Nelson made the unusual announcement her office had begun looking into issues swirling around the attempted privatization of JEA, a project Zahn was leading at the time. Weeks later, she said the matter was best handled by the federal government.” Assistant U.S. Attorney A. Tysen Duva wrote, “It was during this process of watching JEA Board Meetings that the criminal investigation began to focus on the development of the (alleged attempt to pocket JEA sale proceeds) in connection with privatization efforts.” [Sub required]
9) Ohio: “Over the last two weeks, the Ohio GOP has been up to no good, scheming about how to attack our democracy in ever more disturbing ways. So our team has made a decision: we will fight back hard.” But “we need your help,” says David Pepper. “First, watch and share this.”
10) Oregon: The state is about to launch and administer its paid leave program. “Known by the straightforward name of Paid Leave Oregon, the program will allow employees to take paid time off for the birth or adoption of a child, for serious illness or injury, for taking care of a seriously ill family member, and to recover from domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking or harassment. The program will cover up to 12 paid weeks away from work, with an additional two weeks for pregnancy-related conditions. The program replaces 100% of wages for the lowest income workers, and a gradually smaller percentage as income goes up. Benefits will be funded by a payroll tax—0.6% deducted from workers pay, plus an additional 0.4% paid by employers with 25 or more employees. Small employers won’t be required to contribute, but can choose to.”
11) Pennsylvania/National: The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that the Berks County immigrant detention center will close early in the new year, “its end the dream of legions of activists and protesters who have long criticized the facility as barbaric. The federal government informed local leaders on Wednesday that it was ending its contract with the county as of Jan. 31. ICE officials in Philadelphia said they were gathering information about the closure and would provide details soon. ‘The government may have, just finally, made the right decision to end immigration detention in Berks County,’ said lawyer Bridget Cambria, who has long fought for immigrants held there as executive director of ALDEA—The People’s Justice Center in Reading. The Reading Eagle was first to report the news on Wednesday. ‘Today has been a day of tearful joy,’ said Jasmine Rivera, a leader with the Philadelphia-based Shut Down Berks Coalition, which has long labored to close the facility. ‘We will take this joy and pursuit of freedom and ensure that is what happens for each and every woman in the Berks County detention center right now. We will make sure every single one of them is free come Jan. 31, and then we will celebrate some more.’”
12) International: The Auditor General of Ontario is urging the province to tighten up its standards for determining “value for money.” On highway planning and management, “the audit found that at the direction of the Minister of Transportation’s Office in 2019, the Ministry prioritized the construction of four lower-ranked highway projects, resulting in the deferral of higher-ranked projects inconsistent with the recommendations of its own subject matter experts.”
13) National: The Private Equity Stakeholder Project (PESP), a Chicago-based nonprofit that does leading research on the social impact of private equity, has released a new report on Private Equity in Education: How Wall Street Profits from a Public Good. [PDF]. “Private equity firms and the companies they own have promised to improve educational outcomes for struggling individual students and schools through new technology, personalized learning strategies, and resources for staffing and administration, but there is no conclusive data showing that school funding is better spent at private-equity owned companies than staying within the district. The following sections explore some of the ways private equity impacts students and classrooms: curriculum development and test administration; staffing for teachers, aides, and administrators; management of student data; and for-profit education. Each section will give an overview of the issue featuring case studies focused on a particular private equity firm or private equity-owned company.” (p. 4).
From the conclusion: “In addition to charter schools honoring collective bargaining agreements in districts where one already exists, the National Education Association recommends that charter schools maintain the following: ‘i) open meetings and public records laws, ii) prohibitions against for profit operation or profiteering as enforced by conflict of interest, financial disclosure, and auditing requirements; and iii) the same civil rights, including federal and state laws and protections for students with disabilities, employment, health, labor, safety, staff qualification, and certification requirements as other public schools.’” (p. 26).
14) National: Jennifer Berkshire analyzed the undercurrent of violence against school boards and educators, and changes that right wing school politics are undergoing as its proponents meet resistance from supporters of public education. On Doug Henwood’s Behind the News podcast. [Audio, about 30 minutes].
15) National: Writing in Salon, Kathryn Joyce delves into a split on the far right provoked by Thomas Achord, a Christian Nationalist (recently former) headmaster of Sequitur Classical Academy, a private Christian school in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. “In a thread concerning Classical Christian Education—the field of “Western civilization”-focused, generally conservative schooling in which Achord worked—he wrote that the ‘ONLY organized movement trying to save Western civ is a gang of homeschoolers and private schoolers educating young people,’ and that he wanted to provide ‘resources for white-advocates to take back the West for white peoples by recovering classical education.’”
“‘What is scary about this whole affair,’ added Onishi, ‘is that while Achord may be out of the news in a few days, Wolfe’s book is already being used in seminary papers and sermons across the country to justify an anti-American, anti-democratic, ethno-nationalist Christianity that is now mainstream in the United States.’ The book remains a top seller, and amid the controversy, Wolfe’s publisher claimed that sales only went up. ‘This is no longer a fringe theology,’ [University of San Francisco professor Bradley Onishi] said. ‘And that should scare us all.’” Onishi is the author of the forthcoming book Preparing for War: The Extremist History of White Christian Nationalism —And What Comes Next.
16) California: As the graduate-worker strike continues at the University of California, Jay Caspian Kang points to its implications for the whole labor movement in education and beyond. “The seventy per cent of Americans who support unions should understand that the future of organized labor won’t be in coal mines or steel mills but in places that might cut against the stereotypes,” he writes. “If universities cannot function without a fleet of low-wage workers who are exploited under a false promise of better future employment, the solution seems relatively simple: abandon the apprenticeship model and all its sentimental trappings, and simply treat and pay graduate workers as professionals first, students second.”
17) Florida: DeSantis-backed school boards are beginning to oust Florida educators. “In Brevard and Sarasota counties, embattled school leaders have faced immediate pressure from newly-installed board members and offered to leave voluntarily rather than risk a vote on their terminations. The boards in both counties now have conservative majorities who sought a change in leadership immediately after the midterms. Although school boards are nonpartisan posts, lines between Democratic and Republican candidates were drawn in many counties through endorsements from each party as well as outside groups. The newly-elected board members in these cases support parental rights while opposing critical race theory and teaching gender orientation in schools.”
18) Texas: In a rather surprising turn in the state-level education debate, Texas AFT and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) seem to share some common ground. “While the priorities Patrick listed at his Wednesday press conference are mostly “concepts” at this stage, Texas AFT sees promise in some of the lieutenant governor’s education items: Raising teacher pay; A cost-of-living adjustment or 13th check for retired educators; Continued investments in school safety.”
And this: “What about school vouchers? Interestingly, nowhere among Patrick’s priorities is an explicit reference to school vouchers, which he has been pushing publicly for some months now. Of course, this is not the first time we’ve seen state leaders soften or obscure language around vouchers and privatization—something of little surprise given most Texans’ negative attitudes toward the subject.”
19) Texas: Writing in the Austin American Statesman, AFT Texas head Zeph Capo says we can do better for our kids on special education. “These existing problems will be made worse if any of the multiple school voucher bills that have been filed already by Texas legislators make it to the governor’s desk next year.
The last thing our public schools need to recover from COVID-19 and support students is a further cut to their funding and resources. But that’s exactly what voucher schemes would do, taking money off the table for the 5.3 million Texas students who attend public schools and putting it in the pockets of wealthy families who were already planning to send their children to private schools. On this Special Education Day, as we look toward the legislative session in January, we ask: is this really the best Texas can do for our kids?”
20) Think Tanks: A new report from the UCLA Institute for Democracy, Education and Access looks at the chilling role of political conflict in Blue, Purple, and Red communities. “Today, there is a pressing need to prepare all youth to take part in a diverse democracy — a democracy in which people from different communities and with different political beliefs, interests, identities and ways of thinking come together to address common problems and build a shared future. (…) Specifically, public schools increasingly are targets of conservative political groups focusing on what they term “Critical Race Theory,” as well as issues of sexuality and gender identity. Schools also are impacted by political conflict tied to the growing partisan divides in our society. These political conflicts have created a broad chilling effect that has limited opportunities for students to practice respectful dialogue on controversial topics and made it harder to address rampant misinformation. The chilling effect also has led to marked declines in general support for teaching about race, racism, and racial and ethnic diversity. Principals also report sizable growth in harassment of LGBTQ+ youth. There is a clear need for educators, students, parents and community members to stand up for educational approaches that can strengthen our diverse democracy.”
21) National: More than a decade after the issue was first raised at its meetings, Railway Workers United has come out in favor of public ownership of the railroads. “Since the North American private rail industry has shown itself incapable of doing the job, it is time for this invaluable transportation infrastructure – like the other transport modes – to be brought under public ownership. During WWI, the railroads in the U.S. were in fact temporarily placed under public ownership and control. All rail workers of all crafts and unions supported (unsuccessfully) keeping them in public hands once the war ended, and voted overwhelmingly to keep them in public hands. Perhaps it is time once again to put an end to the profiteering, pillaging, and irresponsibility of the Class One carriers. Railroad workers are in a historic position to take the lead and push for a new fresh beginning for a vibrant and expanding, innovative and creative national rail industry to properly handle the nation’s freight and passengers.”
22) National: Why Is Booz Allen renting us back our own national parks? asks Matt Stoller. “Today I’m writing about how the giant government contracting firm Booz Allen and 13 government agencies have been renting back to the public access to our own lands by forcing us to pay junk fees to use national parks. It involves a tour through late 19th century political economy thinking, with the first appearance of the great anti-monopolist Henry George, whose focus was land. Plus, a weird attempted monopoly of ID management software, controlled by software private equity giant Thoma Bravo.”
“…What Booz Allen is doing is different. The incentives are creating the same dynamics for public lands that we see with junk fees across the economy. Just as airlines are charging for carry-on bags and hotels are forcing people to pay ‘resort fees,’ some national parks are now requiring reservations with fees attached. And as scalpers automatically grabbed Taylor Swift tickets from Ticketmaster using high-speed automated programs, there are now bots booking campsites.”
23) California: California American Water has obtained approval for its desalination plant, but is it going to be able to navigate the regulatory conditions? “The wastewater from the desal process would be discharged into the ocean from Monterey One Water’s outfall (Cal Am will also need permission from Monterey One to use its outfall). That water will have high amounts of salt, which will need to be reviewed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service. Cal Am can bypass those reviews if the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary says it is OK not to seek reviews.
“In total there are 20 conditions; most are boilerplates the Coastal Commission would place on any project near the coast, but while Cal Am looks at it optimistically, opponents remain dubious about a few of those conditions ever being met. The only thing that is certain is it will take years before any desal project reaches fruition on the Monterey Peninsula. That’s a long time to keep champagne on ice.”
24) Delaware: There’s a furious battle going on between unionized warehouse workers and the private operator of the Port of Wilmington. “As the Port of Wilmington grapples with mounting bills and demanding creditors, a group of port warehouse employees say they have been targets of a series of anti-worker maneuvers, highlighted recently by what they described as a coerced collective bargaining agreement then a decision to remove them from their union locals and force them into a new one. The moves have led to a fever-pitched few months at the port, featuring legal challenges to the union reshuffling; lawsuits alleging labor leaders cut “side deals” with port bosses; calls for a work stoppage following delayed bonus checks; and outrage over the employment of non-union contractors. The worker strife has occurred alongside widespread financial distress for the Port of Wilmington’s private operator, GT USA Wilmington.” [Sub required]
25) Alabama: In Valley, Alabama, police arrested an 82-year-old woman for failure to pay for trash service. The police chief issued a press release defending the arrest. The woman, who was handcuffed and jailed, owed $77.80.
26) Georgia: The Warnock-Walker runoff isn’t just about the size of the Democrats’ Senate majority, says the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare. “Despite the crucial role that Medicare and Social Security play in seniors’ lives, Republicans insist that both programs must be “reformed” – which really means cut and privatized. High-profile members of Herschel Walker’s party, including Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL) and Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) have proposed subjecting seniors’ earned benefits to an up or down vote every five years and placing both programs at the mercy of annual budget battles. Herschel Walker campaigned with Sen. Scott in October and would be a rubber stamp for any GOP plans to undermine Social Security and Medicare.”
27) Georgia: Another debate and decision is on the table about privatized cities in Georgia. Readers may be familiar with the story of Sandy Springs, which first embraced and then abandoned a scheme that privatized city functions. Well now comes Mableton. “Mableton leaders have to determine whether the city of about 77,000 people will manage government services itself or ship out some of those responsibilities.”
28) Illinois: Will privatization lead to the elimination of union rights? “As the closing of an $8.3M sale of the DeKalb County Rehabilitation and Nursing Center to a private buyer approaches, the status of its remaining employees appears uncertain. Last month, the DeKalb County Board approved 20-2 the asset purchase and operational transfer agreements between the DeKalb County government and Evanston-based Illuminate HC, a health care center management company that operates several skilled nursing facilities in Michigan and Ohio. Chuck Simpson, a 33-year nursing center employee and president of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees No. 3537 county labor union, said the overall feeling among employees at the facility is ‘one of confusion.’”
30) National: All in a day’s work for a “free speech absolutist.” Economist Dean Baker, who uses numbers as a weapon of economic truth and social justice, has fallen afoul of Elon Musk. Dean “had his Twitter account suspended the day he published an article criticizing Musk, and calling for changing Section 230 to be less favorable to platforms like Twitter and for the creation of a public voucher system to support alternative news organization.” The account is back now, minus its followers.
31) National/Upcoming Meeting: The Private Equity Stakeholder Project (see above) invites folks to “Join the Stop the Money Pipeline coalition on December 14th at 5pm PT / 8pm ET on Zoom to hear about what’s next for the climate movement, and how you can take part in stopping the flow of Wall Street money to oil, gas, coal, and deforestation! RSVP: https://stmp.link/1214webinar.”
32) International: Guest columnist Colin McKim writes a satirical column in OrilliaMatters about privatization. “What’s next in Ontario? Privatized sunlight?”
Photo by Sandman Design.