Archives for category: Injustice

John Thompson, historian and retired teacher in Oklahoma, shares ideas about teaching in difficult times.


My high school and GED students always loved wrestling with the ideas presented by Ta-Nehisi Coates and Bruce Springsteen. I’m sure they would now agree that America needs both – Coates’ Between the World and Me, centered around Coates’ letter to 15-year-old son, and the 71-year-old Springsteen’s Letter to You. Actually we need both masterpieces and Kamilah Forbes’ HBO adaptation of Coates’ advice on how to “become conscious citizens of this beautiful and terrible world.”

Coates’ Between the World and Me tackles “the question of my life,” which is “how one should live within a black body, within a country lost in the Dream.” It focuses on the fatal police shooting of his fellow Howard University student, Prince Jones. It illustrates how “the plunder of black life was drilled into this country in its infancy and reinforced across its history, so that plunder has become an heirloom, an intelligence, a sentience, a default setting to which, likely to the end of our days, we must invariably return.”

But as Michiko Kakutani observed in her New York Times review, such assertions “skate over the very real — and still dismally insufficient — progress that has been made,” but Coates occasionally acknowledges there have been improvements. Kakutani writes, “His book often reads like an internal dialogue or debate.” And, seeming to concur with that interpretation when discussing the HBO presentation, Coates says it is evidence that “the story America tells about itself and how it tells it is a statement on how much things have changed.”

In the wake of the string of murders by police of unarmed black Americans that are now videotaped, the brilliant 80-minute program prioritizes the police shooting of Prince Jones in Prince Georges County. The location is important because Between the World and Me described the county as a “great enclave of black people who seemed, as much as anyone, to have seized control of their bodies.” But even there, “Prince was not killed by a single officer so much as he was murdered by his country and all of the fears that marked it from birth.”

It takes a full book, however, to recount the story of Coates who was raised in Baltimore, the son of a Vietnam veteran, who was a Black Panther and a librarian. As a student, Coates missed the wider historical context of racism. But the Howard faculty did “their duty to disabuse me of my weaponized history.” He reached a balance, however, and as an Atlantic Magazine reporter he drove a revision of the history of the New Deal, the post-WWII Fair Deal and the GI Bill. Despite the good they did for white people, Coates documents the lies perpetuated by these chapters of the “American Dream.”

Perhaps counter-intuitively, that leads to another set of truths found in Springsteen’s lyrics, as well as his autobiography, exploring the “Pax Americana” of his youth. He explains how working class kids or, at least, white youth during “the American Century,” were “destined to live the decent hardworking lives of their parents … if they could scoot through these years of wild pounding hormones without getting hurt or hurting someone else.” Bruce was acculturated into a value system where you “remain true to your crew, your blood, your family, your turf, your greaser brothers and sisters and your country. This was the shit that would get you by when all of the rest came tumbling down.”

As told in “My Hometown,” when Springsteen was 8-years-old, he would sit on the lap of “my old man,” a troubled World War II veteran who was the beneficiary of the GI Bill, and see its bounty, riding “in that big old Buick and steer as we drove through town.” Springsteen’s dad would “tousle my hair and say son take a good look around, this is your hometown. This is your hometown. This is your hometown. This is your hometown.”

But even this dream for white industrial workers was foreclosed. Deindustrialization led to racial violence and with the shotgun blast which signaled, “Troubled times they had come to my hometown.”

It is no criticism of Coates’ wisdom to say it should be complemented by Springsteen’s story of economic injustice done to “black and white” which derailed the progress that was once real. “The Boss” sings of the tragedy which undermined much of the best of the “American Dream:”  “They’re closing down the textile mill across the railroad tracks. Foreman says these jobs are going boys and they ain’t coming back to your hometown.

Your hometown. Your hometown Your hometown.”

Three decades later, Springsteen’s “American Skin” also supplements an understanding of the mindsets which have murdered so many black bodies. He begins the story of the “41 shots,” in Harlem, which kill Amadou Diallo as he tried to give his wallet to the police, through the cops’ eyes as “as they cross the bloody river to the other side.” Springsteen then sings about a black mother giving “the talk” to her son:

If an officer stops you, promise me you’ll always be polite
And that you’ll never ever run away
Promise Mama, you’ll keep your hands in sight”

He concludes:

Is it a gun (is it a gun), is it a knife (is it a knife)
Is it a wallet (is it a wallet), this is your life (this is your life)
It ain’t no secret (it ain’t no secret)
It ain’t no secret (it ain’t no secret)
No secret my friend
You can get killed just for living in your American skin

During this era of “Deaths by Despair,” which took off in the white working class America that helped boost Trumpism, Springsteen is the “last man standing,” the only survivor of his original band. He also uses multimedia poetry to make sense of America’s “dark evening stars. And the morning sky of blue…”

He has:

Got down on my knees
Grabbed my pen and bowed my head
Tried to summon all that my heart finds true
And send it in my letter to you

The CD doesn’t include the word “Trump.” I only saw what I believe is one clear reference to  him in “The Rainmaker.” It begins with “Parched crops dying ‘neath a dead sun. We’ve been praying but no good comes.” As they face, “The dog’s howling, homes stripped bare,” they admit, “We’ve been worried but now we’re scared.”

This fear opens the door to “the Rainmaker, a little faith for hire.” And the Rainmaker says that “white’s black and black’s white.” 

Getting back to the essential contribution of HBO’s Between the World and Me, Bruce Springsteen is my favorite poet/musical artist, but Kamilah Forbes draws on an all-star cast who place Coates’ “tactile, visceral” account of the “central truth” about the “domination of black bodies” in a profound context.  I’d say the amazing power of the images of the “entire diaspora” successfully allow Coates to speak the hardest truths without becoming excessively morbid. To really grasp Coates’ contribution, his indictments of America must be read along with the celebration of the multicultural, multigenerational expressions of black families, music, dance, art being sketched on the screen, and indomitable energy that Forbes brings together.

(I must also add that those touching scenes remind me of Springsteen’s videos of family, friends, and fellow musicians.)

The film version of Between the World and Mecombines historic and contemporary images family photos and videos, such as a baby boy feeding a candy bar to his dad, as well as historic battles, and the joyous dancing of children who would be killed, unarmed, by the police. Coates’ descriptions of Howard University as his “Mecca” juxtaposes the exuberant expressions of college students’ performances with that of tailgate parties of alumni reliving their Howard energies. Coates concludes this compilation of photos and films by saying they hold “power more gorgeous than any voting rights act.” 

Coates’ book – as opposed to a television special – had the space to acknowledge that white Americans also are a “new people.” They are “like us, a modern invention.” Coates concludes, and the awesome cast of the video also demonstrates how, “They made us into a race. We made ourselves into a people.”

I expect Coates would agree that both the indictments and the glories of American culture can be best understood when his books’ horrific truths are juxtaposed with both – the multiple genres of the HBO presentation and Bruce Springsteen’s versions of history which are also presented in multiple genres of lyrics, music, autobiography, and film.    

Farhad Manjoo is an opinion writer for the New York Times. In this column, he says that the wealth of American billionaires has grown dramatically during the pandemic. We know that millions of Americans are facing hunger, poverty, and evictions. Inequality is expanding.

He writes:

When I called up Chuck Collins on Tuesday afternoon, I found him glued to one of the grimmest new metrics documenting America’s economic and social unraveling.

Collins is a scholar of inequality at the Institute for Policy Studies, a progressive think tank, and since March he has been tracking how the collective wealth of American billionaires has been affected by the coronavirus pandemic. In previous recessions, Collins said, billionaires were hit along with the rest of us; it took almost three years for Forbes’s 400 richest people to recover losses incurred in 2008’s Great Recession.

But in the coronavirus recession of 2020, most billionaires have not lost their shirts. Instead, they’ve put on bejeweled overcoats and gloves made of spun gold — that is, they’ve gotten richer than ever before.

On Tuesday, as the stock market soared to a record, Collins was watching the billionaires cross a depressing threshold: $1 trillion.

That is the amount of new wealth American billionaires have amassed since March, at the start of the devastating lockdowns that state and local governments imposed to curb the pandemic.

On March 18, according to a report Collins and his colleagues published last week, America’s 614 billionaires were worth a combined $2.95 trillion. When the markets closed on Tuesday, there were 650 billionaires and their combined wealth was now close to $4 trillion. In the worst economic crisis since the 1930s, American billionaires’ wealth grew by a third.

It is difficult to think of a more succinctly obscene illustration of the unfairness of the American economic and political system.

“The economy is now wired ‘heads you win, tails I lose,’ to funnel wealth to the top,” Collins told me.

Billionaires amassed their new billions just as millions of other Americans plunged into dire financial straits. More than 20 million people lost their jobs at the start of the pandemic. As Congress lazily contemplates whether or not to bother to continue to provide economic assistance to America’s neediest, as many as 13 million people are at risk of losing the expanded benefits that keep them just beyond the grip of hunger and homelessness.

Food banks across the country are bracing for another surge in demand. If a federal moratorium on evictions is allowed to expire at the end of the year, millions of Americans will have to pay months of back rent — making them vulnerable to what housing advocates warn will be a wave of evictions.

Why are American billionaires doing so well while so many other Americans suffer? Part of the story is garden-variety American inequality. Stocks are overwhelmingly owned by the wealthy, and the stock market has recovered from its early-pandemic depths much more quickly than other parts of the economy.

But some billionaires are also benefiting from economic and technological trends that were accelerated by the pandemic. Among these are the owners and investors of retail giants like Amazon, Walmart, Target, Dollar Tree and Dollar Generalwhich have reported huge profits this year while many of their smaller competitors were clobbered as the coronavirus spread.

Then there are companies that have bet on the rapid digitization of everything. Eric Yuan, the chief executive of Zoom, became a billionaire in 2019. Now he is worth almost $20 billion. Apoorva Mehta, the founder of the grocery-delivery company Instacart, was not a billionaire last year; this year, after a spike in orders that led to a new round of investment that pumped up the value of his company, he’s safely in the club. Dan Gilbert, the chairman of Quicken Loans, was worth less than $7 billion in March; now he commands more than $43 billion.

But like in the rest of the economy, there is a great deal of stratification even among billionaires — richer billionaires got even richer in 2020 than the poorer ones did.

Some of the numbers are staggering. Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s founder, was worth about $113 billion at the start of the pandemic. Now he is worth $182 billion — an increase of about $69 billion. Jim, Alice and Rob Walton, three of the largest shareholders of Walmart, saw their combined wealth grow by $47 billion during the pandemic.

This is a good time to urge you to read The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger.

The more equal societies are, the happier they are. We are sinking into an abyss of anger, hopelessness, envy, and despair.

In this post, Bill Moyers conducts an important interview with investigative journalist Anne Nelson, who talks about her new book, SHADOW NETWORK: MEDIA, MONEY, AND THE SECRET HUB OF THE RADICAL RIGHT.

Read this and you will understand the dark forces that are undermining our democracy and our democratic institutions, including our public schools.

BILL MOYERS: Let me begin with the most current part of the story, which comes just a little bit after your book is published when the conservative movement is facing a very decisive encounter with the very forces it’s been trying to defeat now for 40 years. How do you think the shadow network reads the confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court? What are they making of it?

ANNE NELSON: Well, I think that they consider it a great triumph and a kind of culmination of 40 years of effort. And I demure a bit at the term conservative because this is, for me, the radical right. It is so far to the right of mainstream American public opinion that I feel that it’s in a different category both in terms of its ideology and its tactics. But they decided way back in the day of Paul Weyrich, one of the architects of the movement that they–

BILL MOYERS: In the early 1970s, right?

ANNE NELSON: We’re going back to the ’70s and even earlier, because he was active on the Barry Goldwater campaign. And he was frustrated time and again by moderates in the Republican Party and people who were willing to work with Democrats to advance policy and solutions to public problems. And he created organizations and tactics that he openly declared should destroy the regime, as he called it, which would be the U.S. government as we’ve known it for the last century.

BILL MOYERS: Paul Weyrich is the man I remember saying–

PAUL WEYRICH: I don’t want everybody to vote. Elections are not won by a majority of people. They never have been from the beginning of our country and they are not now. As a matter of fact, our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populous goes down.

BILL MOYERS: He was essentially saying, as a newly anointed leader of the religious right, what their philosophy was. The fewer people vote, the better their chance.

ANNE NELSON: That’s right. And from the beginning, in terms of their electoral tactics, it has been a matter of weaponizing certain churches and pastors and really exerting tremendous pressure on them to use churches as instruments of a radical right ideology. And then using similar tactics to suppress votes for Democrats, especially in key battleground states.

BILL MOYERS: So that’s why you conclude in your book they were to the right of the Republican Party. They were not just an offshoot of the Republican Party. They were not just fundraisers for the Republican Party, but they were ideologically and organizationally taking the Republican Party far to the right.

ANNE NELSON: Absolutely, and somewhat to my surprise, I found that their prototype was the Southern Baptist Convention, where they decided that in order to move it to the right, they had to use questionable tactics to elevate their supporters to key positions of influence and purge the Southern Baptist Convention of moderates in the seminaries and in the colleges and among the pastors. And it was a fairly ruthless process, and once these tactics were developed, they applied it to the Republican Party. And you had the same kind of tactics going on of purging moderates, some of whom had been in office for years.

BILL MOYERS: I should point out to some of our younger listeners and readers that the Southern Baptist Convention at the time and still today was the largest Protestant denomination in America. You know, something like it eventually reached 16 and a half million members scattered throughout the South and the West. We’ll come back to them in a moment. What do you think about the NEW YORK TIMES’ assessment that Amy Coney Barrett represents a new conservativism rooted in faith. That’s how their headline described a three-page portrait of her life and career. Does that make sense to you?

ANNE NELSON: Not entirely, because as a conservative Catholic, she follows in the footsteps of others such as Brett Kavanaugh and Antonin Scalia. So that’s not very new. And what I look at in my book SHADOW NETWORK is how these interlocking organizations support each other. The book is about the Council for National Policy– a radical right-wing organization that is very secretive, and it brings together big donors like the DeVos family and oil interests from Texas and Oklahoma and political operatives. And, for example, members include the leadership of the Federalist Society. Well, Amy Coney Barrett was a member of the Federalist Society for a number of years and is still a speaker at their events. It includes the head of Hillsdale College, which is one of their campus partners. Amy Coney Barrett was commencement speaker for Hillsdale College this year. So, there are all of these organizations that have been turning their wheels to promote her really for several years going back. She appeared on previous lists of potential nominees for the Supreme Court, and I don’t believe she would have been included in those lists had she not confirmed to their traditional idea of an activist judge.

BILL MOYERS: They knew what they were looking for.

ANNE NELSON: And I should add that one of the most powerful components in the Council for National Policy is the anti-abortion movement. Organizations such as the Susan B. Anthony List and Concerned Women for America and other interests, which are anti-environmentalist interests from the fossil fuels industry. So, I think that we’ve seen a roadmap of what to expect moving forward.

BILL MOYERS: Tell me, who does make up the Council for National Policy?

ANNE NELSON: So, the Council for National Policy has traditionally been around 400 members. From the beginning, it’s included people with big money, a lot of them from the Texas and Oklahoma oil industries, but also the DeVos family of Michigan from the Amway fortune, and Betsy DeVos, of course. So, it has the big money to pay for things. It’s got the leaders of so-called grassroots organizations. Now, I say so-called, because they do not spring from the grassroots the way that you would expect from the name. They are organized with a great deal of money from the top down. So, for example, the National Rifle Association– their leadership is part of the CNP. They get money from the donors, they organize their millions of members, and you combine these with the strategists and the media owners. And I spend a lot of time in my book talking about the power of fundamentalist and conservative radio in swing states. Things that people on the East Coast overlook to a terrible degree. And the same thing with fundamentalist broadcasting, which has really several of these broadcasters — the Christian Broadcasting Network, the Trinity Broadcasting Network have really turned into outlets replicating the messaging from this organization. So, you have them interlocking and interacting and each supporting each other’s function. And I should explain something here, which is that they represent historically a white, Protestant, I’m sorry, but male-dominated patriarchy–

BILL MOYERS: No, that’s okay.

ANNE NELSON: And I have to say that demographically its time has passed. The United States has become more diverse religiously, ethnically, and racially. And they recognize that their core positions are not supported by the majority of Americans. So, they went to the limit, pulled out all the stops to get Trump elected by a tiny margin, but they doubt that they can do that again. The signs are not good. What they can do is make their hold on the federal courts concrete through the Supreme Court, and therefore, get majorities in cases like gerrymandering, voter suppression, and their political activation of the churches with tax-exempt status. And further their hold on power through the courts.

BILL MOYERS: So which part of the shadow network do you think chose, mentored, and groomed Amy Coney Barrett for this moment?

ANNE NELSON: Well, I have to speculate here. But I would see a fairly straight line from her position to Leonard Leo’s. Now, Leonard Leo is a very conservative Catholic. He was the operational figure of the Federalist Society for a number of years, and recently he shifted from that position to an even more activist position. Amy Coney Barrett was already a member of the Federalist Society. The Federalist Society has a pipeline through the lower federal courts, which she benefited from. So, in terms of this Catholic interaction they would be quite close to each other. Another key figure is Carrie Severino, who is from the Judicial Crisis Network, which was co-founded by Leonard Leo. And again, very right-wing Catholics who have tended to be overlooked while people focus on the fundamentalist Protestants. But Ralph Reed, who has been somebody who’s been active with the fundamentalist politicization for decades declared openly years ago that the next step to their campaign was to enlist the Catholic vote. And they’ve been aggressively doing that in recent years.

BILL MOYERS: And then there’s Don McGahn who was for three years Donald Trump’s chief White House counsel, graduate of Notre Dame, admirer of Amy Coney Barrett, who was scouting himself for recruits to bring up, train, groom, and put into the mix for potential Supreme Court justices. And I read that he was highly enthusiastic about her, had talked to Leo and that they had you had both these White House and legal forces behind her, knowing that she was one of them.

[The interview continues. I urge you to open the link and read it in full to understand the secret network that is currently running the federal government and selecting justices for the Supreme Court.]

James Hohmann of the Washington Post reviews a report that is soon to be released. It is highly critical of Attorney General William Barr.

He writes:

“A forthcoming report from the Center for Ethics and the Rule of Law at the University of Pennsylvania, prepared in partnership with Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, is sharply critical of Attorney General Bill Barr.

“The authors gave me a first look at their 277-page report, which is scheduled for publication next week, and focuses on nine areas, including the misleading summary Barr initially offered of special counsel Bob Mueller’s conclusions; the Justice Department’s handling of the whistleblower complaint related to President Trump’s infamous call with Ukraine’s president; his intervention in politically sensitive prosecutions, such as the cases of former Trump advisers Roger Stone and Michael Flynn; the deployment of federal agents and troops against protestors, including the order to clear Lafayette Square; the firing or reassignment of U.S. attorneys, especially in the Southern District of New York; his role in trying to block the publication of material unflattering to the president, such as former national security adviser John Bolton’s memoir; the politicization of several offices within the department, in particular the Office of Legal Counsel; and his resistance to congressional oversight, including subpoenas.

“The meatiest, and perhaps most timely, chapter focuses on Barr’s support for investigating the origins of the probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election. Several of the authors have backgrounds in national security and intelligence, and they express fear that the ongoing investigation by U.S. Attorney John Durham of Connecticut, ordered up by Barr, could have chilling effects on collecting and disseminating information about potential foreign interference amid the 2020 election.

“There is a grave danger to the Intelligence Community from politicized DOJ investigations, intimidation and potential prosecutions,” the authors argue. “The use of a criminal investigation is ill-suited to examining the process of foreign intelligence analysis, poses unnecessary risks to intelligence sources and methods, intimidates and alienates foreign intelligence analysts, and chills the analytic process in a way likely to undermine the candor essential to producing the best intelligence information for national policymakers. The cumulative effects are likely to increase the attrition of talented intelligence personnel and neutralize the concept of ‘speaking truth to power’ that is essential to the effective use of intelligence in national policy decisions. All of this weakens prospective U.S. intelligence capabilities to the advantage of Russia and other adversaries in competition with the interests and goals of the United States.”

Barr’s spokespeople at the Justice Department did not respond to three requests for comment. The attorney general has vigorously defended the propriety of all his actions since taking office early last year. He testified last year that he thinks “spying did occur” on the Trump campaign in 2016 and has repeatedly cast doubt on whether there was proper predication for the investigation. He has said that – as the nation’s chief law enforcement official – he has an obligation to pursue wrongdoing, if there was any. He recently delivered a fiery speech that criticized career prosecutors for the zealousness with which they have pursued certain targets of investigations and defended the politicization of the Justice Department on his watch.

 

The three chairs of the 10-member working group that prepared this document over several months are University of Pennsylvania law professor Claire Finkelstein, the faculty director of the Center for Ethics and the Rule of Law; University of Minnesota law professor Richard Painter, who served as the chief White House ethics lawyer under President George W. Bush; and Noah Bookbinder, the executive director of CREW, a liberal-leaning watchdog group, and a former federal corruption prosecutor.

The bipartisan working group includes several members with significant national security backgrounds, including Elizabeth Rindskopf Parker, who served as general counsel of the National Security Agency and Central Intelligence Agency; George Croner, who oversaw signals intelligence and FISA compliance in the operations division of the NSA’s general counsel’s office; Stuart Gerson, a former acting attorney general who ran the DOJ’s civil division under George H.W. Bush; Richard Meyer,who taught law at West Point after 22 years in the Army, including as a military intelligence specialist; and Shawn Turner,who wascommunications director for the director of national intelligence. Donald Ayer, who was deputy attorney general under Bush and Barr’s boss at one point, was a consultant for the project.

It is unknown whether Durham will issue any findings about his probe before Election Day, but Barr has not ruled out that he would announce something during the homestretch of the campaign. “The Attorney General appears to be determined to use the Durham investigation as a publicity tool in order to justify President Trump’s conduct in the 2016 campaign and to discredit the investigation of Robert Mueller,” the report says. “All signs point toward a politically orchestrated ‘October surprise.’”

Trump signed an executive order last year giving Barr broad authority to declassify government secrets, and the attorney general has used it. The Justice Department recently released a pair of documents that seemed designed to cast fresh doubt on the judgment of senior law enforcement officials who investigated possible links between Russia and the Trump campaign in 2016, showing that one of the FBI case agents thought prosecutors were out to “get Trump” and that a key source of allegations against the president had been previously investigated as a possible Russian asset.

Last month, a senior prosecutor working with Durham on his investigation resigned, raising concern that Barr was pushing the case toward some kind public announcement to benefit Trump ahead of the election. Durham’s investigators have reportedly asked witnesses about how the FBI handled the case after it came to have doubts about the credibility of Christopher Steele, a former British intelligence officer whose work the bureau relied on in part to obtain the secret court order to surveil Page.

The working group says it came to “the reluctant conclusion” that Barr is “using the powers” of the Justice Department to help get Trump reelected and cited several interviews that the attorney general has given to Fox News about the Durham investigation. The authors conclude with a list of 10 recommendations that they say would safeguard the rule of law, including ensuring more independence for future special counsels, requiring recusal of presidential appointees from matters involving his personal financial interests, staggered 10-year terms for U.S. attorneys and inspectors general, more autonomy for career prosecutors, additional independence for members of the intelligence community, more vigorous congressional oversight and requiring all Justice Department attorneys to comply with ethics advice from DOJ ethics officials. 

James Clapper, the former director of national intelligence under President Barack Obama, told the group in an interview quoted in the report that the questioning of intelligence analysts as part of a criminal probe into substantive foreign intelligence analysis issues has been “unprecedented.” Clapper said he could think of no other instance of such an inquiry during his 54 years in the intelligence world, and he complained that this will have a “very chilling effect” on analysts inside the agencies. “That just shouldn’t be,” Clapper said. “The intelligence community is supposed to tell the unvarnished truth as best it can, which is a hard enough job to start with.”

Fred Klonsky writes here about Illinois’ inequitable flat tax. Black and brown communities have paid $4 billion more than they would have if the state had a progressive income tax.

A Florida teacher posted this comment. It raises the question of whether it is fair to attract people to become teachers with promises that are later canceled by a nasty, brutish legislature. The legislature passed a law called “the Best and Brightest” that awarded bonuses to new teachers based on the SAT scores they recorded years earlier. It constantly thinks about how to attract new teachers but does nothing to retain the experienced teachers it has. What this teacher describes is the perfidious work of Jeb Bush and his cronies:

I was never a money person. If I was I would never have become a teacher. I honestly believed that we were paid what they could afford to pay us. Seems stupid now but I was a kid. I was a fool. Twenty years ago I signed up to be a teacher. I wanted to be a teacher. I went to college for it. I knew I would never be able to support a family. It was ok, I wasn’t interested in having one. When I first became a teacher, I was shown a “step” system of pay. I saw that every year you’d make a little more. When you finally reached 20 or 25 years in the system the pay took huge leaps higher. Some years as much as a $10,000 increase if you can believe it. I thought I’d be rewarded for loyalty.

That “step” system has long been abandoned. Now we receive increases of around 1.3% a year. I thought the worst indignity came when I actually made less money than the year prior. The state of Florida forced us to contribute 3% to our retirement. Our yearly salary increase wasn’t even that much. This latest indignity is worse. Florida passed a new law raising the minimum teacher salary. Wonderful for new hires and attracting talent. Not so wonderful for those of us that have put the years in. Now, after 20 years of dutiful service I make $5,000 dollars more than a 21 year old, fresh out of college.

I am absolutely and totally morally devastated. The system seems to now be designed to have a perpetual series of inexperienced teachers. I need help. I need for my story to be heard. What do I do? What can I do? They don’t care about me. Now I don’t care about my job. When they showed me that “step” schedule 20 years ago, I believed it to be a nonverbal agreement about how much I would make, roughly, in the future. I was a fool. If I knew then I would never have become a teacher. I feel conned, duped, and lied to and I just can’t take it anymore.

Jan Resseger reviews here a new book that explains the full-blown triumph of plutocracy. Trump is the culmination, not the cause. Wealth and power are now concentrated, more than ever, in the hands of a small minority, and Trump has persuaded his followers that plutocracy works for them!

She begins:

For ten years Jacob Hacker, the Yale political scientist, and Paul Pierson, the Berkeley political scientist, have been tracking exploding economic inequality in the United States. In this summer’s book, Let Them Eat Tweets, Hacker and Pierson explicitly identify our government as a plutocracy. And they track how politicians (with the help of right-wing media) shape a populist, racist, gun-toting, religious fundamentalist story line to distract the public from a government that exclusively serves the wealthy. In a new article published in the Columbia Journalism Review, Journalism’s Gates Keepers, Tim Schwab examines our plutocracy from a different point of view: How is the mainstream media, the institution most of us look to for objective news, shaped increasingly by philanthropists stepping in to fill the funding gaps as newspapers go broke and news organizations consolidate?

In their 2010 classic, Winner-Take-All Politics, Hacker and Pierson present “three big clues” pointing to the tilt of our economy to winner-take-all: “(1) Hyperconcentration of Income… The first clue is that the gains of the winner-take-all economy, befitting its name, have been extraordinarily concentrated. Though economic gaps have grown across the board, the big action is at the top, especially the very top… (2) Sustained Hyperconcentration… The shift of income toward the top has been sustained increasingly steadily (and, by historical standards, extremely rapidly) since 1980… (3) Limited Benefits for the Nonrich… In an era in which those at the top reaped massive gains, the economy stopped working for middle-and working-class Americans.” Winner-Take-All Politics, pp. 15-19) (emphasis in the original)

Hacker and Pierson’s second book in the recent decade, the 2016 American Amnesia explores America’s loss of faith in government, our massive forgetting about the role of government regulation and balance in a capitalist economy: “(T)he institution that bears the greatest credit often gets short shrift: that combination of government dexterity and market nimbleness known as the mixed economy. The improvement of health, standards of living, and so much else we take for granted occurred when and where government overcame market failures, invested in the advance of science, safeguarded and supported the smooth functioning of markets, and ensured that economic gains became social gains.” (American Amnesia, p. 69)

In their new Let Them Eat Tweets, Hacker and Pierson no longer avoid the label. They now call America a full blown plutocracy: “This is not a book about Donald Trump. Instead, it is about an immense shift that preceded Trump’s rise, has profoundly shaped his political party and its priorities, and poses a threat to our democracy that is certain to outlast his presidency. That shift is the rise of plutocracy—government of, by, and for the rich. Runaway inequality has remade American politics, reorienting power and policy toward corporations and the super-rich (particularly the most conservative among them)… The rise of plutocracy is the story of post-1980 American politics. Over the last forty years, the wealthiest Americans and the biggest financial and corporate interests have amassed wealth on a scale unimaginable to prior generations and without parallel in other western democracies. The richest 0.1 percent of Americans now have roughly as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent combined. They have used that wealth—and the connections and influence that come with it—to construct a set of political organizations that are also distinctive in historical and cross-national perspective. What makes them distinctive is not just the scope of their influence, especially on the right and far right. It is also the degree to which the plutocrats, the biggest winners in our winner-take-all economy, pursue aims at odds with the broader interests of American society.” (Let Them Eat Tweets, pp. 1-2)…

But there is another hidden element of the power of plutocrats. Philanthropies led by the wealthy make charitable gifts which subtly shape news reporting itself. And the subject here is not merely Fox and Breitbart and the other right-wing outlets. Tim Schwab’s important report from the Columbia Journalism Review is about one of America’s powerful plutocrats, Bill Gates. Schwab explores, “a larger trend—and ethical issue—with billionaire philanthropists’ bankrolling the news. The Broad Foundation, whose philanthropic agenda includes promoting charter schools, at one point funded part of the LA Times’ reporting on education. Charles Koch has made charitable donations to journalistic institutions such as the Poynter Institute, as well as to news outlets such as the Daily Caller, that support his conservative politics. And the Rockefeller Foundation funds Vox’s Future Perfect, a reporting project that examines the world ‘through the lens of effective altruism’—often looking at philanthropy. As philanthropists increasingly fill in the funding gaps at news organizations—a role that is almost certain to expand in the media downturn following the coronavirus pandemic—an unexamined worry is how this will affect the ways newsrooms report on their benefactors.”

Those of us who have been following public education policy over two decades know that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has invested in policy itself—funding think tanks like the Center on Reinventing Public Education—which brought us “portfolio school reform” charter school expansion—which led to Chicago’s Renaissance 2010— which led to Arne Duncan’s bringing that strategy into federal policy in Race to the Top. We know that the Gates Foundation funded what ended up as an expensive and failed small high schools initiative, and, after that failed—an experiment with evaluating teachers by their students’ standardized test scores—and later experimenting with incentive bonuses for teachers who quickly “produce” higher student scores. We remember that the Gates Foundation brought us the now fading Common Core. And we remember that Arne Duncan filled his department with staff hired directly from the Gates Foundation.

I urge you to read it all. It’s important!

This may be the most important article you read this year. The pandemic has exacerbated the huge inequality gaps that existed before the virus struck. Now we see millions of our fellow citizens out of work and sinking into poverty. Wealth inequality and income inequality are growing larger and more damaging by the day.

Venture capitalist Nick Hanauer and Seattle labor leader David Rolf demonstrate the vast transfer of wealth from the bottom 90% of our society to the top 1%. This is not good for our society. In fact, it’s horrible for our society because it creates widespread despair and hopelessness, as well as blighting the lives of our fellow citizens.

Here is a small part of the article. Open it and read it all.

They begin:

Like many of the virus’s hardest hit victims, the United States went into the COVID-19 pandemic wracked by preexisting conditions. A fraying public health infrastructure, inadequate medical supplies, an employer-based health insurance system perversely unsuited to the moment—these and other afflictions are surely contributing to the death toll. But in addressing the causes and consequences of this pandemic—and its cruelly uneven impact—the elephant in the room is extreme income inequality.

How big is this elephant? A staggering $50 trillion. That is how much the upward redistribution of income has cost American workers over the past several decades.

This is not some back-of-the-napkin approximation. According to a groundbreaking new working paper by Carter C. Price and Kathryn Edwards of the RAND Corporation, had the more equitable income distributions of the three decades following World War II (1945 through 1974) merely held steady, the aggregate annual income of Americans earning below the 90th percentile would have been $2.5 trillion higher in the year 2018 alone. That is an amount equal to nearly 12 percent of GDP—enough to more than double median income—enough to pay every single working American in the bottom nine deciles an additional $1,144 a month. Every month. Every single year.

Price and Edwards calculate that the cumulative tab for our four-decade-long experiment in radical inequality had grown to over $47 trillion from 1975 through 2018. At a recent pace of about $2.5 trillion a year, that number we estimate crossed the $50 trillion mark by early 2020. That’s $50 trillion that would have gone into the paychecks of working Americans had inequality held constant—$50 trillion that would have built a far larger and more prosperous economy—$50 trillion that would have enabled the vast majority of Americans to enter this pandemic far more healthy, resilient, and financially secure.

As the RAND report [whose research was funded by the Fair Work Center which co-author David Rolf is a board member of] demonstrates, a rising tide most definitely did not lift all boats. It didn’t even lift most of them, as nearly all of the benefits of growth these past 45 years were captured by those at the very top. And as the American economy grows radically unequal it is holding back economic growth itself.

The National Education Policy Center posted this notification about #ScholarStrike, inviting higher education professionals to speak out together against racial violence and injustice. I joined. Will you?

Today and tomorrow, scholars at colleges across America will follow in the footsteps of the NBA, Major League Baseball and celebrities in speaking out against racial violence and unjust policing in the wake of the police shooting of Jacob Blake, an unarmed Black man, in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

The effort, which is to include actions such as devoting class time to discussions of racial injustice, was started by a tweet from Anthea Butler, a professor of religious and Africana studies at the University of Pennsylvania.

“I would be down as a professor to follow the NBA and Strike for a few days to protest police violence in America,” Professor Butler wrote in her initial tweet.

The movement has since spread, via social media, to a diverse array of institutions and academic fields, including education. Although in-person demonstrations may occur, they may be impractical due to the pervasiveness of online learning.

The subjects of policing and race are particularly relevant to education scholars, given that the discriminatory law enforcement practices experienced by communities of color typically start in childhood and even occur within schools. “Systemic violence and disparate school discipline policies hinder equitable, just, and safe schooling,” according to Law and Order in School, an NEPC brief published in 2017 and authored by professors Janelle Scott, Michele Moses, Kara Finnigan, Tina Trujillo, and Darrell Jackson. “Research demonstrates that Black and Latinx students experience police violence and school discipline unequally,” the authors write. “Punitive educational and criminal justice policies disproportionately affect students, families, and communities of color, as well as the teachers and schools that serve them.”

Anticipating the current movement, the 2017 brief suggests addressing racially disparate school policing and discipline with such actions as redirecting funds for school police officers to expenditures such as guidance counseling, advanced and enrichment courses and other practices shown to “improve student engagement and social connectivity.”

For more information on #ScholarStrike, go to Butler’s Twitter profile.

NEPC resources on equity and social justice.

The Washington Post published a story about the millions of students who are effectively denied an education during the pandemic because their family can’t afford to pay for access to the Internet.

The Post called the situation “a national crisis.” It is.

The Internet has become as essential as free water and air. Why isn’t it a public utility, regulated by the FCC and free to all?

When you turn on a radio, you get free access to AM and FM stations. Why not free access to the Internet? There may be a good reason, but I haven’t heard it.

Here is the story:


A national crisis’: As coronavirus forces many schools online this fall, millions of disconnected students are being left behind

Before the pandemic, it was called “the homework gap,” because of the growing number of teachers who assigned homework that required Internet access. Now, as the pandemic forces many schools to switch to remote learning, disconnected students will miss more than homework. They’ll miss all of school.

For all the talk of Generation Z’s Internet savvy, a stunning number of young people are locked out of virtual classes because they lack high-speed Internet service at home. In 2018, nearly 17 million children lived in homes without high-speed Internet, and more than 7 million did not have computers at home, according to a report prepared by a coalition of civil rights and education groups that analyzed census data for that year.

The issue affects a disproportionately high percentage of Black, Latino and Native American households — with nearly one-third of students lacking high-speed Internet at home. Students in Southern states and in rural communities also were particularly overrepresented. In Mississippi and Arkansas, about 40 percent of students lacked high-speed Internet.

After the closures prompted by the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, school systems rushed to buy and distribute laptops and WiFi hot spots to students, and service providers offered discounts to low-income families, efforts that made a dent in the numbers.

Education advocates say Congress could deliver an easy fix as part of a coronavirus relief package by expanding an existing program that helps schools and libraries get Internet service. But those hopes collapsed alongside talks between Congress and the White House on a new relief package. With talks deadlocked, President Trump issued an executive order for coronavirus relief. It provides nothing for K-12 public schools. The consequences of the gap between those who have access to virtual learning and those who do not could be felt for years to come.

“It’s dire,” said Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.), who has pushed to increase funding that subsidizes the cost of Internet service for schools and libraries. Her district contains parts of rural Virginia that are not served by Internet service providers. “We are generationally committing to significant divides in our communities over what kind of education our children are getting.”

Internet access is so central to children’s education that allowing students to go without it is like sending them to classrooms without textbooks, said Jordana Barton, who studies the digital divide in Texas as a community development adviser for the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas. So many students being without Internet service is “a travesty,” she said.
“Before the pandemic, I thought that the homework gap was so serious that Internet should be provided by the schools,” she said.
America is about to start online learning, Round 2. For millions of students, it won’t be any better.

Educators have long seen access to high-speed Internet as essential — not optional — for students. Now, the pandemic has forced many schools to start classes remotely, and the problem has taken on new urgency. Because the Internet is essential to gaining access to virtual instruction, a failure to provide the service to students is akin to barring them from school altogether.

“It’s going back to the old days where we blocked people from going to schools to be able to learn to read,” said Pedro Martinez, the superintendent of the San Antonio Independent School District in Texas. More than half of families in Martinez’s district do not have high-speed Internet service at home. “It’s like us saying, ‘You can’t come into class. You can’t come to school.’ ”

Maryland resident Haydee Berdejo, 18, does not have high-speed Internet at home in Baltimore and can get online only with a smartphone. When her magnet high school, Baltimore City College, shut down in mid-March, she spent her school days hunched over the phone, where she had difficulty hearing her teachers.

Berdejo, who is from Mexico and still learning English, said the setup made bridging the language gap even more difficult. At times, the screen was fuzzy. And though her classes are mostly taught in English, with the schools closed, she no longer has access to a translator.

She said she is anxious about the coming school year because she has had little opportunity to practice English. “I’m worried I won’t be able to participate in class or answer a question from the teacher, because I won’t know what they’re saying to me,” she said in Spanish.

Even as many students start school without high-speed Internet service at home, Congress and the Federal Communications Commission have done little to help school systems meet that need. Many have given up hope that help is coming and have instead appealed to charities, philanthropists and the Internet service providers themselves, hoping for donations or discounts. Susan Enfield, the superintendent of the Highline Public Schools in Washington state, set up a program to allow more-affluent families to “sponsor” low-income households by paying their Internet bills.

Though some service providers offer discounts to low-income families, service is still out of reach for those who have poor credit or unpaid bills. And even the discounted rate can be too much — especially for families struggling with job losses.

In Baltimore, the school system helped set up 7,000 families with Internet Essentials, a program that provides low-cost Internet service to qualifying households. The first two months of the program were free. But last month, the school system realized that if it didn’t pay the $650,000 bill, many of those families would lose service.

“I was not going to stand by and let 14,000 students not be able to log on because of a bill we knew needed to be paid,” said Baltimore City Public Schools CEO Sonja Santelises. “It’s yet one more thing that, in serving children and families, schools are being asked to do.”
The lack of a national strategy has left superintendents to devise solutions on their own. And that means whether students get connected often depends on the charisma of a superintendent and the generosity of the surrounding community, Santelises said.

“It is the leaders who are trying to do deals, who are trying to negotiate, trying to leverage money here, leverage money there,” Santelises said. “If we are relying on the individual negotiation capacity of Sonja Santelises or any other sitting superintendent to make sure families have WiFi, that is problematic, and it is a split, and it is symptomatic of a much larger issue.”

A long-standing program run by the Federal Communications Commission that subsidizes Internet service for schools and libraries is of little help to students during the pandemic. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai told schools they can use the funding only for Internet service at their campuses — even when schools have been shut down. Pai has said that the law does not allow the money to be used for providing domestic Internet service and that he does not have the authority to do otherwise.

FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, the sole Democrat on the panel, disagrees — as do congressional Democrats and school leaders across the country. She accused the commission of failing to act to address what she called “a national crisis.”

“The FCC is sticking its head in the sand or looking the other way and doing everything it can to ignore this,” Rosenworcel said. “This is something we can fix — and we should.”

Schools and students have been left to find solutions on their own. The parking lots of schools, libraries and fast-food restaurants that offer free WiFi have become de facto classrooms for many students. Other school systems equipped buses with WiFi hot spots and parked them in underserved neighborhoods. In some school systems, such as Baltimore, officials just paid the bills of hundreds of families out of their own budgets to keep the households online.

But none of the improvised solutions are sustainable or scalable, and they often rely on the ability of school officials to court philanthropists and negotiate with Internet service providers.

Cleveland public schools CEO Eric Gordon said he hopes the pandemic will force lawmakers to rethink how they view the Internet. He said two-thirds of households in his district can connect to the Internet only by cellphone, which is inadequate for virtual classes.
“It’s just time we recognize that the Internet has become a utility in the same way electricity became a public utility,” Gordon said.

Bryan Akins, the principal of Keota High School in rural southeast Oklahoma, said many of his families do not have a reliable cellular signal — let alone high-speed Internet. Companies see little incentive to lay broadband lines in places where they will not get many customers, or they pass the expense to customers, charging more to those who live in far-flung communities. The school’s switch-over to remote learning in the spring posed “a big problem,” Akins said.

“My teachers can teach virtually, but my students can’t access it virtually,” Akins said. Instead, staffers in the high-poverty district delivered homework along with weekly grocery packages. “Now you’re relying on the parent to help teach, or the student to teach themselves.”

But although connectivity challenges are often viewed as a rural problem, many students in urban districts also lack high-speed Internet service at home. In some cases, this is because they live in neighborhoods that — like many rural communities — do not have the infrastructure. In many others, the barrier is the expense, even though many service providers offer low-income families steeply discounted Internet service. Families that are facing financial turmoil in the recession may opt to drop the Internet.

Jaclyn Trapp, who is to start 10th grade at MC2STEM High School in Cleveland, shares a Chromebook with a little brother and with three stepsiblings who visit on weekends. When the pandemic hit, her mother and stepfather, both interior house painters, took a huge hit financially as work dried up. So they canceled their home Internet service, which had cost around $60 a month.

Jaclyn began using her phone as a hot spot — but soon she was out of data. Finally, the family struck a deal with an upstairs neighbor who agreed to allow the family to use his WiFi if they split the bill. But the signal, which has to travel to their downstairs apartment, is slow and unreliable.

“Without the Internet and not going to school, it’s really hard to do schoolwork,” Jaclyn said.

Moriah Balingit is an education reporter for The Washington Post, where she has worked since 2014. She previously covered crime, city hall and crime in city hall at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.