mfioretti: privatization*

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  1. A huge economic transformation is planned for the kingdom, and the fees on offer are well worth a few days of strawberry juice in the puritan luxury of a five-star hotel in the Saudi capital.

    Saudi Arabia is lining up a privatisation of state assets that dwarfs the Thatcher “revolution” of the 1980s, and rivals the 1990s dissolution of Soviet assets in scale and significance. It has hung a “for sale” sign on virtually every sector of Saudi economic life: oil, electricity, water, transport, retail, schools and healthcare. Even the kingdom’s football clubs are due to be auctioned off.

    The sell-off programme is the central part of the economic transformation plan envisaged under the Vision 2030 strategy. With oil stuck around the $50 mark, Saudi budgets are creaking and deficits are widening. Around $75 is regarded as the break-even point for the national finances.

    But in 13 years, if all goes to plan, the kingdom will be financially stable, with a more dynamic economy and society, less reliance on oil and government spending, and with a thriving private sector that releases the pent-up entrepreneurial spirit of Saudi men and (whisper it in the kingdom) Saudi women.

    It is, of course, a big “if”, but for an economy stuck in the rentier mentality of the 1930s – when it became a country under the house of Saud and oil was discovered, and which has been ruled by the strict orthodoxy of Wahhabi Islam ever since – this will be nothing less than a revolution.
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  2. These investments, which give these companies dedicated capacity on these undersea cables, represent a big shift in how these cables are built and managed. Earlier this year, Jonathan Hjembo, a senior analyst at Telegeography, told us that private networks now account for about 60 percent of the capacity of trans-Atlantic traffic.
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  3. f you’ve been to a conference in the past 12 months – you’ll almost certainly have seen the slide above, or a version of it.

    Mentioning “disruptive innovation” adds a sprinkle of sophistication to otherwise ordinary presentations. It’s a sit up and take notice slide that says: ‘Better listen, or you could be history.”

    However – it doesn’t always hit its intended target. A significant portion of the audience at a couple of events I’ve been to recently have looked at each other as if to say ‘that couldn’t happen to us’.

    The reason for this seems to be the comfort blanket that can come with extended working in the public and social sectors.

    The thinking can go like this.

    We are different.
    We deal with people who are highly complex with multiple needs and vulnerabilities.
    No tech outfit could hope to understand the extent of the personalisation involved in our services.

    It’s optimistic thinking – probably the same that was held by some taxi firms pre-Uber and hotels before Airbnb.

    It’s going to take radical change a lot closer to home before many managers recognise how profoundly the rules of business have changed in the digital age.

    Arguably though , it’s already happening. I’ve made a slide of my own that might be more relevant to the public sector.

    Far from fantasy – we are at the beginning of the end of one size fits all health, housing and social care monopolies.

    Some examples:
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  4. News of the poisoned water crisis in Flint has reached a wide audience around the world. The basics are now known: the Republican governor, Rick Snyder, nullified the free elections in Flint, deposed the mayor and city council, then appointed his own man to run the city. To save money, they decided to unhook the people of Flint from their fresh water drinking source, Lake Huron, and instead, make the public drink from the toxic Flint River.
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  5. The UK is further north than the US, and less experienced in installation than Germany, and with lower per unit retail prices. So the revolution in UK may be delayed but not (necessarily) postponed.

    One supermarket is already experimenting with solar plus storage, and it looks a commercial proposition for the many businesses that are being metered on a half-hourly basis to store solar power for use during the more expensive peak periods after dark. This will become economic far earlier for businesses than homes.

    Britain’s energy system is at a crossroads

    Most parts of the UK energy system (generators, suppliers, networks) have business models that require bulk sales of centrally generated power to create revenues; there is potential for changes and challenges. It means that the fallout from this transformation will land in the lap of Government because there are significant political choices still to be made.

    How will the Grid and distribution networks be paid for if they are carrying less power?
    Are the systems we currently have available capable of managing the full range of system changes? (No)
    How much is going to be done to support the existing system of major suppliers?
    Will conventional providers be propped up in the name of security or will a new system emerge which is less ‘managed’ but with more players and probably more innovation?

    These are deeply political questions, and they aren’t being talked about, even in outline, in manifestos or party policy papers.

    And that’s a problem because, as Exeter University academics argue, energy policy arrangements in UK have a legitimacy problem to the extent that UK polling shows people want to see the energy companies nationalised by a ratio of more than 3 to 1. That’s more than want to see the railways renationalised.
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  6. As part of the American Civil Liberties Union’s recent report on police militarization, the Massachusetts chapter of the organization sent open records requests to SWAT teams across that state. It received an interesting response.

    As it turns out, a number of SWAT teams in the Bay State are operated by what are called law enforcement councils, or LECs. These LECs are funded by several police agencies in a given geographic area and overseen by an executive board, which is usually made up of police chiefs from member police departments.
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  7. The majority of First World citizens are able to separate themselves, both spatially and temporally, from the consequences of their way of life. The gilded cages they live in, both shield them from consequences and imprison their minds. Warnings of impending destruction being discussed beyond the bars of the cage can only be perceived as faint echoes which may cause a fleeting pause, but cannot successfully penetrate the vast majority of minds within. Through projecting the consequences of their actions to others, both in the present and the future, the richer countries have been able to construct incredibly complex — and totally unsustainable — societies. The wealthier citizens can create their own cages within a cage, to separate themselves from the lesser ranks as they enjoy a new gilded age fuelled by the looting of the earth and the dispossession of others. Just likes taxes, it is only the little people that feel the heavy consequences ii » .

    As Kempf puts it, “the lifestyle of the rich prevents them from sensing what surrounds them. In developed countries, the majority of the population lives in cities, cut off from the environment where the fissures in the biosphere are beginning to show. Moreover, the majority of the population is largely protected from those fissures by the structures of collective management developed in the past; these succeed in dampening the shocks … when they are not too violent … The ruling classes, which model opinion, are even further cut off from the social and natural environment: they travel only in cars, live in air-conditioned spaces, and use transportation circuits – airports, business neighbourhoods, residential areas – that shelter them from contact with society.

    When people in one of the richer countries fill up their cars with gasoline, do they think of the people of the Niger delta who have had their lands poisoned and their leaders murdered to keep the oil flowing xiv » ; the Iranians who had democracy taken away from them due to the impudence of a leader who wanted to use the country’s fossil fuel wealth for its own citizens’ benefit xv » ; or the South American lands which were poisoned to reduce the cost of oil production xvi » ; or the native communities that are being poisoned by the Alberta Tar Sands xvii » ; or the rural areas of the United States despoiled by “fracking” xviii » xix » ? Of course not; the consequences of modern society’s need for prodigious amounts of cheap fossil-fuel energy are hidden far from view. Out of sight, out of mind.

    What about crops that are grown in water-stressed areas, irrigated by sucking up the waters of ancient aquifers which will take millennia to replenish xx » ? Their depletion of those aquifers is hidden from view until the last usable drop is gone, with more and more powerful pumps and deeper bore holes being used to make sure no usable water is left xxi » . Of course, that will be in the future and thus will not affect those currently doing the pumping. At least, the people involved find it comforting to believe that.

    In Toronto, the downtown airport is pushing for expansion so that they can grow their business, and the large suburban airport has already grown significantly in the past few years. With the profitability of most airlines paper-thin, and that profitability gravely threatened by any increases in fuel prices, or carbon-related aviation taxes, the longer-term folly of such massive investments should be obvious to all. Instead, the rich and developing societies double down on the exponential growth driven by cheap fossil fuels, leaving the consequences for others and other times.

    On average, airlines don’t even make enough money to cover their cost of capital; the entire aviation supply chain made annual economic losses of between US$16 billion and US$18 billion from 2004 to 2011 xxv » . During that period, jet-fuel costs rose from 17% to 30% of airline operating costs, as higher prices swamped efficiency gains. The incredibly slim operating margins for airlines are shown in the 2014 International Air Transport Association’s forecast, indicating a profit per departing passenger of US$5.65! xxvi » . No wonder the industry is fighting to forestall against taking responsibility for the full consequences of their operations in the form of transport carbon taxes xxvii » . Here is an industry subsidized by investors and the taxpayers in the present, while it helps destroy our collective future. On both business and ecological grounds it should be facing consolidation, shrinkage, and much higher prices. The impact throughout the economy would be significant as airports, airplane manufacturers, and myriad other suppliers share the airline companies’ painful shrinkage.

    The sheer magnitude of the energy infrastructure that will be invalidated and require replacement, together with the critical pieces that will have to be rebuilt after being destroyed, put to bed any assumptions of a smooth transfer to low-carbon energy sources.
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  8. How far will corporations go to make a profit? They have no shame in manipulating other organizations and societies to make money. Corporations have gone as far as using education to make a profit. inBloom, a non-profit organization, has begun to test new cloud-based software that will collect students information from their school records with the mindset of individualizing the education of each student. Although inBloom is non-profit, it has a long list of corporate partners. The corporations get access to view student data and use it as they see fit, in return for their partnership. The information inBloom collects goes further than the students school history; it is now digging into the student’s personal information. For example the data inBloom collects includes teen pregnancy and foster care. inBloom supports education reforms such as greater reliance on standardized testing and merit-based pay, both of which are unpopular with teacher unions. Not only are these corporations violating student privacy, they are not allowing consent from the parents or an option to opt out of the data collection. At what point will corporations realize that what they are doing is wrong?
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  9. Sawyer, a South Side Democrat who was not in office when the meter deal passed, is trying to ensure similar proposals will get more scrutiny in the future. He has introduced an ordinance that would require more transparency, including public hearings and a comprehensive economic analysis, for any proposed city partnership with a private entity.
    An estimated $1 trillion of America's $6 trillion in annual federal, state, and local government spending goes to private companies.

    "This is just about the process," Sawyer said. "We're not saying all privatization deals are bad. But if we're going to do this, let's be honest with the public and let them know what's going to occur: It's going to save this much money, it's going to cost this many jobs."

    Sawyer is not alone. In states and cities across the country, lawmakers are expressing new skepticism about privatization, imposing new conditions on government contracting, and demanding more oversight. Laws to rein in contractors have been introduced in 18 states this year, and three—Maryland, Oregon, and Nebraska—have passed legislation, according to In the Public Interest, a group that advocates what it calls "responsible contracting."

    "We're not against contracting, but it needs to be done right," said the group's executive director, a former AFL-CIO official named Donald Cohen. "It needs to be accountable, transparent, and held to high standards for quality of work and quality of service." Cohen's organization, a national clearinghouse exclusively devoted to privatization issues, is the first advocacy group of its kind.
    Tags: , by M. Fioretti (2014-05-15)
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  10. In today's maps, Africa arguably gets as rough a deal as it always has. Now as ever, the continent may not look like we think it does.

    Today, Google has its own partialities and purposes in creating huge maps of the world, and Brotton believes that these motivations lie in Google's corporate goals.

    "For me, it seems clear that Google Maps are driven by commercial multinational profitability," he says. "They are ultimately driven by the prospects of advertising revenue."

    Indeed, Google relies on advertising for almost the entirety of its nearly $60bn annual income. One way to think of the business model is that its massive advertising revenue allows it to offer its services free of charge. But another way is that the near monopoly the company achieves by providing its ubiquitous services for free gives it the dominance necessary to generate those ad dollars in the first place. Google's corporate motto may be Don't Be Evil, but it's bottom line is still Make A Profit.

    It is arguably this reality that has led Google to spend massive sums of money on developing Google Maps, but which also affects what is put in and what is left off its maps.

    Mapping is becoming privatised, not even states have the vast resources necessary to compete, and inevitably the usual problem is that Africa comes very low down on the pecking order
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