'A disaster in the making': Critics warn bipartisan infrastructure plan 'would facilitate a Wall Street takeover'
Refusing to touch the 2017 GOP tax cuts for the wealthy and large corporations, a bipartisan group of 21 senators is proposing a series of alternative infrastructure funding mechanisms that critics say amount to a thinly veiled scheme to privatize the nation's roads, bridges, and water systems.
"Communities across the country have been ripped off by public-private schemes that enrich corporations and Wall Street investors."
—Mary Grant, Food & Water Watch
In a two-page memo (pdf) outlining its yet-to-be-finalized infrastructure plan, the bipartisan group lists "public-private partnerships, private activity bonds, and asset recycling" as potential ways to finance the package, which calls for $579 billion in new spending over five years.
Asset recycling refers to the practice of leasing out or selling off public infrastructure to private corporations and using the proceeds to fund other projects—a policy that Australia has used widely and that former U.S. President Donald Trump proposed replicating in 2017.
As the U.S. research nonprofit In the Public Interest noted in a 2017 report (pdf), "the Australian asset recycling program ultimately crashed and burned, and the fund itself was formally ended in December 2016."
"Our own country's experience shows that transferring control of public infrastructure to private interests is fraught with problems," the brief continued. "One such example is the privatization of Chicago's parking meters. In 2009, Chicago signed a 75-year public-private partnership with a consortium of companies for the operation of the city's 36,000 parking meters. Although the city received $1.15 billion in the deal, Chicago drivers will pay the consortium at least $11.6 billion to park at meters over the life of the contract. The contact required Chicago to raise parking meter fees by 200 to 800%, depending on the area of the city, from 2009 to 2013."
In a statement issued Thursday as the details of the bipartisan proposal began to emerge, Mary Grant of advocacy group Food & Water Watch warned that the plan "would pile further burdens on communities struggling to recover from the Covid pandemic."
"It promotes privatization and so-called 'public-private partnerships' instead of making public investments in publicly-owned infrastructure," Grant said. "This package does not provide adequate funding to rebuild and repair our country's infrastructure; it is nothing more than an outrageously expensive way to borrow funds, with the ultimate bill paid back by households and local businesses in the form of higher rates."
"Communities across the country have been ripped off by public-private schemes that enrich corporations and Wall Street investors," Grant continued. "This deal is a disaster in the making, and it must be rejected."
Rianna Eckel, an organizer with Food & Water Watch, similarly cautioned that the bipartisan proposal "would facilitate a Wall Street takeover of public services like water—which would lead to higher rates, worse service, and job cuts."
Food & Water Watch estimated in a March report (pdf) that, on average, privately owned utilities charge households 59% more than local governments for drinking water service.
Led by Sens. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio), the bipartisan group is crafting its infrastructure plan as an alternative to President Joe Biden's original American Jobs proposal, which calls for over $2 trillion in new spending over eight years financed partially by raising taxes on corporations and the wealthy.
"As chairman of the budget committee, I believe that now is the time to address the long-term crises facing working families."
—Sen. Bernie Sanders
Morris Pearl, chair of the Patriotic Millionaires, said Thursday that by deeming any changes to the 2017 GOP tax law off limits, the bipartisan Senate group is showing that it's "more interested in having less Infrastructure investment in order to justify keeping in place a rigged tax code that favors corporations and the rich rather than actually coming up with a plan that solves the enormous challenges that our country faces."
"If the choice is between a good deal and a bipartisan deal, Democratic senators must choose the good deal," said Pearl. "They must prioritize doing what the American people are asking for, which is to raise taxes on the rich and corporations. Two-thirds of voters support raising taxes on corporations to pay for President Biden's infrastructure investment."
As the bipartisan group continues to hash out the details of its proposal behind closed doors, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Senate Democrats are considering a package that includes up to $6 trillion in infrastructure and safety-net spending.
On top of major investments in physical infrastructure and green energy, the $6 trillion plan would lower the Medicare eligibility age from 65 to 60 and expand the healthcare program's benefits to cover vision, hearing, and dental. The proposed expansion would be paid for by allowing Medicare to negotiate prescription drug prices, which Sanders' office estimates would raise $450 billion in revenue over a decade.
"As chairman of the budget committee, I believe that now is the time to address the long-term crises facing working families," Sanders tweeted Thursday. "And, yes. We can pay for many of these proposals by demanding that the wealthy and large corporations start paying their fair share of taxes."
Tik Toker Brookiebaby888 usually posts humorous lifestyle videos to her 73,000 followers, but earlier this month she filmed herself doing a "magnet vaccine test." Standing in front of her camera, she explained to users that she just received her COVID-19 vaccine and wanted to see if a magnet would stick to her arm. Pressing the round magnet to her deltoid, she gasps in surprise when it barely sticks.
Brookiebaby888 is one of thousands who have done the "vaccine magnet test" on Tiktok, perpetuating the conspiracy theory that the COVID-19 vaccine includes an unidentified magnetic object — maybe a microchip — causing a side effect of becoming magnetic (which is not true). It's unclear if people like Brookiebaby888 are true anti-vaxxers, or just participating in yet another viral social media challenge with deleterious public health effects.
Recently, the conspiracy theory was popularized and brought to the mainstream when Sherri Tenpenny, a confidant and adviser to MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell and self described anti-vaxxer, spoke about it at a hearing held by a health committee in the Ohio state legislature.
"I'm sure you've seen the pictures all over the Internet of people who have had these shots and now they're magnetized," Tenpenny said. "They can put a key on their forehead. It sticks. They can put spoons and forks all over them and they can stick, because now we think that there's a metal piece to that."
Misinformation experts say testimonies like Tenpenny's promoting vaccine misinformation, along with the viral videos on social media doing the "magnet test," harm public confidence in the vaccines. The very real public health risk posed by the spread of such misinformation speaks to why people like Tenpenny need to be deplatformed from social media, Imran Ahmed, CEO of The Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH), told Salon.
"It's profoundly irresponsible to give them uncritical oxygen given that these are publicity hounds who are seeking to sell their product," Ahmed said. "Every time they're given the oxygen of publicity, they become more powerful."
Ahmed suspects that the hearing in Ohio that went viral was likely a publicity stunt for Tenpenny to gain new followers and make more money. Tenpenny is listed as one of the top 12 leading anti-vaxxers according to the CCDH; Robert F. Kennedy Jr., Andrew Wakefield, and Joseph Mercola are also on the list. The CCDH estimates that Tenpenny — who is a practicing osteopathic physician and alternative health entrepreneur who offers "boot camps" in becoming an anti-vaccine activist — makes $2.1 million from these programs collectively, according to the CCDH's report titled "Pandemic Profiteers."
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"This is all an enormous scam," Ahmed said. "For them, it's a war of attrition, and the war of attrition is that, let's just say 10 people believe that they can magnetize them — they happen to stick a key to themselves because they're in the middle of a heatwave and it's a hot and sticky and it sticks to them — and they think, 'Oh my god, the vaccine is magnetic.'"
"That's why social media has been so powerful for them," Ahmed continued, "because they've been able to push out misinformation and then slowly start accruing followers without ever necessarily paying the cost for it."
As Ahmed alluded to, it is likely that some people who participate in the vaccine magnet challenge will believe that, for some reason, the COVID-19 vaccine has a mysterious magnetic metal in it like iron, nickel, or cobalt. According to a fact sheet on the FDA's website for the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, the vaccine contains only mRNA, lipids, potassium chloride, monobasic potassium phosphate, sodium chloride, dibasic sodium phosphate dihydrate and sucrose — none of which are ferromagnetic.
For the record: Though it's been debunked time and time again — including by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) — the COVID-19 vaccine does not make a person magnetic. The reason the magnets or keys are briefly sticking to some, Deputy Lab Director Eric Palm of the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory told BBC News, could be trickery or simply the cause of excess oils on the skin.
"You can easily get a coin to stick to your skin, we've all done that as children — sticking coins to our foreheads," Palm said. "Because of the surface oils, surface tension associated with that... or someone could be using trickery, [such as] band-aid residue or sticky substance."
There are certainly instances of such simple trickery; for example, TikTok user Emilaay442's video of doing the magnet challenge went viral when the magnet stuck. But, as she later explained to BBC News, it was meant to be a "joke" and she actually licked the magnet before applying it to her skin.
So where did this bizarre, dangerous myth come from exactly? It's unclear. In her testimony, Tenpenny suggests that there's something magnetic in the protein being injected, or something related to "5G towers," meaning cell phone radio towers. (Notably, 5G or "fifth generation" cellular technology requires much smaller and less intrusive radio towers than previous generations.)
In some videos, the magnet sticking has been used to advance the microchip conspiracy theory that falsely claims Bill Gates is behind an operation to implant microchips in people via vaccines. As The Verge reported, this conspiracy theory stemmed from a Reddit thread. Indeed, as Ahmed said, the magnet meets microchip conspiracy theory fits into the three types of misinformation that anti-vaxxers spread frequently. This one just happened to stick.
"One is that COVID isn't dangerous, the second is that vaccines are dangerous, and the third is that you can't trust doctors," Ahmed said. Anti-vaxxers "throw out everything" and see what sticks, Ahmad continued. "We've been told that vaccines will do everything from magnetize you to kill you, to all sorts of idiocy — this just happens to have caught fire because of this profoundly hilarious video of Sherri Tenpenny."
Internal affairs is recommending two top police officials in Miami be fired for lack of honesty.
"Three days before Miami Police Chief Art Acevedo was officially sworn in, he drew a line in the sand to the city's command staff: 'You lie, You die,' warned the incoming chief, suggesting changes were coming within the department," the Miami Herald reported Friday. "That same morning, Nerly Papier, one of the city's top-ranked female police officers, a cop who grew up in the department working her way from a job as a temp to become Little Havana NET commander, hit a curb with her city-issued SUV. She blew out two tires, then continued to drive the vehicle, damaging its rims on her way to the office."
"Now, Papier and her husband Ronald Papier, the city's deputy chief and acting chief for two months during the transition to Acevedo, are fighting to hang onto their their jobs. The couple were suspended two weeks after Acevedo's swearing in on April 2. By the middle of May, an Internal Affairs investigation recommended they be fired for not following the proper chain of command after the SUV accident," the newspaper reported. "And despite the city refusing to say if any others were punished for alleged involvement in Nerly Papier's crash, the Miami Herald has learned that seven other officers — almost everyone who had anything to do with the accident and its aftermath — have received written reprimands."
Lack of candor about the incident is reportedly at the heart of the issue for Nerly Papier.
"In Nerly Papier's letter of reprimand from Internal Affairs, investigators determined she fudged the truth on several occasions, never acknowledged that there were pedestrians on the sidewalk when her SUV rode over the curb and did not mention she ran two red lights on her way to the station after the accident. The report also says that Nerly Papier told the commander in charge of property that she had two flat tires and never mentioned she was in an accident," the newspaper reported.
The newspaper also reported that why Ronald Papier is facing firing "remains unclear."
Read the full report.
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