After a massive backlash, a Republican yanks his bill to sell off public lands

Source: Brad Plumer, Vox, February 2, 2017

In January, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) introduced a bill in the House that would direct the Bureau of Land Management to sell off 3.3 million acres of federally owned lands — an area the size of Connecticut. But this week, Chaffetz decided to yank the bill after a fierce backlash from hunters, sportsmen and women, and conservationists on both the left and the right. Privatizing public land, it turns out, is a lot harder than it sounds. … Conservationists and hunting groups noted that selling off even small parcels of land to private interests could cut off public access into national forests for hunters or campers. But perhaps more relevant, many groups seemed to see this as a gateway to a much bigger fire sale of federal lands down the road. The precise lands in play here were less important than the larger principles at stake. … In the end, Chaffetz backed down — it wasn’t just conservationists complaining about his bill; it was conservative gun owners and hunters too. It’s unclear if Republicans in Congress might return to the issue of transferring public lands later on. …

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Republicans move to sell off 3.3m acres of national land, sparking rallies
Source: Caty Enders, The Guardian, January 31, 2017

Now that Republicans have quietly drawn a path to give away much of Americans’ public land, US representative Jason Chaffetz of Utah has introduced what the Wilderness Society is calling “step two” in the GOP’s plan to offload federal property. The new piece of legislation would direct the interior secretary to immediately sell off an area of public land the size of Connecticut. In a press release for House Bill 621, Chaffetz, a Tea Party Republican, claimed that the 3.3m acres of national land, maintained by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), served “no purpose for taxpayers”. But many in the 10 states that would lose federal land in the bill disagree, and public land rallies in opposition are bringing together environmentalists and sportsmen across the west. Set aside for mixed use, BLM land is leased for oil, gas and timber, but is also open to campers, cyclists and other outdoor enthusiasts. … The 10 states affected are Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah and Wyoming. Residents can see how much acreage is earmarked for “disposal” in their counties by checking a PDF on Chaffetz’s website. … Chaffetz’s proposal might in fact be in violation of the common-law Public Trust Doctrine, which requires that the federal government keep and manage national resources for all Americans. Courts have upheld the policy that sale or use must be in Americans’ interest. …

Wisconsin DOC Audit Reveals Contract Violations by Community Corrections Provider

Source: Derek Gilna, Prison Legal News, January 26, 2017

Genesis Behavioral Services, a private company, contracts with the Wisconsin Department of Corrections (DOC) to provide community corrections services to male offenders at a facility in Kenosha – including certified substance abuse, mental health, domestic violence intervention and cognitive intervention programs. However, a recent audit spurred by complaints from a whistleblower revealed that Genesis routinely violated the terms of its contract. … Beyond the discrepancies in the programs provided to residents by Genesis, the DOC audit cited various maintenance problems, including peeling paint, stained floors, missing tile in a bathroom and a non-working shower. There was also a lack of air conditioning that forced many residents to sleep outside their assigned sleeping areas; they were allowed “to bring their mattresses to the main floor at bedtime so [they] could sleep in the coolest part of the house.” … Interviews with residents found that some had been threatened with strip searches by Genesis staff. The interviews also confirmed that residents were only receiving six to eight hours of programming per day instead of the ten hours required by contract, and that they “were required to sign multiple sign-in sheets at one time for all groups conducted that day or for the week, whether the groups took place or not.” Genesis had no registered nurse at the facility, contrary to what it had stated during the contracting process. Also troubling was the apparent unfamiliarity of staff and residents with Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) standards, which was another contractual requirement. … Genesis was given until February 10, 2017 to submit a response to the audit and provide a corrective action plan, and the DOC indicated a follow-up review would be scheduled six months from the date of the final report to ensure remedial steps were taken to address the problems cited in the audit report.

FSA Scraps Sodexo After Student Complaints

Source: Raghava Lakshminarayana and Rebekah Sherry, The Stony Brook Press, January 27, 2017

The Faculty Student Association (FSA) announced the commencement of a bidding process that could prematurely end current campus food supplier Sodexo’s five year contract with the University. Stony Brook University students received the announcement via email by new Executive Director of the FSA, Nadeem Siddiqui, on Jan. 9. “Unfortunately, our partner (Sodexo) continued to fall short of expectations as demonstrated by quality assurance reports and customer satisfaction data,” the email said. A quick scroll through the Stony Brook Dining Feedback page shows pictures by students of raw meat in burgers, sandwiches served without buns and strongly worded student complaints. There are a few posts about liking and even commending campus vendors for producing quality food, but the majority of posts are complaints. The decision to hold a new bidding process comes only three years after the university’s last bidding process that ended with leaving their previous dining partner, Lackman, Jason Mazza, former member of Stony Brook Student Voices, said. … Four companies were considered in the last bidding process: Bon Appetit, Sodexo, Aramark and Compass (the company that bought Lackman). Mele said these companies are almost guaranteed to reapply. …

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Food workers union reaches contract agreement with Sodexo
Source: Michaela Kilgallen, Stony Brook Statesman, October 4, 2016

After months of bargaining, Sodexo and the union representing Campus Dining workers have reached a contract agreement. The Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union Local 1102 ratified the contract at a membership meeting on Sept. 29 after an emergency contract negotiation the day before. … In the contract, workers will receive an 8 percent pay increase. Local 1102 also fought to keep union health insurance as opposed to Sodexo insurance, Brunet said. “The university and the union will continue to work together to ensure the ongoing satisfaction of all members of the Stony Brook University campus community,” Sodexo Director of Operations Support Deborah McMahon said in a letter to The Statesman. …

Contract negotiations stall between Sodexo and food workers union
Source: Michaela Kilgallen, Stony Brook Statesman, September 25, 2016

Stony Brook’s food service provider Sodexo and the workers’ union Local 1102 RWDSU will be entering an emergency contract negotiation on Sept. 28 in a final attempt to come to an agreement before the end of the month. … The two groups met on Sept. 15. at the Student Activities Center, where Sodexo withdrew its demands to move all campus dining employees from union health insurance to Sodexo insurance. Brunet said the premiums and deductibles associated with Sodexo insurance would be too high for many employees to afford on $12.74 per hour wages. … In the current medical system, the provider — in this case Sodexo — gives monthly payments to the Local 1102 Health Fund, which provides employees with health care. The current monthly rate per employee is $871. Although Sodexo is no longer demanding a system change, the food service company is still pushing for lower medical rates. The union was told that they are looking to lower healthcare contributions by $500,000. Sodexo is also seeking 401(k) changes to increase the number of hours per week employees must work to earn retirement benefits. The current number is 20 hours per week, but Sodexo is aiming to increase this number to 30. The union’s concern is that Sodexo would give employees fewer shifts in order to keep them under 30 hours. …

Rep. Kevin McCarthy locks the door on California Medicare activists

Source: Vergil Lewis, People’s World, January 30, 2017

Nearly 1,000 people from all over the state of California descended on the Bakersfield office of House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy Friday to demand that he drop plans to privatize Medicare and Medicaid and instead “protect, improve, and expand” these programs that are so vital to people in his district and across the country. … Speakers at the rally included healthcare workers, patients, teachers, and representatives of several unions, including the California Nurses Association, United Domestic Workers, and United Farm Workers. Latinos were especially well represented, including patients and workers from the Clínica Monseñor Oscar Romero. … Surgical nurse Sandy Reding of the California Nurses Association reported often seeing patients who require surgery because they had to choose between putting food on the table and paying for medications or seeing a doctor. Editha Adams of United Domestic Workers (UDW), a union representing 98,000 home care workers in the state, noted that 61 percent of home care funding for seniors or others needing it comes from Medicare and Medicaid, so that any move that restricts funding or access to these programs directly threatens their clients who cannot manage without the services they provide. …

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Brown Vows to Fight to Protect Medicare from Privatization Attempts That Would Hurt Millions of Ohio Seniors
Source: Senator Sherrod Brown, Press Releae, November 30, 2016

U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) today vowed to protect Medicare from privatization attempts that would erode the care Medicare provides to more than two million Ohio seniors. … “Congressman Tom Price – who has been nominated as HHS Secretary – has supported Speaker Paul Ryan’s privatization plan that would yank care away from Ohio seniors and our most vulnerable, and replace it with meaningless vouchers that will take money out of the pockets of Ohio seniors and hand it over to Wall Street,” said Brown. “This is also the same crowd that has tried to raise the Medicare eligibility age from 65 to 67. Folks like Tom Price and Donald Trump who wear suits and work in this town might be able to work until 67, but tell that to waitresses and nurses and steelworkers who work on their feet all day.” Brown also stressed the need to protect Social Security from privatization. “Soon I will be introducing a bill that will protect and expand Social Security – because we know when this crowd goes after Medicare, Social Security can’t be far behind,” said Brown. …

Democrats will hold firm against Paul Ryan’s Medicare plan, Pelosi vows
Source: Greg Sargent, Washington Post, November 21, 2016

In an interview with me, House Dem leader Nancy Pelosi argued that history might repeat itself, if House Speaker Paul Ryan — with Donald Trump’s blessing — makes good on his hints to press forward with his plans to privatize Medicare. Pelosi vowed that Democrats would remain united in the battle to stop Ryan’s plan, a goal she described as crucial to defeating it, just as unity enabled Dems to block Bush’s Social Security plan. … In that 2005 fight, Pelosi recalled, Democrats actively avoided developing an alternative plan to Bush’s. Instead, Democrats said their plan was to defend Social Security, a very popular government program.  At the time, some Democratic strategists warned against uncompromising opposition. But the gamble paid off. Observers noted that Bush’s plan sank in popularity as Dems remained unified behind a refusal to budge in defense of Social Security, a move that was widely credited with helping to put Dems on track to winning back Congress in the 2006 elections. Pelosi argued that if Republicans did try to privatize Medicare, it would afford a chance to underscore “the difference between Democrats and Republicans” at a time when Democrats are trying to regain their footing after this year’s loss. “This is such a stark difference that people know we have to be unified,” Pelosi said. … Opponents of Ryan’s plan argue that, since these voucher payments would not rise as fast as health care costs, it would merely save money by forcing seniors to pay more out of their own pockets over time. They also point out that Obamacare has already improved Medicare’s fiscal outlook. It’s unclear whether Trump will go along with Ryan’s plan — doing so would require Trump to reverse himself on his campaign promise not to touch entitlements. But Trump does not appear to care as deeply about this debate as Ryan long has, and it’s reasonable to surmise he might be willing to go along with Ryan’s plan in exchange for other things he wants. …

Paul Ryan is determined to gut Medicare. This time he might succeed
Source: Michael Hiltzik, Los Angeles Times, November 14, 2016

Bursting with the policymaking power that control of both houses of Congress and the White House gives Republicans, House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) has lost no time in teeing up a favorite goal: gutting Medicare.  In an interview with Fox News Channel last Thursday, Ryan said: “Obamacare rewrote Medicare … so if you’re going to repeal and replace Obamacare, you have to address those issues as well. … What people don’t realize is that Medicare is going broke, that Medicare is going to have price controls. … There’s no secret about what specifically Ryan has in mind. He intends to replace traditional Medicare, an efficient program offering guaranteed treatment and featuring rock-bottom administrative costs, with a privatized program. Seniors would get a federal voucher to help them pay premiums charged by commercial insurance plans. Ryan calls this system “premium support.” … Ryan’s plan would do nothing to rein in healthcare costs, but would likely increase them, in part because Medicare beneficiaries would be saddled with paying not only for their care, but for the shareholder dividends and executive pay of private insurance companies. The savings Ryan touts would be illusory: They would merely be shifted from government to seniors. … Medicare faces fiscal problems, but it’s not going broke, and according to both the Medicare trustees and the Congressional Budget Office, the Affordable Care Act has in fact alleviated those problems rather than caused them. The trustees reported in 2010 that passage of Obamacare had postponed the projected exhaustion date of the Medicare trust fund by 12 years — to 2029 from 2017. Projections of Medicare spending growth have consistently come down, year after year, at least in part due to changes in the program imposed through Obamacare. The program’s fiscal situation would be “substantially improved,” the trustees said, because the ACA instituted new cost controls and provided new tax revenues for the program. Both those features would disappear if the GOP repeals the ACA, as is its intention. …

Federal Barriers to Private Capital Investment in U.S. Infrastructure

Source: Robert Poole and Austill Stuart, Reason Foundation, January 26, 2017

The incoming Trump administration has proposed a $1 trillion program to foster private investment in aging public-sector infrastructure. Eligible projects would involve infrastructure that has, or could have, robust user-fee revenue streams. Large-scale public-private partnerships (P3s) would finance, redesign, rebuild and modernize, operate and maintain aging and/or under-sized airport, highway, seaport, water-supply and waste-treatment facilities. These projects would be financed via equity investment (20% to 30%) and long- term revenue bond financing (70% to 80%). Global infrastructure investment funds, U.S investment banks and large pension funds are eager to invest in such P3 projects in the United States. But to date, the opportunities to do such projects have been far greater in Asia, Australia, Canada, Europe and Latin America than here in the land of free enterprise. Part of this is due to the institutional inertia of many state and local governments that are slow to adopt new ways of doing business. But another major factor is federal obstacles to this kind of private capital investment in state and local infrastructure. … There is no lack of candidate projects. … This report identifies the principal federal barriers. …

Guide: Understanding and Evaluating Infrastructure Public-Private Partnerships (P3s)

Source: In the Public Interest, January 24, 2017

Many local and state governments are looking at new financing arrangements—public-private partnerships (known as “P3s”) that use private capital to finance public projects—to help rebuild America’s infrastructure. But inserting private interests into the development of public infrastructure has proven to be difficult and even counterproductive when equity considerations and standards aren’t included and adequate care isn’t taken to protect the public interest. Unfortunately, many proposed P3 projects are not structured as win-win-win propositions. Understanding and Evaluating Infrastructure Public-Private Partnerships aims to help advocates, policymakers, and other stakeholders better understand and analyze infrastructure project proposals, contracts, and related legislation. We describe critical issues and include a list of key questions stakeholders can raise to ensure that a given project advances the public good. While this is not an exhaustive list of questions, it provides a useful framework to examine P3 deals. …

The $48 fix: Reclaiming California’s MASTER PLAN for Higher Education

Source: Reclaim California Higher Education, January 2017

California’s commitment to its world-acclaimed system of public higher education has declined dramatically since 2000, at tremendous loss to California’s people, economy and future prospects. … The 1960 Master Plan treated education as a public good, provided at low-cost or no-cost to all California students, yielding a wider social and economic benefit. But since 2000, higher education has been treated as a commodity to be
sold to consumers for their private gain. … Coincident with the state’s privatization experiment, student debt at California’s public universities has exploded. In 2015, more than half of UC and CSU seniors graduated with more than a diploma: they also carried $1.3 billion in student debt. Total debt accumulated by the state’s public university students since 2004: $12 billion. The damage has been system-wide … The privatization experiment has failed. The harm to a generation of hard-working, high-aiming young people is proven. It’s time to return to what works: the proven Master Plan for higher education in California. California, with its own resources, can afford to restore top-quality, accessible, affordable college and university opportunity to every qualified student. In fact, Californians can afford nothing less.

Following the Money of Mass Incarceration

Source: Peter Wagner and Bernadette Rabuy, Prison Policy Initiative, January 25, 2017

In this first-of-its-kind report, we find that the system of mass incarceration costs the government and families of justice-involved people at least $182 billion every year. In this report:

  • we provide the significant costs of our globally unprecedented system of mass incarceration and over-criminalization,
  • we give the relative importance of the various parts, we highlight some of the under-discussed yet costly parts of the system,
  • and then we share all of our sources so that journalists and advocates can build upon our work.
  • Our goal with this report is to give a hint as to how the criminal justice system works by identifying some of the key stakeholders and quantifying their “stake” in the status quo. Our visualization shows how wide and how deep mass incarceration and over-criminalization have spread into our economy. We find:

  • Almost half of the money spent on running the correctional system goes to paying staff. This group is an influential lobby that sometimes prevents reform and whose influence is often protected even when prison populations drop.
  • The criminal justice system is overwhelmingly a public system, with private prison companies acting only as extensions of the public system. The government payroll for corrections employees is over 100 times higher than the private prison industry’s profits.
  • Despite the fact that the Constitution requires counsel to be appointed for defendants unable to afford legal representation, the system only spends $4.5 billion on this right. And over the last decade, states have been reducing this figure even as caseloads have grown.
  • Private companies that supply goods to the prison commissary or provide telephone service for correctional facilities bring in almost as much money ($2.9 billion) as governments pay private companies ($3.9 billion) to operate private prisons.
  • Feeding and providing health care for 2.3 million people — a population larger than that of 15 different states — is expensive.

Will Rick Perry Privatize America’s Nuclear Waste Storage?

Source: Ashley Dejean, Mother Jones, January 24, 2017

In recent decades, the federal government has turned to private corporations to help handle everything from intelligence to prisons. Should nuclear waste be next? That’s a question currently being considered by the Department of Energy, as it looks for solutions to the long-standing problem of how to store radioactive waste from nuclear power plants. Now, with Rick Perry slated to head the department, the issue could become more complicated. That’s because the former Texas governor has deep ties to a waste disposal company that could create a significant conflict of interest once he becomes energy secretary. Nuclear waste is currently held at power plants across the country—some of which are no longer operating. The federal government was supposed to start consolidating the waste from these plants nearly 20 years ago, but it hasn’t been able to find a way to dispose of it.

… Because Yucca Mountain had been stalled for so long, the federal government began to explore the possibility of working with private companies for interim storage of the waste—a temporary solution that could last for decades. … One company eager to get in on interim storage is Texas-based Waste Control Specialists, which last year applied for a license with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and will be submitting a preliminary proposal to the Department of Energy before the end of the month to store high-level nuclear waste for the federal government. … Watchdogs worry the company’s ties to Perry could create a conflict of interest. … Reed, the Texas Sierra Club official, says his primary concern is that if something goes wrong and waste isn’t properly stored, the government could ultimately end up dealing with an expensive cleanup. “Private companies…can easily go belly-up depending on short-term economic realities,” Reed said. “With radioactive waste, you really want to make sure the person watching the waste is more permanent than companies are. The real concern is companies walk away from things, and then other people are left holding the bag.”

How private contractors are taking over data in the public domain

Source: Miranda S. Spivack, Center for Investigative Reporting, Reveal, January 23, 2017

State and local laws usually can be found online. But in the District and dozens of other cities and states, the rights to publish those laws don’t belong to the people or the governments. They belong to private contractors. … Government agencies, in many instances, have given contractors exclusive rights to the data. The government then removes it from public view online or never posts the data, laws and documents that are considered public information.  Public datasets that state and local governments are handing off to private contractors include court records and judicial opinions; detailed versions of state and local laws and, in some cases, the laws themselves; building codes and standards; and public university graduation records.  Much of the information collected and stored by private data companies such as LexisNexis, Westlaw or CrimeMapping.com is not available to the public without a price. The information that is available often is not searchable, cannot be compared with data from other jurisdictions and cannot be copied unless members of the public pay hundreds or thousands of dollars in subscription fees.

… The bottom line is good for the vendors, which can make millions of dollars from the sale of public information. But the public, who paid for the information to be developed in the first place, often is left on the outside, unable to get to the information as quickly as the private vendor, if they can get it at all, without paying for it. … These governments, lacking sophisticated coders and software experts, have contracted with private companies that translate the raw data into maps and conduct other analyses. But in a vast number of these deals, the contractor gets to control the flow of information, restrict its duplication and downloading, and repackage and sell it to other clients, such as businesses, that want quick information about crime near their facilities. Or they publish state laws, regulations and building codes – sometimes with commentary – and then sell the records, often becoming the only “public” source of the information. …