COLUMNIST

The Billionaires Behind School Privatization

BY JIM HIGHTOWER

If you're trying to enact an extremist right-wing policy, but the public keeps rejecting it, what do you do?

You could try blatant deception, giving the same old policy a new coat of paint, a euphemistic name and a multimillion-dollar political shove. That's the dark path now being taken by the clique of plutocrats and theocrats who're determined to privatize America's public schools.

Take Texas Gov. Greg Abbott -- please! Joking aside, he's been pushing to make taxpayers fund private schools. But his own right-wing legislature has consistently rejected his power play. After all, even red-state Republicans don't want for-profit chains and religious zealots grabbing tax dollars to indoctrinate school children.

So this year, Abbott & Company rebranded their scheme as "school choice" and "parental empowerment." Who could be against that? The People, it turns out. While some families might want exclusive private schools, their claim that they have no choice is a fraud. As one GOP legislator put it, his rural county has "private schools, a parochial school, a charter school, and a large home school community. That is choice," he rightly notes.

Who are the privatizers? National billionaires like the Koch brothers -- and in Texas, we have Tim Dunn and Farris Wilks, two messianic oil billionaires from West Texas who double as proselytizers of a toxic theology of Christian nationalism. They are the Money Gods of school privatization -- indeed, the governor, more than half of Texas House members, and every Republican state senator is financially hooked on their oil money.

No matter what slogan the privatizers masquerade behind, their goal is simply to defund public schools and divert our education dollars from the common good to their corporate and theological academies. Ask yourself: What would Jesus do?

HOW THINGS WORK: CONGRESS' REVOLVING DOOR

Hear it? What's that sound? "Whoop-whoop-whoop." Ooooh, it's Washington's revolving door, allowing corporate interests to come directly inside Congress to pervert public policy.

That door is now spinning fast, because there's a new boss operator in Congress. He's Rep. Mike Johnson, who was recently unanimously chosen by Republicans to be their speaker of the House. He's a corporate wet dream -- an affable ultraconservative from Shreveport, Louisiana, who consistently backs the plutocratic agenda of Big Business over workers, the poor, consumers and most other Americans. Moreover, Johnson maintains it was God (!) who elevated him to his new position of authority, and that the Bible will guide his policy views.

Well, selected parts of the Bible -- don't expect much mercy, justice and peacemaking from this hardcore laissez-faire ideologue. For example, guess who he's chosen to be his director of policy? Big Pharma's top Washington lobbyist! Dan Ziegler has been the chief influence peddler for a dozen multibillion-dollar drug giants, including Eli Lilly, Merck and Pfizer. Ziegler has furiously opposed every legislative effort to stop the rampant price gouging by profiteering drug makers -- even though 90% of Americans are clamoring for Congress to clamp down on their rip-offs. But we 90-percenters don't control the revolving door... Mike does.

Johnson piously cloaks himself in both the Christian gospel and libertarian myth of "free markets," yet he has consistently pushed government action to restrict competition and protect drug monopolies. Now, in his first substantive action as speaker, he is literally bringing Big Pharma inside to sit beside him in the seat of legislative power.

Drug pricing reform will soon come up for a vote in Congress. Before Mike's lobbyist buddy tells him what to do, let's demand that he reread the Sermon on the Mount.

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