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Donald Cohen
Jul 15 · 18 min read

This week’s highlights


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Education

1) National: Jeff Bryant of Our Schools, a project of the Independent Media Institute, has written an incisive takedown of the dishonorable response to nonstop reports of widespread corruption, malfeasance, financial chicanery, phony success PR, and budget draining by the charter school industry. “Whether they operate in backrooms and boardrooms where policy is decided or in the public spaces of state capitals and prominent media outlets, they seem more determined than ever to resist reform of charter schools through a unified campaign of deception and denial.”

2) National: Billionaire Charles Koch, one of the key funders of the right wing’s long-term effort to build up a national infrastructure to destroy labor rights and unions and take down New Deal, Great Society, and other social justice programs, has turned his attention to promoting school privatization. “The Yes Every Kid group is tasked with monitoring statehouses where it can be influential on school choice, said Stacy Hock, a Texas philanthropist who is among hundreds of donors each contributing at least $100,000 annually to the Koch network’s wide-ranging agenda. (…) ‘The priority is to go where there is a political appetite to be open to policy change and lean in there,’ said Hock, who also leads the Texans for Education Opportunity advocacy group that supports charters and other education alternatives. She cited Texas, West Virginia, Tennessee and Florida as priority states where school choice proposals have flourished.”

3) National: Writing in Jacobin, Mathilde Lind Gustavussen urges presidential candidate Bernie Sanders to go beyond his commitment to ban for-profit charter school to embrace the banning of nonprofit charter schools as well. “The mere existence of publicly funded, privately administered charter schools — be they nonprofit or for-profit — is incompatible with the idea of a healthy public education system and with education equity.”

4) California: The state Fair Political Practices Commission has found three conflicts of interest with former Oasis Charter School Executive Director Juanita Perea. “In a proposed stipulation, decision and order the FPPC is scheduled to hear when commissioners meet July 18 in Sacramento, an investigation confirmed that contracts approved by Perea with Jimenez Gardening Maintenance and Handyman, from 2015 through 2017, were conflicts of interest.”

5) Iowa: In two separate incidents, private school bus operator Durham School Services drivers failed to look after children properly. One driver “left a 6-year-old boy alone for nearly two hours inside the vehicle at the bus yard as the summer temperatures rose outside.” In another incident, “a 9-year-old girl with autism was taken from a school program to her home Monday instead being taken to a YWCA for day care. The girl then crossed two busy streets as she walked to a store, where she was found in an aisle, playing with toys.”

6) Wisconsin: The Wausau school district will outsource substitute staffing to a private, for-profit company, Parallel Education Division (PED). “The next step for outsourcing subbing will be for the two parties to agree on a contract. From there Parallel Education will recruit new employees and onboarding any current substitute teachers in the district. Parallel also staffs substitutes for the Stevens Point Area Public School District.” PED recently pulled out of Dayton, Ohio. “Parallel Education Division announced its office at 15 W. Fourth St., Suite 400 in Dayton is expected to close permanently on June 30 because of the ‘likely loss’ of its Substitute Management Service contract with Dayton Public Schools. The notice states the closure would result in layoffs of Parallel employees who work at the office, and may also result in layoffs of substitute teachers and paraprofessionals who received and accepted assignments at DPS.” Some of the potentially affected employees are represented by the Ohio Education Association. PED operates in Wisconsin, Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, and Kansas.

Infrastructure

7) California: The Daily Breeze reports that public consultations on Port of LA development projects are about to begin. “Millions of port dollars are on the table this summer for projects improving the environment and advancing waterfront development in San Pedro and Wilmington. By the end of July, neighborhood councils, chambers of commerce and other community groups surrounding the Port of Los Angeles will weigh in on their preferences for spending an estimated $240 million from the port’s Public Access Investment Plan. A separate port program will also dole out some funds for environmental projects in the coming weeks.”

8) Massachusetts: As the City of Worcester breaks ground for the new PawSox ballpark, community members stand outside the site to protest the lack of a community benefits agreement. “Residents and the Worcester Community-Labor Coalition (WCLC) rallied to encourage the city, team, and developers to sign a community benefit agreement (CBA) to advance economic and racial justice as it relates to the $90 million development project. ‘Hit a homerun,’ protesters chanted. ‘Sign the CBA.’ The more than 40 Worcester Community groups that expressed support for the CBA are also in favor of the PawSox development in Worcester, but what these groups are asking for is a CBA that ensures the community is the direct beneficiary of the development. Various community groups like Neighbor to Neighbor, Worcester Roots, Renewable Energy Worcester and Sunrise Movement Worcester were all present to show support for the CBA.”

9) Ohio: There will be a crucial hearing tomorrow in Williams County Common Pleas Court over the rejection by the Williams County Board of Elections of a community charter petition to block water privatization. “The water of the Michindoh Aquifer is a precious resource that is essential for life,” says the Williams County Alliance. “Water resources should not be privatized. Existing law needs to be changed to ensure that aquifers like the Michindoh remain sustainable sources of water for future generations.” Sherry (Williams) Fleming, a grassroots activist at Ohio Community Rights Network, is chair of the Williams County Alliance.

The Village Reporter reports that “Williams County residents are threatened by the private company Artesian of Pioneer’s (AOP) proposed withdrawal and sale of millions of gallons of water daily, to outside municipalities and whoever else might want to purchase it. The Michindoh Aquifer spans nine counties across Michigan, Indiana, and Ohio. It is Williams County’s only drinking water source. AOP is owned by a local mayor.”

10) International/National: Conservative officials in the new government in Australia, home of the widely criticized “asset recycling” infrastructure privatization model, seem to be trying to reboot the failed idea, and may again be attempting to export it here. Federal treasurer Josh Frydenberg “has pointedly not ruled out asset recycling. In fact, on a recent overseas trip he met with Joe Hockey, Australia’s current ambassador to the U.S. and the federal treasurer who kicked-off asset recycling in the first place. Did they swap notes on what went well last time and how it might be repeated? It’s hard to believe they didn’t.”

Criminal justice and immigration

11) National: The House Committee on Investigations, chaired by Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) has launched a blockbuster investigation of the for-profit immigrant detention industry, sending letters demanding detailed information on their practices to CoreCivic, GEO Group, and DC Capital Partners, LLC, the firm that owns Caliburn International, whose subsidiary, Comprehensive Health Services (CHS), runs the nation’s largest shelter for immigrant children. Rep. Cummings “expressed concern that the value of the contracts increased significantly under the Trump Administration and resulted in massive profits.” Responses are due by July 24. Though prompted by the widespread abuse of immigrants held in for-profit detention facilities under the Trump administration, the congressional investigation is also a culmination of years of advocacy and education on prison privatization by human rights and public interest groups.

This Thursday at 10 am, the committee will hold a hearing with Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Kevin McAleenan. DHS is a major contractor with for-profit prison and immigration detention companies.

12) National: A petition campaign has begun to support the Private Prison Information Act, which would force private contractors to adhere to the same public disclosure laws as their federal counterparts. “Congress needs to act to demand accountability from the private prison industry. Private prisons are being run without sufficient oversight, thanks to a loophole that allows them to not disclose information. As a result, the public is left in the dark about the conditions inside these detention centers.”

13) National: An article jointly produced by Documented NY and the Guardian reports that millions of U.S. taxpayer dollars are “being invested into private prison operators involved in the detention of thousands of migrants across the United States.” At least 20 pension funds and plans have invested in Geo Group or CoreCivic, researchers found. “Some public pensions have been resistant to calls to divest. After a hard-fought campaign spearheaded by a group of advocates called Educators for Migrant Justice, the California State Teachers’ Retirement System into divested the fund’s holdings from CoreCivic in November 2018 and Geo Group, which amounted to about $12m. Now, advocates are focusing on CalPers.”

14) National/International: After some European papers began to pick up on the role of BNP Paribas in propping up the American immigration detention industry, the bank dropped GEO Group like a hot potato. Or did it? Reports do not make clear whether this means the bank will offload its position as a participant in, and lead administrator of, GEO Group’s $900 million revolving credit facility. This question is also hovering over American banks which loudly proclaimed their distancing from the private prison and immigration detention industry in the past weeks and months, the latest being SunTrust. GEO’s revolving credit line was recently renewed for five years.

From the report that triggered the move: “BNP Paribas, of which the Belgian state is one of the largest shareholders, has strong commercial relations with the GEO group, one of the biggest actors of the incarceration of migrants in the United States, reveals Thursday’s De Standaard (Belgium). Migrant detention centers are run by the private sector in the United States. A juicy business mainly in the hands of two actors: GEO Group and CoreCivic. (…) In particular, the bank is closely involved in various bond issues of the GEO group. In addition, a subsidiary of the bank, BNP Paribas Arbitrage, held in the first quarter of the year for some 853,000 dollars of shares of GEO Group. BNP Paribas is also mentioned as a lender in GEO’s annual reports in 2014, 2012 and 2010. (…) However, in its internal charter of human rights, BNP Paribas undertakes to ‘avoid direct and indirect contributions to human rights violations.’”

So until information surfaces indicating the contrary, BNP remains part of GEO’s still-active $900 million revolving line of credit with a syndicate of six banks, as detailed in a recent data brief written and researched by Shahrzad Habibi (In the Public Interest), Kevin Connor (Public Accountability Initiative), and Maggie Corser (Center for Popular Democracy), which identifies BNP as the lead bank in the syndicated line of credit (pp. 2, 4). Another big question: Will the bond market and big mutual funds follow suit in abandoning the business of locking people up for profit?

15) National: Mother Jones reports the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has “started using three new for-profit immigration detention centers in the Deep South in recent weeks. One of them has seen the death of three inmates following poor medical treatment and a violent riot in 2012 that left a guard dead. (…) Interviews with lawyers and prison officials and ICE records reveal that the agency has begun detaining migrants at the Adams County Correctional Center, a Mississippi prison operated by CoreCivic; the Catahoula Correctional Center, a Louisiana jail run by LaSalle Corrections; and the South Louisiana ICE Processing Center, run by GEO Group in Basile, Louisiana. (…) Sarah Pierce, a policy analyst at the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute, says it’s unclear where ICE is getting the money for the expansion, given that Congress just made a point of not giving it additional detention money.”

16) National: Law professor Gabriel “Jack” Chin calls our attention to a recent paper on commercializing criminal records and the privatization of punishment. “Alessandro Corda and Sarah E. Lageson have published an important new study on how this works on the ground. Disordered Punishment: Workaround Technologies of Criminal Records Disclosure and The Rise of A New Penal Entrepreneurialism, in the British Journal of Criminology, explains how these traditions play out practically in the United States and Europe. The paper notes that systematically in the United States, and increasingly in Europe, private actors are “extracting, compiling, aggregating and repackaging records from different sources;” as the authors put it, they are “producing” not merely reproducing criminal records. In so doing they expand the reach of punishment.”

17) National/California: A state court has banned the release of records on the use of force in a privately-run immigrant detention center sought under public records laws by NPR. “The case’s conclusion came weeks before ICE contracted directly with Geo Group as of June 26 to hold over 1,900 immigration detainees at the Adelanto ICE Processing Center.”

18) National: The GEO Group, which operates immigrant detention centers and prisons for profit, has announced it will pay out a dividend of $0.48 per share on July 26. With 121,205,000 shares outstanding, that means investors will reap $58,178,400 from its activities (or $232,713,600 annualized), much of which comes from taxpayer money.

On the other hand, despite the stock market hitting record highs, investors in private prison stocks have taken a walloping over the past year. As of market close on Friday, GEO Group was down 30.07% over the past year, and CoreCivic was down 26.73%.

19) National/Colorado: Rep. Jason Crow (D-CO), who is demanding more oversight of the ICE detention facility in his district, has announced that he or his staff “will go every Monday to the Aurora Contract Detention Facility, which is run by private prison contractor GEO Group, and fill out a report on migrants’ health, food, sanitation and more. They will then post the report on their website.” Also, members of Aurora City Council are now “speaking out about alleged medical neglect and other violations at the center, and considering establishing local checks and balances.”

20) National: Open contracting bids for U.S. Customs and Border Protection can be viewed on this continually updated website.

21) Delaware: “Luis Cabrera died inside the walls of Howard R. Young Correctional Center in sheer ‘agony,’ screaming for help for more than two days, never getting the medical attention he required, according to a complaint filed in Superior Court,” WDEL reports. Cabrera’s family’s attorney, Steve Hampton, “accused staff with the prison’s medical provider, Connections, of ignoring the signs of his serious abdominal problem. ‘Apparently, they decided he must be faking his symptoms, otherwise, their only explanation is they’re just callous, mean people, who decided they’d let him die,’ said Hampton. ‘If they believed what they saw, then it’s just horrible. If they believe he was faking, it’s not much less horrible…but either way it’s outrageous what they did.’”

22) Florida: The Port Charlotte Sun says Corizon is not doing its job at the county jail and that Sheriff Bill Prummell “should take action to either void the contract with Corizon for health services at the jail or force the provider to do its job. Inmates have every right to proper medical care and, if you listen to their stories, that is not the case at the Charlotte County Jail. The Sun’s Anne Easker spent four months talking to current and former inmates, going over health records filed at the jail and interviewing jail personnel and Corizon representatives. What she found was an arrogant attitude toward treating ‘criminals’ and a reluctance, if not a downright refusal, to give inmates — especially those with addiction issues — their prescribed medicines.”

23) Michigan: In a letter to the editor of the Holland Sentinel, Kyla McCallum of Holland says “keep for-profit prisons out of Michigan.” McCallum is protesting against the reopening of GEO Group’s Baldwin Prison under a 10-year federal contract to hold non-citizens. “North Lake will be the only private prison running in Michigan. Let’s make sure there aren’t any at all. Sign my petition on change.orgto tell the GEO Group and our government that this state is taking a stand.”

24) Mississippi/National:Immigrant detainees are on hunger strike “in protest of conditions” at the CoreCivic-run Adams County Correctional Facility, the Clarion Ledger reports. “The strike would be the second at an ICE facility in the Southeast; currently seven people are on a hunger strike at a Louisiana facility, said ICE spokesperson Bryan Cox. (…) Joshua Tom, ACLU of Mississippi’s legal director and interim executive director, confirmed the organization heard reports of a hunger strike Tuesday.” A detainee on hunger strike told his daughter “others need medical attention and they need soap, toothpaste and shampoo. His commissary money from the previous facilities hasn’t yet been transferred and he has no money to buy essentials. He told her he and the other detainees decided to ‘unite’ and go on a hunger strike. ‘They’re not going to eat so hopefully they can be heard,’ she said.”

The CoreCivic contract runs until the end of this month. “Florida-based GEO Group won the new contract for the next 10 years to supply 5,000 federal beds for mostly detained undocumented immigrants.”

25) New York/National:LittleSis reports that Buffalo elites maintain lucrative ties to CBP and ICE. “Despite the broad public outcry over the Trump administration’s immigration policies — the Muslim ban and termination of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) program in 2017, the child separation policy in 2018, and now the concentration of migrants in squalid border camps exposed this year — local developers are still making millions of dollars per year from leases to the agencies responsible for carrying out the government’s anti-immigrant agenda.”

26) Tennessee: According to a report by the Human Rights Defense Center, Tennessee’s privately run prisons have experienced twice as many inmate homicides compared to state-run facilities. “Alex Friedmann is a former prisoner and the associate director of the Human Rights Defense Center, which investigated the homicides. He said prisons are controlled environments. ‘So, for homicides to occur in prisons indicates a breakdown in safety and security,’ Friedmann told reporters outside of CoreCivic Wednesday.”

Public services

27) National: AFSCME has scheduled its presidential forum. “On Saturday, Aug. 3, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) will host the 2020 Public Service Forum, where presidential candidates will answer questions from AFSCME public service workers as well as from HuffPost Washington Bureau Chief Amanda Terkel and The Nevada Independent Editor Jon Ralston. The event will be livestreamed by HuffPost.”

28) National: As Hurricane Barry sweeps into the U.S., PBS covers the privatization of the weather monitoring and reporting system. Will it “erode the foundation of global weather exchange? (…) What happens when a private company says ‘No, you cannot share it?’” [Video, about 7 minutes].

29) Arkansas/National: C. Tad Bohannon, the Chief Executive Officer of Central Arkansas Water, gave an excellent presentation on water privatization to the Arkansas Municipal League’s annual convention a few weeks ago. Among his points: Watch out, private equity is chasing local public water systems. Watch the video. Here’s the slideshow.

30) New York: The business press in the Big Apple is going into meltdown because political candidates are running on platforms focusing on stopping privatization and gentrification in New York City Housing Authority buildings. Among the offenses: “My name is Mary Jobaida, insurgent Democratic candidate for the 37th Assembly District seat currently held by Catherine Nolan. Today, I am joined by two other progressive candidates in western Queens to unite in calling for an immediate moratorium on the use of all federal, state and city resources being used to propel the privatization of NYCHA properties under the city’s NYCHA 2.0 efforts.” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) provides context: “NYCHA is in a crisis bc over YEARS of GOP majorities, they refused to fund basic maintenance of public housing to sabotage it. NYCHA *alone* is owed ~$34 bn. I have vids of hearings breaking down this horrifying neglect. But if GOP wants to fund public housing $ now, let’s go.”

31) Pennsylvania: Nurses, service workers, and community members are fighting back against the scheduled September closure of Hahnemann University Hospital, which is tied to a private equity group. Elected officials and community members say the closure is being driven by greed. In a joint statement, Governor Tom Wolf (D) and Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney (D) said “the situation at Hahnemann University Hospital, caused by CEO Joel Freedman and his team of venture capitalists, is an absolute disgrace and shows a greed-driven lack of care for the community. The hospital has $300 million in debt that is growing daily. Now the owners want a bankruptcy proceeding to protect the profits they extracted from the hospital and community. This mounting debt means a short-term solution is simply not viable.”

Sen. Bernie Sanders “joined hundreds of union workers and Philadelphia community members on Thursday in decrying the planned closure of the hospital, whose assets were recently put up for sale by Joel Freedman, the private equity executive who bought it last year.” Hahnemann’s creditors want the emergency department shut down by this Wednesday.

Meanwhile the issue is also tied up in bankruptcy court, and the U.S. Department of Justice is balking at the proceedings because “DOJ attorneys were concerned that the language in the request for financing might prevent the federal government from receiving a specific type of Medicaid payments owed it by the hospital. That’s because the financing plan provides that the funding would be held by the lenders, not the hospital.”

32) International: Reports out of Britain say that even with hospitals in crisis, the government is shoveling even more National Health Service business to Amazon. “As the Times noted, critics also questioned why Amazon gained ‘free access to NHS resources… created at public expense.’ Alexa, what do you do with my data? There are also further concerns about Amazon’s ability to gather data and over privacy issues. Silkie Carlo, director of Big Brother Watch, said: Encouraging the public to give their private health details to one of the most aggressive corporate data guzzlers is astonishingly misguided. Amazon’s Alexa records what people say, stores recordings in data centers we know nothing about, and exploits our data for profit. According to Carlo, this partnership could ‘result in people being profiled and targeted by data brokers based on their deeply personal health concerns.” @camcamdamn calls it “a backdoor to privatization.”

Other

33) National: Today is Amazon Prime Day, and the Economist reports that the company “is eyeing billions in federal contracts.” The Partnership for Working Families has called on people to join in a national day (and week) of action. “As Amazon gears up for another Prime Day, working people are taking to the streets,” PWF says. “In cities across the country, we are calling on Amazon to end the abusive conditions its employees face in Amazon fulfillment centers and we are demanding Amazon end its relationship with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). For too long, Amazon’s profited from the suffering of working people, black, brown, and white alike.”

As highlighted during Amazon’s battle over building a hugely expanded location in New York, the corporation’s impact on local communities is also an issue. Gothamist reports that having been “Booted From Queens, Amazon Is Now Driving Up Rents In Virginia Instead.”

34) National: The EPA has changed its transparency rules to “include explicitly granting the administrator the authority to decide which public records the agency will release or withhold,” CNN reports. “The change in the Freedom of Information Act rule comes without the normal process of public input. It was not announced but instead was placed in the Federal Register for formal publication. The rule change appears to allow, for example, the administrator to personally review his own documents, such as emails and calendars, and decide what to release and what to withhold, though he still must comply with the applicable laws governing the release of public documents. At federal agencies, that process is typically in the hands of career employees and attorneys. The EPA says it has fielded an unprecedented level of requests under the Trump administration, and some of its disclosures under FOIA have resulted in embarrassing revelations about agency leadership and actions.”

35) National: PBS has aired a compelling report on how Trump’s effort to privatize huge parts of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument would affect the local economy and damage its tourism industry, natural beauty and quality of life. The report includes an interview with the terrific Jennifer Castle, co-owner of one the best local foods restaurants in southern Utah. A must watch. [Video, about 6 minutes]

36) National: Investigative journalist Max Rivlin Nadler has launched a new podcast, Nationalize This!, about “public ownership, democratic control, and the successes and failures of nationalization projects.”

37) International/National: Lauren Jacobs, executive director of the Partnership for Working Families, weighs in on Google’s “Sidewalk Labs’ proposal for Waterfront Toronto,” which she says is “a brazen grab for Torontonians’ land and local democracy.” She notes Google’s use of non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) as a tactic for cutting out the public from major decisions affecting their communities. “These agreements kept important details from the public as the tech giant negotiated a secret deal to buy some of San José’s most valuable public land for its private campus. When community members protested at the council meeting to sell the land, police removed all members of the public from chambers and the mayor announced that the vote would proceed without us. Google’s representatives were allowed to stay.”

38) Think tanks/International: DAWN, a network of feminist scholars, researchers and activists from the economic South working for economic and gender justice and sustainable and democratic development, has produced a paper on Corporate Accountability, PPPs and Women’s Human Rights. “The importance of having an evidence-based feminist analysis of PPPs is clear. Three areas appear of special relevance to develop such an approach. These areas have a direct impact on women´s lives and opportunities: i) infrastructure (including sanitation and infrastructure needed for energy and water production and distribution); ii) social services (including health, education, energy and water provision) and iii) PPPs projects in extractive industries (or connected to them). Interlinkages between these three areas are also relevant and need to be addressed.”

In the Public Interest

In the Public Interest is a nonprofit that advocates for democratic control of public goods and services.

Donald Cohen

Written by

Exec Director of In the Public Interest, a non profit promoting the democratic control of public assets and services. inthepublicinterest.org

In the Public Interest

In the Public Interest is a nonprofit that advocates for democratic control of public goods and services.

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