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Est. April 5, 2002
February 18, 2016 - Issue 641

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Connecting the Dots
Cartel Privatization Strategies
Lead Poisoning in Flint
The Tuskegee Experiment
Part XI

"As the demographic makeup of the country
is changing rapidly to a pluralistic society,
there is an urgency to move public services
into the private sector so that the corporate
and wealthy elite can sustain their economic
hegemony in an increasingly diverse society."

The Cartel advocates for the privatization of public education have been exposed after their lead poisoning of Flint, Michigan’s mostly poor and African American residents and the city’s majority-minority public school students. This tragedy has attracted the attention of the nation and the current candidates for both the Republican and Democratic presidential nominations. The Democratic contenders, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, have been the most forceful in their criticism of the perpetrators of this catastrophe. On Sunday, February 7th, Hillary Clinton joined Flint Mayor Dr. Karen Weaver (who has endorsed her presidential bid) at a black church in Flint to express her commitment to help solve the crisis which she labeled “immoral.”

This is the latest episode in centuries of the corporate and political elite’s mugging of low-income and minority Americans. Black Americans have been a particular target during slavery and freedom; even now, at best, they are only three-fifths free—when you factor in education, social, political, and economic realities.

The Flint incident is reminiscent of the infamous Tuskegee study where hundreds of rural African American males in Alabama were used as human guinea pigs by the U.S. Public Health Service to follow the natural progression of untreated syphilis under the pretext of providing free health care from 1932-1972. The government intentionally kept this experiment going even after the antibiotic, penicillin, became proven for the treatment of syphilis by the Center for Disease Control in the 1940s. The researchers appeared to continue the study because they could as was the case of historical, medical experimentations on African Americans (see Medical Apartheid by Harriet A. Washington, 2006).

On the other hand, the Flint experiment was initiated to save money by Michigan’s Republican Governor Rick Snyder, a long-term Cartel member. When he took office in 2011, he and his Republican-controlled legislature immediately provided billions of dollars in tax breaks to corporations and the wealthy. Buffeted by declining tax revenues, Snyder and his political colleagues had to look for ways to cut the state budget in order to pay for them. A number of strategies were employed: reducing funding for public education, pensions, and welfare; passing a law to make Michigan the 24th right-to-work state in 2013, resulting in dramatic reductions in labor union membership; and using executive privilege to install emergency managers, reporting directly to the governor, to run cities with fiscal challenges, all of which happened to have majority African American populations.

Once that mechanism was in place, Snyder looked for further public services where he could slash costs: switching the Flint water system from a hook up to the clean water in Lake Huron in Detroit to the toxic water in the Flint River at a savings of $15 million and refusing to make repairs on dilapidated school buildings in Detroit were easy marks. Such tactics, straight from the Cartel tax-cutting playbook, have been employed in a number of cities targeted for the privatization of public education and other public-sector services:

  • Milwaukee where two successive Cartel-backed mayors, John Norquist (D) and Tom Barrett (D), used their offices to privatize the water system (later reversed) and to move one-third of public school students into voucher and charter schools;

  • New Orleans where three-fourths of the public schools have been converted to voucher and charter schools under Cartel-backed Mayors Ray Nagin (D) and Mitch Landrieu (D);

  • Chicago where Cartel-backed Mayors Richard M. Daley (D) and Rahm Emanuel (D) launched a sustained attack on public schools and the teachers’ union and have moved billions of dollars of public services into the private sector;

  • Indianapolis where the past four Cartel-backed mayors, Stephen Goldsmith (R), Bart Peterson (D), Greg Ballard (R), and Joseph Hogsett (D) have pushed the corporate charter school agenda and a joint enrollment system for traditional public and charter schools (a practice also promoted in Newark, New Jersey under Mayors Cory Booker (D) and Ras Baraka (D) and Camden, New Jersey, under Mayor Dana Redd (D), to facilitate their respective moves toward becoming corporate charter districts); and

  • Los Angeles where the past four mayors, Richard Riordan (R), James K. Hahn (D), Antonio Villaraigosa (D), a former union advocate and employee, and Eric Garcetti (D) have supported efforts to weaken teacher unions and expand the number of corporate charter schools, with current Mayor Gil Garcetti’s tacit endorsement of Cartel leader Eli Broad’s recent proposal to place fifty percent of Los Angeles Unified School District’s students into corporate charters by 2023.

These cities are but the tip of the iceberg in the Cartel’s march toward privatization of public schools and services from coast to coast.

While Flint, Michigan’s lead poisoning water crisis has received international attention, Gov. Snyder has been systematically moving Michigan’s majority-minority school districts to becoming corporate charter districts. This approach was used by former President George W. Bush to turn New Orleans into a charter and voucher district in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 while the nation’s attention was focused on this disaster.

What is revealing from this brief analysis is the bipartisan nature of Cartel surrogates across political, ideological, class, and racial lines in small, medium-sized, and large cities. Cartel incursions into the hearts of public education stakeholders are turning the future of public education upside down. From Tuskegee to Flint, private-sector backed government experiments with America’s poor citizens from majority and minority ethnic groups have persisted. As the demographic makeup of the country is changing rapidly to a pluralistic society, there is an urgency to move public services into the private sector so that the corporate and wealthy elite can sustain their economic hegemony in an increasingly diverse society.

It is imperative that we begin to examine the relationships and associations that the Cartel has formed with historical allies of public education: the NAACP and the National Urban League who have received millions of dollars from Cartel members: the Koch Bros., the Gates Foundation, etc.; President Barack Obama (who appointed two of the most anti-public education U.S. Secretaries of Education in history, Arne Duncan and Dr. John King) and presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton, who have received hundreds of millions of dollars in campaign contributions from Cartel corporate leaders and the wealthy one percenters; dozens of urban school districts, that have taken funding from the Broad Foundation to plug holes in their budgets; and the NEA and AFT, the major advocates for America’s public school teachers, who in efforts to be cooperative with the Cartel have received modest grants from the Gates and other Cartel foundations for projects purported to advance the mission of public education.

To get to the nexus of this conundrum, we would do well to adhere to the advice that Deep Throat, a confidential source, gave to Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein during their Watergate investigation, “Follow the money.”

These are critical issues that will determine if public education will continue to exist as the engine of upward mobility for the American masses. The coming showdown between Cartel private-sector education reformers and public education stakeholders is “… bringing with it some very strange fruit so delightfully different and yet so hauntingly familiar.”

Click here for links to all parts of this series Columnist, Dr. Walter C. Farrell, Jr., PhD, MSPH, is a Fellow of the National Education Policy Center (NEPC) at the University of Colorado-Boulder and has written widely on vouchers, charter schools, and public school privatization. He has appeared on the Today Show with Matt Lauer and National Public Radio’s The Connection to discuss public school privatization, and he has lectured to parent, teacher, and union groups throughout the nation. Contact Dr. Farrell. 

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