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- Women’s work is the backbone of the global economy.
- Deficit and debt hawks are are preparing “a PR campaign for a new [federal] Simpson-Bowles commission.”
- The myth of “unnecessary” federal aid to state and local governments.
1) National: “It’s been a major shift. People have gone from being anti-government, to beyond being even neutral on it, to thinking: ‘We need the government; it has to help us,’” said former Congressman Barney Frank (D-MA), who helped craft Congress’ response to the financial crisis and Great Recession. “You have a new consensus in America—that the government has an important role, and that Ronald Reagan was wrong. For the first time in my lifetime, people are saying that the government has done too little rather than doing too much.”
2) National/International: As we mark International Women’s Day, the Coalition of Labor Union Women (CLUW) and the Solidarity Center are holding a meeting on women’s work as the backbone of the global economy. Women union leaders from Colombia, Ghana, Palestine, Ukraine and the U.S. will discuss how the world’s ever-essential women workers are organizing around the globe to promote and defend the rights of women workers to equality, good jobs and an end to violence and abuse. Speakers include Koren M. Parker, President, CLUW Philadelphia Chapter and Staff Representative, AFSCME Council 13, and Liz Shuler, AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer. The event will be moderated by CLUW National President Elise Bryant, who served as bargaining unit chair at the National Labor College for eight years and is a longstanding member of the Communications Workers of America (CWA)/The News Guild (TNG).
Even the International Monetary Fund is weighing in with a plea for the essential role of gender-based government budgeting to try and address the massive and disproportionate impact of the pandemic on women.
“Government actions work. Examples abound of the disproportionate impact of lockdown policies on women and girls: one million Japanese women left the labor market when the pandemic hit, while labor force participation by men changed far less. In Chile, 76 percent of women reported spending more time on domestic chores since COVID-19 began. Mexico saw a 53 percent increase in emergency calls related to violence against women. The Malala Fund estimates that 20 million girls in developing countries may never return to the classroom after pandemic-related school shutdowns. Bad as this is, it could have been even worse but for government actions. The UN’s COVID-19 Global Gender Response Tracker shows countries enacted nearly 1,000 policy measures to address challenges related to gender. These include paid leave for women, job protection measures, more flexible work, and income/in-kind support for the vulnerable households.”
3) National: With the rescue plan heading into conference committee and seemingly on the verge of passing in one form or another, the specter of a center-right austerity onslaught on the idea of active government is haunting the prospects for recovery. Although the “cold grip of austerity” has been slightly loosened under President Biden, the deficit and debt hawks are still out there and are preparing “a PR campaign for a new Simpson-Bowles commission.”
“It’s disappointing,” writes Brendan O’Connor in the New Republic, “that while the Biden administration and the bulk of congressional Democrats have reckoned with the centrist conventional wisdom’s decades of failure, they have not quit for good. Even as they push the latest spending package through the reconciliation process, sidestepping Mitch McConnell and the GOP’s deficit-concern trolling, they can’t help negotiating with themselves. They should know better. It’s time for the Democrats to take a truly responsible approach to the federal budget.”
“If conservatives ignore austerity when they’re in power but Democrats embrace it when they take control,” says Jared Bernstein of the White House Council of Economic Advisers , “then conservatives will consistently meet the demands of their constituents in the donor class while Democrats consistently fail to meet the needs of their constituents.”
Writing for The Groundwork Collaborative, Sara Hinckley says rebuilding the public sector will be essential for economic recovery and resilience. “The disaster unfolding now is not just a result of policy failures over the past eleven months; it is the result of decades of disinvestment and austerity, accelerated during the Great Recession, which made us more vulnerable to this crisis. Local, state, and national austerity set the country up for a harsh, prolonged, and profoundly unequal recession. We face a pivotal moment now: we can repeat those mistakes, leaving us more vulnerable to future crises, or we can build back our public sector to make us more economically resilient.” Hinckley writes that California can’t afford to repeat the Great Recession. State spending is critical to economic recovery.
4) National: Mary Kay Henry of SEIU has some choice words for those who tanked a $15 federal minimum wage. “Today a Senate full of many millionaires voted to keep 32M in poverty when they opposed @SenSanders’ amendment. Working people elected this administration & Congress to #RaiseTheWage to $15. We will hold accountable those who hold us back, regardless of party. The Senate has no excuses for failing workers on $15. A minimum wage any lower than that is an endorsement of children going hungry, families struggling to keep the lights on, forcing moms and dads to choose between asthma inhalers & the rent. It is an intentional decision to keep workers in poverty while corporations make billions. It’s shameful—and the workers who elected you to #RaiseTheWage won’t forget it. Let’s be clear: we elected this administration and Congress to #RaiseTheWage to $15. We cannot build back better without $15. Every senator who voted against $15 should spend a day w/ a fast-food or home care worker. Part of your duty to the American people is to understand the inherent dignity & worth of all work—& the reality of the struggle of too many who cannot get by on poverty wages. Workers have ALWAYS been essential. You cannot praise these heroes in one breath and condemn them to poverty in the next. #RaiseTheWage NOW.”
5) National: Federal hiring and workforce reforms have been included in Biden’s immigration package. “New employees hired by Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement would receive onboarding training regarding accountability, standards for professional and ethical conduct, and oversight. The training would focus on community policing, cultural awareness and strategies for interacting with vulnerable populations. All employees would have a “continuing education” requirement for training on individuals’ civil and constitutional rights as well as the department’s use-of-force policies. Homeland Security would have to develop the use-of-force policies in conjunction with law enforcement and civil rights groups to protect ‘public safety and national security.’ The department would be required to issue a public report within 24 hours of any use-of-force incident that resulted in serious injury or death.”
6) National: How will the new Secretary of Labor, Marty Walsh, balance the competing interests and objectives of different sections of the labor movement? Jason Pramas, executive director of the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, has some insights. “With damned good reason, as I think I’ve made clear. I certainly hold out hope that Walsh, being a decent guy from a working-class family with a track record of responding to public pressure on some labor issues, will change course and use his position to be a true champion of all of America’s working people now that he’s getting some real power. But for now, it’s just that: hope.”
7) Pennsylvania: State preemption is being challenged. Philadelphia and three other municipalities, filed suit against the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the Pennsylvania legislature, claiming the legislature unconstitutionally deprived the municipalities of their right to pass ordinances on single-use plastics. “Narberth, West Chester and Philadelphia previously enacted plastic bag restrictions to improve their community environments. Lower Merion stated the community is interested in pursuing a similar ordinance. These municipalities expressed concerns over the effects of the legislature’s action, explaining their “communities [will] continue to suffer the health, environmental, aesthetic, and financial impacts of plastic bag litter and pollution.” The municipalities claim the legislature violated three sections of the Pennsylvania Constitution.”
8) Pennsylvania: Borough leaders in New Stanton are seeking ways to stop decades-long population decline. “Rigone noted efforts by county partners, both nonprofits and those in the private sector, are helping to identify areas that need support in terms of population growth, meaning the county has ‘some very strong momentum moving forward.’ And while populations are smaller than they were a decade ago, Briem stressed that does not mean the county cannot still be successful. ‘Certain communities are smaller than they were at their peak, or in the past, but nonetheless can be very successful places, where families want to live or work or where new jobs are being created,’ Briem said. Looking forward, Rigone added, ‘We’re excited for the future, but this is a process that we have to be patient, we have to be persistent, we have to obviously look for partnerships to ensure we are successful.’”
9) Texas: Austin Council Member Paige Ellis sprang into action when the city lost power and water. “Ellis, a first-term lawmaker, spent the initial days of the storm keeping in touch with her staff (several of them also without water and power) and using her social media channels to disseminate information to residents. When water started to become scarce in her district, Ellis decided to do the seemingly impossible: track it down herself. ‘It was the most immediate need. We had people with babies trying to make formula when the whole city was out of water,’ she said.” Ted Cruz headed off to Cancun.
10) California: The Escondido Union School District board has unanimously rejected a five-year renewal for Epiphany Prep Charter School. The state deemed the school “low performing.” The Coast News reports that “‘the intent of the new legislation, AB 1505 was to put in place rigorous accountability measures for charter schools,’ said EUSD Superintendent Dr. Luis Rankins-Ibarra. ‘The responsibility for oversight and accountability rests on the shoulders of the chartering authority and in this case, the Escondido Union School District. Based on the law and the relevant facts, the board had a duty to utilize the accountability measurement set forth and deny the petition for a five-year renewal.’”
11) California: A Marin charter school regulator has been sidelined and is under investigation. “Two weeks ago, state education official Craig Heimbichner provided pivotal testimony to help Ross Valley Charter stay in business. Now Heimbichner’s credibility is under scrutiny after he was linked to anti-Semitic writings and conspiracy theories about the government. ‘This employee has been placed on paid administrative leave, effective immediately,’ Daniel Thigpen, a deputy superintendent at California Department of Education, said Thursday. ‘That’s pending the outcome of our investigation.’ Heimbichner, an education administrator for the department’s charter schools division, is under scrutiny for past writings that include anti-Semitic rhetoric about the Holocaust and speculations about Freemasons and 9/11, according to the Sacramento Bee.”
12) Illinois: The Chicago Teachers Union says the Passages Charter School is forcing teachers back to work without a safety agreement. “The union claims Asian Human Services, which runs Passages Charter School in Andersonville, broke off negotiations with the union after previously committing to a back-to-school agreement that would be based on scientific metrics including positivity rate and case counts. CTU’s deal with CPS does not cover charter schools, whose operators negotiate directly with the union. Teachers were caught off guard by an email Passages sent to parents last month announcing the school’s reopening on March 8, the union said, despite having no safety agreement in place. ‘Rank and file CTU educators have been horrified by management’s reversal of position, and are meeting Thursday evening to consider next steps, which could range from a grievance to a job action,’ the union said in a statement.”
13) Nevada: The state Charter School Authority “does not know how many of its approximately 2,200 charter school teachers have only a substitute teaching license.” But a legislative fix has been introduced. “Assembly Bill 109 would require Nevada charter schools to follow the same teacher licensure requirements school districts do. Existing law allows for up to 30% of a charter school’s teachers to be unlicensed, so long as they are not teaching certain subjects — such as English, math or special education. The other 70% must be licensed in the area they are teaching or have demonstrated subject matter expertise. Supporters of the bill see it as a leveling of the playing field and a principled statement on the importance of proper teaching credentials. The bill has no formal opponents yet.”
14) New Hampshire: The Union-Leader reports that “a local organization now tied to the conservative Hillsdale College is behind an effort to start a new charter school in the Monadnock Region. Barry Tanner with the Monadnock Classical Academy announced last week the school has been accepted into the Hillsdale Barney Charter School Initiative. Hillsdale, in Michigan, is a Christian college that declines federal funding. Tanner said while the school is applying to be eligible for state funding, it may not take the cash.”
For more on Hillsdale, see Alice Lloyd’s piece in Politico, “The College That Wants to Take Over Washington: Hillsdale College might be cozying up to Trump, but its acolytes are playing the long game.”
15) New Jersey: A Newark charter school is terminating its relationship with a school management group. Rev. Vincent Rouse “and other Marion P. Thomas board members claim BRICK has usurped their authority and failed to deliver on its promises. At a contentious public meeting Monday where Rouse barred Lee from speaking, the board voted not to renew its contract with BRICK after it ends in June. “The board was essentially ignored at times and in many ways couldn’t do anything,” Rouse said at the meeting. ‘Changes that were promised never materialized.’ (…) BRICK, which received a $10.5 million federal grant to open more of its own schools and turn around Marion P. Thomas, would lose a major funding stream and see its reach diminished.”
16) Pennsylvania: WHYY reports that the Philadelphia Board of Education has unanimously denied five new charter school applications “after hearing scathing critiques of all of them” from the district’s reviewers. “Christina Grant, head of the district’s charter school office, described all of the applications as deficient either in their planned academic program, operations, finances, or evidence of community support—sometimes in all four areas. The office doesn’t directly recommend denial or approval, but these evaluations had few positive things to say. The five schools were seeking to enroll more than 4,300 students. The district currently has 86 charter schools that enroll over 70,000 students, more than a third of the 200,000 total in the city’s publicly funded schools.”
17) Pennsylvania: Education groups are praising Gov. Tom Wolf’s (D) Charter School Accountability Plan. LEARN Pennsylvania Chair Frank Gallagher says “we are grateful that Governor Wolf and members of the General Assembly understand the urgent need for charter school funding reform for Pennsylvania taxpayers. This bipartisan proposal will end overpayments to charter schools that have driven up property taxes and preserve parent choice. The proposed legislation will save $229 million dollars for school districts this year; but more importantly it will finally address the biggest cost drivers in school district budgets. To continue on the current path is financially unsustainable. Our current funding system allows charter schools to divert resources meant for students with disabilities for other purposes. It also forces school districts to pay twice as much for cyber charter programs than we pay for our own remote learning programs. Neither is acceptable. Both must be changed.”
73 Montgomery County school directors are also advocating for charter school funding reform. “Each of us has been elected to oversee the wise use of tax dollars and ensure a quality education for every student in our district. Yet while we try to do our job, we find we have no control or oversight of the charter tuition that is siphoned away from our schools. Unfair and unreasonable mandates regarding cyber charter payments have meant that public schools have had to pay tuition far above the level that it costs to educate a cyber student. Even more egregious are the grossly inequitable special education charter rates that public schools are mandated to pay even for students who require very few services.”
18) Rhode Island: In an op-ed in Cranstononline.com, State Senators Sandra Cano and Ana B. Quezada say charter school expansion would leave most children behind. “Recently, the Board of Education granted preliminary approval of 5,835 more charter school seats. Any increase to the number of seats at charter schools inherently draws financial resources from traditional public schools, and the estimated fiscal impact of this expansion exceeds $90 million. The new and expanded charter schools would be funded through $25.4 million charged to the sending districts directly. Those sending districts would also forego state aid of approximately $66.9 million, which would instead be directed to the new charter schools. That is on top of the increased demand for resources from school district struggling due to the COVID-19 pandemic. These districts, which range from Pawtucket to Providence to Woonsocket to Warwick, simply cannot afford it.”
19) West Virginia: A charter school expansion bill is on the governor’s desk. “We’re concerned about the erosion of public funding,” AFT-WV President Fred Albert said. “We know that when children leave a public school to go to a charter school or a virtual charter school, they’re going to take funding with them. And we can’t afford to lose funding for our public schools.” The union is hoping Gov. Jim Justice shoots the bill down. ‘We’re hoping the best deal would be he would veto this charter school bill,’ Albert said.
20) National: Girard Miller of Governing says infrastructure needs a bottom-up bipartisan push and fast. “Quick action to line up meetings with senators and their staffs is imperative. In a vacuum, a knee-jerk conservative GOP caucus, coupled with legislative ground rules for an infrastructure bill, may stall progress for major construction-funding grants despite advocates’ endless urging for President Biden to ‘go big.’”
21) National: Public Works Financing is waxing rather more optimistic about the chances for some kind of big infrastructure plan. But if a bipartisan infrastructure deal cannot be crafted either on its own or through a transportation bill, their fallback position is—reconciliation. With all the reconciliation agony that has gone on over the past few weeks in DC, this seems rather desperate. In the last Congress McConnell put the kibosh on Trump’s multiple infrastructure weeks because he didn’t have the Republican votes and wanted to spend the money elsewhere. Does Chuck Schumer? Will the Senate Parliamentarian be on leave? We’ll see.
PWF is not deterred. “Absent Republican votes, Democrats can just pass something using reconciliation, which would likely be smaller in scope than then the largest infrastructure stimulus in US history. It was also a bit more stimulus than infrastructure, being passed in a major economic downturn. That is another commonality with the present situation. ARRA included more than $800 billion of total stimulus, including more than $48 billion for Department of Transportation initiatives. Of that funding, more than $27 billion went to Highway Administration initiatives and the majority of the remainder went to high‐speed rail, Amtrak, or the Federal Transit Administration. (…) Yet ARRA is often evaluated, positively or negatively, based on its track record as stimulus rather than its track record as infrastructure. Biden himself has faulted ARRA along those lines recently – in a speech in early February, he stated that ARRA ‘wasn’t quite big enough. It stemmed the crisis, but the recovery could have been faster and even bigger.’” [Public Works Financing, February 2021; sub required]
22) National: Shiney Varghese, a senior policy analyst with the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, writes about the mounting pressure on the Biden administration to prioritize the Water Affordability, Transparency, Equity and Reliability (WATER) Act. “As it is, decades of underinvestment in water infrastructure have been plaguing America’s drinking water systems. The Guardian reported last week that federal funding for water systems has fallen by 77% in real terms since its peak in 1977. This has left local utilities scrambling to raise funds to pay for infrastructure upgrades, comply with safety standards for toxic contaminants such as Per-and Polyfluorinated Substances (PFAS), lead and algae blooms, and adapt to extreme weather conditions like drought and floods linked to global heating.”
And the federal government has a role to play in water equity too, says Chris Shaffner, senior vice president of the Water and Community Facilities division at CoBank, a national cooperative bank. “States and localities drive over 95% of public spending on water infrastructure annually, so it follows that discussions around waterworks spending and the affordability of service often begin and end at the local level. But federal officials also have a role to play and should provide more coordinated and regional-focused water financing policy direction and increased financial support. States and municipalities petitioning the federal government for assistance is a good start—particularly for customer assistance programs. Those programs promise to help bolster providers’ financial capacity as they expand their affordability efforts.”
23) National: How will the pandemic’s effects on traffic levels affect project financing, public or private? Route Fifty has some numbers. “There were sharp differences in how much drivers in each state hit the road last year in the months after the coronavirus pandemic struck, according to a recent analysis. Bumper.com, a company that provides vehicle history reports, examined 2020 Apple Maps data to learn which states and cities saw the greatest increases and decreases in driving, public transportation use and walking. To assess the pandemic’s effect on drivers in the U.S., Bumper looked at average weekly levels of driving in states for most of last year and compared those metrics to the first three months of 2020, before the virus upended daily life.
As it turns out, drivers in states like Montana and South Dakota saw an increase of over 60% in driving, while the opposite was true in states like Florida and California, where driving decreased by 15%. Looking at the U.S. overall, driving and walking had returned to roughly pre-pandemic levels by November, according to the report. In contrast, public transit ridership was still less than half of where it was before the pandemic began.”
Have a look at the interesting Bumper chart on U.S. weekly average driving, walking and transit. Will project proposals for so-called public-private partnership megaprojects have reliable and publically available traffic projections to back up their revenue projections?
24) California: A lawsuit has revealed new allegations against a PG&E contractor accused of fraud, ProPublica reports. “A new court filing by PG&E alleges that in exchange for these kickbacks, the employees provided lucrative clean-up jobs to Hayward-based Bay Area Concrete Recycling. The allegations track closely with the results of an investigation last year by ProPublica and the Bay City News Foundation, which found that PG&E had overlooked numerous warning signs when it hired Bay Area Concrete.”
25) International: “Austerity is alive and well, and giving public services a kicking,” Phillip Inman writes in the Guardian. “Local government, cultural organisations and unloved departments such as Justice have received bailouts that make up some of the shortfall in pandemic spending, but nothing like enough. (…) When the Environment Agency, the Crown Prosecution Service and the Health & Safety Executive have to go on operating with a skeleton workforce, while the Victoria & Albert museum and Tate galleries need to cut staff to pull back from the brink of insolvency, then austerity is a way of life.”
26) International: CUPE 998, which represents approximately 900 clerical and technical staff at Manitoba Hydro, says that a report by former Saskatchewan premier Brad Wall has opened the door to privatization in Manitoba Hydrothrough the use of public-private partnerships (P3s), the sale of entire divisions of the provincial public utility, and the introduction of private companies to generate electricity in Manitoba. “Pallister’s approach to privatizing Manitoba Hydro is about taking one slice at a time,” says Michelle Bergen, President of CUPE 998. “This government is carving off pieces of our Crown Corporation for sale, winding down subsidiaries, and now potentially introducing P3s to our hydro infrastructure and allowing private, for-profit generation of electricity.”
Criminal Justice and Immigration
27) National: President Biden needs to keep his promises on immigration, write Robert P. Alvarez and Uma Nagarajan-Swenson of the Institute for Policy Studies. “After an abundance of evidence from Freedom for Migrants and other immigrant rights watchdogs, and a massive USA Today investigation detailing the horrific nature of ICE detention centers, Biden has no excuse for exempting ICE from his ban on federal use of private prisons. (…) Biden must immediately stop the detention of unaccompanied migrant children, and issue another executive order expanding the scope of his original ban on private prisons to include private detention centers under the jurisdiction of DHS and ICE. We can’t afford to waste time. The documented abuses and meteoric rise in deaths in ICE custody, including under Biden’s watch, make that painfully clear.”
28) Wisconsin: No news is good news. “Unlike previous years, there is no movement afoot in the state Legislature or in the Appleton community to campaign for the re-opening of the Prairie Correctional Facility,” which is owned by CoreCivic and stands empty.
29) National: Amanda Kass and Philip Rocco take on the myth of ‘unnecessary’ federal aid to state and local governments. “Critics of President Biden’s plan to allocate $350 billion in federal aid to state and local governments have argued that this money is largely unnecessary due to the recovering economy as well as unspent millions “under the couch cushions.” Yet the notion that subnational governments don’t need additional support is a myth, premised on a highly selective interpretation of the data and a refusal to acknowledge the hollowing out of state and local government capacity over the last few decades, particularly in the areas of public health and education.”
30) National: COVID-19 revealed how sick the U.S. health care delivery system really is, Elizabeth A. Regan of the University of South Carolina reports in The Conversation. “If you got the COVID-19 shot, you likely received a little paper card that shows you’ve been vaccinated. Make sure you keep that card in a safe place. There is no coordinated way to share information about who has been vaccinated and who has not. That is just one of the glaring flaws that COVID-19 has revealed about the U.S. health care system: It does not share health information well. Coordination between public health agencies and medical providers is lacking. Technical and regulatory restrictions impede use of digital technologies. To put it bluntly, our health care delivery system is failing patients. Prolonged disputes about the Affordable Care Act and rising health care costs have done little to help; the problems go beyond insurance and access.”
31) Maryland: State lawmakers stripped the word racism out of a bill on racism. “At first, the bill addressing the role of racism in health disparities in Maryland laid out the context plainly: ‘Racism is rooted in the foundation of America, from the time chattel slavery began in the 1600s, to the Jim Crow era, to the declaration of the war on drugs that eventually led to the mass incarceration of Black people, and it has remained a presence in American society while subjecting Black, Indigenous, and People of Color to hardships and disadvantages in every aspect of life.’ But after Republicans and some conservative Democrats quietly complained, lawmakers struck all 11 references to racism, past and present.”
32) National: Will dozens of cities lose their metropolitan statistical area designation? Concern is mounting. “A committee of representatives from federal statistical agencies recently made the recommendations to the Office of Management and Budget, saying it’s purely for statistical purposes and not to be used for funding formulas. As a practical matter, however, that is how it’s often used.”
33) International: Italy’s government is outsourcing its economic strategy to private management consultants McKinsey, Jacobin reports. “The suggestion that this is a purely ‘technical’ collaboration—that McKinsey’s choices will not be political—is patently absurd, not least given that this claim is also widely made for Draghi’s ‘technical’ government itself. For decades, the imposition of neoliberal recipes in Italy has been advanced through this same procedure, with the agenda advanced by privatizers couched in the dogma of ‘unavoidable choices.’”
But McKinsey is not only facing scrutiny from progressives. In a remarkable series of stories over the past few weeks, including one about how McKinsey allegedly helped “turbocharge” opioid addiction, The Financial Times has taken the consulting behemoth to task. “The opioid litigation was no isolated challenge to McKinsey’s golden reputation. Coming on the heels of hostile headlines about its work from South Africa to Saudi Arabia, it has raised a question its trusted advisers might ask a troubled client: is ‘the firm,’ as insiders know it, suffering from more profound cultural or leadership problems?” Letitia James, New York’s attorney-general, said “McKinsey knew where the money was coming from and they zeroed right in on it.” [Sub required]
Photo by The National Guard.