Saturday, December 17, 2016

Socialism for All: Public Education, Medicare & Social Security

“President-elect Donald Trump's Cabinet picks are richer than the bottom third of American households combined., December 15th.
This is a fairly long blog, but it is truly important for those who want to know where we are going and what values the new administration is bringing forth. We do need to start with philosophy and perspective… perhaps from an extreme perspective but one that defines rather clearly some of their most basic values. Oh, and the above quote was made before Trump finished picking his full cabinet!!! Talk about letting capitalists run the country!
In a fully capitalist society, the government gives nothing but the basics: basic infrastructure, police, fire personnel as well as criminal/civil justice venues and protection against our enemies. No building codes, no worker safety regulations, no financial or environmental limitations, no requirement of due process or equal protection, no pension protection or requirements, no emergency medical care, no social safety nets, no Medicaid, no Medicare, no Social Security, no consumer protection, no food and drug requirements, no gun regulations, no bandwidth allocations, no subsidized higher education or student aid and no public education. You want it, you pay for it. Can’t afford it, you don’t get it. But as we know, there are no fully capitalist societies on earth. That doesn’t stop a whole lot of powerful folks from trying, especially among most of those Donald Trump has nominated to his cabinet. Here’s “American Reality 101.”
Over the past several decades, we have watched as upward mobility in the United States has not only ceased, but we seem to be moving in the opposite direction. In my December 8th Blog, The New Job Threshold, I noted: “[Research] from a group led by Stanford's Raj Chetty, and also including economists and sociologists from Harvard and the University of California at Berkeley, estimates that only half the children born in the 1980s grew up to earn more than their parents did, after adjusting for inflation. That's a drop from 92 percent of children born in 1940… The fall-off is particularly steep among children born in the middle class, and for those born in several states in the industrial Midwest.” Wonkbook, Washington Post, December 8th.
Income inequality may be the biggest issue facing the United States – not to mention most of the developed world – and if anything, it seems to be getting worse. Indeed, as labor saving automation replaces workers, the displaced workers make little or nothing while the owners of the automated equipment make even more. Trump’s Labor Secretary nominee, Andrew Puzder, a fast food magnate, is vehemently opposed to raising the federal minimum wage – which was last raised (to $7.25/hour) in 2009 – seems to think automation is good for America.
“In an interview with Business Insider in March, Puzder said fast-food workers could be replaced with kiosks and other automated technology to offset the cost of wages… ‘I want to try it,’ Puzder said of automated restaurants. ‘With government driving up the cost of labor, it's driving down the number of jobs…. You're going to see automation not just in airports and grocery stores but in restaurants," he said.
“According to Puzder, rising minimum wages are part of the reason that the fast-food industry is investing heavily in automation… ‘If you're making labor more expensive, and automation less expensive — this is not rocket science,’ Puzder said.”, December 8th.
By the way, “Puzder made $4.4 million in 2012, according to Forbes. That’s about 291 times what a minimum wage worker makes in a year, if they’re earning the federal minimum and working full-time. The average fast food CEO made 721 times what minimum wage workers took in in 2013, according to a recent report from the Economic Policy Institute.”, December 8th.
With Trump pledging to downsize, if not completely eliminate federal agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency, the Federal Communications Commission and pull the nation out of any climate change treaties, it’s pretty clear his heart is not with the little guy, those hapless souls whose lives have turned upside down by outsourcing and automation that he pledged to help, to get them back to their once solid economic days. Yet most of his cabinet appointments are either former generals or titans of industry/Wall Street who have opposed unions and workers most of their lives. They want to cut regulations and reduce their taxes, caring little for the plight of those so far beneath them that they are not even visible from the big corner office.
Draining the swamp seems to be, so far, taking that new reconditioned swampland and handing it over to the wealthiest developers for next to nothing. But nothing brings home the assault on the little guy than crushing of what had once been the path to upward mobility: education. Today, that means college or some post-high school training, and you can expect government programs in those spaces to wither and die. But what you probably did not expect was the assault on public primary and secondary education.
To those on the right, the path to killing those nasty public schools is to give people government-issued vouchers to be used, presumably with the relevant recipient’s cash supplement above the voucher amount (for those who have additional cash), to spend on the school of your choice. You don’t have to go with public schools that teach science or history as it actually occurred; you can pick religious schools that insist on creationism and to erase years of misery by Native Americans or blacks at the hands of white settlers.
Further, better-heeled citizens – those with experience in picking schools and filling out application forms – will use their money to place their kids in the more elite schools… using government money.  The rest… well they can go to what’s left of a public school program with budgets slashed by the desertion of so many wealthier kids.
So let’s take a look at how billionaire conservative, Betsy DeVos, wound up as Trump’s nominee for Secretary of Education, a branch of government Mr. Trump has frequently asked why it even exists. “Consider the president-elect’s first move on public education. Jerry Falwell Jr., the president of Liberty University, the largest Christian university in the nation, says that he was Mr. Trump’s first pick for secretary of education. Liberty University teaches creationism alongside evolution.
“When Mr. Falwell declined, President-elect Trump offered the cabinet position to Betsy DeVos. In most news coverage, Ms. DeVos is depicted as a member of the Republican donor class and a leading advocate of school vouchers programs… That is true enough, but it doesn’t begin to describe the broader conservative agenda she’s been associated with.
“Betsy DeVos stands at the intersection of two family fortunes that helped to build the Christian right. In 1983, her father, Edgar Prince, who made his money in the auto parts business, contributed to the creation of the Family Research Council, which the Southern Poverty Law Center identifies as extremist because of its anti-L.G.B.T. language.
“Her father-in-law, Richard DeVos Sr., the co-founder of Amway, a company built on ‘multilevel marketing’ or what critics call pyramid selling, has been funding groups and causes on the economic and religious right since the 1970s.
“Ms. DeVos is a chip off the old block. [Her brother, Erik Prince, was the founder of the mercenary group, Blackwater.] At a 2001 gathering of conservative Christian philanthropists, she singled out education reform as a way to ‘advance God’s kingdom.’ In an interview, she and her husband, Richard DeVos Jr., said that school choice would lead to ‘greater kingdom gain.’...
“The evangelical pastor and broadcaster D. James Kennedy, whose Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church is a beneficiary of DeVos largess, said in a 1986 sermon that children in public education were being ‘brainwashed in Godless secularism.’ More recently, in 2005, he told followers to ‘exercise godly dominion’ over ‘every aspect and institution of human society,’ including the government.” Katherine Stewart writing in the OpEd section of the New York Times, December 12th. Separate church and state? First Amendment stuff? Not in this administration. In short, Betsy DeVos is less-than-covertly focused on getting government out of primary and secondary education… basically in dismantling the American public school system in favor of a rather fully private, agenda-driven, private school structure, one that favors conservative religious doctrine and wealthier patron. But how, you ask?
“Jerry Falwell Sr. outlined the goal in his 1979 book ‘America Can Be Saved!’ He said he hoped to see the day when there wouldn’t be ‘any public schools — the churches will have taken them over and Christians will be running them.’
“Vouchers are part of the program. According to an educational scholar, they originally came into fashion among Southern conservatives seeking to support segregation in schools. But activists soon grasped that vouchers could be useful in a general assault on public education. As Joseph Bast, president of the Heartland Institute, which receives support from a DeVos-funded donor group, explained: ‘Complete privatization of schooling might be desirable, but this objective is politically impossible for the time being. Vouchers are a type of reform that is possible now.’
“The DeVoses well understand that, stripped of specious language about reform and choice, such a plan for public education would be deeply unpopular. In 2002, Mr. DeVos Jr. advised a Heritage Foundation audience that ‘we need to be cautious about talking too much about these activities.’…The public school system faces the most immediate threat, but it is not the only institution at risk. The Christian right has already won a number of key roles in the Trump administration.” Stewart. Okay, maybe Ms. DeVos is a little more covert than I might have suggested. But wait, there’s less.
We’ve known for a while that getting educational patterns to children as early as possible may just be a prerequisite for their ability to function in school, and functioning in school has been a statistically solid predictor of later social issues – from engagement in criminal activities to relying too heavily on a government social safety net – which are exceptionally costly to taxpayers. Yet our underfunded Head Start program is likely to get a Trump-administration axe: “[A new National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER)] 478-page report, ‘State(s) of Head Start,’ released [December 14th], calls for a near tripling of the program’s budget — to more than $20 billion — to fully meet its goals for serving 3- and 4-year-old children living in poverty. It also points to wide gaps in Head Start programs related to quality of instruction, amount of instruction, access to programs and levels of funding.
 “‘Despite decades of bipartisan support for Head Start, we conclude that the program suffers from inadequate overall public investment,’ the report’s authors wrote. ‘Simply put, the program is not funded at a level that would make it possible to provide child development services of sufficient quality and duration to achieve its goals while serving all eligible children even at ages 3 and 4, much less for those under age 3.’
“The report, which compiled program data from 50 states, the District of Columbia and six territories, provides a deeper understanding of who Head Start serves and where it operates best, said Steven Barnett, executive director of NIEER and one of the study’s authors. But it also makes clear, he says, how and where the program has fallen short.
“The percentage of poor kids that Head Start serves nationally could be as low as a quarter, meaning that 75 percent of the children in poverty are not getting Head Start,” Barnett said in an interview. ‘I don’t think people understand that. And then if you say that the intended population is not just kids who are poor, but kids who are near-poor, then I think people don’t understand that that’s half the children in the country.’” Washington Post, December 14th. You just know this program is heading for extinction, not increased funding. We’ll get back to you when the criminal justice cost numbers shoot up in a few years.
And so we end this blog as it began: understanding that the new Trump-directed America seems to be heading in the direction of “everyone for him or herself.” Instead of counteracting the income inequality, it seems that the incoming government is more focused on reinforcing that economic polarization. Even if you are not a Christian fundamentalist, there is still a clearly developing underlying Trump-administration philosophy well established in a mid-20th century author. If you can find a common literary idol for these ultra-conservative power brokers, for those who actually read, it widely known that conservative fiction-writer, Russian-born American novelist, Ayn Rand, tops the list. Atlas Shrugged or The Fountainhead, anyone?
“For many Republican elites, Rand is someone whose books they read one summer in high school or college and got super excited about but then grew out of once they were exposed to more sophisticated intellectual influences and/or tried to reconcile her world view with the precepts of the Christian faith. (Former George W. Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson wrote about this rite of passage in a 2011 column for The Post.)
Though many would agree that Christianity and objectivism are incompatible, this is not a consensus view: ‘There’s no contradiction between raising my children in the church, and urging them to lead the kind of lives of achievement, integrity and independence that Ayn Rand celebrated in her novels,’ Puzder, the incoming labor secretary, argued on the Journal opinion page last month, adding that he also had his kids read C.S. Lewis’s ‘Mere Christianity.’… 
“Ayn Rand was perhaps the leading literary voice in 20th century America for the notion that, in society, there are makers and takers, and that the takers are parasitic moochers who get in the way of the morally-superior innovators. Her books portray the federal government as an evil force, trying to stop hard-working men from accumulating the wealth that she believes they deserve. The author was also an outspoken atheist, something that oozes through in her writing. Rand explained that the essence of ‘objectivism,’ as she called her ideology, is that ‘man exists for his own sake, that the pursuit of his own happiness is his highest moral purpose, that he must not sacrifice himself to others, nor sacrifice others to himself.’” James Hohmann writing for the December 13th Washington Post. Have these folks actually read the New Testament?! The old “me” generation epithet is rapidly adding the words “and no one else.”
I’m Peter Dekom, and somehow this appears to be a vision of America I find rather distasteful.

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