Puerto Rico’s bondholders worried after Hurricane Maria turns out lights

Source: Francine McKenna, MarketWatch, September 21, 2017

If Puerto Rico is without power for months after Hurricane Maria, as authorities now warn, many investors in the $9 billion of Puerto Rico’s outstanding electric utility bonds risk never seeing their money. … The plight of Prepa bondholders—Prepa is Puerto Rico’s main supplier of electricity—was grim even before Irma. … Prepa’s bonds, $9 billion worth, are revenue bonds whose funding stream is based on collecting customer fees. Even before Hurricane Maria knocked power out for good, bondholders were worried that Prepa would deliberately force some plants offline, jeopardizing the collateral, creating justification for a privatization plan that could leave current bondholders high and dry. Proponents argue that a brand new electric authority, free of debt, would be a huge boon to the Puerto Rican economy. …

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Hurricane Irma Unleashes the Forces of Privatization in Puerto Rico
Source: Kate Aronoff, Angel Manuel Soto, and Averie Timm, The Intercept, September 12, 2017
 
For struggling governments around the world, privatizing utilities has come to be seen as a kind of get-rich-quick scheme, offering an upfront infusion of cash to underfunded municipalities. Given Prepa’s size and that of its debt — $9 billion — it has been a long-standing target for privatizers, even before Congress passed the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act last year to help rein in Puerto Rico’s mounting debt crisis. The blackout following Irma just added fuel to the fire. Days before Irma hit, Rosselló emphasized that privatization is firmly on the table, telling the New York Times that Irma “can become an opportunity or another liability.” …

Irma Grazes Puerto Rico but Lays Bare an Infrastructure Problem
Source: Luis Ferré-Sadurní, New York Times, September 10, 2017
 
As government workers cleared roads obstructed by uprooted trees and repaired toppled electricity lines, residents of Puerto Rico felt some relief that the eye wall of Hurricane Irma had skirted the island on its recent rampage through the Caribbean.  But while the commonwealth had largely been spared the 185-mile-an-hour gusts that had flattened its smaller island neighbors, hundreds of residents still lost their homes, at least three people died and almost 70 percent of households were plunged into darkness. The storm knocked out Puerto Rico’s fragile power grid, exposing the island’s decrepit infrastructure and raising questions about its future viability amid a worsening economic crisis.

… How a commonwealth going through a decade-long recession will be able to pay for much-needed upgrades is the key question. One option is to turn to the private sector, local economists say. Private investments, Mr. Rosselló said, could be accelerated under a provision of a contentious new law called Promesa, which placed the island’s finances under the oversight of a federal board. The provision could expedite and facilitate the process for private investment in electric, highway and water projects. … But the idea of privatizing public utilities is a divisive one on the island. The electrical workers’ union fears that the government purposely let Prepa deteriorate over time to justify privatizing it. …

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KC Council picks Edgemoor team for KCI terminal job

Source: Rob Roberts, Kansas City Business Journal, September 21, 2017

A joint meeting of two Kansas City Council committees voted Thursday in favor of selecting a team led by Edgemoor Infrastructure & Real Estate LLC to design, develop and arrange financing for a new airport terminal. … The committee’s decision comes after heavy lobbying and criticism by two other teams pursuing the roughly $1 billion project. … The airport ordinance calls for the city manager to begin negotiating a memorandum of understanding with Edgemoor. At the request of Councilman Jermaine Reed, it also spells out components of a community benefits agreement that must be part of the MOU, requires Edgemoor to institute a local hiring preference and requires negotiation of minority- and women-owned business and workforce participation goals that recognize “the transformative possibilities for disadvantaged businesses and workers that can result from a public infrastructure project of the magnitude of the proposed terminal modernization project.” …

More Tennessee trouble for Nashville based CoreCivic prison

Source: Associated Press, September 19, 2017

Tennessee corrections officials have fined a private prison company $43,750 because of problems it had counting inmates at a jail it operates, according to state documents. The state Department of Correction levied the penalty against CoreCivic in May over breach of contract due to the woes at Trousdale Turner Correctional Center, a medium-security lockup in Hartsville that holds up to 2,552 male inmates, a letter released in a public records request shows. … According to state reports, officers weren’t counting correctly; inmates weren’t in the correct cells; and, in most cases, only one worker was counting inmates without another standing watch. The reports also said it was taking too long for officers to count and inmates were allowed to move around during count time. …

Commission blames ex-medical provider for 3 inmate deaths at Nassau jail

Source: News12 Long Island, September 18, 2017

The former health provider at the Nassau County Jail is blamed in connection with the deaths of three inmates in three scathing new state reports on each of the deaths. The state Commission of Correction detailed its findings on Armor Correctional Health Facilities in the three reports. The commission found Armor “incapable of providing competent medical care, alleged “gross incompetence” by a doctor, and uncovered a continued “failure and unwillingness” to address the problems. The state agency says Armor’s lack of adequate health care was directly responsible for the deaths of 63-year-old William Satchell, 20-year-old Emanuel McElveen and 62-year-old Michael Cullum. …

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Records: Nassau knew of Armor lawsuits before approving contract
Source: Paul LaRocco, NewsDay, July 23, 2016 (Abstract)

Nassau lawmakers were presented with allegations of poor care by the county’s embattled private jail medical provider before they approved its initial contract five years ago, records show. The county legislature’s Republican-controlled Rules Committee in April 2011 voted along party lines to approve a two-year, $22 million agreement with Armor Correctional Health Services — despite concerns…

Big US detention center sued for paying detainees $1 a day

Source: Phuong Le, Associated Press, September 20, 2017
 
Washington state on Wednesday sued the operator of one of the largest private immigration detention centers in the United States, claiming thousands of detainees were paid $1 per day for the work they performed but should have received the state’s much higher minimum wage.  State Attorney General Bob Ferguson filed the lawsuit claiming The GEO Group made millions of dollars and profits by illegally exploiting the workers. The Florida-based company owns and operates the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma under a contract with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.  Detainees since 2005 did laundry, cooked, cleaned and performed other work but were only paid $1 per day and in some cases did not receive that much because they were paid in food or snacks, the lawsuit said. …

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The GEO Group Signs Contract for the Continued Management of Northwest Detention Center
Source: MarketWatch, October 1, 2015

The GEO Group GEO, +0.85% (“GEO”) announced today the signing of a new contract with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”) for the continued management of the company-owned, 1,575-bed Northwest Detention Center (the “Center”) in Tacoma, Washington. The contract for the continued management of the Center will have a term of nine years and six months inclusive of renewal options. The Center is expected to generate approximately $57 million in annualized revenues at full occupancy. … GEO’s worldwide operations include the ownership and/or management of 104 facilities totaling approximately 84,000 beds, including projects under development, with a growing workforce of approximately 20,000 professionals.

Why Immigrant Detainees Are Turning to Civil Disobedience
Source: Max Blumenthal, The Nation, May 23, 2014

Reform legislation has stalled, and the private-prison industry is making obscene profits from a captive population….

….As soon as she appeared at the court to pay her husband’s $1,000 bail, Noriega was told that he would not be leaving prison anytime soon. Though a judge had cleared him of driving under the influence of alcohol, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) placed an immigration hold on his case. That meant that Mendoza Pascual would be immediately transferred to the Northwest Detention Center, a vast immigration detention facility in Tacoma operated by a private prison firm called GEO Group. Eight months later, Mendoza Pascual still languishes in the jail. He has not been charged with any crime, yet he has no idea when he will be released. He has been indefinitely detained for living in the United States without documentation, and deportation to Mexico is a looming possibility…..

…Starting in early March, undocumented migrants locked in the Northwest Detention Center battled back against their jailers with empty stomachs, launching a hunger strike that spread across the prison in a peripatetic but increasingly strategic fashion. The strikes spread to the GEO Group’s Joe Corley Detention Facility in Conroe, Texas, another privatized vessel of cruelty, where detainees have endured reprisals including solitary confinement and being shackled to steel beds. At the Northwest Detention Center, GEO Group and ICE stand accused of attempting to suppress the protests through a draconian regime of intimidation, locking strikers in solitary and even threatening them with Guantánamo Bay–style force-feeding sessions if they refuse to relent. Those confined to solitary have been relegated to cells for twenty-three hours a day with no reading material, television, radio or other diversions that might stave off the borderline insanity that accompanies sustained deprivation….

…The year after DHS introduced this startling proposal, the Northwest Detention Center opened on a badly contaminated Superfund site in Tacoma’s Tideflats area. Over vehement public opposition, the Tacoma City Council approved the jail on the grounds that it would create “hundreds of family-wage job opportunities.” It was to be operated by the Florida-based Correctional Services Corporation (CSC), a private prison contractor eager to offset construction costs through public funding. An in-depth joint investigation by the Tacoma-based News Tribune and the nonprofit InvestigateWest found that CSC collaborated with local lawmakers to ensure that city taxpayers covered the bulk of costs associated with building the jail. In the end, only forty-five jobs arose from the prison’s construction—far less than the hundreds initially projected….

The Oil and Gas Industry’s Latest Scheme Would All but Privatize Public Lands

Source: Jimmy Tobias, Pacific Standard, September 11, 2017

Having failed to turn over control of federal lands to state governments and private interests, anti-conservationists in Congress are at work on their next scheme: partially privatizing the public domain by allowing states to take charge of energy development on vast swaths of land owned by the United States Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management. This agenda was on full display at a Capitol Hill hearing last week when the House Natural Resources Committee convened a forum on the Federal Land Freedom Act of 2017, a bill that has nothing to do with freedom and everything to do with avarice. The bill would allow industry-dominated state governments like Wyoming and Utah and Oklahoma to manage the leasing, permitting, and regulating of oil, gas, and other fossil fuel production on national lands. It would allow states to have near-total dominion over huge accumulations of federally owned mineral resources. And it would effectively exempt oil and gas drillers from the Endangered Species Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, and other laws meant to protect public resources from pollution and destruction at the hands of commercial enterprise. For its right-wing proponents, the Federal Land Freedom Act is a solid step toward full disposal of some federal lands.

… According to the Wilderness Society, a land conservation non-profit, the Federal Land Freedom Act represents just “the latest push in a broader anti-public lands movement that has exploded into prominence in the last few years at the state, congressional, and administrative levels.” It is just the latest “land seizure” scheme, as the Center for Western Priorities calls it, to emerge from the muck of Washington, D.C. But what a shameless and telling scheme it is: An extremely powerful industry dominates state governments and hopes to dominate the federal government too. It essentially hires elected officials to do its bidding, and those officials deliver a proposed law that would allow said industry to have its way with millions of acres of land that rightfully belong to all Americans. They deliver a bill that would gut public interest laws and eliminate conservation protections in the name of corporate profits and private gain. …

Privatization Moved State Workers to Unsecured Office

Source: Associated Press, September 21, 2017
 
The head of Kansas’ state employees union and a local lawmaker say a push by Gov. Sam Brownback’s administration to privatize state office space left employees vulnerable during a shooting this week at a Department of Revenue office in Wichita.  The workers were moved three years ago out of the now-vacant Finney Office building, which had guards and security, to a strip mall office that provided no security, The Wichita Eagle reported . On Tuesday, tax compliance officer Cortney Holloway was shot. … Robert Choromanski, executive director of the Kansas Organization of State Employees, said the larger Finney building with armed guards likely would have deterred a shooting.  …

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Privatization moved state workers to unsecured office where shooting occurred
Source: Dion Lefler, Wichita Eagle, September 20, 2017
 
Workers at the Wichita tax office where an employee was shot Tuesday were moved out of a secured state office building into an unsecured storefront about three years ago, as part of Gov. Sam Brownback’s program of privatizing office space.  A state senator and the head of the state employee union said they think Tuesday’s shooting probably would have been avoided had the Department of Revenue tax office still been housed in the now-vacant Finney State Office Building downtown instead of a strip mall at 21st and Amidon. … “I’m sure they would have been more secured at the Finney State Office Building,” said Robert Choromanski, executive director of the Kansas Organization of State Employees. “There were guards, there was protection.”  He said there was no protection Tuesday when tax compliance agent Cortney Holloway was shot at the Revenue Department office. …

Normal mixes in-house and outside legal counsel

Source: Derek Beigh, The Pantagraph, September 18, 2017
 
For the town of Normal, neither doing all its legal work in-house nor contracting all of it out makes sense.  “Our in-house attorneys are generalists, and they certainly have vast experience in municipal law and understand a wide range of municipal legal issues, but they are not specialists,” said City Manager Mark Peterson. … Peterson said the town has no plans to change its approach despite the city of Bloomington shifting in 2014 from a similar structure to a Springfield-based firm taking on most of its legal work. …

Numerous violations cited at Sacramento foster care shelter campus

Source: Karen de Sá, Cynthia Dizikes, and Joaquin Palomino, San Francisco Chronicle, September 17, 2017

A Sacramento agency running one of the few remaining foster care shelters in California has violated health and safety laws and the personal rights of children more than 120 times in recent years — a number matched only by state-licensed facilities that have been shut down or placed on probation. State citations since 2012 at the Children’s Receiving Home of Sacramento describe poorly trained staff, mishandled medications and filthy dorms. This year, an employee was terminated for an “inappropriate relationship” with an underage client and for smoking marijuana with runaway foster youth. On Sept. 8, a state inspector was unable to remain in a bedroom because the stench of urine overwhelmed her. The privately run facility has a troubled history of poor performance it has not yet overcome. Three years ago, state regulators placed the Receiving Home on an extensive 12-month correction plan, after its failure to make earlier, promised reforms. … A Chronicle investigation published this year revealed additional hazards for youth placed at the facility. The report documented hundreds of questionable arrests on shelter campuses following minor misbehavior by foster youth. …

Why are U.S. universities arming themselves with grenade launchers?

Source: Frank G. Karioris, Salon, September 16, 2017

Sending an ominous signal to student protest movements nationwide, universities across the US are once again able to equip their police forces with castoff military gear, tying them ever more intimately into the military-industrial complex. Program 1033 has been running since the 1990s but was stopped two years ago by President Obama. … Concerns about this supply of military gear is exacerbated by the reality that many campus police organizations are privatized, leading to less oversight and accountability in many cases. A 2014 Vice article laid out the difficulties faced regarding the University of Chicago Police force, which is privatized, and the fact that these private police forces often have “the legal status of a private police force and the powers of a public one.” How these privatized police forces are themselves policed is a critical question that is still, in many ways, unanswered. …