The Left Has A Great Story To Share About Alternatives To Capitalism—But Sucks At Telling It

C.J. Polychroniou

01-23-2024 ~ If we are to expect the frustrated and badly battered working-class people to turn their backs on the false promises of the far right and join instead the struggle for a more humane order based on socialist ideals and values, we need to take winning hearts and minds much more seriously.

For radical socialists, one of the most frustrating political experiences in the post-Cold War era is witnessing the dramatic deterioration of socio-economic conditions throughout the developed world and, at the same time, the failure of the Left narrative to convince the citizenry about the root causes of the problems at hand and that alternative socio-economic arrangements are in turn urgently needed. This is a paradox that open-minded radical socialists should not be hesitant to confront. A critical examination of the failure of the Left narrative to make inroads with the laboring classes in contemporary capitalist society is a must if the political pendulum is to swing back from conservative control.

The Left has always offered solid critiques about the state of capitalism. Armed with a class-driven perspective (“the history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles”) which has become increasingly complemented by a multi-level analysis that also brings into play the role of race, gender, culture and ethnicity, the Left narrative about the nature of the problems facing contemporary capitalist societies has no equal among politico-economic discourses. It explains economic inequality on the basis of the dynamics of a profit-driven system geared toward serving almost exclusively the interests of the dominant classes instead of treating it as an outcome of individual failures (the right-wing version of economic inequality); understands racism as a force of its own, instead of trying to sweep it under the carpet as the Right does, but also recognizes that it’s continuation in present-day society is a consequence of specific institutional arrangements and both implicit and explicit biases; and advocates a succession of policies that aim toward the attainment of the common good instead of catering to the needs and interests of a tiny coterie of corporate and financial elites as conservative policies tend to do.

The Left narrative is intellectually rigorous but also couched in deeply humanistic terms. Since the French Revolution, the Left worldview has always been one that values the common good over narrowly defined private interests, progress over tradition, democracy over authoritarian rule. As such, it favors cooperation over competition, solidarity over rugged individualism, and science over religion and superstition. It is of little surprise, therefore, that the world’s greatest intellectuals, artists and writers in the modern age — from Victor Hugo to Arturo Toscanini and from Pablo Picasso to Jean Paul Sartre — have been to the left of the political spectrum. Indeed, in a continent where ideas have always been taken very seriously, one of the great grievances among 20th century European conservatives was over the fact that so few artists and intellectuals were to be found to the right of the ideological spectrum.

Nonetheless, no matter how intellectually and morally powerful it may have been, the Left narrative about the brutal realities of the capitalist system and the alternative values that should be guiding societal development was never the dominant political paradigm. The forces of reaction have always been a formidable opponent, relying both on the ideological and repressive apparatuses of the state to block radical change initiatives. From the brutal suppression of the Paris Commune by French and Prussian troops during the “Bloody Week” (21-28 May 1871), where some 30,000 Communards were killed, to the role of the CIA in promoting anticommunism in Europe in the period immediately following the Second World War to today’s strategic co-optation of once radical groups into mainstream political forces (the German Green Party, Syriza in Greece, Podemos in Spain, to name just a few), the powers that be have almost always found ways to create barriers to radical social transformation.

The Left narrative has also been undermined by the experience of “actually existing socialism.” Socialism, as practiced in the former Soviet Union and its satellite states, was undemocratic and had little tolerance for individual liberties and freedoms. The political system in place actually sabotaged the social, cultural, and economic achievements of “actually existing socialism,” which were in fact quite extensive, and it was a key factor in people turning away from embracing socialism as an alternative socio-economic order.

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The Only Solution To “Wealth Supremacy” Is A Democratic Economy

01-22-2024 ~ Our economy must center human outcomes rather than rising share prices, says social theorist and author Marjorie Kelly.

The extraction of wealth is a pathology of late capitalism and is defined by the cultural and political processes by which the rich establish themselves as the dominant class. Social theorist and organizer Marjorie Kelly labels this phenomenon “wealth supremacy” which is also the title of her latest book. But as she points out in this exclusive interview for Truthout, wealth supremacy, which has institutionalized greed, defines a system that is not only biased but rigged against the great bulk of the population and thus detrimental to the economy, the citizens and the planet. She argues, in turn, that a movement to build a democratic economy is our only way out. Kelly is Distinguished Senior Fellow with the Democracy Collaborative. In addition to Wealth Supremacy: How the Extractive Economy and the Biased Rules of Capitalism Drive Today’s Crises (2023), she is the author of The Making of a Democratic Economy: Building Prosperity for the Many, Not Just the Few (coauthored with Ted Howard; 2019). The interview that follows has been lightly edited for clarity.

C. J. Polychroniou: One of the most pronounced developments over the past 40 years within the global economy, and particularly within developed countries, is financialization — which means finance has come to dominate our economy, our culture, the natural world, even our ostensibly democratic politics. Some say financialization represents a new phase of capitalism, while others see it as a consequence of neoliberalism. Your recent book, Wealth Supremacy, analyzes the current form of capitalism and shines a light on what you perceive as its core problem, while also offering a vision of an alternative system, a democratic economy — along with pathways to get there. Let’s start with what you mean by “wealth supremacy,” and how, in your own view, financialization came to dominate over all other forms of economic activity.

Marjorie Kelly: We can’t fix a problem that we can’t name. We point to “corporate power,” “inequality” and “greed” as the problem. But these don’t get to the root of the system’s dysfunction. I call it wealth supremacy — the bias that institutionalizes infinite extraction of wealth for the wealthy, even as it means stagnation or losses for the rest of us. Personal greed is certainly operating. But the system problem is how greed is mandated, rewarded, normalized and institutionalized in the practices and institutions of the system.

It’s mandated in how investments are managed, how corporations are governed; the aim of both is maximum income to capital. In operation, wealth supremacy takes the form of capital bias — the way only capital votes in corporations, how a rising stock market is equated with a successful economy.

Neoliberal government policies let this capital-centric machine loose. The result was financialization — the churning out of more and more financial wealth.

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Why Not Control All Drug Prices?

Sonali Kolhatkar

01-20-2024 ~ Pharmaceutical companies are resisting public scrutiny and suing over modest drug price regulations. It’s past time to regulate their profiteering.

Major pharmaceutical companies in the United States are battling with Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders over an issue that is at the heart of whether we value human wellbeing over corporate profits. As chair of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP), Sanders has vowed to force CEOs of pharmaceutical companies to publicly answer for why their drug prices are so much higher than in other nations. He plans to bring a committee vote to subpoena them. The subpoenas are necessary because—brazenly—the CEOs of Johnson & Johnson and Merck have simply refused to testify to the HELP committee. What are they afraid of?

In a defensive-sounding letter to Sanders, an attorney for Johnson & Johnson accused the Senator of using committee hearings to “punish the companies who have chosen to engage in constitutionally protected litigation.” The letter does not specify the litigation in question—perhaps because it would sound so ridiculous and would reveal the company’s real agenda. Last July, the company, along with Merck and Bristol Myers Squibb sued the Biden administration for allowing the Medicare program to regulate prescription drug prices.

It appears that Johnson & Johnson and Merck are indeed afraid of being questioned by lawmakers about drug-profiteering in the U.S.

One pharmaceutical expert, Ameet Sarpatwari of Harvard Medical School explained to the New York Times that, “The U.S. market is the bank for pharmaceutical companies… There’s a keen sense that the best place to try to extract profits is the U.S. because of its existing system and its dysfunction.” Another expert, Michelle Mello, a professor of law and health policy at Stanford university, told the Times, “Drugs are so expensive in the U.S. because we let them be.”

In other words, it’s been a free-for-all for pharmaceutical companies in the U.S. In 2003, then-President George W. Bush signed a Medicare reform bill into law, promising help for seniors struggling to pay for medications, but that law stripped the federal government of its power to negotiate drug prices for Medicare’s participants. It was a typically Republican, Orwellian move: promise help to ordinary people and deliver the exact opposite.

Nearly two decades later, the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), which Biden signed into law in 2022, tied Medicare drug prices to inflation and required companies to issue rebates if prices rose too fast. It was the first time since Bush’s 2003 law that drug manufacturers were subject to any U.S. price regulations. Pharmaceutical companies aren’t having it, and not only did they sue Biden over the IRA, they don’t seem to want to answer for their actions publicly.

It’s not enough for Medicare to be able to cut drug prices. There needs to be nationwide regulation on all drug prices for all Americans. After all, American taxpayers generously subsidize the research and development of most drugs. A report by Sanders’ staff explained that “[w]ith few exceptions, private corporations have the unilateral power to set the price of publicly funded medicines.” The report’s authors chided that “[t]he government asks for nothing in return for its investment.”

What’s more, the report rightly points out that people in other nations benefit from having access to lower-cost drugs that Americans have paid global pharmaceutical companies to develop. For example, SYMTUZA, an HIV medication that scientists at the U.S. National Institutes of Health helped to develop, is available to U.S. patients for a whopping $56,000 a year, while patients in the UK pay only $10,000 a year for the same drug purchased from the same company.

It’s not as if companies like Johnson & Johnson have some perverse preference for European patients over American ones. It’s merely that their prices are regulated by most other industrial nations. The U.S. “happens to be the only industrialized nation that doesn’t negotiate” drug prices, explained Merith Basey, Executive Director of Patients For Affordable Drugs NOW, in an interview on Rising Up With Sonali last fall.

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How The Food Industry Uses Big Tobacco’s Playbook

Gigi Kellett – Corporate Accountability International staff photos.
© 2017 Marilyn Humphries

01-19-2024 ~ The strategy used by Big Tobacco is called state or “ceiling” preemption: promoting weaker state public health laws to override stronger local laws.

In the 1960s and 1970s, Big Tobacco and public health advocates were locked in a battle. The anti-smoking supporters were gaining ground as cities were innovating ways to reduce smoking and protect public health during this time. As former tobacco industry lobbyist Victor L. Crawford observed, you’d “put out a fire [in] one place, another one would pop up somewhere else.”

But in the mid-1980s, this momentum stopped. Big Tobacco had discovered a way to reverse local gains. According to a 2020 study in the American Journal of Public Health (AJPH), the industry’s counteroffensive has led to more disturbing and enduring ramifications for public health—and our democracy—than previously understood.

The State Preemption Strategy
The strategy used by Big Tobacco is called state or “ceiling” preemption: promoting weaker state public health laws to override stronger local laws. Between 1986 and 1991, the tobacco industry rammed through seven state preemption laws.

The industry gained steam over the next five years, imposing 17 additional preemption policies on states. Laws restricting youth access to tobacco products would be reversed or never see the light of day. Laws establishing smoke-free environments were overridden. Tobacco tax increases were stalled. Restrictions on tobacco retail licensing were relaxed.

Perhaps the most concerning finding of the study published in the AJPH is that it takes an average of 11 years to repeal these laws—if they’re repealed at all. As of 2019, no preemption laws on youth access or tobacco marketing—and fewer than half of state preemption laws on smoke-free places—have been repealed.

The tobacco industry has a long-documented history of targeting people in low-income communities and communities of color with the very tactics—like children-targeted marketing—preemption laws sought to protect. Consider the costs to public health and progress—especially in Black communities and other communities of color—when scarce resources are bound up in undoing bad policies versus securing new public health protections.

Research indicates that smoking-related deaths accounted for around 15 percent of the decrease in the life expectancy gap between African-American men and white men at age 50 in 2019. Disproportionate childhood exposure to second-hand smoke and target marketing of products such as menthol are among the heightened risk factors for the Black community.

Preemption Harms Consumers—and Workers
As of 2018, Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, and the larger food and beverage industry have already seen the enactment of at least a dozen laws preempting local public health policies like soda taxes, product labeling, and restrictions on junk food marketing to kids.

This has allowed the industry to continue its racist marketing campaigns targeting Black youth and other youth of color. Understanding these tactics is key to undoing and preventing further proliferation of the industry’s preemption push.

The four tobacco industry tactics outlined below are being modeled across industries, such as the food and beverage sector, disproportionately affecting communities of color and exacerbating diet-related disease crises.

First, to give Big Tobacco’s political agenda credibility, tobacco giants like R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company have invested heavily in trade associations and front groups to do their bidding, from so-called “smokers’ rights groups” to restaurant, hotel, and gaming associations.

Unsurprisingly, a similar cast—like state affiliates of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Restaurant Association (NRA)—is again the muscle behind state preemption pushes to block new soda taxes, as well as critical policies to assure food workers’ health and well-being, such as new paid sick leave requirements and minimum wage increases.

Examples include the Texas Supreme Court quashing city efforts to guarantee municipal paid sick leave in 2020 and the Minnesota Supreme Court ruling against the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce’s contention that Minneapolis’s paid sick leave requirements were preempted by state law during the same year.

The Power Coalition for Equity and Justice, a group of social justice organizations in Louisiana, has been mobilizing to undo what a spokesperson of the coalition—in a 2020 article in Scalawag—called, “yet another tool of white supremacy” and an example of the “plantation [mentality’s]” manifestation in state politics: state preemption of local minimum wage increases.
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Climate Change And Energy Transition: The 2023 Scorecard

01-15-2024 The numbers are in, and it doesn’t look good.

The numbers are in. Last year was the hottest on record by a wide margin. The planet is now 1.48 degrees Celsius warmer than it was before the fossil fuel revolution. Global heating is accelerating. This year (2024) is likely to set another record because the latter half of last year featured an El Nino climate pattern that continues to influence global weather. The last colder-than-average year, according to NOAA, was 1976.

The United States experienced a record number of billion-dollar weather disasters in 2023. Canada’s wildfires in June resulted in an unprecedented flurry of air-quality alerts in the Northeast and Midwest of the U.S., with New York temporarily suffering the worst air quality of any city in the world. Wildfires also devastated Maui.

Elsewhere in the world, Libya, Guam, Malawi, and Peru experienced horrific floods. According to the United Nations, drought now affects a quarter of humanity. Developing countries were stuck with proportionally higher recovery costs on a per-capita basis.

The solution to climate change is to reduce and reverse the decades-long trend of annually increasing greenhouse gas concentration in the planetary atmosphere. So, let’s see what the numbers tell us on that score. The carbon dioxide (CO2) level in Earth’s atmosphere is now over 420 parts per million, up from 315 ppm in 1958 when the first direct measurements commenced. The atmospheric CO2 concentration has been increasing at over 2 ppm per year for the past several years.

This added CO2 in the atmosphere comes from human activities that release carbon dioxide (and other greenhouse gases) into the air. U.S. carbon emissions were down 3 percent in 2023 due mainly to an ongoing national switch from burning coal to burning natural gas for generating electricity. But worldwide carbon emissions were up 1.1 percent compared to 2022. Since climate change is a global problem, it is the global statistic that matters.

Most emissions are energy-related, so phasing out fossil fuels in favor of low-carbon energy alternatives is critical. While it’s too early to report final data for renewable energy additions in 2023, last June, the International Energy Agency (IEA) forecasted that global renewable energy generation capacity would increase by a record 440 GW for the year (total world renewable energy generation capacity, including hydropower, stands at about 4,500 GW).

However, confusion sometimes results from failure to distinguish production capacity from actual generation since solar and wind installations typically generate only 20 to 50 percent of their theoretical capacity due to variations in sunlight and wind.

So, let’s look at the actual generation numbers. Of the roughly 30,000 terawatt hours of electricity generated globally in 2022, 8,500 terawatt hours (29 percent) came from renewables—over half of that from hydropower.

We must be careful to distinguish between “electricity” and “energy”—another frequent source of confusion. Electricity’s share of all end-use energy usage remains stable at about 20 percent. After accounting for conversion factors, renewables (including solar, wind, hydro, geothermal, biofuels, and traditional biomass—i.e., burning wood for cooking and heating) provide about 16 percent of total world primary energy.

Nuclear energy also entails relatively low levels of carbon emissions, but its share of world energy fell to a multi-decade low in 2023, and nuclear projects are notoriously slow and expensive to bring online.

To reach net zero emissions by 2050 (which the IPCC considers necessary to cap warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius) by providing 100 percent of total global energy from renewables, we would need a nearly ten-fold increase in renewable energy production, even assuming zero growth in overall global energy demand during that time.

Annual additions of solar and wind capacity would have to increase by well over an order of magnitude (10x) compared to the current record rate. Electrification of transport, manufacturing, agriculture, and other sectors would also need to accelerate dramatically.

In its Net-Zero Roadmap report published in September 2023, the International Energy Agency (IEA) recognized the extreme difficulty of achieving these increases in renewable energy and suggested instead that 19 percent of final energy will still come from fossil fuels in 2050 and that final-energy consumption will be reduced by 26 percent.

To remove the resultant emissions, the IEA estimated that one billion metric tons per year of carbon dioxide would need to be captured by 2030, rising to 6 billion tonnes by 2050. Mechanized technologies for carbon capture and storage (CCS) and direct air capture (DAC) that would be required to do this have been criticized as being too expensive, too energy intensive, and underperforming in terms of their goal.

Currently, about 2 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide is captured annually, nearly all by forests; only 49 million metric tons are being removed from the atmosphere by carbon removal technology projects across the world. About 80 percent of that captured carbon is used for “enhanced oil recovery.”

Meanwhile, over 37 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide are being released by human activities, primarily from the burning of fossil fuels.

We can conclude from these scorecard numbers that, as of the start of 2024, humanity is not on track to avoid catastrophic climate change. The likelihood of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (the goal stated in the Paris Accords of 2015) is now extremely remote. Indeed, that threshold may be exceeded within just the next few years.

If world leaders genuinely hope to change these trends, dramatic action that entails reevaluating current priorities will be required. Not just fossil fuel subsidies but also continued growth in global energy-tied economic activity must be questioned. Otherwise, we may be destined to fulfill the old adage: “If you do not change direction, you will end up where you are heading.”

By Richard Heinberg and J. David Hughes

Author Bios:

Richard Heinberg is a senior fellow at the Post Carbon Institute and the author of Power: Limits and Prospects for Human Survival. He is the co-author, with David Fridley, of Our Renewable Future, and is a contributor to the Observatory.

J. David Hughes is an earth scientist who has studied Canada’s energy resources for four decades, including 32 years with the Geological Survey of Canada as a scientist and research manager.

Source: Independent Media Institute

Credit Line: This article was produced by Earth | Food | Life, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

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Dark Money Vouchers Are Having A Moment

Josh Cowen – Photo: Michigan State University

The decades-long push to divert tax dollars toward religious education reached new heights last year. As proclaimed by EdChoice—the advocacy group devoted to school vouchers—2023 was the year these schemes reached “escape velocity.” In strictly legislative terms, seven states passed new voucher systems, and ten more expanded existing versions. Ten states now run eleven universal voucher programs, all of which have no meaningful income or other restrictions.

But these numbers change quickly. As late as the last week of November, the Republican governor of Tennessee announced plans to create just such a universal voucher system.

To wit: successful new voucher and related legislation has come almost exclusively in states won by Donald Trump in 2020. And even that Right-ward bent required substantial investment—notably by heiress and former U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and the Koch network—in state legislative campaigns to oust voucher opponents. Instructively, many of those opponents were often GOP legislators representing rural districts with few private schools to benefit.

As a scholar who has studied voucher systems—including through research funded by conservative organizations—I have been watching these developments with growing concern. It can all be difficult to make sense of, so let’s walk through it.

Vouchers Hurt Kids, Defund Public Schools and Prop-Up Church Budgets
First, why are these new voucher schemes such bad public policy? To understand the answer, it’s important to know that the typical voucher-accepting school is a far cry from the kind of elite private academy you might find in a coastal city or wealthy suburban outpost. Instead, they’re usually sub-prime providers, akin to predatory lenders in the mortgage sector. These schools are either pop-ups opening to cash in on the new taxpayer subsidy, or financially distressed existing schools desperate for a bailout to stay open. Both types of financially insecure schools often close anyway, creating turnover for children who were once enrolled.

And the voucher results reflect that educational vulnerability: in terms of academic impacts, vouchers have some of the worst results in the history of education research—on par or worse than what COVID-19 did to test scores.

Those results are bad enough, but the real issue today is that they come at a cost of funding traditional public schools. As voucher systems expand, they cannibalize states’ ability to pay for their public education commitments. Arizona, which passed universal vouchers in 2022, is nearing a genuine budget crisis as a result of voucher over-spending. Six of the last seven states to pass vouchers have had to slow spending on public schools relative to investments made by non-voucher states.

That’s because most new voucher users were never in the public schools—they are new financial obligations for states. The vast majority of new voucher beneficiaries have been students who were already in private schoolbeforehand. And for many rural students who live far from the nearest private school, vouchers are unrealistic in the first place, meaning that when states cut spending on public education, they weaken the only educational lifeline available to poorer and more remote communities in some places. That’s why even many GOP legislators representing rural districts—conservative in every other way—continue to fight against vouchers.

Vouchers do, however, benefit churches and church schools. Right-wing advocacy groups have been busy mobilizing Catholic school and other religious school parents to save their schools with new voucher funding. In new voucher states, conservatives are openly advocating for churches to startup taxpayer-funded schools. That’s why vouchers eventually become a key source of revenue for those churches, often replacing the need to rely on private donations. It’s also why many existing religious schools raise tuitionalmost immediately after vouchers pass.

The Right-Wing War on Public Schools
Victories for these voucher bills is nothing short of an ascendent Right-wing war on public education. And the link to religious nationalism energizes much of that attack.

Voucher bills have dovetailed almost perfectly with new victories for other priorities of the Religious Right. Alongside vouchers, anti-LGBTQ+ legislation has also increased: 508 new bills in 2023 alone, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. As has a jump in legislation restricting book access in schools and libraries, with more than half of those bans targeting books on topics related to race and racism, or containing at least one LGBTQ+ character.

It is also important to note the longstanding antipathy that Betsy DeVos, the Koch Network, and other long-term voucher backers have toward organized labor—including and especially in this case, teachers’ unions. And that in two states that passed vouchers this year—Iowa and Arkansas—the governors also signed new rollbacks to child labor protections at almost the exact same time as well.

To close the 2022 judicial session, the Supreme Court issued its latest expansion of voucher jurisprudence in Carson v. Makin, holding that states with private school voucher programs may not exclude religious providers from applying tax dollars specifically to religious education. That ruling came just 72 hours before the Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson removed reproductive rights from federal constitutional protections.

To hear backers of vouchers, book bans, and policies targeting transgender students in school bathrooms tell it, such efforts represent a new movement toward so-called “parents’ rights” or “education freedom,” as Betsy DeVos describes in her 2022 memoir. But in truth this latest push was a long time coming. DeVos is only one part of the vast network of Right-wing donors, activists, and organizations devoted to conservative political activism.

That network, called the Council for National Policy, includes representatives from the Heritage Foundation, the influential Right-wing policy outfit; multiple organizations funded by Charles Koch; the Leadership Institute, which trains young conservative activists; and a number of state policy advocacy groups funded by a conservative philanthropy called the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation.

It was the Bradley Foundation that seeded much of the legal work in the 1990s defending early voucher programs in state and federal courts. Bradley helped to fund the Institute for Justice, a legal group co-founded by a former Clarence Thomas staffer named Clint Bolick after a personal donation from Charles Koch. The lead trial attorney for that work was none other than Kenneth Starr, who was at the time also in the middle of his infamous pursuit of President Bill Clinton.

In late 2023, the Institute for Justice and the voucher-group EdChoice announced a new formal venture, but that partnership is just a spin on an older collaboration, with the Bradley Foundation as the tie that binds. EdChoice itself, when it was called the Milton and Rose D. Friedman Foundation, helped fund the data analysis cited by Institute lawyers at no less than the Supreme Court ahead of its first decision approving vouchers in Zelman v. Simmons-Harris (2002).

From these vantage points, 2023 was a long time coming indeed.

And heading into 2024, the voucher push and its companion “parents’ rights” bills on schoolbooks and school bathrooms show no sign of weakening.

Prior to his political career, the new Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, Mike Johnson, was an attorney with the Alliance Defending Freedom. That group, which itself has deep ties to Betsy DeVos’s family, has led the legal charge to rollback LBGTQ+ equality initiatives. It was also involved “from the beginning,” as its website crows, in the anti-abortion effort that culminated with Dobbs.

The Heritage Foundation has created a platform called Project 2025, which serves as something of a clearinghouse for what would be the legal framework and policy agenda for a second Trump Administration. Among the advisors and funders of Project 2025 are several organizations linked to Charles Koch, Betsy DeVos, and others with ties to the Council for National Policy. The Project’s education agenda includes dismantling the U.S. Department of Education—especially its oversight authority on anti-discrimination issues—and jumpstarting federal support for voucher programs.

A dark money group called The Concord Fund has launched an entity called Free to Learn, ostensibly organized around opposition to the teaching of critical race theory in public schools. In reality, these are active players in Republican campaign attacks around a variety of education-related culture war issues. The Concord Fund is closely tied to Leonard Leo, the Federalist Society chief, Council of National Policy member, and architect of the Roe takedown. Through the Leo connection, the Concord Fund was also instrumental in confirming Donald Trump’s judicial nominations from Brett Kavanaugh on downward.

And so while the 2023 “parents’ rights” success has been largely a feature of red state legislatures, the 2022 Carson ruling and the nexus between Leonard Leo, the Alliance Defending Freedom, and the Institute for Justice itself underscore the importance of the federal judiciary to Right-wing education activism.

Long-term, the goal insofar as school privatization is concerned appears to be nothing short of a Supreme Court ruling that tax-subsidized school vouchers and homeschool options are mandatory in every state that uses public funding (as all do) to support education. The logic would be, as Betsy DeVos herself previewed before leaving office, that public spending on public schools without a religious option is a violation of Free Exercise protections.

Such a ruling, in other words, would complete the destruction of a wall between church and state when it comes to voucher jurisprudence. Earlier Court decisions have found that states may spend tax dollars on school vouchers but, as the Right’s ultimate goal, the Supreme Court would determine that states must.

Closer on the horizon, we can expect to see each of these Right-wing groups acting with new energy as the 2024 campaign season heats up. The president of the Heritage Foundation—himself yet another member of the Council for National Policy—has recently taken over the think tank’s political arm, called Heritage Action. At the start of the year, investigative reporting linked Heritage Action to earlier voter suppression initiatives, signaling potential tactics ahead.

And the money is going to flow—they have all said as much. After Heritage’s merger of its policy and political arms, Betsy DeVos’s American Federation for Children followed suit by creating the AFC Victory Fund—a new group to spearhead its own campaign activity.

Their plan includes a $10 million base commitment to ramp up heading into 2024. “Coming off our best election cycle ever,” AFC’s announcement declared, “the tectonic plates have shifted decisively in favor of educational freedom, and we’re just getting started.” And, they warned:

“If you’re a candidate or lawmaker who opposes school choice and freedom in education – you’re a target.”

In that threat lies the reality of the latest voucher push, and of this moment of so-called parents’ rights. None of this is a grassroots uprising. “Education freedom” is a top-down, big-money operation, tied to every other political priority of religious nationalism today.

But coming at the end of this past year’s legislative successes, AFC’s warnings are also a very clear statement of what is yet to come. The push to privatize American education is only just getting started.

By Josh Cowen

Author Bio and Credit Line:

Josh Cowen is a professor of education policy at Michigan State University. He has been studying vouchers and other school choice initiatives since 2005.

This article is produced by the Washington Spectator, distributed in partnership with Our Schools.

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