January 31, 2008


Headlines

1. Wash. state will stop sending inmates elsewhere
2. RI hearing turns to privatization
3. Passing: Robert M. Ball, Social Security commissioner under three presidents
4. Georgia: Clayton county schools to reject bids
5. Hearing is secret in KBR Iraq case

News Summaries

1. Wash. state will stop sending inmates elsewhere
The Washington State Department of Corrections (DOC) plans to stop sending inmates to private, out-of-state prisons and to begin shipping home the 1,200 inmates at those facilities this summer, reports the Seattle Times. The state prisons system has rented out-of-state prison beds since 2003 to ease overcrowding, but the scheduled opening in January 2009 of the new Coyote Ridge prison in Franklin County will likely allow the DOC to keep all prisoners in state. The out-of-state transfers have put DOC at odds with its own program to keep fathers connected with their children. Research has shown that inmates who keep close contact with their families have lower recidivism rates, and their children are less likely to be incarcerated.

2. RI hearing turns to privatization
A state hearing on Rhode Island Governor’s Carcieri attempt to cut state employee benefits provided a forum for Carcieri’s top legal adviser, Kernan F. King, to argue for the repeal of what he characterized as an “anti-privatization” law passed last year, according to an article in the Providence Journal. Defenders say the new law simply requires the administration to do a detailed cost-benefit analysis before it hires a private company to do work now done by state employees, but King said the law would stretch a routine contract award out over three years and give new opportunities to sue to anyone potentially affected by a privatization. “This legislation is a nightmare,” he told the lawmakers. “It will prevent a balanced budget. It will grind government to a halt and it will unleash an avalanche of litigation.” Eventually, House Finance Committee Chairman Steven M. Costantino, D-Providence, cut him off, saying: “Can we reduce the hyperbole? Can we speak to the issues? I don’t think government is going to grind to a halt.”

3. Passing: Robert M. Ball, Social Security commissioner under three presidents
The Los Angeles Times reports that Robert M. Ball, an indefatigable champion of Social Security who was present practically at its creation in 1935 and rose in the bureaucracy to become its commissioner under three presidents, has died. He was 93. Active virtually until his death, Ball was a key player on a package that rescued Social Security from financial ruin in 1983 and as recently as last year was writing alternatives to President Bush’s proposal to privatize the program, an approach that Ball abhorred. Ball met nine presidents during his career, from No. 33 (Harry S. Truman) to No. 42 (Bill Clinton), except No. 38 (Gerald R. Ford). He bristled particularly at the proposals of No. 43, George W. Bush. "FDR talked about a basic retirement income that would guarantee a certain replacement rate for everybody to build on," Ball said. "For the last 70 years, we’ve been operating a system that’s useful to every American family. Bush’s plan now says we’ll maintain the benefits promise only for the poor."

4. Georgia: Clayton county schools to reject bids
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that for the second time in less than a year, the Clayton County school system is expected to throw out all of the bids for a multimillion-dollar alternative education program because of possible improprieties. The latest move comes as the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools is investigating the 52,800-student district for allegations of unethical conduct, including bid tampering. Board Chairwoman Ericka Davis said there have been problems with the alternative education program since the district decided to hire a private company in March to educate students with severe behavior problems. "It’s not just one incident," she said. "If we keep having to go through this process, maybe we need to look at the current situation and do away with privatization," Davis said. "It might be better if we put more funding and resources toward the current program." Sid Chapman, president of the county’s largest teachers’ union, said teachers should be running all education programs in the district. "The cost of privatization makes no sense," said Chapman of the 2,800-member Clayton County Education Association. "Teachers will lose jobs. Private companies are not required to use certified teachers or counselors." Atlanta Public Schools pays Community Education Partners $10 million a year to help students with chronic discipline problems.

5. Hearing is secret in KBR Iraq case
In an unusual closed session, a federal appeals court will hear arguments today in three cases alleging KBR knowingly sent civilian contractors along a dangerous route in Iraq, where they suffered a deadly attack, according to an article in The Houston Chronicle. The hearing at the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans will center on the events of April 9, 2004 – sometimes called the Good Friday massacre – when Iraqi insurgents attacked a KBR convoy of military supply trucks, killing six civilian truck drivers and injuring 14. In today’s hearing, the judges will consider whether there is enough evidence to try the cases before juries. A ruling in the plaintiffs’ favor could open the door for similar lawsuits to move forward. KBR’s workers are a critical component of the Pentagon’s privatization strategy, enabling the military to reduce the number of troops needed in the country by turning over noncombat functions to civilians.

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