The Texas Schoolbook Massacre

Something very frightening is happening in Texas, something with national ramifications. Elements of the Texan right-wing, desperate to undermine a general tendency toward civility and compassion among American millennials that threatens to relegate their own largely fear and resentment based ideologies to the dustbin of history, are attempting to whitewash and rewrite American history. Specifically, the highly conservative Texas State Board of Education adopted public school textbook standards in 2010, which are bearing fruit now, that the New York Times said at the time “put a conservative stamp on history and economics.” This wouldn’t be an overly alarming trend, outside of Texas anyway, were it not for the fact that the academic standards established by the Texas State Board of Education, by virtue of the huge volume of textbooks that that state’s schools annually order, largely dictate the content that mega-publishers like Pearson Education and McGraw-Hill Education include in textbooks sold across the country. In other words, as Texas’s school books go, so go the country’s. The board’s attempt to politicize the education of impressionable young students is despicable and represents a fundamental disdain for democracy, specifically the right of citizens to make fully informed decisions in their lives and at the ballot box.

The oft-repeated phrase ‘reality has a liberal bias’ has not been lost on some in the Texan right-wing. Their censorship of history glosses over certain aspects of the U.S.’s past that don’t comport with a narrow and highly nationalistic right-wing interpretation of the American story. For one thing, the new high school social studies curriculum standards ask students to reconsider whether the American principle of separation of church and state is actually constitutional. Largely ignoring the fact that the First Amendment explicitly bars the establishment of a state religion, conservative members of the board argue that this pillar of the American social fabric is potentially illegitimate because it was fully defined in Supreme Court decisions subsequent to the nation’s initial founding. Almost as alarming, the new standards ask students to identify the ways in which Moses influenced the U.S.’s founding documents. These unprecedented new focuses are designed to impress upon students the notion that America is, and has from its inception been, a Judeo-Christian nation, an idea that would have likely horrified most of the founding fathers (Thomas Jefferson, for one, was an avowed Deist.).

Particularly disturbing are the ways in which the new standards minimize America’s racist history. Racial segregation is only mentioned in a passing reference to the 1948 integration of the military, while vitally important themes like Black Codes, the Ku Klux Klan, sharecropping, and Jim Crow are ignored altogether. Alternatively, there is a distinct emphasis on the comparatively non-impactful Black Panther party. Regarding the Civil War, the standards specify that sectionalism and states’ rights, rather than slavery, should be cited as the primary cause of the conflict. Racial issues are so neglected that the Texas branch of the NAACP and the League of United Latin American Citizens recently filed a complaint against the board. Without understanding and appreciating the historical context that underpins contemporary racial issues, how can students be expected to make informed judgements about modern American racial relations?

The superiority of capitalism and the American “free-enterprise system” in particular are continually stressed throughout the new curriculum standards. Students are tasked, highly irregularly considering norms of historical scholarship, with detailing the ways in which these economic systems provide better outcomes than socialist, communist and other models. America’s rich labor movements and 20th century social programs are deemphasized in favor of conservative ideas of limited government and strong property rights. Strikingly, the standards suggest that the 1950s Red Scare of Senator Joseph McCarthy and the House Un-American Activities Committee, which smeared countless innocents and is deplored by most serious scholarship covering that period, was somehow warranted. This kind of Cold War era propaganda belongs in the Soviet Union of decades past and doesn’t suit modern American classrooms. Students shouldn’t be programmed in this way; they should be encouraged to make their own judgements, based on unbiased facts communicated in the classroom.

The Texas State Board of Education’s shameless attempt to undermine quality education in order to further their own socio-political goals should horrify Americans everywhere. As stated above, this disservice to Texan students threatens to spread throughout the country writ-large and further erode national public education. Worst of all, this trend will create dumber, meaner Americans; something the right-wing, given the terminally ill state of the GOP, wants terribly.

Source(s): 1) James C. McKinley “Texas Conservatives Win Curriculum Change” The New York Times (March 12, 2010): accessed October 29, 2014
2) Texas State Board of Education “Chapter 113. Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills for Social Studies Subchapter C. High School” (2010): accessed October 29, 2014
3) Gary Scharrer “Black Panthers overemphasized in Texas schools, NAACP says” Austin Bureau (December 20, 2010): accessed October 29, 2014



Homage to Catalonia

George Orwell’s personal account of the Spanish Civil War is as important a read now as it was more than three-quarters of a century ago. Not only does it illustrate the horrors of fascism and warn against creeping totalitarianism; it also, more importantly, shows what common folk can accomplish when they band together and take their lives into their own hands.


Piketty’s Important Contribution

When French economist Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century hit English-language bookshelves last spring, it initiated a new stage in the fight against the extreme income and wealth inequality that defines both the contemporary global economy generally and the U.S. economy in particular. Arguably not since Karl Marx’s Das Kapital was popularized over a hundred years ago, has a book critical of capitalism, as the currently reigning economic system is somewhat problematically called, so shaken up the economics establishment and garnered significant coverage in the mainstream press. Finally, critics of contemporary economic injustice can point to a renowned scholarly work that expertly articulates some of their concerns in a way that elites take seriously. Billionaire philanthropist, and noted compassionate capitalist, Bill Gates concurred with Piketty, on his personal blog.

“I agree with his most important conclusions, and I hope his work will draw more smart people into the study of wealth and income inequality — because the more we understand about the causes and cures, the better,” Gates writes.

It’s not that all of the ideas advanced in Piketty’s almost 700-page tomb are all that groundbreaking in and of themselves, importantly various individuals and movements have been making similar claims about the nature and problems of economic inequality and capitalism for centuries. Rather, it is the meticulous detail and relentless incontrovertibility of Piketty’s data driven claims that have global plutocrats and their apologists and sycophants in Western economics sweating. Echoing Marx, Piketty argues that the natural tendency of capitalism is toward significant and destabilizing levels of economic inequality. Uniquely, Piketty utilizes historical tax records along with myriad other data, as opposed to the esoteric models and theorems which dominate the contemporary economics field, to show that under normal circumstances, capitalist economies are usually characterized by slow economic growth (high un and underemployment, stagnant and low wages, low social mobility etc.) and high rates of return on capital assets (stocks, bonds, real estate, patents, etc.). This disparity between labor and capital (income from work vs. income from ownership) and the economic inequality that results are inherent and normal, though highly undesirable, features of capitalism.

Most problematically, Piketty shows that highly concentrated stockpiles of wealth derived from capital assets and, significantly, inheritances are self-perpetuating and tend to accumulate regardless of the rate of general economic growth. It would be one thing if huge concentrations of wealth among the capitalist class yielded proportional economic growth (and resulting jobs, wages and social mobility for the working class) through reinvestment, but, as Piketty illustrates, this is not and has not historically been the case. In fact, he shows that the opposite is true, with most super wealthy individuals and families, absent the occasional and ultimately often disastrous public policy induced economic bubble, tending to hoard their resources conservatively rather than reinvesting it in an economically or socially useful way. In short, capitalism, as the name suggests, structurally and disproportionately privileges capitalists over laborers to an ultimately counterproductive extent. Furthermore, gross and unwarranted disparities between contemporary managerial and worker compensation, advantaging the bosses, have only exacerbated these natural inequalities further Piketty says. Who can forget the cruel joke of multimillion dollar bonuses being awarded to the same financial CEOs that knowingly crashed the global economy in the late 2000s and put millions out of work? As things stand, the living standards of the working class in the United States particularly will likely continue to erode absent some significant and dislocating shock to the economic system. Importantly, Piketty points out the evident dangers that this radical and growing economic inequality poses to democracy, given the disproportionate political resources of the wealthy, and to the vital national myth in the U.S. that one’s willingness to work hard, more than birth or any other factor, determines his or her lot in American capitalism.

Capital explains that the only period during which capitalism appeared to be significantly benefiting anybody other than capitalists was in the mid-20th century (1940s-1970s), after a series of economic shocks, two World Wars and a global depression foremost among them, devastated the capital assets of the wealthy. The economic reconstruction and subsequent expansion that defined this period were largely driven by Keynesian state intervention and investment (the Marshall Plan, GI Bill/Social Security and other socialist programs, a Cold War military buildup, etc.), taking the place of capitalists still reeling from the devastation of the early 20th century. The post-WWII general economic growth, along with a vitally important parallel spike in labor organizing and unionization, brought about unprecedentedly strong wages, employment rates and social mobility and gave birth to the so-called “middle-class.” Unfortunately, various trends, globalization and financialization foremost among them, coupled with a rebound of the capitalist class’s societal dominance (exemplified by the Reagan and Thatcher political counter-revolutions of the 1980s) have since undone many of the gains made by the working class in that period and are restoring pre-1930s level economic inequality.

Piketty is short on solutions regarding how to address this problem. Rather than seriously reforming (possibly through government policies aimed at facilitating the growth of worker cooperative enterprises) or totally uprooting the capitalist system (an admittedly daunting and potentially very painful process, at least in the short-term), Piketty advocates increased taxation, specifically an 80% tax on incomes over $500,000 in the U.S., which would be more in line with mid-20th century rates. Additionally, he stresses that in order to counteract the advent of foreign tax shelters and other shadowy financial manipulations and institutions designed to hide the gargantuan fortunes of the international super rich, governments throughout the world should create a global wealth registry and tax in order to repatriate and reinvest some of those stagnant resources in their countries of origin. Given the political dominance of the capitalist class and the realities of geopolitical rivalries between different governments however, these state driven efforts would likely be difficult to implement and enforce to say the least. Still, the conduct of the activist governments of the mid-20th century do present a moderately successful precedent for state invention aimed at correcting capitalist excess.

What is clear is that many establishment economists and elements of the political right are profoundly alarmed by Piketty’s work. The American Enterprise Institute’s James Pethokoukis warned his compatriots that Capital would need to be refuted, or else it “[would] spread among the clerisy and reshape the political economic landscape on which all future policy battles will be waged.” A subsequent hit job by the Financial Times superficially criticizing elements of the data used in Capital (which Piketty made public here: last May, failed utterly. The right has remained largely and tellingly silent since.

Source(s): 1) Thomas Piketty “Capital in the 21st Century,” [First Edition] (Cambridge, U.S.: Harvard University Press, 2014).
2) Bill Gates “Why Inequality Matters” Gatesnotes (October 14, 2014): accessed October 23, 2014
3) James Pethokoukis “the New Marxism” the National Review (March 24, 2014): accessed October 23, 2014
4) Ryan Grim “Thomas Piketty On The Financial Times: ‘This Particular Debate Is Over'” HuffingtonPost (June 2, 2014): accessed October 23, 2014



If you live in New Jersey, contact your state senator and assemblyman at the earliest possible opportunity and demand that they support the Bill SCR132 (viewable here: This vital legislation, which passed through Committee today on a vote of 3/1 (with one not voting) thanks in large part to the tireless work of the grassroots activist group WolfPAC New Jersey and other concerned citizens who attended and testified at the Committee meeting, now faces a general vote in both the New Jersey State Senate and Assembly. If passed, the bill would make New Jersey the third state (after Vermont and California) to call for an Article V. Constitutional Convention for the purpose of crafting an Amendment to the U.S. Constitution limiting the influence of money in American politics.

President Obama’s reelection effort in 2012 was the first 1$ billion political campaign. This staggering figure, as well as his opponent’s considerable fundraising, was enabled by the growth of independent SUPER-PACS, political fundraising entities that became prevalent after the Supreme Courts disastrous Citizens United ruling in 2010. 60 percent of the money raised by these PACs came from just 159 individual super-wealthy donors (like casino tycoon Sheldon Adelson and Texas homebuilder Bob Perry). Even more disturbing, 31% of the funding to these PACs was “dark money,” meaning that we don’t know where it came from. Most of the ubiquitous attack ads that defined the 2012 cycle were paid for with “dark money.” And it’s not just presidential elections; a recent leaked strategy memo to Georgia Senate hopeful Michelle Nunn advised Nunn to spend 2,201 of her 2,500 campaign hours raising money. It’s no wonder that legislators in Washington D.C. care so little about the plight of the working and/or poor, their forced to spend nearly all their time begging for money from the rich.

Campaign finance is a defining political issue of our time. Meaningfully constructive legislation and policy cannot be implemented so long as those who have a vested interest in maintaining the societal status-quo have access to disproportionate political resources. Want to end inane Middle Eastern military interventions? Weaken defense contractors’, arms manufacturers’ and oil companies’ ability to purchase politicians. Concerned with the pressing need for biting financial regulation? Undermine Wall Street’s unprecedented and bought political dominance. Contrary to the pronouncements of the Supreme Court, money is not speech and corporations are not people. It’s pastime that the American people, rather than property, took precedence in the U.S.

Source(s): 1) Andy Kroll “You Need to See These 5 Shocking Facts About Money in the 2012 Elections” Mother Jones (Jan 17, 2013) accessed: October 16, 2014
2) Paul Blumenthal “Leaked Memo Tells Senate Candidate To Spend 80 Percent Of Her Time Raising Money” Huffington Post (July 28, 2014) accessed: October 16, 2014


It’s Not as Bad as it Looks

It’s easy to fall into despair when thinking about American politics. According to the mainstream media, Washington is hopelessly gridlocked, with key ideological differences between determined right-wing Republicans and supposedly liberal Democrats rendering compromise and serious policy making next to impossible. For years, politicians, media pundits and numerous D.C. “insiders” have variously identified an over-reaching and overly-ideological President, fanatical and widespread Tea Party opposition, the unreasonable and naive “professional left” (critics of Obama from the left), and a generally unengaged and uninformed electorate for the current sorry state of national politics in the U.S. These sorts of arguments are designed to engender a notion among the citizenry that the American government is completely broken and that any attempt to fix it is ultimately doomed. Far better, many media elites would likely argue, to forget such confusing and frustrating national issues and focus on your own daily struggle to work, consume and subsist.

In fact, far from being as bitterly ideologically opposed as the mainstream media often contends, Americans in “Red” and “Blue” areas of the country actually agree on most important contemporary political issues. A July study, in which 24 major surveys from across the country were examined by the Program for Public Consultation, discovered that, in terms of their political views, most citizens in the U.S. could be described as moderately left-wing (specifically what would be called Social Democrats in Europe). For instance, about 74 percent of Americans in “Red” areas and almost 78 percent of the residents in “Blue” areas agreed that abortion should be legal in some cases. About 80 percent of both “Rs” (Red area residents) and “Bs” (Blue area residents) want universal background checks for all gun purchases and 67 percent of “Rs” and 70 percent of “Bs” agree that gays should be allowed to work as high school teachers. These cultural issues are just the beginning though:

-Government has a responsibility to stop employers from discriminating by race/ethnicity:
67.3 percent of “Rs” and 70.1 percent of “Bs” agreed
-Government should work to prevent discrimination against women:
80.7 percent of “Rs” and 83.5 percent of “Bs” agreed
-Health care is a right and not a privilege:
62.3 percent of “Rs” and 62.9 percent of “Bs” agreed
-Government needs to take major steps to reform health care:
66.8 percent of “Rs” and 68.8 percent of “Bs” agreed
-Government should provide a public Heath insurance plan to complete with private ones:
54.7 percent of “Rs” and 59.2 percent of “Bs” agreed
-Government should increase spending on Social Security:
53.7 percent of “Rs” and 55.1 percent of “Bs” agreed
-Raise the cap on earnings taxed for Social Security payroll tax:
84.4 percent of “Rs” and 83.5 percent of “Bs” agreed
-Increase taxes on individual incomes between $200,000 and $500,000:
66.7 percent of “Rs” and 63.7 percent of “Bs” agreed
-Increase taxes on individual incomes between $500,000 and $1 million:
70.5 percent of “Rs” and 64.6 percent of “Bs” agreed
-Government prohibition on public sector unions’ right to collectively bargain:
opposed by 54.5 percent of “Rs” and 56.4 percent of “Bs”
-Continuation of the National Labor Relations Board as a government entity:
61 percent of “Rs” and 64.6 percent of “Bs” agreed
-Government should increase spending on education:
58.5 percent of “Rs” and 59.3 percent of “Bs” agreed
-Government should cut military spending to reduce deficit:
67.6 percent of “Rs” and 67.8 percent of “Bs” agreed
-Government should cut spending on intelligence agencies:
57 percent of “Rs” and 58.8 percent of “Bs” agreed
-Government should cut federal subsidies to agricultural corporations and large farms:
65.8 percent of “Rs” and 68.3 percent of “Bs” agreed
-Oppose “free trade” agreement with China:
56.5 percent of “Rs” and 56 percent of “Bs”
-Oppose “free trade” agreement with Columbia:
58.9 percent of “Rs” and 57.3 percent of “Bs”
-Oppose “free trade” agreement with South Korea:
52 percent of “Rs” and 50 percent of “Bs”

The inconveniently civil views of most Americans goes largely un and underreported in the mainstream U.S. media, where the focus remains partisan bickering, nut-cases in the Tea party and the inevitability of Hilary Clinton’s ascendency to the presidency (each of these stories generally yielding high ratings). By framing and limiting political narratives so narrowly (and by prioritizing journalistic access over quality) the corporate media, wittingly or otherwise, provides cover for lesser known, but significantly more influential when compared to elected leaders, entities in and near government.

One thing most regular citizens definitely agree on is their general disgust at the highly publicized partisan carnival barking that appears to define Washington. What most don’t see however are the much quieter “responsible experts” (longstanding insider titans like Lawrence Summers, Robert Rubin, Robert Gates, David Petraeus and others) that revolve in and out of the public and private spheres and, along with lobbyists, turn the daily wheels in D.C. These individuals make up what former Republican political operative Mike Lofgren calls the U.S.’s “Deep State,” a bipartisan and corporatist cabal dedicated to advancing what economist John Williamson coined back in 1990 the “Washington Consensus.” Both indirectly and directly, the “Deep State” has, for decades, vigorously and quite successfully driven U.S. policy making, with the aim of pursuing several neoliberal and imperialist goals: the financialization of the economy, the out-sourcing of production, the commodification of labor, the deregulation of business (most importantly of finance), the privatization of publicly owned institutions and assets, the expansion of the security state, and the reassertion of U.S. power and interests abroad (most importantly in the oil-rich Middle East). While the rest of the U.S. slips into undeniable decline, the interests (on Wall Street, in the Military-Industrial Complex, among “Big Oil” companies, etc.) represented by the “Deep State” continue to flourish at the expense of humanity’s welfare generally (and working class/poor Americans particularly) and solidify their subtle dominance of American politics.

Though the means by which contemporary American plutocracy (whose interests are served by the “Deep State”) has come about are varied and complex, arguably the most significant has been the deregulation of campaign finance. In 1976, the Supreme Court affirmed (in Buckley v. Valeo) that money was the same thing as free speech, effectively legalizing political bribery. Subsequent rulings, like 2010’s Citizens United, have only made it easier for concentrated private power to purchase politicians and dictate policy making. A national grassroots movement to undo this fundamentally undemocratic trend can and will be successful. Groups like Mayday PAC ( and Wolf PAC (, for example, are spearheading efforts to lobby state senators throughout the country to organize an Article V. constitutional convention and amend the U.S. Constitution to roll back the influence of money in American politics. The Vermont and California state senates have already made the call for just such a convention and after 32 other states join them, the convention can be held. What better way to recapture the federal government than by bypassing it altogether and working through individual state governments to reform campaign finance and restore some semblance of representative democracy in the U.S. Perhaps then, American politics will better reflect popular American opinion.

Source: Paul Street “Oligarchy” Z Magazine (October 2014)


What is (Still) the Matter With Kansas?

Kansas Governor Sam Brownback, a former Senator and a prominent national leader of the Christian right, is facing an uphill struggle this November in his tough reelection fight against a coalition of “moderate” Republicans and Democrats backing challenger Paul Davis. ‘How can this be happening?’ the Governor must be wondering. Since his initial election in 2010, with 63 percent of the vote and a clear mandate to cut the size of Kansas’s state government, he has seemingly done everything right. Following the advice of his right-wing economic advisor Arthur Laffer, Brownback pushed a plan through the Kansas Legislature in 2012 to cut taxes on businesses and the wealthy in his state by hundreds of millions of dollars. The expectation, in keeping with time honored supply-side tenants, within Brownback’s administration was that by radically reducing the tax burden on Kansas’s most well-off, an explosion of job creation and investment would take place in the state. What is more, Kansas budget director Steve Anderson went so far as to promise that the governor’s tax cuts would (somehow) result in a $509 million budget surplus by 2014. Things were indeed looking good immediately after the Governor’s new policy was implemented, with Forbes magazine citing Brownback as an example to other Republican governors throughout the country and Bill Kristol of the Weekly Standard musing about a potential 2016 presidential run for the conservative darling in Kansas. The Cato Institute, a D.C.-based libertarian think-tank, even awarded Brownback an “A” grade on fiscal policy in 2013, Brownback was one of only four governors to receive the honor that year. How then, the Kansas governor must be wondering, can he currently be facing a revolt from 100 prominent Kansas Republicans (including three former speakers of the Kansas House, three former state Senate leaders, two former lieutenant governors, a former Republican congressman and the current state insurance commissioner) who are now backing Brownback’s Democratic opponent in Kansas’s up and coming gubernatorial race. The answer; Sam Brownback’s ideas are bad.

Far from unleashing the pent-up economic potential of Kansas, Brownback’s supply-side policies have, predictably, wrecked the state’s finances and failed utterly to bring about prosperity and growth. Instead of a budget surplus, Kansas’s government now faces a $310 million deficit, with the financial rating agency Moody’s recently downgrading the state’s credit rating from Aa1 to Aa2. In an attempt to cover the shortfall, Brownback has drastically cut funding to education and social services in his state, so severely that Kansas’s Supreme Court has had to step in and castigate the governor. Kansas’s prisons are dangerously understaffed due to further spending cuts and desperate local governments in Kansas have been forced to raise property taxes on rural, mostly working class and poor, Kansas residents (ironically the socially conservative Christian bulwark of Brownback’s political support) in order to cover the costs of the Governor’s tax cuts for the wealthy. Arguably most damning for Brownback and other right-wingers, Kansas’s job creation figures have remained significantly below the National average since his tax-cuts were enacted. In fact, It’s gotten so bad that Kansas began losing jobs last spring. Only anti-tax guru Grover Norquist (famous for his commitment to shrink government to a size that he can “drown in the bath tub”) is sticking with Brownback (it’s not hard to understand why given that the very ideological foundation of Norquist’s beloved supply-side philosophy have been undermined by Kansas’s calamitous experience), arguing that the benefits of the governor’s cuts simply need more time to trickle down. The right-wing Wall Street Journal is less charitable, admitting that the results of Brownback’s experiments serve as “more of a warning than a beacon.”

Again and again, right-wing economics in general, and supply-side policies in particular, have proven disastrous for populations that were either cajoled or forced into enduring them. From former governor Christie Whitman of New Jersey to ex-dictator Augusto Pinochet of Chile, right-wing leaders continually implemented reckless economic policies designed to raid public coffers and assets and enrich the elite few at the expense of the great many. The disastrous Sam Brownback is just the most recent example.

Source(s) 1) “Kansas budget is running on fumes, and it could get worse” the Kansas City Star (June 7, 2014) accessed: October 2, 2014
2) Thomas Frank “In Brownbackistan, everything is awesome! And don’t let any liberal tell you different” Salon (September 21, 2014) accessed: October 2, 2014’t_let_any_liberal_tell_you_different/
3) Mike Lillis “Norquist defends tax cuts despite Brownback woes in Kansas” the Hill (September 21, 2014) accessed: October 2, 2014
4) Jay Bookman “In Kansas, the conservative dream proves a nightmare” the Atlantic Journal-Constitution (July 16, 2014) accessed: October 2, 2014