Archive for Privatization

Feb
08

We the People own it; they want it

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Even if it is nailed down, the Midas Cult will try to take it. Or privatize it where it sits. It’s never about serving the public. It’s always about the money. During Saturday’s Republican debate, they argued about eminent domain because in New England they haven’t forgotten the Kelo decision: eminent domain used to further private profits.

The #FlintWaterCrisis originated in Detroit in 2014, I believe, when Gov. Rick Snyder’s emergency manager proposed putting the publicly owned water and sewer systems either up for sale or transferring control of it to a for-profit company:

Orr said last week at the Detroit Regional Chamber’s annual policy conference that he’s in talks with at least two of the largest U.S. private companies that operate water systems and has taken bids from them to manage Detroit’s sprawling water and sewer system that serves more than 4 million people in southeast Michigan.

Messing with Flint’s water and poisoning residents came later. Elsewhere there were the parking meters, highways … hell, they’ll even buy a bridge in Manhattan and sell it back to us. As I wrote before that:
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Feb
04

Flint goes to Washington

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Photo ACLU Michigan

Photo ACLU Michigan

As some day it may happen that a scapegoat must be found, they’ve got a little list. The investigations into the poisoning of Flint, Michigan are only just beginning. The FBI is now involved:

WASHINGTON — Government officials tangled on Wednesday over who was to blame for the crisis in Flint, Michigan, that allowed lead-contaminated water to flow to thousands of residents at a combative congressional hearing that devolved into a partisan fight over witnesses and no-shows.

“A failure of epic proportions,” said Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee at the first Capitol Hill hearing since the crisis in Flint emerged last year.

Flint’s former state-appointed emergency manager, Darnell Earley, was a no show. He refused a federal subpoena claiming there was too short a notice for him to appear in Washington. The Detroit Free Press reports:

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Jan
10

Thom’s Road Still Tholls For Thee, NC

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Thom Tillis’ toll road deal on I-77 is still a headache for those he left behind when he went to Washington. From the Charlotte Observer:

Should it stay or should it go now? If it goes there will be trouble. If it stays it will be double.

The contract to build toll lanes on I-77 must have Charlotte’s City Council and the region’s transportation planning board feeling as tortured as the protagonist in that classic from The Clash.

The council is expected to vote Monday on the plan, and the Charlotte Regional Transportation Planning Organization would vote the following week. Unfortunately, the N.C. Department of Transportation and regional leaders have created such a deep morass that there is no good answer.

Cancelling the heads, we win, tails, you lose contract NC should not have signed will cost taxpayers a fortune. This cluster truck is the gift that keeps on giving. From last November 4:

Huntersville Mayor Jill Swain and two town commissioners were booted from office in this week’s elections because of residents’ anger about the state’s plans to widen Interstate 77 with toll lanes, people on both sides agreed Wednesday.

Incumbent commissioner Danny Phillips, a toll opponent and the top vote-getter in the board race, said he believes the election “was a referendum on the toll issue.”

“The citizens wanted to have their voice heard, and they did it through the ballot box,” Phillips said. The incumbents who lost “got complacent and weren’t really listening to the citizens.”

Can’t say we didn’t warn you.

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Nov
02

“Privatization of the justice system”

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Just yesterday I was wondering what ever happened to “frivolous lawsuits” and the runaway juries Big Bidness and Republican lawmakers used to cite as reasons to push for tort reform. It seems Republicans couldn’t deliver. Big Bidness went to Plan B: circumventing the courts entirely. The New York Times brings us up to date:

Over the last 10 years, thousands of businesses across the country — from big corporations to storefront shops — have used arbitration to create an alternate system of justice. There, rules tend to favor businesses, and judges and juries have been replaced by arbitrators who commonly consider the companies their clients, The Times found.

The change has been swift and virtually unnoticed, even though it has meant that tens of millions of Americans have lost a fundamental right: their day in court.

“This amounts to the whole-scale privatization of the justice system,” said Myriam Gilles, a law professor at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law. “Americans are actively being deprived of their rights.”

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Jun
06

Wisconsin on everything

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Jack Russell terrier (Public Domain via Wikipedia)

The vigor with which our corporate overlords have sought to put the plebs back in their places and return the stars and planets to their spheres has been as stunning as it is pathetic (last dying moments of a cobra?). Still, you’ve got to hand it to them. Like a Jack Russell with a knotted rope, they don’t give up easily. What’s worse, they know most of the rest of us do. Just the way they like it.

In a plot twist that would make Rod Serling proud, conservatives have treated “The Road to Serfdom” as a cookbook for the re-medievalization of society ever since Ronald Reagan broke the aircraft controllers’ strike in 1981. It has been a race to the bottom (except for the top) ever since.

Mark LeVine observes for Al Jazeera, union membership is at a 100-year low in America. “In just the last two years, the percentage of unionized public employees dropped 2 points, just as union leaders feared and conservatives hoped.” Universities are next on the menu:

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Apr
22

Earth Day 2015 – Water

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Today, Earth Day 2015, President Obama visits Everglades National Park to talk about climate change and the threat it poses to the water ecology of south Florida. On the first Earth Day in 1970, few Americans had even heard of ecology.

NPR’s Melissa Block spoke with Evelyn Gaiser, an ecologist with the Florida Coastal Everglades Long Term Ecological Research Program, about saltwater incursion into the Everglades. She’ll be reminding the president the Everglades is not just home to birds, snakes, and alligators:

BLOCK: And along with preserving biodiversity, preserving wild space and habitat, of course also you’re seeing a real threat to drinking water with what’s going on in the Everglades, right?

GAISER: That’s exactly right. So the people of Florida depend on that aquifer underneath the Everglades for their drinking water. And as we have insufficient freshwater moving into the Everglades, we see a depletion in the freshwater resources available to the growing population of South Florida.

On the Pacific coast, Californians struggle with an epic drought and reservoirs have all but dried up.

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Feb
22

Their American spirit is AWOL

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Something about Sunday mornings brings out the preacher in me. I wrote about this yesterday, but this morning I’m still fuming about misguided efforts by right-wing ideologues to abandon our system of public schools for whatever crazy reasons, or because freedom. Listen:

One hundred and sixty thousand rugged individuals didn’t suddenly decide to grab a gun off the mantle, don uniforms, build landing craft, and separately invade Normandy on June 6, 1944 because if big gummint did it, it would be un-American, add to the debt, and we don’t like France anyway.

There are things we do as a people, together, that make us US.

Educating our nation’s children together is one of those things. Support for universal public education in this country predates ratification of the United States Constitution. It’s built into the state constitutions and enabling legislation that brought new states into the Union all the way up to and including Hawaii, the 50th state.

I don’t know what country chest-thumping, would-be patriots who want to abolish public education think they want to live in, but it’s not the United States of America.

My father in-law law fought on the front lines in Europe during WWII. One of the things he said distinguished the American GI from the enemy is that when their tanks and trucks and jeeps broke down, the Germans would abandon their equipment on the field of battle and walk away. But the American boys had grown up tinkering with their cars, trucks and tractors. It was a point of pride for them, he told me, that when their gear broke down, they could fix it and get it running again with whatever they had at hand. Shoelaces. Rubber bands. “Duck” tape. And get back into the fight.

That’s the spirit that won the war. You don’t hear that spirit from public school abolitionists. Freedom, my ass.

(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)

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Jan
12

A legitimate question

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Thinking about the Keystone XL pipeline. Perhaps you’ve seen a similar scenario before. It could be General Motors or a new real estate development or Goldman Sachs or infrastructure privatization or, really, any other business with political clout. The company insists that the public financially back the venture, or pass legislation to allow it, or amend existing rules (others must abide by) to permit it, or subsidize it with public services, land, or tax breaks, or bail out its failure.

The public – voters – object, citing a multitude of reasons. Good reasons, maybe. Bad reasons, maybe. It’s our community and our right to whatever we damned well please reasons. Maybe We the People simply don’t like your looks or the smell of the deal.

Executives behind the proposal paint objectors as Luddites or communists or NIMBYs or tree huggers or all of the above. How dare citizens stand in the way of unbridled progress, profit, Manifest Destiny? How dare they impede job creators? (“Stand aside, everyone! I take LARGE STEPS!”) Why, if the rabble don’t accede to their wishes and soon, the project will be stillborn. The business model won’t work! Profits and jobs and tax revenues will be lost.

Exaggeration? Of course. And so familiar.

Self-described risk-takers think it impertinent of mortals to question their assumptions, but We the People should anyway, especially when their plans impact our communities. Here is a question rarely asked and less rarely answered:

“How is the success of your business model our problem?”

File away for future use.

(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)

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Dec
24

Rewarding failure by design?

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SR 167 HOT Lanes, courtesy Washington State DOT via Creative Commons

SR 167 HOT Lanes, courtesy Washington State DOT via Creative Commons

For the investor class, it is a tragedy of the commons when they don’t get a cut from it. That’s why, for example, they are so hot to see a middle man in every middle school.

Since the GOP took over in North Carolina in 2011, we’ve been warning about efforts by industry and ALEC to privatize public schools and public infrastructure:

Public private partnerships are a hot, new investment vehicle. PPPs are a way for getting public infrastructure — that you, your parents, and their parents’ parents paid for and maybe even built with their own hands — out of public hands and under the control of private investors who are more than happy to sell your own property back to you at a tidy profit. A turnpike here, an airport there, or your city’s water system.

Psst. Hey, bud. C’mere. I got this bridge in Manhattan …

In fact, the Macquarie Group is “buying” a bridge in Manhattan. As the nature of public-private partnership deals (P3s) for new highway expansions became clear, both the left and the right have found a common adversary: kleptocrats stripping America for parts.

David Dayen wrote yesterday at Salon about Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s opposition to investment banker, Antonio Weiss, President Obama’s nominee for Treasury Department undersecretary for domestic finance. One of Weiss’ biggest clients is Brazilian private equity fund 3G. Dayen describes deals that would make Paul Singer blush. (Okay, maybe not.) They seem almost designed to reward failure:

The deals also exhibit the modern hallmark of corporate America: financial engineering. Decisions are made to satisfy shareholder clamoring for short-term profits rather than any long-term vision about building a quality business. The manager class extracts value for their own ends, and the rotted husk of the company either sinks or swims. It doesn’t matter to those who have already completed the looting.

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Dec
21

Your little darlings are their cash cows

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Nicholas Kristof provides an opening this morning to spend more time discussing education with his celebration of Conor Bohan, founder of a college scholarship program for Haitian students: the Haitian Education and Leadership Program (HELP).

“Education works,” Bohan said simply. “Good education works for everybody, everywhere. It worked for you, for me, and it works for Haitians.”

It’s a noble effort. But it’s the attack on public education in this country that gets under my skin. Kristof explains why:

Over time, I’ve concluded that education may be the single best way to help people help themselves — whether in America or abroad. Yet, as a nation, we underinvest in education, both domestically and overseas. So, in this holiday season, I’d suggest a moment to raise a glass and celebrate those who spread the transformative gift of education.

A few days ago, we saw the news of the horrific Pakistani Taliban attack on a school in Peshawar. The Taliban attacks schools because it understands that education corrodes extremism; I wish we would absorb that lesson as well. In his first presidential campaign, President Obama spoke of starting a global education fund, but he seems to have forgotten the idea. I wish he would revive it!

Education corrodes extremism is a pretty concise explanation for why Wall Street has joined forces with the religious right in this country in a cynical effort to undermine public education under the rubric of “choice.” For the Big Money Boyz, the “education market is ripe for disruption.” Education reform is about mining public education and transferring as much as possible of that steady, recession-proof, government-guaranteed stream of public tax dollars to the investor class by expanding charter schools. For the religious right, it’s about shielding their kids from knowledge they perceive as in conflict with their religious views. Like other fundamentalists, they want to keep modernism at bay. Because freedom. And because they resent having their tax dollars fund public education and not their religious schools.

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