March 23, 2015


The New American Order: Birth of a System Without a Name. . . In the recent coverage of the Hillary Clinton email flap, you can find endless references to the Clintons of yore in wink-wink, you-know-how-they-are-style reporting; and yes, she did delete a lot of emails; and yes, it’s an election year coming and, as everyone points out, the Republicans are going to do their best to keep the email issue alive until hell freezes over, etc., etc. . . .The most striking aspect of this little brouhaha lies in what’s most obvious but least highlighted. An American secretary of state chose to set up her own private, safeguarded email system for doing government work; that is, she chose to privatize her communications. If this were Cairo, it might not warrant a second thought. But it didn’t happen in some third-world state. It was the act of a key official of the planet’s reigning (or thrashing) superpower, which — even if it wasn’t the first time such a thing had ever occurred — should be taken as a tiny symptom of something that couldn’t be larger or, in the long stretch of history, newer: the ongoing privatization of the American state, or at least the national security part of it. Truth-Out

CA: The Privatization of Transit. Private companies are changing the way many of us are getting to work. For years, Google, Facebook and other firms have run shuttle buses that take their employees to and from their campuses. Now startups are getting into the transit business. KQED

IN: Critics blast new I-405 tolling as money grab aimed at forcing drivers onto buses. Critics believe toll rates for express toll lanes on I-405 between Bellevue and Lynnwood is just a money grab by the state, and that this is just the first step to tolling and changing the HOV requirements for every road. . . . Most of that money won’t pay for new roads. As much as 75 percent of the collected tolls will merely pay for the tolling system itself. It’s basically a pricing model aimed at modifying congestion. . . . “Currently, the HOV lanes are failing on six out of 10 days that they operate,” Parker said. “Those lanes were built with federal money and the federal government requires that they remain free flowing at a speed of 45 mph hour or greater.” KIRO Radio’s Dori Monson said, “This proves that the state of Washington, the Department of Transportation, as well as the private company that’s going to be operating this system – they have a financial incentive to create as much gridlock as possible in the three general purpose lanes because that’s the only way anybody’s going to be willing to pay these outlandish tolls.”

AK: Proposal to Privatize Trash Already Drawing Criticism in Anchorage. . . The contract is with California-based consulting firm HF&H for $46,500. To some, the number seems high. “I think that’s way too much to pay for an appraisal,” said Assembly member Jennifer Johnson. “We got one earlier for $6,000. This is a little more in depth, so many $10,000 to $15,000 would be more in the ballpark.” That earlier appraisal assessed rate structure, and Sullivan said the higher cost in the current contract reflects a significantly more comprehensive analysis of how much the utility is worth. The other Assembly criticism of the contract is that it was made out of that body’s oversight. Because the total amount is less than $50,000 it does not require approval from them. But Assembly member Paul Honeman felt blindsided by how the administration handled it. Alaska Public Radio Network

TX: TxDOT Refunding $1.7 Million for Botched Toll Bills. Billing problems with the Texas Department of Transportation’s tolling system are bigger than the agency had realized, officials confirmed Tuesday, and the agency will be giving back about $1.7 million to tollway users who have been overbilled. . . . Billing issues are just one of several problems that have emerged since this summer, when Xerox took over TxDOT’s tolling operations under a five-year, $100 million contract. Texas drivers have encountered trouble accessing accounts online and long wait times on customer service calls. . . Last month, TxDOT officials told a state Senate committee that it had found approximately 30,000 Texas drivers with valid TxTag accounts that erroneously received bills in the mail for using the state’s toll roads, which are charged at a higher rate. Those accounts have since been credited, Bass said. Troubled state contracts are expected to be a big part of the discussion as TxDOT addresses the House General Investigating Committee on Thursday, along with officials with the Health and Human Services Commission, the Department of Public Safety and the Department of Criminal Justice. The Texas Tribune

TX: In Legislature, Toll Roads Facing Strong Opposition. Lawmakers have filed more than a dozen bills this session aimed at either tapping the brakes on new toll road projects or undoing the state’s current tolling system entirely. “In light of the Legislature’s commitment to fully fund transportation, it is a breach of trust with taxpayers to demand that they pay the double tax of tolls and transportation taxes,” said state Rep. Matt Shaheen, R-Plano. Texas Tribune

TX: Texas “parent trigger bill” would pave way for privatizing public schools. SB 14 by Sen. Larry Taylor—the so called “parent trigger bill”–is a part of a package of bills that would pave the way for privatizing public schools, said Texas AFT President Louis Malfaro, commenting on today’s hearing on the bill in the Texas Senate Education Committee. “This bill offers a false sense of empowerment for parents, because it actually would open the door for private charter chains and management entities to take over neighborhood schools with little or no accountability to these parents,” Malfaro said. “The only thing triggered here is the flow of money into private hands. We’ve offered a better way to empower parents, with the Community School model as a proven tool for school improvement, especially at struggling campuses.” North Dallas Gazette

NJ: Trenton schools to eliminate 226 positions, privatize one-on-ones. At the district’s offices on Thursday, Superintendent Francisco Duran outlined that 226 positions will be eliminated, one-on-one paraprofessionals will be privatized and Monument Elementary School will be closed. . . . Two years ago, one-on-one paraprofessionals were privatized. This year, the staff members assigned to work with students suffering from behavioral and health issues, were hired back by the district. Next year, the vicious cycle will continue. . . . Eris Tunstall, vice president of the paraprofessionals union, claims the district’s maneuver is “unjust.” “They’re saying that they’re saving money by privatizing the paraprofessionals, but they paid over the amount last time they were privatized,” she said. “So I don’t understand what is the savings by cutting us again.” Tunstall believes the district is ultimately hurting students. Last time the district privatized the one-on-ones, Tunstall said a lot of people were hired from outside Trenton. “It wasn’t a good fit for a lot of the kids,” she said. “Now, we do have a lot of people working in the city who are taxpayers. They know the kids, they know the community. We work here, we live here.” The Trentonian

WI: Opinion: Don’t privatize strong public school system. Wisconsin has long recognized that public education is a commitment we make to each other. When our schools are strong, so are our communities. That’s why the Wisconsin Constitution obligates our Legislature to create and nurture a system of public schools. The proposed state budget, however, neglects this directive by expanding taxpayer subsidies to private education. As university faculty who study education, we know this approach lacks foundation in research and endangers our strong public school system.

LA: Spitzer non-commital on Terrell State Hospital privatization. State Sen. Bob Hall and state Rep. Stuart Spitzer hosted a packed house at a town hall meeting on March 14 held at Carmona’s Restaurant in Terrell.. . . .Among the questions asked was one about the potential privatization of Terrell State Hospital. Spitzer said he had no big announcements on the issue, but he also stressed that he is not interested in cutting corners when it comes to health care. Spitzer said the best solution for patients at the facility is the best solution for Terrell. Until that solution is clearly identified, he said he would not commit to backing any of the proposals under consideration. Terrell Tribune