This is the how and why

History

Lloyd Blankfein testifies that he deserves every damn penny 
Goldman Sachs pays him for screwing investors.

(This is from 2013)  The current  attack on public schools had its beginnings in the financial crisis of 2008. At that time the blame for the economic woes of the nation had appropriately been pinned on the financial games and the players within the investment community. Everybody knew whose fault it was and that the people to blame had made out very well at the country’s expense. There were congressional hearings, the country was hopping mad, and it was about time-thank you very much.
Unfortunately, the tone of the game players was not apologetic, in fact it was dismissive. You got the feeling watching that they felt put out by this congressional hearing silliness, and that the way they do business is the industry standard…a “ya pays yer money and ya takes yer chances” midway challenge. Little time was spent dealing with the fact that as industry insiders, the heads of big banks and finance industry insiders had not only been instrumental in designing the rules to be almost impossible to understand, they had designed it so they would win even when their customers and the economy lost.
So we all lost. “Too big to fail” meant incredible amounts of taxpayer money went to bail out and prop up the institutions that had already abused their position and our trust. The Emergency Economic Stabilization Act (2008) authorized the U.S, Treasury to spend up to $700 billion to buy up distressed assets from financial institutions that found themselves heavily leveraged in a failing market. Those funds were then redirected to inject capital directly into those institutions. Finding themselves flush with taxpayer cash one of the first things they did was pay out executive bonuses. (Los Angeles Times, July 2010)

(A couple tidbits from that L.A. Times story):

  • The Obama administration’s pay czar on Friday came to the same conclusion about fat Wall Street bonuses that average Americans have already reached: There’s no logic behind them, except greed.
  •  There’s simply no justification for multimillion-dollar bonuses that are paid out to people who were irresponsible,” said Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.), who this year proposed legislation levying a tax on bonuses of more than $50,000 at TARP recipients. The money would be used to increase loans for small businesses.


But this criticism and attention (and outrage?) dissipated quickly. When the occasional hard question about incredible salaries and bonuses paid to top executives in the financial sector arose, the response had something to do with the necessity to pay competitively in those fields to attract talent.

A good question would be talent to do what?

“The anger at these corporate subsidies was justified because breaks like these are a symbol of a budget process designed to shift money and power to people who already have too much of it”

Ironically, public workers during this time came under attack for their salaries, benefits and pensions. It was the only move that could be made when it had become clear that policy makers were either unable/unwilling to address, or culpable in the abuses of our economy. Someone had to fry, and public workers with the pensions that were not only an obligation-a debt to be paid,  but a source of play-money were a strategically smart target.  And this is one of the most vital things to keep in mind:

As average Americans struggle more and more financially, a very purposeful effort has been made to avoid contrasting the wages and benefits of public employees with the segment of the upper class that controls an astronomical amount of wealth, continues to see its fortunes grow, and controls policy. Instead, the powerful have used the media to make the comparison between public workers and the “average American worker” who has struggled with stagnant or declining wages on an economic playing field tilted towards the wealthy. For the wealthiest, fostering resentment and suspicion between the classes below them has been their solution  to the potential danger that those citizens might unite with an agenda of social justice and equity.

Our Present Situation

   The promise of “hope and change” that we had been sold by candidate Obama has vanished in swirl of bailouts and an assault on public workers. Suddenly the public is responsible for repairing the damage done by the irresponsible behaviors within the banking, mortgage and investment community. The loss of jobs; the loss of value in our homes; the difficulty in securing financing for the simple projects or possessions that the average American hopes for: a new car; a home equity loan or refinancing… Portraying public workers and public schools as the significant economic burden worked as a blame shift away from the true culprits while the myths of  investors and job creators went only briefly examined. Time and time again politicians called for that “shared sacrifice” in these trying economic times-but they weren’t usually speaking to the top 1-2 percent. They were signaling to everyone else that they would need to tighten their belts.

Shared sacrifice, really?

These calls for shared sacrifice, criticisms of public workers pay, doomsday prophecies regarding social security…all  have been echoed repeatedly by news pundits with little real connection to the majority of citizens already victimized-now being told they should accept being further disrespected.

And more often than not, the word “unions” is attached to the narrative as if it is at best a quaint but outdated concept-at worst a parasitic scourge and job-killer. Even gentler assessments of unions and their purpose miss the point.

“The struggle between teacher’s unions and conservative think tanks to influence educational policy is clearly a key battleground in the context of school reform.” (Neoliberalism in the classroom: The political economy of school reform in the United States)

It isn’t about influencing “educational policy”.

In the same way that teachers and schools are supposed to be apolitical in the way they deliver an education and support learners inside the school and the school day, politicians should refrain from assuming an understanding of the job of teaching that they have not earned. It’s about professional autonomy and the difference between a mission statement for teaching that we can all agree on, and one that is either loudly ill-defined or silently shameful.

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