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Thank the rich for higher ed fiscal crisis

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Police are arresting and attacking student protesters on University of California campuses again. "Why did he beat me? I wasn't doing anything," screams a young Cal Berkeley student over KPFA radio.

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Students are protesting the 32 percent increase in tuition imposed by the UC regents in a time of severe state deficits. The Board of Regents claims there's no choice. Students will now have to pay over $10,000 in tuition annually for a public university education that was free only a few decades ago.

The corporate media spin the tuition protests as if we were all suffering during the recession. For example, the San Diego Union-Tribune writes, "These students need a course in Reality 101. And the reality is that there is virtually no segment of American society that is not straining with the economic recession. With UC facing a $535 million budget gap due to state cuts, the regents have to confront reality and make tough choices. So should students."

Yet here's the reality that needs confronting: Our current budget crisis in California and the rest of the country resulted from tax cuts. U.S. elites, the top 1 percent of whom own close to half the wealth, along with our richest corporations are the beneficiaries of massive tax cuts that began in the Reagan administration. At the same time, working people are suffering the brunt of increased sales taxes and skyrocketing tuition costs at public colleges.

The wealthy hide their money abroad. Trillions of dollars in both corporate profits and personal wealth have migrated offshore, in search of rock-bottom tax rates and the comfort of no questions asked. Offshore banks now harbor an estimated $11.5 trillion in individual wealth alone, Rachel Keeler with Dollars & Sense reports. Those havens were a significant contributing factor to the international economic downturn in 2008.

According to the California Budget Project, tax cuts enacted in California since 1993 cost the state $11.3 billion annually. Had the state continued taxing corporations and the wealthy at rates equal to those 15 years ago, California wouldn't have a budget crisis. And despite the state's budget deficit, California changed its income tax laws in February to give corporations even greater tax savings -- equal to over $2 billion per year.

California is similar to the rest of the country, where the wealthy and corporate elites enjoy economic protection through increased costs to working people.

Twenty-eight states slashed higher education spending for this school year. Even more drastic cuts loom in the years ahead. The California State University system plans to enroll 40,000 fewer students in the fall of 2010. The CSU Trustees have imposed steep tuition hikes and forced faculty and staff to take non-paid furlough days equal to 10% of salaries.

The students who are protesting tuition increases know they're being ripped off. They know that we're bailing out the rich with hundreds of billions dollars for Wall Street and massive budget cuts for the rest of us. The corporate media don't explain to working families how they're paying more while the rich sock it away.

The current economic crisis is a "shock-and-awe" process designed to undermine low-cost higher education, force labor concessions from working people, and protect the wealthy. We need higher taxes on corporations and the top 1%, combined with free public college education and tax breaks for working families. And we must have news media that tell us the truth about inequality and wealth.

A true economic stimulus increases spending from the bottom up, not the top down.

Peter Phillips is a professor of sociology at Sonoma State University, president of the Media Freedom Foundation, and until recently directed Project Censored.

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