We’re a Country Needing Heroes

by , posted on Monday, May 21st, 2012 at 7:49 pm

We’re a country needing some heroes. And we really need them here in Illinois where for decades politicians have joined with the rest of our country’s politicians in selling out the middle class, starving the funding for our public schools and communities, and protecting large corporations and the One Percent.

For forty years, at the state and federal level, politicians have worked for big business interests attacking our labor unions, pension plans, small farms and businesses. Big business interests lobbied politicians, sometimes people in them became politicians or formed “Think Tanks” to lobby politicians. They ended regulations (Glass-Steagall) and opened up the banking system to gambling. They’ve gambled 401 Ks and mortgages. They lobbied for corporations to become monopolies. They lobbied for tax breaks, loopholes, and subsidies.

This has been a systematic, well thought out plan carried out by large moneyed interests and big business. A corporate lawyer named Lewis F. Powell in 1971 first outlined the plan on paper. Powell wrote a long memo to Eugene Sydnor, Jr. the then Director of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Called the Powell Memo, it outlined the plan for advancing corporate influence by deregulating corporations, building an array of institutions to push for unbridled corporate capitalism, and to diminish individual’s interests. It targeted unions and schools.

Over the years, this has really had quite an impact. Average worker income increased steadily until the early 1970s, then it went flat. Since the 70s, workers’ incomes stopped increasing while worker productivity has dramatically increased. (Bureau of Labor Statistics)

If the median income of most Americans had kept pace with the economy since 1970, those Americans would be making about $92,000 and not the $50,000 they make now (Bureau of Labor Statistics). Can you just imagine what an additional $42,000 in income would bring to you and your family?

Can you imagine what that extra money in your pocket would do to our national and state economy? This is why it takes two incomes to buy a house today, when one income was able to do it forty years ago. Can you imagine what that income would do for our schools and communities?

Now they are attacking our public schools and teachers with the agenda to capitalize their pension systems and to privatize our schools.

For forty years, Illinois legislators have failed in their responsibility to fund the teachers’ pension system. They have taken corporate and ‘think tank’ lobby money and used it to fund their campaigns. They have passed tax loopholes, tax breaks, and subsidies to large corporations, shorting our schools for funding—forcing the average already overtaxed middle-class worker to make up the slack.

In 1980, the average CEO made 42 times what the average worker made. That’s quite a bit, but not obscene. But now, the average CEO makes 380 times what the average worker makes (PayWatch.org). Now, that’s obscene. And how about this—since the beginning of this current recession, 9/10ths of the growth in income has gone to corporate profits (Harper’s Index).

Now let’s add tax breaks into this mix. According to Harper’s Index, in 1961 American corporations paid about 41 percent in taxes. But today, they now pay about 11 percent.

Twelve mega-corporations with a total of $175 billion in profits had a combined tax rate of MINUS 1.4% (Citizens for Tax Justice). That’s minus. How does that happen? With subsidies. Our tax dollars subsidize those mega-corporations. Our politicians made that happen. It is starving our schools and communities.

How is it we didn’t see this coming? We were too busy working, going to school, raising our kids, and trying to get into or stay in the middle class.

The attack on the middle class has been so pervasive, silent and subtle. It has been accompanied by a thorough advertising campaign—championed first in the Powell Memo. And we’ve been so exhausted trying to capture and continue to believe in the American Dream.

The last to be threatened by this assault on the middle-class are our educators and our schools. When you hear “privatize public schools,” or “charter schools,” you should think that this means our taxes will pay our government to pay shareholders and “Think Tanks,” who will own our schools, set the curriculum, and determine public agendas. How’s that McDonald’s hamburger working for us?

And so this brings us to this–our educators are our last great hope. Forty years of unrelenting, secret assault on the middle-class has left us feeling exhausted and hopeless. We need them to be heroes now and to speak truth to power. And we as citizens need to support them and know this is our fight too. We must all speak truth to power.

There are signs this is happening. There is a grassroots movement among some educators calling themselves Educators United for Strong Schools. Along with Northern Illinois Jobs with Justice, they had a rally Thursday afternoon from 4:00 to 6:00 in Naperville, IL at the Free Speech Pavilion which was attended by about 200 enthusiastic demonstrators.

And Tuesday, May 22, teachers will travel with union workers from AFSCME to Springfield and join with other union workers for a rally at the Capitol to oppose unprecedented attacks on all state workers’ pensions.

Many are anticipating the introduction of new bills that follow through with the dangerous austerity proposals forwarded by Mike Madigan, Tom Cross and their hedge fund group, Stand for Children.


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