With the Raging Chicken Press, I really try to shy away from writing about national political issues that, in the light of things, don’t affect Pennsylvanians, but this is one of those posts of a national issue (the government shutdown), a government program (the Head Start Program) and a charitable billionaire (John Arnold) who is actively working to wreck the lives of current and future public employees living in Pennsylvania and other states that have a “made up underfunded pension issue.”
While driving around and running errands earlier this week, I was listening to NPR and, by chance, a segment came on praising the pension busting billionaire plutocrat and former Enron executive John Arnold, along with his wife Linda. The segment praised the Arnolds for their act of charity, giving over 10 million dollars to the National Head Start Association. Head Start’s mission statement reads:
Our mission is to coalesce, inspire, and support the Head Start field as a leader in early childhood development and education.
The National Head Start Association is a non-partisan, not-for-profit organization committed to the belief that every child, regardless of circumstances at birth, has the ability to succeed in life. The opportunities offered by Head Start lead to healthier, empowered children and families, and stronger, more vibrant communities. NHSA is the voice for more than 1 million children, 200,000 staff and 1,600 Head Start grantees in the United States.
Since 1974, NHSA has worked diligently for policy changes that ensure all at-risk children have access to the Head Start model of support for the whole child, the family and the community.
NHSA offers an impressive portfolio of professional development services and programs for the entire early childhood community. These include the annual National Head Start Conference, the largest national event devoted to the Early Head Start and Head Start community, and the National Parent Conference, the only national event devoted to parents and families.
This past week, NPR ran a story (“Billionaire’s Gift Reopens Some Head Start Programs“) praising John and Linda Arnold without mentioning their pension busting tactics throughout the country (more on that below). The on-air segment was hosted by Melissa Block and the guest included Dora Jones, a Head Start program employee who has been affected by the government shutdown.
The beginning of the segment starts off as:
BLOCK: Well, this week, a billionaire from Houston named John Arnold, and his wife Laura, donated $10 million to get Head Start programs open again in six states, including Alabama. And that means that Dora Jones is back in business. And she joins us again. Ms. Jones, welcome back to the program.
JONES: Thank you very much for having me back.
BLOCK: And how long were you closed, all in all?
JONES: We were closed a week. We opened our doors on Wednesday morning of this week. And first of all, let me say on behalf of my board of directors, my families, my staff and this entire community, we give our sincere thanks and praises to the Arnolds for being kind enough to open up their hearts and make this possible. It is really good to know that there are still some private citizens out there that are very compassionate about and value not only what we do but who we serve. And they decided to make a decision and make this possible, something that our voted politicians didn’t do yet.
Then at the end of the short segment, Melissa Block asks Mrs. Jones if she has been in contact with the Arnolds for their generous donation. Mrs. Jones responds:
Not directly, no. I know that at my local centers some of the supervisors have the children making thank you cards and making thank you notes and other drawings and paintings and writings that they intend to send to the Arnold family. And I think they would be genuinely proud that we had them back in now on the third day. We were notified Monday, they were back in the centers on Wednesday.
The worst part about this segment is the praise that is being given to the Arnolds for their philanthropy because the Arnolds are using their billions to steal public pensions from the very same socioeconomic groups that their $10 million Head Start donation went to.
In Matt Taibbi’s latest expose on the Rolling Stone, Taibbi explains how John Arnold, the former Enron executive, has funded political action committees to bust public pensions in states across the country. Taibbi writes:
The dynamic young Rhodes scholar was allowing her state to be used as a test case for the rest of the country, at the behest of powerful out-of-state financiers with dreams of pushing pension reform down the throats of taxpayers and public workers from coast to coast. One of her key supporters was billionaire former Enron executive John Arnold – a dickishly ubiquitous young right-wing kingmaker with clear designs on becoming the next generation’s Koch brothers, and who for years had been funding a nationwide campaign to slash benefits for public workers.
Then at Enron Arnold…
As Enron was imploding, Arnold played a footnote role, helping himself to an $8 million bonus while the company’s pension fund was vaporizing. He and other executives were later rebuked by a bankruptcy judge for looting their own company along with other executives. Public pension funds nationwide, reportedly, lost more than $1.5 billion thanks to their investments in Enron.
On public pensions, Taibbi writes:
He had created the Arnold Foundation, an organization dedicated, among other things, to reforming the pension system, hiring a Republican lobbyist and former chief of staff to Dick Armey named Denis Calabrese, as well as Dan Liljenquist, a Utah state senator and future Tea Party challenger to Orrin Hatch.
Soon enough, the Arnold Foundation released a curious study on pensions. On the one hand, it admitted that many states had been under contributing to their pension funds for years. But instead of proposing that states correct the practice, the report concluded that “the way to create a sound, sustainable and fair retirement-savings program is to stop promising a [defined] benefit.”
In 2011, Arnold and Pew found each other. As detailed in a new study by progressive think tank Institute for America’s Future, Arnold and Pew struck up a relationship – and both have since been proselytizing pension reform all over America, including California, Florida, Kansas, Arizona, Kentucky and Montana. Few knew that Pew had a relationship with a right-wing, anti-pension zealot like Arnold. “The centrist reputation of Pew was a key in selling a lot of these ideas,” says Jordan Marks of the National Public Pension Coalition. Later, a Pew report claimed that the national “gap” between pension assets and future liabilities added up to some $757 billion and dryly insisted the shortfall was unbridgeable, minus some combination of “higher contributions from taxpayers and employees, deep benefit cuts and, in some cases, changes in how retirement plans are structured and benefits are distributed.”
In the end, NPR is complicit in forwarding the GOP and Libertarian view that this country should become a society of serfs and lords, where the serfs are fighting for the breadcrumbs the lords sprinkle upon us or where the serfs are attending corporate sponsored schools.