Monday, July 17, 2017

Public Transit, Privatization and the Canada Infrastructure Bank | Global Research - Centre for Research on Globalization

Public Transit, Privatization and the Canada Infrastructure Bank | Global Research - Centre for Research on Globalization:

From Canada:

"The Canada Infrastructure Bank (CIB) will create a pipeline of privatization for our public transit systems. Corporations will be able to extract long-term profit from public transit fares and public subsidies.  Our governments subsidize public transit because it’s critical infrastructure for our communities: to get us from place to place, to reduce traffic congestion, and to green our environment. When we allow corporations to plan, finance, operate, maintain and own public transit, we funnel ridership fares and government funding into corporate coffers. The CIB will give unprecedented control and decision-making power over our public transit infrastructure to private sector investors. This means the public interest will take a back seat in transit planning and development. Many of our public transit systems in recent years have been built using public-private partnerships (P3s). The CIB will open the door to even further privatization, allowing profit to drive public transit planning and decision-making."

Privatization Is Changing America's Relationship With Its Physical Stuff - The Atlantic

Privatization Is Changing America's Relationship With Its Physical Stuff - The Atlantic:



"Whether it’s P3s, or the outright privatization of public assets, as Trump suggests doing with the air-traffic control system, cautionary tales abound. Many experts cite the case of Chicago, which sold off its parking meters to a consortium headed by Morgan Stanley and including the government of Dubai. The consortium paid the city $1.1 billion. The Chicago Sun-Times estimated that the consortium will earn back its investment from meter revenue three years from now, but the deal runs for another 60 years. So Morgan Stanley, Dubai, and the other partners will pocket millions every year ($156 million in 2015) from Chicago parkers. Meanwhile, the city has to pay the consortium every time it takes a meter out of service—during a street fair, for example. As The New York Times explored last December, cities can be blindsided by such deals, especially if a private owner raises the price, for example, of using its water system in order to provide a profit to investors."

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There are many situations in which municipalities have made terrible privatization deals brokered by investment bankers and funded by some shadowy sovereign wealth fund or private equity combine. 

Thursday, July 13, 2017

America's infrastructure debt is so bad that towns are unpaving roads they can't afford to fix / Boing Boing

America's infrastructure debt is so bad that towns are unpaving roads they can't afford to fix / Boing Boing



Here is what 35 years of ignoring the need to maintain public infrastructure have brought us:



"The chickens are coming home to roost in rural America, where paved roads have been neglected so long that they are effectively beyond repair, prompting municipalities to tear them up and replace them with car-smashing gravel roads whose dust pose a health hazard to residents and livestock."  

Monday, July 03, 2017

Trump takes over his condo board.

Trump Foot Soldier Sidelined Under Glare of Russia Inquiry - The New York Times

"Just over a decade ago, Donald J. Trump was locked in conflict with a group of apartment owners who had taken control of the condominium board at his new glass tower across from the United Nations. Faced with accusations of financial impropriety and an affront to his authority, Mr. Trump turned to Michael D. Cohen, a former personal injury lawyer who helped run a taxi fleet. Mr. Cohen did not seem to have extensive expertise in the arcana of New York City condo rules. But he had something Mr. Trump seemed to value more: devotion to the Trump brand. He had already purchased a number of Trump properties and had persuaded his parents, in-laws and a business partner to buy apartments in Mr. Trump’s flashy new development, Trump World Tower. Plus, he had read Mr. Trump’s book “The Art of the Deal.” Twice. With Mr. Cohen’s help, Mr. Trump regained control of the board, orchestrating a coup that culminated in a standoff between his security detail and private guards hired by the disgruntled owners, according to people who were there. Details of the dispute’s resolution are secret because of a confidentiality agreement, but Mr. Cohen said that his task was “masterfully accomplished.”

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I'll just leave this right here for those who (a) think condos are awful and the people who develop and run them are monsters, and (b) nonetheless voted for a real estate developer who builds condos and has a long record of leaving a trail of misery and destruction in his wake.


Friday, June 30, 2017

Law firm ordered to pay $3.1M to Las Vegas condo association – Las Vegas Review-Journal

Law firm ordered to pay $3.1M to Las Vegas condo association – Las Vegas Review-Journal

"One of Nevada’s leading law firms not only enabled a criminal conspiracy but also participated in it, according to District Judge Mark Denton. Kummer Kaempfer Bonner Renshaw and Ferrario was so negligent it enabled contractor Leon Benzer to cheat a homeowners association out of $8 million. On Tuesday, Denton ordered the law firm now known as Kaempfer Crowell to pay $3.1 million to the Vistana Condominium Owners Association. The judgment is nearly $2.4 million; the rest is interest.

“The judgment could exceed $4 million after costs and attorneys’ fees are added,” said Vistana attorney Richard Haskin, although that’s up to the judge. Denton’s findings of negligence and breach of duty against Kummer Kaempfer were plentiful and brutal...

■ A young attorney named Brian Jones wasn’t supervised and allowed ballot stuffing in a HOA election.

■ The FBI told the law firm it was investigating Jones in connection with election irregularities, but no one at the firm informed Vistana.

■ The law firm represented both sides in suspicious HOA elections, a clear conflict of interest."

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This is, of course, another stage in the Leon Benzer, et al., HOA fraud ring scandal, the biggest white-collar crime case in the history of Las Vegas. Dozens of people incarcerated, many of them prominent individuals, including the former chair of the Nevada Republican Party. Several suicides. And what is at the bottom of it? The fact that many HOAs and condo associations are vulnerable to being manipulated or even taken over by unscrupulous professionals, officers, and board members, and used like ATMs.

On this day: Voucher privatization in Russia was officially completed | Russia Beyond The Headlines

On this day: Voucher privatization in Russia was officially completed | Russia Beyond The Headlines

"The vouchers, each corresponding to a share of the national wealth, were distributed equally among the population, including minors. Almost 98 percent of Russians participated in the program, but most people were not well informed or had the proper finances. So, the governmental inner circles managed to grab most of the best assets. From 1992 to 1994, ownership of 15,000 firms was transferred from state control via the voucher program. This period is described as “the most cataclysmic peacetime economic collapse of an industrial country in history.” 

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Voucher privatization destroyed the Russian industrial economy and created the class of criminal billionaires who are now called the "oligarchs." Although almost the entire population was allowed to participate, the future oligarchs quickly found ways to buy up the vouchers and take over most of the nation's major businesses. Russia's economy has never recovered and never will. The nation went from being one of the world's major industrial countries to a third-world extraction economy that does almost nothing except selling oil and gas.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

House and Senate Set to Battle Over ATC Privatization - AVweb flash Article

House and Senate Set to Battle Over ATC Privatization - AVweb flash Article: "The House bill to reauthorize the FAA for the 2018 fiscal year—starting October 1—includes ATC privatization as most general aviation groups had feared. AOPA, EAA, GAMA, NATA, Helicopter Association International, and NBAA released a joint statement opposing the bill: “After a thorough and detailed review of Chairman Bill Shuster’s (R-PA) proposal to remove our nation’s air traffic control operations from the Federal Aviation Administration, we have concluded that these reforms, while well intentioned, will produce uncertainty and unintended consequences without achieving the desired outcomes.” Privatized ATC service would be funded by user fees under the proposal, which is the primary appeal for some supporters. Much of the FAA’s budget is currently supported by fuel taxes, which are mostly paid by operators of large jets. Replacing a fuel tax with a cost per operation—such as a fixed fee per instrument approach—would represent a tremendous tax cut for the airlines and tax increase for operators of smaller aircraft.

The Senate meanwhile seems unlikely to include ATC privatization in its companion bill. "



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Police: Man opens fire on HOA president - KTNV.com Las Vegas

Police: Man opens fire on HOA president - KTNV.com Las Vegas:



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Back off Blackstone! Standing in Solidarity Against Privatization Wherever It Threatens | Food & Water Watch

Back off Blackstone! Standing in Solidarity Against Privatization Wherever It Threatens | Food & Water Watch: "The evidence is clear: Privately run water systems charge households 64 percent more than public systems charge. A typical household using 5,000 gallons a month pays an extra $153 a year if its water services are privatized. Additionally, once a publicly run infrastructure is privatized the decision is difficult to reverse. We have seen time and time again how privatization works to take advantage of the consumers. Food & Water Watch will support those who stand up to these corporate profiteers."



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Monday, June 12, 2017

Submitted for your consideration


Here's a Rod Serling Twilight Zone, "submitted for your consideration" interlude. I've been reading a book about Russian politics. The author says that understanding Russian politics isn't hard, as long as you drop the assumption that there are some things, just unthinkable things, that the government would never do. I don't know about Russia, but I do know about prosecutors and Trump and American politics. And I think that it is wrong to assume that Trump wouldn't dare to fire independent counsel Robert Mueller and pardon everybody who committed crimes on his behalf, because that would be unthinkable, authoritarian, tin-pot dictator, banana republic behavior. He would. And it is equally wrong to think that the Republicans in both houses of Congress wouldn't defend him for doing it. Because they would. And it is also wrong to think that the corporate media would drop their vapid, nonsensical, "both sides are equally extreme" coverage if/when this happens, because they would normalize it just like they normalized Trump's firing of the FBI director.
Now, maybe Trump won't set this whole chain in motion by firing Mueller. I hope he doesn't. But as the Magic 8 Ball says, "Signs point to yes." Because Mueller has quickly put together a Prosecution Death Star that is going to take about a year to get charged up, and when Mueller pushes the "fire" button, there will be more pieces of Trump floating in space than there were of Alderan, and none will be bigger than a grain of sand. By now, Mike Flynn and Paul Manafort, and maybe others, may have worked out deals with Mueller. Trump knows this, and it is obvious that he has absolutely no respect for the law, which for him is just another hostile power that he has to dominate. He may figure that he would rather terminate the prosecution and weather the firestorm than endure what will happen if he doesn't.
Because remember: just because we don't know all the facts about what he did, it doesn't mean that he doesn't know all the facts about what he did.

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Colorado Supreme Court ruling requires developer’s consent on HOA rule changes

Colorado Supreme Court ruling requires developer’s consent on HOA rule changes: "At issue is a Monday ruling by the state Supreme Court that upheld a developer’s right to require mandatory arbitration for any defects claims.

The 27-page ruling for Vallagio V. Metro. Homes stipulates that a developer may include provisions in a Common Interest Communities (CIC) declaration that gives it the right to refuse any amendments voted on by homeowners."

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I haven't read the opinion yet, but as explained here, apparently the original dec (drafted by the developer, of course) says all defect claims have to go to binding arbitration, and also provides that any changes in the dec have to be approved by the developer. The HOA took a vote to change the arbitration provision, so they could sue the developer instead of going to arbitration. Colorado law says that owners can amend their declarations, and that super-majority requirements can't exceed 67%.  That seems to give owners protection against anti-amendment provisions in their developer-drafted original declarations.



But no-- the Colorado Supreme Court ruled against the owners:  "Statute allows CICs to gather a majority vote to change declarations laid down by developers. The level of majority required varies between declarations but cannot exceed 67 percent. The CIC in Vallagio V. Metro. Homes argued that requiring consent from developers for changes exceeded the maximum limit and should be prohibited. But the 5-2 ruling found the inclusion of a consent requirement does not violate the statute concerning declaration changes."  
And here is some reaction to the ruling, also from the same linked story:
"Build Our Homes Right, a homeowners advocacy group, had a different opinion of the ruling and its implications. Jonathan Harris, CEO of Build Our Homes Right, said in a statement that the ruling diverges from what should be a priority for courts: protecting citizens’ legal rights, such as the right to trial. “The court just decided that deep pocketed developers have the right to steamroll over homeowners in order to shirk their responsibility for producing shoddy homes,” Harris said. He added that the implications of the ruling stretch beyond defects. “The court has decided that powerful developers can control homeowners associations until the end of time, not only in construction defect claims, but on everything from their right to a jury trial in any kind of dispute, to issues relating to assessments and how homeowners use their own homes,” he said."

An HOA-like organization helps determine how Colorado Mills is rebuilt | 9news.com

An HOA-like organization helps determine how Colorado Mills is rebuilt | 9news.com:



What could possibly go wrong? :-)

Kansas abandons massive tax cuts that provided model for Trump's plan | US news | The Guardian

Kansas abandons massive tax cuts that provided model for Trump's plan | US news | The Guardian:

"Kansas has rejected the years-long tax-cutting experiment that brought its governor, Sam Brownback, to international attention and provided a model for the Trump administration’s troubled tax plans.

In a warning shot to the Trump administration, even Brownback’s fellow Republicans voted to override his veto of a bill to reverse many of the tax cuts he championed as a way to spur entrepreneurs and the economy, but which have left the state with a $1bn hole in its budget."


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Brownback got his advice from Arthur Laffer, who inflicted this nonsense on the nation when the people around Reagan bought "supply side economics" and the loony notion that if government cuts tax rates, they can collect more tax revenue. Reagan gave us gigantic budget deficts, then Bush did the same, Brownback cratered his state, and now of course Trump and his cronies invoking this voodoo to justify giving huge tax breaks to their super-rich buddies.



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Trump Wants to Gut the Agency Behind the Shale Boom - Bloomberg

Trump Wants to Gut the Agency Behind the Shale Boom - Bloomberg:



Even the business press is aghast at Trump's mindless flailing around.

The Opening Bell 6/7/17: Should FAA Focus on Privatization, or Modernization? | WGN Radio - 720 AM

The Opening Bell 6/7/17: Should FAA Focus on Privatization, or Modernization? | WGN Radio - 720 AM

This is an interview with me this morning about the proposal to privatize the Federal Aviation Administration's air traffic control functions. Trump had a silly signing ceremony with no legislation or executive order--not even a real proposal. He just "signed" some "principles" that basically amount to endorsing unspecified private-public partnerships as the way to build infrastructure. And he endorsed last year's HR 4441 that failed miserably. It was the four major airlines' plan to privatize air traffic control and give them control over it--30,000 employees, tens of billions of dollars of infrastructure, tens of billions more in money to update airports, and control over air traffic control. The bill went nowhere, except in the committee of Rep. Bill Shuster (R-PA). By an amazing coincidence, Shuster was spotted having a good time in Miami with two airline lobbyists, one of whom was his girlfriend. The four major airlines spent $16 million lobbying.  Here's what the lobby for regional, smaller airlines thinks.