Tag: Privatization

Tories Walk Back NHS Privatization

And in the process, throw some serious shade at their former coalition members, the Liberal-Democrats.

We now have a report that 10 Downings Street is looking at rolling back changes made to the National Health Service in 2012 that promulgated privatization of the system.

This is not a surprise.  Increasing the role of the private sector in healthcare never produces better results.

What is interesting though is that the plan, which has been leaked, seems to have been couched in language pointing the finger at the Lib-Dems, probably because the Tories see them as more of a threat than Labour: (See other prominent mentions of the Lib-Dems here and here as well)

The Conservative Government is planning a major overhaul of the NHS by reversing some of the controversial privatisation plans introduced by the Tory-Lib Dem coalition, according to a leaked white paper.

The draft document suggested that Prime Minister Boris Johnson wants to reduce the role of the private sector in the NHS by reducing competition and competitive tendering and replacing it with collaboration between health providers.


The changes would effectively rollback some of the 2012 reforms of David Cameron’s Government with his Health Secretary Andrew Lansley that saw the establishment of NHS England to run the health service as well as the creation of GP-led clinical commissioning groups to organise local services.

The leaked proposals, published by Health Policy Insight, acknowledged the “unprecedented test to health and care services” caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, along with the “urgent” need for a “broader approach to health and care”.


It set out how England’s Health Secretary would assume “enhanced powers of direction” over a newly merged NHS England and NHS Improvement, to set direction in a more “agile” way.

Privatization has always been the worst possible approach to potential problems with a public health system, and it has always been unpopular.

The Covid-19 pandemic has made further movement in this direction untenable, and so the Tories are reversing course, and trying to leave their former coalition members holding the bag.

Tweet of the Day

Space exploration is being used by billionaires as a narrative management tool to sell the myth of unlimited expansionism. These guys know ecosystemic collapse is coming at us far faster than their little space dildos can happen but they need the idea of it to keep us at bay.

— Caitlin Johnstone ⏳ (@caitoz) August 7, 2020

This is a cynical view of the the oligarchs’ space activities, but there is precedent.

One need only look at all the libraries named after the 19th robber-barons.

Unleashing the Power of the Private Sector

It turns out that putting Medicaid under private management in Iowa has tripled the price increases compared to previous years.

The private sector is to the efficient administration of healthcare what Ebola is to French kissing:

The average cost of insuring an Iowan on Medicaid has climbed nearly three times as fast since the state hired private companies to manage the program, when compared to the previous six years, new state figures show.

Since fiscal 2017, the first full year of privatization, the per-member cost of Iowa’s Medicaid program has risen an average of 4.4 percent per year, according to the non-partisan Legislative Services Agency. In the previous six years, the per-member cost rose an average of 1.5 percent per year, the agency said.

The new cost figures come amid continuing controversy over whether Iowa should have hired private companies to run the $5 billion program. The shift’s supporters said it would slow growth in health care spending on the more than 600,000 poor or disabled Iowans covered by Medicaid.

The Legislative Services Agency compiled the new cost increase figures from past budget reports published by the Department of Human Services, which oversees Medicaid.


The Medicaid cost increases for this fiscal year are partly driven by an 8.4 percent raise the Iowa Department of Human Services agreed last month to give the two managed-care companies running the program. That raise, which includes state and federal tax dollars, will send $344 million more to Amerigroup and United Healthcare this fiscal year, which runs through June 2019.

So, spending millions of dollars on private management don’t end up saving money.


A Feature, Not a Bug

This is not a surprise. Whenever private forces take over a public asset, looting is the inevitable result:

Last March, the Network for Public Education released a report showing that the federal government has lost a billion dollars to charter school waste and fraud. But the organization had not stopped sifting through the data. Their follow-up report, “Still Asleep At The Wheel: How the Federal Charter Schools Program Results in as Pileup of Fraud ands Waste,” reveals that the situation is even worse than shown in the first report, while laying out more state by state details. Particularly striking—the vast amount of money that has been wasted on ghost schools that never served.

NPE is a group co-founded by Diane Ravitch, the Bush-era Assistant Secretary of Education who has since become an outspoken critic of education reform. The organization’s executive director is Carol Burris, a former award-winning New York principal. Burris was the primary author of this report.

The reports examine what happened to money disbursed by the Federal Charter Fund, a charter grant source created in 1994 as part of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). Since 1995, it has handed out almost $4 billion.

Some new findings in this follow-up report:

The original report underestimated the number of charters that had taken federal grant funds and then either closed or never opened at all. That report found 1,000 such charters; the number now appears to be closer to 1,800. That means the failure rate is close to 37% nationally. Michigan gave grants of at least $100,000 to 72 schools that never opened at all; California gave grants to 61 unopened schools. Those two states alone account for over $16 million dollars spent without educating a single child. A grand total of 537 schools never actually opened; tax dollars spent on literally nothing.

The charter school system is constructed for two purposes:  Breaking teachers’ unions, and allowing finance types to loot taxpayer money.

Both the Wisest and the Snarkiest Thing that I have Heard this Year

In an analysis of potential murder charges against PG&E for the California fires, Yves Smith related the following from an email exchange:

Arbeit Macht Frei Slave-Labor Was the Original Public-Private Partnership.

This is brilliant.  It may be the most brilliant and snarkiest thing that I’ve heard for last year as well.

Unleashing the Power of the Private Sector

The price inflation in medicaid has tripled after Iowa privatized the program.

Obviously, it’s a limited sample, but when one considers that this has almost always been the case with the private sector running healthcare, it should come as not surprise:

The average cost of insuring an Iowan on Medicaid has climbed nearly three times as fast since the state hired private companies to manage the program, when compared to the previous six years, new state figures show.

Since fiscal 2017, the first full year of privatization, the per-member cost of Iowa’s Medicaid program has risen an average of 4.4 percent per year, according to the non-partisan Legislative Services Agency. In the previous six years, the per-member cost rose an average of 1.5  percent per year, the agency said.

The new cost figures come amid continuing controversy over whether Iowa should have hired private companies to run the $5 billion program. The shift’s supporters said it would slow growth in health care spending on the more than 600,000 poor or disabled Iowans covered by Medicaid.

It was never about making Medicaid working better, it was about making it worse, as well as being about shoveling money to politically connected contractors.

This is a feature, not a bug.

The Goal of Privatization is Not Efficiency, It’s Larceny

Case in point, Iowa, where a timid Obama administration allowed the Republicans there to privatize medicaid, and the rate of cost increases have tripled:

The average cost of insuring an Iowan on Medicaid has climbed nearly three times as fast since the state hired private companies to manage the program, when compared to the previous six years, new state figures show.

Since fiscal 2017, the first full year of privatization, the per-member cost of Iowa’s Medicaid program has risen an average of 4.4 percent per year, according to the non-partisan Legislative Services Agency. In the previous six years, the per-member cost rose an average of 1.5 percent per year, the agency said.

The new cost figures come amid continuing controversy over whether Iowa should have hired private companies to run the $5 billion program. The shift’s supporters said it would slow growth in health care spending on the more than 600,000 poor or disabled Iowans covered by Medicaid.


The Medicaid cost increases for this fiscal year are partly driven by an 8.4 percent raise the Iowa Department of Human Services agreed last month to give the two managed-care companies running the program. That raise, which includes state and federal tax dollars, will send $344 million more to Amerigroup and United Healthcare this fiscal year, which runs through June 2019.

Anyone want to guess how much of those increases get recycled through to campaign donations?

More of This

Baltimore City is send a city charter change to voters for prohibit privatizing its water and sewer:

Baltimore City Council members concerned about lobbying efforts to privatize the city’s water supply unanimously approved legislation Monday that, if approved by voters, would make Baltimore the first major city to ban the sale or lease of the water system.

City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young waived council rules to allow for fast-tracked approval of a charter amendment that will go to voters on the November ballot.

“Access to clean and affordable water should be looked at as a basic human right,” Young said.
Baltimore council considering charter amendment to ban sale of city water system

The move could make Baltimore the first city in the country to amend its charter to preserve public ownership and control over its water and sewer systems, and the largest U.S. city to prohibit sale or lease of its water system. Northampton, Mass., passed legislation in 2016 prohibiting the sale or lease of its water system.

Incorporating this into the city charter doesn’t make it more difficult to sell off the water system, it means that there has to be a public vote, and weeks, if not months, of public discussions, which the privatizers would probably lose.

Given the record of privatizing public services, this is a very good thing.

Stopped Clock, NASA Edition

Donald Trump is proposing privatizing the international space station:

The Trump administration wants to turn the International Space Station into a kind of orbiting real estate venture run not by the government, but by private industry.

The White House plans to stop funding the station after 2024, ending direct federal support of the orbiting laboratory. But it does not intend to abandon the orbiting laboratory altogether and is working on a transition plan that could turn the station over to the private sector, according to an internal NASA document obtained by The Washington Post.

I actually agree with move.

In scientific terms, the ISS is complete pants.  It has consumed massive resources for next to no scientific value.

Of course, there really isn’t a commercial justification for this either:  Anything that you want to set up tto take advantage of micro-gravity would be cheaper to do without people.

It’s basically a white elephant.

From the Department of, “Well, Duh!”

The reason that the Telcos are desperately trying to forestall any attempt at community run broadband is because they know the business, and they know that government running broadband is better and cheaper than the for profit alternative:

A new study out of Harvard once again makes it clear why incumbent ISPs like Comcast, Verizon and AT&T are so terrified by the idea of communities building their own broadband networks.

According to the new study (corrected link) by the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University, community-owned broadband networks provide consumers with significantly lower rates than their private-sector counterparts.

The study examined data collected from 40 municipal broadband providers and private throughout 2015 and 2016. Pricing data was collected predominately by visiting carrier websites, where pricing is (quite intentionally) often hidden behind prequalification walls, since pricing varies dramatically based on regional competition.

In many markets, analysts couldn’t make direct comparisons with a private ISP, either because the ISP failed to meet the FCC’s 25 Mbps down, 3 Mbps up standard definition of broadband (a problem for countless telcos who refuse to upgrade aging DSL lines), or because the ISP prequalification website terms of service “deterred or prohibited” data collection.

But out of the 27 markets where they could make direct comparisons, researchers found that in 23 cases, the community-owned ISPs’ pricing was lower when the service costs and fees were averaged over four years.

“When considering entry-level broadband service—the least-expensive plan that provides at least 25/3 Mbps service—23 out of 27 community-owned [fiber to the home] providers we studied charged the lowest prices in their community when considering the annual average cost of service over a four-year period, taking into account installation and equipment costs and averaging any initial teaser rates with later, higher, rates,” they noted.

In these 23 communities, prices for the lowest-cost service meeting the FCC’s definition of broadband were between 2.9 percent and 50 percent less than the lowest-cost such service offered by a private ISP in that market.

Of course, the study will be ignored, because neoliberal economics, and its attendant privatization of basic public services can never fail, it can only be failed.

Running America Like a Business: Burning It down for the Insurance Money

Case in point, Pittsburgh’s increasingly privatized water system, which is now also increasingly lead tainted:

“The government should be run like a great American company,” Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser (who is also an alleged slumlord and the future broker of peace in the Middle East) told The Washington Post last March. “Our hope is that we can achieves successes and efficiencies for our customers, who are the citizens.” President Trump’s administration touts private enterprise as the solution to any and all challenges faced by public projects—from budget waste to bureaucratic delays to low test scores, the market can fix it all.


Yet governments, local and federal, frequently look to the private sector to solve their problems. And it’s no wonder: They need help. The American Society of Civil Engineers gave the entire country a D+ on its 2017 infrastructure report card. “From the crumbling bridges of California to the overflowing sewage drains of Houston and the rusting railroad tracks in the Northeast Corridor,” reads a 2016 piece in The New Yorker, “decaying infrastructure is all around us.”

Pittsburgh, in an attempt to deal with entrenched infrastructure problems, turned to the private sector in 2012 when it partnered with the French management firm Veolia North America, the same water-management company that would fail to disclose Flint’s lead-contamination problem in 2015. Alongside aging infrastructure that produced frequent water-main breaks, flush and boil advisories, and wildly incorrect billing statements, PWSA was in massive debt. Veolia promised to streamline the public utility—in fact, its Peer Performance Solutions model, which embeds private-sector consultants with public-sector employees, won the company an award from the National Council for Public-Private Partnerships in 2014, a little more than a year after it began partnering with PWSA. The organization lauded Veolia for identifying $2.3 million in new PWSA revenue and $3 million more in operating savings, a move incentivized by their contract that stipulated the company could keep 40 percent of every dollar it saved the city. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette published a glowing account of PWSA’s partnership with Veolia, despite reports that it laid off 23 employees, many of whom were longtime employees with critical institutional knowledge. The private sector had seemingly done its job, weeding out inefficiencies and saving the authority millions.

But this August, a consulting group hired to assess the organization’s current state announced in a public meeting that PWSA was “a failed organization atop a dangerous and crumbling structure” with “an aging system in demonstrably worse condition than any water utility of its size in the country.” Not only that, water tests showed that since the partnership began, Pittsburgh’s water had been tainted with dangerously high levels of lead.


PWSA, like community water systems across the country, had been dealing with the challenges of operating aging infrastructure long before the public-private partnership. And these issues were only complicated further by poor management—the authority was infamous for its high rates and billing mistakes that verged on the absurd. But at least the water didn’t boast dangerously high rates of lead.

In the summer of 2016, when Pittsburgh’s water was tested for the first time since Veolia began instituting changes, the resulting lead levels exceeded the federal limit. Before Veolia, the water authority had long supplemented its water with soda ash, a substance very similar to baking soda that lines the inside of pipes to prevent corrosion. But under Veolia’s management, it switched to caustic soda—which, while approved for use, is generally acknowledged as an inferior, cheaper, means of corrosion control. The switch to caustic soda stripped the inside of PWSA’s pipes, removing the layer of minerals previously deposited by soda ash, helping leach lead into the city’s drinking water.

The mayor and the City of Pittsburgh say they were never notified of the change. The state Department of Environmental Protection demanded immediate testing when notified PWSA had switched back to soda ash and chastised PWSA for making unapproved modifications to the water-treatment process. Veolia says it had no part in the decision, arguing the PWSA board approved the switch—a board made up of half Veolia executives and half members of PWSA’s Board of Directors. And according to The Guardian, “Under Veolia’s management, PWSA’s new executive director, James Good, a longtime Veolia employee and former private water lobbyist, became the second-highest paid public employee in the region. He earned $240,000 a year with generous benefits.”

The Public-Private Partnership (PPP) and its British cousin, the QUANGO (Quasi-Autonomous Non-Governmental Organization) have not proved to be successes.

It’s not surprising.  When you juxtapose taxpayer money with a lack of accountability, incompetence and corruption are what you are paying for.

Gee, You Think

It appears that the radical Marxists at the Financial Times have finally noticed that privatizing municipal water service are basically a license to steal, with a soupcon of incompetence thrown in:

How hard can it be to be the chief executive of a privatised British water company? Your customers are determined by geography, your prices set by a regulator and designed to offer ample scope to fund both capital expenditure and to pay returns to your investors. Pretty much all you have to do is to make sure your sewage plants work and to keep the public waterways clear of human waste.

Yet even this bare minimum seems to have eluded Martin Baggs, the former boss of Thames Water. He, you might recall, was the man at the corporate stopcock when the utility’s malfunctioning plants spilled so much excrement into the Thames that locals in the Berkshire town of Little Marlow took to referring to the scum-covered surface as “crappucino”. The company was this year fined a record £20m for venting 4.2bn litres of raw sewage into the rivers Thames and Thame between 2012 and 2013.

Not that this escapade unduly crimped Mr Baggs’ career prospects. Despite evidence of negligence in its operations that later led a judge to brand the company’s actions “borderline deliberate”, he not only prospered after its disclosure, but received a rise of 60 per cent in 2015, taking his pay to a princely £2m. He stood down last year, showered with encomiums for his “huge contribution”.

To be fair to Mr Baggs, he is not alone. The boring job of plumbing seems almost an afterthought in determining the rewards of water supremos. Not only is pay uniformly high: Steve Mogford, chief executive of United Utilities, collected £2.8m last year, for instance. But if things go wrong, well, why should a bit of sewage stop those cheques rolling? In 2016, Yorkshire Water was fined £1.7m for polluting a lake near Wakefield and a section of the River Ouse. But that didn’t prevent it handing its boss Richard Flint £1.2m.


The regulator needs to look again at the generosity of its regime, and its cock-eyed governance. As things stand, water privatisation looks little more than an organised rip-off. Quite why this natural monopoly should not operate through not-for-profit, public interest companies is ever less clear.

This observation is not a surprise, though the source is a bit of a shocker.

This is what happens when you privatize water: higher prices and (literal) random sh%$ty events.

The above article being about the UK, we aren’t seeing riots as happened in Bolivia, but it’s still an ugly picture.

Unfortunately, our current international trade regime makes deprivatization extremely difficult, which is another reason to oppose those deal.

Asshole Loser of the Day: Vinod Khosla

A California court has ordered a Silicon Valley billionaire to restore access to a beloved beach that he closed off for his private use, a major victory for public lands advocates who have been fighting the venture capitalist for years.

An appeals court ruled on Thursday that Vinod Khosla, who runs the venture capital firm Khosla Ventures and co-founded the tech company Sun Microsystems, must unlock the gates to Martins Beach in northern California by his property.

The decision is a major blow to Khosla and other wealthy landowners who have increasingly tried to buy up the internationally celebrated beaches along the California coast and turn public lands into private property.

The beach was a popular destination for fishing, surfing and other recreational activities for nearly a century, and the previous owners provided a general store and public restroom. But Khosla eventually bought the property and in 2010 closed public access, putting up signs warning against trespassing.

Khosla, who has a net worth of $1.55bn and does not live on the property, has faced multiple lawsuits and legislative efforts to get him to open up the gate to the beach near Half Moon Bay, about 30 miles south of San Francisco. The law in California states that all beaches should be open to the public up to the “mean high tide line”.

The decision this week, affirming a lower court ruling, stems from a lawsuit filed by the Surfrider Foundation, a not-for-profit group that says the case could have broader implications for beach access across the US.

“Vinod Khosla, with his billions of dollars, bought this piece of property and said, ‘No, no, the public isn’t going to use this anymore. End of story,’” the Surfrider attorney Joe Cotchett said by phone on Thursday. “He got away with it for many years … This is probably one of the most important public right-of-access cases in the country.”

You know, maybe if we actually enforced the rules against the rich, we would have a better society.

Private Prisons

In Estancia, New Mexico, a private prison is threatening to close unless the authorities throw some more people in prison:

The company that has operated a private prison in Estancia for nearly three decades has announced it will close the Torrance County Detention Facility and lay off more than 200 employees unless it can find 300 state or federal inmates to fill empty beds within the next 60 days, according to a statement issued Tuesday by county officials.

“This is a big issue for us,” Torrance County Manager Belinda Garland said in a phone interview Tuesday. “It’s going to affect Torrance County in a big way.”

Jonathan Burns, a spokesman for CoreCivic — formerly known as Corrections Corporation of America — had this to say about the closure:

“The city of Estancia and the surrounding community have been a great partner to CoreCivic for the last 27 years. CoreCivic is grateful for the support the community has shown through the years and we’re honored to have been a part of that community. Unfortunately, a declining detainee population in general has forced us to make difficult decisions in order to maximize utilization of our resources.”

Garland said the prison’s imminent closure will affect the county in a number of ways, not the least of which is that the county, which does not have its own jail, will have to find another place to house the 40 to 75 inmates it sends there each month.

Seriously, holding a town for ransom in an attempt to get law enforcement to lock up more people.

That is pretty f%$#ing cold.

And Today in Charter School Corruption

Kipp Schools, the star of the hagiography Waiting for Superman, has been caught ripping off poor parents by demanding illegal fees, and when caught they refused to refund them:

Charter schools claim they are public schools. They are not. What public school is part of a corporate chain? What public school operates for profit? What public schools charges fees for service?

The KIPP schools in Houston have been charging fees to poor parents. Now that the scam has been exposed, KIPP refuses to refund the money to parents who need the money far more than the multi-million dollar KIPP organization does. KIPP [should] ask its patron, the rightwing Walton Family Foundation, for a few more dollars, enough to reimburse the needy families that it ripped off.

Supporters of school privatization will claim that this is an aberration.  It isn’t.

This is a natural and foreseeable consequence of applying the for-profit business model to a public good.

It’s all about maximizing profit on while being paid by the taxpayers.

This is a feature, not a bug.

What Part Of, “Working with Peter Thiel,” Don’t You Get?

Peter Thiel is a gay bashing gay man, an Ayn Rand loving sociopath, and one of the founders of the Big Brother wannabee software company Palantir.

Needless to say, his history should be a red flag for anyone who would want to do business with him.

Subscribing to a philosophy which maintains that self-interest is the only form of morality does not imply that they would deal fairly or honestly with clients.

Case in point, the New York Police are terminating their contract with the firm, and Palantir is refusing to transfer to the department as is required in the contract, because supplying an overpriced and difficult to use product, your business model has to be lock in:

A showdown over law enforcement information — and who controls it — is taking place between the New York Police Department and Palantir Technologies, the $20 billion Silicon Valley startup that for years has analyzed data for New York City’s cops, BuzzFeed News has learned.

The NYPD is canceling its Palantir contract and intends to stop using the software by the end of this week, according to three people familiar with the matter who weren’t authorized to speak publicly. The department has created a new system to replace Palantir, and it wants to transfer the analysis generated by Palantir’s software to the new system. But Palantir, the NYPD claims, has not produced the full analysis in a standardized format — one that would work with the new software — despite multiple requests from the police department in recent months.

Lawyers from each side have gotten involved, showing that this dispute — which hasn’t previously been reported — has the potential to escalate into a legal fight. And given the work Palantir does for a host of other government clients, the standoff over a seemingly arcane technical issue has implications for a range of services, from international espionage to battlefield intelligence.


The NYPD has been a Palantir customer since at least 2012, and Palantir has touted the relationship to help it drum up other business. The software ingests arrest records, license-plate reads, parking tickets, and more, and then graphs this data in a way that can reveal connections among crimes and people. In late 2014, for example, the police department used Palantir’s analysis to plan a sting that landed the rapper Bobby Shmurda behind bars, just as his career was taking off, according to an internal Palantir email seen by BuzzFeed News.


The NYPD quietly began work last summer on its replacement data system, and in February it announced internally that it would cancel its Palantir contract and switch to the new system by the beginning of July, according to three people familiar with the matter. The new system, named Cobalt, is a group of IBM products tied together with NYPD-created software. The police department believes Cobalt is cheaper and more intuitive than Palantir, and prizes the greater degree of control it has over this system.

The NYPD was paying Palantir $3.5 million a year as of 2015, according to an internal Palantir email that describes a contract to be signed in late 2014. Other Palantir customers — including Home Depot, which canceled late last year — have also raised concerns about Palantir’s prices.

The emerging dispute is not over the data that the NYPD has fed into Palantir’s software, but over the analysis that the software has produced — all the insights like the one that underpinned the Shmurda arrest.

The NYPD asked Palantir in February for a copy of this analysis, and for a translation key so that it could put the analysis into its Cobalt system, the people familiar with the matter said. But when Palantir delivered a file in May, it declined to provide a way to translate it, arguing that doing so would require exposing its intellectual property, the people said.

The NYPD then asked Palantir for the information in a translated format — asking Palantir to do the translation itself — according to the people. Palantir responded this month, providing a file that was indeed readable. But according to the NYPD’s examination of the file, it contained only the original data the NYPD had fed into the system, the people said. The analysis appeared to be missing.

If the dispute is not resolved by the end of this week, the NYPD can continue to view the analysis by using Palantir software, given that customers retain a perpetual software license even after canceling, two people familiar with the matter said. But this could mean having to switch between systems to see information relating to a case, a situation the NYPD wants to avoid. Plus, as an ex-customer, the NYPD will not have access to the same product upgrades or support should the software fail.

The standoff highlights a thorny issue for companies and governments that outsource their data-mining tasks to outside contractors. Technology experts say software companies have little incentive to smooth a customer’s transition to a rival’s product. In some situations, a software company would genuinely risk devaluing its intellectual property if it shared information with a customer, since that could show the customer how the information was created, according to Tal Klein, chief marketing officer of IT monitoring company Lakeside Software.

I may be a bit unfair to Thiel and Palantir here:  It appears to me, at leastdescribed Mr. Klein, that this is a part and parcel of privatized IT operations and the cloud.

In a truly competitive and open market, the profits approach zero, so any business would put as much friction into changing services so as to maximize its power over its clients.

This is why you should not privatize this sh%$ or move it to the cloud. 

It’s a computerized roach motel:  Your data checks in, but it never checks out.

Live in Obedient Fear, Citizen

In today’s United States, a judge could sentence you to jail based on a software generated risk report which the defendant has no right to review.

There is already anecdotal evidence that these programs will show higher risk for non-white defendants:

When Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. visited Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute last month, he was asked a startling question, one with overtones of science fiction.

“Can you foresee a day,” asked Shirley Ann Jackson, president of the college in upstate New York, “when smart machines, driven with artificial intelligences, will assist with courtroom fact-finding or, more controversially even, judicial decision-making?”

The chief justice’s answer was more surprising than the question. “It’s a day that’s here,” he said, “and it’s putting a significant strain on how the judiciary goes about doing things.”

He may have been thinking about the case of a Wisconsin man, Eric L. Loomis, who was sentenced to six years in prison based in part on a private company’s proprietary software. Mr. Loomis says his right to due process was violated by a judge’s consideration of a report generated by the software’s secret algorithm, one Mr. Loomis was unable to inspect or challenge.
Continue reading the main story

In March, in a signal that the justices were intrigued by Mr. Loomis’s case, they asked the federal government to file a friend-of-the-court brief offering its views on whether the court should hear his appeal.

The report in Mr. Loomis’s case was produced by a product called Compas, sold by Northpointe Inc. It included a series of bar charts that assessed the risk that Mr. Loomis would commit more crimes.

The Compas report, a prosecutor told the trial judge, showed “a high risk of violence, high risk of recidivism, high pretrial risk.” The judge agreed, telling Mr. Loomis that “you’re identified, through the Compas assessment, as an individual who is a high risk to the community.”

The Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled against Mr. Loomis. The report added valuable information, it said, and Mr. Loomis would have gotten the same sentence based solely on the usual factors, including his crime — fleeing the police in a car — and his criminal history.

At the same time, the court seemed uneasy with using a secret algorithm to send a man to prison. Justice Ann Walsh Bradley, writing for the court, discussed, for instance, a report from ProPublica about Compas that concluded that black defendants in Broward County, Fla., “were far more likely than white defendants to be incorrectly judged to be at a higher rate of recidivism.”


In 1977, the Supreme Court ruled that a Florida man could not be condemned to die based on a sentencing report that contained confidential passages he was not allowed to see. The Supreme Court’s decision was fractured, and the controlling opinion appeared to say that the principle applied only in capital cases.

Mr. Schimel echoed that point and added that Mr. Loomis knew everything the court knew. Judges do not have access to the algorithm, either, he wrote.

There are good reasons to use data to ensure uniformity in sentencing. It is less clear that uniformity must come at the price of secrecy, particularly when the justification for secrecy is the protection of a private company’s profits. The government can surely develop its own algorithms and allow defense lawyers to evaluate them.

This is why the privatization of an essential state function is a bad thing.

This is as about a perfect example of a Kafkaesque situation as is possible:  Condemned with a secret report using a secret method.

More of This

Well, it looks like one Trump administration disaster, Education Secretary Betsy Devos, is actually producing a positive response in the Democratic party, with pro education privatization Democrats being linked to the Amway Heiress:

It’s rare that Democrats are cast as puppets of the Trump administration. But on the issue of education, many Democrats who have long supported school choice are newly on the defensive within their party, forced to distance themselves from President Donald Trump and his education secretary, Betsy DeVos.

The unusual dynamic started soon after Trump’s inauguration, when a teachers union in Los Angeles sent voters mail depicting two charter-school-friendly school board contenders, both Democrats, as “the candidates who will implement the Trump/DeVos education agenda in LA.”

The message was repeated in New York, where the Alliance for Quality Education, an advocacy group partially funded by teachers unions, likened Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s education policies to Trump’s. The group urged online audiences to “stop Cuomo from doing Betsy DeVos’s dirty work.” In New Jersey, Sen. Cory Booker opposed DeVos’ appointment but came in for criticism for working with DeVos on school choice initiatives when he was mayor of Newark.


But with Trump and DeVos ascendant, defenders of traditional public education policies have a foil in Washington to bludgeon their reform opponents.

“DeVos and Trump have been explicit about a message of privatizing education and defunding public education in a way that I think reflects us saying, ‘We need to push back on that. We need to protect and strengthen education,’” said Tony Thurmond, a California state assemblyman running against Tuck for the open schools chief post next year. “I’m being really intentional about speaking out against those things.”

While education in recent years has rarely risen to the top of voters’ minds in statewide elections, the effort to yoke reform Democrats to DeVos could prove effective, especially in heavily Democratic states.

I would note that until this January, the most powerful advocate of school privatization and the attack on teachers was one Barack Obama, and his Education Secretaries, Arne Duncan, and John King, Jr.

Now that a Republican is in control of the federal burocracy, and endorsing marginally worse policies, Democrats are suddenly against it.

Support for labor unions, and the dignity of workers should be a core Democratic Party value.

It wasn’t under Barack Obama, (he abandoned card check) it wasn’t under Bill Clinton, (NAFTA, etc.) and it certainly would not have been under Hillary Clinton.

We need better Democrats.

The Headline Says It All

This Major City’s Drinking Water Was Fine. Then Came the Private Water Company

4 years after putting a private consultant, Veolia, in charge of managing the system, 81,000 homes have been warned that their drinking water may be lead contaminated due to a cost saving change in the chemical additives that Veolia implemented without consulting anyone.

Stealth privatization sucks just as badly as the open kind.