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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 5/17/11

A battery of elected ideologues opens fire on those who serve the public

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Jim Hightower
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From Hightower Lowdown

You're not likely to have known Robert Clark, Ruth West, Chet Newall, Webb Kamp, or Darrell Odom, but I wouldn't be who I am without them. And you might have a similar honor roll of those who spurred, inspired, lured, intrigued, goaded, and otherwise motivated you to do more than you might otherwise have done -- a list of your special public school teachers. The junior-high, senior-high, and college teachers on my list largely sparked my lifelong interests in language, history, politics, and how (and for whom) government really works.

However, I was naive about their motivation. Little did I know at the time that their ilk are tax-sucking leeches, glorified babysitters, overpaid slugs who leave work at 3 p.m. and take the whole summer off. "Greedy," as New Jersey Governor Chris Christie barked at teachers in his state.

Thus America is suddenly at war against its own teachers -- along with its firefighters, police officers, public health researchers and caregivers, sanitation workers, census takers, park rangers, air traffic controllers, and the whole horde of "do-nothings" on the public payroll. Fire 'em, bust their unions, take away their democratic rights, slash their pay, increase their workloads, eliminate their pensions, and (most especially) scorn them.

Those are not just the vitriolic sentiments of a few red-faced, tea-party lunatics -- but of a squawking flock of right-wing governors, state legislators, mayors, and members of Congress. These are our leaders speaking!

[IRONIC ASIDE: The "leaders" who're so wildly assailing public employees also happen to be public employees, and they consume a whole lot more of our tax dollars than those they're dissing. Gov. Christie, for example, siphons $175,000 a year from the public treasury in salary -- far more than any of those "greedy" teachers in his state. And while politicos screech for deep cutbacks in rank-and-file workers, notice that they're not volunteering any givebacks in their own pay, pensions, health care, limousines, mansions, and other public subsidies. Apparently, they never had a teacher explain  "irony" to them, but it would be a better world if they took a remedial class on the concept. Oh, too late -- teachers of irony have been fired.]

Funded and orchestrated by such hard-core, anti-laborite billionaires like the Kochs, DeVoses, Bradleys, Scaifes, Coorses, and Waltons, the right wing has declared open season on public employees. But don't think that the assault by corporate extremists stops there. Using the GOP and the tea partiers as their political foot soldiers -- they intend to dismantle the public sphere, crush all unions, downsize the entire middle class, and banish egalitarianism as an American ideal. Ready or not, our nation has devolved into a new and nasty civil war, with moneyed elites now charging into legislatures and courts to separate their good fortunes from the working class and to establish themselves as a de facto plutocracy.


Excessed -- The euphemism being used by various officials across the country to notify thousands of teachers that they are fired, as in: "You have been excessed."

"Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice," declared Sen. Barry Goldwater in his failed presidential try in 1964. Today, though, the billionaires masquerading as Goldwater's libertarian heirs are seeking only to "liberate" themselves from our democratic society's essential rules of fair play. They resent paying taxes for anything that benefits others, they demand freedom from regulation of their corporate excesses, and they absolutely reject the notion that workers, consumers, environmentalists, and other community interests should have any power over corporate whim.

Their sense of entitlement is nauseating, and their ongoing militant maneuvering in state after state to dis-empower America's workaday majority constitutes a declaration of war against our people's democracy. "Extremism in the defense of elitism" is their ugly purpose. That is a vice.

Ugly Number One is that theirs is a most uncivil war. It's based on demonizing some of the best and most useful workers in our country, pitting these people's very modest incomes and perfectly reasonable benefits against those who've been knocked down and have less. "Don't look at us," shout the corporatists who've been doing the downsizing and privatizing, outsourcing and offshoring -- that have knocked down the middle class and held down the poor. "Instead, look at those just above you who are struggling to stay in the middle class. It's unfair that they have health coverage and you don't, so let's pull them down, too."

Who benefits from that?

The good news is that folks mostly have not swallowed this divide-and-conquer battle cry. Polls are consistently showing widespread opposition to right-wing proposals to fire the masses of pubic employees and rescind the rights of unions. The bad news is that GOP governors and congressional leaders don't give a damn about the will of the people; they're listening to the will of Big Money. So Ugly Number Two in the elitists' war is their willingness to use raw autocratic power to ram through their anti-worker agenda.

How ironic (there's that word again) that those purporting to be champions of "small, inobtrusive government" are quite comfortable with big, invasive, bullying government slapping down millions of America's working families. Let's take a tour of just a half-dozen battlefields in this rapidly expanding war:

FLORIDA. When newly elected Republican Gov. Rick Scott declared last year that he would run this state's government like a business, it was no idle threat. He had previously been CEO of the giant health-care conglomerate Columbia/HCA, where he presided over massive Medicare fraud that cost his culprit corporation a $1.7 billion federal fine and cost him his job.

Scott is a failed corporate executive, but he made off with a personal fortune, so naturally he dove into politics. His money allowed him to "win" a three-way race for the governor's mansion with only 49 percent of the vote. Bringing his finely honed sense of big business ethics to the job, Scott is on a rampage to bust teachers and other wage-earners, slash services that regular people need, and make his state a safe haven for plutocrats. In only his first four months, Hizzoner has:

Demoralized Florida teachers (already among the lowest paid in the country) by moving a bill requiring each of them to reapply for their job every year, with renewal of their contract dependent on how their students perform on a single standardized test. The bill will force more teaching-to-the-test and less classroom innovation, setting up even good teachers for failure and making the profession less desirable. In addition, Scott is a "don't-tax-the-rich" zealot, so the state's budget deficit is to be substantially narrowed by firing teachers and increasing the workloads of those who remain.

Depressed (both economically and psychologically) Florida's hard-hit workforce by pushing legislation to cut jobless payments. With 11.5 percent unemployment, and with some of the most miserly unemployment benefits in the country, Scott is slashing the number of weeks that out-of-work Floridians can get jobless aid to as low as 12 weeks, rather than the standard 26. To add to his Scrooginess, his proposal also makes it easier for a corporation to fire employees, making workers ineligible for any unemployment assistance. As the house sponsor of Scott's bill explained, "Businesses need the state's help."

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Jim Hightower is an American populist, spreading his message of democratic hope via national radio commentaries, columns, books, his award-winning monthly newsletter (The Hightower Lowdown) and barnstorming tours all across America.

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