Baby, it’s getting cold outside. It’s been a nice media show and the “Occupy” demonstrators have made their point. But now it’s time for them to strike their tents, move out of the nation’s big-city pocket parks, get down to business, and help take back the whole damned country from the corporate sharks and their lap-dog politicians.
All of our major institutions have been turned into Big Business: the banks, health care, the public schools, the courts and prisons, etc. In the process they have been transformed into winner-take-all extraction machines that enrich the self-serving few at the top (and their cronies) at the expense of the people those institutions are supposed to be serving.
If you look at the big picture and not view these institutions in isolation, you will see that they are interlinked by overlapping governance boards and dovetailed policies and programs. They’re creating a Matrix of enslavement that relies on debt, addiction, dependency, enforcement, and control to put and keep you under the thumb of commerce and authority. It’s all gone too far.
The public schools, for example, feed the health care industry through forced vaccinations of schoolchildren which enrich big pharma and, by some accounts, create multitudes of chronically ill patients with once-rare maladies including autism, ADHD, and other developmental disorders (1 in 6 children!). Through zero-tolerance policies that criminalize childish behavior and remove low-scoring students from school roles to maximize federal and state funding, the schools feed the school-to-prison pipeline and fuel the demand for more future prison capacity—more and more of it provided by private prison companies.
It’s not an honest system. Third-party payers abound to obfuscate the reality of who’s getting paid and how, and nothing is as it appears on the surface. Corruption and deception are endemic. Profit trumps the public good. Our institutions do not serve their supposed clients, customers, and constituencies but high-level parasites instead.
If you follow the money, the public schools reveal themselves to be adult-centered institutions that exist for the benefit of administrators, staff, lawyers, vendors, consultants, contractors, etc., and not our kids and their families. Take a hard look at the numbers, and you’ll see that the schools’ profligate systems of administrative largesse are top-heavy with layers of unproductive overhead and waste which enrich adults while impoverishing children and their families at taxpayer expense.
According to a 2009 report by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), more than $610 billion was spent in the fifty states and the District of Columbia on public primary and secondary education and related programs—or $12,450 per student. Of this amount, only $6,966 (56%) was spent on instruction and instruction-related services such as libraries, media centers, and instructional staff development. (Because of the way that NCES analyzes data, this does not include the cost of the school buildings themselves, nor does it include interest payments on school bonds. So it’s a safe bet that real spending on instruction is much less than 50%.) According to the Cato Institute, the public schools are spending 93% more per student than the median private school, which outperforms the public schools hands-down in terms of educational results.
This pattern of waste, largesse, and corruption is not restricted to the schools. This weekend I read a couple articles which provide further evidence about just how corrupt law enforcement and the criminal justice system have become. Like the schools, they too have become big business.
The first article, “Child Sex Trafficking Stereotypes Demolished by Research,” by Kristin Hinman (http://www.westword.com/2011-11-03/news/child-sex-trafficking-stereotypes-demolished/), recounts how $80 million annually is doled out by the federal government for law enforcement and social services that combine to rescue only about 200 child prostitutes every year (at a cost of $400,000-per-rescued-child).
Now, however, new research by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice and the Center for Court Innovation shows that these millions have been misspent all along in pursuit of a child prostitute profile that is a racist political invention bearing little relation to reality. The politicians have funded official efforts targeted to the widely-accepted stereotype of a child prostitute: a pre- or barely teenage girl whose every move is dictated by a wily pimp. What the research has shown, however, is that only 10% of child prostitutes work for pimps. In other words, 90% are self-employed and (here’s the kicker) nearly half the kids—45%—are boys, whom no one seems to want to rescue.
One might reasonably assume the agencies on the receiving end of the government gravy train might improve upon their $400,000-per-rescued-child average if they had any integrity at all and developed a clearer picture of the population they aim to save. Yet when researchers presented their findings, they were completely unprepared for the way law enforcement officials and child-advocacy groups reacted.
“I remember going to a meeting in Manhattan where they had a lot of prosecutors whose job was to prosecute pimps,” recalled one researcher. “They were sort of complaining about the fact that their offices were very well staffed but their workload was…not very daunting, let’s say. They had a couple cases, and at every meeting you go to, they’d pull out the cherry-picked case of this pimp they had busted, and they’d tell the same story at every meeting. They, too, were bothered by the fact that they couldn’t find any pimps, any girls.
“So I come along and say, ‘I found 300 kids’—they’re all perky—but then I say, ‘I’m sorry, but only 10 percent had pimps.’ It was like a fart in church. Because basically I was saying their office was a waste of time and money.”
At the behest of advocates who work with pimped girls, along with celebrities who help to publicize the cause, Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR) and John Cornyn (R-TX) are pushing for federal legislation that would earmark another $12 million to $15 million a year to fund six shelters reserved exclusively for underage girls who are victims of sex trafficking.
Given the political traction that the stereotype of black pimps selling white tween girls commands, says Hinman, there’s no incentive for law enforcement and advocates to bring their targets into alignment with reality “when they stand to rake in even more public money simply by staying the course.”
A similar picture of official deception and fraud emerges when the powerful “victims’ rights” industry is examined.
The second article I read this weekend is “How Victim Rights Became a Juggernaut Shaping Spending, Laws and the Future of Punishment,” by Alan Prendergast (http://www.westword.com/2011-10-20/news/colorado-victim-rights-movement/), which discloses that—if you follow the money—the “victims’ rights” industry in Colorado is the creation of the district attorneys lobby.
According to the article, more than $30 million in public monies is spent annually in Colorado in the name of victim assistance and advocacy. Yet less than half this amount—$14.25 million in federal and state victim-compensation funds—was awarded to 7,758 Colorado crime victims in fiscal year 2010, an average of less than $2,000 per claim to cover things like medical costs, property damage, burial costs and other losses not covered by insurance. Some of the awards go directly to victim services, such as a rape crisis hotline or a safe house for battered women. But there are plenty of other uses for the cash, too. More than half of the $30 million pays the salaries of full-time victim advocates in police departments and prosecutors’ offices, purchases equipment like digital cameras and anatomically correct dolls used in investigating allegations of child sexual assault, or funds the budgets of nonprofit victims’ rights advocates and other entities that pay for cops and prosecutors to attend conferences and training, or for salaries and research that have no direct impact on victims at all.
The poster-child organization illustrating the corruption of the victims’ rights movement in Colorado is COVA (Colorado Organization for Victim Assistance). The membership of COVA is relatively small—fewer than 1,000 people—yet with annual revenues of more than $1 million, a yearly conference that draws greater attendance than two national victim-advocacy gatherings, and strong ties to the law enforcement community, COVA is the most influential victim-rights group in Colorado. Though COVA does have an emergency fund to assist victims directly when other sources have been exhausted, most of its energy is devoted to training and conferences which, aside from government grants, provide its main source of revenue.
According to COVA’s 2010 990 form on file with GuideStar, as well as other sources, COVA brought in $623,511 in government money from VALE grants, VOCA grants, and other direct contributions that were used in part to pay the salaries of the nonprofit’s top employees, as well as an intern program operated by COVA that trains students to work with victim advocates in public agencies; $23,215 in membership dues; and $240,839 in tuition revenues for workshops on topics such as “Drug-Facilitated Sexual Assault,” “Supporting Victims of Identity Theft” and “Officer Involved Shootings and PTSD” for employees of from various government agencies, which are also funded by VALE grants. According to Prendergast’s article, VALE funds paid out $289,186 for various organizations to attend COVA conferences.
These financial relationships and shared agendas have come under criticism by other criminal-justice interest groups. Critics charge that the victim-rights movement in Colorado has become too closely allied with government to serve its constituency. “COVA has always been very clear that their mission is retribution and punishment,” said Maureen Cain, policy coordinator for the Colorado Criminal Defense Bar. “COVA’s position has always been driven by the district attorneys,” Cain said. “Their board members are overwhelmingly district attorneys and law enforcement. You almost don’t have to talk to COVA [about legislation], because they’re just going to do what the DAs tell them to do.”
COVA proved to be a formidable foe in a battle this past legislative session involving juvenile life without parole (JLWOP). In 2006 the Colorado Legislature changed the mandatory sentence for juveniles facing life to allow for parole eligibility after serving forty years, but the law wasn’t retroactive and it had no impact on Colorado’s existing JLWOP population of 48 prisoners. A 2011 House bill would have extended the forty-year parole window for current lifers, but prosecutors and COVA worked strenuously to defeat it. It died in committee 6-5, and 48 young people—including one of our own—must continue rotting in prison without hope until something changes.
The same thing is happening in other states besides Colorado.
Something big can and must change, not only with juvenile life without parole, but with the integrity of the whole Matrix. As I said at the beginning of this post, we must take back government and our institutions from the corporatists who have turned everything into Big Business that serves only the money interests and not the people.
One of the first places to start is the schools and their local governance boards. Local school boards have taxing authority and a movement must be begun through which these local boards take responsibility not only for the operation of public schools, but for enabling educational choice and efficacy for all citizens within their taxing jurisdictions. The more removed from the local level that authority and control are imposed, the greater is the waste, inefficiency, and ineffectiveness of schooling.
Everywhere in America we are seeing the limits of one-size-fits-all education instruction, testing, and spending. Driven inordinately by national- and state-level policies like “No Child Left Behind,” the schools as currently conceived are preparing our kids for failure and lifelong slavery. School boards typically rubber-stamp strategies and decisions brought to them from authorities at a far remove from the students. School boards must take back a broader education mission and transfer control to the local level where it belongs.
The only solution, as I see it, is for local school boards to broaden their mission from facilitating only one type of K-12 public schooling, and expand their mission to include the support of home schooling, charter schools, private schooling and other free-choice options that will best meet the needs of individual students and their families. Education districts must become flexible sources of shared resources for the entire community, become specialists in tailoring education resources, and provide resource access to individual students and families, regardless of the education delivery systems families choose.
This is a revolutionary idea, but it is less revolutionary and chaotic than people taking to the streets and burning down the schools—and I do believe public disaffection with all authority is reaching such a point. Congress, after all, rightly earns single-digit approval scores today. If local school boards can reclaim and restore local governance and responsibility, there is a greater chance that the corrupting influence of the federal and state gravy trains can be nullified and orderly transition to real improvements can occur.
It seems to me that local communities must take control of juvenile justice issues, as well. So many of the practical problems we are dealing with—for example, juvenile life without parole—originate with out-of-touch, money-influenced legislatures that have removed real decision-making from the hands of local judges who are in a better position to determine what outcomes would best benefit our communities and children.
I know that a strategy of restoring local control to institutions is not a panacea. There will always be backwaters of local bossism, ignorance, and injustice. But I do believe that vesting control in local leaders who are accountable to their communities is preferable to trusting far-away authorities who can and do act with greed and impunity.
Groove of the Day