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Dear Randi,

You seem to be very unhappy lately, but cheer up – things aren’t nearly as bad as you think! 

In your recent foray into BuzzFeed, you seemed a bit verklempt (for you non-Yids, that means overwrought) and I would like to help you feel better!

Regarding Common Core, the piece reads:

‘The right’s vitriol is ideological. The losing of parents and teachers is a matter of incompetence, Weingarten said. She attributed the program’s poor reception to groups like the Gates Foundation ‘wanting to measure more than wanting to teach.’

Oh my goodness! You mention Bill Gates and “the right” in the same breath. Surely you know that Mr. Gates is hardly a part of the vast right wing conspiracy. And if you think the right is vitriolic on the subject, let me introduce you to one Karen Lewis who has cornered the market on vitriol. Just watch any one of dozens of videos where the Chicago Teachers Union leader lashes out at, well, just about everyone, regularly dumping on rich people, white people, Common Core, Arne Duncan, et al. And if you want more vitriol about Common Core, a trip to the Bad Ass Teachers Facebook page will undoubtedly sate you. You will then see that being anti-Common Core certainly isn’t just a rightwing thing. I hope this lightens your mood, Randi.

Then, of course, is the inevitable swipe at the Koch Brothers.

All these conservative governors left to their own devices initially supported the standards…  What changed? The Koch brothers decided not to support the standards, ALEC didn’t support the standards, others who fund right-wing causes don’t support the standards.

Fiddlesticks! You seem to think that the right does what only the Kochs want them to do. (Seems that you have become afflicted with the Harry Reid’s Koch-o-loco Syndrome.) Actually, most folks came to their anti-Common Core position without Charles’ and David’s help. In fact, you and many others on the left greatly exaggerate the power of the Brothers. And I’m sure you simply forgot to grouse about Tom Steyer and other hypocritical, crony capitalist power-brokers on the left.

As I’m sure you know, our political contribution rules are quite arcane and are taken advantage of by both the right and the left. When teacher union watchdog Mike Antonucci was asked how much the National Education Association spends on politics, he responded, “What do you mean by ‘NEA’ and what do you mean by ‘politics?’ As an example, he says, “If NEA sends a mailer to a member calling for the election of Candidate X, or the passage of Measure Y, it is probably not a campaign expenditure. But if NEA sends the same mailer to me, it is.” He ends his piece with, “As you can see, there isn’t a sound bite reply to the headline question, ‘How Much Does NEA Spend on Politics?’ But you wouldn’t be far wrong if you simply answered, “As much as it wants to.” His article gets deep into the weeds on this issue and is very informative; I suggest you read the whole thing, Rand, it will brighten your day.

Perhaps we can best put the whole campaign finance mess into perspective by looking at actual dollar amounts. Gateway Pundit did just that and found via Open Secrets that between 1989-2014 the “‘Evil’ Koch Brothers Rank 59th in Political Donations Behind 18 Different Unions.” And this is sure to bring a smile to your face: NEA is #4 at $53,594,488 and your American Federation of Teachers is 12th at $36,713,325 (#12, Randi!) and the Kochs are way down the list in 59th place, having spent a measly $18,083,948 during that time period. (Am I hearing a big sigh of relief, Randi?!)

And homegirl, the news gets even better!! You recently joined Democracy Alliance, an organization that “takes pains to ensure that its work disbursing millions of dollars to top left-wing organizations remains secretive and free from public scrutiny.” So when it comes to “dark money,” you can out-Koch the Kochs every day of the week and thrice on Sunday! (Btw, it was a shame that someone was so careless to leave a list of new DA members lying around at that gathering last month, subsequently winding up on the internet. I can imagine you must have been very ticked off. But frankly as a 1%er who pulls in over a half a million a year, you can just put that behind you, especially since that $30,000 entry fee to join DA is really sofa cushion change for you.

And there’s even more good news! As you perhaps know the new president of this club for filthy rich, dark money-loving lefties is none other than NEA executive director John Stocks!! Isn’t that terrif!! An organization with people whose last names are Munger and Soros is being led by a union guy!!! C’mon, that should chase those dark clouds away!

Once you got off Common Core, your comments in the BuzzFeed piece took a worrisome turn, but again, I am here to help!

There’s not anything I stand for that [people on the right] like… From the fact that I’m a gay leader of a teachers union, to the fact that I’m Jewish and actually religious about that, but not in the orthodox kind of way. My partner’s the rabbi of a gay temple…and I’m the head of a labor union and I’m a public schoolteacher. So there’s just nothing about me that the Tea Party will ever like.

Randi, Randi, Randi … that’s such poppycock! In fact, here you sound just a tad meshugana (Yiddish for whacky). As a Jew who has been to many Tea Party events (I’ve spoken at several: here, here and here), I can tell you that I have never heard one disparaging word about Jews … or gays either, for that matter. Tea Partiers don’t get into religious or sexual orientation issues. Their mission is actually fairly narrow: they champion fiscal responsibility, constitutionally limited government and free markets – you know, the principles our country was founded on. Whom you play with behind closed doors and whether you pray on Saturday or Sunday are of absolutely of no interest to them. I sincerely hope this offers some solace to you. In fact, since you are very fond of Twitter, please follow national Tea Party leader Jenny Beth Martin (@jennybethm). You will learn a lot and be disabused of so many things that bring you unnecessary angst.

And in my never ending quest to bring that twinkle back in your eyes – you are just going to love this! – the Koch Brothers are not actually conservative, but are in fact libertarian. As such, they are in favor of gay marriage. Now I don’t expect you to send the brothers a gift basket (however, if you do, please use my wife’s company, The Lone Arranger; she’ll give you a 20% discount!), but, in any event, maybe you could lighten up on the Brother-bashing?

See, now, don’t you feel better?!! The poor Kochs can’t compete with the unions and their fellow travelers when it comes to political spending. And along with the Tea Partiers, they couldn’t care less about your religion or sexual orientation. Best of all, unlike most of us, you are a 1%er, have access to the rich and famous and of course, as a teacher union boss, you have the tools – really blunt instruments – to inflict education policy on millions of school children nationwide. Pop the champagne!!

As always, looking out for you!!

Best,

Larry Sand

Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues.

The Teachers Unions’ Supreme Chutzpah

NEA and AFT leaders cavil at Supreme Court decision that eases rules on political funding.

Nothing gives me an advanced case of the vapors quicker than the subject of political campaign finance laws. Trying to figure out who can give how much to whom and when, and how many dollars can be donated to a PAC, who is allowed to involve themselves in “dark money” and who has to report what are matters that are more confounding than trying to follow anything Harry Reid says. (Okay, that would actually be a close call.)

In any event, last week the Supreme Court ruled to strike down a cap on the total amount any individual can contribute to federal candidates in a two-year election cycle. While this doesn’t seem to be a radical move to me, the SCOTUS ruling did not please everyone. And perhaps the unhappiest of all were the nation’s teachers unions. American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten issued a press release harrumphing:

With this ruling, the voices of everyday Americans have gotten squashed again. We once had rules that allowed everyone a fair shot at the American dream and access to democracy, but now access to government is reserved for the most powerful and influential with millions and millions of dollars to buy elections. (Emphasis added.)

The avalanche of money spent on elections would be better spent creating jobs, improving our neighborhood public schools, fixing our disintegrating infrastructure and building a better future for our children.

Ms. Weingarten is guilty of uttering two tired union conceits: she trots out “our children” and then blasts the “most powerful and influential” from her perch atop one of the “most powerful and influential” organizations in the country.

In a rare occurrence, National Education Association president Dennis Van Roekel out-demagogued his AFT counterpart in his official statement on the decision:

America’s working families lost today when the Supreme Court’s ruling on McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission effectively removed meaningful limits on the total amount an individual can directly contribute to candidates, political parties and political committees. The ruling creates yet another loophole that will allow a single individual to contribute millions of dollars to political parties, candidates and multi-candidate PACs.

At a time when the lop-sided playing field unfairly benefits the haves over the have-nots, the McCutcheon decision opens the floodgates even further for corporations and the monied elite to dominate our democracy. The majority opinion goes on to strike down aggregate limits that only prevent the very richest in our society from contributing to every campaign they would like and, thereby, dominating the political discourse.

Our country was founded on the premise that democracy is not for sale. No kindergarten teacher, school nurse, librarian, food service worker or school bus driver can compete with the deep pockets of billionaires. Taken together with Citizens United, today’s decision guts America’s campaign finance laws, leaving a remnant incapable of dealing with the grave problems of democratic legitimacy that those laws were intended to resolve.

Reality-averse, Van Roekel ignores the fact that his own union is a special interest that:

a) takes advantage of “loopholes.”

b)  is a “monied elite.”

c)  dominates “the political discourse.”

d)  benefits from “Citizens United.”

The union bosses’ statements can be summed up in three simple words. “It’s not fair.” To which I say, “Is too.” (And by the way, you two, the whining is quite disingenuous.) What follows are just a few little things that should disabuse anyone of believing that these unions are selfless guardians of the disenfranchised.

The NEA and AFT combine to bring in over $550 million a year in dues. Then, as unions, they get to duck paying a penny of income tax on that half billion plus dollars.

And just what do they do with all this money? They spend a lot of it on politics. In fact, NEA is ranked #3 nationally on Open Secrets heavy-hitter list. From 1989-2014, NEA spent $58,783,738 on candidates, PACs, etc. AFT comes in at #12, spending $37,039,075 during the same 25 year period. But if you combine the two teachers unions’ political gifting they come in second, spending almost $96 million between them.

It’s important to note that these dollar amounts do not include money spent on politics by the national unions’ state and local affiliates. For example, the California Teachers Association, the biggest political spender in the Golden State, unleashed $290 million on politics from 2000-2013.

What the unions don’t broadcast is that much of the money they bring in is not given willingly by teachers. In 26 states and D.C., teachers must pay tribute to the union if they want to teach in a public school. (Yes, there are ways for teachers to wriggle out of the part of dues that goes to politics, but the unions make it very difficult to do so. And the lawyers of a recent lawsuit make a legitimate case that just about everything these unions do inherently involves “controversial and important political and ideological issues.”)

Also, the union leaders’ faux populism reveals itself in the destination of its largesse. According to an internal poll, NEA found that its members “are slightly more conservative (50%) than liberal (43%) in political philosophy.” Does the union’s spending reflect this diversity?

Hardly. NEA spends money on Democrats at a 14:1 ratio. And AFT is even more one-sided: it spends zero on right of center candidates.

So when Van Roekel complains that, “No kindergarten teacher, school nurse, librarian, food service worker or school bus driver can compete with the deep pockets of billionaires,” I guess he only means Democrat teachers, nurses, etc.   

The bottom line is that good people can disagree as to how best to reform our arcane campaign finance laws. But until the teachers unions begin to comport themselves with decency, honesty, and fairness, they don’t deserve anything but our scorn. 

As Kevin Williamson wrote in NRO, “This isn’t about getting rich guys out of politics — it’s about the NEA and the AFT keeping competition off the field.” And to the consternation of NEA/CTA, the Supreme Court decision will hopefully make that field just a bit more level.

Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues.