Thugs! Parasites! Bloodsuckers! Mediocre slackers! Class warfare against the rich!
WICHITA, Kan. - It's in the air everywhere -- unionized public workers are the cause of all the ills of the world, if not the universe. All those once trusted public servants, teachers, police officers, fire fighters, social workers, prison guards, health care providers, cafeteria workers, among others, have now become Public Enemy #1. Public sector workers, people who go to work every week day and sometimes at night and on weekends, are now, according to anecdotal reports, earning out-sized salaries and ruining our economy with their demands. They're taking taxpayer money (otherwise known as salaries) and using it to support corrupt unions. Wisconsin governor Scott Walker and 18 Wisconsin senate Republicans think so poorly of unionized state workers that they voted to end collective bargaining rights. Is this opprobrium against public workers spreading throughout the country?
The scorn is mainly directed against public school teachers, probably because they are most visible of public workers and therefore most vulnerable. Even though I don't watch Fox News (or Faux Non-News, as many call it), I do see some of its biased editorializing when Jon Stewart does a Fox riff on The Daily Show. Recently, Stewart went after Fox as he featured clips of commentators going after public school teachers and their various perks. Then, showing clips of Wall Street operatives, he highlighted the hypocrisy behind the attacks on teachers.
The recipe for cooking up such scorn can be traced to several sources, including, among others, billionaire Bill Gates. Gates, a college dropout who never spent a day teaching in a public school classroom, is not the "expert" on teacher excellence. In his estimation, experienced teachers with tenure can't teach nearly as well as new teachers in the system. Thus, we should do away with teacher tenure, which contrary to popular understanding, does not guarantee that teachers keep their jobs. It guarantees only that a tenured teacher has due process rights before he or she can be fired. It would be good if Gates made his theoretical pronouncements after he spent a semester in a middle school classroom. He might change his tune. Theory is a good basis for creating computer programs. It doesn't work at all when human beings become involved.
Worse than Gates, though, are the Koch brothers, Charles and David, who live and reign over their industrial empire in Wichita, Kansas. The Koch family dynasty can be traced back to Fred Koch, the engineer who founded what is now Koch Industries. The elder Koch worked in the Soviet Union in the late '20s and early '30s. Working with Soviet engineers under the Stalin regime instilled in Koch a deep-seated hatred of communism and when he returned to the United States he became an original member of the John Birch Society. The John Birch Society and its upper middle class white protestant members spent a great deal of time and energy finding communists in every corner of American society and impelled Sen. Joseph McCarthy's ruinous witch hunts of the 1950s.
The Birchers also touted the benefits of limited government, a philosophy that fit with Fred Koch's anti-communist leanings. Fred Koch turned the running of the Koch empire over to his son Charles in 1966. Since that time, Charles and David have contributed heavily to charitable causes, both in Wichita and around the country.
However, they have also contributed heavily to right-wing politicians, including Scott Walker, and causes that espouse their limited government, anti-tax views. Everyone has a right to enter into the political fray in America. Why shouldn't the Kochs also have this right? After all, the left-wing billionaire George Soros also contributes to political causes. How is his political giving different from the Kochs? According to Frank Rich, New York Times columnist, "Soros is a publicity hound who is transparent about where he shovels his money. And like many liberals -- selflessly or foolishly, depending on your point of view -- he supports causes that are unrelated to his business interests and that, if anything, raise his taxes."
As everyone knows, money is the driving force behind politics, so it's no surprise that the Kochs, through Americans for Prosperity or Club for Growth, another front group, have succeeded in buying influence across the country in the last election.
In fact, the most insidious tool at the Kochs' disposal is the use of front groups posing as grassroots organizations. When the Tea Party sprung up right after Barack Obama's election, Tea Party rallies looked like a grassroots movement. Rally participants were noisy, generally getting media coverage far beyond what their numbers deserved. They showed up at Town Hall meetings to disrupt rather than ask questions or get information. Some carried signs questioning Pres. Obama's legitimacy to be president. Other signs portrayed Obama as Hitler, a turban-wearing Muslim, or a witch doctor with a bone through his nose. Some Tea Party members carried guns, with the implicit threat that they were ready to shoot anyone who disagreed with them.
It didn't take long for eagle-eyed journalists to find out that the Tea Party was funded by the Kochs through The Freedom Works Foundation, formerly Citizens for a Sound Economy, a front group organized by Dick Armey. It also didn't take long to realize that the participants really had no idea what they were agitating for. I took part in a Coffee Party counter-demonstration during a Tea Party rally in Wichita. Coffee Party demonstrators asked several of the older Tea Partiers if they were willing to give up their Social Security or their Medicare. No, they said, not realizing those were among the programs the Tea Party was targeting.
How does this relate to killing public service employee unions? Those unions support candidates through their political action wings. Because they generally support Democratic candidates, they are a threat to the Koch agenda of low or no taxes, privatization of public facilities and institutions, elimination of Social Security and Medicare, and crippling the Environmental Protection Agency. The Koch agenda includes corporate-run schools, prisons, and highways. It includes ending guaranteed pension funds, substituting 401(k) investments instead. It also includes being able to pollute the air and the water without fear of being punished by the government. These are all issues that Democrats have traditionally stood against.
Even though unions can garner a lot of money to give to campaigns and lobbyists, the Kochs, the Wall Street CEOs, and other wealthy corporate figures have much deeper pockets to reach into as they fund the campaigns of politicians like Walker, a governor who has plans to cripple public worker unions. The Walkers of the world are bought and paid for by the Kochs of the world. The result of this could well lead to an American that looks more like a corporate plutocracy than a democracy. In fact, thanks to the Supreme Court ruling that corporations have the same rights as persons, we're already on the fast track to that fate.
Conservative politicians have taken up the mantra that public workers, especially teachers, who join unions are ruining America's economy with their demands for livable salaries, health insurance, pensions, and decent working conditions. Recently, Dave Trabert, president of the Kansas Policy Institute, a Koch-funded entity, said in an OpEd in the Wichita Eagle that he aimed his offensive remarks about public education, not at individual teachers, but at "the union." Trabert seems to forget that it is individual teachers who comprise union membership. The National Education Association, the union I belong to, is run democratically, as are most unions in America. The members elect union leaders and make decisions about union policies.
Despite claims that corporate charter schools and voucher systems lead to better education than public schools, experts such as Diana Ravitch, New York University research professor of education,
Ravitch also takes on the basic tenet of David Guggenheim's Waiting for "Superman," a documentary that blasts public education and public school teachers. She says, "Guggenheim skirts the issue of poverty by showing only families that are intact and dedicated to helping their children succeed.... Nothing is said about children whose families are not available, for whatever reason, to support them, or about children who are homeless, or children with special needs. Nor is there any reference to the many charter schools that enroll disproportionately small numbers of children who are English-language learners or have disabilities."
Among other facts Guggenheim ignores or distorts, according to Ravitch, is his touting of the Finnish education system, the best performing system in the world. "While blasting the teachers' unions, he points to Finland as a nation whose educational system the US should emulate, not bothering to explain that it has a completely unionized teaching force. His documentary showers praise on testing and accountability, yet he does not acknowledge that Finland seldom tests its students. Any Finnish educator will say that Finland improved its public education system not by privatizing its schools or constantly testing its students, but by investing in the preparation, support, and retention of excellent teachers. It achieved its present eminence not by systematically firing 5-10 percent of its teachers, but by patiently building for the future. Finland has a national curriculum, which is not restricted to the basic skills of reading and math, but includes the arts, sciences, history, foreign languages, and other subjects that are essential to a good, rounded education. Finland also strengthened its social welfare programs for children and families. Guggenheim simply ignores the realities of the Finnish system."
One has to wonder what is to be gained from crippling the public education system, which seems to be the goal of Scott Walker, David Guggenheim, and Koch front groups like KPI. What is to be gained by taking bargaining rights away from workers? A lot, apparently, for wealthy people who don't want to pay their fair share of taxes to support the public school system and its workers and who do want to continue to pollute the water and air that we all have to drink and breathe.
David KochAccording to Rich, "When David Koch ran to the right of Reagan as vice president on the 1980 Libertarian ticket (it polled 1 percent), his campaign called for the abolition not just of Social Security, federal regulatory agencies and welfare but also of the F.B.I., the C.I.A., and public schools -- in other words, any government enterprise that would either inhibit his business profits or increase his taxes. He hasn't changed."
Yes, there are thugs, parasites, and bloodsuckers in our midst. There are those who engage in class warfare. They are sitting on top of the wealth heap and they don't want to pay their fair share to participate in American democracy. They simply want to arrange that heap so they are able to get more out of those of us on the bottom. We may have found our Superwoman in Diane Ravitch, whose credentials include serving as Undersecretary of Education in the George W. Bush administration. It was during her tenure there that she came to the conclusion that No Child Left Behind was unworkable and would eventually kill public education.
While we're waiting for our Superwoman to do her work, below is a list of Koch Industries products. If people care to, they can take the initiative by boycotting these products.
- Angel Soft toilet paper
- Brawny paper towels
- Dixie plates, bowls, napkins and cups
- Mardi Gras napkins and towels
- Quilted Northern toilet paper
- Soft 'n Gentle toilet paper
- Sparkle napkins
- Vanity fair napkins
- Zee napkins
- Georgia-Pacific paper products and envelopes
- All Georgia-Pacific lumber and building products, including:
- Dense Armor Drywall and Decking
- ToughArmor Gypsum board
- Georgia pacific Plytanium Plywood
- Densglass sheathing
- G/P Industrial plasters (some products used by a lot of crafters)
- FibreStrong Rim board
- G/P Lam board
- Blue Ribbon OSB Rated Sheathing
- Blue Ribbon Sub-floor
- DryGuard Enhanced OSB
- Nautilus Wall Sheathing
- Thermostat OSB Radiant Barrier Sheathing
- Broadspan Engineered Wood Products
- XJ 85 I-Joists
- FireDefender Banded Cores
- FireDefender FS
- FireDefender Mineral Core
- Hardboard and Thin MDF including Auto Hardboard