Editions

Opinion and Analysis from the Grassroots

Defunding Public Education: An Arresting Development
By Tim Young

Tim Young

Americans are facing the largest economic crisis since the Great Depression. States like California have responded by pulling the plug on public education. Other options exist, but policymakers are faint to trim any fat from their coveted war chest or from the criminal justice system.

Has public education been thrown under the bus? According to a recent poll in Time magazine, 67% of respondents said public schools are in a crisis and 76% said that teaching doesn’t pay enough. With a base income of only $32,000, teachers are definitely underpaid and unappreciated. Adding insult to injury, many have been terminated due to the economic downturn. Students, parents and educators have begun protesting: No More Job Cuts! No More Tuition Hikes! Despite these passionate pleas, public education has taken a backseat to the prison industry. Case in point, the California Department of Corrections is projected to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to build a new Death Row. Meanwhile, schools all across the state have been forced to close.

The defunding of public education can be attributed to globalization. In 1994, President Bill Clinton signed the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) into existence. “Cha Ching!” The ruling class had hit the jackpot! To them, this was the next best thing to slavery (slave wages). Faster than you could say “unemployed,” American companies fled south of the border, setting up shop in places like Tijuana, Mexico. Companies such as Nike and Pepsi no longer had to pay American workers a living wage. And why would they? They now had international sweatshops to profit from, and they could slave drive their “international workers” for less than two dollars a day! American companies have done this very thing throughout the world, and the U.S. government has aided them in every capacity. This is how “globalization” works, and to the rest of the world America is its face.

The fallout caused by NAFTA has been evident: The job market was emasculated, thereby crippling the economy. The national unemployment rate reached double digits (16.5% for African Ameri-cans). Also, from 2008 to 2010 more than 1.5 million homes were lost to foreclosure. To a betting man, it would appear that the folks on Main Street are headed for poverty. Despite these calamities, politicians will keep right on protecting and promoting the interests of the elite as they see it, resulting in fewer jobs and fewer reasons to educate the working class.

By slamming the doors on public education, the road to incarceration becomes a major highway. Unlike any other highway, this one merges into a pipeline aptly described as “the preschool to prison pipeline.” This proverbial “pipeline” can be found throughout the ghettos of America. It has siphoned a multitude of men, women and children into the criminal justice system, therefore explaining why Blacks make up 13% of the American population but account for nearly half the prison population. This statistic begs the question: Is the mass incarceration of the underclass a coincidence or a conspiracy?

Prisons are a form of modern-day slavery, and the prison industrial complex is one of the most profitable businesses of the new age. This may explain why the United States imprisons more people than any other nation or why it eviscerates public education. No coincidence. If you are not one of them, the powers that be would rather incarcerate you than educate you.

Risk-Taking
By Steve Ratzlaff

Steve Ratzlaff

John Steen, in a pamphlet titled “Death and Taxes,” penned these words at the height of the Vietnam War:

“If you were handed a gun, right now, and told to shoot a man—or drop napalm on a village—you couldn’t do it…But the same good people who would vomit at the sight of burning flesh and blood on our hands have no qualms paying taxes for somebody else to kill and burn.

“If we are forced to face the issues, we make excuses…The managers of the Empire will let us speak—as long as we hand over the young men and the cash, and we are afraid to refuse.

“The government could never get away with murder—in Vietnam or any place—without help. The War Machine must be fed warm bodies and cold cash by the millions.”

These words are particularly pertinent today because we spend more than $1 trillion on defense and the military every year, far more than we did at the height of the Vietnam War. Many of us are conscientiously opposed to supporting this military idol but continue to pay for it. Why? Because we are not willing to risk withholding our taxes that pay for war. And so we continue to feed the War Machine with cold cash by the billions.

You know, risk is a daily part of our lives. We risk our lives each time we drive an automobile. We risk our retirement funds in Wall Street firms and banks that have shown they can’t be trusted. We risk life and limb through terms of service in countries where we could be killed, kidnapped or falsely accused. Some people risk their health through overeating or smoking. Some risk their lives living in places where natural disasters occur regularly: flood zones, in the path of hurricanes, near active volcanoes. So risk is not new to us. So why then are we so reluctant to take minimal risk by refusing to pay for war, which we adamantly oppose? I would venture to say that it is because the refusal to pay for war is illegal—an act of civil disobedience.

We are more stigmatized by breaking the law through the withholding of taxes for war than we are by the sheer horror and violence created by our complicity in supporting it. We, who would vomit at the sight of burning flesh and blood on our hands, have no qualms paying taxes for somebody else to kill and burn. All because we are so averse to risk-taking.

We are so conditioned to be law-abiding citizens that we find it difficult to confront this military insanity if it means breaking the law. But, did you know that the United States has a rich history of resisting taxes used for war. Henry David Thoreau refused to pay taxes for the Mexican-American war of the 1840s. Dorothy Day, Joan Baez, Noam Chomsky, A.J. Muste, Gore Vidal, Gloria Steinem, Kirkpatrick Sale and Dave Dellinger have resisted the payment of war taxes at some stage of their lives. Tens of thousands of others have joined them over the years through the refusal to pay the telephone tax during and following the Vietnam War, keeping earnings below the taxable limit and committing civil disobedience by refusing to pay for war.

So the question must be asked, “In our increasingly secular society, is it ever right for citizens to feel compelled to disobey the law?” For a long time, most of us have had a “live and let live” philosophy. As long as we weren’t bothered, we wouldn’t complain. But times have changed. Bold actions are needed in order to bring about change. The military idol in this nation must be confronted. We need to stand tall in the face of this sinister military idol that demands our money, our allegiance. There is a new effort to speak to this issue emerging in religious circles that is welcoming people of all religious and secular persuasions to join them. It is called the 1040 For Peace Campaign. It involves withholding $10.40 from your taxes each year to protest the growing stranglehold that military spending has on our budget. If you are interested, visit http://1040for peace.org.

Is it ever right for citizens to disobey the law? People throughout the history of his country have done so. Perhaps it is the only way we will ever stop the military juggernaut in this country. Dennis Dalton, a Barnard College politics professor who gives the federal portion of his tax bill to nonprofits every year, says, “If tax resistance could be achieved on a large scale, it would be the most effective form of resisting a government that is waging an unjust war.”

The 1040 For Peace Campaign asks us to join in and do just that. What do you say?
*****
Steve Ratzlaff is the pastor of the Mennonite Community Church and author of 7 Steps to End War & Save the Planet. E-mail him at ffalztar@sbcglobal.net.

A Tale of Two Cities*
By Ruth Gadebusch

Ruth Gadebusch

Ruth Gadebusch

Recently, many of us became quite defensive when a candidate for governor compared us to Detroit, a city well known for devastating conditions. The local daily printed a rebuttal beginning, “There are two Fresnos, and my Fresno is surely not ‘awful’ as recently proposed by gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman. It is a world filled with decency, civic awareness and people like myself, a 79-year-old retired Anglo.”

Thank goodness, that world of Phil Fullerton does exist in Fresno; however, it is a world that all too many Fresnans do not know. Parts of that opposite world show up in the daily news with reports of murders, police shootings (63 bullets for one young man), crowded jails, budget cuts and on and on. Still, it does not touch many in the world of privilege that we would wish for all our citizens.

Oh yes, in my near half century in Fresno I have known some of the victims, some of the murderers, some of the poverty-stricken and other unfortunates — people we are not supposed to know personally and, in large measure, do escape. However, we ignore that city at our peril.

Many know the city of poverty all too well. For some, it is all they have ever known. For others, it is a recent phenomenon of joblessness, with our dubious distinction of one of the highest unemployment rates in the nation.

Work is often seasonal with no-work times expanding to longer periods in our agriculture economy. It is a matter of a roof over the head and food on the table with little hope of ever partaking of the world of the affluent.

The Community Food Bank and many churches have long lines waiting for food distribution. Metro Ministry is another organization that has long offered help to the needy.

Passing through various communities one cannot fail to see some unkempt dwellings and others abandoned due to the current economy. A ray of hope is Habitat, as well as that privately financed Assemi renovation on the northern edge of downtown.

As a result of our nation’s meddling into their part of the world, refugees from Southeast Asia suffer cultural shock and subsequent adjustment in ways we can’t even begin to comprehend. Fortunately, there are people like Sharon Stanley, who chose to leave a comfortable world to found the Fresno Interdenominational Refugee Ministry to aid in their assimilation. All too often deplored as “illegals,” those from Mexico and Central America struggle to survive in the shadows denying them the path to citizenship.

We have the unfortunates with mental illness ending up on our streets. Some, like Glen Beaty, peacefully sleeping, are assaulted by our very own police who supposedly protect us. Raised in the northern neighborhood of the so-called rich, Glen is proof that it can happen to any of us. He is held in a state mental institution far from those who might be able to visit him to help in his recovery.

Ask Keith Kelly about the Fresno he works to improve. Or Mary Curry who, following school board service, continues to lead in such matters as cleaning up the notorious rendering plant, with its pervasive smell, and other problems for the neighborhood. There is a long list of those, recognized and unrecognized, toiling to make this the integrated city of hope.

Guess which city votes. That vote is not limited to the rich and powerful. It is there for all citizens, but many fail to use the opportunity.

As we work to blend our Detroit into the city of advantage, let us forgive Meg — but not enough to vote for her. After all, she isn’t the only one of our neighbors of the great northern and southern metropolitan areas to seem surprised that we have indoor plumbing!

We will always have differences. Some will work harder than others. Some will have more talent. Some will get more breaks. We will have different interests and tastes, but these need not be divisions that cannot be bridged. The amenities of a world filled with decency and civic awareness are worth the effort of all of us.

* With apologies to Charles Dickens.

 

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