Tag Archive for privatization

Presentation: Neo-Liberal Economics

Strider Benston, civil rights activist

Strider Benston’s long and passionate dedication to political activism — dating back to his days of knowing and working with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. — as well as his deep and contextual appreciation for American history, will inform his upcoming presentation on Neo-Liberal Economics.  You will come away knowing more about how deregulation, privatization and the so-called “rule of the market” has destroyed what was once great about America’s economy and morphed it into our present day gap between the very wealthy and everyone else, thus eliminating the concept of the “public good” and “community”.

Please join LAD as we are proud to host this event.

Strider Benston presents:

“Neo-Liberal Economics”
Wednesday, January 4 at 6:30pm
723 Main Street

The “social” in Social Security

Image courtesy of SXC.hu

The GOP's newest victims - via Social Security cuts.

My mother was 82 when she passed away in 1987. She lived through World War I, the Great Depression and World War II. When she was born, women weren’t allowed to vote. By the time she became an adult, they were. She was a feminist before anyone had thought of the word. Life’s lessons made her one. She watched the nation grow and evolve for almost a century, a century in which changes – both physical and cultural – would have been unimaginable to previous generations.

She was 30 years old when the Social Security Act was passed. Her taxes paid for those who initially qualified, as mine did for her and my offspring do for me. It’s a pact and a promise between and amongst generations.

She recognized that these were benefits that she worked for, not government handouts. Throughout her retired years she always referred to the third of the month, the day Social Security checks arrive, as “payday.” Whether defined as insurance or described as a retirement benefit, Social Security was something that she had earned – one way or another.

Before Social Security, poverty amongst the elderly was rampant. This was so even at a time when families were larger and when siblings could help – if not with dollars, with care – and could take mom or dad into their homes. Over time families became smaller and both men and women found it necessary to work to provide either a working class or a middle-class lifestyle.

Today a new phenomenon has developed. It’s called the “sandwich generation.” It refers to those who are squeezed between their kids and their parents. Both need their help.

With all the hand wringing about the need to cut Social Security benefits, I ask those who will find themselves “sandwiched” in the future, “Do you expect to be able to financially support your parents if Social Security benefits are not enough?” Consider that when you and your kids are sucked into the meme of the day, “Social Security won’t be there when you retire,” – and be sure it is. And know that it won’t be if it’s “privatized.”

Solutions to the nation’s Greed Crisis

By Ron Forthofer, as published in the Longmont Ledger, December 12, 2010

Image courtesy of the Sunlight Foundation

During the recent financial crisis, the primarily privately controlled Federal Reserve led an effort that guaranteed almost $13 trillion of taxpayer money to bail out the financial sector.

It was this same sector that, through its crimes and speculation, had almost caused the collapse the world’s financial system. Yet many of these wealthy gamblers were bailed out while the needs of the public were mostly ignored. The interests of the wealthy on Wall Street took precedence over the interests of Main Street. Warren Buffet stated it well in a November 26, 2006, New York Times article: “There’s class warfare, all right, but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning.”

When most of the Wall Street bailout occurred,there was nary a word about the consequences for the deficit or long-term debt. However, since then, there has been a steady drumbeat about the debt, with particular concern raised about Social Security and Medicare, two programs that greatly benefit the public.

On Feb. 18, President Obama joined the debt effort when he created a commission to make recommendations on reducing the budget deficit and long-term debt. The commission co-chairmen presented their personal proposals just last week, a few weeks before the full commission’s results are due. As expected, the commission co-chairmen laid out a proposal that mostly, but not completely, targeted programs benefiting the public.

I am personally all for being fiscally responsible, but it needs to be done in a way that protects the public’s interest. For example, instead of the path they took, the co-chairmen could have presented ideas such as:

~ Reinstating the progressive tax levels from the Eisenhower era, thus requiring that those who greatly profited from the financial crimes and speculations of this decade share in the sacrifices demanded of “we the people”;

~ Placing fees on speculative financial trades/activities that would raise large sums while simultaneously decreasing the risk of another financial disaster;

~ Ending corporate welfare;

~ Re-regulating the nation’s utilities to prevent price gouging and to provide better service;

~ Eliminating the endemic fraud and incredible waste in military contracting;

~ Reversing the wasteful privatization of the military effort and other public work;

~ Greatly reducing the military budget, which is almost equal to the rest of the world’s military spending combined; we need a military for defense, not for running an empire;

~ Ending our occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, and paying reparations for the devastation we’ve caused;

~ And enacting single-payer health-care reform.

The co-chairmen clearly could have taken on the greed, fraud and waste inherent in our corporate-dominated system that benefits the few at the top, but they didn’t. Unfortunately their proposals were not surprising. In “The Wealth of Nations” Adam Smith warned us about a similar situation: “The proposal of any new law or regulation of commerce which comes from this order ought always to be listened to with great precaution, and ought never to be adopted till after having been long and carefully examined, not only with the most scrupulous, but with the most suspicious attention. It comes from an order of men whose interest is never exactly the same with that of the public, who have generally an interest to deceive and even to oppress the public, and who accordingly have, upon many occasions, both deceived and oppressed it.”

How much longer will we tolerate the transfer of wealth to the top while we are made poorer and poorer? Almost a century ago Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis warned, “We can have democracy in this country, or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.” Which do you want, democracy or oligarchy?

Ron Forthofer was the 2002 Green Party candidate for Colorado Governor. He lives in Longmont.

Incrementalism in public education

There's more below the surface

There is an interesting controversy at the St. Vrain Valley School District concerning the approval of two new charter schools. According to the district’s accountability and accreditation committee Lotus School of Excellence and Skyview Charter School fail to meet the minimum standards for approval.

As a former teacher, parent and grandparent, I recognize the importance of a superior education. The institution of free public education to all children in the United States is something that we should treasure – forever.

A public education serves many purposes. It provides the foundation necessary to succeed in a complex society. I am reminded of the saying that “we learn to read in order that we might read to learn.” It prepares us for citizenship, not just as Americans but as citizens of a larger world.

As a society we have concluded that an educated population is of benefit to all of us and accordingly we have agreed to tax ourselves to achieve this. Regardless of age or family status education benefits us individually and collectively.

Raising and educating children has always been and will always be a challenge. We are all of us individuals with differing levels of intellect and talent. We learn through different methods and we have individual interests.

As Americans we have had many choices to educate our children. We can send them to public schools, private schools or religious schools. If we choose the latter two, any costs associated with those choices are our individual responsibility.

In recent decades public charter schools have gained cachet. Declining student performance has caused us to examine reasons and solutions. That is as it should be. However, there is an absence of purity of purpose in our efforts. Superior performance should be the only goal, but that is not and perhaps never has been the sole motivation behind this changing emphasis.

As such, the move toward public charter schools needs to be examined for motives beyond a high quality education.

One of the underlying motives for pushing charter schools is a hatred of teachers unions by some individuals and segments of our society. Our public school teachers have been demonized simply because they belong to a union. Certainly there are good and bad teachers as there are good and bad electricians, plumbers, accountants, lawyers, analysts, financial advisors, and so on. That will always be the case. However, the quality of our teachers is only one component of poor pupil performance, and very probably not the most important component. The student, the parent, peers and broader societal conditions all bear some responsibility.

Americans are resistant to change, especially sudden and drastic change. They have demonstrated that over and over again. For this reason, we need to be especially concerned about incrementalism, movement in slow and subtle steps to an outcome that would not be acceptable if it were to take place all at once.

There are those whose goal is to privatize all education. There are those who seek tax credits and/or vouchers for private, religious and homeschooling. All of this flies in the face of our agreed upon social goals and the reasonable sharing of the cost.

In the case of Lotus School of Excellence there is a further complicating issue. Lotus plans to rent space at LifeBridge Christian Church, located in unincorporated Boulder County just north of Highway 66.

The Times-Call has had two articles this week on the controversy of approving the applicants. Several readers commented on the articles. Amongst them is Matt Yapanel, president of the board of directors of Lotus.

He writes the following about the relationship between Lotus and LifeBridge.

Charter schools get around 30% less funding then regular public schools. That’s why we have to be extremely careful with our spending. Creating an efficiently run school is the goal and we make even pennies count toward improving student achievement. With less money, most charter schools are providing better opportunities for their students. I can tell you that we have achieved this in our Aurora campus which was a previous church/private school facility. When we leased space from the church, they were in financial trouble; they had another project to build and move but were not able to sell their existing facility. As a charter school, that facility was very suitable for us to serve as our permanent campus. We purchased the facility, co-existed in the building sharing the mortgage payments in which time Lotus improved its enrollment to fully support the facility when the church has moved out. Meanwhile church has built their great new home and moved there ultimately. Both entities got what they needed to the best possible extent; it was a win-win situation for both parties. Lotus took over the full facility this year and opened an elementary school to serve 610 students, 65% of which are free-reduced lunch eligible and 80% are minority students. Because of the shared use of the space, we saved hundreds of thousands of dollars, which we put right back into the classroom. Therefore, sharing space with a church is a fiscally very responsible move. We are a public school simply sharing space with a church, that’s what most charter schools do as they establish their program and work to acquire a permanent campus. It is challenging to be able to pay for a facility when you get 30% less dollars. However it is not the quality or appearance of the facility that matters, it is the programs running in that facility that matters the most.

Although Mr. Yapanel was speaking about the Aurora situation, those who are aware of circumstances surrounding LifeBridge will see strong similarities in both situations.

LifeBridge mortgaged it’s properties at Highway 66 and those in Weld County between Union Reservoir and Highway 119 for $26 million dollars in July of 2007. They planned to build a waterfront community of homes with a substantial religious campus as well as commercial enterprises. Their intent was to annex the Weld County properties to Longmont. There is also a history of attempts to annex to Longmont the church’s existing facilities and properties. None of those efforts came to fruition because of resistance within the Longmont community for many reasons and from many interests.

In December of 2009 LifeBridge refinanced its debt to the Church Development Fund (CDF) and turned approximately half of its Weld County properties over to CDF as deeds in lieu of foreclosure. The LifeBridge project was derailed by the economic conditions that have resulted in massive declines in both residential and commercial development, amongst other changing financial circumstances.

With LifeBridge in need of money and Lotus in need of a location, the two entities have joined forces. One of the concerns that the St. Vrain Valley School District with which it is wrestling is indirectly supporting the financial needs of LifeBridge Church through taxpayer dollars that would go to support Lotus. This is a slippery slope towards violation of the establishment clause of the First Amendment.

If Lotus can overcome its low score in the accreditation assessment, it would do well to find a location other than a church to house its school. In today’s economic situation, I’m confident that there are options for its location that would not place the SVVSD in the precarious position of de facto supporting a church.

All of us with a concern for the education of our children, need to take a step back and ask further: Are charter schools really the answer to our needs or are they a step towards privatization? If our schools are substantially privatized, what happens to the education of those who cannot afford private tuition? If tax dollars are used to support school privatization as they are in so many other instances, who then decides what is taught and how it is taught?

There is a place for public, private and religious schools. But only public education deserves taxpayer support. We can fix what’s wrong without throwing the baby out with the bathwater.