Friday, March 7, 2014

Super Wealth


Jake Gittes: How much are you worth?
Noah Cross: I have no idea. How much do you want?
Jake Gittes: I just wanna know what you're worth. More than 10 million?
Noah Cross: Oh my, yes!
Jake Gittes: Why are you doing it? How much better can you eat? What could you buy that you can't already afford?
Noah Cross: The future, Mr. Gittes!

-      Chinatown
The greatest disappointment of childhood is the moment you realize that Santa Claus doesn’t exist.  

The second greatest disappointment is when you realize that getting doused in toxic waste or bitten by a radioactive spider will not give you superpowers.   You learn that men are not faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, or able to leap tall buildings with a single bound.  Superpowers, you are told, do not exist.

You are wrong.  

There is one superpower.  Wealth.

Some are born with it.  Others, like Tony Montana and El Chapo, will do anything to gain it.  Most dream of it, some pray for it, hardly anyone will ever come near it.  A few, like the Sultan of Brunei, who on his 50th birthday paid seventeen million to fly in Michael Jackson to sing a private performance, are wealthy at birth.  Those born with wealth are typically hedonists; pleasure seeking, self-gratifying, indulgent gastropods that scratch every whim while they indulge every desire, but don’t have a clue about the power they wield or how the world functions.

Other people do everything for them.

Then there are the self-made. The true super-powered individuals are not those born with it, but those that built their fortunes brick by brutal brick, cementing their empires via a heartless combination of Sammy Glick ambition and Scarlet O’Hara ruthlessness, avarice and greed a gravitational pit that vacuums in a dangerous fortune.  The Koch Brothers, George Soros, Sheldon Andelson, these are the true super-wealthy - cold men who worship the Green God, a deity who cares not about righteousness or morality, learnedness or wisdom – only one word: MORE.

Yeah, that’s right, MORE.

Note that Lebron James is not one of them.  He will never be one of them. He’s just a high paid employee.

Nor will Oprah Winfrey.  Sure, she’s got money.  Lots of it – but that’s not the same as wealth.  Oprah is at best a diva whose influence waned the moment she stopped being present on TV.

Then there’s the Donald.  Donald Trump, billionaire, proud owner of the 110,000 sq foot Mar-A-Lago manor, President of Trump Plaza, arguably the world’s largest self-aggrandizer and shameless self-promoter.  For decades, Trump has desperately tried to convince the world he’s one of the super-wealthy, but it’s a futile exercise, doomed to failure because the super-wealthy don’t brag. Unlike Trump, they don’t have to exclaim how great they are or create catch phrases exclaiming, “You’re fired!” Their money talks for them.  Trump hasn’t learned that the super-wealthy don’t have to make it rain in a club because they own the club, and if they want, any of the people in it.

The super-wealthy aren’t the loudest kid on the playground, they are the playground. If the Democrats and the Republicans were playing each other in the Superbowl, the super-wealthy wouldn’t be on either side, they’d be the stadium.  Their influence is both intangible and ubiquitous, an abrupt investment by any one of them in real estate can cause housing prices to soar or a decision to dump their stock can crash a company.  From the products you consume to the information you see, one modern autocrat has more power to change your life then the president.

Think about it. Which has had more impact on your day-to-day life?  Obamacare, or the smart phone?  George Bush, or Fox News?  Sorry Al Gore, you didn’t invent the Internet. 

It was the wealthy. 

The top 85 wealthiest people in the world have more wealth then the bottom 3.5 billion.

That’s approximately 41 million wretches per one super-wealthy individual, in terms of purchasing power one super-wealthy individual is equal to a half-dozen 3rd world nations.  The lower 3.5 billion have no pull economically or militarily and short of an epic disaster (tsumani’s, earthquakes, and typhoons) aren’t worth any attention in the media.  Some liberals, like Michael Moore and Noam Chomskey, cluck their tongues and whine about the economic inequality, but in America, they’re talking to a wall.

In America, we want super-powers.

Taking away the money from the super-wealthy by divvying up their wealth and giving it to the very poor wouldn’t change anything.  All you’d guarantee is that everyone would be poor.  Zero times zero is still zero.  When socialists tell people they have to share, they’re really telling them that they can’t be John Galt, Lex Luthor, or Batman.

I love Batman.
Bill Gates could be Batman.

Well, maybe not the physical part, but Microsoft has got to be the equal of Wayne Enterprises. Truthfully, Bill Gates has had a lot more success than Batman.  Batman has been policing Gotham for over fifty years, and he still hasn’t permanently dealt with the Joker, the Riddler, The Penguin, or the Rogue’s gallery of villains that continuously crop up.  Batman’s got a mean right hook, but he hasn’t figured out how to fix Gotham.

Bill Gates gave the world windows.  Microsoft put a personal computer in every home.  Microsoft changed the way we filter media, shop for goods, search for information, meet people to date, connect to loved ones, consume porn, and even formulate new conspiracies.  (Could the tea party exist without the Internet?)  Microsoft enables white-collar workers to waste more time then ever before, grants the NSA the power to spy on us while simultaneously granting whistle blowers the power to disseminate inconvenient truths that embarrass the government.  Bill Gates instigated a technological revolution.

All Batman ever did is punch out the Joker.

You’d think after earning $101 billion, being made an honorary knight of the British Empire, the Order of the Aztec Eagle and awarded the Silver Buffalo medal (the highest award the boy scouts can give an adult) Gates would stop.  But Gates doesn’t just want the now - Bill Gates wants the future. He doesn’t just want to change the way people interact with technology; he wants to change how people think.

About seven years ago he initiated the small school movement, believing that smaller schools would help struggling children.  Gates believed that children were getting lost in giant, monolithic school systems, and the best way for them to begin to achieve was to put them in a smaller school setting.   Gates had no evidence that this was true, only his intuition, his personal belief system, and his gut.  He was half right, smaller class sizes do improve student performance, but smaller schools are irrelevant.  Smaller class sizes, unfortunately, require hiring new teachers.  Creating small schools by dividing up big ones is much more cost effective.

Donating billions, Gates managed to break up schools around the country, splitting up campuses, chopping up large campuses into smaller ones, each with its own principle, time schedule, grading system, and discipline policy.

At one LA school they decided to break up a three-story building into three separate schools, each school on a different floor.  Kids now roamed the hallways at will, claiming to be from a different school thanks to the conflicting bell schedules which confused everyone.  After the first year it was so hopeless most of the staff quit.   Another failing LAUSD school was broken into two separate campuses, one for the college bound, the other for the kids going nowhere, creating a permanent rivalry and mini-war zone within the school itself.  At South East, where I teach, the school was transitioned from academies into small schools, which enabled LAUSD to rift teachers based upon their seniority in the small school, not the overall campus.  In an instant, dozens of veteran teachers were displaced, a decision based not on scientific validity or public opinion, but solely on Gates’ intuition. 

Seven years later, test scores remain low, and small schools show no improvement.  Gates however, is Superman.  Bureaucratic kryptonite isn’t about to stop him.

His second foray into education was an attempt not to change the schools, but the rules the schools follow.  Hiring a private foundation to create new national standards, Gates invented the Common Core curriculum. By law the U.S. Department of Education is legally prohibited from exercising any influence or control over curriculum or instruction in the schools, but a private foundation, well that’s a different story.  Diane Ravitch, national education historian, summed it up best:

“So The Gates Foundation stepped in and assumed that responsibility. It gave millions to the National Governors Association, to the Council of Chief School Officers, to Achieve and to Student Achievement Partners. Once the standards were written, Gates gave millions more to almost every think tank and education advocacy group in Washington to evaluate the standards—even to some that had no experience evaluating standards—and to promote and help to implement the standards. Even the two major teachers’ unions accepted millions of dollars to help advance the Common Core standards. Altogether, the Gates Foundation has expended nearly $200 million to pay for the development, evaluation, implementation, and promotion of the Common Core standards. And the money tap is still open, with millions more awarded this past fall to promote the Common Core standards.
Some states—like Kentucky–adopted the Common Core standards sight unseen. Some—like Texas—refused to adopt them sight unseen. Some—like Massachusetts—adopted them even though their own standards were demonstrably better and had been proven over time."                                                                                                       

Never mind the fact that the last time we imposed national standards with No Child Left Behind, they were an unmitigated disaster.  Students performed terribly, teachers were demoralized, schools were denied funds for factors they had no control over, and the education gap between African American and White students grew even larger.  Bill Gates isn’t an educator, has never taught in the classroom, and has no experience running a school, but it hardly matters.  His money speaks for him.  He is a massive blue whale, and the teachers are hapless kelp, pushed through the water from a thoughtless shrug of his bumpy fins. His small school ideology had a direct impact on my life; I lost some of my friends and co-workers when they were displaced.  When my school decided to accept the money from the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation, they locked us, and the students, into staying an extra hour at the end of the day.  As a result, our school has lost 600 students in the past two years, it turns out most students would rather go to a school that gets out an hour earlier.  When forty-five governors decided to accept the Common Core curriculum in order to earn Obama’s Race to the Top funds, I was suddenly subjected to dozens of hours of professional development in Common Core; I also lost two Saturday’s and a Spring Break.

Never mind that no one is really sure what Common Core is. Common Core hasn’t been tested, peer reviewed, studied or examined with any meaningful critical analysis.  Common Core was not passed by any of the 50 state legislatures or the Federal government, it was not voted on by any ballot measure or voter initiative, and it was not imposed by a judge or court in an effort to improve schools. 

It was created and made compulsory by one of the Super-Wealthy.

Bill Gates will now not only be in your home, he’ll be teaching your children, molding them to the standards he thinks they need to learn.  Of course, much of the Common Core curriculum also relies heavily on digital technology because all of the testing will be done online, a financial windfall for the tech industry.  While it does not say where schools have to buy their technology, Microsoft remains the largest supplier of software on the planet. Bill Gates’ push for Common Core helped convince LAUSD they needed to spend a billion dollars on new iPad’s instead of spending money on raises, hiring new teachers, school maintenance, or vocational programs.  Like a Tyrannosaurus Rex, Bill Gates inadvertently stamped out art, music, woodshop, mechanics, and band.  Computers cost money.

When the iPads break or their batteries inevitably stop holding a charge, most of them will have to be replaced.  The warranty is only good for three years.   Maybe next time LAUSD will replace the iPads with Microsoft tablets.  That might only cost $500 million.

Although Bill Gates is not solely responsible for my lack of a raise, he is paying me an extra hour to stay at school.  (I voted no, but the staff couldn’t pass up the money.) His foundation also inadvertently provided money to get every teacher at my school an iPad mini.  I didn’t ask for one, I didn’t even need one, but what the hell, I love it.

As one of the millions of kelp I can either get swallowed or get carried along for the ride, in the wake of Bill Gate’s passing I caught a flight to Portland for a Common Core seminar offered by the Discovery Channel.  If it wasn’t for the Gates foundation, Discovery wouldn’t be hopping on the educational gravy train, and I wouldn’t have had an excuse to visit Portland and write the trip off my taxes. 
People frequently worry about Obama and his abuse of power.  Benghazi,   drone strikes, NSA surveillance, illegal targeting by the IRS – pick a scandal.  None of it matters because anytime Obama tries to get anything done, people oppose him.

No one opposes Bill Gates.

In a few years, Obama will be out of office and out of power.  In a few decades, mostly forgotten.

In a few more years, Gates will be richer and more powerful then ever. Forbes magazine consistently ranks him as one either the fourth or fifth most powerful man on the planet.  Unlike Obama, Gates won’t be a memory in your rearview mirror; he’ll be the sign in your headlights down the road, because Gates is buying up the future.  That’s what it means to be one of the Super Wealthy.  You get to be a modern day pharaoh and shape our civilization.

Yet the Pharaohs were more humble. They only controlled Egypt and wanted to control their lives after their deaths. 

The Super Wealthy don’t just want Egypt, they want the planet.  They don’t just want to control their future - they want to control yours. 
They want everything.
They want more.

And some, like Bill Gates, want to control how your children think.