Sunday, October 11, 2015

It's About the Money, Stupid

Oh, it so totally is.
America is no longer about freedom.

Its not about opportunity.

It's not about a fair deal or a moral center

Its about money.

Who has it.

What it buys them.

What protects it and helps make more for those who already have more than they could spend in 10 lifetimes.

A  perfect fall day was marred yesterday by the intrusion of reality, courtesy of The New York Times.

The venerable Grey Lady took the time and devoted the resources to demonstrate statistically, what  most of us already knew intuitively -- we're ruled by the rich, our public servants are really their public servants and -- this little piece of reality courtesy of our friends in Harrisburg -- the only tool we have to level the playing field is being systematically undermined to ensure we no longer have access to it.

In a stunning and thoroughly depressing example of public service journalism, published on-line yesterday and, in all likelihood, in print today, the Times demonstrated that in a nation of 120 million people, just 158 families and the companies they control, have provided more than half of the seed money for the campaigns of those seeking the presidency.

And best of all, thanks to the Supreme Court's 'Citizens United' decision, an ironically named case if ever there was one, it's not even illegal.

And here's a surprise for you, The data says:
"Regardless of industry, the families investing the most in presidential politics overwhelmingly lean right, contributing tens of millions of dollars to support Republican candidates who have pledged to pare regulations; cut taxes on income, capital gains and inheritances; and shrink entitlement programs."
The Times probably should have added "undermine public education" to that list.

It's no surprise really. Logic dictates what happens.

To be elected, you need money to get your name and message out. Once elected, why would you support policies that are opposed to the interests of those who paid for your election?

And why would a person with money to spend on elections give it to someone who supports policies that might cost them money?

There is a counter-balancing force built into the American system, to provide a check to those with unimaginable millions.

It is the millions of votes which, for the moment, still belong to the people who do not have enough money to buy their own candidates.

Each voter still remains free to make up their own mind. So it follows that the true battlefield of political power in America is the place where those minds are molded, the media and the classroom.

Whether you are conservative or liberal, there is a media platform just for you, one that caters to and re-affirms your views, reinforcing what you believe to be true, whether the facts on the ground support it or not.

But that is where the short-term skirmish is fought, where the voters in any specific election are courted, coddled or confronted.

Long-term strategists however, see where the real battle is being fought -- against seemingly overwhelming demographic changes. It's in the classroom.

One look at the U.S. Census will tell you that by 2020, or certainly by 2040, white people will be a minority in America. It doesn't matter how you feel about this, it is an inescapable fact.

What does matter is what you do about it.

So who are the 158 wealthiest families in America and what are they doing about these inescapable changes?

The Families the Times's research tells us are this powerful "are overwhelmingly white, rich, older and male, in a nation that is being remade by the young, by women, and by black and brown voters. Across a sprawling country, they reside in an archipelago of wealth, exclusive neighborhoods dotting a handful of cities and towns?"

And what they are doing is funding candidates who support policies that do not benefit those who will soon be the majority of American citizens, the poor, the young, the women and the black and brown voters.

One of the first ways they did that was to lock them up. Potential black voters are incarcerated in this county at a race nearly twice that of potential brown voters and seven times the rate of white potential voters, according to the Prison Policy Initiative.

The land of the free incarcerates its citizens at a greater rate than any other nation on earth, yes, more than China, and in a disproportionately skewed way. A cynic might say they are jailing potential Democratic votes.

And before you say "do the crime do the crime," ask yourself, what time did the people who crashed the economy do? The answer is none. Not one of them went to jail. The people who threw thousands out of their homes and ruined lives, often fraudulently, are now even wealthier, thanks to a taxpayer bailout.

And a guy who robbed a convenience store? He is doing five years is he's lucky.

Never ones to miss an opportunity, the powerful have even managed to ensure that prisons are increasingly privatized, making sure that there is a direct return on investment for private prison companies that invest in a candidate.

But the even longer view strategy, is what is being done to public education.

The founders knew that a Republic the geographic size of America could only work if the voters were informed. It's why they allowed newspapers to pass freely through the postal system, in a desperate bid to ensure people in South Carolina know what people in Massachusetts were doing and thinking.

But since paucity of communication is no longer an issue, the remaining option is to control what those voters are thinking, or, better yet, make sure they aren't very good thinkers at all.

Yes, influencing what people think happens in the media in the short-term, but what the undermining of public education does in the long-term is ensure that America is not a nation of independent thinkers.

Its a classic strategy.

Cut funding for schools, load them with reporting and paperwork mandates for which no funding is provided, and then express shock at how poorly those schools are performing.

Then you demand "accountability," which means testing, lots and lots of testing.

Those tests are, first, the provenance of private companies (another opportunity for return on campaign investment) and, by design or unconscious bias, it hardly matters, skewed to favor those already born into advantage.

As the National Center for Fair and Open Testing recently reported, the SAT scores of college-bound seniors in 2015 reflect what you might expect: the higher your household's income, the higher your SAT scores.

This pattern is also repeated in other ways in Pennsylvania, as we have reported recently in The Mercury, in the results of another set of tests.

"In a policy brief published last year, Ed Fuller, executive director of the Department of Education Policy at Penn State’s College of Education — wrote that school profile scores are more closely tied to things like poverty and a parent’s education than to school effectiveness," I wrote in Monday's Mercury.

In Pennsylvania, the Republican-led effort to starve public education, promote worse-performing charter schools in service of "school choice," provides two distinct benefits.

The first, is the aforementioned assurance that those most likely to get a good education are those from wealthier families, raised in comfort, who are -- consciously or not -- more likely to favor policies which will continue those conditions for their children.

The second is that it dwindles the power and influence of the teachers unions, one of the few remaining bulwarks still manning the barricades against oligarchy.

We've been bullied into believing that all teachers make $80,000 and only work nine months a year.

In truth, as an official of the Federation of Pottstown Teachers recently explained to me, the starting salary is about $43,000 a year, many of them with second jobs to make ends meet.

The brilliance of the Republican strategy is that the burden of paying for public schools has been increasingly shifted to the local taxpayer.

Where once the state once paid 50 percent of the cost of public education, it now pays about 25 percent in Pottstown's case -- all while piling on more requirements and saying innocently on election day, "I never raised state taxes, the problem is these local school boards and those greedy teachers."

Ask a Republican devoted to market forces to explain why, if teacher pay is so good and the job so cushy, that Pottstown this week had 18 substitute openings a day and there is a nationwide shortage of teachers coming out of college.

As a further illustration, consider the mildly impolite conversation I had two years back during an editorial board meeting with state Sen. Bob Mensch, R-24th Dist.

I pointed out to him that during the Rendell years, increased funding resulted in improved test scores in Pottstown, the result Republicans say they seek.

He promised to look into that. He didn't. (I know because I checked with the person I told him to talk to.)

And then he looked me in the eye and said he would be OK with providing more funding to schools if he could be sure the money went into the "classroom resources" and "not a teacher's salary."

"The teacher IS the classroom resource," I replied with some heat.

And then I remembered, silly me, that it's about the money stupid.

Starving public education not only ensures a less-educated voting public, it also cuts the funding of a group of people who vote, and fund candidates who vote, for policies that actually support public education.

Both sides, are acting in their own best interest. I just happen to believe that adequately funding public education is in the best interest of the country and the commonwealth as well as the teachers unions.

And so now we come to last year's election, in which for the first time in modern memory, a sitting governor was ousted by an unknown who said he wanted to -- get this -- adequately fund public education.

The guy who lost that election, the guy who underfunded education to the point that people actually began to take notice, even got religion late in the game.

Tom Corbett implemented a committee to recommend a fair funding formula, but the timing was wrong. Believe me I get no pleasure from being right about this, but I told anyone who would listen that it would be released just as the budget fight heated up, and subsequently minimized.

As a result, the fair funding formula has ended up NOT as the game-changing policy revolution it had the potential to be, but another bargaining chip on the negotiating table, along side a shale gas extraction tax and state-run liquor stores.

(The fact that those liquor store workers who would be put out of work are part of a union should be lost on no one, by the way).

The fact that there is more attention given in Harrisburg to who profits from the sale of booze than how we can give every Pennsylvania student a fair chance at an education, a better job and a life free of a privately run jail, tells you everything you need to know about misplaced priorities.

Its not about the children.

It's not about the taxpayers.

It's about about the money, whose campaign coffer it fills, and how to keep us stupid so we don't figure it out on election day.


  1. How much longer does America have? 100 years maybe?

    1. I doubt we can go on that long if something doesn't change.

      I just hope my son does not have to live through a revolution.