Unmaking the American Century VII: Disquiet on the North Carolina FrontBy
During the post-September 11 panic, the radical right-wing pundits like Mark Steyn peddled fears that Muslims with their high birthrate might overrun western civilization and forcibly convert America to Islam. Now that they’ve gained the upper hand in the North Carolina General Assembly (NCGA), radical right legislators (and their oligarch backers) are determined to forcibly convert state property and services purchased with public money into private profit. (Remember Russia?) For a quick buck, carpetbagging worshipers of the Golden Calf are flexing their muscles in Raleigh to demolish what North Carolinians built over the last half century.
For all their contempt for “the 47 percent” and “makers and takers” framing, Michael Lind explains that rent-seeking monopolists in the private sector are the real parasites:
In today’s rentier-friendly conservative ideology, somebody who makes payday loans at usurious interest rates, gouges businesses with high insurance rates, or gets paid tolls from a privatized toll road is as much a “maker” and an “entrepreneur” and a “capitalist” as someone who puts together a team of inventors, engineers, workers and investors to apply 3-D printing to printing replacement body parts. All money-making enterprises are supposed to be equally productive and socially useful, for no other reason than they make somebody rich.
Sure, the big news in Asheville this week is the Moffitt / McGrady / Ramsey water bill introduced on Thursday. (The one that’s not about Asheville.) It has been years in coming (after legislation to relieve Asheville and Charlotte of control of their airports) and there has been plenty written here and here about it, but the water system seizure is just a local manifestation of larger moves afoot. Just weeks ago, Rep. Tim Moffitt (R-ALEC, Buncombe) introduced H.B. 159, “Public Infrastructure Oversight Commission,” a bill to establish a special commission.
The purpose of this Commission is to inventory the assessments conducted by State agencies, local governments, and other entities, to develop a comprehensive statewide policy that includes both short-term and long-term solutions for meeting critical infrastructure needs, and to identify dedicated sources of funding and methods to leverage private capital, including the creation of an infrastructure bank, to finance those needs.
In essence, to promote Public Private Partnerships (P3s) and to help identify public properties that might be tempting for predatory capitalists looking to skim profits from infrastructure built by the people, for the people, and with the people’s capital. Rep. Bill Brawley (R-ALEC, Mecklenburg), Moffitt’s Co-Chair on the House Select Committee on Public-Private Partnerships (2011 General Assembly) and the newly appointed chair of the N.C. House Transportation Committee, has been working with the NCDOT and Thom Tillis to advance a proposal to add High Occupancy Toll (HOT) lanes to I-77 north of downtown Charlotte. (Brawley lives south of Charlotte.) The plan calls for creating a P3 to build and operate for-profit toll lanes. Brawley is opposed by the Iredell County Board of Commissioners and Widen I-77. The citizen’s group led by Kurt Naas contends:
These HOT lanes will be operated for profit by a private company with contract term of 50 years. HOT Lanes will not solve our congestion problems and end up costing far more than general purpose lanes.
According to documents and memos obtained by wideni77:
- HOT lanes will have “minimal impact to travel speeds in the existing general purpose lanes”
- HOT lanes could cost as much as six times a comparable general purpose lane when operating costs, profit and required improvements are factored in
- HOT lanes could restrict our ability to improve North-South connectivity on I-77 for the next 50 years
- There is no limit on how high tolls can be set
As Co-Chairs of the House Select Committee on Public-Private Partnerships, Moffitt and Brawley were part of a North Carolina delegation that met with Turkish government and industry officials at the beginning of December. Turkey is seen as Europe’s “fastest growing PPP market.” Perhaps the two picked up fresh ideas about privatizing public assets at the international PPP conference in Ankara just days earlier.
Transfer supporters will insist (as Moffitt does) that their water bill prohibits the new district board from taking the system private “unless related to administrative matters only.” As in leasing the billing operation to a for-profit private contractor, perhaps, the way Chicago only leased its parking meters to foreign investors for 75 years? (Rates have risen for the fifth year in a row.) Plus, the NCGA cannot prohibit itself from privatizing the system. Please. We weren’t born yesterday.
House Speaker Thom Tillis and Senate Majority Leader Phil Berger must view children as cash cows. Public education, one of North Carolina’s proudest achievements, is a huge part of the state budget. And a steady, predictable stream of recession-proof public money just waiting to be plucked by those well-connected enough to do it. The march to privatize public education continues with bill SB 337, “NC Public Charter School Board.” Borrowing from the “Next Generation Charter Schools Act” sample bill written by ALEC (the corporate-funded bill mill), the NCGA means to expand publicly funded charter schools and to set up a new “governing” board appointed by the governor. The board will be independent of the state department of education and less accountable than at present. The Washington Post wonders,
If anyone is worried that members of the new board might have conflicts of interest with the schools they are overseeing, the bill’s sponsors, Sen. Jerry Tillman and Sen. Dan Soucek, are not; their legislation doesn’t have any language ensuring that there are no conflicts.
… it’s bad enough that states are not providing education on at least a not-for-profit basis. But it’s far worse than that. They’re giving it away! That’s a mortal sin. A crime against capitalism. The worst kind of creeping socialism. Hundreds of billions of tax dollars spent every year in a nonprofit community effort to educate a nation’s children, and the moguls are not skimming off the top. The horror.
Except for the religious right and a few community-based schools, expanding charters is not about innovation, efficiency or freedom. It’s about the money. Diane Ravitch sees where this is headed in North Carolina (citing Progressive Pulse):
In the public comment period, Baker Mitchell, the incoming chairman of the NC Alliance for Public Charter Schools testified in favor of the bill. He “owns The Roger Bacon Academy, which is contracted to run two public charter schools in Brunswick County. In the 2009-10 fiscal year, Mitchell received more than $3 million from the two charter schools for management fees and the cost of renting the buildings from another company Mitchell owns….”
He is just the kind of person likely to be appointed to serve on the state’s new charter board.
The only thing public about these charters is the money they take from unsuspecting taxpayers.
Progressive Pulse adds,
The schools received $7.7 million in state and local funding and had total revenues of $8.5 million, according to the non-profit’s tax return.
Non-profit doesn’t mean no income for middle-man operators like Mitchell or for other for-profit charter management firms. It means more rentier cash extracted from publicly built educational facilities. And more laws to help eliminate competition from traditional public schools.
Republican lawmakers in Raleigh this week filed two bills that limit voting access to all voters. WRAL reported:
Senate Bill 428, filed by Sen. Jerry Tillman, R-Randolph, would cut the early voting period from two weeks to one and would eliminate same-day voter registration.
House Bill 451, filed by Rep. Edgar Starnes, R-Caldwell, goes even further. In addition to cutting early voting and same-day registration, it would also outlaw early voting on Sunday and straight-ticket voting.
“I just think that we will put some balance into the election process,” Starnes said.
Read: Extremists internalized the demographic fears Mark Steyn stirred up. Except looking forward, national demographic trends do not favor the Republican party. So with a legislative window to do something about that, Republican lawmakers are trying to rig the election system the way Wall Street rigged the economy to favor the elite.
Robert Parry at Consortium News writes,
All these anti-democratic measures seem to elicit no sense of shame among Republicans, whose concept of freedom and liberty seems to envision “freedom” for whites to rule in perpetuity and “liberty” for the wealthy to prosper at the expense of nearly everyone else.
The sales pitches for measures ranging from schools to roads to voting restrictions will come drenched in special freedom sauce with an extra dollop of freedom on the side and a fear chaser. As Parry observes, the GOP never misses a beat. Win or lose, its leaders stay “on the attack,” their duty “not to inform the American people about the real situation but to push their ‘hot buttons’ and manipulate their fears and emotions.” One thing the Republican leadership retained from Lincoln: There are some people who can be fooled all of the time. Those people make up the party’s dwindling base.