Follow The Money—If You Can

October 11th, 2022 by Tom Lynch

As we do our best to make some sense of the deep polarization that has overspread America in the 21st century, we could do worse than look to a leader from the 19th for guidance, President Ulysses S. Grant. In 1875, as he neared the end of his second term and America approached the hundredth anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, Grant predicted the next civil war would be “between patriotism and intelligence on one side, and superstition, ambition, and ignorance on the other.”

The events leading up to and including the January 6th insurrection proved him right.

Grant was certainly prescient, but to his “superstition, ambition, and ignorance” I would add greed and a thirst for power. These five iniquities characterize how we have come to this point in our history, and at least four of them are present in the current senatorial contest in Georgia that pits Republican Herschel Walker against the incumbent, Democrat Raphael Warnock, a Baptist Minister.

I wrote about this contest last week. In that column I tried to peel the Herschel Walker onion to show the lies and disgusting hypocrisy surrounding his candidacy. I wrote the contest had

“nothing to do with Herschel Walker and everything to do with taking control of the US Senate. Even if Walker proved to be the second coming of Jack The Ripper, hard core Republicans in Georgia and around the country would continue to support him. It’s not that they don’t believe the latest allegations, they just don’t care about them. Controlling both the House and the Senate overrides everything.”

To go deeper, we now have the story of the money, which, in 2022, appears the governing factor in who gets elected—anywhere.

Although it has spent and committed more than $10 million to the Walker campaign, the biggest spender in the senate race is not the National Republican Senatorial Fund (NRSC), the fund overseen by Florida’s Senator Rick Scott whom Mitch McConnell put in charge of taking back the Senate. Scott planned to be at a rally supporting Walker last night. I’m betting there wasn’t much said about what appears to be Walker’s abortion lies.

And, although it has also spent in the millions, the biggest donor is not 34N22, a Super PAC dedicated to electing Walker to the Senate and controlled by his campaign. No, the biggest spender in support of Walker is not the NRSC, 34N22, or the total of all the rank and file who, bathed in ignorance, have dug deep, dipping into their cookie jars of savings in response to the daily emails asking for more.

The biggest spender aimed at getting Herschel Walker shoehorned into the US Senate so Republicans can once again assume control is the Senate Leadership Fund (SLF), the Super PAC controlled by Mitch McConnell. The SLF has already booked $37.1 million in TV ads in support of Walker. This doesn’t count the millions more that SLF has spent online.

But what, or who, is the Senate Leadership Fund?

The SLF is a mix of exceedingly wealthy individuals, Fortune 500 corporations, and one, huge non-profit.

Here’s a look at the individuals and corporations, and what they have given, reported originally by Judd Legum’s Popular Information, a newsletter dedicated to accountability journalism:

$10,000,000: Private equity billionaire Stephen A. Schwarzman, a longtime friend and advisor to Trump and co-founder of private equity giant Blackstone. In 2010, Newsweek reported Schwarzman had compared Obama’s effort to eliminate tax loopholes for private equity managers to “Hilter’s invasion of Poland.”

$10,000,000Kenneth Griffin, the billionaire CEO of Citadel, a hedge fund. In a 2012 interview, Griffin said that the “ultrawealthy” did not have enough influence on politics. In 2008, Griffin’s highly leveraged hedge fund came near to collapsing, and, were it not for government bailouts, it would have.

$4,000,000: Occidental Petroleum, a Fortune 500 fossil fuel company and one of the world’s largest producers of greenhouse gases.

$3,000,000: Billionaire hedge fund manager Paul Singer. Known as a “philosopher-king type of person,” Singer is perhaps the most brilliant person in the hedge fund business, exemplified by his firm’s impressive performance in the 2008 economic collapse when it only lost 3% of its value. Singer fiercely opposes raising taxes on billionaires and other exceedingly wealthy individuals, while showing little sympathy for the plight of the 99%. “Resentment is not morally superior to earning money,” Singer has written. What is a “moral failing,” according to him, is “depreciation in paper money’s value.”

$2,000,000: Bernie Marcus, the billionaire co-founder of Home Depot and one of Trump’s largest donors.  Marcus stopped working at Home Depot in 2002, and the company has tried to distance itself from him and Herschel Walker, saying on its Twitter feed, “Hi, we have not contributed to this campaign.” This is deceitful, because Home Depot has made significant contributions to PACs spending millions of dollars to elect Walker. Home Depot is a perfect example of how a corporation can honestly say it hasn’t directly contributed to a campaign, while actually having indirectly done so by writing checks to PACs that support the particular campaign. Republicans are not the only Party doing this.

$2,000,000: Rupert Murdoch, the billionaire chairman of Fox Corporation, the parent company of Fox News.

$1,500,000: Chevron Corporation, the second largest fossil fuel corporation in the United States. The second-largest producer of greenhouse gas emissions in history.

$1,000,000: Koch Industries, the conglomerate owned by right-wing billionaire Charles Koch. In 2020, Koch said he “screw[ed] up” by supporting Tea Party Republicans and vowed to be a “uniter” in the future. He’s certainly united groups of far-right Republicans.

$1,000,000: American Petroleum Institute, a lobbying group representing the fossil fuel industry.

$500,000: Anschutz Corporationthe parent company of Coachella and other popular music festivals and concerts. These funds came directly from the Anschutz Corporation’s corporate treasury and not an employee-funded PAC.

$500,000: Philip Anschutz, the CEO of the Anschutz Corporation and a prolific donor to right-wing political causes.

Then there is the biggest donor to the Senate Leadership Fund. It is the non-profit One Nation, and it, like the SLF, is run by Steven Law, a former Chief of Staff to Mitch McConnell. Thus far, One Nation has donated $33.5 million to the SLF. One Nation has also spent millions in TV and online ads supporting Walker. However, One Nation is organized as a 501(c)4 non-profit, which means that, compliments of the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United, it is allowed to keep its donors secret. That means many of the largest supporters of the Senate Leadership Fund—and, therefore, the Walker campaign—are unknown.

And they always will be.

How To Explain Georgia And Herschel Walker

October 6th, 2022 by Tom Lynch

In mid-January of 2016, at a campaign stop at Dordt College in Sioux Center, Iowa, Donald Trump said, “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn’t lose any voters, OK? It’s, like, incredible.”

He might have been more right than wrong. His followers seem to be able to forgive, no ignore, anything he does, no matter how vile. Remember the October 2016 surprise of the Access Hollywood tape? That made a lot of difference, didn’t it? “But her emails!”

Why did voters not fly like winged Mercury from such a morally challenged person? And should we be surprised they didn’t?

With that in mind, I have been struggling with what to make of the current senatorial contest in Georgia.

On the one hand, there is the Reverend Raphael Warnock, the junior United States senator from Georgia since 2021. Warnock is also the senior pastor of the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia, Martin Luther King Jr.’s former congregation. He is the fifth and the youngest person to serve as Ebenezer’s senior pastor since its founding in 1886.

Warnock has always been a civil rights activist and has been arrested twice for his efforts. In March 2014, he led a sit-in at the Georgia State Capitol to press state legislators to accept the expansion of Medicaid offered by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, Obamacare. He and other leaders were arrested during the protest, and the state, to this day, has refused to expand its Medicaid program.

His first arrest, in the early 2000s, is instructive. Warnock was serving as senior pastor at Douglas Memorial Community Church in Baltimore, Maryland, when Police arrested him and an assistant minister charging them with obstructing an investigation into suspected child abuse at a summer camp run by their church. Warnock had strongly protested police not allowing lawyers to be present to assist camp counselors whom they had accused of covering up the suspected child abuse. According to the Police, Warnock was “extremely uncooperative and disruptive.” Interestingly, the charges were later dropped with the deputy state’s attorney acknowledging there had been a “miscommunication,” adding that Warnock had aided the investigation and that prosecution would be a waste of resources.

Warnock espouses a number of typically democratic policies:

  • Regarding abortion, he labels himself a “pro-choice pastor;”
  • In 2021 he was the main sponsor of S.278 —  The Emergency Relief for Farmers of Color Act of 2021, a bill that would provide assistance to historically disaffected minority groups in the agriculture sector;
  • He is against capital punishment;
  • The National Rifle Association Political Victory Fund gave him a grade of “F” during his Senate campaign, because he loudly objected to parishioners being able to bring concealed weapons to church. For that, they labeled him “anti 2nd amendment;”
  • On immigration, he has supported keeping Title 42 expulsions, saying, “We need assurances that we have security at the border and that we protect communities on this side of the border;”
  • Warnock is a proponent of Welfare. He  opposed New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s workfare reforms while he was assistant pastor at Abyssinian Baptist Church in 1997, telling The New York Times, “We are worried that workfare is being used to displace other workers who receive respectable compensation. We are concerned that poor people are being put into competition with other poor people, and in that respect, we think workfare is a hoax;” and,
  • Regarding voting rights, In his maiden speech on the U.S. Senate floor, Warnock said one of his primary goals upon assuming office was to oppose voting restrictions and support federal voting reforms. He has said that passing legislation to expand voting rights is important enough to end the Senate filibuster.

Warnock and his wife divorced in 2021. They have two children.

The man appears to be an open book. If you vote for Raphael Warnock, you know what you’re going to get, a God-fearing, decent human being who is a  liberal democrat, but not one of radical persuasion.

On the other hand, we have Warnock’s opponent Herschel Walker, whose main claim to fame seems to be winning the Heisman Trophy in his junior year at the University of Georgia and going on to enjoy a Hall of Fame caliber professional football career.

If Raphael Warnock’s life is a relatively virtuous straight line, Herschel Walker’s is a labyrinth worthy of Theseus, but without the guiding ball of twine.

Given that he’s running for the US Senate, Walker’s personal and professional lives are worthy of investigation.

Herschel Walker suffers from one of the many character flaws Donald Trump has artfully cultivated over a lifetime of trying: He exaggerates accomplishments, minimizes failures and repeatedly denies he does either. In everything. A few examples:

In his autobiography, Breaking Free: My Life With Dissociative Identity Disorder (Simon & Schuster, 2009), Walker describes his struggles with his mental health in a praiseworthy and open manner. However, in this commendable work he also wrote that during his schooling at Johnson County High School, he was the Beta Club president (which required a grade average of “A”) and class valedictorian.

Trouble is, he wasn’t. He was in the Beta Club, but not its president, and the school didn’t even begin having valedictorians until six years after Walker graduated. This is a small point. Many people embellish like this, but it sets the tone for the rest of Walker’s life to this point.

Walker has said in speeches and on his website he graduated from the University of Georgia in the top 1% of his class.

Trouble is, this isn’t true. He left college at the end of his junior year to play professional football. The false claims about Walker’s degree and class stranding are lodged in a range of webpages, including his Amazon author site, his Speaker Booking Agency page and his New Georgia Encyclopedia entry. Additionally, in 2017, he told Sirius XM radio, “I also was in the top 1% of my graduating class of college.” When called out on this by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Walker said, “I was majoring in Criminal Justice at UGA when I left to play in the USFL my junior year. After playing with the New Jersey Generals, I returned to Athens to complete my degree, but life and football got in the way.” Walker has also denied on numerous occasions ever saying he graduated from UGA. According to a CNN investigation, “This is flat out false.”

Walker’s business career following his sporting one has been spotty at best. In 1999, he created Renaissance Man Food Services, which distributes chicken products. He told the Dallas Morning News in 2009 that Renaissance Man Food Services employed more than 100 people and grossed $70 million a year. In a more recent interview, Walker told Fox News that the company employed 600 people.

Trouble is, it doesn’t. During the pandemic, Renaissance Man Food Services reported just eight employees on applications for two Paycheck Protection Program loans from the federal Small Business Administration totaling $180,000. The first loan in April 2020 amounted to $111,300 and has since been forgiven.

On top of that, over the past two decades Walker and various business partners have defaulted or fallen behind in payments on at least eight loans totaling $9 million, according to an Atlanta Journal-Constitution review of hundreds of pages of court documents, Securities and Exchange Commission filings and other public records that detail these financial issues.

Walker has many times claimed he “worked in law enforcement.” Prior to his political career, he has, at various times said he was an FBI agent, or “a certified peace officer.”

Trouble is, he wasn’t. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Patricia Murphy, Greg Bluestein and Tia Mitchell thoroughly debunked these claims in June of this year.

Then their is the spousal abuse. Cindy DeAngelis Grossman, Walker’s wife from 1983 until their divorce in 2002, claims Walker was violent with her and had “evil in his eyes.” She says, “He held the gun to my temple and said he was gonna blow my brains out.”

Walker has not denied Grossman’s allegations, telling ABC News’ Bob Woodruff in a 2008 interview that he “probably did it,” but did not remember.

And now for the biggest problem, the new one.

Herschel Walker has embraced the anti abortion plank. His position makes no accommodation for rape, incest or the life of the mother. It is as hard a line as one could draw. Walker says he believes abortion should never be a “choice.” “There’s no exception in my mind,” Walker told reporters in May. “Like I say, I believe in life. I believe in life.”

Trouble is, he doesn’t. At least, not for him, according to what appears to be a well-documented report from The Daily Beast this week. According to the report:

A woman who asked not to be identified out of privacy concerns told The Daily Beast that after she and Walker conceived a child while they were dating in 2009 he urged her to get an abortion. The woman said she had the procedure and that Walker reimbursed her for it.

She supported these claims with a $575 receipt from the abortion clinic, a “get well” card from Walker, and a bank deposit receipt that included an image of a signed $700 personal check from Walker.

The woman said there was a $125 difference because she “ball-parked” the cost of an abortion after Googling the procedure and added on expenses such as travel and recovery costs.

Additionally, The Daily Beast independently corroborated details of the woman’s claims with a close friend she told at the time and who, according to the woman and the friend, took care of her in the days after the procedure.

The woman said Walker, who was not married at the time, told her it would be more convenient to terminate the pregnancy, saying it was “not the right time” for him to have a child. It was a feeling she shared, but what she didn’t know was that Walker had an out-of-wedlock child with another woman earlier that same year.

Walker has denied everything about this. He claims he doesn’t even know the woman even though he sent her that “get well” card with a check for $700 inside it. He said, “I send money to a lot of people.” Yesterday morning, Fox News host Brian Kilmeade asked him whether he has discovered who this woman is? “Not at all,” Walker replied. “And that’s what I hope everyone can see. It’s sort of like everyone is anonymous, or everyone is leaking, and they want you to confess to something you have no clue about.”

This is an amazing statement, because the unidentified woman claims, in addition to Walker paying for her abortion, she subsequently bore his child, a child The Daily Beast reports he has acknowledged as his.

This has proven too much for Walker’s adult son, Christian Walker, who lashed out on Twitter—in defense of The Daily Beast’s abortion story and against his father.

“Every family member of Herschel Walker asked him not to run for office, because we all knew (some of) his past. Every single one,” Walker tweeted.

“He decided to give us the middle finger and air out all of his dirty laundry in public, while simultaneously lying about it.

Following The Daily Beast’s scoop, Walker’s fundraising has soared, and Republicans have remained steadfast in their unwavering support. Moreover, despite his checkered past and these latest allegations, the senate race remains neck and neck. Why is that so?

I suggest it has nothing to do with Herschel Walker and everything to do with taking control of the US Senate. Even if Walker proved to be the second coming of Jack The Ripper, hard core Republicans in Georgia and around the country would continue to support him. It’s not that they don’t believe the latest allegations, they just don’t care about them. Controlling both the House and the Senate overrides everything. Power is quite the aphrodisiac.

Donald Trump, the man who could shoot people on 5th Avenue and get away with it, is a big Walker supporter, as is every Republican leader who’s been asked about him (with the exception of Georgia Governor Brian Kemp, who won’t say a word about him).

I’m no psychologist, but I think Walker is a very troubled man with mental health issues needing serious help. It is reprehensible that Republicans are doing all they can to exploit this damaged person for their own ends. If he wins the election and falls off the face of the earth the day after, they wouldn’t mind. They’d have what they wanted, and that would be all that mattered. His is a truly sad story.

At his inauguration in 1861, Abraham Lincoln, pleading for a unified country, appealed to “the better angels of our nature.”

There are no “angels” here, better or otherwise. The mid-term election is less than a month away. In that month, there will be more charges, denials, and countercharges. It grieves me to believe that rising above to find Lincoln’s “better angels of our nature” may no longer be possible deep in the cesspool that now passes for American Democracy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Racism In America: The Road To The New Jim Crow Runs Along The School To Prison Pipeline

September 29th, 2022 by Tom Lynch

The story of mass incarceration in America is bigger than American jails and prisons, even with their two million captives. And it’s bigger than probation and parole, even with the five million people held in the prison of their homes through ankle bracelets, weekly drug tests and GPS technology.

Thus, Reuben Jonathan Miller writes in the Introduction to his book Halfway Home: Race, Punishment and the Afterlife of Mass Incarceration, published by Little, Brown and Company in 2021.

Today, 19.6 million people live with a felony record, four times the size of the population on probation and parole and ten times the size of the American prison census. One-third of those people are Black. More impressive is that one-third of currently living Black American men have felony records.  Think about that for a moment. And then ponder that the number of Black women behind bars is eight times greater today than in 1980.

Since the early 1970s, we have been incrementally putting Black Americans in a crime box. Today, as Miller writes, “An entire class of people are presumed guilty of some unspecified crime long before they break a law.” Does the phrase, “Driving while Black” ring a bell?

This week, in a new study from the National Registry of Exonerations, we learn Black Americans are seven times more likely than white people to be falsely convicted of serious crimes, and spend longer in prison before exoneration.

The study examined defendants who were exonerated after serving at least part of a sentence — sometimes spending decades in prison. From the study’s findings:

  • Black people represent 13.6% of the American population, but account for 53% of 3,200 exonerations in the registry as of Aug. 8, 2022;
  • Innocent Black Americans were 7½ times more likely to be convicted of murder than innocent white people; and,
  • The convictions that led to murder exonerations of Black defendants were almost 50% more likely to include misconduct by police officers.

Most of those long-serving Black defendants were exonerated by a handful of big city prosecutorial conviction integrity units (CIUs). It appears they have only scratched the surface.

How did this happen? One reason is because of the well-maintained “school to prison pipeline.”

Beginning in the 1970s, educators figured out that kids acting out in school could seriously disrupt learning for their classmates. What to do? The answer? Suspend them. And that’s what happened. It started with a trickle that slowly turned into Niagara Falls. And the kids most often suspended were Black, followed by Latino.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, which last year ordered school districts to respond to student misbehavior in “fair, non-discriminatory, and effective” ways, Black students are suspended and expelled at a rate three times greater than White students, while Black and Latino students account for 70 percent of police referrals.

The bias—racism—starts young. Black children represent 18 percent of pre-school students, but account for 48 percent of pre-school suspensions. Yes, we’re talking about 4-year-olds. Also, students with disabilities are twice as likely to be suspended than their non-disabled peers, and LGBT students are 1.4 times more likely to face suspension than their straight peers.

According to the National Education Association,

According to research, Black students do not “act out” in class more frequently than their White peers. But Black students are more likely to be sent to the principal’s office for subjective offenses, like “disrupting class,” and they’re more likely to be sent there by White teachers, according to Kirwan Institute research on implicit bias. (White students, on the other hand, are more likely to be suspended for objective offenses, like drug possession.)

The Kirwan Institute blames “cultural deficit thinking,” which leads educators to “harbor negative assumptions about the ability, aspirations, and work ethic of these students—especially poor students of color—based on the assumption that they and their families do not value education.” These racist perceptions create a stereotype that students of color are disrespectful and disruptive, which zero tolerance policies exploit.

You can follow all this like a bright red rope in the snow. For some kids, Black especially, going to school leads to suspensions, which leads to staying out of school, which leads to questionable behavior, which leads to incarceration, which leads to a wasted life.

The Kirwan Institute calls this “implicit bias.” I call it implicit racism.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. Many educators now realize they have been feeding the lion, rather than helping the student. In Colorado, for example a new law restricting the use of suspensions and expulsions has resulted in suspensions falling by 25 percent, while school attendance and punctuality have improved by 30 percent.

In Maryland’s Montgomery County Education Association, the superintendent and teachers put together a new student code of conduct that minimizes suspensions and allows students to learn from their mistakes. Meanwhile, other districts have signed “memorandums of understanding” with local law enforcement agencies that keep minor offenders out of criminal courts.

This represents progress, but progress only in a few places. The national school to prison pipeline still runs strong. And there is resistance to shutting it down.

Consider the tremendous efforts underway in red states to tamp down, even eliminate, discussion of race in schools. A bizarre and almost unbelievable one comes from Florida where, in April, Governor Ron DeSantis’s Education Department banned (they say “rejected”) 54 math textbooks, out of 132 submitted by publishers for the next school year. According to the  Department of Education, 26 of those math textbooks were rejected because they contained “prohibited topics,” including Critical Race Theory (CRT) and Social-Emotional Learning (SEL). 2+2 = Racism?

CRT is a graduate-level academic framework which explores “laws, policies, and procedures that function to produce racial inequality.” This is sometimes referred to as “structural racism.” It is not something you typically find discussed in a K-12 math textbook. In fact, it’s not typically addressed in K-12 at all.

Florida Commissioner of Education Richard Corcoran said the math textbooks were rejected because children deserve “a world-class education without the fear of indoctrination or exposure to dangerous and divisive concepts in our classrooms.” The Department’s announcement, showed how much DeSantis controls things when it included this quote from him: “It seems that some publishers attempted to slap a coat of paint on an old house built on the foundation of Common Core, and indoctrinating concepts like race essentialism, especially, bizarrely, for elementary school students.” Wow! I had no idea math could be so divisive. Stupid me.

The Department’s announcement also carried this jewel:

“We’re going to ensure that Florida has the highest-quality instructional materials aligned to our nationally-recognized standards,” said Commissioner of Education Richard Corcoran. “Florida has become a national leader in education under the vision and leadership of Governor DeSantis. When it comes to education, other states continue to follow Florida’s lead as we continue to reinforce parents’ rights by focusing on providing their children with a world-class education without the fear of indoctrination or exposure to dangerous and divisive concepts in our classrooms.”

“Nationally recognized standards?” “National leader in education?” “World-class education?” This proved too big to resist.

Intelligent.com publishes annual state rankings of K-12 education drawing upon key metrics related to performance, safety, community, investment, class size, and attendance for all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Where does “national leader” Florida rank in the latest analysis? Smack dab in the middle of the pack. Number 27 in academic performance and number 25 in overall performance. In no area does Florida rank in either the top five or the bottom five. That is the definition of mediocre.

I’m happy to say that my Commonwealth of Massachusetts, which DeSantis considers a socialistic state, ranked Number 1 in the latest rankings.

One last point about those math textbooks banned in Florida. Judd Legum and his team at Popular Information, a site with which I am becoming fonder by the day, bought the banned books and read them all. Try as he and his team might, they could find nothing objectionable in any of them. I mean, it’s math!

Once again, Governor DeSantis flexes his imagined Popeye muscles to push his personal, ambitiously political agenda rather than  objective truth. Meanwhile, the school to prison pipeline remains alive and well and continues to throw Black kids off the educational cliff into the oblivion below.

While we feel great empathy and sympathy for our fellow citizens weathering Hurricane Ian in FLorida, the DeSantis paranoia about any of Florida’s children learning about and actually studying the history of racism right up to the present jacks us back into a more sophisticated, but still real, still deadly, Jim Crow South.

 

 

 

 

Speaking Of Cavalier Cruelty…

September 23rd, 2022 by Tom Lynch

On Wednesday, I wrote about the cruel fraud alleged in Minnesota where the government charged 47 people with stealing more than $250 million from nutrition programs aimed at helping low income children and adults.* Today, another story from the high-rise cruelty tower.

By now, everyone knows about the governors of Texas and Florida busing and flying immigrants to northern states. Governor Greg Abbott of Texas has bused immigrants to New York City, Chicago and Washington, DC, the latter to the front yard of Vice President Harris. That’ll teach her.

The most recent example, and to my mind the cruelest, was Florida’s Governor Ron DeSantis’s stunt of flying about 50 immigrants from Texas in two planes to the lovely island of Martha’s Vineyard off the coast of Cape Cod in Massachusetts.

When I write “lovely” I’m not kidding. The Obamas have a home there. Presidents have vacationed on the island for many years. The super-singer-songwriter James Taylor lives there. My family and I vacationed there when the Clintons were in town in the mid-90s (talk about a traffic jam; I never knew).

However, Martha’s Vineyard is not just a place where rich folks go to get away from their presidential and Wall Street drudgery. With a year-round population of 11,864, more than 13% of the locals are either citizens not born in the US, or immigrants who are not US citizens. The median annual household income of the Island is $82,857. Nearly 9% of the population lives below the federal poverty level, and 7% depend on the island’s food pantry. Last year, the Martha’s Vineyard Boys & Girls Club served more than 16,500 meals to Island kids in need.

Martha’s Vineyard might not be a “melting pot,” but it certainly is a “simmering pot.”

So, two planes set down at the island’s relatively small airport — at night — and discharged their cargo. Nobody from Florida had bothered to give anyone in Massachusetts a heads up as to what was coming, but I’ll bet the folks in Tallahassee had quite the laugh when word came the planes had landed. I imagine during the planning for this human trafficking operation, executed with military precision, DeSantis and his team had a great big yuck anticipating how the liberals up north would react to their newest neighbors. I also imagine the disappointment when they saw nearly everyone on the Vineyard turning out to do all they could to help the Venezuelan political pawns. Then Governor Charley Baker, a Republican (but not even close to the mold that made Abbott & Costello — sorry — DeSantis; Abbott & DeSantis) had them brought to an Army Base on Cape Cod, settled in dormitories and immediately given the help and services they needed in a strange place. Made me quite proud, actually.

This is all vaguely reminiscent of 1962, when White segregationists created so-called Reverse Freedom Rides in retaliation for the Freedom Rides of the previous summer, when Black and White volunteers rode buses through the South supporting desegregation. A number of the Reverse Freedom Riders ended up in Massachusetts, where they were given housing at the same Cape Cod Base now housing the Venezuelan immigrants. That’s Kismet for you. One of the Reverse Freedom Riders from Alabama, Eliza Davis, 36, told the New York Times about being bused to and abandoned on Cape Cod in the town of Hyannis just down the road from the holiday home of President John F. Kennedy. More Kismet.

DeSantis, taking credit for this 2022 frat house prank said all the illegal immigrants wanted to go; they all signed consent forms and were promised nothing except a ride.

This, of course, was and is patently untrue, as Judd Legum wrote in Popular Information. Legum had gotten his hands on a brochure DeSantis’s agent, someone named Perla, had given the immigrants as enticement to make the trip.

Describing the immigrants as “illegal” was also untrue. All of the immigrants were in the country legally, at least at the time they boarded the planes, as they had all applied for Asylum Status upon crossing the border. DeSantis didn’t care. The man seems to have the empathy of a loan shark and the arrogance of a wannabe Benito Mussolini.

Have you thought about where DeSantis got the idea for this come-fly-away-with-me stunt? Thanks to Media Matters Senior Fellow Matt Gertz, we now know he got it from this guy on Fox TV, who, on 26 July 2022, laid the whole thing out for him:

When we look past all of this we see a complicated and deeply complex problem: A woebegone immigration “system,” if you can call it that, sorely in need of repair. We see countries whose leaders are persecuting and generally making things perilous for many of their citizens to the extent those men and women, human beings, feel so parlous they are willing to take their families on a long journey under the harshest of conditions at great expense to reach a place they don’t know, but see as a refuge with profound opportunities for their future. Many die along the way. Some die when they get here. And a few get suckered on to a plane to make points for an ambitious and opportunistic politician who thinks playing with people’s lives is fine if it feathers his personal nest even a little bit.

Yup. That’s cruelty for you.

 

*A good friend, responding to Wednesday’s column, wrote, “As thorough as Dante was, he seems to have missed a few circles in designing Hell. I suggest a sub-basement addition for this crowd where they can be chewed on by starving children for all eternity.”

Beautiful image, that.

 

Cavalier Greed And Cruelty In Minnesota

September 21st, 2022 by Tom Lynch

Yesterday, Federal authorities charged 47 people in Minnesota with conspiracy and other counts in what prosecutors said is, to date, the largest fraud scheme of the COVID-19 pandemic, a scheme that stole at least $250 million from a federal program that provides meals to low-income children.

According to the Justice Department, “The 47 defendants are charged across six separate indictments and three criminal informations with charges of conspiracy, wire fraud, money laundering, and bribery.”

Government prosecutors allege the defendants created companies that claimed to be offering food to tens of thousands of children across Minnesota — nearly all of whom did not exist, — then sought reimbursement for those meals through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s food nutrition programs. Because the need was so great, some standards were waived and oversight was often minimal. The USDA allowed for-profit restaurants to participate, and allowed food to be distributed outside educational programs. The charging documents say the defendants exploited such changes “to enrich themselves.”

A non-profit called Feeding Our Future was central to the scheme.

The Federal Child Nutrition Program is used to feed low income children in daycare and afterschool organizations. It spends $4 billion a year to feed needy children across the country. Feeding Our Future received hundreds of millions of dollars from the program from 2019 through 2021.

Here’s how it worked.

The government alleges Feeding Our Future, a sponsor in the Federal Child Nutrition Program, established sponsorship contracts with nearly 200 federal child nutrition program sites throughout the state, knowing that the sites intended to submit fraudulent claims. The sites would submit the claims to Feeding Our Future, which would then submit them to the Minnesota Department of Education, which has historically administered the programs, primarily through school programs. With schools closed for the pandemic the rules of the nutrition programs were changed to allow for all of the new entrant providers and the relaxed rules.

Feeding Our Future became a sort of Third Party Administrator for the sham sites and collected 15% of the charges as its fee. It went from receiving and disbursing approximately $3.4 million in federal funds in 2019 to nearly $200 million in 2021.

According to the indictments, “The sites fraudulently claimed to be serving meals to thousands of children a day within just days or weeks of being formed and despite having few, if any, staff and little to no experience serving this volume of meals.”

The massive fraud was allegedly headed up by Aimee Bock, Feeding Our Future’s founder and executive director. The indictments also allege she and some of her employees received additional kickbacks, which were often disguised as “consulting fees” paid to shell companies Bock created.

Andy Luger, the U.S. Attorney for Minnesota, said the fraudsters billed the government for more than 125 million fake meals. He displayed one Form For Reimbursement that claimed a site served exactly 2,500 meals each day Monday through Friday — with no children ever getting sick or otherwise missing a meal.

Luger said, “These children were simply invented.”

Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Justice made prosecuting pandemic-related fraud a priority. The department has already taken enforcement actions related to more than $8 billion in suspected pandemic fraud, including bringing charges in more than 1,000 criminal cases involving losses in excess of $1.1 billion.

In this case, one of the indictments offered a beyond-brazen example of the fraud. It described a small storefront restaurant in Willmar, in west-central Minnesota, that typically served only a few dozen people a day. Two defendants offered the owner $40,000 a month to use his restaurant, then billed the government for some 1.6 million meals through 11 months of 2021. They listed the names of around 2,000 children — nearly half of the local school district’s total enrollment — and only 33 names matched actual students. And where did the defendants get the names of the children they said the program fed? From a website that randomly provides the names of mythical children. That’s where.

As usual in these kinds of fraud schemes the defendants used the stolen money to buy homes, exotic cars, vacation junkets and expensive clothes and jewelry.

And what did Minnesota’s low income children get? They got hunger.

 

 

 

Workin’ On The Railroad…Or, Maybe Not

September 13th, 2022 by Tom Lynch

Only 10.6% of US workers are in unions, but the 140,000 railroad freight workers are among them. The workers have been without a contract for the last three years, and are deep in negotiations for a new one with the National Carriers’ Conference Committee (NCCC), the group representing Class I railroads in the  negotiations. Like everyone else, both sides have been hit hard by the pandemic and the inflation that followed.

The workers are in twelve companies from the very large to the not so very large. Thus far, the good news is eight of the twelve have come to tentative agreement with the employers, three of them this past Sunday. The bad news is this only represents about 86,000 of the 140,000. The even worse news is if agreements for the others are not reached by 12:01 Saturday morning, 17 September, they’ll be going on strike—all of them.

According to the US Chamber of Commerce and the NCCC, “Widespread railroad disruptions could choke supplies of food and fuel, spawn transportation chaos, stoke inflation, and cause $2 billion per day in lost economic output.”

The Biden Administration appointed a presidential emergency board (PEB) in mid-July to break the impasse, and the board released its findings to interested parties in mid-August. Like Solomon, the PEB pretty much split the difference between the unions’ wage ask and the railroads’ offer. Subsequently, the President urged the parties to reach agreement speedily, because not doing so will invite congressional intervention. Now, that would be quite the opportunity for political posturing. Ladies and gentlemen, start your engines.

The tentative agreements announced Sunday include the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees Division of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters; the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers; and the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers-Mechanical Department.

“The tentative agreements … include a 24% wage increase during the five-year period from 2020 to 2024—with a 14.1% wage increase effective immediately—and five annual $1,000 lump sum payments. Portions of the wage increases and lump sum payments are retroactive—totaling more than $11,000 in immediate payments per employee—and will be paid out promptly upon ratification of the agreements by the unions’ membership,” said the NCCC.

The tentative agreement also adds an additional paid day off that can be used as a personal day, vacation day or on the employee’s birthday.

Factoring in healthcare, retirement and other benefits, employees’ total compensation would average more than $150,000 per year.

Several major Class I railroads said Friday they would begin curtailing shipments of hazardous materials and other chemicals in the event loads might be left unattended on a rail network. The unions label this “corporate extortion.”

What would a rail strike mean? Well, for starters a strike could shut down 30% of the country’s freight services and block most passenger and commuter rail services, according to the Association of American Railroads. Some 7,000 freight trains run by major rail companies including CSX, Union Pacific, BNSF, Norfolk Southern, and Kansas City Southern could be shut down, while passengers could face disruptions as well because commuter rail systems depend on tracks owned by freight railroads.

In my home state of Massachusetts, where there is a popular, heavily used commuter rail system, this could be devastating, because Boston’s MBTA subway system is in dire straights, with its Orange Line, the second highest in ridership, shut down for repairs.

This all comes in the midst of seeming union rejuvenation, as seen by efforts at Starbucks, Amazon and others. Still, as mentioned above, unions represent only 10.6% of the workforce, and the majority of those are in the public sector.

It’s prediction time, and mine is as good as anyone else’s not on the inside of negotiations. I’m betting the warring factions will reach agreement just as the clock comes close to the witching hour, disappointing politicians yearning for the next soapbox. But, as my dear father used to say, it’ll be, “One-hundred yards to the outhouse, by Willie Make-it.”

A Potpourri To Begin Your Week

September 12th, 2022 by Tom Lynch

Ukraine changing history on the move.

It is 15 December 1937. Today’s international news section of the New York Times is dripping with stories that, nineteen years after World War I, are lighting the way to the next global conflagration. In two years it will begin and happen all over again. On this day we see reports of marches, riots, assassinations, street brawls, and arson. Political warfare. An overture to the real war coming.

In Spain, political warfare has flared into civil war, and, the Times reported, the Army of the Republic has attacked General Franco’s fascist forces at the Aragonese town of Teruel. In three months, Franco will counterattack, rout the Republican forces and capture most of Catalonia and the Levante. He will succeed with troops and warplanes provided by Germany and Italy.

Turn the page and find Hitler’s Nazi Germany issuing new  restrictions on the Jews, slowly squeezing the life out of them. On the facing page, a photograph of Benito Mussolini in his personal railcar giving  the stiff-armed fascist salute. Beneath, a photo of Stalin reviewing a parade of tank columns.

Is there anything that could be done, could have been done, to avert the coming catastrophe? Of course there was, but nobody did it. Mussolini? The Italians loved him; he resurrected the former glory of Rome, and Franco showed Spaniards what nationalistic power looked like. Hitler’s hate fueled the country’s hate. The Jews? Germany, with Hitler’s face, wanted them gone—forever. And Stalin, the man who killed millions of Ukrainians by intentionally starving them with a smile on his face? The Russians never blinked. Neither did the Americans. The Times’s Walter Durante defended him and won a Pulitzer for his efforts.

And so it went. The world stumbled into six years of hell, with millions dead.

Today, in 2022, although it has taken much time, we have made progress. Inhumanity, still glowing bright in many places, is, nonetheless, dimmer than 80 years ago. Today, the Ukraine that Stalin starved is squeezing the Stalin wannabe Vladimir Putin into a box of his own making. The Ukrainian Army is moving ahead and, with tremendous help from a unified NATO, is forcing the Russian Army to retreat, although the Russians call it “regrouping.”

No one knows where this ends, or how, but it seems to me that at some point the people of Russian are going to wake up and see all the body bags coming home. What then?

The race to curb racism in the American Century: The mission of W. E. B. Du Bois.

This month’s edition of the journal Foreign Affairs contains a fascinating and illuminating essay on the charismatic and complicated life of W. E. B. Du Bois.

Written by Zachariah Mampilly, the Marxe Endowed Chair of International Affairs at the Marxe School of Public and International Affairs at Baruch College, this long-form piece details Du Bois’s lifelong, uncompromising mission to eradicate racism.

A sociologist by training, he helped found the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1909. During the Jim Crow era, he became known for an uncompromising stance, demanding equal rights for Black Americans through his journalism and advocacy work while also making seminal contributions to various academic debates.

Du Bois was born in 1868 in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, about 20 miles from where I sit, and his lifespan overlaps almost exactly with the Jim Crow era, a period of persecution during which Black Americans faced severe restrictions on their ability to participate in political, economic, and social life.

Between the two World Wars, he focused more and more on international affairs, arguing that the colonial projects  European countries were pursuing in Asia and Africa had galvanized an envious United States to carve out its own colonies. In 1898, a year before Du Bois published his first major sociological study, The Philadelphia Negro, the United States’ imperial ambitions produced the annexation of Hawaii and the acquisition of Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines as spoils of the Spanish-American War. Du Bois thought America’s imperialistic ambitions and actions fed into and enhanced the country’s racism at home. Consequently, his writings and lectures veered increasingly to the left.

In observing anticolonial struggles in India and elsewhere, Du Bois saw clearly how occupation of foreign lands would breed resistance in the colonized people. From this he concluded that colonial domination abroad often required the sacrifice of democracy at home. In his eyes, Zampilly writes:

Imperialism inevitably led to increased racial and economic inequality at home: military adventures and opportunities for extracting natural resources empowered the capitalist class (and its favored segments of the underclass) and stoked racial prejudice that justified further interventions in foreign lands.

Thus, Du Bois saw domestic racism as the tail of the internationally racist dog.

It was natural that as time went on Du Bois’s views evolved. He became more radical in his writings. He saw international capitalism as the cause of black exploitation. In his middle years he went from believing in “democratic socialism” to embracing communism.  As a result, J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI began investigating him in 1942 and, despite concluding  there was “no evidence of subversive activity,” continued to investigate him for the rest of his life. In 1952, the State Department revoked his passport. The next year, the Supreme Court declared the policy of denying passports to suspected communists unconstitutional.

His wholehearted support of Joseph Stalin, while inconsistent with his lifelong support for democracy, demonstrated his belief that democracy and Western liberalism were incompatible with racial and economic equality.

Zampilly concludes his essay about Du Bois with this insightful observation:

His work upends the liberal fantasy of the United States’ inevitable progress toward a “more perfect union” that would inspire a just global order and gives the lie to the realist fantasy that how the country behaves internationally can be separated from domestic politics.

My own conclusion is this: During his life, Du Bois made seminal contributions to academia, which, over time, cost him dearly. He was arguably black America’s leading intellectual of the 20th century. If that is at least close to being true, then here is a question for today: Why are so many people, for example governors of red states, fearful of allowing his story and teachings, as well as those of other Black intellectuals, to be taught in America’s classrooms?

The US Open Tennis Championship: In a word, Glorious.

Speaking of Race, I cannot end this Letter without a shout out to this year’s championship.

The three-week US Open is played at the Billie Jean King Tennis Center. The main events happen at the Arthur Ashe Center Court Stadium. Ashe, an inspirational Black American, and King, an inspirational Lesbian American, embody inclusive diversity and are the best kind of examples we have for sincere and devoted yearnings for equality. It is more than fitting that Friday night Frances Tiafoe, a young 24 year old Black American, played 19-year-old Spanish phenom Carlos Alcaraz in a thrilling five-set, five-hour semi-final match on the Arthur Ashe Center Court. Tiafoe is the son of immigrants from Sierra Leone and spent much of his childhood at the Junior Tennis Champions Center in College Park, Md., where his father worked as a custodian. Sometimes he spent the night there, because his mother worked nights in a hospital. The stadium was full and loud, and, although he lost, Tiafoe had the crowd, had all of us, in the palm of his hand. He’ll be back.

Yes, we have a long way to go. But the US Open shows us how far we’ve come. Tennis now looks like America looks.

 

A Remembrance

September 11th, 2022 by Tom Lynch

We should never forget.

Today is the 21st anniversary of the attack on our country known as 9/11. To mark the occasion I offer the tribute song I wrote shortly after the monstrous event to help raise funds for New York’s firefighters. I recorded the song at Worcester’s famed Mechanics Hall with Peter Clemente on guitar.

I hope it brings you comfort.

Once Again History Rhymes

September 6th, 2022 by Tom Lynch

“History never repeats itself, but it does often rhyme.” – Mark Twain

In 1870, Germany ended the Franco-Prussian War by decisively defeating the French army in a Battle of Annihilation at Sedan. Germany’s overly greedy and needlessly cruel terms of surrender were excruciating for France and included the annexation of Alsace-Lorraine, a move against which the prescient Bismarck had advised. It became a constant, festering wound in the heart of every French man and woman. From that point on both countries, each of whom knew they would meet again on the battlefield, prepared for the rematch that would become World War I.

Looking at the behavior of one of the two belligerents, Germany, over the next 45 years illuminates and instructs what is happening now more than a century later, as Vladimir Putin, who has been planning the conquest of Ukraine for nearly 20 years, is following the same unsuccessful, potholed road. We can learn a lot from the mistakes of the past. We can, but we don’t.

In the interval between Sedan and 1914, Germany’s Chief of the General Staff, Count Alfred von Schlieffen, devoted his entire tenure (1891 to 1906) to creating what would become the German Plan of Attack. The plan called for a huge, lightning-like strike through Belgium, which would result in the capture of Paris in nearly six weeks, 40 days. But there was a problem: Belgium neutrality, which had been created in 1831 at an international conference in London that recognized Belgium as an independent, neutral state, its neutrality to be guaranteed by the European powers. Forty years later, shortly after the Franco-Prussian War, British Prime Minister Gladstone secured a treaty from France and Germany that if either violated Belgium neutrality England would work with the other defending Belgium, although without engaging in “the general operations of the war.”

Regardless of Belgian neutrality, Schlieffen’s plan devotedly followed the bible of Germany’s war oracle Baron Carl von Clausewitz, who wrote in the time of Waterloo. Clausewitz had ordained a quick victory by “decisive battle” as the primary object of an offensive war, the only kind Germany understood. He advocated the fast capture of the opponent’s capital above all else. Consequently, to conquer France quickly by taking Paris required ignoring Belgium neutrality.

Schlieffen edited and re-edited his plan over the course of his term, and in 1906, when he retired, the plan was complete.  It was exact in every detail, a model of precision, and it factored in every possible contingency.

The only thing it lacked was flexibility. That is, what to do if something went wrong. And many things did. As that great American philosopher Mike Tyson put it, “All your plans go out the window the first time someone punches you in the mouth.”

The Germans invaded Belgium on their way to Paris on 4 August 1914. In addition to misjudging the determination of the French to defend themselves and believing Britain would either stay out completely or join the battle late, Kaiser Wilhelm was certain the puny Belgians would simply roll over and play dead. However, Belgium’s King Albert, the Kaiser’s cousin, had other ideas and refused to follow the plan. In an act of heroic patriotism, he mobilized the Belgium army, primitive though it was, and fought. Belgium resistance disrupted Schlieffen’s precise timetable, and the Germans never did get to Paris. Instead, Germany was forced to settle for four years of trench warfare, attrition and ultimate surrender in November 1918. The terms of surrender forced on Germany were as bad as it had forced on France after Sedan and led to Hitler’s rise and World War II. We never learn.

The German defeat in the first World War can be directly linked to the arrogance and hubris of its leaders in their certainty that King Albert would not object to the invasion of his country by an army an order of magnitude larger and more accomplished than his own. They did not take into consideration the hatred taking Alsace-Lorraine had spawned in the French, or that the British would do the honorable thing and come in on the side of France following the violation of Belgian neutrality. Neither did they appreciate that Russia, a signatory to the treaty for defending Belgium, would mobilize, join the war, and engage the German army weeks before Schlieffen’s plan anticipated.  Schlieffen and the Kaiser, with their myopic tunnel vision, had never believed any of this would happen. They had refused to even contemplate that their perfect plan could be inadequate in any way.

Schlieffen died in January, 1913, and never saw any of the debacle that was to follow. On 9 November 1918, the German high command, two days before the country’s surrender, forced Kaiser Wilhelm to abdicate. He retired to  neutral Netherlands where he lived in isolation for the rest of his life.

In yet another example of history rhyming, even repeating, we are now witnessing a new instance of military and dictatorial myopia. This time in Ukraine where Vladimir Putin, who seems to fancy himself the second coming of Peter the Great, has wildly miscalculated both the tenacity and determination of Ukrainian patriotism and the commitment and unity of NATO members who, like Gladstone’s Britain, are committed to defending Ukraine, although without engaging in “the general operations of the war.”

Here in 2022, we watch King Albert come to life in the actions of President Zelenskyy.

As what happened to Schlieffen’s perfect plan, Putin’s hubris-driven quick victory was not to be. Like the Germans of August 1914, he failed to capture the Ukrainian capital in the early days of the war. Now, he is now facing a long, slow slog as victory ineluctably slips farther away. The recent Ukrainian counterattacks in the South and East are living proof of this.

Thinking about all this stupidity, I can only conclude that Schlieffen, the Kaiser, Putin and others who yearn for conquest always fail to appreciate, and seriously undervalue, the love of homeland coursing through the veins of all of us. History is full of examples that continue to be ignored. America, itself, has fallen victim to this many times, most recently in Afghanistan.

It would be less than fitting, but still desirable, if Putin’s generals would do to him what the German generals did to the Kaiser. But that, I fear, is where history will neither repeat nor rhyme.

 

 

 

A Few Weekend Thoughts On Biden’s College Loan Forgiveness Program

August 27th, 2022 by Tom Lynch

On Wednesday of this week, President Biden issued an Executive Order to forgive some of the debt owed by those who had received college loans. In doing so, Biden was attempting to fulfill a campaign promise to forgive undergraduate student debt for people earning up to $125,000 ($250,000 for a family). “I made a commitment that we would provide student debt relief, and I’m honoring that commitment today,” he said in remarks at the White House.

According to the Office of Federal Student Aid (OFSA), an office within the US Department of Education, Biden’s plan comes in three parts. The first part extends the repayment loan pause a final time (again) to the end of 2022. Part 2 is what’s getting all the attention at the moment. It says:

To smooth the transition back to repayment and help borrowers at highest risk of delinquencies or default once payments resume, the U.S. Department of Education will provide up to $20,000 in debt cancellation to Pell Grant recipients with loans held by the Department of Education and up to $10,000 in debt cancellation to non-Pell Grant recipients. Borrowers are eligible for this relief if their individual income is less than $125,000 or $250,000 for households.

Part 3 of the President’s plan is different in that it is in the form a  proposed rule “to create a new income-driven repayment plan that will substantially reduce future monthly payments for lower-and middle-income borrowers,” according to the OFSA. The proposal would:

  • Require borrowers to pay no more than 5% of their discretionary income monthly on undergraduate loans. This is down from the 10% available under the most recent income-driven repayment plan.
  • Raise the amount of income that is considered non-discretionary income and therefore is protected from repayment, guaranteeing that no borrower earning under 225% of the federal poverty level—about the annual equivalent of a $15 an hour wage for a single borrower—will have to make a monthly payment.
  • Forgive loan balances after 10 years of payments, instead of 20 years, for borrowers with loan balances of $12,000 or less.
  • Cover the borrower’s unpaid monthly interest, so that unlike other existing income-driven repayment plans, no borrower’s loan balance will grow as long as they make their monthly payments—even when that monthly payment is $0 because their income is low.

Part 3 is consequential, and the fourth bullet point of Part 3 even more so. Interest payments can easily double the size of a student loan, and anything that reduces the interest burden will reduce the size of the loan and, consequently, the time required to pay it off. But a proposed rule is not an Order and will take time before being finalized, perhaps a lot of time.

Right now we are in the knee jerk phase of this issue. Republicans categorize Biden’s move as political and unfair to those who worked hard to pay off their loans. Why should their tax dollars now subsidize the millions who haven’t? The far right, more rabid of the bunch, have been raining tweet storms condemning the very idea of forgiving the loans, all the while forgetting to mention their own Paycheck Protection Act loans, most well over $100,000, have all been forgiven.

In thinking about this, the first question one might want to ask is: Does the President have the authority to do it? House Speaker Nancy Pelosi doesn’t think so. “The president can’t do it,” she said in July. “That’s not even a discussion.”

We can expect this decision to be challenged in the courts. But, at the very least, it offers President Biden a chance to say he is honoring a commitment, a promise, even if the Judiciary ultimately won’t let him do it.

How and why has going to college come to this? I think the answer can be found in the long, winding, potholed road to higher education of the last 55 years. It’s complicated, and people have devoted entire careers to studying it.

I’m concerned, in a practical sense, with what changed from the time I and my peers affordably attended college in the late 1960s. For instance, how and in what manner have costs increased? To what degree and why is there now a far greater percentage of high school graduates attending four year, or even two-year colleges? Have wages commensurately grown with college costs to allow parents and their children to be able to afford it all? How has the for-profit boom in colleges contributed to the college loan crisis, if it has?

To begin to answer those questions, let’s first take a look at where we are now.

Adam Looney, the Nonresident Senior Fellow at the left-leaning Brookings Institution and the Executive Director of the Marriner S. Eccles Institute at the University of Utah, is one of our foremost experts on college loans and costs. He has argued for quite some time against across-the-board loan forgiveness, because a disproportionate amount goes to people who don’t need it, Ivy League educated doctors, lawyers, etc. He has produced the following table to demonstrate his argument. The table categorizes all colleges and graduate programs represented in the College Scorecard by their selectivity using Barron’s college rankings. The left panel of the table describes the debts owed by students at these colleges. The right panel describes their family economic background and their post-college outcomes. From top to bottom, the schools are categorized by their selectivity—how hard it is to get accepted. Note that the more selective the school, the greater the average debt (with the exception of the for-profits). The same holds true for the two far right columns. The more selective the school, the greater the after college earnings. Note also that, with the exception of the Ivy Plus graduates, the average after college earnings for every other category are less than the President’s cap of $125,000 for loan forgiveness qualification.

I’m going to ignore the harm done by for-profit colleges, except to say the largest single source of student debt in America is one of them—the University of Phoenix, the gigantic online for-profit chain. Students who graduated or dropped out in 2017-2018 owed about $2.6 billion in student loans; two years after graduation, 93 percent of borrowers had fallen behind on their loans, which caused interest owed to grow like festering weeds. These are people Looney agrees need to be helped—a lot.

I thought it might be instructive to look at this through the lens of one, typical, highly reputable, selective public university. As Looney’s table shows, graduates of selective public colleges and universities make up 33.7% of the total share of college debt. I’ve picked the University of Massachusetts. UMass is representative of all state universities, and, because I’m from Massachusetts and long ago was a Trustee at one of its foundations, I know the school better than, say, Penn State or Connecticut.

The UMass flagship campus in Amherst sits on more than 1,400 acres and has about 24,000 students. Out of more than 850 US public colleges, it is #68 in US News & World Report’s current rankings. Tuition, fees, room and board total $32,168 for in-state residents, about $50,000 for out-of-staters. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts currently contributes (subsidizes) 31% of the university’s total costs, or $14,287 per student, which means students’ tuition would be considerably more without that help, somewhere in the range of the cost of a selective private college, or an out-of-state UMass student. Every state subsidizes its selective public colleges to some degree.

Nationally, in 1967, 47% of high school graduates moved on to college. Seventeen percent would drop out, 15.4% white, 28.6% black. Today, less than 10% drop out; 10.7%% of drop outs are Black. We are approaching equality in that regard.

That’s where UMass is now. Fifty-five-years-ago, when I was young, things were different. Facts And Figures 1967, from the then UMass Office of Institutional Studies, is a 163-page, deeply detailed report of the university as it was then, all of it in one spot. I do not think you’d find a similar study today.

In 1967, annual tuition and fees were $336; room and board, $939, for a total cost of $1,275. The university employed 729 full-time faculty for 9,439 students. Today, there are about 1,400 full-time faculty. In 1967, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts picked up 67% of the university’s operating costs (as opposed to the aforementioned 31% today).

What you bought in 1967 for $1.00 would now cost $8.87, with a cumulative rate of inflation of 787%. Over that time, tuition, fees, room and board at the University of Massachusetts have increased by a factor of more than 24. If the tuition at UMass had just grown by the rate of inflation, it would now be $11,310, not $32,168.

So, extrapolating from current demographic and UMass data to the national picture, four things have been at work over the last 55 years. First, student costs have grown at nearly three-times the rate of inflation. Second, the state has reduced its share of student costs by more than 50%, which is representative of the nation. Third, the percent of high school graduates who go on to college has grown from 47% to nearly 62%. And fourth. wages have not even remotely kept up with the cost of college. According to the Congressional Research Service, real wages (wages adjusted for inflation), grew only 8.8%, at the 50th percentile level of all earners, since 1979.

President Biden’s initiative will likely remain a political football at least until the mid-terms, probably beyond. My own conclusion is that it will help a lot of people who need it and will be unnecessary largesse, at taxpayers expense, for those many who don’t. And it does nothing to solve the real problem.

Unless and until we can control the cost of college, this crisis will continue for future generations.  College cost growth at three times the rate of inflation is unsustainable.

We need to do much more than forgive a slice of college loans. That’s like trying to save a sinking ship by tossing the first mate a rope of sand.