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Stoonts…..First? Don’t Make Me Laugh!

You have to love Al Capp. He was one of the most outspoken social critics of the mid twentieth century; he made no bones about it, and he did it through his art-the comics. He was the creator of Li’l Abner, the proverbial fish out of water and his comic strip viewed the world through the lens of Dogpatch, Kentucky USA. He poked fun at everyone including other cartoonists with his parodies of Little Orphan Annie, Mary Worth and especially Dick Tracy. His Fearless Fosdick character ran intermittently  for over thirty years and other than the Shmoo, he was the most popular character excluding the Yokum family and the residents of Dogpatch. He also parodied real people such as Charles E. Wilson. Wilson was President of General Motors who became President Eisenhower’s Secretary of Defense. Wilson made the famous statement “What was good for the country was good for General Motors and vice versa.” Capp parodied him as General Bullmoose (“What’s good for me is good for everybody.”) and he eventually became the symbol for corporate greed and the Military Industrial Complex. During the late 60’s he turned to the protest movement and created “Joanie Phonie”, a send up of singer Joan Baez, however he denied it was specifically Ms. Baez. He also commented on the student uprisings in 1968 and created the organization that encompassed SDS, SNCC and all of the others called SWINE (Students Wildly Indignant about Nearly Everything). When SWINE took over the college campus, the MOB came to take over the school’s administration and addressed them in the mob vernacular as “stoonts.”  The only reason the mob got involved is because it was profitable. The mob did not and does not invest in losing propositions. And that’s where this story begins. Indulge me, dear reader, but you need to have some context about where we are and where we’re going. The mob referred to were the gangsters of the era. The new mob that has taken over is a combination of the Banksters, hedge fund managers and foundations who generously fund education reform for profit. If it weren’t profitable they wouldn’t be in it. These people don’t give money away-they demand their pound of flesh or its monetary equivalent in return.

With that in mind let’s look at the mob’s latest scheme, carefully coded and messaged into the words “choice, failing schools, great teachers, leadership and innovation.” It’s the same old story that’s been going on for years since Brown vs Board of Education spurred the voucher and privatization movement under the aegis of Milton and Rose Friedman ( yes, that Milton Friedman) whose ideas couldn’t gain any kind of foothold until the billionaires started up their think tanks in the late sixties and early seventies. The Reagan presidency gave those ideas potency, if not credibility and they’ve gone full steam ever since. Florida is ripe territory, especially because of former governor Jeb Bush who is part of the whole education reform process, and whose ghost still keeps this state in his grasp.

They tried it two years ago and it didn’t work out all that well. The Koch Brothers’ funded Americans For Prosperity sent Dick Morris and Ralph Reed among others to talk about school choice. Orlando was one of their stops and they met a tone of resistance from the community and protesters. Their coded message was simple-minorities don’t count. Get your kids into a more segregated atmosphere that you control. This time they changed the game plan and targeted the black audience through the Urban League. The message was absolutely the same-get your kids into a more segregated atmosphere that you control. So, under the sponsorship of the Urban League of Florida the “We Care” Traveling Circus was initiated to travel around the state in high minority urban areas disseminating their well-rehearsed and carefully coded propaganda.

They invaded Orlando on September 5 and settled into the Hope Church in the heart of the black community and were greeted by an audience of less than 50 people, many of whom were staff members who had to be there. Publicity was nil and no one would have known it save for a few activists who got wind of it and sent it out via social media. Allie Braswell, president of the Central Florida Urban League hosted the event and declared that his organization held no particular position on the matter, which is suspect for a couple of reasons. First, there was no differing point of view on the panel. No one on the panel stood up to extol the virtues of public schools. Secondly, these type of organizations depend on funding from many sources, including the Gates and Walton foundations and astroturf groups like Students First, whose Florida Executive Director, Troy Bell, was part of the panel. It’s very likely that the Urban League receives funding from one or more of these sources. You can find out by asking to examine their books, which they can’t refuse to do. Braswell is in a tough position because he is basically a good man and I like him. He recently filed to run for the office of Florida CFO but had to withdraw for reasons I’ll not go into because I completely disagree with them. He should have stayed in the race. It’s also possible that he had no control over this because it was mandated at the state level. Let’s give him a pass because he is definitely committed to better education, and he has to do his job. The rest of this cast of characters is a different story.

“It is better to look good than to feel good”- Fernando Lamas as portrayed by Billy Crystal


That sums up in a nutshell what’s going on. The people they are trying to reach don’t pay a lot of attention to politics and many of them are not registered voters. Lots of them don’t have computers or cable so their news intake is limited. They are prime victims for smooth talking con artists who sound like they know what they’re talking about. Make no mistake about it; this was a con of the first degree. Moderator Monica May kept on cheerleading the remarks as they spoke. Here’s how the con works:

  1. The Setup. USF Professor Dr. Bruce Jones talks about the disparity in the public schools and percentages of children who are failing. He’s got great credentials but I get the feeling that the statistics don’t tell the whole story. Only what he wants them to tell.
  2. The Bait. Dr. Ella Thompson of the Florida Dept of Education was supposed to address the Common Core, but all she did was to spout the state line. She knew nothing about budgets and couldn’t talk on any subject except her narrow focus. Interestingly enough, she came to the department at the same time that Rick Scott hired disgraced education boss Tony Bennett. She’s still pretty new at the game, but she reminds me of Rod Paige who never directly answered a question and kept referring everyone to No Child Left Behind without ever bothering to explain it.
  3. The Justification. Isha Haley of Black Floridians Care spoke about starting a whole slew of neighborhood schools with great teachers and fabulous leadership, without ever addressing the pitfalls of no money to start, staff and maintain them. She blamed Brown vs Board of Education for the miseries the kids are suffering today. So, in effect she’s advocating to restore segregation as our society is becoming (albeit slowly) more homogenous. But Boy! She sounded great!
  4. The Hook. As he introduced himself Troy Davis, Executive Director for Florida Students First never mentioned his boss Michelle Rhee, founder of the organization by name. Why? Don’t you think that he would be proud to serve under her? In that audience more than half the people probably never heard of her and have no idea of her cheating scandals and manipulated test scores in Washington D.C. The rest of his speech was all about him and his accomplishments. I’d like to know what connections he has to Tony Bennett since he spent a bunch of time in Indiana. Again, the rhetoric about no excuses and failure is not an option. No charter school child fails because they’re thrown out and the schools don’t give the taxpayers their money back.
  5. The Net. Glen Gilzean, of Step Up For Students cemented the hook and netted the fish by being a little more humble and a lot less arrogant than Davis. The result was the same.

During the Q & A period the questions were rather mundane. There was one charter school Nap Ford that boasted of gains due to tremendous leadership yet no other charters were present to tell their stories. There was one dissenting voice, however. Kathy Hettinger, a Democratic activist took the entire panel to task for their hypocrisy. Hettinger spoke rapid fire and was sometimes hard to understand because as passionate as she is she’s not a good public speaker and many times she opens her mouth before her brain is fully engaged. So, what’s the verdict? Watch the videos and decide for yourselves. My only complaint about the entire evening was that by the time I got home I had missed the first 10 minutes of Vertigo and Bernard Hermann’s fabulous overture. Oh, one other question-what would Al Capp think of this fiasco?

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Jerry Waxman

Jerry Waxman