Tuesday, June 17, 2014

The Seattle Times—the “advocate” of hot air

“Science, tech focus pays off in soaring graduation rates” cries the headline above the cut-line of the past Sunday’s Seattle Times; the only other item occupying the space of note is a photograph which the editors chose for the readers to make the “connection” between one and the other: White high school girls, no surprise there. It seems however, that the Times misplayed its gender politics again, since the high school in question is in Yakima, and has a large Latino student enrollment, almost all from low-income households. The photographer and the Times apparently didn’t realize that what they were doing was exhibiting one thing that was wrong with the school; far from one happy family, there was apparently a racially defined “clique,” separated both socially and economically. This is news? Only to the Times.

That wasn’t the only mendacity the Times has displayed in recent times, of course. Only the other day it “debunked” the myths that some people have about the cost of higher education and its weight upon students. OK, so what does the paper suggest we do about it? Well, that’s not so clear. On a bus I ride to work, the Times posted an advertisement. It featured some blonde-haired kid facing an open door (thanks for the “social” commentary). This image was accompanied by the announcement “First Time”—apparently in reference to reading the newspaper for the “first time”—accompanied by the statement that the Times was, among other things, an “education advocate.” Like, who isn’t? The problem is that there is a difference between being an “advocate” of education and supporting education. Without the latter, the former is simply empty words.

You see, if an editorial board actively opposes efforts to raise revenues to meet shortfalls in education, how can it say it “supports” education? The Times has repeatedly advocated against any kind of funding increase that isn’t short term.  For example, it opposed the relatively minuscule income tax proposed by the father of Microsoft billionaire Bill Gates, which would still be far short by percentage of income of what the lowest income people pay to the state. What reason does the Times give for supporting a regressive state tax system? It is a tax on “becoming” wealthy, not on the already “wealthy,” it absurdly opines. Furthermore, the newspaper claimed that the tax would prevent small business owners from “growing” their business, and hiring new people. 

But the bill of goods that the Times was foisting on voters was astonishing in its hypocritical audacity. We were not talking about gross income but personal income; during the Great Depression, the top marginal tax rate was 90 percent (it is 35 percent now). Why was it so high? Because the rich business owners who were supposed to be creating jobs were hoarding their profits for personal wealth building instead. The high marginal tax rates forced business owners to actually use their profits to grow their business and hire the mass of unemployed instead of putting it in their own pockets, as they do today. Is greed an American value? Obviously the Times thinks it is. Obviously, hiring more people would in turn would add to the tax revenue base, but that would make too much sense. 

The Times most recently opposed a car tab increase to cover massive shortfalls in public transportation. This time, it claimed that the increase would hurt low-income people, at least more than on the wealthy. Absurdly, the Times suggested that Metro should raise bus fare as an “option”; the Times, in claiming that “most” low-income people drive to work (how does it know this?), ignored the fact that most people who ride the bus are low-income people who cannot afford cars—and likely can barely afford the current rates along with the longer travel times. These are “hard times” economically, declared the editorial board.

But the car tab increase was actually insubstantial in comparison to other costs of life; although there would be a short-term “hit,” it was no more significant than two tanks of gasoline—the kind of “inconvenience” one expects from having a car. But the Times “no” campaign on additional funding had far more dramatic impact on bus service. About one-third of all bus routes (mostly the commuter routes) will be phased out over time if no alternative funding is found. The effect of this will no doubt persuade the better off commuters to take their cars instead, and make the lives of low-income people worse than before.

What about education funding, which per capita cost is among the lowest in the country? Article IX of the state constitution mandates that it is the state legislature’s responsibility to see to it that “ample provision” is made to fund public education. It has been doing a terrible job of it for a long time, most recently thanks largely to Republican and the Times opposition to revenue increases. As far back as 1976 education funding was in such disarray after Seattle voters had voted against a school levy (no doubt with the “help” of the Times), that the city file a lawsuit against the state legislature for its failure to uphold the constitutionally-mandate “ample provision.” Over the next 12 years the Judge John Doran decisions would attempt to force the state to meet its obligations on education funding.

Things obviously have not changed. The main reason for this is that the state does not fund school expenses per say, but merely distributes what money it sets aside in an allegedly “equitable” fashion. Any additional money school districts need is gained through levies and other local initiatives. The problem is that additional school funding on the local level can only be approved through a “super majority” vote, meaning that if there is a 59 percent “yes” vote, it is still not “approved.” Why there is this requirement is unknown by any logic; I once heard a older man ask why should he vote for a school levy being proposed—he didn’t have any kids in school. The hypocrisy of this kind of opposition is apparent when one considers the fact that all of the “no” voters were also kids in school, and probably had kids who were in school.

In 2000 voters in the state did approve initiatives for the construction of additional infrastructure to reduce class sizes, as well as provide regular cost-of-living increases for teachers. But the legislature suspended the cost-of-living increases in 2003, and whatever the “improvement” on classroom size there was, it had no effect on school operating budgets. So the Washington State Supreme Court recently commanded the state legislature to fulfill its obligations to properly fund public education. The funding shortfalls have been variously pinned at 3 to 7 billion dollars. This past legislative session failed miserably to put a dent in the shortfall. It claims it cannot reach “consensus” on the issue, and will “explore” its options in the next session. 

What does the Times have to say about this? What do you expect it to say? Remember when it said—in opposing the car tab increase—that these are “hard times”? In opposing any additional judicial pressure, it claims that there is all of sudden “rebounding tax revenue” available for education. How much is a question mark, of course, although certainly in the neighborhood of the tax breaks that Boeing receives to continue to shave jobs in the state. The Times claims that any shortfall is due to money going to “special interests.” Who are these “special interests?” Public employee unions—that is teachers—that would “prefer to see a tax increase.” 

One may ask, so where are the cuts supposed to come from? The Times supports massive tax breaks for businesses in the state, so it can’t be there. So it has to come from things like social services, health care and transportation funding. I mean, come on Times, take your meat cleaver and tell us exactly what you would cut without adding additional revenue—and while you’re at it, don’t tell us how much you “care” about low-income people, and how you are the “education advocate.” What a farce.

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