- Purple Train, Purple Train–more on the troubled P3 Purple Line
- Anti-Social Security Behavior: Can Republicans be Trusted?
- Hospital sector privatization makes for healthy profits, not people
First, the Good News…
1) National/Florida: The Hill reports that a Chicago-based publishing house “will offer free e-books focused on Black history after the College Board revised its Advanced Placement African American studies course earlier this month. And Haymarket Books has Florida, specifically, in its sights. The College Board’s revisions came after Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) refused to allow the class in Florida high schools. In the revised course, the subjects of Black queer studies, intersectionality and activism, the reparations movement, and Black scholars associated with critical race theory have been removed. ‘Black conservatism’ was added as a potential research topic. Now, Haymarket Books, a ‘radical publisher of politics, culture, current events,’ said DeSantis and the “complicit College Board” have left it with no choice.” Check out Haymarket’s YouTube channel.
2) National: “Governors and mayors will have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to transform their economies in the months and years ahead,” says the Center for American Progress (CAP). CAP and the Center for Innovative Policy held a three hour conference where governors and mayors discussed their plans for economic development and transformation. [Video]
3) National: States are trying to reverse a critical shortage of paramedics and EMTs. “‘The public doesn’t see where there’s no one in the station, and volunteer services are trying to muster a crew,’ said Dia Gainor, executive director of the National Association of State EMS Officials and former director of the Idaho EMS office for 19 years. (…) One idea is to expand the EMS workforce pool by age. As states felt the workforce pinch and began looking for younger clinicians, the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians, which tests and certifies EMTs, in 2019 eliminated any age requirement for certification. It had been 18. At least six states have lowered the minimum age for EMT training to 16 or 17, according to NCSL. New Jersey, for example, allows 16-year-olds to enroll in training with parental consent. Indiana passed a law last year to allow retired emergency service personnel and some students to qualify for temporary licenses.”
4) National: Lee Saunders, the president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, has nominated Ellice Barbarash, senior health and safety advocate, to the U.S. Department of Labor’s National Advisory Committee on Occupational Safety and Health. “In her current role as a Senior Health and Safety Advocate at AFSCME, Ellie advises AFSCME affiliate unions on a wide variety of health and safety issues,” Saunders said. “Her responsibilities include training AFSCME members and peer trainers on workplace safety and health topics. Ellie has over 20 years of professional health and safety experience in which she has managed programs that engage and empower frontline service workers.” [Targeted News Service, February 10, 2023; no link yet.]
5) National: Senators Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) and Edward Markey (D-MA) have introduced legislation to protect and support Community Television. “The legislation would undo Trump-era rulemaking by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and ensure that public, educational, and government (PEG) channels have the resources they need to keep producing content for their viewers.”
6) Minnesota: The Minnesota House has passed a bill providing free breakfast and lunch to all students. “The vote was 70-58. ‘We’re going to give them the tools they need to succeed in school and that means food,’ said Rep. Sydney Jordan, DFL-Minneapolis. The federal government pays for free or reduced priced meals but there are income limits for who qualifies. Under this bill, the state would pick up the tab for the difference of covering everyone else, which is estimated to be $388 million in the next two-year budget. (…) California, Maine, and Colorado have taken similar steps to provide universal school meals, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.”
7) New Mexico: A bill to create a state agency that would assist the state to transition away from oil and gas has passed its first committee. “During HB 188’s first hearing, [Angelica Rubio] argued the legislation was needed for a “just transition” in New Mexico to a more diverse economy and less-pollutive forms of energy. She grew up in Lake Arthur about 10 minutes from Artesia in the southeast region, and said she knew well the impacts of fluctuating oil and gas markets on the economies of frontline communities. ‘A lot of my family and friends are still very much directly or indirectly impacted by the highs and the lows of the oil and gas industry,’ Rubio said. ‘This work is very, very important.’” Read the bill.
8) California: State officials have proposed a new Western Joshua Tree Conservation Act, legislation that “could streamline permitting for new housing, renewable energy developments, and other construction that would harm or destroy the iconic trees, in exchange for payment of funds to acquire broad-scale habitat for them elsewhere.”
9) Oregon: State lawmakers are trying to expand access to the overdose reversal medication naloxone/Narcan in response to the fentanyl crisis. “We want to build infrastructure across the state that allows people to get access in their communities. It could be a fire station, it could be a public library, it could be a bar or restaurant,” said state Rep. Maxine Dexter, a physician who represents Portland’s west side in the legislature. Municipal first responder budgets have been stretched across the country by the increasing need for the drug. “Narcan nasal spray and other forms of naloxone can be expensive—between $75 and $150 for two doses—so the cost for businesses, public agencies and individuals will depend on Oregon’s bulk purchasing cost and subsequent offer for distribution.”
10) Wisconsin: Gov. Tony Evers (D) has backed a major funding boost for cities and counties. “His plan involves sharing 20 percent of state sales tax collections with localities and giving them more latitude to raise taxes. (…) For years now, Evers said in a statement, Wisconsin localities ‘have been forced to do more with less. They’ve had to make impossible decisions about what essential services to fund in our communities, having to choose between paying for first responders, addressing PFAS, fixing the roads, and other critical priorities,’ added the governor, who was elected to a second term in November. ‘The state must fulfill our obligation to ensure our local partners can meet basic and unique community needs.’”
11) International: Nearly a million people took to the streets of cities across France over the weekend during the fourth round of nationwide protests against President Emmanuel Macron’s plan to raise the country’s pension eligibility age from 62 to 64. “One teen protesting in the capital’s Place de la République carried a placard reading, ‘I don’t want my parents to die at work.’ Others held banners declaring, ‘No to working longer,’ ‘Not one year more, not one euro less,’ and other slogans.” Let’s see what happens here if the GOP decides to attack Social Security.
12) International/Think Tanks: The European Network on Debt and Development (EURODAD), the Brussels-based anti-privatization NGO, has released the second edition of their terrific overview of the risks and inefficiencies of so-called public-private partnerships (P3s). “History RePPPeated II—Why Public-Private Partnerships are not the solution. [Here’s the link to the first report, done in 2018, which is still well worth reading].
“According to Eurodad’s estimates, since 2012 the amount of money invested in PPP projects in the global south has been volatile. The onset of the pandemic in March 2020 led to a drastic decline in investments in PPP projects, in line with the slowdown in the global economy—from US$99 billion to US$57 billion, which represents a 42 percent decline. While in 2021 there were signs of recovery (US$63 billion), this is still not enough to anticipate an upward trend. However, the intense promotion of private finance in development, and of PPPs in particular, by Multilateral Development Banks (MDBs)—and increasingly also by the International Monetary Fund (IMF)—is leading to substantial reforms in developing countries’ laws and regulatory and policy environments at the national and local level. Many developing countries have enacted PPP laws and have set up ‘PPP Units’ to scale up their capacities to implement PPP projects. This suggests a problematic redefinition of the policy space for public service provision, which seems to be focused on attracting private investors.” (p. 4)
The report concludes with a call for policy vigilance and public action to support a renewed push for public control of public goods. “At a very general level, our findings illustrate some of the most common problems associated with PPPs. They illustrate the complexity of the PPP phenomenon, as part of the increasing financialisation of infrastructure and public service provision. This evidence raises serious red flags about the capacity of PPPs to deliver results in the public interest and calls for an active civil society engagement in demand of a change of course.” (p. 47)
13) National/Florida: The College Board’s excuse that its decision to axe major pieces of Black history and analysis, including from the top national and international experts on the subject, from its Black History AP course, was independently arrived at without consideration of political pressure was completely blown out of the water last week when The New York Times ran a devastating piece documenting the private organization’s repeated meetings with right wing Florida officials who are attempting to take Florida education back to Jim Crow days.
Dr. Ivory A. Toldson, national director of Education Innovation and Research for the NAACP asks “Should African Americans Trust the College Board with African American Studies?” He writes, “The College Board, a nonprofit organization that administers the SAT, has been accused of racism since its inception. In 1901, the Board was created in order to standardize college admissions across the United States. However, from the very beginning, the Board has been dominated by wealthy white men who have used it to advantage themselves and their families.” Here again, as in many cases of privatization, a lack of accountability to the public hides behind a “private” label.
Writing in The Hechinger Report, Nicole Tucker-Smith, the founder and CEO of Lessoncast and an adjunct faculty member for Johns Hopkins University School of Education, writes that The College Board is sanitizing African American studies just as it has American history.
“While the College Board’s failure to stand firm in offering a representative and inclusive African American studies course is disheartening, we shouldn’t be surprised. Similar sanitization runs rampant in its AP American history course. For example, in a practice item for the AP American history exam, the reference text from “The American Pageant” states that “the northward migration of African-Americans accelerated after the war, thanks to the advent of the mechanical cotton-picker, an invention whose impact rivaled that of Eli Whitney’s cotton gin. … Overnight the Cotton South’s historic need for cheap labor disappeared.
“In this context for a test question, the mechanical cotton-picker is cited as the main reason for the Great Migration of African American people. That is a sanitized, amnesia-inflicted account of one of America’s most important movements of people. The driving force for the Great Migration was to obtain freedom from mass racial violence—including lynchings — and the Jim Crow laws that underpinned it. Naming the mechanical cotton-picker as the cause for the Great Migration tells the story of African Americans through a ‘whitewashed’ perspective.”
14) National: “Bills to roll back child labor protections aren’t *just* about filling job openings,” writes Jennifer Berkshire. “These are the legislators who blame schools for turning kids into socialists. One solution: get them out of school and into (non-union) workplaces as young as possible.” For more see Jacob Bogage, “In a tight labor market, some states look to another type of worker: Children,” in the Washington Post. “The Iowa proposal would also expand hours teenagers can work during the school year, and would shield businesses from civil liability if a youth worker is sickened, injured or killed on the job.”
Child Labor law was strengthened in 1938, when the Fair Labor Standards Act restricted child labor to 40 hours a week, and restricted children under 16 from working in manufacturing plants and mining. The Supreme Court upheld the law three years later. The Wage and Hour Division of the U.S. Department of Labor currently enforces a plethora of regulations against the exploitation of children by private corporations.
15) National: Public school enrollment dropped by at least 1.2 million during the pandemic, and now some information is surfacing about where they went. Stanford Prof. Thomas Dee is filling in some of the blanks. “Long lags in national data reporting mean little is yet known about the learning environments of the disproportionately young children whose families avoided public schools during the pandemic. Currently, official federal statistics do not even provide basic data on private school or home-school enrollment beyond 2019. My research, done collaboratively with The Associated Press and data journalists at Stanford University’s Big Local News, addresses this issue. (…) Some students, particularly the youngest, clearly turned to private schools during the pandemic. In the 34 jurisdictions with available data, private school enrollment grew by over 140,000 students between the 2019-20 and 2021-22 school years. However, this increase only explains a modest amount—roughly 14 percent—of the corresponding decline in public school enrollment. A more surprising finding is the robust growth of home-schooling during this period. An early Census Bureau survey reported that home-schooling increased soon after the pandemic began. Our data show this initial increase endured into the 2021-22 school year when most public schools returned to in-person instruction.”
16) Ohio: Jeanne Melvin, a retired educator who spent 36 years as a central Ohio public school teacher, says Ohio can’t afford to prioritize private and charter schools over fully-funded public schools. “Most of Ohio’s charter schools, mislabeled as ‘community schools’ in Ohio Revised Code, have become,” she writes, “nonprofits in name only run by those who cash in on educating kids. Since the pandemic, more than half of all Ohio charter schools are run by for-profit corporations, enrolling 60% of all of our state’s charter school students. Many of these corporate operators are located out-of-state, ignoring both federal regulations and Ohio laws that say funding should go to public schools that are nonprofit organizations operated for children, not for personal enrichment. Accel, the fourth largest for-profit chain in the nation, is rapidly expanding by buying up failing Ohio charter schools owned by other for-profits.”
17) Tennessee: Despite a lack of evidence of success, a private school voucher expansion plan has cleared the first hurdlein the Senate Education Committee. “But Senate Minority Leader Raumesh Akbari said it’s too soon to broaden a new state program that’s intended as a pilot to see if education savings accounts are effective. ‘I don’t think there’s been enough time to even see if it will be successful,’ said Akbari, a Memphis Democrat who voted ‘no’ with Republican Sen. Joey Hensley of Hohenwald. ‘I was opposed to it being piloted in Shelby County and in Davidson County as well,’ Akbari added.”
18) Texas: The Texas Teacher Retirement System, which underpins retirement security for the Lone Star State’s educators, is investing more money in the private, for-profit prison company GEO Group. Now would be a great time for some people to read Texas Appleseed’s 200-page report on the school to prison pipeline in Texas, or, if they don’t have the time, ACLU of Texas’ 24-page report on the subject.
19) National/Maryland: Donald Cohen, executive director of In the Public Interest, takes a look at the sorry record of the Montgomery County Purple Line, a so-called public-private partnership that has experienced years of delays, cost overruns, and forced contract renegotiations as it limps along toward its mid-2027 opening (target) date. “‘Privatization follows the money,’ I wrote in my book, The Privatization of Everything. ‘When we look to private capital to help solve infrastructure funding problems, those private interests putting up the money will inevitably guide public projects to the places that are most profitable for them.’ What’s worse is that the public loses control over an essential public good, for decades. That control is handed over to a private entity that gets power and authority over our future—and less accountability to the public it serves. P3s can also add unnecessary costs to a project. Besides the higher price for private capital, just think of the billable legal hours all along the way for each of the private parties involved in a 36-year project with an 876-page original contract—which has since been amended—that governs the Purple Line P3. When costs rise, companies are tempted to cut corners and relax labor standards.”
On a minor note (at least for now) a new report raises questions about whether the semi-privatized Purple Line could conflict with future ideas about expanding the regional MARC train service. “A nearly 8-mile section between Silver Spring and Union Station face conflicts from Metro’s Red Line and MTA’s own planned Purple Line, while existing development, infrastructure and Metro facilities would complicate adding a third track between Twinbrook and Shady Grove in Montgomery County.” While yet another report expresses hope that the light rail project will hit its targets, Gov. Wes Moore’s appointment of Paul Wiedefeld (a veteran of HDR and Parsons Brinckerhoff) as state transportation secretary, who just left his perch at the Washington Metro Area Transportation Agency after a bumpy tenure, leaves more questions than answers.
20) National: The White House has released a fact sheet explaining what the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law has achieved over the past year. “Since the last State of the Union, the Administration has surpassed those ambitious goals. This includes launching over 3,700 bridge repair and replacement projects across the country, beginning repair of over 69,000 miles of roadway, awarding funds for over 3,000 new clean transit and school buses, increasing enrollment in the Affordable Connectivity Program to over 16 million households, and approving state plans for water funding, EV charging networks and high-speed internet deployment.”
21) Oregon: How do you balance the need for sustainability in public stewardship of forests and the revenue needs of private timber companies and municipalities to support public services? Oregon is grappling with the issues.
22) International: There’s a rather major privatization story that is invisible in the mainstream U.S. media (though Bloomberg and the Wall Street Journal have taken a stab at covering the crisis and the infrastructure angle), which is that one of India’s largest companies, Adani Group, which has scooped up massive amounts of public infrastructure assets such as ports, electricity assets, airports and green energy—often in the teeth of fierce public resistance—is teetering on the brink after a short selling firm produced a devastating report essentially claiming that the multi-billion dollar company is a house of cards. Should things really go south for Adani, the litigation and public policy debate over its enormous privatized state assets will be amazing. [Subs required].
23) National: Paul Waldman, a columnist for the Washington Post and senior writer for The American Prospect, says the Republican Party cannot be trusted on Social Security despite their howls of outrage after President Biden called them out for wanting to end the program. “The trouble is, Republicans haven’t earned a whole lot of trust when it comes to programs that were created by Democrats, and that have been sustained and defended by Democrats in the face of decades of Republican attacks.” Former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich also warns against Republican Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s promises on Social Security and Medicare. He offers “10 reasons why you shouldn’t believe him.”
24) National: AFSCME President Lee Saunders applauds President Biden’s State of the Union address but says more needs to be done. “President Biden clearly understands that a strong economy depends on a strong labor movement. But the job isn’t done. We still need to overhaul labor law in this country so workers who want to form a union can finally do so. That means passing the PRO Act and the Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act. To keep our economy moving in the right direction, Congress must pursue a clean vote to raise the debt ceiling and continue to ensure that the wealthy pay their fair share in taxes. Finally, the federal government must continue to make critical investments in the public services our communities depend on like child care and health care.”
25) National: Simply Wall Street, an online business media site, asserts that CoreCivic, the private, for-profit prison and immigration detention corporate, might shrink due to low return on capital employed.
26) Georgia/National: Kamau Franklin, an attorney, civil rights activist, and founder of Community Movement Builders, says it is important to consider the privatized nature of Atlanta’s proposed “Cop City.” “They’re not accountable to public officials because they are private corporations, private nonprofits. They get resources from corporations. Here, the Cop City endeavor is going to cost at least $90 million. $60 million of that has been raised through private donations through corporations. $30 million is from the city itself.””
27) Mississippi: Rep. Zakiya Summers (Mississippi House District 68), a guest columnist for Mississippi Free Press, says Mississippi needs tax credits for children and working families, not more tax cuts for the rich. “The legislative session has begun, and some of my colleagues in the Legislature, joined by Gov. Reeves, are pushing to expand what is already the state’s largest-ever income tax cut for the wealthy. Despite what some of my colleagues claim, these tax cuts will only help the rich get richer at the expense of Mississippi’s working families and children. They will not grow our economy. In fact, they’ll actually leave us vulnerable to tougher, longer economic downturns at a time when economists and experts say a recession is likely looming. The harm of these ill-conceived tax cuts is acute during a recession, but even without one, we know income-tax giveaways to the rich will worsen our already sky-high economic and racial inequality. Tax giveaways to the wealthy also mean less money for schools, clean water, roads and hospitals—all of which are vital to the success, health, and prosperity of kids, families and businesses.”
Meanwhile, “White Mississippi lawmakers moved closer Tuesday evening to creating a new system of unelected judges and prosecutors chosen by white officials to oversee a part of the majority-Black capital city.”
28) Missouri: The state’s largest workers compensation insurer is seeking to privatize itself. “No one spoke in opposition to the bill, which drew support from business organizations including Associated Industries of Missouri and the Columbia Chamber of Commerce, as well as insurance lobbyists. (…) Missouri Employers paid its workforce $33 million in salaries in 2021, according to the company’s financial statement. Owen said that he does not expect to personally receive a large benefit from privatization unless it succeeds in making the company more profitable.”
29) Think Tanks: The National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) has produced a working paper on The Impact of Privatization: Evidence from the Hospital Sector. “Privatization has been shown to increase growth and profitability of public firms. However, effects on consumers are understudied. We study potential trade-offs in the US hospital sector where public control declined by 42 percent over 1983–2019. Private operators may improve hospitals’ financial performance, but a focus on profitability may adversely affect access to care for certain patients. Using national data across all hospitals and patients, we study 258 hospital privatizations over the 2000–2018 period. Private operators improve profitability so that hospitals generate a modest surplus, primarily by increasing mean revenue per patient. However, this is partly achieved by differentially reducing the intake of low-income Medicaid patients, who are typically less profitable than other groups due to lower reimbursement rates. While other patients appear to be absorbed by neighboring hospitals, Medicaid patients experience an aggregate decline in utilization at the market-level, which we interpret as a decline in access to care. Hospital privatization therefore partially offsets the benefits of providing publicly funded health insurance through Medicaid, and our estimates imply it is quantitatively important. The aggregate decline in Medicaid volume is detected only in more concentrated hospital markets, suggesting market power is a key driver.”
30) Think Tanks: Contracting out is not such a great idea, says a new research report. “The assumption of new public management (NPM) that governments can lower costs and improve service quality through a market mechanism, such as competition, has been under debate over several decades. To test the NPM assumption, this study investigates the effects of contracting out on cost savings by analysing municipal solid waste management data collected in 25 local governments in the Republic of Korea over a period of 14 years. Contrary to the NPM assumption, this study suggests that contracting out does not necessarily result in cost savings but rather causes additional financial burden on citizens.” [Behind a $10 paywall]
31) Revolving Door News: Maximus, one of the largest government outsourcing companies in the country, has appointed Elisabeth Schmidt as one of the company’s new Senior Vice Presidents for Technology and Consulting Services. “In this role, Schmidt will guide the company’s delivery of comprehensive solutions for federal health agencies for improved citizen outcomes.” Schmidt’s previous roles include being a Managing Director with Accenture Federal Services, Senior Director with Eagle Hill Consulting, and most recently, Partner with IBM Consulting.
32) International: Oxfam has produced a new report on global inequality. “The richest 1 percent grabbed nearly two-thirds of all new wealth worth $42 trillion created since 2020, almost twice as much money as the bottom 99 percent of the world’s population, reveals a new Oxfam report today. During the past decade, the richest 1 percent had captured around half of all new wealth. “Survival of the Richest” is published on the opening day of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Elites are gathering in the Swiss ski resort as extreme wealth and extreme poverty have increased simultaneously for the first time in 25 years.”
“The World Bank says we are likely seeing the biggest increase in global inequality and poverty since WW2. Entire countries are facing bankruptcy, with the poorest countries now spending four times more repaying debts to rich creditors than on healthcare. Three-quarters of the world’s governments are planning austerity-driven public sector spending cuts—including on healthcare and education—by $7.8 trillion over the next five years. Oxfam is calling for a systemic and wide-ranging increase in taxation of the super-rich to claw back crisis gains driven by public money and profiteering.”
33) International: As it faces an economic and financial crisis, Egypt has launched a massive program to privatize public assets. “Egypt’s opaque business environment and the involvement of its military in so many sectors could continue to put off investors, said James Swanston, economist at London-based research firm Capital Economics. At the same time, the nearly 50% drop in the value of the Egyptian pound to the U.S. dollar in the past year has made prices far more attractive. ‘There will certainly be appetite given the fall in the currency,’ Mr. Swanston said.” [Sub required]