Wall Street’s Solution to Puerto Rico Debt Crisis? Shutter Schools, Fire Workers

New report commissioned by bondholders and hedge fund managers calls for sweeping austerity measures

by: Sarah Lazare

Hedge fund managers and bondholders are pressing the government of Puerto Rico to drive through a series of punishing austerity measures, including dramatic cuts to public education and workers’ rights protections, to “solve” the crisis of debt and poverty gripping the Caribbean island.

A group representing $5.2 billion of debt held by 38 investment managers paid three former economists for the International Monetary Fund, who now are employed by the firm Centennial Group International, to devise policy recommendations in response to Governor Alejandro García Padilla’s claim last month that Puerto Rico’s $72 billion debt is “not payable.”

Entitled For Puerto Rico, There is a Better Way, the report urges the government to increase tax collection and then use this money to pay back creditors while at the same time severely slashing public programs—particularly education—and privatizing assets and industries. Needless to say, the billionaire bondholders who commissioned the study have a direct financial interest in its findings.

Specifically, the report’s authors call for the government to slash public education and health programs, including proposals to: “Reduce number of teachers to fit the size of the student population; Reduce subsidy to University of Puerto Rico; Cut excess Medicaid benefits.”

The recommendations come despite the fact that Puerto Rico’s government has already been rapidly defunding the education system, closing 100 schools in 2015 alone. Puerto Rico’s teachers’ unions have vigorously opposed attempts to drive through neoliberal education reforms and cuts, and in May, thousands of educators and students took to the streets and staged strikes to protest a proposed $166 million cut to the University of Puerto Rico’s budget.

The study also recommends “structural reforms” to regulations and worker protections, including calls to: “Amend local labor laws regarding overtime, vacation time, mandatory bonuses, and others;” and changes that would “[m]ake welfare benefits consistent with local labor market conditions.”

What’s more, the report calls for taxpayers’ money to be put towards “public private partnerships” to construct or operate buildings and ports.

Many argue that the logic of austerity and privatization represented in the report is actually much of what created Puerto Rico’s economic crisis in the first place – a U.S. territory in which over 13 percent of people are unemployed, 45 percent of people live below the poverty line, and residents are treated like second-class citizens of the United States.

The current situation has drawn comparisons to debt crises in places like Greece andDetroit, and prompted criticism of ongoing U.S. colonial domination on the island.

“According to the neoliberal narrative, the rapidly intensifying economic crisis is an open and shut case: Puerto Rico, legally an unincorporated territory of the US, is caught in a debtor’s trap of borrowing to pay for essential operations,” wrote journalist Ed Morales forJacobin last month.

“But the real story is more complicated, and more connected to Puerto Rico’s colonial relationship with the US,” Morales continued. “Over the years, the U.S. has treated Puerto Rico as a laboratory for population control, conducted naval war games on the island nation for possible Middle East interventions, and used it as a pre-NAFTA staging ground for corporate megastores to develop consumer bases and exploit low-wage labor.”

Activist and scholar Vijay Prashad recently argued that the commonwealth’s elite government also has a hand in the island’s ongoing hardship through its embrace of an IMF agenda of privatization and cutbacks: “Garcia Padilla continues to use the word ‘sacrifice’ in his speeches. The question asked by Puerto Ricans is why such a word is only used against ordinary people and never against the bankers.”

Source: Wall Street’s Solution to Puerto Rico Debt Crisis? Shutter Schools, Fire Workers | Common Dreams | Breaking News & Views for the Progressive Community

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For-Profit Prison Accused of Subjecting Juveniles to ‘Disgraceful’ Conditions

G4S already stands accused of human rights violations from Israel to South Africa to the United Kingdom

bySarah Lazare, staff writer

A for-profit British private security firm whose human rights abuses have been documented around the world, from Israel to South Africa to the United Kingdom, stands accused by a grand jury of operating a horrific juvenile detention center in Florida where conditions are so poor, and hygiene so bad, that the prison “should cease to exist.”

The firm G4S operates the Highlands Youth Academy in Avon Park, Florida, where young men and boys from 16 to 19 years old are incarcerated. A riot at the prison two years ago prompted the investigation.

In a report completed in late June and unsealed earlier this month, referred to as a “presentment,” the Grand Jury of Polk County declared: “The existence of the Highlands Youth Academy in its current state is a disgrace to the state of Florida.”

“The buildings are in disrepair and not secured, the juvenile delinquents are improperly supervised and receive no meaningful tools to not re-offend, the staff is woefully undertrained and ill equipped to handle the juveniles in their charge, and the safety of the public is at risk,” the presentment states. “Yet, G4S has a 9 percent profit margin and expects to make $800,000 in profit this year from the operation of the Highlands Youth Academy.”

G4S runs 28 other juvenile detention centers in Florida alone. According to The Ledger, G4S has a $40 million contract to run the Highlands Youth Academy for five years. The presentment emphasizes: “While the citizens are essentially being ripped off—the juveniles are being even more poorly served.”

Source: For-Profit Prison Accused of Subjecting Juveniles to ‘Disgraceful’ Conditions | Common Dreams | Breaking News & Views for the Progressive Community

Photo Credit for image below OWS on CC license.

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Vowing to #SayHerName and More, Hundreds Gather to Honor Life and Death of Sandra Bland

After being arrested in Texas following routine traffic stop earlier this month, many questions remain about untimely death of woman who has further galvanized national movement

by: Jon Queally

Hundreds of people attended the funeral of Sandra Bland on Saturday at the DuPage African Methodist Episcopal Church in Lisle, Illinois outside of Chicago to commemorate the woman whose untimely death in Texas jail cell on July 13 has further galvanized a national call demanding something be done about the extreme levels of police violence and the pervasive mistreatment of black women, men, and other minorities across the country.

Though an official autopsy report released Friday found that the available evidence suggests Bland hung herself inside her jail cell three days after being arrested following a confrontation with an officer who pulled her over for failing to signal, many of her family and friends—as well as members of the larger public—have questioned those findings and are demanding further investigation.

As the Chicago Tribune reported:

The majority of people attending Bland’s funeral Saturday had never met her. Yet mothers stood in line outside the Lisle church for nearly an hour under the unforgiving sun, a thick layer of sweat forming on their foreheads and those of the crying infants they held in their arms. Teenagers held handwritten signs with photos of Bland they found on Facebook; some young men had made T-shirts that read “#SandySpeaks.”

Those attending Sandra Bland’s funeral were joined by their fierce belief that, whatever the circumstance, the 28-year-old Naperville woman did not deserve to die.

Among those attending the funeral was local resident Hank Brown, who told the Tribune, “I don’t know Sandra, and I don’t know what happened. But I do know she didn’t have to die. There’s an epidemic of police terror in this country, and people need to stand up.”

When it was time for Bland’s mother, Geneva Reed-Veal, to speak at her daughter’s funeral, she reportedly addressed those gathered without shedding tears, but with a steady voice as she called for justice.

“The fact is,” she said, “I’m the mom, and I still don’t know what happened to my baby… I want to know what happened to my baby. I’m gonna find out what happened to my baby.” Referencing her daughter’s role as an advocate for racial justice and her personal musings on the subject on social media under #SandySpeaks, her mother continued by saying, “My baby has spoken. She’s still speaking and no, she didn’t kill herself.”

According to the New York Times:

Ms. Reed-Veal spoke at length, telling mourners about a recent road trip she had taken with her daughter. On their way to visit relatives in Tennessee, Ms. Reed-Veal said, Ms. Bland told her she had found a calling and planned to pursue it by returning to Texas, where she had attended college.

“Her purpose was to stop all injustice against blacks in the South,” Ms. Reed-Veal said at the funeral.

Meanwhile, as the Movement for Black Lives Convening conference was being held in Cleveland over the weekend, where black activists and community organizers from around the country converged to assess and strategize over the national effort to address racial injustice, it was clear that Sandra Bland’s name—just like Ferguson’s Michael Brown, Staten Island’s Eric Garner, and Cleveland’s Tamir Rice—has become a new touchstone, especially among black women, for the growing drive to politicize and affect change around issues of police violence, mass incarceration, and social inequities that pervade modern society.

As the Cleveland Plain Dealer reports:

The conference is happening amid an escalating national discussion about law enforcement’s interaction in black communities. Those issues are illustrated through several high-profile incidents that began in the summer of 2014 with the shooting death of Michael Brown Jr. by a Ferguson, Missouri police officer and continue through this month when Sandra Bland was found dead in a Texas jail cell where she was being held after a routine traffic stop.

The conference is being held in Cleveland, a city where two police officers remain under investigation in the Nov. 22, 2014 shooting death of 12-year-old Tamir Rice. The Cleveland police department is now operating under a federal reform agreement that came after the U.S. Justice Department’s two-year-long probe of the department’s use-of-force practices and policies.

Local organizer Malaya Davis is a Cleveland native and a member of the Ohio Students Association. She said that while other cities were considered to hold the convening, Cleveland stood out because of Rice’s death and the death of 37-year-old Tanisha Anderson. Anderson, who suffered from mental illness, died after she was placed in a retrain hold by an officer in the street outside her family’s home. 

Tamir’s and Anderson’s deaths occurred within one week of each other.

“Cleveland looks just like Ferguson, looks just like Baltimore, looks just like all of these places that have high oppression,” Davis said. “We wanted to highlight that and bring some attention to what’s going on in this city and the state of Ohio as well.”

Source: Vowing to #SayHerName and More, Hundreds Gather to Honor Life and Death of Sandra Bland | Common Dreams | Breaking News & Views for the Progressive Community

 

Image below used via CC license OWS.

 

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