Current Attack on Democracy and Public Education

30 Nov

By Thomas Ultican 11/30/2021

Nancy MacLean’s amazing book Democracy in Chains documents Charles Koch’s anti-democratic and anti-public education agenda plus his relationship with Nobel Prize winning economist James Buchanan (Democracy in Chains page 184). She quotes Buchanan speaking about their shared libertarian agenda, “The project must aim toward the practical removal of the sacrosanct assigned to majority rule.” MacLean writes of Buchanan, “The collective enemy he was constructing included nearly everyone in education except academic economists” (Democracy in Chains page 119). She also noted that the handsomely Koch-financed politician Dick Armey called for the end of public education which he labeled “the most socialized industry in the world” (page 196). Today’s pandemic attack on public education is simply a continuation of a more than a half-century long crusade to end it. Koch money is still feeding the cause.

Christopher Leonard’s Kochland is the story of Charles Koch beginning with his earning two MIT masters of engineering degrees. For those who don’t know about him and his late younger brother David, this book is a magnificent tutorial.

In 1966, after five years working for his father, Charles became the CEO of a company then known as Rock Island Oil & Refining Company. After his father Fred died in 1967, Charles took a disparate set of assets – a cattle ranch, a minority share in an oil refinery and a gas gathering business – and stitched them together into the company the family renamed Koch Industries as a tribute to their father. Today it is the second largest privately held corporation in the world.

Unfortunately, it was the works of Austrian economists and philosophers Ludwig Von Mises and Friedrich Hayek that attracted Koch. He has been described as a libertarian and a conservative but “classical liberal” is a more apt description. Leonard observed, “Hayek, in particular, put forward a radical concept of capitalism and the role that markets should play in society, and his thinking had an enduring effect on Charles Koch” (Kochland page 42).

Charles and his late brother David have spent lavishly promoting their libertarian beliefs. Inspired by the anti-New Deal Austrian Economist Friedrich Hayek; the brothers agreed that public education along with most other public institutions must be abolished.

Charles Koch has been the leader of the effort to undermine democratic rule and state management, but he is hardly alone. Joining his libertarian crusade are Wal-Mart’s Walton Family Foundation, Wisconsin’s Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, Illinois’s Richard Uihlein, the dark money donor directed fund, Donors Trust and many others.

Jane Mayer’s book Dark Money described Donors Trust and its sister organization Donors Capital Fund as “a screen for the right wing, behind which fingerprints disappeared from the cash.”

The Pandemic Attack

In the spring of 2020, a campaign to ignore school safety issues associated with the novel corona virus was initiated. The former president and his secretary of education began calling for schools to be opened immediately for full time face to face instruction. There was a nationwide response from the Republican Party that included establishing Astroturf parent organizations demonstrating throughout the nation for schools to be reopened. There was little concern for the health of school staff or about the likelihood that children would take COVID home to vulnerable family members.

This spring, the attack on public schools took a dark and violent turn. School board members were being screamed at and threatened because they were requiring students to ware masks. The accusations grew in scope to include the supposed teaching of critical race theory (CRT) and supplying children with inappropriate books like “Ruby Bridges Goes to School: My True Story”.

Oddly, most teachers did not have a clue about what CRT was because it is seldom addressed outside of Law School graduate seminars.

Last month State Representative Christine Palm and former Assistant US Attorney, Frank Hanley Santoro wrote in the CT Insider,

“Clearly, something is afoot. Why is this happening suddenly and simultaneously in so many different places around the state (and indeed the country)? Why is the pattern so similar? … Why pick on CRT, which schools don’t even teach …? This doesn’t sound like something that just happened to occur to parents at a local bake sale.”

“The explanation may lie with Steve Bannon. According to Bannon, ‘This is the Tea Party to the 10th power,’ and ‘The path to save the nation is very simple. It’s going to go through the school boards.”’

The National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado weighed in on why the attack on CRT and where it’s coming from:

“Well-established and powerful far Right organizations are driving the current effort to prevent schools from providing historically accurate information about slavery and racist policies and practices, or from examining systemic racism and its manifold impacts. These organizations include the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), Goldwater Institute, Heritage Foundation, Koch family foundations, and Manhattan Institute, as well as billionaire-funded advocacy organizations such as Parents Defending Education and the Legal Insurrection Foundation.”

“The anti-CRT narrative is … used to accomplish three goals: to thwart efforts to provide an accurate and complete picture of American history; to prevent analysis and discussion of the role that race and racism have played in our history; and to blunt the momentum of efforts to increase democratic participation by members of marginalized groups.”

Doug Porter of the Wordsanddeeds blog writes, “While the racial resentment that the school board battles illustrate is as American and ever-present as apple pie, the road to retaking power through educational culture wars is part of a current, well-funded national strategy by some of the usual Dark Money suspects.”

Christopher Rufo’s Tweets about the Framing of CRT

According to his biography at the Manhattan Institute, the 35-years-old Christopher Rufo “is a senior fellow and director of the initiative on critical race theory at the Manhattan Institute.” As he clearly indicates in the tweets shown above his team at the Institute has rebranded CRT to “annex the entire range of cultural constructions that are unpopular with Americans.” He knows it is a false construct but does not care because it has become amazingly successful. Honesty is not a treasured virtue in libertarian circles. Winning is all that matters.

Source Watch reports,

“The Manhattan Institute (MI) is a right-wing 501(c)(3) non-profit think tank founded in 1978 by William J. Casey, who later became President Ronald Reagan‘s CIA director. It is an associate member of the State Policy Network.”

Funding for the the Manhattan Institute and the State Policy Network include generous grants from Koch Family Foundations, Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, Scaife Foundation, Walton Family Foundation and many other funders of libertarian causes. For example, 2017 tax records show that Donors Trust (EIN 52-2166327) sent $6,500,000 to the State Policy Network and in 2020 the Bradley Foundation reported gifting $850,000 to the Manhattan institute.

The last available Tax form for the Manhattan Institute (EIN: 13-2912529) covers parts of 2018 and 19. It shows a regular yearly intake of more than $15 million in grants which seems to mainly pay large salaries. Senior Fellow, Christopher Rufo is not listed on the form but all of the senior fellows from tax year 2018-19 raked in more than a quarter million in salary and benefits.

Creating Astroturf Organizations

To create an effective political ground game, billionaire financed artificial organizations are continuously created. One outcome of this was noted by Blogger Jan Ressenger when she observed that the CRT controversy has links to “Well funded groups working to galvanize parents [including] Parents Defending Education,  Moms for LibertyNo Left Turn in Education,  FreedomWorks, and  Parents’ Rights in Education.”

Addressing these billionaire financed groups, Professor Maurice Cunningham wrote a very insightful post, Koch Connections and Sham Grassroots of Parents Defending Education”. About the newest organization, Moms for Liberty and its two leaders, he wrote,

“Moms for Liberty’s creation story is similar to others in the anti-public education universe: ‘moms on a mission to stoke the fires of liberty.’ In a year and a half Moms for Liberty’s Form 990 tax returns are likely to show these two patriotic moms hauling down in excess of $150,000 each.”

Cunningham says it will be a year and a half before we have documentation about the pay for the founders of Moms for Liberty because non-profits do not file their first tax forms until 2-years after legal formation. The effective date on the Moms for Liberty articles of incorporation is 01/01/2021. The three founding officers signing the document are Tina Descovich, Tiffany Justice and Bridget Ziegler. Up until 2020, Descovich and Justice were both school board members in Indian River County, Florida (Vero Beach). Ziegler is the wife of Christian Ziegler, vice chairman of the Florida Republican Party and a former Congressional Fellow at the Heritage foundation.

In 2020, it appears Tiffany Justice voluntarily gave up her school board seat on the Indian River County school board. Tina Descovich was defeated in her reelection bid for the Brevard school district board. Jennifer Jenkins, a former school employee, campaigned against Descovich’s opposition to teacher raises and mask mandates. She won by 10% points in the heavily Republican district.

The Washington Post reported, “In 10 months, Moms for Liberty has grown to 135 chapters in 35 states, with 56,000 members and supporters, according to the organization’s founders.” In praising Moms for Liberty, Christian Ziegler (the husband of co-founder Bridget Ziegler), told the Post, “I have been trying for a dozen years to get 20- and 30-year-old females involved with the Republican Party, and it was a heavy lift to get that demographic, but now Moms for Liberty has done it for me.”

Obviously, Moms for Liberty is not a spontaneous movement of conservative mothers incensed by the teaching of CRT and the implementation of mask mandates. It is another well financed Astroturf organization designed to undermine public education and promote a libertarian agenda.

Pumping the Message

To generate “research”, a large network of think tanks working under the umbrella organization State Policy Network (SPN) was developed. This network is made up of 64 affiliated members and 98 associated members. In 2019, The Center for Media and Democracy reported that the 64 affiliated members took in more than $120 million in donations from almost exclusively far right conservatives. The Manhattan Institute that created the bogus CRT outrage is an associated member of SPN.

Once the “research” is completed, it is fed to ALEC, where model legislation is distributed to the large number of Republican state legislators who attend their secretive meetings. The legislators then take these models home and introduce them as if they wrote the bill. Jim Miller reports, “Recently, ALEC has been very active in working to suppress voting rights, undermine labor unions, privatize public education, fight action on climate change, fuel rightwing anger over “critical race theory,” promote anti-abortion, and anti-trans bills.”

To widely disseminate their message to local residents, a vast assemblage of local news sites has been established. According to a Columbia Journalism Review study, “There are five companies that make up the core of the network: Metric Media LLC, Newsinator (that, according to Iowa state records, has the alternative  name Franklin Archer), Local Government Information Services (LGIS), Pipeline Media, and Locality Labs.”

In Virginia, there were 28 active Metric Media sites algorithmically generating stories during the recent governor’s race. The local news sites in the network have little advertising and no subscription fees. The Columbia Journalism Review linked funding for the network sites to “the dark-money ATM of the conservative movement” and “a Catholic political advocacy group that launched a $9.7 million campaign in swing states against the Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden.”

Under the unifying organization Metric Media, the group produces more the 5,000,000 automated articles every month through its 1300 local news sites. Popular Information reports,

“A Popular Information analysis found that between January and November 2021, the 28 ‘local news’ sites in Virginia published 4,657 articles about Critical Race Theory in schools.”

“Nationwide, tens of thousands of articles about Critical Race Theory have been published across the Metric Media network. That number is growing every day.”

Opinion

Nancy MacLean observed that Buchanan and Koch had concluded, “There was no glossing over it anymore; democracy was inimical to economic liberty.” (Democracy in Chains page 152)

The anti-democratic impulse of the oligarch must be contained. There is an underlying wisdom to democratic decision making. It is a wisdom that bends toward equity and humanism. Public education is the soil from which that wisdom can flower. For the past five decades, an autocratic businessman has been pushing our country in the direction of widespread suffering and discrimination.  

Neither capitalism nor socialism is a perfect guide for society. Education, medicine, prisons and policing are not well suited to a strict capitalist approach. A strict socialist approach does not function well in manufacturing, farming and entertainment. Ideologues demanding one of these two economic methods to the exclusion of the other are a problem. The guide to balancing these competing ideologies is humanism. In other words ponder, “The policy best serving the majority of the people while maintaining a keen eye to insure that the minority is not abused.”

The best way to move society forward toward a more perfect union is to make democracy ever more inclusive. And the best way to improve democracy is to protect and fund public education.

2 Responses to “Current Attack on Democracy and Public Education”

  1. ciedie aech November 30, 2021 at 7:58 pm #

    Very important information once again Thomas! Thanks

    Like

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Tom Ultican: The Attack on Democracy and Public Education by Charles Koch, ALEC, and Dark Money | Diane Ravitch's blog - December 1, 2021

    […] Ultican, retired teacher of physics and advanced mathematics, has written an incisive analysis of the libertarian attack on democracy and public education, funded by billionaires and advanced by rightwing think tanks. He […]

    Like

Leave a Reply to ciedie aech Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: