October 24, 2014


Land, no: Poll says Western voters oppose giving federal lands to states. A majority of Westerners think public lands belong to the nation and should not be put in the hands of states, which they fear might not conserve those lands properly, a new poll claims. The poll, released by the Center for American Progress, said that 52 percent of voters in eight Western states would oppose bills to transfer federal lands to the states. “Privatization schemes would devastate outdoor traditions such as hunting and fishing that are among the pillars of Western culture and a thriving outdoor recreation economy,” said Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., in a statement the center released with the poll results. White Mountain Independent

Google Quits ALEC, But Chevron, ExxonMobil and Shell Stay Put. When Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt recently called out the American Legislative Exchange Council for “literally lying” about climate change and his company announced it would not renew its ALEC membership, it was just one of the conservative business lobby group’s latest — and loudest — setbacks. Thanks to pressure from shareholders, unions and public interest organizations, more than 90 companies have severed ties with ALEC since 2012, according to the nonprofit Center for Media and Democracy (CMD), which tracks the secretive group’s activities on its ALEC Exposed website. Huffington Post

A guilty verdict (finally!) on Bush’s Blackwater mercenaries. Remember Blackwater? The mercenary firm that made big money in Iraq, thanks to the Bush team’s unprecedented efforts to outsource the U.S. occupation and entrust war-fighting to profit-motive privateers? The marauding guns for hire – each was paid $1,222 per day in tax dollars, roughly six times the daily pay of an average U.S. army soldier – who achieved infamy by shooting and killing 17 innocent Iraqi civilians in a Baghdad square, one of the most hideous incidents in Bush’s war? You probably don’t remember the ’07 massacre, or much about Blackwater. But the “security” company was back in the news yesterday, when a federal jury in Washington determined that what had transpired in that Baghdad square was criminal. Four Blackwater mercenaries were found guilty (one of murder, three of voluntarily manslaughter), and jailed. Newsworks.org

Why the Blackwater convictions won’t slow America’s ‘shadow armies’. . . Despite the convictions of four Blackwater operatives, lawmakers have not moved on legislation that would provide clearer jurisdiction to prosecute crimes committed by private contractors or pushed for industry reform. With an army staffed by volunteers, contract firms such as Blackwater are an ingrained aspect of the American warrior class — whether there’s peace or not. “When the military had to leave, it made us even more dependent on contractors for security,” former U.S. Rep. Chris Shays (R-Conn.) told Foreign Policy, commenting earlier this year on Iraq’s security. “The one thing that’s a given: We can’t go to war without contractors and we can’t go to peace without contractors.” And now, with a renewed push to defeat the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, analysts say President Obama is confronted with hard circumstances that may force a wider deployment of contractors to a region still haunted by the scandal. How can he dislodge the Islamic State without contractors if airstrikes don’t work and he won’t deploy American soldiers? Will he need to summon what ProPublica called the “shadow armies?” Washington Post

CA: Dropbox, Airbnb, and the Fight Over San Francisco’s Public Spaces. . . The protest—which drew at least two hundred people, including several middle- and high-school students who said that their parents and school principals had approved their absence from school—was a response to a video that went viral on Bay Area social media on October 10th. The video, which was first picked up by the local blog Uptown Almanac, jumped to more than half a million views after a post on the blog Valleywag. It depicts an incident that occurred, in August, at the soccer field at Mission Playground, a public park in San Francisco’s historically Latino but increasingly gentrified Mission District. In the video, a group of adults—mostly white males—approach a dozen or so Latino teen-agers and ask them to forfeit the field. . . .The men explain that they paid to reserve the field, and a man named Conor arrives with a printed document. “It’s pretty simple, man. We paid twenty-seven dollars to reserve the field for an hour,” Conor says to Kai, holding the piece of paper up to his face. “Read it. Read it.” The New Yorker

CA: Groups opposing water-funding proposition exhibit art on Sproul Plaza. An art exhibition Tuesday on Sproul Plaza depicted criticisms of Proposition 1, a measure to authorize $7.5 billion to fund water-related programs.. . . “We’re against Prop. 1 because a lot of money is being asked to pay for projects that subsidize public water for private interests,” said spokesperson Javier Padilla-Reyes of No on Prop. 1. “It doesn’t do enough to address the drought or the continuing issue of the oversubscription of water we don’t have.” Padilla-Reyes said the legislation would benefit a select handful of individuals with big farms in south Central Valley. The overarching problem, he added, is that California has given out more water rights than it has water to give. . . .   About 20 students and community members sat on the grass as Padilla-Reyes and other speakers involved used the art to demonstrate their views, focusing on the “privatization of water” but also including other ecological issues. The Daily Californian

CA: ‘Private security patrols’ a no-go as San Jose City Council rejects safety grant program. Despite a depleted police force and a rising crime rate, the San Jose City Council has rejected a councilmember’s recommendation to provide neighborhoods with funds to hire private security personnel and deploy other safety measures, a suggestion that had the support of the city’s police union. . . . At the Oct. 7 council meeting council members – uncomfortable with what they described as a step towards privatization of the police force — declined to advance Kalra’s recommendation to a vote. SFGate (blog)

PA: Pa. cities consider leasing out water system to balance budget. . . Reading’s water system—everything from the water, the dam, the filter plant, miles of pipes and tunnels—well, it’s worth a lot of money. Some guess around $200-300 million. Reading Area Water Authority chairman Ernest Schlegel acknowledges it’s money the cash-strapped city of Reading needs, but he’s wary of privatization. “Many times with private companies, I think everyone knows, when revenue is down, they start to cut corners,” said Schlegel. “They may have a pump that could last five years; they extend that life to ten years.” . . . Reading’s mayor, Vaughn Spencer, said it’s hard not to look to the water asset as a financial solution. “Water is the most valuable asset that any city could have,” Spencer said. “Water is the new oil.” Reading is trying to decide how best to monetize its water system in the long term. The mayor says his priority is to keep the system public. Newsworks.org

PA: Reading mayor expresses support for anti-privatization question on ballot. Voters in Reading will see what’s known as “Question 7” when they head to the polls on Nov. 4. If it’s approved, the city would need voters’ approval before passing any proposal to sell or lease major city assets for more than a decade. . . . The movement came about because of the fight between Mayor Vaughn Spencer and city council over the future of the water authority.. . . A group known as “Our City, Our Water” collected 1,800 signatures to get the question on the ballot. WFMZ Allentown