October 21, 2014


The epic struggle over retirement. . . Alongside these financial pressures, mainly caused by the recession, has been a relentless campaign waged by right-wing ideologues — many of them hedge fund managers — to loot public pension funds, which presages the real retirement battle on the horizon: Social Security. In a recent report titled “The Plot Against Pensions” (PDF), David Sirota persuasively argues that privatization cheerleaders are following a model of “pensions today, Social Security tomorrow.” Leading the pension battle is John Arnold, a hedge fund billionaire who is systematically courting political support to eliminate state pension plans and replace them with privatized defined contribution plans managed by Wall Street. This, despite the fact that public pension funds were among the biggest losers in the financial crash of 2008. Shortfalls have only grown since then. Many states have failed to make required contributions into their pension funds, while massive layoffs of public workers have worsened the balance between current contributions and future obligations. The problem is thus very real, but proposals such as Arnold’s are very likely to make it worse. Al Jazeera America

Captive Customers: Outsourcing Prison Services Is Ruining Lives and Bilking Taxpayers. Introducing for-profit companies into America’s criminal justice system has been a bad deal for governments across the country. During the past several years, a movement opposed to profit incentives in our criminal justice system has grown. Private prison corporations such as Corrections Corporation of America and GEO Group have come under increasing scrutiny and pressure for cutting corners, contracts that include “occupancy guarantees” of 80, 90 and even 100 percent and unsafe prison conditions. But it’s not just the prisons that are handed over to CCA or GEO group. Almost every service delivered inside the prison is being outsourced to for-profit corporations. Outsourced inmate health care, food and commissary services, telephone and financial services like money transfers between families and inmates are all adding to the poor conditions in prisons and burdening inmates and their families with extra costs. Huffington Post

Shocking Stat: Modern-Day America Has 870000 Slaves. . . Privatization is the multi-headed hydra driving the American justice system, and prison labor is just one example of how keeping people in jail is good for business. We live in a country where arbitrary bed quotas in immigrant detention centers require officials to hold non-violent detainees for months at a time. Modern-day debtors’ prisons keep impoverished offenders chained to the carceral state for minor infractions like speeding or failing to pay fines. Shoplifting a $159 jacket can earn you life in prison. And hundreds of thousands of inmates mass-produce cheap goods for the state. Schwartzapfel brings her article to a close with a question: We may all agree that by committing certain crimes, people forfeit their right to be free, at least for a time. Must that also mean they forfeit their right to fair pay for their work? Ultimately, does it serve justice—or benefit the economy—to have so many people released from prison with sizable debts, no job skills, and nowhere to turn but to crime or the government safety net? AlterNet

Controversy Brews As Voters Take on Traffic Cameras. Red light camera and speed camera companies are seeing their market diminish rapidly, and employees are nervous. In two weeks, voters in three states have a chance to outlaw automated ticketing through local ballot measures. . . . In Cleveland, Ohio, members of the Camera Removal team “occupied” various intersections last week to raise awareness of ballot Issue 35, which bans speed cameras and red light cameras. The bipartisan effort was sponsored by Black on Black Crime and Liberate Ohio. The city council did not attempt to block the vote after the initiative petition was certified as valid. The vote is also scheduled in nearby Maple Heights after the state Supreme Court blasted the city for its attempt to block the public from having a say in whether cameras are used. As a result, Proposed Charter Amendment 99 was added to the ballot. TheNewspaper.com

TX: In Texas, Toll Roads Proliferate—and a Backlash Builds. . . However, Texas toll roads face mounting opposition, including within the state’s Republican Party, which amended its platform this year to add language hostile to toll roads. “A large segment of our party believes in having free access to transportation,” said Steve Munisteri, chairman of the Republican Party of Texas. Texas lawmakers are reacting to criticism in areas such as Collin County, north of Dallas. There, the proposal to convert lanes on U.S. Highway 75 to tolls sparked a firestorm from residents who noted that Plano, Texas, would be nearly surrounded by toll roads. . . Still, while toll-road proponents acknowledge changing political realities, they predict Texas and other states will continue adding toll lanes. Wall Street Journal

TX: Coalition of pastors urges support for public schools – opinion. . . Those advocating privatization have attacked the public school system and falsely labeled neighborhood schools failures. This arbitrary judgment has been exposed as a cynical strategy to divert public education money for private purposes, and has brought advocates like us to the fight against privatization and in support of initiatives that tell the true story about the value of our public schools. The “choice” that corporate chain charters and private schools claim to offer parents and students is illusory. It is really these private operators who exercise their own freedom to choose which students they will recruit and retain and which students they will exclude or filter out. And the latter group will disproportionately include Hispanics, African-Americans, English language learners, students with disabilities and students who are at risk because of disciplinary or academic difficulties. These children are our neighbors, too.We join with Dallas community leaders and parents who understand that we must keep our attention upon the real and pressing — and constitutionally mandated — need for full funding for public education. Dallas Morning News

OH: Group Targets Gov Kasich For ‘Privatization’ Efforts. A national anti-privatization group has targeted Republican incumbent Gov. John Kasich over his signature policy decision, his public-private entity that replaced the state Department of Development. . . .But a national group that tracks and criticizes privatization and outside contracting cites Kasich in a report blasting him and the governors of six other states for the outsourcing of state services, which they say has enriched private companies with public dollars. Lisa Graves with In the Public Interest notes the state auditor is now prohibited from doing a full audit of JobsOhio. WOSU

MA: Massport mulls privatizing Southie dock to raise cash. Fresh off a successful lobbying campaign to secure state and federal funding for a $310 million Boston Harbor dredging project, Massport says it now needs up to $200 million more and is considering privatizing a busy South Boston containership port to raise the money. “A move to privatize would be a slap in the face to taxpayers after putting up federal and state commitments to fund the $310 million dredging project,” said state Rep. Nick Collins (D-South Boston). “Privatization should be taken off the table. We can talk about other options and we should. I’m surprised they haven’t done that yet, given that we were just in discussion with them over the dredging.” Boston Herald

WV: Constitutional amendment raises questions of privatization, necessity. A constitutional amendment that would allow the Boy Scouts of America to operate for-profit ventures at the Summit Bechtel Reserve is looming on the Nov. 4 ballet, and voters are being asked to make changes to the constitution for one entity while leaving amendment safeguards in the hands of legislators at a later date. Tighe Bullock, Thurmond councilman and West Virginia University law student, asks questions about using the constitution to benefit one entity based on its monetary worth. The proposed amendment is carefully crafted to only include organizations focused on adventure, education and recreation for young people on property worth more than $100 million — the Summit Bechtel Reserve.”Equality is at the core of of West Virginia’s Constitution. To require any monetary amount to qualify for constitutional protection, much less the proposed $100 million requirement, goes sharply against this notion,” he said. Beckley Register-Herald