June 3, 2015

Why The Privatization Of America’s Police Is Such A Dangerous Trend. Though a potent effort to silence dissent is underway in the US, directly doing so would be a flagrant breach of constitutional rights. And so the ostensible explanations for tactically-geared police at peaceful protests and insidious surveillance programs fall under nebulous terms like protecting public safety, keeping the peace or national security. But when Kinder Morgan wanted to push through construction of a controversial gas pipeline, it felt no need for such pretenses—and its justification for hiring off-duty police officers highlights disturbing implications of a dubious national trend: the privatization of American police. Center for Research on Globalization

VA: Road to Ruin: A Cruise Down the Mythical Public-Private Partnership. Over the weekend, The Washington Post brought us another true tale of what a scam “public-private partnerships” can turn out to be, and how it’s usually the “public” half of these enterprises that takes it in the neck.….Handing what we used to call The Commons over to private enterprises — especially private enterprises operating in the ethical wasteland of modern American corporations — doesn’t work. It is an invitation for the wolverines who run such enterprises to steal as much of the public treasury as they can and then stick us with the bill when they inevitably fail, because these corporations are not about building things. They’re about abetting the transfer of money upwards, to a stockholder class. They are vehicles for the financial services industry.   Esquire

NY: Contract With Rikers Health Provider to Be Terminated. A private health care company that has been criticized for doing such a poor job at the Rikers Island jail complex that its medical performance contributed to several inmate deaths is expected to lose its contract with New York City, according to two high-ranking city officials. Corizon, a for-profit company based in Brentwood, Tenn., with a three-year, $126 million contract to run the jails, has been accused by state investigators of repeatedly neglecting and improperly treating inmates, playing a role in at least a dozen deaths at Rikers. In one case that the State Commission of Correction found to “shock the conscience,” an inmate was left dying untreated for six days while uniformed officers, doctors, mental health clinicians and nurses made 57 visits to his cell without assisting him. New York Times

NC: Commentary: The ongoing push to privatize public education in the state budget….The state budget increases funding to the completely unaccountable school voucher scheme that diverts $7 million from public schools to private and religious academies with no requirements at all on how they spend the money or what they teach.   NC Policy Watch

TN: Hamilton County looking into privatizing all local jails. Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger says the county is going to seek a consultant to look into privatization of the county’s jails. . . . The county’s contract with Corrections Corporation of America, which operates the Silverdale facility, runs out in April next year. And Coppinger said he’s been talking to CCA about taking over all of the county’s jails. “We are looking at total privatization of our jails and our Silverdale workhouse,” Coppinger told commissioners. Chattanooga Times Free Press

TX: Texas legislature leaves without stopping toll roads. The 84th session of the Texas legislature just concluded yesterday, but the fallout will be felt by taxpayers for decades to come. Over 75 bills were filed to replace or curtail tolling or to make it more transparent and accountable. When factoring in property rights and efforts to restrict eminent domain abuse, the total came to 96. So with a pipeline full of bills should have sent a strong message to leadership that the taxpayers sent elected officials to Austin to significantly curb if not stop toll roads. But the momentum quickly came to a halt when only a handful of anti-toll bills got a hearing, and very few key bills passed. Of those that did, most were watered down. Examiner.com

MN: Editorial: Why Minnesota needs an Office of the State Auditor. Minnesotans likely don’t know much about the work of the Office of the State Auditor. That’s because they haven’t needed to. For decades, the office has competently and effectively guarded taxpayer interests in the large cities, counties and public pension funds it audits, allowing citizens the luxury of trust in those entities’ fiscal integrity and fidelity to the law. . . .The House prevailed in a wee-hours conference committee on May 17 in a provision that was described as allowing all 87 counties to obtain audits from private auditing firms rather than the state auditor, allowing counties a lower-cost option. . . . Private auditors may be qualified to review county bookkeeping, but few such firms can provide the compliance review that the state auditor performs to assure that county practices comply with state law. That oversight, plus the expertise of a staff that has received national awards, would be lost if the privatization provision stands. So would be the independence that’s designed into an office that’s accountable to Minnesota voters rather than to those who hire them. Minneapolis Star Tribune

MI: Maggots Discovered At Michigan Prison During Lunch At Correctional Facility. The beleaguered state contractor for prison and school foods program, Aramark Correctional Services, is coming under scrutiny again in Michigan. Corrections official Chris Gautz confirmed that maggots were spotted in potatoes that were being cut up in the kitchen as lunch service was in full swing at the G. Robert Cotton Correctional Facility in Jackson. . . .The state of Michigan, under the guidance of Governor Rick Snyder, privatized the food service in Michigan prisons two years ago, and since that time a series of scandals, has left Aramark’s performance scrutinized due to allegations of employee misconduct and food contamination. . . . .Democrats and a liberal advocacy group have called on Snyder, a Republican, to cancel the Aramark deal, saying problems were inevitable because of high turnover and lower pay for private workers who replaced roughly 370 state employees who lost their jobs in the outsourcing.The governor has defended the decision to stick with the food vendor, saying the state was on pace to save $14 million a year through privatization. He also absolved Aramark of responsibility for suspected food poisoning and maggot problems. CBS Local

WI: Scott Walker And ALEC Allow High School Dropouts To Teach High School. According to an ALEC template, Wisconsin Republicans have proposed an ALEC rule change that allows high school dropouts to “be licensed to teach” in public high schools. It is something that critics, and likely every conscious American, have labeled as “breathtaking in its stupidity.” The ALEC measure was slipped into a 1:30 a.m. Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee along with other underfunded K-12 budget items during a late-night session by Republican state Representative Mary Czaja. Koch Governor Scott Walker has tried to ‘sneak’ the ALEC legislation into the state budget for the past three years, and it appears that this year will be the year when high school dropouts will replace University-trained educators in teaching Wisconsin public high school students. PoliticusUSA

LA: Louisiana health department seeks restoration of public health funding. . . Senators received an updated shortfall calculation for the LSU hospital privatization deals, and were told they need to come up with another $67 million in state financing for hospital managers or risk cutbacks to the hospitals that provide most of the charity care to Louisiana’s uninsured. . . . Hospital operators said that without the extra funding, they’d have to shrink specialty care and other programs. Gregory Feirn, CEO of LCMC Health, which runs the state-owned hospital in New Orleans, said his board would have “to rethink the deal” and decide whether to stay in the partnership with the state. The New Orleans Advocate

IN: Editorial: A continuing toll. . . Then the centerpiece of the “Crossroads of the Midwest” began to look a little frayed. There were complaints about dirty restrooms, and the easternmost rest stop at Fremont closed – only portable toilets were available. Some of the social media comments from travelers were virtually untweetable. Lake and LaPorte counties tried to put together an offer for the road, but quick as a speeding semi, another consortium rolled in with an offer that was reportedly much higher – $5.72 billion, almost all of which will go toward paying off the debts of the former owner. . .. There’s probably some economically sound reason an 75-year lease that apparently lost its owners double-rig trailers of money is worth almost $2 billion more to a buyer now, as a 66-year lease. Oh, and if you’re thinking, somebody must be getting some money out of this deal, you’re right. Under the bankruptcy agreement, the five top ITR executives will divide $2.45 million in bonuses for getting such a high resale price . . .So, overall, has the deal stood the test of time? Drivers who use a lot of the new roadway it funded around the state might say yes. Others might say no. Fort Wayne Journal Gazette

June 1, 2015

OR: How Nestlé wants to privatize water in drought-dry Oregon. Like California, Oregon is facing its worst drought in 300 years. It’s in this context that Swiss giant Nestlé wants to move into a small, economically depressed town and tap local spring water for a bottled water plant.   FRANCE 24

CA: Moving toward privatizing our courts in California. California courts have been devastated by deep budget cuts. In California, over 50 courthouses have been shut down and over 250 courtrooms are now closed. . . . Since it is not likely that California will become flush with cash any time soon, a new plan has been devised by several business-friendly advocacy groups in California to construct a more efficient court system. The plan is to create private courts with full judicial authority to issue warrants, subpoenas, declare guilt or innocence and hand down sentences. It is estimated that these private courts would save the state more than $3 billion. Opponents of private courts say that this would give an unfair advantage to the wealthy because they can pay to get to court quicker. Pacific Coast Business Times

VA: How Virginia paid more than $250 million for a road that never got built. Virginia officials are trying to get back tens of millions of dollars from a private company that was supposed to build a 55-mile toll road in southeastern Virginia. State officials had been sending the company multimillion-dollar installments each month to build the road. But the state lacked federal construction permits, so the road wasn’t built. And now the commonwealth is out about $256 million. The problems help explain why top officials in Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s administration have recently increased scrutiny of public-private partnership deals, a sharp shift in tone in a state that has for 20 years been a national leader in pushing such projects. Washington Post

OH: Charter schools misspend millions of Ohio tax dollars as efforts to police them are privatized. No sector — not local governments, school districts, court systems, public universities or hospitals — misspends tax dollars like charter schools in Ohio. A Beacon Journal review of 4,263 audits released last year by State Auditor Dave Yost’s office indicates charter schools misspend public money nearly four times more often than any other type of taxpayer-funded agency. Since 2001, state auditors have uncovered $27.3 million improperly spent by charter schools, many run by for-profit companies, enrolling thousands of children and producing academic results that rival .And the extent of the misspending could be far higher. That’s because Yost and his predecessors, unable to audit all charter schools with limited staffing and overwhelmed by the dramatic growth in the schools, have farmed out most charter-school audits to private accounting firms. Akron Beacon Journal

NC: NASCAR teams, small businesses ready to fight tolls. Last week, the private company hired by the state of North Carolina to add 26 miles of toll lanes between Charlotte and Mooresville completed financing for the $650 million project. . . . On Thursday afternoon at the headquarters of Michael Waltrip Racing, small-business owners and managers, elected officials and others frustrated by a 50-year stranglehold on interstate expansion included in the company’s contract with the state continued to rail against the agreement. Highlights of the meeting included claims by toll-lane critics of billions of dollars in lost economic productivity and growth if the project moves ahead and an if-then pledge by state Sen. Jeff Tarte (R-Mecklenburg) to introduce a bill to end the toll-lane contract. Charlotte Business Journal

IN: Indiana Toll Road Exits Bankruptcy Protection. A toll road that runs across northern Indiana exited bankruptcy protection and will now be operated by Australia’s IFM Investors. IFM Investors paid $5.725 billion to operate the 157-mile road between the Ohio Turnpike and Chicago Skyway for the next 66 years. The deal closed Wednesday, according to a filing in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Chicago. The 59-year-old toll road filed for bankruptcy last September after struggling for years with a heavy debt load and lower-than-expected traffic. A bankruptcy judge in October approved the chapter 11 plan submitted by ITR Concession Co., the operator of the road, which IFM acquired in bankruptcy. Wall Street Journal

TX: Oops. New Numbers Show That Toll Road Underwater After All. What the city has said for 20 years about flood safety and a proposed toll road along the Trinity River very possibly is not true. In a major flood that road may be underwater and threatened. . . But Frisinger said, given a certain number of adjustments and estimates, the 100-year flood downtown between the levees now would push the river to an elevation above sea level of between 420.6 and 422 feet. City information presented to the city council in briefings has put the toll road at an elevation of 419.06 feet. That’s underwater. Dallas Observer

IL: Why We Organized to Kick Riot Fest Out of Humboldt Park. Organizers of the punk rock music festival Riot Fest announced last week Wednesday that after three years in the Humboldt Park neighborhood on Chicago’s West Side, it would not be returning to the neighborhood in 2015. . . . During this past election cycle, Grassroots Illinois Action-Humboldt Park Area (GIA-HPA), an independent political organization comprised of community residents, (full disclosure: of which I am a member) emerged as a powerful force in Humboldt Park. Intended as a venue for residents to organize around issues in the area, Riot Fest quickly became one issue members wanted to address. After three years in Humboldt Park, residents were tired of what we saw as the continued privatization of the park that not only left it severely damaged, but limited its usage for residents months after the festival. . . Residents stood up against the privatization of their park by Riot Fest and won; they can stand up against the gentrification that is displacing the poor and erasing the presence of people of color. In These Times

MT: Opinion: Kary’s bill would have helped privatize public’s elk. Senator Doug Kary, Senate District 22 in the Billings Heights, made a conscious statement, heard by many at a the Fish, Wildlife and Park Region 5 Citizen’s Advisory Council meeting this past December. He said he didn’t believe wildlife was a public resource. It is hardly an exaggeration that Kary believes those who would commercialize and/or privatize our publicly owned wildlife are the true owners of said wildlife, not the general public. Billings Gazette

IA: Privatization of higher education must be addressed soon – Editorial. . . Soon, citizens and the Legislature of this state — and the citizens of this nation — are going to have to re-assess the importance of our public higher education institutions and the access to them in relation to the need for preparing students for satisfactory careers. Many of our state and national lawmakers thrived under the affordable umbrella of public higher education. It is imperative they search for ways to keep these opportunities within reach of most qualified Americans. If the cost of “public” education is too high, then we are failing this next generation and future generations. Mason City Globe Gazette

Opinion: Who wants Amtrak?. . . In fact, you don’t hear much about privatization from the freight railroads, which one would think would be the most interested in acquiring Amtrak. Could it be that the major railroads such as CSX, Union Pacific, and Norfolk Southern remember their history better than some of the privatization zealots calling for Amtrak to be sold? That history includes the reason Amtrak came into existence in 1971 – the private railroads wanted to ditch passenger service because it was a drain on their bottom lines. Philly.com