First, the Good News

1) National: Shar Habibi, the research and policy director of In the Public Interest, debunks the mythology of “efficiency,” a phony excuse for the privatization of public services. “But what Senator Lazzara doesn’t say is how privatization would lead to efficiency and, perhaps more importantly, what he means when he says the word. Greater efficiency is touted in most privatization schemes, but it should always lead to a series of fundamental questions. If you’re going to spend less, what are you going to spend less on? Will you cut worker pay? Will you cut the number of workers, or their hours? Will you close offices in less-populated rural areas? How will that impact the people who use the services? How will you cut costs—and still make a profit–without cutting corners?…

“Finally, efficiency for whom? Government providers and private companies have two very different goals: one is to serve the public; the other is to generate profit. Efficiently generating profit doesn’t necessarily meet the public needs.” [For more on “efficiency” shenanigans, see #22 below].

2) National: When private enterprise fails, public enterprise must step up, says Jim Hightower, a noted progressive pundit and former elected commissioner of the Texas Department of Agriculture.

“In cities all across America, an infiltration of wealthy investors, developers, and bankers is driving poor and middle-class families out of their own towns. What’s at work here is the relentless financial shove of high-dollar gentrification. House by house, block by block, moneyed interests suddenly (and often secretly) buy up properties, bulldozing modest family homes to erect sprawling edifices for the rich. It’s a profiteering money grab that intentionally prices out regular homebuyers. Worse, it also artificially skyrockets property taxes for the area’s longtime homeowners, forcing them to sell out and leave town…

“If the so-called ‘free-market’ can’t (or won’t) provide affordable spaces so these families can ‘come home,’ where they belong, then the community itself must step up to meet the need with creative public initiatives. The good news is that many cities are doing just that, including where I live. Fed up with losing teachers who endure spirit-sucking hour-long commutes from distant suburbs, Austin’s school board recently created its own affordable housing arm.”

3) National: Some good news from Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen. “I just received a demo of the upcoming IRS Direct File tool. The IRS has built an impressive product that will give taxpayers a secure option to file their taxes online for free. This pilot program will start small in 2024, to allow the IRS to test it and learn from taxpayers.”

4) National: “Over the last two years, at least eleven states and Washington, D.C. have significantly increased their public investments in child care,” the Century Foundation reports. “By investing directly in providers, states have been able to prevent price increases and keep wages high.” TCF’s Julie Kashen and Laura Valle-Gutierrez report that “the stabilization funds not only kept businesses open, but also demonstrated what is possible when the math adds up because child care is being treated like the essential infrastructure that it is. Children can count on receiving consistent care, providers are less stressed and have an easier time recruiting and retaining early educators, early educators are able to pay their bills and, in some cases, even save for the future.”

5) National: Earthjustice reports that conservation and environmental justice groups have filed an amicus brief with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit to defend the right to access public land via corner crossing. “A favorable decision in the case would help safeguard the public’s right to access over 8 million acres of public land across the West, benefiting hikers, hunters, fishermen, and wildlife watchers alike.”

6) California: Nevada County, Grass Valley and Nevada City have agreed to explore building a joint animal shelter to serve the region. “Officials from all three jurisdictions believe they can better serve animals and humans with a centralized animal shelter. ‘By all of us working together, it is good government,’ said Supervisor Lisa Swarthout at the Jan. 9 Board of Supervisors meeting, adding that she is confident the three jurisdictions will be able to work out a resolution to make the project happen. ‘I will do everything in my power to help move this along.’”

7) Maryland: Attorney General Anthony G. Brown “has joined a coalition of 14 Attorneys General in filing an amicus brief urging the U.S. Court of Appeals to reverse a lower court’s decision preventing enforcement of a state law intended to close private detention facilities to protect the health and safety of immigrants. In the brief filed in CoreCivic Inc. v. Murphy, Attorney General Brown and the coalition urge the Court of Appeals to reverse the lower court’s decision, arguing that states should be able to enforce state laws that protect residents’ health and safety without interference from the federal government.”

8) Massachusetts: “The MBTA is receiving a $200.8 million allocation from the Millionaire’s Tax to address safety, hiring and retention and to improve infrastructure across the beleaguered transit network,” the Boston Herald reports. “A day after commuters couldn’t get to downtown Boston using the system’s three most popular lines due to an onslaught of issues, MassDOT’s Board of Directors approved transferring $200.8 million to the MBTA—$180.8 million for physical infrastructure improvements and the remaining $20 million for workforce and safety initiatives. The pool of money is the first allocation the MBTA has received from the Millionaire’s Tax, or what officials refer to as the Fair Share Amendment. Bay State voters in November 2022 approved a 4% surtax on incomes above $1 million annually, with the revenue dedicated to improving education and transportation.”

9) Pennsylvania: According to Food & Water Watch, “an oil refinery which had long been sickening mostly-Black residents of South Philly exploded in 2019. Since then, activists with @PhillyThrive have led campaigns for living spaces that are safe, affordable, & green, because they are truly interconnected.”

10) Texas: The Texas Tribune reports that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ approval “makes Texas the 43rd state to be approved for the extended coverage—which was authorized by the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 and the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2023.”

11) International: Following a campaign by UNI Europa (the European trade union federation for service workers), the EU Commission has committed to address problems with public procurement. “The Public Procurement Directive outlines the conditions under which public authorities across the EU contract private corporations to deliver goods and services. Unfortunately, all too often the sole criterion is the price, which leads to a race-to-the-bottom on wages, working conditions and quality of service. Cleaners, call-centre workers, interpreters, safety guards and nurses—a large number of the 7 million service workers UNI Europa represents are directly impacted by the way public tenders are awarded.”


12) National: Billionaire charter school backer Michael Bloomberg has an idea to sweeten the ‘not everyone needs to go to college’ mantra. Don’t go to college, but instead go into the healthcare industry, which he says has starting salaries as high as $70,000. Really? For new high school grads? His BLS link doesn’t say. “Too many political leaders pretend all students want to go to college,” he writes. [Sub required] Some might say, of course, that too many billionaire-funded political leaders are using that as an excuse for inaction on skyrocketing student college indebtedness. In any event, Bloomberg has set the ball rolling—by pouring millions into a healthcare related charter school network.

13) National: Has “free market” ideology boomeranged on Milton Friedman’s University of Chicago? Prof. Clifford Ando did the research. “What I discovered, based on facts that the University itself provides, was that an institution that made itself look rich had also forced itself, in particular situations and for the purposes of specific policies, to act poor. The result of this imbricated set of choices, of overspending and underspending, has been the hollowing out of much of the arts and sciences at the University, with predictable consequences for the strength of its undergraduate College. But more is at issue than undergraduate instruction. At stake, I urge, is nothing less than the idea itself of the university.”

14) Indiana: “We wrote about the right-wing libertarian dream of *unbundling* education from schools & communities in Wolf at the Schoolhouse Door and here it is springing to life in Indiana,” says Jennifer Berkshire. The article? “Indiana school funding bill would give money to families to create ‘a la carte’ education,” by Aleksandra Appleton, in Chalkbeat Indiana. “A school funding bill heard in Indiana’s legislature Thursday proposes to radically reshape the state’s education system by allowing families to use state money to pay for a wide range of services and effectively customize their children’s education. The bill, Senate Bill 255, is on hold until next year, when lawmakers take up issues tied to the state budget. But its backers say it’s the start of a conversation about expanding school choice in the state, far beyond the scope of existing voucher programs.”

15) Kentucky: Democrats in the state Senate are pressuring the Republican majority to “use the state’s record budget surplus to directly help teachers and children,” the Courier Journal reports. “At this week’s ‘maiden voyage’ press conference, the group emphasized the necessity of investing in education and other social supports for children. ‘We are flush with funds,’ said [Gerald Neal, D-Louisville], referring to the $3.7 billion surplus in the state’s ‘Rainy Day’ budget reserve fund. Kentucky should use that money to bolster education and other social support programs that have been neglected, Neal said. He criticized Republican lawmakers for engaging in a ‘mad dash’ to cut income taxes.”

16) Minnesota: The collapse of a prominent accounting firm has worsened a crisis for the state’s charter schools, “which are contending with a shortage of firms capable of navigating their complex finances,” the Star Tribune reports. “‘We are hearing about a lot of situations where schools have lost their auditors and can’t find a new one,’ said Joey Cienian, executive director of MN Association of Charter Schools, which represents the state’s 180 charter schools. ‘It has been a huge problem.’ In 2023, an association survey showed that 29% of the state’s charter schools lost their auditor, and some were still struggling to find a new one as the deadline for financial reports neared on Dec. 31, Cienian said. As a result of the shortage, financial service costs have doubled or tripled for some charter schools, he said.”

17) Ohio: A bill has been introduced in the legislature that would allow savings accounts for non-chartered religious schools. “There are about 70 private non-chartered brick-and-mortar schools in Ohio that students attend, usually for religious education, said Rep. Gary Click (R-Vickery), who is a pastor. He explained because those schools don’t want to comply with a government mandate that they believe is against their religious beliefs, they cannot be chartered. (…) ‘We have seen how this works in other states. In Arizona, for instance, families who used ESA funds were using said taxpayer funds to buy things like grand pianos, video games and other high-ticket items,’ [Rep. Jessica Miranda (D-Forest Park)] said. ‘And then I heard recently, in Florida where they are using this program, there are families who are literally getting approval to get Disney World annual passes because they were calling that an educational expense for their children.’”

18) Tennessee: The state education commissioners admits that “students using public money to attend private schools haven’t performed well on achievement tests, raising questions about whether the state should start another voucher program.” Tennessee Lookout reports that “seven months into her administration, Commissioner Lizzette Reynolds told senators last week that Education Savings Account students’ test results ‘aren’t anything to write home about.’ She noted they are required to take the state’s standardized test at the end of the year. (…) Her comments led Senate Minority Leader Raumesh Akbari to say even though parents may be ‘happy’ with the program, their children should be performing as well or better than their peers in public schools. Senate Minority Leader Akbari, who opposed the ESA program when it was created in 2019, pointed out the state has only a year-and-a-half of data in the pilot program yet is already ‘talking about expanding it.’ Just two years into the ESA program after a protracted legal challenge, lawmakers this session will be considering Gov. Bill Lee’s new proposal for statewide Education Freedom Scholarships, a new form of private school vouchers.”

19) Wyoming: A measure to fund early childhood education is a backdoor attempt at privatizing schools, says Kerry Drake. “The Wyoming Education Association is already suing the state, alleging its funding of public education is inadequate and does not meet the state constitution’s mandate to provide a quality, equitable education for all students. If the ESA bill is approved and signed into law, it will fundamentally diminish the quality of the state’s public school system. This is no accident, and it’s happening throughout the nation. The far right has long tried to abolish the U.S. Department of Education and stoked anger at school boards that adopted mask and vaccine mandates during the COVID-19 pandemic. Education savings accounts and school voucher programs are promoted by extremists who claim public schools have failed America’s students. Classrooms are the battleground for right-wing culture wars over book bans, transgender athletes and our nation’s racial history.”


20) National: The Congressional Research Service has issued a white paper on military construction and housing authorizations. Low quality privatized military housing has been a scandal that led to redoubled oversight, but the GAO admits that this hasn’t resolved the issue: “DOD continues to face challenges. For example, some improvements require changes to DOD’s legal agreements with the companies. Most companies have agreed to these changes, but some haven’t.”

The CRS white paper says “Section 2821 establishes a DOD Military Family Readiness Working Group for Military Housing. Section 2822 amended 10 U.S.C. §2878(f)(2), requiring DOD to notify Congress when negotiating with a privatized housing company for the extension of any ground lease of property. The provision requires notification about whether the privatized housing company is in compliance with the Military Housing Privatization Initiative (MHPI) Tenant Bill of Rights codified at 10 U.S.C. §2890. The provision also prohibits certain payments to MHPI companies unless DOD determines that the company is in compliance with the MHPI Tenant Bill of Rights. Section 2823 requires MHPI companies to notify tenants about a proposed nondisclosure agreement and provide a waiting period of 10 business days so tenants may seek legal counsel before being required to sign such an agreement. Section 2825 requires the Secretary of Defense to implement the recommendations made in an April 2023 report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office.”

21) National/International: Returning to the issue of “efficiency” (see #1 above), Australian economist John Quiggin has written an obituary of the “efficient financial markets” hypothesis, a mainstay, we should note here, of infrastructure privatization boosters and bankers. What has piqued Quiggin’s ire? Official permission to create Bitcoin Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs). “The news that the U.S, Securities and Exchange Commission has (somewhat reluctantly) allowed the launch of Exchange Traded Funds for Bitcoin marks, as Noah Smith has observed, the shift of cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin from speculative gamble to officially approved asset class. From now on, any balanced portfolio such as that of an index fund, needs to include Bitcoin ETFs or explain why not. But since Bitcoin is useless (except for some illegal activities that will be closed down if they get large enough to matter), the value of Bitcoin rests on nothing more than the fact that people are willing to pay for it. And now that Bitcoin is a regular part of the financial system, the same is true, to a greater or lesser extent, of all financial assets. The idea that financial markets provide the best possible valuation of assets can no longer be taken seriously.”

22) National: Conservatives are cheering the SEC’s withdrawal of a proposed rule that would have promoted non-use practices on public lands and expanded federal ownership of lands. The purpose of a Natural Asset Company is to maximize the value of the land’s ‘ecological services,’ rather than generate a profit from traditional activities.” “We were very pleased to see the proposal withdrawn,” said Wyoming Farm Bureau Federation Executive Vice President Ken Hamilton. Trump’s right wing think tank, AFPI, took credit for the reversal.

23) Montana: Montana is being sold off piece by piece by its Republican governor, says The Missoulian’s Geoge Ochenski. “One only need look at what’s been going on at the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation where apparently the ‘conservation’ part of the agency’s title has been sidelined for maximizing revenue from ‘natural resources.’ If you check the Trust Land Division’s Cabin and Homesite Sales site you might think you were reading something straight out of a Yellowstone Club sales pitch—with prices to match! And guess what? Many of the sites and cabins were owned by Montanans for years but are now driven out by the high taxes and lease rates. But that’s the way it goes when you’re selling Montana to the highest bidders.”

24) New Hampshire: Pensions & Investments reports that Republican state lawmakers are trying to make it a crime to “knowingly” invest public tax dollars in companies that promote sound environmental practices, social responsibility and corporate governance practices favoring responsible corporate behavior (ESG). Bloomberg columnist Matt Levine is having none of it. “I’m sorry, this is so stupid. ‘ESG’ is essentially about considering certain risks to a company’s financial results: You might want to avoid investing in a company if its factories are going to be washed away by rising oceans, or if its main product is going to be regulated out of existence, or if its position on controversial social issues will cost it sales, or if its CEO controls the board and spends too much corporate money on wasteful personal projects.” [Sub required]

25) Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania American Water is seeking a rate increase. “On Dec. 21, the PUC voted unanimously to suspend a proposed rate increase for water and wastewater services provided by Pennsylvania American Water to conduct a detailed investigation and analysis of the proposed change. The PUC reported last month that the proposed rate change would increase the company’s total annual operating revenues for water services by approximately $199.2 million, or more than 24%, and increase total annual operating revenues for wastewater services by approximately $4.7 million or 2.5%. In a Dec. 10 letter to PUC Chairperson Steve DeFrank, state Rep. Jim Haddock (D-Luzerne) urged the Commission to suspend the rate increase, saying that it was especially concerning considering PAW was just approved for a 14.5% increase by the PUC in April 2023.”

26) International: Britain’s privatized, polluting water companies are refusing to make amends, the Guardian reports. “Last year, government ministers demanded water industry executives create a plan to tackle the mounting crisis of untreated sewage in Britain’s rivers and seas. To pacify growing public anger, water companies offered an apology, pledging to invest £10bn over the next decade and promising to reveal an “unprecedented plan” to “put it right”. The plans were supposed to be published in August, but four months later publication has been delayed yet again, even though the problem is getting worse. (…) Campaigners have said that the government needs to make it more expensive and painful for water companies not to invest in infrastructure than it is to improve things. ‘Until that’s the case, they’re going to continue as they are, not investing in infrastructure and paying money to shareholders in dividends instead,’ [Guardian environment reporter Helena Horton] says.”

27) New Book: Innovative Funding and Financing for Infrastructure: Addressing Scarcity of Public Resources by Jeffrey Delmon. “Investment in infrastructure is critical to economic growth, quality of life, poverty reduction, access to education, good quality healthcare—i.e., a dynamic economy. Yet amid scarce public capital, heavily indebted governments and increased demands on government resources, infrastructure projects often suffer from investment shortfalls and inadequate maintenance. These challenges merit renewed efforts at finding additional sources of funding. Innovative Funding and Financing for Infrastructure focuses on innovative approaches to financing as well as debt and equity from new sources and structures. It provides critical methods to increase the capital available for infrastructure, reduce fiscal liabilities and improve leverage of scarce public resources. Designed for students and specialists in the fields of investment planning and finance, this book offers a survey of creative approaches from around the world, resulting in a practical guidance for policy makers and strategists on how governments can enable and encourage innovative funding and financing.” Check out the Google Books preview.

Public Services

28) National: As the Supreme Court prepares to gut the “regulatory state” (see #37 below), consumer journalist Bill McGee joined Briahna Joy Gray to discuss the crisis at Boeing, which many ascribe to a long-broken system of self-regulation and an underfunded FAA, which has nearly been “drowned in the bathtub” over the years, to borrow Grover Norquist’s phrase. “Is [it] a labor issue, a corporate greed issue, and an anti-trust issue, or all three? What role did Nikki Haley play in lowering safety and oversight standards? And how would he respond to libertarian claims that two much FAA regulation is the real problem?” [Video, about an hour]

29) National: Writing in Counterpunch, Liam Crisan makes the case for free public transit. “I spoke recently with Christopher Ramirez from the group Together for Brothers, which led a coalition backing free fares in Albuquerque. ‘We had a couple sessions with the young men of color we were working with,’ he told me. ‘We were asking: What are some of the biggest problems and root causes in our community? Without a doubt, in all the sessions, it was access to transportation.’ As Ramirez recalled, ‘During one of the strategy sessions, one of our high school students said, “Why don’t we just make it free for everybody?” and we laughed. By the next week, we realized he wasn’t joking. By the end of the month, we decided to include it in our campaign.’ Zero fares is a direct way to put cash in the pockets of those who need it most. Most of those who use ABQ RIDE are people of color, 74 percent are low income, and 73 percent don’t have access to a car.”

30) National: “Food insecurity in prison makes people like me vulnerable to labor exploitation,” says Carla J. Simmons, writing in truthout. “It’s strictly against policy for anyone to give an incarcerated person any personal item, including food. Most work detail supervisors follow this rule to the letter, while others are more inclined to sympathize with a person who works day in and out without pay. You may be hard pressed to find an incarcerated person who hasn’t eaten out of the trash. It’s a common practice for detail officers to intentionally leave half-eaten food in their waste baskets and then ask ‘their inmates’ to come change the trash. On some work details, cleaning out a refrigerator or getting leftovers from a staffing event is equivalent to hitting a jackpot and will motivate an incarcerated person to seek work, in some cases, for a lifetime. These abuses are possible because of persistent scarcity and deprivation in the prison system.”

31) National: Wall Street is cheerful about the prospect that if Trump returns to power Fannie and Fredie will be privatized and they can make a bundle. Bloomberg reports that “Keefe, Bruyette & Woods analyst Bose George upgraded the pair to market perform from underperform saying the stocks could continue to climb in the near-term on the chances of a close election. The stocks of both firms—which trade over-the-counter for about $1 apiece — rallied more than 10% over the two trading sessions following Trump’s Iowa win. During his presidential term, Trump backed an attempt to free the government-sponsored enterprises from conservatorship. ‘While we believe the challenging logistics associated with privatizing the GSEs make the likelihood of privatization relatively low, history suggests that the market believes a Trump administration could potentially accomplish GSE privatization,’ George wrote in a note.” [Sub required]

32) Oregon: “Multnomah County officials announced that shelter demand Tuesday night was the highest one-night total in local history, but then said they would not open shelters tonight because conditions no longer met the threshold,” Aaron Mesh of Willamette Week reports. “When asked by WW whether county officials feared the decision would jeopardize the safety of people sleeping outdoors, Comnes said the county hands out “tents, sleeping bags, TriMet passes, dry clothes and shoes, along with information and resources about other shelter options and warm spaces” to people leaving the cold-weather shelters. ‘In addition to the severe-weather beds that open only when weather thresholds are met,’ she added, ‘the Joint Office, Multnomah County and the city of Portland also support more than 2,500 shelter beds that are open every night this winter, no matter the forecast.’”

33) Texas: Longtime employees are retiring from the Federal Correctional Institution (FCI) at Three Rivers, The Progress(Beesville) reports. “FCI is hiring, and several employees in attendance said that working at the prison has been a great career move. Not only does the federal system offer great benefits and opportunities for advancement, but there are also job opportunities in a variety of areas, such as accounting, health and safety, food service and maintenance. Associate Warden John Jury commented that the holiday season is an especially difficult time for inmates. They will be receiving a special meal and a gift basket that they can use or send to their families.”

34) Revolving Door News: Government Executive reports that “Janice Underwood, who serves as the governmentwide chief diversity officer and as director of the Office of Personnel Management’s Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Accessibility office, will be vice president of diversity, equity and inclusion talent outreach and development at Disney.”

35) Useful Resource/International/U.K./Think Tanks: “Government Outsourcing: When and How to Bring Public Services Back into Government Hands: Bringing Back Services from the Private Sector to Government Hands Can Improve Quality, Increase Reliability, and Save Money,” (2020) by Nick Davies, Tom Sasse, Sarah Nickson, and Colm Britchfield for the Institute for Government. “This report identifies four circumstances in which the government should consider returning a service to the public sector: an unhealthy or uncompetitive market; the need for flexibility to make changes to the service; a lack of government commercial skills to manage an outsourced contract successfully; or a need to improve the service by integrating it with another.”

Everything Else

36) National: Private equity firms (many of which have gobbled up public services and infrastructure assets) are reportedly boosting profit reports despite a sharp downturn in dealmaking. What gives? Lydia Moynihan of the New York Post explains. “Some market watchers, however, are concerned that continuation funds will send valuations to artificially high levels since the companies in the portfolio don’t have to be evaluated for an IPO or another more public forum. ‘The way they maintain fiction is they bring almost none of their companies to market,’ Eileen Appelbaum, Co-Director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research said. ‘If any of these funds brought them to market they’d have to reevaluate all the companies in the portfolio.’ Mikkel Svenstrup, CIO of Danish pension fund ATP has already said all the circular deals put PE firms in danger of becoming ‘pyramid schemes.’ ‘Everyone can see it’s just financial engineering,’ Hooke adds. ‘But all the people who work at these pension funds and investment vehicles need to justify their existence.’”

37) National: The Nation’s legal correspondent, Elie Mystal, says the Supreme Court is about to make a bonfire of the public interest. “We are witnessing the biggest judicial power grab since 1803,” says Mystal. “During a major hearing this week, the conservative justices made clear they’re about to gut the federal government’s power to regulate—and take that power for themselves.”

It could get very bad. “And those are just the new cases. Prelogar and Justice Elena Kagan brought up the thousands and thousands of cases (over 17,000, according to briefs submitted to the court) that have been decided on Chevron grounds over the past 40 years. Potentially all of them could be up for re-argument should the court overrule Chevron. The conservative super lawyer Paul Clement, who was arguing against Chevron deference, promised this wouldn’t happen, but his reasoning was hypocritically thin. He said courts would still respect the precedents that happened under Chevron, even as he was arguing out of the other side of his mouth that the court should ignore the very precedent set by Chevron. His argument reduces to: ‘The leopards we unleash will only eat the right faces.’”

38) National: A private, for-profit American company’s moon lander has burned up in the Earth’s atmosphere. On the other hand, the government agencies are having their own troubles.

39) National: The newly formed Fan Alliance is joining the fight against the misuse of AI. “One of the first campaigns Fan Alliance has joined is the Human Artistry Campaign (HAC) that’s taking on A.I. for creatives.” Donald Cohen says The Human Artistry Campaign came together because “creative works shape our identity, values, and worldview.” I agree. It’s why I created Fan Alliance. Sign up.

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