Posts Tagged 'Wisconsin'

Creating a Corpse

Graph 2

As every bureaucrat knows, if you want to kill any public process or project the preferred method is to starve it, and starving public education they are. If you want make a corpse of public education simply starve it to death by underfunding it. Doing things this way kills your target softly, which avoids confrontation and rancorous public discussion. The by-word is stealth.

It is no coincidence that the two worst states in the US when it comes to cuts in per student spending are the two states where the most ambitious wanna-be Republican governors have declared war on public education and public school teachers; two governors who have overweaning national political ambitions. They are, of course, Scott Walker and Susana Martinez.

The accompanying chart, created by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, vividly tells the sad tale. Read it and weep, New Mexico – we are leading the country in starving public education out of existence. Wisconsin and New Mexico lead the country, with New Mexico taking first-place honors cutting per student spending by $707.00 from fiscal year 2011 to fiscal year 2012. Yes, New Mexico leads the nation in something besides great enchiladas, and by a fair margin. Wisconsin is in the game with minus $625.00. West Virginia, on the other hand, spent $504.00 more per student during the same period. West Virginia!

“Civilization works only if those who enjoy its benefits are prepared to pay their share of the costs.” Thus begins a recent editorial in the Economist, “The Missing 20 trillion,” about the amount of non-taxed money generated by individuals and corporations through one dodge or another that are secured in various countries, off-shore shelters and the like. Essentially it is an article on sociopathy in the form of capitalism. The editors could have beneficially stopped with the above quotation but, ever the defenders of capitalist ways, went on to rationalize the underlying causes and ignore the moral issues.

This is not to say the editors didn’t suggest fair and honest ways to tax the money; what they failed to do was address the core problem. Where they dropped the ball, so to speak, was to not address first principles, their own assumptions about the social contract and the underlying causality. What is missing is a frank discussion of the missing moral commitment to a social contract that includes the rest of us. But this is both typical of these kinds of economic analysis, which ply the reader with platitudes about capitalism while they ignore its fundamental and deadly flaws.

Nowhere do we find a better and more telling example than the ongoing war on public education in the United States by the wealthy and the politicians they have purchased with campaign financing and generous PACs. The selling of America, indeed.

The American Taliban – Part 5

The Political Utility of Poverty – Part 1

Put simply, if poverty wasn’t useful it wouldn’t exist. And what then  is its perceived value? Social control.

Consider: One American family who inherited a vast national retail chain, hold wealth equal to the entire bottom 30% of American society. Their stores, which do not pay local income taxes, sell to generally low income Americans  low cost goods mostly made overseas by Third World people earning poverty wages. This family donates millions of dollars to groups seeking, among other things, to privatize public education.

The other side of the coin: As of March 2012, 24 million Americans could not find a full-time job and have been characterized by American Taliban politicians as lazy, unmotivated, and unwilling to work and whose benefits and entitlements should be cut or eliminated. It is estimated that 46 million Americans live below the poverty line and 1 in 6 Americans struggle with hunger including 17 million children. These numbers apparently represent the American “exceptionalism” politicians are crowing about because they are not duplicated elsewhere in the Western world.  How does this work for you?

Strapped and fearful, middle-class people aren’t about to make waves; they have jobs, albeit low paying jobs and getting lower, to protect, mortgages to pay, medical insurance to pay for, credit card debt to service, and very little in the way of savings to fall back on should things go amiss. Middle-class people are trapped into a politically conservative mind-set because it is believed to be, at the very least, protective of their fragile status quo. In Wisconsin in the gubernatorial recall election earlier this year union members and their families voted for the candidate who vowed to shut down unions. Say what? Were these people fearful of losing what they have, were they delusional? Whatever else that might have motivated them they seemed to believe that voting as they did better protected their interests. The key word in this being “believe”.

Poor people on the other hand are dangerous politically because they believe they have nothing much to lose and so will be inclined to vote for candidates inclined to improve their lot hence the strategy to take away their power to vote, to disenfranchise them. Passing voter ID laws is a weapon of social control that deliberately targets  that segment of society who are more inclined to vote for socially liberal rather than American Taliban candidates. The Republican majority leader of the Pennsylvania legislature, Mike Turzi, unashamedly boasted of accomplishing exactly that when a law requiring voter ID was passed in that state.

All social organization is predicated on beliefs; it is mutual beliefs that bind its members to it. All functioning societies, primitive or sophisticated, are and have been established on beliefs. Beliefs are thus the foundation stones of human association and the attendant social contracts. No shared beliefs no social contract is a hard and fast rule. To be civilized a society requires personal commitment to behavior which promotes the common good even if not all are direct beneficiaries as in the exercise of charity. Perceived fairness may be the most binding dynamic of a social contract. As John Rawls defined it in “A Theory of Justice” ,”… inequalities within a society must work to benefit the least advantaged.” In order for people to believe in and thus commit to the social contract they must believe it to be fair and it must benefit a broad social spectrum including the least advantaged.

If the bonds of belief are broken and social agreements violated a collective good no longer exists, the social contract is dissolved and so follows the society itself. The subordination and commitment of individuals to that society and its social order devolves into alienation followed by anarchy. When the number of people with nothing to lose reaches critical mass social control shifts from the personal commitments of individuals to the social order to social control via coercion and condign measures by a self-designated elite – that consequence, as has been demonstrated throughout history, is inevitable.

The smaller the portion of a society a state represents the greater the force required to maintain control. Based on the current militarization of police forces around the country and the incessant universal monitoring and covert spying on everyone (Yes, everyone- including you dear reader.) by federal agents someone somewhere has thought about these consequences. Social control replaces and trumps the social contract whenever the status quo is threatened. Correspondingly the greater the mass of those disenfranchised from the social order becomes the greater their potential force and threat. Exponentially higher levels of control as in the form of a police state must follow resulting in higher levels of resentment and resistance. One only has to watch news videos of police in action, as at the Occupy Oakland demonstrations this year, to see this is already happening. Local police departments have been given millions of tax dollars to “upgrade” their gear with military equipment to deal with anticipated future protests. The two forces, threat and control, will inevitably circle each other until one destroys the other or the destruction is mutual. Chaos ensues. Those who would conspire to demean, devalue, and destroy the civil society are playing with a Promethean Fire of grave consequence.

Poverty can no longer be acceptable if we are to have a viable society and that is not just financial poverty but spiritual poverty and opportunity poverty as well. Young people cannot graduate from college thousands of dollars in debt with no expectation but being hounded by debt collectors for the rest of their lives or menial jobs just short of servitude. Historically no amount of state sponsored suppression of an under-class majority has succeeded – those who ignore the lessons of history are bound to repeat them and poverty may prove not to be so useful as once believed.

Rough Times Ahead

The Koch boys won in Wisconsin and in the other places where they have been spreading their financial poison, planting paid operatives, and electing their puppets. The boys now own Wisconsin just as they have owned Scott Walker all along. The same game plan is underway in New Mexico via their friendly governor and in other states as well – money being the universal grease of political corruption particularly when it is in service to a social agenda. Mr. Walker received $63.5 million in funding from sources outside Wisconsin.

In the case of Wisconsin we also have to wonder about people voting against their own best interests, against their own social class, their neighbors, their public servants. Why? Among other factors, many Wisconsin citizens opposed the idea of a recall as though it was somehow un-American when in reality recall is an elegant expression of the very idea of American social democracy. This aversion was cleverly exploited by Walker and his backers among whom I count ALEC and the US Supreme Court with its fatuous anti-democracy Citizens United decision.

The Walker recall was rejected by a large number of working and middle-class Wisconsinites who no doubt had their own situations on their minds. In the US the term “middle-class” is in the process of being redefined downward. As recently reported by the Federal Reserve, the net worth of American middle-class families has now declined to 1990 levels. Walker exploited middle-class America’s financial desperation by demonizing labor unions particularly those representing public-sector workers like teachers depicting them as having health benefits and pensions paid for by taxpayers who are themselves doing without. The Republican presidential candidate, Romney, in a Marie Antoinette let them eat cake moment, summarized the “message of Wisconsin” as, America can do with fewer teachers, police, and firefighters. This, you can be certain, will be the theme, the neo-conservative game plan going into the 2012 elections, because it resonates with a diminished middle-class looking for answers to it’s own plight. Needless to say I suppose is that neither Romney himself nor his kids ever attended a public school.

Rough times lie ahead for intelligent caring people – especially for people who work for a living, and not just in Wisconsin. The Wisconsin outcome is going to embolden others like Indiana governor Mitch Daniels, who in a post-Wisconsin election interview on Fox “News” (there’s an oxymoron for you) stated that public sector unions are past their prime and should be abolished. Unions, private and public-sector, are in decline and, thus, in neo-conservative cross-hairs. Union membership has declined from 40% of American workers in the 1950s to 12% today. In the upcoming general election the Wisconsin story could easily be repeated across the country. What happened in Wisconsin in a nutshell was a general vote against unions by people who perceived union members getting a disproportionate share of public money in pay and benefits. Of course those who voted against the unions will ultimately share the losses caused by their vindictiveness in one way or another.

Pressure to limit wages and benefits are in place courtesy of ambitious politicians in hock to moneyed interests who will benefit from paying low wages and abolishing employee benefits. Young people who want a college education will be in for a lifetime of being in debt if they manage to graduate from the privatized public schools which are also a part of the conservative agenda. Among the other casualties will be labor unions which are already on the ropes, not just because the Kochs and their cohorts have been targeting them but because most Americans are indifferent and in some cases antagonistic.

Antagonism towards unions is of two sources, one being the unrelenting propaganda from the right as was demonstrated in Wisconsin. The campaign against working people and organized labor has had a long and oftentimes violent history as for example the Pullman Strike of 1894 which resulted in 13 workers killed, 57 wounded, and eventually put down by 12,000 federal troops. The other source of today’s antagonism is an apparent lack of critical awareness on the left. Children born into union families when unions were at their strongest – children whose college educations were made possible by their parent’s union membership – do not themselves identify with unions, seeing unions as antiquated, irrelevant, and with an “On The Waterfront” animus. Unions have failed to continually make their case even, apparently, to their own children.

If the general population believes labor unions are irrelevant unions have only themselves to blame and only they can right that perception and they must. In the Wisconsin recall election exit polls found that even family members of union workers voted for Walker. Walker didn’t win so much as organized labor lost and that, dear readers, was just the beginning. Rough times ahead.

This essay first appeared at: Grassrootspress and Light of New Mexico

A Momentary Lapse …

A Momentary Lapse of Character

In a moment of uncharacteristic candor and persona, Hanna Skandera, the twice passed over candidate for New Mexico Secretary of Education, had this bit of truth to say about her mission: “I came to New Mexico to do a job, and I plan to do that job.” With the tacit approval of legislators on both sides of the aisle, what a job it is she is doing to schools, teachers and students.

By not taking up Skandera’s confirmation and rejecting her Legislators obtained by default their personal “don’t blame me” licenses. Clearly the “job” she refers to is bringing New Mexico into line with the educational policies of ALEC including their spawn of phony “foundations”, “institutes” and her other corporate sponsors. Nearly verbatim copies of ALEC promulgated educational policies, the ABCD-F Act among them, have been presented and passed into law. This is happening without critical analysis, proper public discussion or truthful disclosure of sources nor an understanding of the strategy, purpose and ultimate consequences imbedded in those new laws.

The same underhanded conspiracy is taking place across the United States and besides New Mexico, Wisconsin, Connecticut and Florida are good examples. State legislators elected by their constituencies in the belief that they would write and pass legislation particular to their constituencies are carrying water for a private organization, ALEC, introducing bills written by ideological trolls in Washington DC. Of course to prepare them for this mission legislators are wined and dined at exclusive resorts sequestered by armed guards to keep out the prying eyes of the public and the press. If a resort isn’t handy ALEC will happily pick up the tab at an expensive local restaurant as it did recently in Santa Fe. Either way ALEC picks up the tab and asks only that you introduce the bills they have written as though they were your own. It sounds a lot like a conspiracy scam doesn’t it? Personally I want my elected representatives to write their own legislation based on what we in New Mexico need and not what some corporate sponsored bill mill in Washington DC is cranking out.

In Wisconsin, Connecticut and Florida state legislatures already have been and are uncritically passing new laws governing schools to enable take-over by private charter schools, the devaluing of teachers, and the mechanized stupidizing of the educative process. What is the motive? Among other things like destroying organized representation for working class people, the end result ALEC and it sponsors want is to take over public education for profit. In some places people are waking up. In Wisconsin for instance they are recalling their recently elected Governor, Scott Walker, who, like Susana Martinez in New Mexico, was sponsored by the Koch boys and the ALEC. This recall business can happen anywhere when people realize they are being sold out by their elected officials. Throw the bums out of office and start over; that’s how it done unless of course you are happy with the idea of uniform laws promulgated across the country written by ALEC and passed by corporate toadies in state legislatures.

What’s at stake here? Well, how about your democratic form of government for starters? How about schools accountable to their communities as opposed to schools accountable to their stockholders and corporate managers. How about honesty and above the board legislative dealings. How about doing your job as a legislator and doing the dirty work that job sometimes requires? If all you think about is being re-elected and not wanting to affront some of your constituency or potential fat cat donors then you are not doing your job and don’t deserve to hold office. In the final analysis it isn’t whether Skandera was approved or not, what matters is that you had the courage to take up the matter and deal with it. We are now into the 2012 legislative election cycle and November will be the reckoning. I’ll bet education is going to be on  the agenda.

It was announced this afternoon, Wednesday February 15th, that New Mexico had been granted exemption from the NCLB business. President Obama’s hoops buddy came through for Skandera on this matter which is by definition, is no more than a straw issue. In fact what has been achieved is exactly no more than this: New Mexico, you no longer have to walk backwards but you will have to walk on your hands and knees. Keep going. Boy whoopee! Such a deal…..

This essay first appeared at: http://www.motivationalbooks.com/thelightofnewmexico/


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