May 19, 2015


If Amtrak Were an Airline. . . In short, if Amtrak were run like an airline, we would see smaller seats, punitive booking practices, baggage schemes, and, quite possibly, higher prices. . . . On the other hand, not everyone would lose out. Amtrak’s C.E.O., with his three-hundred-and-fifty-thousand-dollar salary, is grossly underpaid by the standards of the airline industry. Compare that to the American Airlines C.E.O., who, thanks to a successful merger, took home twenty-one million dollars in 2013. . . But, at bottom, there are advantages for consumers when Amtrak does not try to maximize its profits. Sometimes, the profit motive can inspire great improvements and innovations. Other times, it serves merely as an incentive to take more money from consumers for services we depend upon, acting as a kind of tax that is extracted in particularly painful ways. It is true that riding Amtrak sometimes feels like being caught in a time warp. Yet conservatives, of all people, should understand that there were a few good things about the old days, especially when it came to how people were treated. Amtrak may not be perfect, but compared with the airlines it is, at least, humane. The New Yorker

Why do Republicans really oppose infrastructure spending?. . . This is the big kahuna that the press generally feels uncomfortable reporting. Republicans – at the behest of their mega-bank/private equity patrons – really, deeply want to privatize the nation’s infrastructure and turn such public resources into privately owned, profit centers. More than anything else, this privatization fetish explains Republicans’ efforts to gut and discredit public infrastructure, and it runs the gamut from disastrous instances of privatizing private parking meters to plans to privatize the federal highway system. Indeed, if you listen to Republican proposals for “infrastructure reform,” what you hear is: privatization and a longing for private tolls, tolls, tolls. Daily Kos

Privatized Fannie, Freddie would lead to mortgage-rate spike, experts say. Today’s low mortgage rates could spike up almost a full percentage point if shareholders in finance-giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac get their way and the companies are released from federal control, according to new research from two prominent housing-market experts. If Fannie FNMA, +0.75% and Freddie FMCC, +1.57% were privatized, they would likely have to increase their capitalization, and that would lead to higher fees and costs that are passed along to borrowers, wrote Jim Parrott, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute, and Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody’s Analytics, in “Privatizing Fannie and Freddie: Be Careful What You Ask For.” Marketwatch

The In-State Tuition Break, Slowly Disappearing. . . Many of the most elite public universities are steadily restricting the number of students who are allowed to pay in-state tuition in the first place. A result is the creeping privatization of elite public universities that have historically provided an accessible route to jobs in academia, business and government. One of the most important paths to upward mobility, open on a meritocratic basis to people from all economic classes, is narrowing. New York Times

A Partial Privatization of Justice. Richard Trumka of the AFL-CIO warns that the TTIP free trade agreement with Europe is a secret tribunal where only foreign investors can sue. The TTIP brings a crisis for democracy and the constitutional state by creating a parallel private arbitration system where corporate lawyers serve as judges and decisions are irrevocable. Labor and environmental regulations (and all public interest legislation) can be chilled and invalidated as “takings” or “indirect expropriations,” violations of the “human right to profit.” Bay Area Indymedia

Infograph: Modern Prisons and Their Predecessors. The United States has the most prisons in the world in order to house the highest number of incarcerated people in the world. 707 per every 100,000 people can be found in a prison. Out of every 100 citizens, 3 work in the justice system. 1 in 9 State employees works in corrections. How this vast prison system evolved is examined by looking back at what there was before modern prisons existed.

 WI: Privatization Fail: Scott Walker’s WEDC in Full Meltdown. . . [O]ne of his first acts as governor was to privatize the state’s economic development agency. Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) opened its doors in July 2011. After a series of damning audits and news reports, today Democratic state lawmakers called for a federal investigation of the scandal-plagued agency. . . . In 2012, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel broke the story that WEDC had lost track of $12 million in loans because it never asked businesses to pay back them back. . . .. A damning 2013 audit by Wisconsin’s professional, nonpartisan state audit bureau made headlines when it documented dozens of ways in which the new agency was breaking the law. The audit showed that WEDC made awards to ineligible recipients, for ineligible projects, and for amounts that exceeded specified limits. WEDC promised to clean up its act and reported to the legislature and the state audit bureau in October 2013 it had addressed all the concerns raised in the May 2013 audit. But a new May 2015 state audit shows the situation is even worse. PR Watch

IL: Illiana Expressway remains on pause in Ill. transport plan. Opponents have gained ground in their fight against the toll road, with its future now hinging on a review and decision by Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner.

VA: Economist releases report on the impact of tolls on Portsmouth, VA. A report released Friday shows the economic impact tolls have had on the city of Portsmouth over the last 15 months. James V. Koch, an economist and professor at Old Dominion University, put the report together. Among other negative impacts, he said the tolls were part of the cause for significant traffic decline at the Midtown Tunnel. He also blamed tolls, in part, for a loss of about $3.52 million in sales tax collections each quarter, and for businesses that were “driven to the edge” with foreseeable closures.

VA: Chesterfield schools file hundreds of complaints against outsourced custodians. Documents obtained by 8News show hundreds of complaints filed by Chesterfield school employees against outsourced custodians. “Rooms aren’t getting cleaned, bathrooms aren’t getting cleaned, doors are being left unlocked for nights on end. GCA isn’t showing up to unlock the buildings to let teachers in,” said Rodney Martin, a Chesterfield parent. Those are just some of the nearly 200 complaints filed since last July against custodians with GCA Services Group since last July, when the Chesterfield School Board decided to outsource custodians in eight schools. Martin is concerned about the students’ safety. Complaints also include lights left on overnight, poor cleaning and inadequate staffing.   WRIC