Archive for Privatization


Not there yet on education

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Photo by Josconklin [CC BY 3.0], via Creative Commons.

Democrats’ platform draft contains a plank on education that leaves Diane Ravitch with doubts. It reads in part:

Democrats are also committed to providing parents with high-quality public school options and expanding these options for low-income youth. We support great neighborhood public schools and high-quality public charter schools and we will help them to disseminate best practices to other school leaders and educators. At the same time, we oppose for-profit charter schools focused on making a profit off of public resources. Democrats also support increased transparency and accountability for all charter schools.

Days ago, Ravitch wrote at her blog:
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Privatization: What’s ours is Theirs

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The small-government crowd never cared about the size of government. They only ever cared about into whose pockets government tax dollars flowed. So it always raises a chuckle to hear the Grover Norquists of the world talk about taxes as theft, “confiscatory taxes,” etc. One can hear from the same crowd that the market-based private sector is always – always – more efficient at delivering services than “collectivist” gummint. (Grab your wallet and update your resume when they start using the word efficient.)

More efficient at getting taxpayers to subsidize their bottom lines? More efficient at profiting from infrastructure built with public funds? Damn right. Because there’s nothing government can do on a not-for-profit basis that can’t be done more efficiently at a stiff markup to the taxpayer. Just the skim off the old milk, the middleman in every middle school.

Talking Points Memo (TPM) has begun a series entitled The Hidden History of the Privatization of Everything sponsored by the National Education Association. Because the NEA knows that privatization is another word for FIRED!

I’ve written a lot about privatization here and here and here and here and here. Everything from schools to roads and bridges to prisons to water systems. War has largely been privatized as well. But what with our colonial history, we still shun the term mercenaries when describing whom we hire to support our overseas adventures.

TPM has just rolled out Part 1. President Reagan put forward “more privatization proposals than any president had ever recommended,” but with a Democratic Congress succeeded only in privatizing Conrail:

In 1985, a group of large firms created the Privatization Council. The driving forces were David Seader and Stephen M. Sorett, the privatization coordinator for Touche Ross & Co. a top-tier consulting firm that became Deloitte and Touche in 1989. Touche was involved because it wanted to change the tax codes standing in the way of private municipal sewerage work. Seader went on to lead the Privatization and Infrastructure Group of Price Waterhouse, the global consulting and accounting firm. (The Council was renamed the National Council for Public-Private Partnerships – a less politically charged term than privatization – in the early 1990s).

By 1990, The Privatization Council boasted 150 members, a who’s who of consulting firms, corporations, and industry associations that had their sights on contracting opportunities in water treatment, transit, prisons, trash pickup, airports and finance.

The other significant corporate voice came in through the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which increased and operationalized corporate involvement in moving state-level privatization policy.

ALEC put together working groups of corporations, think tanks, and legislators, like one that brought together the Reason Foundation’s director of the Local Government Center, Heritage’s Stuart Butler, Seader from the Privatization Council, a private prison company (Corrections Associates, Inc.) and the National Solid Wastes Management Association to set priorities and draft legislation to make it easier to outsource public services. ALEC, too, has been funded by right-wing foundations like Scaife and Coors as well as major American corporations, some/many of which had an eye on public contracts.

What’s behind the push to privatize? Smaller government? Lower taxes? Freedom? Nah. (Emphasis mine):

Today, privatization is weakening democratic public control over vital public goods, expanding corporate power and increasing economic and political inequality. Domestic and global corporations and Wall Street investors covet the $6 trillion in local, state and federal annual public spending on schools, prisons, water systems, transit systems, roads, bridges and much more.

A new pro-public movement, with this history in mind, is growing quickly. It has become clear that the 40-year conservative assault on government is enriching some and leaving more and more Americans behind. Groups across the country are organizing and starting to see success. Water systems are being remunicipalized, private prison companies are losing contracts (and both Democratic presidential candidates have pledged to end for-profit incarceration), and a growing movement is focused on rebuilding our national commitment to public education. Over the last 40 years, private interests have gained control over important public goods and the impacts are clear. The next 40 years are ripe with opportunity to put the public solidly back in control.

They covet what’s ours.

(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)

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Your water’s poisoned? Tellya what I’m gonna do…

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City leaders and a group of organizers here have been fighting state efforts to take over our city’s water system for several years. City of Asheville v State of North Carolina, et al. goes before the state Supreme Court next month. The originator of the bill (an ALEC board member before he lost his state House seat) insisted transferring control to a regional authority was not the first step towards privatization. You know, we just didn’t believe him. The water situation in Flint, Michigan is sure to come up in oral arguments on May 17.

Congresswoman Gwen Moore (D-WI) of Milwaukee is the Ranking Member of the Monetary Policy and Trade Subcommittee that oversees U.S. relations with the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. She is not too keen on water privatization either. Privatization opponents in Wisconsin recently fought off an effort led by Aqua America Inc. to privatize water there:

The legislation would legalize purchases of water utilities by out-of-state corporations and change existing law to make public referendums on such purchases optional instead of mandatory.

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Strip mining the human landscape

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350px-Chino_copper_mineDylan Ratigan’s August 2011 on-camera meltdown is as close as reality has ever come to Howard Beale’s Network rant remembered in Digby’s sidebar.

What made it a powerful moment was he was right:

Tens of trillions of dollars are being extracted from the United States of America. Democrats aren’t doing it, republicans aren’t doing it, an entire integrated system, banking, trade and taxation, created by both parties over a period of two decades is at work on our entire country right now.

Elias Isquith at Salon this morning interviews Les Leopold, Labor Institute executive director and president, about his new book “Runaway Inequality: An Activist’s Guide to Economic Justice.” Ratigan called what is happening “being extracted.” Leopold calls it “financial strip mining,” and a far cry from what free marketeers and neoliberals taught would happen from lower taxes and fewer regulations:
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A certain moral flexibility

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Nick Naylor (lobbyist for the Academy of Tobacco Studies): My job requires a certain… moral flexibility.

Thank You for Smoking (2005)

Martin Blank (contract killer): When I left, I joined the Army, and when I took the service exam, my psych profile fit a certain… “moral flexibility” would be the best way to describe it. I was loaned out to a CIA-sponsored program – it’s called “mechanical operations” – and we sort of found each other.
Grosse Pointe Blank (1997)

Perhaps it is a class thing. We already know the rich live by a different set of rules from the hoi polloi. One fascinating thing about moralizing by many conservatives is their flexibility about accepting people (among their tribe) who bend the rules and get away with it. If an opponent does it, that’s wrong. If they do it – say, waterboarding or carpet bombing – well, you can’t make an omelet, etc., etc. Beating the system or rigging the game in one’s favor is a sign of strength. Cleverness and guile are the marks of a leader.

So the latest from BuzzFeed Editor-in-Chief Ben Smith should have no impact whatsoever on Donald Trump:

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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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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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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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“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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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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