Category Archives: Opinion

Statements appearing in this category are the opinion of the writer, and not necessarily official positions of Democratic Socialists of America or the Boston local.

VOTE NO on Question 2

By Julie Johnson

logo-no-on-2largerQuestion 2 would dramatically lift the cap on charter schools, handing over our public schools and our public dollars to unaccountable private entities.  There is so much that is wrong with this ballot question and the future consequences for our public schools in Massachusetts–and across the country–are so potentially devastating, that it is difficult to know where to begin. 

So let me begin by saying that any progressive and certainly any democratic socialist should not only be Voting No on Question 2 but should be working as hard as s/he can to stop this blatant power grab by corporations and wealthy individuals.  It is a threat to democracy and to the very concept of what it means to be “public”–that is, people working together for the common good within public institutions, that have the support of the public and are governed by the people.

Charter schools now cost Massachusetts public schools over $450 million annually and Question 2 could cost our public schools nearly $1 billion within five years.  Over time, Question 2 has the potential to turn most of our public schools across the state into privately-run entities, funded primarily by local tax dollars with no local accountability.  No community in the state is immune to the expansion of charter schools.  Charters are authorized by the state and neither local officials nor the local community have any meaningful role in the approval or oversight process.

I highly recommend a recent report, Who Controls Our Schools?  The Privatization of American Public Education, by Haven, Hines, Rosenfeld and Salett, that explains and details the growth of charter schools and who is now behind them:  “The charter movement should be seen less as a one-dimensional desire for academic excellence and more as a radical, ideological, and political drive for power and control over what has been one of our basic institutions of local authority.” 

Here’s a link:  https://s3.amazonaws.com/s3.alternet.org/images/who_controls_our_schools_pdf_ebook_1_1.pdf,

For those who have read Jane Mayer’s book, Dark Money, you will understand that these same people–very wealthy individuals and corporations, primarily politically conservative, but not always so–who have the money and the power to change public opinion and public policy, to further their own agenda.  What I find particularly offensive is the billions of dollars that are lost to our public institutions through “charitable” giving, where control of those lost tax dollars go to what corporations believe are important and worthy of support, such as charter schools, while our public schools are starved of the resources they need to educate our poorest students.

I have been told that it is  “not true” that Q2 could lead to privatization in Massachusetts, that charters are “public schools” and there is no “privatization” because there is state oversight and charters can’t be run by for-profit corporations, that we have funded our schools adequately and that charter schools are “needed” because of our “failing” schools, that charter schools work better because they don’t have all those “union rules” or those “political” and “unenlightened” school committees, that the loss of funding does not hurt our regular public schools, that charter schools don’t discriminate and that they do take all students and do better with them than our regular schools.

And they are wrong on all counts.

All you need to do is take a look at the websites of the two campaigns, as well as their campaign finance reports, to see the different interests, money and support behind the two sides of this question.  It could not be clearer:  opponents of Question 2 are the two Massachusetts’ teachers’ unions (MTA, part of the NEA, and the AFT, part of the AFL-CIO), Jobs with Justice, the NAACP, over 200 local school committees, and numerous other local or statewide community organizations and unions, with money coming primarily from public school teachers through their union, mostly in Massachusetts, but some from the NEA (public school teachers across the country).  The organizations in support of Question 2 are all corporate or corporate-related, including the real estate industry, or are charter school advocacy organizations and other corporate education reform entities, and these organizations are funded primarily by dark money (i.e., donations whose sources do not have to be publicly disclosed; in this case, when disclosed they are found to be made by conservative billionaires and their corporate foundations.)

A number of years ago, I spoke at a charter school forum opposite Jim Peyser, Baker’s current Secretary of Education but at that time, he was at the Pioneer Institute, as I recall.  I argued that one of the reasons for charters in Massachusetts was to allow charters to develop innovations that would then be shared with the public schools to help them improve.  I remember the debate in the Democratically controlled Legislature, and I argued that charter schools were not fulfilling their promise, because most did not have innovative educational practices and that any such innovations that were coming out of charter schools were not replicable in our public schools.  I was surprised by Peyser’s countering argument.  Essentially, he said that he didn’t believe there were any educational innovations that a charter school could develop that were not already being done somewhere by a public school.  No, he said, the real innovation of charter schools is their “governance”, that they are not controlled by “political” bodies (i.e., elected school committees).

I am acutely aware that our K-12 public education system is one the only areas that has not yet been privatized or taken out of the public domain, and I am therefore always aware of the serious threats to public education in this country and in Massachusetts.

Question 2 is a real threat.  Please join me in voting No on Question 2. 

Julie Johnson is a former Chair of Boston DSA, presiding during the merger of DSOC (the Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee) and NAM (the New American Movement).  She has worked as a lobbyist for the Massachusetts Teachers Association since 1989.

CONGRESS: Just Say “No” to TPP Fast Track! And “Yes” to US-Iran Nuclear Agreement

President Obama is now trying to push through fast track legislation to help pass his Trans-Pacific Partnership, the latest NAFTA‐style “free‐trade” treaty Congress is expected to vote on this year. But the TPP negotiations themselves have been kept secret from the vast majority of the American people, although enough has leaked out to recognize this new trade deal as pretty much the same old NAFTA/ CAFTA snake oil.

TPP would continue the 30 year neo-liberal project of pressing down wages and outsourcing jobs, while allowing global corporations to legally challenge financial, environmental, labor, food safety and pharmaceutical regulations enacted by governments, even democratically elected ones like our own—even city councils! These disputes could then be taken before unelected panels of international corporate trade lawyers to recoup lost “potential profits”. So TPP seems to be just the latest attempt to transfer power from governments to private capital.
But with mounting opposition from labor, environmentalists, family farmers and locally owned small business, there’s still a chance we can strangle this monster in the crib. Consult the following websites for background information: www.citizenstrade.org/ www.stopfasttrack.org/ www.flushthetpp.org/, then call Senators Markey & Warren and your representative (202‐224‐3121).

Opponents of President Obama’s breakthrough negotiations with Iran to limit its nuclear program have been urging additional sanctions on that nation ever since the talks began in December, 2013. A bill proposed by Senators Menendez (D‐NJ) and Kirk (R‐IL) even promised US political, economic and military support to Israel whenever Netanyahu chose to attack Iran (S.1881). But the Iranians have made it clear that passage of any additional sanctions during the negotiations will end the talks then and there—which seems to be what much of the Congressional opposition wants anyway. As do similar hardliners in Tehran, the governments of Israel and Saudi Arabia, and various Sunni extremist groups including ISIS and Al Qaeda.
But repudiating US–Iran negotiations would undermine Iranian moderates while increasing the likelihood of a US–Israeli attack, leading to more regional chaos, terrorism and nuclear proliferation. Thanks to opposition from Obama, S.1881 and similar legislation seems to be on hold, at least for the moment, and Boston DSA has joined with Peace Action and others to make sure it stays that way. The ultimate solution is still an internationally enforced treaty for a nuclear‐free Mid‐East, but this US–Iran accord is at least a promising beginning.
For more information visit www.niacouncil.org, then call Senators Warren & Markey and your Congressperson (202‐224‐3121) to tell them: Speak out against new sanctions! Don’t sabotage the US–Iran talks!

Isocrates and us or “plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose”

Bust of Isocrates

Isocrates

 “When I was a boy, being rich was considered so secure and honorable that almost everyone pretended he owned more property than he actually did possess, because he wanted to enjoy the prestige it gave.  Now, on the other hand, one has to defend oneself against being rich as if it were the worst of crimes… for it has become far more dangerous to give the impression of being well-to-do than to commit open crime; criminals are let off altogether or given trivial punishments, but the rich are ruined utterly.  More men have been deprived of their property than have paid the penalty of their misdeeds.”

This was the Greek, Isocrates, writing I guess in the early 4th Century BC.  The thing is, if de Ste. Croix is correct in his analysis in The Class Struggle in the Ancient Greek World,  Isocrates wrote these words during a time when, in fact, economic inequality was growing in much of the Greek world.  The demos was on the defensive; the oligarchic sector was (correctly) realizing that their interests were better served by supporting outside imperialists like Phillip II of Macedon (and his successors), who would permit them free reign to squeeze the local peasantry, as long as they eschewed outright political ambition beyond the local level, but would be very suspicious of the potential for a popular uprising by hoi polloi.  And, in fact, under, first, the Macedonian kings, and later the Romans, the last vestiges of democracy were stamped out, opening the world to more and more vicious exploitation of the poor and middling by the uber-rich, until finally the Emperors Diocletian and others basically enserfed the entire population below the economic and political elite.  Economic, and political, inequality in the late Roman Empire reached a level that we, in our still relatively open societies, can barely conceive.

The thing that bothers me about the Isocrates quote I opened with is that it seems so modern.  We again find ourselves subject to “poor me” complaints from the rich, fuming, for example, that they pay the lion’s share of income taxes (but taking as a natural right their claim to an even more disproportionate share of the fruits of economic production), and decrying the slender benefits allotted to the “undeserving” poor; calling for us to be tough on crime (while we imprison, in the U.S. more of our population than any other country in the world, and more black men than were slaves  before the Civil War), and for tax cuts for the “creators” of (mostly non-existent) Mac-jobs.  So, while financial markets soar post-depression, we cut unemployment benefits and food stamps in time for Christmas, and produce movies in which criticism of the excesses of the corrupt ruling class is so muted that members of that class can cheer at screenings, while critics on the left complain, in effect, that the director is praising with faint “damns”.

And I think:  It’s been 2400 years.  Why are we still fighting the same fight?

— also blogged on Persistent Wondering

The Root of All Evil

Reblogged from Persistent Wondering originally posted 5/13/12 The root of capitalism is the principle that the possession of property entitles you to a claim on the fruits of someone else’s labor. There is no moral justification for this. It is on a par with “might makes right” or “the Devil take the hindmost.” Capitalism is thus corrupt at its very core, whatever social benefits it might be deemed to have in any specific time and place. The logic of capitalism only makes sense if there is an unequal distribution of wealth. If everybody had equal wealth, there would be no sense in property employing labor; rather, we would tend to evolve a system where men and women collectively used their property and their labor in order to socially produce things (since social production is more efficient than individual production). Equal distribution of wealth would tend toward a cooperative society, rather than a capitalistic one. So capitalism arises only in an unequal society; its essential logic guarantees that. The logic of the working-out of capitalism increases the initial inequality. If you have only a small amount of property, it is very difficult to make it grow. Generally, only your constant labor can keep it from shrinking. If you have a large amount of property, however, it is very difficult to PREVENT it from growing. The process of being paid for the use of your property returns the borrowed property plus a dividend, over and over again. The more property you possess, the larger the dividend. If the amount of property you possess is very large, it becomes virtually impossible to spend the dividend. Even if your wealth is a bit smaller, only a modest amount of self-restraint is necessary for savings. So the wealth of rich people grows and grows. Yes, it is possible for a wealthy person to “go bust” because of bad investments. But it doesn’t happen very often. And even a wealthy person who, with great fanfare, has “gone bust”, generally has more residual wealth than a person who wasn’t rich to begin with. Squalor turns out to be relative. Capitalism is inherently incompatible with democracy, because capitalism concentrates concentrations wealth, and wealth is inevitably power. There is no way to decouple the relationship of wealth and power. Regulatory tinkering, such as campaign finance rules, can only act as an impediment, an inconvenience to the wealthy when they act to assert their money-power. Capitalist countries, then, even with republican governmental forms, tend to devolve into de facto oligarchies. This process can be resisted only by constant vigilance, to limit accumulation of wealth, to restrain the free political exercise of wealth, to balance people power against money power (unions and voter empowerment campaigns). This vigilance is a lot of work. When we have won some improvements, “we the people” tend to slack off. The capitalists never do. The differential rewards for them – the incentives – are just too immediate and great. Thus, when times got somewhat better in the postwar period – at least in Europe, the U.S. and Canada – the people became complacent, and in the mid-1970s the capitalists, with their neoliberal/Reaganite/Thatcherite agenda, counter attacked. And so, here we are today, with economic inequality and poverty at record levels, with a stagnant economy, but with many capitalists declaring “recovery” despite the fact that so many remain unemployed, many, many more underemployed, and almost all of us economically insecure. So it turns out that not money, but private capital is the root of all evil, arising only in conditions of inequality, sustaining and promoting inequality, and undermining democracy. Ultimately, if we want secure and just economies, we need to decouple property and income, by recognizing that all capital is socially constructed, and must be socially owned.