Trump’s Education Budget Gives the Game Away

May 24, 2017

Written for ROCDSA by Noah S. McKinnon

If, for some reason, you still think the Trump administration has any priorities other than the destruction of the American working class, their first full budget for education should handily disabuse you.

To be fair, as of this writing, we are still two days away from seeing the final budget, but chances are that it will remain similar to the version the Washington Post reported on last week.

That version cuts a net $9.2 billion from the department’s funds, almost all of it by nixing or reducing programs for every kind of disadvantaged community. High-poverty schools, poor students, low-income parents, Alaska Native students, Native Hawaiian students, disadvantaged college students, graduates overburdened with student loan debt – they all lose, in this budget.

Who wins? DeVos’ favorite constituency: affluent parents. This budget earmarks hundreds of millions of dollars for charter schools, voucher programs and accompanying research to study their impact, and an entire billion for a new grant program that will almost certainly funnel even more educational assistance dollars to schools in affluent neighborhoods. That’s what this entire budget is about: a massive transfer of federal funds, not to disadvantaged students and communities who need help, but to wealthy parents and private institutions who have lobbyists to represent their interests.

None of this is especially surprising. DeVos herself was one of those lobbyists for years before she became Secretary of Education, despite her complete lack of familiarity with the public education system, and even before the release of this budget, she has been hard at work rolling back consumer protections for student loan borrowers and allowing one company to monopolize student loan servicing. Charter schools, vouchers, and other “alternatives” that coincidentally move money and resources from public schools to unaccountable private or semiprivate institutions are incredibly popular on the right, and even parts of the left have fallen for the promises of “school choice” and “individualized education” that these programs claim to offer.

This budget should make it clear that these programs exist at the expense of the very people they claim to help – disadvantaged students, their families, and their communities – because, to fund these new priorities, the Trump administration intends to deprive poor children of what little educational enrichment they have been offered by a federal government obsessed with deficits and belt-tightening.

Meanwhile, the upper class continue to accumulate increasingly obscene levels of wealth and political power to go along with it. They have astutely noted the docility of this presidential administration, and they are seizing the chance to sever themselves completely from the public at large, whom they despise even as they profit off our misery.

This budget is the first step of that separation. By ensuring that American public schools remain underfunded and overburdened, the wealthy intend to remove any remnant of confidence in public education as an institution. By funneling federal dollars to affluent, charter, private, and religious schools, they intend to create a two-tiered educational system that offers no opportunity for enrichment or upward mobility for anyone other than their own children. Through both methods, they intend to perpetuate the class divisions they have successfully broadened over the last few decades.

If this budget goes through mostly unchallenged, by the time its effects manifest in our society, they will be incredibly difficult, if not impossible, to reverse. We must oppose it vigorously at every step now, before it gains the force of law.


Commentary — The Problems with Uber in Upstate NY

April 17, 2017

ROCDSA member Ryan Brister

Uber is coming to Upstate New York. As part of the state’s recently-approved budget, ride-sharing companies like Uber and Lyft will be allowed to operate outside of New York City for the first time.

Democratic governor Andrew Cuomo has long pushed for this expansion, and upstate lawmakers have gone along. They view ride-sharing as a sort of economic boon, bringing with it thousands of jobs.

“Ride-sharing will mean more jobs, safer roads, and better transit options for my community and those like it across Upstate,” said state senator Rich Funke.

If only that were true.

Across the country, Uber has created such reliable jobs that drivers are spending nights in parking lots, sleeping in their cars. Lyft is celebrating a driver who continued to work while she went into labor. Even these jobs, insufficient to meet the needs of workers, are tenuous, given the companies’ public desire to replace its drivers with autonomous cars in the near future.

Ride-sharing companies and the rest of the so-called gig economy tout the flexibility and choice they offer their workers. But this is a freedom hamstrung by limited job options in a struggling economy and exploitative deals where drivers’ income goes directly to the company in exchange for an onerous loan. The real choices here are enjoyed by the companies, who are free to choose not to provide a living wage, not to pay taxes towards public services, and not to ensure riders’ safety.

It is telling that one of the sticking points in the NY legislature’s efforts was whether ride-sharing companies should be required to provide workers’ comp. Uber’s desire not to pay the costs incurred by its injured workers is not incidental, but right in line with its corporate ethos. To the extent that these companies are profitable, it is through the exploitation of workers, and the avoidance of basic responsibilities that have traditionally fallen upon employers.

The freedom to sleep in a parking lot is not the sort of liberation upstate requires. What cities upstate need are robust public transit systems that serve the interests of communities rather than the bottom lines of California tech giants. That is the route to improved safety and choices for upstate.

At a time when millennials are increasingly foregoing the expenses of car ownership, a lack of public transit is a generational issue. Young people are seeking out cities where they can get around without having to drive. Uber should not be their only option.

If it is inevitable that Uber and Lyft will arrive Upstate, the taxes taken from them should go directly towards public alternatives in transportation. Existing services, like RTS here in Rochester, have limited funding and limited routes that leave many in the area unable to make use of them. Larger cities like NYC have the tax bases to properly fund-public transit, but Upstate is currently caught in a sort of limbo.

Improved public transportation would achieve many of the claimed benefits of ride-sharing without sacrificing rider safety or workers’ rights. Additionally, it would do so with fewer carbon emissions, less impact on traffic, and cheaper commutes for riders. And the money generated from it would stay in Upstate, rather than being siphoned off as profits for Bay Area techies.


Commentary – Syria and Humanitarian Intervention

April 7, 2017

Lyle Jeremy Rubin, former Marine and veteran of the war in Afghanistan

Our government incinerated over 200 civilians in Mosul about two weeks ago. We slaughtered over 40 civilians in Syria the week before. And we killed dozens of civilians in Yemen about a month ago. Speaking of Yemen, we’ve killed thousands of civilians there in recent years, and thanks to our efforts, 7 million are now at risk of starvation. Our wars the past 15 years have claimed the lives of well over a million and destroyed seven countries. Our government has achieved hardly any of its stated aims, humanitarian or otherwise, and easily caused more harm than good, as admitted by our very own government reports (see the US Army’s SSI report in the comments).

Syria’s government is being sponsored by the largest nuclear power in the world, a power that just ended a crucial airspace deconfliction agreement with the US and warned about further “consequences” in response to our government’s missile strike against Assad’s forces. The Syrian civil war involves at least a half dozen major interests and powers, all of whom are armed to the teeth and none of whom will go gently into that good night.

I can’t begin to fathom how any intelligent or decent person, at this late stage in America’s never-ending wars, could even entertain the possibility that (a) the U.S. government (never mind Trump) has humanitarian concerns at heart and (b) that even if it did, it was capable of succeeding in said humanitarian intervention.  With the possible exceptions of Bosnia and to an even lesser extent Kosovo, neither of which were ringing successes, every U.S.-led “humanitarian” intervention at least since the Korean War (and arguably since WWII) has failed, and most have exacerbated the bloodshed. The Syrian Civil War itself was largely caused and fueled by American foreign policy, beginning with our invasion of Iraq and followed by our funding and training of groups that quickly congealed into ISIS.

The pertinent question at this juncture is not “What’s the alternative?” but “How many more people must we kill or maim, how many more countries and economies must we destroy, before we learn our bloodstained, Godforsaken lesson?”

Supplemental Links:


Op-Ed – U.S. Socialist Roots of International Women’s Day

March 8, 2017


The US Socialist Roots of International Women’s Day

Ryan Brister


On Wednesday, March 8th, millions in the United States and the world will take part in an international women’s strike, a day of action against the marginalization, disempowerment, and silencing of women.


The timing is symbolic. March 8 is International Women’s Day, a holiday that traces its roots to a 1908 strike held by garment workers in New York City. The Socialist Party of America held the first Working Women’s day in 1909, demanding better pay, improved working conditions, and the right to vote. Later commemorations took the form of protests against World War I and continued calls for Women’s suffrage.


We, the Rochester Area Democratic Socialists, are committed to carrying on that tradition of collectively supporting women’s equity. We encourage our members and our community to take action.


Here in Rochester, we know that the fight for women’s equality has always been a radical struggle. Change has been hard won from the grassroots up rather than imposed from the top down. When Susan B. Anthony and other women voted in this city in 1872, they were breaking the law. Anthony was arrested, and eventually fined. She never paid the $100.


The efforts of Anthony and other strong women produced real results, and the world is generally a better place for women now. So why a strike in 2017?


Because Donald Trump is president, despite being publicly disrespectful of women and accused multiple times of sexual assault. Because congressional Republicans remain intent on restricting reproductive rights. But the problems at hand did not start in November, and our struggle is much broader still.


In most of the world, including the United States, the work traditionally done by women goes unpaid or underpaid. The labor of bearing and raising children is the most vital in any society, but the U.S. still does not guarantee paid parental leave. And after decades of stagnant wages and defeats for organized labor, many women will understandably find it hard to speak out in the form of a strike. But those who can, should.


The conditions that have produced our current crisis must be challenged head-on. Without resistance these trends will continue, and women (especially women of color) will take the brunt of it. We must think outside the ballot box to bring about the changes needed to produce better lives for women.


ROCDSA proudly joins this day of action to end gender violence, and fight for the reproductive justice, labor rights, and the crucial social provisions that all women deserve.