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“Kids As Crash Test Dummies”: Brownback Outsources Child Support Services To Donor

When he was elected in 2010, Kansas Governor Sam Brownback began to slash core government services and privatize the rest. His austerity politics resulted in the state being downgraded by S&P in August 2014, and his privatization initiatives have also drawn criticism, causing one leading Republican to state, “I had hoped that it wouldn’t be as extreme as it’s been … what we didn’t know was that Sam would use this state as crash test dummies for his own fiscal experiments.”

Kids receiving child support payments from absent parents would be among Brownback’s first “crash test dummies.”

While Kansas partially outsourced the enforcement of child support to private corporations and law firms in 1997, the private players were only awarded around 20 percent of the contracts; the rest went to public state agencies. In March 2013, however, the Kansas Department of Children and Families (DCF) announced that all child support services would be outsourced, and a request for proposal was issued. Not limited to enforcement, the contracts would include services connected to court petitioning, locating parents, and establishing paternity, which had never been in private hands before.

“Collection is a function that can be carried out more efficiently and more cost-effectively by private companies,” DCF secretary Phyllis Gilmore said at a press conference. Similar blanket statements, seldom backed by empirical evidence, are often echoed by privatization proponents, regardless of which public services they want to outsource. In this particular case, there is little evidence to support Gilmore’s sound bite. A 2013 report on the privatization of child support services commissioned by the Mississippi Legislature, for example, concluded that “the significant additional cost of privatization would outweigh the potential additional benefits.”

Child support is indispensible for hundreds of thousands of vulnerable Kansans, mostly single women and children. Nationally child support “represents 40 percent of family income for poor families who receive it, and reduces the poverty rate for children in these families by nearly 25 percent,” say experts.

The outsourcing of social services involving vulnerable populations is backed by influencial groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which has developed a raft of model bills to privatize state services and has had model bills to privatize child support services and foster care services since the late 1990s.

According to research group In the Public Interest, a comprehensive resource center on privatization and responsible contracting, “many children and adults rely on government-provided health and human services. The ability of these programs to deliver services efficiently and appropriately can be a matter of life and death. Numerous state and local governmental entities are finding that turning over these programs to private contractors not only fails to achieve projected cost savings but also decreases access to these important services, hurting many vulnerable families. In many cases, the service quality declines dramatically and many sick or at-risk people are left with substandard care.”

In June 2013, DCF announced that four firms had been awarded contracts. The winner among the winners was YoungWilliams – a nationwide company based in Mississippi – that received two-thirds of the caseloads or 85,000 child support cases, worth some $50 million. While YoungWilliams boasted that it landed the contract because of its “innovative service delivery structure,” there might be more to it than that.

Rob Wells, CEO of YoungWilliams, met Brownback at a fundraiser for the gubernatorial hopeful in 2010. He and his wife went on to donate $2,000 each to Brownback’s campaign – the largest contribution allowed under state financing laws. But this pales in comparison to the $67,500 retainer he paid for GOP lobbyist Austin Barbour’s services. Through his lobbyist network, Barbour arranged for a private meeting with Brownback’s chief-of-staff David Kensinger (currently under FBI investigation for illegal lobbying) and some of the governor’s closest aides. The parties met to discuss child service privatization in the conference room of what used to be the State Treasurer’s Vault of the Kansas Statehouse, far from the public spotlight.

A few weeks later, the Brownback administration appointed Trisha Thomas from YoungWilliams as director of child support enforcement after firing her predecessor. It didn’t take long for the new director to conclude that “privatization was the quickest way to improve Kansas’ child support enforcement performance numbers.”

Asked whether there was any research in support of Thomas’ project of wholesale privatization, a DCF spokesperson said, “No … It was an informal kind of pitch, I guess; research done, based on her … experience in other markets.”

It is too early yet to say what YoungWilliams will do with Kansas child support enforcement, but if history is any guide, outsourcing vital public services for vulnerable populations to companies that must turn a profit frequently leads to higher costs and worse services. Between 1995 and 2000, privatization behemoth Maximus was in charge of child support enforcement in two Tennessee counties. A report concluded that the company “spent more but collected less money for overdue child support payments in [these] counties, on average, than DHS did in the rest of the state.” Sen. Hob Bryan (D-MS) characterized a similar situation simply as “a disaster” for Mississippi families and their kids.

But it is not clear if fact matters to administration officials pursuing the privatization agenda. Shar Habibi from In the Public Interest notes: “The evidence suggests that expanding the outsourcing of a public service that many Kansas children dearly rely on, was influenced by campaign donations and expensive corporate lobbyists, instead of an objective analysis of what was in the public’s best interest.”

 

By: Mary Bottari, The Center for Media and Democracy/ALEC Exposed; Coauthored by Jonas Persson; The Huffington Post Blog, October 19, 2014

October 20, 2014 Posted by | Kansas, Sam Brownback | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Right-Wing Jobs Program For America: To Apply, Just Go Directly to Jail

Attention jobless Americans! If you’re among the millions of long-term unemployed people searching in vain for a job, here’s a hot tip: they’re hiring in Wisconsin.

There’s one little catch, though, you have to be a Wisconsin jailbird to get one of these dandy positions. But that’s no hill for a climber — I’m sure America has plenty of out-of-work folks who are enterprising enough to move to the Badger State, steal a six pack from a 7-Eleven, go to jail, and become eligible. I should mention, though, that you won’t get paid.

This so-called “work opportunity” is the first tangible product of Gov. Scott Walker’s corporate-scripted mugging of the collective bargaining rights of teachers and other civil servants. Having stripped public employees of their democratic rights in the workplace, government managers can now replace them willy-nilly with low-wage workers — even with free prison labor.

Jim Ladwig, the executive honcho of Racine County, has leapt on this like a chicken on an extra-juicy June bug. The day the law took effect, he announced that such jobs as landscaping and snow shoveling would be transferred from unionized county workers to prisoners. The captives will receive no pay, but they could be rewarded with reduced sentences. “We have a win-win when we use the inmates,” Ladwig exulted.

He’s not the only one thrilled with this scheme to take middle-class paychecks from public employees. The Washington Examiner, a far-right newspaper that cheers on the privatization of public services, hailed Racine County’s jailbird ploy as “great news for Wisconsin taxpayers. Hopefully, we’ll see more of it.”

So there you have the right-wing’s idea of a good jobs program for America. When Walker ran for governor last year, he promised to create 250,000 new jobs, and now he’s delivering. To apply, just go directly to jail.

By: Jim Hightower, CommonDreams.org. Originally Published by OtherWords, August 1, 2011

August 2, 2011 Posted by | Class Warfare, Collective Bargaining, Conservatives, Democracy, Elections, GOP, Gov Scott Walker, Government, Governors, Ideologues, Ideology, Jobs, Labor, Middle Class, Politics, Public Employees, Republicans, Right Wing, States, Unemployed, Union Busting, Unions, Wisconsin, Wisconsin Republicans | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Remember The Health-Care Reform Debate?: How The Landscape Has Changed

As a participant in the great health-care wars of 2010, it’s been — I don’t know: Amusing? Depressing? Annoying? Vindicating? — to watch Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget run over every principle or concern that Republicans considered so life-or-death a mere 400 days ago. A partial list:

Big changes need to be bipartisan changes. “The only bipartisanship we’ve seen on [the health-care] bill is in opposition to it,” said Eric Cantor, now the House majority leader. “When the stakes are this high – reforming 20 percent of the U.S. economy – there must be constructive conversations and negotiations from Republicans and Democrats in both houses of Congress,” wroteformer representative Tom Davis. The Ryan budget, which is unquestionably a more ambitious document than the Affordable Care Act, passed the House with no Democratic votes and four Republicans voting no. The only thing bipartisan was the opposition, etc. This appears to have given no Republicans anywhere any pause.

Polls matter. In March 2010, John Boehner was very, very upset that Democrats were working to pass a health-care law that a slight plurality opposed in polls. “President Obama made clear he is willing to say and do anything to defy the will of the people and force his job-killing health care plan through Congress,” he thundered. Last week, Speaker Boehner and the Republicans passed Ryan’s budget. How do its elements poll? Much, much worsethan the Affordable Care Act.

The Affordable Care Act’s Medicare cuts will devastate hospitals! Last fall, Ryan’s health-policy guru was saying,“The official Medicare actuaries have determined that approximately 15 percent of hospitals will be driven out of business in less than ten years if these cuts go through and called the cuts ‘clearly unworkable and almost certain to be overridden by Congress.’” Now those same cuts are in Ryan’s budget. C’est la vie, I guess (that’s French for “only Democratic cuts hurt hospitals”).

The Affordable Care Act’s savings don’t begin quickly enough! When the tax on expensive employer-provided insurance plans was pushed back to 2018, conservatives were outraged. “The odds are high that the excise tax will never actually happen,” wrote David Brooks. “There is no reason to think that the Congress of 2018 will be any braver than the Congress of today.” It was a fair argument: Cost savings that begin in the future are less certain than cost savings that begin now. So when does, say, Ryan’s voucherization of Medicare begin? Not 2012. And no, it’s not 2018. It’s 2022.

There’s no reform in the Affordable Care Act. “It would take Sherlock Holmes armed with the latest GPS technology and a pack of bloodhounds to find ‘reform’ in the $2.5 trillion version of the health-care bill we are supposed to vote on in the next few days,” then-Sen. Judd Gregg wrote. But apparently Holmes got his iPhone out, because now the Affordable Care Act is chock-full of reforms. In fact, it’s the model Republicans are following. “It’s exactly like Obamacare,” Sen. John Cornyn saidof the Ryan plan. “It is. It’s exactly like it.” And he meant that as a compliment!

The Congressional Budget Office will score anything you tell it to. “Garbage in, garbage out,” Sen. John McCain said. “Can you really rely on the numbers that the Congressional Budget Office comes out with?” asked Fox’s Steve Doocy. Now, of course, Republicans are touting CBO’s estimates of Ryan’s savings.

First, “do no harm.” That was former Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele’s big applause line. “Republicans want reform that should, first, do no harm, especially to our seniors,” he wrote in The Washington Post. Cantor said the Affordable Care Act would “cut Medicare for our seniors and increase premiums for many Virginians.” Say what you will about Ryan’s budget, but going from paying 25-30 percent of your Medicare costs to 70 percent cuts your Medicare while increasing your premiums. Steele also said that “we need to protect Medicare and not cut it in the name of ‘health-insurance reform.’ ” Instead, it’s getting cut in the name of tax cuts. To be fair, Ramesh Ponnuru saw this one coming, so I can’t say conservatives were denying it at the time.

I’m sure I’ve forgotten a couple, but that’s what the comment section is for. The natural next question is whether Democrats have been similarly hypocritical in their opposition to Ryan’s plan. So far as I can tell, we’ve not seen it: Democrats think the plan puts too much of a burden on the backs of seniors and the poor — two things they worried about constantly during the Affordable Care Act — and cuts too many taxes for the rich. They also note that the Congressional Budget Office says privatizing Medicare will make it more expensive — the same finding that led to liberal advocacy for a public option. But if I’m missing something here, I imagine it, too, will come up in comments.

By: Ezra Klein, The Washington Post, April 21, 2011

April 22, 2011 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Congress, Conservatives, Deficits, Democrats, Economy, GOP, Government, Health Care, Health Care Costs, Health Reform, Medicare, Politics, President Obama, Public Option, Rep Paul Ryan, Republicans, Right Wing, Seniors, Single Payer | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Ludicrous and Cruel: America Is Being Punked By GOP Voodoo Economics

Many commentators swooned earlier this week after House Republicans, led by the Budget Committee chairman, Paul Ryan, unveiled their budget proposals. They lavished praise on Mr. Ryan, asserting that his plan set a new standard of fiscal seriousness.

Well, they should have waited until people who know how to read budget numbers had a chance to study the proposal. For the G.O.P. plan turns out not to be serious at all. Instead, it’s simultaneously ridiculous and heartless.

How ridiculous is it? Let me count the ways — or rather a few of the ways, because there are more howlers in the plan than I can cover in one column.

First, Republicans have once again gone all in for voodoo economics — the claim, refuted by experience, that tax cuts pay for themselves.

Specifically, the Ryan proposal trumpets the results of an economic projection from the Heritage Foundation, which claims that the plan’s tax cuts would set off a gigantic boom. Indeed, the foundation initially predicted that the G.O.P. plan would bring the unemployment rate down to 2.8 percent — a number we haven’t achieved since the Korean War. After widespread jeering, the unemployment projection vanished from the Heritage Foundation’s Web site, but voodoo still permeates the rest of the analysis.

In particular, the original voodoo proposition — the claim that lower taxes mean higher revenue — is still very much there. The Heritage Foundation projection has large tax cuts actually increasing revenue by almost $600 billion over the next 10 years.

A more sober assessment from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office tells a different story. It finds that a large part of the supposed savings from spending cuts would go, not to reduce the deficit, but to pay for tax cuts. In fact, the budget office finds that over the next decade the plan would lead to bigger deficits and more debt than current law.

And about those spending cuts: leave health care on one side for a moment and focus on the rest of the proposal. It turns out that Mr. Ryan and his colleagues are assuming drastic cuts in nonhealth spending without explaining how that is supposed to happen.

How drastic? According to the budget office, which analyzed the plan using assumptions dictated by House Republicans, the proposal calls for spending on items other than Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid — but including defense — to fall from 12 percent of G.D.P. last year to 6 percent of G.D.P. in 2022, and just 3.5 percent of G.D.P. in the long run.

That last number is less than we currently spend on defense alone; it’s not much bigger than federal spending when Calvin Coolidge was president, and the United States, among other things, had only a tiny military establishment. How could such a drastic shrinking of government take place without crippling essential public functions? The plan doesn’t say.

And then there’s the much-ballyhooed proposal to abolish Medicare and replace it with vouchers that can be used to buy private health insurance.

The point here is that privatizing Medicare does nothing, in itself, to limit health-care costs. In fact, it almost surely raises them by adding a layer of middlemen. Yet the House plan assumes that we can cut health-care spending as a percentage of G.D.P. despite an aging population and rising health care costs.

The only way that can happen is if those vouchers are worth much less than the cost of health insurance. In fact, the Congressional Budget Office estimates that by 2030 the value of a voucher would cover only a third of the cost of a private insurance policy equivalent to Medicare as we know it. So the plan would deprive many and probably most seniors of adequate health care.

And that neither should nor will happen. Mr. Ryan and his colleagues can write down whatever numbers they like, but seniors vote. And when they find that their health-care vouchers are grossly inadequate, they’ll demand and get bigger vouchers — wiping out the plan’s supposed savings.

In short, this plan isn’t remotely serious; on the contrary, it’s ludicrous.

And it’s also cruel.

In the past, Mr. Ryan has talked a good game about taking care of those in need. But as the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities points out, of the $4 trillion in spending cuts he proposes over the next decade, two-thirds involve cutting programs that mainly serve low-income Americans. And by repealing last year’s health reform, without any replacement, the plan would also deprive an estimated 34 million nonelderly Americans of health insurance.

So the pundits who praised this proposal when it was released were punked. The G.O.P. budget plan isn’t a good-faith effort to put America’s fiscal house in order; it’s voodoo economics, with an extra dose of fantasy, and a large helping of mean-spiritedness.

By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, April 7, 2011

April 8, 2011 Posted by | Budget, Congress, Conservatives, Consumers, Deficits, Democrats, Economic Recovery, Economy, Federal Budget, GOP, Government Shut Down, Health Care Costs, Ideologues, Independents, Journalists, Media, Medicare, Planned Parenthood, Politics, Pundits, Republicans, Right Wing, Senate, Uninsured, Voters | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Wisconsin Supreme Court Race Throws A Spanner In The Works Of Wisconsin Wingnuts

While Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan prepares to shut down the federal government to prove that government is bad, analysts say the radical agenda of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker suffered a major set back today as his good friend incumbent Justice David Prosser was defeated for Wisconsin Supreme Court. The AP unofficial vote count, with 100 percent of the precincts reporting, puts challenger Joanne Kloppenburg ahead by slightly more than 200. A recount is doubtless on the way.

In a state that has never unseated a conservative Supreme Court justice, people power fueled a concentrated effort to deny the Imperial Walker one branch of government. Walker’s opponents hope a Kloppenburg victory will swing the Supreme Court in a more independent direction and set the stage for the court to strike down Walker’s controversial collective bargaining law. While the fate of the law is uncertain, Kloppenburg’s three week sprint from dead-in-the-water to victor may give Walker, Ryan and other Wisconsin politicians pause as they rush to radically reshape government to benefit the privatizers and profiteers. 

Sleepy Court Race Electrifies the State

While it may seem odd to many Americans, Wisconsinites like to elect their judges. Although an elected judiciary has its problems (namely, unseemly high-dollar elections), the ballot box sometimes hands citizens a rare opportunity to un-elect judges — and that is what many Wisconsinites decided to do today.  Prosser, a former Republican Assembly Speaker, stumbled when his campaign embraced Walker’s election.

The Kloppenburg victory is stunning. Six weeks ago, sitting Judge David Prosser was a shoo-in and the challenge by Assistant Attorney General Kloppenburg was a snooze fest. But something happened on the way to the high court. A governor, who was elected to create jobs, took office and quickly moved to disenfranchise voters and kneecap unions so they could no longer be a viable force in state elections. The raw power grab sparked a spontaneous uprising, the likes of which this state has never seen, and the Supreme Court race was the next vehicle for people to have their voices heard.

Proxy Fight Over Worker Rights

The whole country took notice when firefighters, teachers and cops stood with working families across Wisconsin to say ‘no’ to Walker’s radical plans to bust unions, cut $1 billion from schools and privatize the university system.

When his “budget repair bill” was passed March 9th, many national observers thought the fight was over.  With large margins in both houses, Walker’s stranglehold on government seemed invincible.

But irate Wisconsinites fought back on multiple fronts, filing lawsuits over the way in which Senate leaders rammed the bill through with less than the requisite notice required under the state open meetings law, blocking the bill’s implementation. They filed recall petitions against eight Wisconsin senators and this week delivered the requisite signatures for two of those recalls well ahead of schedule. They turned their attention to the heretofor unnoticed race for Wisconsin Supreme Court. Within days, handmade signs for Joanne Kloppenburg popped up across the state. Many voters understood that to win any of the battles ahead over worker rights, over the recalls, over redistricting and more, a more balanced judiciary was needed.

Kloppenburg went from being a long-shot to victory in a three-week sprint marked by huge independent expenditures on both sides. The anticipated recount will keep the juices flowing and will fuel the remaining recall fights.

Shock Doctrine at Work

While some voters believe the court will act as a check and balance on the madness at the state level, they are concerned that Paul Ryan continues to run amok at the federal level — threatening a complete government shut down. At the same time that Walker was working to obliterate unions and privatize public schools, Ryan, Chair of the House Budget Committee, decided to go after Grandma with the complete privatization of Medicare. His radical budget bill, unveiled this week, slashes trillions of dollars from America’s social safety net and throws the elderly into the private insurance market with a “voucher” in their pocket.

Less interested in balancing the budget than redistributing wealth, his budget plan would funnel billions into the pockets of big insurance firms while also giving a ten percent tax break to corporations and the very richest Americans.

What is really going on here? Naomi Klein warned in her groundbreaking book “Shock Doctrine” that the right-wing excels at creating crises, real and imagined, to viciously advance their pro-corporate anti-government agenda. She credits economist Milton Friedman who observed that “only a crisis—actual or perceived—produces real changes. When the crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around. That, I believe, is out basic function: to develop alternatives to existing policies to keep them alive and available until the politically impossible becomes politically inevitable.”

UW Professor Joel Rogers wrote recently:  “As explained by Grover Norquist and Karl Rove, this project aims at national repeal of most of democratic achievements of the 20th century, a return to business domination of public life not seen since the Gilded Age and McKinley.”

The Wall Street financial crisis caused by years of deregulation and lack of government oversight cost Americans eight million jobs, tanking federal and state tax receipts and creating budget shortfalls. Ryan and Walker are moving to take advantage this real jobs crisis to cook up a fake deficit crisis to advance a radical agenda that is hostile to the very idea of government – the idea that sometimes services are best provided and things are best accomplished collectively, for the public good, and not for corporate profit.

Today, many voters believe that this agenda was checked in Wisconsin. While another recount battle looms, voters of Wisconsin are pledging that they will not allow this victory to be stolen.

By: Mary Bottari, Center For Media And Democracy, April 6, 2011

April 6, 2011 Posted by | Banks, Collective Bargaining, Corporations, Debt Crisis, Deficits, Democracy, Economy, Elections, GOP, Gov Scott Walker, Government Shut Down, Labor, Medicare, Middle Class, Politics, Public Employees, Rep Paul Ryan, Republicans, Right Wing, Union Busting, Unions, Voters, Wisconsin, Wisconsin Republicans | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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