A friend of mine called from Sacramento the other day wanting to discuss the latest gossip regarding the Mayor (Kevin Johnson) and his wife (Michelle Rhee) and the way public monies were being divvied up to support the Sacramento Kings and various high-budget arts organizations... and I just sort of sighed one of my bigger sighs and pointed out that here in New Mexico (where he once lived), there may be plenty of grift, but nothing remotely like what I happily left behind in California, and there is nothing like the endless circular battles that literally get nowhere on behalf of the People while the con artists walk away with more millions lining their already bulging pockets.
Johnson and Rhee are two of the more notorious swindlers and grifters in California and the nation these days, known far and wide for their high-handedness in dealing with the rabble and their startling ability to extract millions by the hundreds out of the public coffers (and a handful of private benefactors, including, so I understand, the Kochs) on behalf of one or another of their "programs."
It doesn't take long to get very tired of this shit.
When I look at Johnson and Rhee, I see a couple of con artists who have parlayed their smooth talk and big grins into vast fortunes for themselves and untold misery for their marks. Long ago I stopped wondering why people bought into their flim-flam. Of course there are plenty of Big Money folks backing their charades, and the Big Money makes it possible for them to sell their snake oil as effectively as they do.
Ordinary People are highly vulnerable to their kind of All-American Bullshit.
It's the kind of Bullshit, too, that America has been built on from the beginning, which is part of the key to why it works so well even now, when so many people should be jaded and aware. They still fall for the cons.
Why do people fall for it? Well, I refer back to Meredith Wilson's "The Music Man." People want to believe. If you want a darker vision of what the grift is about, review your copy of Sinclair Lewis's "Elmer Gantry." People fall for the con-artists' blandishments because they want what they think the grifter is selling.
Johnson is focused on Making Sacramento A World-Class City -- a civic dream for as long as San Francisco has eclipsed the tattered majesty of California's Capital City. Say the last 150 years or so. Closer to 160 years by now. But KJ came to his current focus through some very highly profitable "education reform" by which his private education company St. HOPE took over the operations of the city's eponymous high school, turning it into a charter school. I won't go into the details of what happened, but it was a very profitable deal for KJ, not so much for the students and teachers nor for the citizens of Sacramento, some of whom are still bitter about it. Ultimately, KJ let go of St. HOPE (though one assumes he still profits from it) in order to run for Mayor -- a candidacy backed by the richest of Sacramento's rich from the get to now -- with stated objectives of keeping the Kings, building a new arena, and making Sacramento a World Class City.
We all had heard that line many times before, but for once, voters believed it was possible through the agency of KJ's big, toothy grin, and so they put him in office and re-elected him even though he was essentially a failure.
Rhee, on the other hand, has stuck with the "education reform" grift and is making millions on her own account with her "Students First" con. It's really quite amazing how she continues to bamboozle the multitudes after her many failures, the high-light being her disastrous tenure as Chancellor of Washington DC's failing public schools.
But people want to believe the snake oil she's been selling will anoint their kids and make them smart and wise and successful, and she's just as happy to keep on selling it. With, of course, the backing of plenty of billionaires who help ensure her pitch is as perfect and effective as possible.
Public education in California has been on the ropes for many years, and the reasons why are plain enough to see. The system is wildly over-administered while being critically underfunded. Public schools are mandated to provide "quality education" (with an ever-shifting definition) to all, yet are burdened by top-heavy administrative requirements, and are frequently left without funding for even minimal educational purposes. There has long been a pretty obvious and deliberate policy of "administering public education to death."
The alternative private charter system largely eliminates the burden of administration (and service, but that's another issue) while providing enormous profits to the operators and proprietors of these private schools -- at the public's expense. It's a money-machine, whereas public schools have become a money-pit.
KJ and Rhee know how to squeeze the teats of the system for their own advantage. Bless their hearts.
But people really do want to believe in what they are selling. It's as American as apple pie. And I can't even bear to look at it any more...