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- Rural Texans are unconvinced by Republicans’ public school privatization crusade.
- Our own Donald Cohen shines a light on The Inflation No One’s Talking About.
- The U.S. House has sent a multibillion-dollar climate bill to Biden for signature. (For a useful discussion of the pros and cons of the bill, check out Sam Seder’s interview of the American Prospect’s David Dayen.)
First, the good news…
1) National/International: Governing in the public interest is very hard work, but fortunately there are thousands of public servants who meet at all levels of government every day and use democratic means to find out what the public interest is. If you want to see how it works, watch this seven hour meeting of the Community and Public Services Committee of the City of Edmonton, Canada. Or go to your local council or school board meeting yourself and help make it happen.
2) National: In the Public Interest’s Donald Cohen shines a light on The Inflation No One’s Talking About. “Corporations that run privatized municipal water systems are raising rates to enrich their shareholders and even buy up more public systems.” But there is good news, Cohen writes. “People are fighting back. The Citizens Utility Board—a state-backed watchdog organization—is arguing for a lower rate increase and working to pass legislation that would give customers more voice before private water corporations buy up public systems.
A few states east in Pennsylvania, which is a hotbed for water privatization, a number of battles are heating up. Residents of Towamencin are packing public meetings to stop the sale of their town’s water system. They even formed a group called Neighbors Opposing Privatization Efforts (NOPE). Elected officials across Bucks County are stepping up to oppose the sale of the county’s water system to Aqua Pennsylvania. In California, a member of the Los Angeles-area Central Basin Municipal Water District and a local journalist are fighting back after other members tried to silence their concerns about harmful chemicals in the water. The member recently wrote, ‘The water privatizers on the Central Basin Board of Directors … who are bought and paid for by private water interest … [have one goal,] to privatize and profit from our community water systems.’ This is all to say, water is a public good, meaning it must be under our control. But we have to fight for it, because to corporations, it’s just another way to increase profits for their wealthy executives and shareholders.”
3) National: The U.S. House has sent a multibillion-dollar climate bill to Biden for signature. “The measure sends billions in climate funding to states and local governments—notably $4.75 billion to reduce greenhouse gas air pollution—and is the largest amount allocated to address climate change in U.S. history.” Route Fifty declared the bill “a win for local governments. The vote is a victory for local governments that pushed for its passage. Democrats’ legislation would take ‘critical steps to slash carbon emissions, lower costs for families, provide affordable health care, and so much more,’ Tom Cochran, CEO and executive director of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, said in a statement last week. However, there was also blowback about what was cut out of the $1.75 trillion Build Back Better Plan the House passed last year, before it was stripped down in the Senate to win the support of Sen. Joe Manchin, a centrist West Virginia Democrat who objected to the size of the spending. While praising the climate and health care provisions in the bill, the National Association of Counties expressed some disappointment that the measure does not address raising the state and local tax—or SALT—cap.”
For a useful discussion of the pros and cons of the bill, check out Sam Seder’s interview of the American Prospect’s David Dayen.
4) National: The National Labor Relations Board and the Department of Justice have launched a new partnership to “better protect free and fair labor markets and ensure that workers can freely exercise their rights under the National Labor Relations Act,” the National Law Review reports. “Through a memorandum of understanding (MOU), the agencies have agreed to collaborate with the stated aim of advancing workers’ rights to obtain fair market compensation and to freely exercise their legal rights under labor laws.”
5) National: Sen. Ben Ray Lujan (D-NM) says “without decades of government investments in technology development, the cellphone you hold in your hand today would cost $10,000 and be the size of a room. There are thousands of examples just like this—where federal funding played a role in the science and technology industries, resulting in innovative breakthroughs and public goods that benefit all Americans.”
6) California: The Legislative Analyst’s Office has come up with some recommendations on how to fix California’s troubled unemployment system. “Although these problems are not new, the pandemic has highlighted the need for the state to rebalance the UI program to make getting benefits to eligible workers a top priority. In our assessment, today’s problems do not call for fundamental reforms that could upend longstanding tenants of the state’s labor market. Instead, targeted changes to state practices could improve the experience unemployed workers have when they need UI. In this report, we suggest more than a dozen targeted changes to the state’s UI program to place greater priority on getting payments to eligible workers.”
7) Louisiana: The good news is that, for now, a judge’s ruling blocking a wealthy white Baton Rouge area from seceding from the city, and taking its tax revenue and control over public policy with it, is holding. And several municipal privatization efforts, such as in Sandy Springs, Georgia, have failed in recent years.
However, apparently driven by class and race politics, the secessionists keep trying. In the case of the proposed City of St. George’s attempted secession, the new city would direct public transportation money to Uber and Lyft. “Initially, the St. George campaign began as a quest to form a new school district, led by parents dissatisfied with the public East Baton Rouge Parish School System, which has been the subject of one of the longest desegregation court orders in the US. Incorporating St. George as a new city would possibly allow the area to create its own district — one that would serve mostly white students from wealthier backgrounds, while draining resources from an already underfunded majority-Black district. A study commissioned by Baton Rouge found that St. George would divert $85 million from the Baton Rouge school system if it formed its own district. ‘The incorporation of St. George would create one of the richest and Whitest cities in Louisiana, severing the area’s existing ties with the city of Baton Rouge and the larger East Baton Rouge School District — both of which are majority-Black and disproportionately impoverished,” writes Nina M. Yancy in her 2022 book How the Color Line Bends: The Geography of White Prejudice.”
8) Maryland: Let’s hear it for the launch of the new Baltimore Beat, which is picking up where the legendary Baltimore City Paper left off. One of their marvelous new stories: “Land Grab: Why a Desperate City Kept Cutting Deals With a Developer Who Didn’t Deliver.” Check out their great editorial team. Also, see Guthrie Scrimgeour’s important piece in Jacobin: “I’m a Local News Reporter. To Save Local News, We Must Publicly Fund It.”
9) Think Tanks: The Economic Policy Institute recently reported on how local governments are protecting workers’ rights. “In recent years, cities, counties, and other localities have become innovators and leaders in standing up for working people. Responding to increased inequality, degraded working conditions, and insufficient or inconsistent worker protections at the state and federal level, localities have in many cases joined states as the ‘laboratories’ of experimentation (as Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis described) in relation to workplace matters. A number of localities have come to view protecting workers and improving their conditions as part of their core municipal function.”
10) National: In an op-ed in the Chronicle of Higher Education, College Track’s Nadja Jepsen says colleges (including public colleges) should stop taking away students’ private scholarships. “But the happy news of receiving a private scholarship is far too often only temporary. Many universities use those scholarships as a catalyst for adjusting students’ financial aid awards—reducing grant offers that have already been made — in the veiled practice of scholarship displacement. Colleges simply reduce the institutional grants they had offered by the amount the student earned in outside scholarships, leaving the student no better off financially. Even worse, because most colleges lack transparency around their scholarship displacement policies, many students only find out their financial aid package changed after the semester has started, and an unexpected and unplanned balance due appears on their tuition statement.”
11) National: Jennifer Berkshire and Jack Schneider, hosts of the education podcast Have You Heard, joined WNYC’s Brook Gladstone to discuss how books get removed from classrooms and libraries. “An old threat has returned to classrooms across the country—and it’s made of pages and ink. On this week’s On the Media, hear what it means to ban a book, and who has the right to choose what kids learn.”
12) National: Writing in The Hechinger Report, Hayler Lindner warns that commercialism is overtaking the idea of “social and emotional learning,” which is “really just good teaching,” she says. “SEL is very much in vogue right now. School leaders, teachers, parents and boards are all preoccupied with ensuring that plans for SEL are in place. As is often the case with these phenomena, corporations are seeking to capitalize on the heightened interest. Not a day goes by that I don’t see targeted ads on social media for “classroom-ready” SEL programs and tools. The teachers who take up special places within students’ hearts and memories were SEL champions even before the existence of this neat little acronym. This added attention risks obscuring the empathic work excellent teachers already do in their classrooms.”
13) California: San Francisco Bayview reports that on August 4, “untrained, unlicensed, third-party security providers contracted by OUSD violently assaulted parents and community members at Parker School, injuring at least 11 people and sending four to the ER. (…) ‘They tried to throw us out, but we held the building! Now, OUSD is threatening to come back,’ stated organizers at the newly-organized Parker Elementary School, one of several schools serving Black and Brown Oakland communities closed, citing ‘budget cuts.’ Meanwhile, the district has fired at least two educators who are active participants in the fight against school closures, including the Parker Liberation in East Oakland. These educators, by virtue of their positions as a substitute teacher and a contractor, have no safeguards in their job security and were given no explanation for their termination.
14) New Hampshire: Jennifer Berkshire reports that “in New Hampshire high school students with jobs can now work 35 hours a week (which bosses seem very excited about). It’s the latest frontier in NH’s embrace of ‘extreme vocationalism.’”
15) Ohio/National: The Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a pro-charter school group that has campaigned to use public money to support Catholic parochial schools, has joined a lawsuit fighting against what they say is “hostility” in rule-making by the U.S. Department of Education. The suit argues “that rules regulating enrollment and use of charter schools in the state by the federal education agency will ‘disadvantage some or all of the charter schools sponsored by Fordham.’ The rule that regulates grants and criteria for charter school programs, effective Aug. 5, was finalized after receiving 25,000 public comments on the issue, according to the department. ‘A majority of commenters expressed general support for the proposed priorities, requirements, definitions and selection criteria,’ documents within the Federal Register stated.”
16) Texas: Rural Texans are unconvinced by Republicans’ public school privatization crusade. La Marque school superintendent Adrain Johnson “wonders why public schools always take a back seat to the pursuit of policies that could diminish them. ‘Why not make it imperative to support the local school district?’ he said. Instead, from where he stands, the talk in Austin is already focused on school choice, the broad term applied to a host of taxpayer-funded alternatives to sending a child to the local public school. Although the Texas Legislature doesn’t meet for another five months, Gov. Greg Abbott has voiced support for public school alternatives. Abbott has said he supports parents’ ‘choice to send their children to any public school, charter school, or private school with state funding following the student.’ And Democrat Beto O’Rourke, who will face off against Abbott in November, has also joined the debate, running ads asking people to ‘reject Greg Abbott’s radical plan to defund’ public schools.”
17) National/Pennsylvania: Writing in The Nation, Hadas Their, author of A People’s Guide to Capitalism, digs deep on the politics of water privatization and its importance for building a viable challenge to private power and political disillusionment. “I spoke with dozens of PA residents-turned-organizers about their battles to stop the privatization of their towns’ water. They’ve united across political lines and provide a hopeful example of class-based organizing,” Their says.
“Organizing against water privatization is not going to cover over this country’s political divides. Nor does it offer a shortcut to building a mass working-class politics. Challenging multibillion-dollar companies will also never be easy, but it does present an opportunity to link the growing disaffection with corporations and with the country’s two main parties to concrete steps forward. Demands that run along a top-versus-bottom axis rather than a left-versus-right axis can provide political inroads. As Catherine Miller, who leads CWA’s anti-privatization campaign, told me, ‘This really is a nonpartisan issue. It’s more like public good versus corporate greed.’”
18) National/Think Tanks: Nasiha Salwati and David Wessel of the Brookings Institution share four questions (and answers) about the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act from last week’s Municipal Finance Conference discussion with experts. The questions:
- Some IIJA funds are allocated across states by formula. Others require state and local governments to apply for funding. How well is that process going?
- What effect will higher inflation and labor shortages have on state and local infrastructure spending?
- Will the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act add to inflationary pressures?
- Will the flood of federal money diminish the role that public-private partnerships play in state and local infrastructure projects?
One interesting answer from DJ Gribbin, the former Koch Industries employee, P3 energizer bunny, and Trump infrastructure czar to the last question about P3s: “[Yes], I think that’s [going to] be crowded out in two ways.” [Video, about 45 minutes].
19) National: The Bond Buyer’s Caitlin Devitt reports that “smaller-sized cities and towns worried they won’t be able to snag a piece of the infrastructure dollars unleashed in the new federal law have until the end of the month to apply for a first-of-its-kind program aimed at boosting their chances. The ‘specialized training boot camps’ led by the National League of Cities will help governments with populations of 150,000 or less compete for money in the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.” The current program marks the first of six, each one lasting four months, that will cover 30 grant programs in the IIJA. [Sub required]
20) California: Is the Golden State’s infrastructure about to be hit with a massive, destructive series of mega floods that will overwhelm its resources? That’s the upshot of a major piece in the New York Times on the different “Big One” that’s coming. “This vapor plume will be enormous, hundreds of miles wide and more than 1,200 miles long, and seething with ferocious winds. It will be carrying so much water that if you converted it all to liquid, its flow would be about 26 times what the Mississippi River discharges into the Gulf of Mexico at any given moment. When this torpedo of moisture reaches California, it will crash into the mountains and be forced upward. This will cool its payload of vapor and kick off weeks and waves of rain and snow. The coming superstorm — really, a rapid procession of what scientists call atmospheric rivers — will be the ultimate test of the dams, levees and bypasses California has built to impound nature’s might.”
But there’s hope. “How do you protect a place as vast as California from a storm as colossal as that? Two ways, said David Peterson, a veteran engineer. Change where the water goes, or change where the people are. Ideally, both. But neither is easy.”
21) Hawaii: Beach privatization is pitting the megarich against disabled veterans and other humans. “Tension between local Hawaiians and the rich interlopers who have descended on their islands seems to grow fiercer by the day. The latest skirmish: A self-described “disabled Native Hawaiian veteran” said residents were improperly blocked from accessing Hulopoe Beach Park via car last month, in an area on Lanai controlled by software billionaire Larry Ellison. ‘I just felt like it was just a slap in the face,’ the man, Russel deJetley, told local outlet Honolulu Civil Beat.”
22) Mississippi: Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba pushes back against those using the city water system’s crisis as an excuse for privatizing it. “‘That is an absolute death sentence for cities,’ Lumumba said. ‘You lose control of the water, you lose control of the city, point blank. Before Detroit went bankrupt, they lost control of their water system.’ While he was staunchly against privatization, the mayor said the city is willing to enter contracts and maintenance agreements which help augment staffing shortages and keep plants running with qualified personnel.”
23) Montana: This Thursday the Billings Chamber is hosting a discussion of the possible privatization of the MetraPark event venue. “In recent months MetraPark Management has come under fire for its management of the venue, and county leaders are wanting to migrate the management of it to a private management company. As of last week, they are even seeking formal bids from interested management companies and soon will begin planning of documents for the official request for privatization.”
24) New York: State Assembly member Yuh-Line Niou lays out some tough changes that need to be made to at the national and local level to make progress on the housing crisis in New York. “One of the biggest things is—obviously the big piece is—we have to repeal the Faircloth Amendment, which makes it so that we cannot have more public housing. I think that we need more public housing and not less. And it’s really important to make sure to alleviate some of that housing burden. I believe that the Faircloth Amendment makes it so that the amount of public housing that we have to 1991 levels was the highest that we could ever have. Right now, there has been obviously a push on the Assembly side and the Senate side of the state government to make it so that there is a push towards privatization. And I’m very concerned about it. I think that the privatization of public housing is dangerous. But we have to make sure that we’re protecting Section 9.”
25) National/Oklahoma: Suzanne Gordon, Steve Early, and Jasper Craven, writing in The American Prospect, say the Biden administration is doubling down on the VA’s broken privatization policy. “Rather than spending further institutional time and energy on AIR 2.0, McDonough should focus instead on undoing some of the damage the MISSION Act inflicted on the VHA’s ability to provide care. As Rep. Julia Brownley (D-CA) noted in a July 14 hearing of the House Veterans’ Affairs Health Subcommittee, “spending on community care has increased by 116 percent over five years while investments in direct staff of VA medical facilities grew by only 32 percent. Why are VA’s investments in community care so vastly outpacing investments in in-house care?” she asked.”
Meanwhile, reports are surfacing that Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt (R) may want to privatize the state’s seven veterans’ homes. “‘I am opposed to the idea personally,’ said Sen. J.J. Dossett, D-Owasso, a Veterans Caucus member. Dossett said public functions, such as prisons and education, should not be privatized. She said the seven centers are some of the finest in the nation, adding that she opposes any effort to privatize the facilities. ‘I will tell you that veterans take care of veterans better than anybody else,’ she said. The homes are supervised by the Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs. Myles Deering is a former Oklahoma secretary of Veterans Affairs, adjutant general of Oklahoma and Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs executive director. He said he did not support privatizing the homes because he believes it would reduce the quality of care.”
26) National: The GAO has released a new report on how acquisition management reform is proceeding—or not proceeding—at the Veterans Administration. “For over a decade, VA has tried with little success to implement a framework for managing and overseeing how it purchases goods and services. We added VA acquisition management to our High Risk List in 2019. VA plans to implement a new framework but hasn’t:
- Identified major acquisition programs subject to the new framework
- Addressed acquisition workforce needs
If VA takes steps to address these and other challenges prior to implementing the new framework, VA could acquire goods and services more efficiently to support veterans. We recommended VA take steps to address challenges before implementing the new framework.”
27) National: Want to see some corporate promo about getting a leg up (“before the RFP”) on bidding for state, local and education contract services? Check this out from The Atlas Market Edge, which has been running top-of-homepage ads on Route Fifty.
28) California: Protests against allegedly inappropriate patient discharges at San Francisco Laguna Honda hospital connect them to privatization. “Speakers from SEIU 1021 including Brenda Barros Chapter Chair SF General Hospital , Cheryl Thornton SF Community Health Care Vice Chair, UPTE UCSF SF Labor Council delegate Lisa Milos and other workers and community members demanded that it not close and be expanded. They also said that it was part of the privatization drive going on in San Francisco, California and nationally.”
29) Delaware: Rep. John Kowalko (D), who represents the 25th District and is based in Newark, says Delaware’s public retirees must reject Medicate Advantage plans. “What are Medicare Advantage plans? In short, they represent the privatization of one of the most successful federal programs in history and it is an embarrassment that the state of Delaware wants to participate in undermining the traditional Medicare program. Unfortunately, unless you are close to retirement, you are probably unaware as to how this change might affect you. Medicare Advantage plans move you out of the traditional Medicare program and allow a private company to oversee your medical care. It is not simply an insurance change. It is a program change into privatized medical care. Although Medicare Advantage plans tout many “extras,” compared to traditional Medicare, you are giving up the rights encoded in the federal program for a contract negotiated every couple of years.”
30) District of Columbia: Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689 MetroAccess workers have reached a tentative agreement with Transdev, ending a 9-day strike. “‘Our members stood strong and united throughout this process. They braved the heat and the company’s tactics to try and divide us,’ said Local 689 President Raymond Jackson. ‘This strike shows that our members are willing to lay it all on the line for justice. I want to thank the elected officials, all our allies, and our International for coming out and standing with us.’ The new three-year contract with Transdev includes substantial wage increases and improved benefits, including better sick leave, a more secure retirement plan, additional holidays, and other improvements. The workers successfully fought off the company’s proposal to offer members less than what their counterparts in Baltimore make and their refusal to enter into a three-year agreement.”
31) Missouri: The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that Eureka, a city in St. Louis County, is selling its water system, but Missouri consumers are going to pay for it. “From 2010 through 2020, American Water had the highest number of mergers and acquisitions of any investor-owned water utility in the U.S., totaling $1.1 billion, a U.S. Government Accountability Office report found. And the company aims to invest three times as much in acquisitions over the next 10 years, according to recent earnings calls. Both Missouri and Illinois have seen some of the most recent American Water privatizations. (…) But critics opposed to private takeovers argue that while city governments may benefit, customers end up paying more and have less direct input in their water system in the years to come. Investor-owned water companies are tied to higher rates, according to several academic reviews. In a March 2022 study, for example, Cornell University researchers reviewed a database of the 500 largest water systems in the nation to compare rates between public and private water utilities. The results: Private customers spent about 60% more on average, even when controlling for factors like regulations, water source and system age, with average annual bills of $501 compared with $315 on public systems.”
32) International: Politico skewers Ontario Health Minister Sylvia Jones’s moonwalking toward privatization. “Jones would like to reassure you that, despite what you’ve been reading about emergency room closures and staff shortages, the province’s health-care system is not in crisis. Also, she would like you to know that ‘all options are on the table’ when it comes to fixing the situation that is not a crisis, and those options may or may not include privatization, which is not a word she said herself. Also, she would like you to know that you will always be able to access health care without paying out of pocket, whether or not the province embraces privatization (a word she did not say) to solve the problem that is definitely not a crisis.”
33) International: The British Royal Mail has suffered its first financial loss since privatization. “The recent trouble started in June when the [Communication Workers Union] rejected an offer from management that included a 2% pay rise as well as an additional 3.5% increase if the union agreed to a ‘series of changes’ to the business as it seeks to modernise its operations and compete with rivals such as Amazon. The union defended its decision, saying workers needed a ‘proper pay rise’ amid surging inflation, which is expected to hit 13% by the end of the year.” CWU says “around 40,000 BT Group workers will hold their second two-day strike against real-term pay cuts on Tuesday August 30 and Wednesday August 31 following management’s failure to take up the union’s offer of serious talks to end the dispute.”
34) Kentucky: Tarance Ray has a powerful piece in The Baffler about how the recent floods are affecting people in eastern Kentucky. “The irony is that for years before the flood, Eastern Kentucky had already been engaged in a process of rebuilding. It was called the ‘just transition,’ and its goal was to rejuvenate the region through entrepreneurship, innovation, tourism, and public-private partnerships. That dream is now dead for the foreseeable future. It’s why I suspect that this newest iteration of rebuilding will become, like the old one, a kind of farce. Why would anyone want to rebuild the same society that let this happen in the first place? Besides, it’s the unspoken truth on everyone’s mind that what people like Beshear mean by rebuilding amounts to burdensome bureaucratic paperwork, insufficient or rejected requests for insurance payouts, perhaps some downtown beautification projects here and there, and mayors and congressmen rubbing shoulders with governors to clinch grant handouts. Meanwhile, all you have to do is look at the sluggish recovery of Western Kentucky after the devastating tornadoes of last year and observe for yourself: rebuilding is just the hot new buzzword for running out the clock until the next disaster hits—at which point you can start the same cycle all over again.”
35) National: “Baseball Immortality Meets Ungodly Inequality.” Writing in Counterpunch, Sam Pizzigati explores the class politics of stadium deals, superstar salaries, public subsidies and the megarich owners. “The game of baseball’s most preternatural young talent, the 23-year-old Juan Soto, has just exited his original team. The Washington Nationals traded him away last week after the young superstar’s agent nixed a 15-year, $440-million contract offer. Soto now figures to snare a substantially larger deal when he hits free-agent status in 2024. His agent, holds the baseball industry scuttlebutt, wants Soto to be the first ballplayer to bust past the sport’s $500-million barrier.
“A little financial perspective: The family fortune of the 96-year-old billionaire Nats owner, Ted Turner, has so far this year jumped by $365 million, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. In just seven months, the Lerner clan has amassed most of what Soto’s agent wants for the rest of his client’s entire career. The Lerners currently have the Nats up for sale. They’ll almost certainly collect over $2 billion when a sale finalizes, well over quadruple the $450 million they paid for the team 16 years ago.”
36) International: Chile’s new President Gabriel Boric “plans to create a state lithium company after criticizing past privatizations of raw commodities as a mistake,” The Wall Street Journal reports. “A new constitution, if approved in a September referendum, would strengthen environmental rules and indigenous rights over mining. ‘This is a strategic resource for the energy transition,’ said Chile Mines Minister Marcela Hernando. Ms. Hernando recently told Chile’s congress that while the government didn’t have the know-how to mine lithium on its own, it would insist on majority control of any joint venture with private firms.”
37) International: The Trade Union Congress of Nigeria (TUC) has come out foursquare against the privatization of public services and infrastructure. “Addressing journalists, TUC President, Festus Osifo, said: ‘As TUC, we take a complete exception to this. The NEC of TUC frowns at this, because the privatization that was done in the past, where has it led us to. Nothing meaningful has ever come out from the previous privatization processes, especially the power sector.” The TUC President, while speaking on the lingering strike in the university system, called on the Federal Government to place value on education in the country.”
Photo by Allison Shelley for EDUimages.