Squirrels don’t care much for Halloween. What you call trick-or-treating is pretty much like how we get food all the time, except for the costumes and ringing the doorbells and the candy. But we’re not big on costumes, your doorbells are too high for us to reach, and we prefer nuts over candy anyway. We do like Big Scary Monster movies because it’s fun to watch humans experience life from a squirrel’s perspective. As for the other kind of Halloween movies, well, we wonder why you humans feel a need to be terrified.
It’s not just at Halloween either, as I learned this weekend while researching my thesis on 21st Century Political Nuttitude.
It seems Rep. Dennis Rehberg (R-MT), expected to challenge Sen. John Tester (D) for a Senate seat next year, had a Sunday dinner squabble with his sister, Shanna Henry. Henry is the principal of a local elementary school, and she and her brother were arguing about Title I, a federal program that provides school funding based on the number of students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunches. So she invited her brother to visit the school and talk with Brenda Koch, the district director of K-12 education.
Henry and Koch explained that over half of the students at Miles Elementary School in Billings qualify for free or reduced-price lunches, based on their parents’ income. The school received about $146,000 in Title I funding this year, down a bit from last year, and Henry used the money to buy computer programs that help children who struggle with reading and writing, and to hire teachers’ aids to work with smaller groups of students.
That seems like a worthwhile investment of public money to me, but Rep. Rehberg was skeptical. He asked about fraud and whether parents try to game the system by misreporting their incomes. “I’d like to punish those systems that rip taxpayers off,” he said.
You see, Republicans are very worried about fraud. Voter fraud. Food stamp fraud. School lunch fraud. In fact, Republicans are always in a panic about fraud, at least when it comes to the little people.
They don’t worry quite so much about fraud by the wealthy. As former Federal Reserve Chair Alan Greenspan once said, “I don’t think there is any need for a law against fraud.” On Wall Street, he meant. When it comes to fraud by the wealthy, The Market Will Correct Itself and anything government might do to stop it is a Burdensome Regulation that Kills Jobs.
But when it comes to ordinary people … be afraud, be very afraud.
As it happens, government does keep track of Title I funds. Each year, Brenda Koch explained to Rep. Rehberg, the school district audits a random sample of families who sign up for free or reduced-price lunches, and the state of Montana audits how the school districts spend the money. According to Montana Superintendent of Public Instruction Denise Juneau, parents gaming the system isn’t a problem. Quite the contrary, she told TPM: “There are many people eligible for free and reduced lunch who don’t apply for the program out of stigma.”
But what about the Ohio principal who signed up her own children for free lunches despite her $90,000 salary, and the New Jersey Board of Education president who lied to get her children free lunches? Those stories have been widely-publicized, and of course conservatives fear those are only The Tip Of The Iceberg.
Sort of like the Maine Republican Party leader who is convinced that 209 students registered to vote in both Maine and their home states were only The Tip Of The Iceberg on voter fraud. Never mind that it’s not illegal to be registered to vote in two states; it’s only illegal if you actually cast a ballot in two different states in the same election. And none of those students did. But still … be afraud, be very afraud.
Well here’s my scary story for Republicans. Imagine a bunch of very greedy, very clever people being paid millions of dollars a year to invent investment vehicles so complex and arcane that no one can figure out how they work. Now imagine the companies those very greedy, very clever people work for paying millions per year to investment ratings firms who, conveniently, give these impossible-to-understand investments AAA ratings. Now imagine tens of thousands of pension funds, cities, even entire countries buying up those AAA-rated investments … only to discover they owned worthless paper.
Be afraud of that iceberg … for a change.
Good day and good nuts.