Sunday, September 25, 2011

Issue #26- 9/25/11 Union Building, Civil Service, Protests and the American Dream

Issue #26- September 25, 2011
In this issue:
*Union Building
*Civil Servants- Enemies of the State
*Spreading Protests
*The Attack on the American Dream

What's Uplifting, Union Building…
It is a difficult and discouraging time to be a public sector union member in Wisconsin.  Over the next couple of weeks we will see the official end of many public unions.  We will get to hear the conservatives celebrate their victory with hateful rhetoric.  Just read the comments after this article. 

On a personal level my family will see the effects of the pay cuts imposed by the Budget Repair Bill for the first time (although many public employees have already felt the sting for several months). 

I can feel the climate change at my school.  The start of a school year is always stressful and the ongoing political situation here in Wisconsin doesn't help.  It is sad to talk to so many high quality teachers who are questioning whether they will continue in the profession once our contract expires in 2013.  The mood is one where educators are simply waiting to see what the next attack will look like.  We are wondering how we will muster up the energy to teach our students and fight the injustices being forced upon us.  We see the future of our profession as the districts around our state create employee handbooks filled with rules and regulations that don't improve educational opportunities for students.  Instead these handbooks lay out bureaucratic layers that make it easier for districts to impose political agendas instead of educational reforms. 

This attitude of despair increases in isolation.  One of the important things that a union provides is a sense of community.  It is that sense of being a part of a larger whole and working for a greater good that gives people hope for their future.  It is this sense of purpose that drives us to continue the fight. 

However, the truth is that the field of public education has not ever been a lucrative one for the everyday employee.  We've always made enough to do ok, but it's never been a profession where one becomes exceedingly wealthy.  Now with the losses in income imposed by the Walker legislation the economic reality is much different.  These losses combined with the ever increasing workload make the time and money necessary for organizing a scarce commodity.

In my opinion that makes the collective energy found in union participation even more vital than ever.  Alone we will lose, but together victory is possible.  The future is uncertain and filled with obstacles.  Yet in many ways that has always been true, the obstacles are just more visible now.  The challenges are great, but the potential for success is also tremendous.  Because of the wide sweeping and aggressive nature of the attacks by the Walker administration there has never been a time in recent memory where the battle lines are so clearly drawn.

Anytime we are faced with large, long term challenges the difficulty usually lies in how to get started solving the problems.  I've written about many different ways that unions and individuals can be involved in the struggle along with the many things that unions need to do to build solidarity among their members.  Now that we are beginning a new phase in the ongoing struggle it seems clear that we need to organize our efforts to be most effective and to have the greatest impact.

There are three major areas where I feel unions need to focus their initial efforts this school year.  Because I am a union rep. in my building I will share the goals that I have for my specific school as examples.

Identifying Goals- It is always difficult to define specific goals, especially when faced with such large challenges, but having short term, measurable goals that lead to a larger objective are vital.  Without these it is difficult to build a sense of accomplishment and it becomes easy to feel discouraged.

The goals that I've set for the start of the year in my building are:
*Develop ways to communicate effectively.  People in my school need to be able to talk to me and to each other about issues that need to be addressed. 
*Establish a union presence by meeting with all staff members and letting them know who they can go to if they have issues or concerns.  At the same time I get to hear if there are issues that we need to focus on specifically for our school.
*Take care of the "business" of the start of the year and get organized.

Build Unity- Without a sense of unity a union becomes a collection of individuals and the strength of the community is wasted.

*By talking to each person they can get to know and trust me a little more. 
*Develop ideas for ways we can socialize and become more comfortable with each other.

Demonstrate Effectiveness and Usefulness- People support a winner and support an organization that provides them with things that they need.  If a union isn't effective or useful, no one will want to be a member.  Seems pretty obvious.

*I've been reminding my fellow staff members of the successes we've had as a union over the past year.    
*We also are remembering ways that we have supported each other through the challenges (personally and professionally) of the recent past. 
*Emphasize that the success of the movement comes from individuals offering their skills and knowledge in creative ways.  It can't be overstated, the power of the union movement comes from its members and their dedication and energy.

Enemy of the State,
The Civil Service…
Over the past months the struggle between political and economic philosophies has intensified to the point where terms like "class warfare" are certainly applicable.  With any type of "war" an enemy must exist to unite groups of people so that they will make the commitment to winning the conflict. 
It is clear that the feelings of "us vs. them" are on the rise in Wisconsin.  So who are the designated enemies in this battle?

The answer of course is the public employee.  While you hear lots of lip service from Scott Walker and his supporters that they really don't dislike public workers (it's just those nasty public employee unions they hate), it is pretty difficult to make a case that the civil servants of Wisconsin have not been targeted as the cause of most of the "crisis" in the state budget.  The image of the public employee that is portrayed by conservatives is one of a lazy, incompetent group of people who are content to feed off the work done by honest citizens. 

In fact, Walker and his followers would have us believe that our state would be better off if we cut public service positions to the barest of minimal levels.  At an extreme, some conservatives even run for office with the platform of dismantling the very position that they are running for.  This is all part of the agenda that believes in a "free market" without government "interference".  Public employees represent an obstacle to these ideals.  These civil servants do nasty mean things like enforce regulations that restrict industries ability to pollute our environment. 

It seems clear that by attacking public workers rights and benefits there is a conscious effort to make these jobs less desirable.  If fewer people want to work in the public sector then it is easier to dismantle the system.  Also by making people work harder in less tolerable conditions the employees are less able to do their jobs at a high level.  Then their "poor" performance becomes another mode of attack for conservatives.  Public education is a clear example of this type of action.  By taking funding away from the schools, increasing the "accountability" of teachers (can 100% of students ever be proficient at their grade level based on chronological age?) and changing work conditions (new employee handbooks) the attack on public education moves into high gear. 
Walker and his supporters would have us believe that public workers are overreacting to the "modest" changes that have been enacted.  They argue that the small cost to public workers will benefit society as a whole and are a necessary burden for the civil servants to bear.  So why should we worry about the changes in our laws regarding public employees.  There are a number of reasons.
First, the current administration has demonstrated a level of patronage that reminds one of the not so glorious past. 
Walkergate Commences
Archer profited when job shifted from civil service to appointment - JSOnline

Second, the entire process of changing laws regarding collective bargaining has been done in a questionable and hurried manner.  The past 7 months have undone the previous 100+ years of labor legislation.  These laws and regulations have been tried and tested over time and have given Wisconsin a reliable and productive civil service labor force.

Third, the public has been misinformed about many aspects of the law and its effects.  For example, Walker has said that public worker's rights are protected by civil service law.  That is simply not true, public workers have no bargaining rights under the civil service laws.  The laws simply define the process that the employers must follow, but those rules are set by governing bodies or the legislature, not through bargaining with employees.  Without union protection those conditions can be changed unilaterally and drastically. 

Finally, the attacks on collective bargaining and public sector unions has been done under false pretenses.  It isn't about the budget "crisis" here in Wisconsin.  It's all about political power and economic gain for a small number of people.  The elimination of collective bargaining has nothing to do with making our state a better place for all citizens.

A brief look at public employees over the course of history shows a constant battle in how to fill the positions necessary to make government run.  The current Wikipedia definition of civil service includes the phrase "based on professional merit proven by competitive examination" as the way these employees are chosen.  However, that isn't always an accurate picture and certainly hasn't been the way positions have been filled throughout history.  This trip through the history of civil service is important given the current situation we find ourselves in.  Remember, "Those who don't know history are destined to repeat it."

The idea of a type of examination and a set criteria for employment dates back to the Han Dynasty (220 B.C. to 220 A.D.) in China.  However, it is clear that positions in most societies were filled in other ways.  The most common were to either inheritance or through some type of patronage system. 

In the United States there has been a constant back and forth between the patronage system and a system of organized examinations with set criteria for employment and advancement.  The benefits of the latter system are quite clear, but people in power often resist or modify the system to reward their supporters.  The ability to give out positions with good pay and benefits is one that adds to the power of elected officials and needs to be controlled for several reasons.  These reasons have been made very clear over our nation's history. 

At the Federal level we have seen the benefits of a structured civil service system and the difficulties that the spoils system creates.  Our early history showed leaders who chose their appointments based on a "Fitness Test" where a person's qualifications trumped their political leanings.  For example, John Quincy Adams stated, "No changes (in bureaucratic positions) for political reasons". 

However, as time passed political party affiliation and other "qualifications" began to become the criteria for hiring public employees.  By the 1820's the slide into a system where each election brought massive changes to the governmental positions was beginning.  Political leanings and activities became the norm for hiring civil servants (It's not what you know, but who you know). 

Andrew Jackson was a leader who firmly believed that, not only was a patronage system natural, but it actually benefitted the nation.   He is quoted as saying, "I cannot but believe that more is lost by the long continuance of men in office than is generally gained by their experience."  He also believed that the jobs that civil servants do were not overly difficult and that, "duties of all public offices are, or at least admit of being made, so plain and simple that men of intelligence may readily qualify themselves for their performance."
Not everyone agreed with Jackson and others who supported his thinking.  There were many reasons for their dissatisfaction with the patronage system.  For example, corruption was rampant in government.  Samual Swartwout, Collector of the Port of New York, somehow misplaced $210,000 while working during Jackson's tenure in office.  Despite that, President Van Buren thought him qualified to hold a government job.  Swartwout eventually left the U.S. for Europe with over $1.2 million in public money.  Any historian who has read about the Civil War knows the damage that the patronage system did to the Union Army and its leadership. 
Teddy Roosevelt spoke about the patronage system in the late 1800's and said, "The spoils system was more fruitful of degradation in our political life than any other that could have possibly been invented. The spoils monger, the man who peddled patronage, inevitably bred the vote-buyer, the vote-seller, and the man guilty of misfeasance in office."

In 1871 a law was passed to make some reforms in the hiring practices of the government, but enforcement of the law wasn't funded by Congress.  However, support for reform continued to build.  The assassination of President Garfield in 1881 by Charles Guiteau, a disgruntled office seeker, brought the dangers of the patronage system to full light.  By 1882 the Pendleton Act had been passed and stronger reforms were on the way.
Most of the reforms that followed centered on a few main points: 

*Classifications of job positions into groups and grades
*Competitive examinations for hiring and promotions
*Probationary periods for employees
*Creation of oversight boards or commissions to control hiring/firing and promotions
*Defining "just cause" for employee discipline or termination

As our country grew and the government's roles became more complex, the civil service grew as well.  More positions were added and more responsibilities were undertaken.  However, the ideas from the reforms of the late 1800's were maintained as valuable and even vital to a successful government. 

Over the past months we have heard a lot about the Wisconsin tradition of public service.  It is true that our state has had a long history of high standards for our public employees.  In 1905 Robert La Follette signed WI Statute Chapter 363 creating the civil service system.  His belief was that, "The fundamental idea of democracy is that all men are equal before the law. What proposition is plainer than that every citizen should have an equal opportunity to aspire to serve the public, and that when he does so aspire the only testapplied should be that of merit? Any other test is undemocratic. To say that the test of party service should be applied is just as undemocratic as it would be to apply the test of birth or wealth or religion."  Wisconsin was only the 3rd state to create a system like this one and the legislation grew out of a history similar to that of the national one where graft, patronage and corruption were rampant. 

The statute signed by La Follette created two categories of public servant.  The Unclassified employee which included elected officers, public school teachers and other positions which were not covered by the act.  The Classified employees were covered by the act and needed to take examinations for hiring and promotion purposes. 

Civil service legislation in Wisconsin has come under attack many times since the early 1900's.  By 1943 there had been over 140 documented attempts to amend or kill the civil service legislation.  These attacks included efforts to exempt groups of jobs from the control of the Bureau of Personnel, efforts to eliminate the legislation all together and other attempts to alter different aspects of the laws governing the civil service.  Some efforts were even made to place the Bureau of Personnel under the direct control of the governor, sound familiar?

In 1967 the State Employment Labor Relations Act was passed and gave public sector unions the right to collectively bargain on specific subjects.  These areas included grievance procedures, seniority rights and other non-monetary issues.  These rules were amended in 1970 by the Governor's Advisory Committee and wages, hours and conditions of employment became mandatory bargaining topics in the 1971 legislation that passed.   Other changes have followed, but the basic premise of the civil service laws have remained the same.  To provide for a prescribed and orderly way to employ people in the positions needed to run our government.
Many public sector unions like AFSCME and AFT either got their start or gained significant strength in Wisconsin over the years.   They were able to bargain for rights and gained benefits like the 40 hour work week for their members.  Because of the efforts of these unions strong institutions like the Wisconsin Retirement System were formed.  Many historians speak about the strong commitment Wisconsin has had to its civil servants and the benefits that this commitment has given our state. 
With the passage of Act 10 and the conditions and restrictions placed on public sector unions by the legislation Wisconsin civil servants are now without protections beyond what is provided by the civil service legislation.  While it is true that Wisconsin has strong laws regarding its public workers, the protections are not there for many employees including teachers and local municipality workers.  Civil service protections specify rights for employees in many areas like vacation and overtime.  They protect employees from unjust termination and provide grievance procedures.  However, they don't provide any rights for employees to bargain over these issues, the terms and conditions are set for the employees without their input. 
Widening Protests…
I have mixed feelings about the fact that there are more protests in more places around the U.S.  On one hand it is great to see that more and more people are aware of the injustice that is occurring and are willing to stand up for what is right.  On the other hand the fact that there is a need for action in so many areas is discouraging.  In addition to the recently settled, but still volatile, Tacoma teacher's strike there are many other actions occurring around our country.  One that is of interest to many of us is the protesting on Wall St.

These protests are continuing and should be watched to see what happens.  The footage that has been posted on Facebook and YouTube has been very disturbing.

Here is another example of an organized effort to change unfair and immoral policies.

There are several other sites and postings that have called for other actions to be directed in areas like the anti-war/peace movement and similar movements.  The key is that to date the most widespread calls for action have been non-violent and share a commitment to that philosophy.  We can benefit from past experience and draw the legacy of movements that have achieved their aims through non-violent resistance.  

The American Dream…
 Over the course of history the American Dream has been defined by the level of economic achievement that is possible for an individual to reach.  We are a culture where success is defined to a large degree by economic status and conspicuous consumption.  The 1928 campaign slogan of the GOP stated that Coolidge and Harding had, "reduced hours and increased earning capacity, silenced discontent, put the proverbial 'chicken in every pot.' And a car in every backyard, to boot."  At its heart that is what most politicians will base their platforms on, more money with less work and the goods that go with the increased income and social standing. 

Much of the Republican rhetoric is based on people buying into the idea that anyone can become wealthy and that taxes will somehow lessen your chances of improving your own social and economic class.  The reality is quite different.

The leadership that touts itself as being one that will create economic opportunity for everyone is not telling the full truth.

Instead of actually working to create jobs and opportunities for all Americans the GOP spends much of its time, energy and money creating the illusion that Democrats want to attack the American Dream.

Here's a couple of articles that show the damage done to the working class.  The numbers at the end of the first article are confusing, but the percents tell the story well.  The larger your income the lower percentage is taken out under current policies.  In the Madison School District this unfair situation is clearly visible as the lowest paid hourly employees take pay cuts that hit them harder than any other district employees.

Conservatives will disagree, but the facts remain that all people benefit from the public infrastructure and the public servants who keep our government running.  Businesses need roads, bridges, public safety and a stable society.  These are all things that the government works to provide and the private sector can't produce.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Issue #25- September 18, 2011 Keep on Fighting, Beer, and American Values

Issue #25- September 18, 2011

In this issue:

*Keeping the Fight Alive

*Beer and the Movement

*American Values, Democracy and Free Markets

I occasionally feel the need to justify the time and money used to get my undergraduate degree in political science.  While political theory isn't on the top of most people's list of favorite topics, it is important to remember that our displeasure with the Walker agenda is grounded in a historical and philosophical context.

Staying Engaged…

Progressives feared a letdown as we moved away from the early protests and the recalls over the summer.  Conservatives hoped that people would lose interest in political issues.  However, the movement is alive and well.  Here are a few ideas that can keep you involved in the fight.

*Build routines- Make political action a part of your daily schedule.  A few minutes here and there can make a difference. 

*Shopping/Donating- Be a carful consumer and use your money to support businesses or individuals who are positive influences in the community.  If you have money to donate, look for organizations or actions that are making a difference in the struggle.

*Stay informed- Find reliable sources for getting news about what is going on.  Also get connected to sources that keep you updated about upcoming events or ways to influence events. 

*Writing letters- Take a few minutes and write a letter, email or phone your legislator, the media, etc. and let your opinion be known. 

*Solidarity Sing- This has been an ongoing event for months and continues during the day.  They have started holding a Thursday night sing in the late afternoon/early evening for people who work during the day.  It's a great place to get reconnected and rejuvenated.

*Attend meetings- The more people who attend meetings, legislative sessions, etc. the better.  It may not seem to make a difference at the time, but every person who is present is another representative of our dissatisfaction with the current process.

(Un)Happy Hour…

I strongly believe that the progressive movement has the upper ground in terms of rational, well reasoned positions.  I continue to look for conservative arguments that change my perception, but haven't found any definitive responses that counter progressive thinking.  That being said, the conservative movement currently controls the government here in Wisconsin.  This circumstance provides lots of reasons for frustration, fear and anger as more and more policies and laws are implemented that run counter to progressive ideas. 

We are faced with a dilemma.  How are we to advance our cause?  Is it through legal and political action?  Is it through mass demonstrations, strikes and other more aggressive actions?  Somewhere in between?  I think back to February and the discussion among MTI members about whether to stay out of work to make a statement or to return to school.  It is so difficult to know just how far to push and still keep the movement progressing in a forward direction.  Too cautious and the movement loses power and potentially dies.  Too aggressive and the movement becomes a fringe action that doesn't make any substantive changes.  It's a real balancing act and one that can cause friction within the movement.

This article does a nice job of expressing these ideas.  I totally agree with the tone and the message that we all need to be working together to advance our ideas.      

I'm operating under the assumption that our goal is to not only undo the damage done to our state's progressive heritage and to return balance to our government.  It is also to make these restorations as permanent as possible and advance the progressive agenda beyond past efforts.  In order to do this there needs to be legal and political action that leads to real reforms and legislation.  For this to happen we need to build support across social, political and cultural lines.  We need to find ways to express our opinions, but still work to get "independents" on our side.  The "independent" voter relies heavily on media and sound bites to formulate their opinions and this makes us vulnerable when the media portrays our movement negatively.

So, how does a movement as diverse as ours keep a united front and build support for itself.  In my opinion it is this diversity of thinking and action that allows for us to move ahead.  I don't condone violence, but beyond that I find it difficult to speak against those who are consciously trying to make a powerful statement.  Civil disobedience is an important tool to use when faced with an opponent who controls the government and also heavily influences the media. 

For example, the individuals who have been arrested for videotaping the legislative sessions provide a powerful message to the general public.  Their actions start a discussion about the way our legislature is currently operating and bring the inconsistencies, irregularities and illegal nature of the current climate to light.  I have a tremendous amount of respect for individuals who are willing to put themselves on the line for the cause.  Each of us needs to continue to look for ways that we can be an active participant in making lasting changes here, politically and socially.

As far as dumping beer on legislators?  While I certainly can understand the frustration behind the action (for example, who hasn't had a "strong conversation" with their computer, TV, radio, newspaper in recent days), it is difficult to see how this will build support for us.  It will certainly build unity within a segment of the movement, but doesn't generalize well.  Part of "Solidarity" means channeling our frustrations into actions that make a difference. 

One huge part of the problems we are having in Wisconsin is the fact that there isn't any way to have a real dialog with someone of the opposing viewpoint.  The beer dumping incident becomes a rallying point for conservatives, much as the assaults on the singers at the Solidarity Sing galvanize progressives.  Neither provides a basis to move ahead and develop lasting solutions to our problems.  If this is what we are becoming it doesn't speak well for our future.  It is the "Us vs. Them" thinking that leads us to administrations like the Walker regime.

Maybe it's the elementary teacher in me, but I believe that with enough education we can convince the majority of citizens that our cause is correct.  The problem lies in the time that it takes to educate people.  How much damage will be done in the short term? 

I saw some recent statistics that 75% of Americans are living paycheck to paycheck.  I had no way of verifying the stat, but even if it is slightly exaggerated it's an incredible number.  This means that the potential for economic disaster looms in a majority of families in our country.  Given the current state of our economy we could see even more suffering in the near future.  People faced with crisis often respond in highly emotional ways.  This leads us back to our problem of how to act to counter the wave of conservative actions which undermine safety nets and damage the economy. 

We need strong leadership and organized efforts to give dissatisfied citizens an outlet to express their feelings.  We also need to organize to provide hope for these struggling families and individuals.  In this way we can also win over the majority of Americans and restore our progressive ideas to their rightful place in politics and society.

American Values?…

What are "American Values"?  What does it mean to be a patriotic citizen?  These are highly contentious questions in the current climate.  Unfortunately, because of the nature of defining and teaching history, answers can be quite different for different individuals.  For some, American values mean protesting and speaking out, while for others it means following the rules and obeying leaders.  Is it flying the flag, or burning the flag?  For many these values aren't articulated, but are just a general impression that is shaped by current events or the media.  Whatever your individual beliefs are, "American Values" are a powerful tool used to gain support for a cause (or to attack a different viewpoint).   

However, just because there are multiple ways to define a concept, it doesn't mean that all definitions are equally valid.  There is a difference between understanding another person's beliefs and recognizing how those beliefs drive a  person's actions and accepting those beliefs as valid.  If we operate under the assumption that people's values and beliefs can change with experience and education we can be hopeful that our efforts will be beneficial to our nation. 

Remember that governments form as a result of individuals collectively deciding to give up some of their rights in order to improve the situation of all.  Political philosophy speaks to this and helps define what a good society looks like.  The more widely accepted views on government in the United States draw a great deal from the works of the Liberal thinkers of the 1600's and 1700's.  These thinkers called for changes in the way governments derived their power.  Changing the source from a centralized source (often God) and moving the power to the will of the people.  Of course the "citizens" were a specifically defined group, but I believe that these philosophies are living ideas which can grow and change to accept new thinking.  Therefore the definition of "citizen" can expand beyond the original intent of the authors. 

One central idea that many of these political philosophers advanced was that if the government becomes unjust then the people can enact changes.  Just think about where the current government of Wisconsin is leading us.  Because of the nature of our current administration we need to take action to defend our values.  The list of ways that our true values are under attack are too many to list here, but one is the right of citizens to vote.  Here are some opportunities to learn more about how to get everyone registered to vote. 

The question remains, what kind of "civilization" do you want to live in?  The current conservative movement glorifies the individual and calls for each person to take what they can and hold on to it.  In my mind that is not a civil society, it is a collection of individuals who resemble toddlers involved in "parallel play".  They may look like they are working together, but in reality each person is out for their own interests exclusively.  Here's an extreme example, but shows some of the callousness in the conservative agenda.


This is what Democracy looks like?…

One of the biggest safeguards that keeps our society stable has been the trust that a majority of citizens place in the idea that they will be represented in the legislative process.  Current partisan politics have undermined this to the point that many of us feel like we have no voice.  Here's a piece that truly demonstrates the fact that there is no compromise in Republican.

Is the Market an American Ideal?…

There is no doubt that many American families are struggling.  This leads to growing discontent and division between groups.  When combined with the ideal of a "rugged individualism" offered by conservatives it is no wonder that we are seeing a breakdown in our political process.  One huge problem with our current situation is the fact that Republicans would like to base much of our economic policy on the illusion that the "Market" can resolve all problems. 

Listen to their suggestions for reforming education, solving our budget issues, reforming health care, etc.  Each solution centers around removing government controls and safeguards while letting business have free rein (or reign).  By removing these regulations the conservative movement would have you believe that business will create an environment that benefits everyone.  This is an assumption with no grounding in reality either in the present day, the past or in the future.  Just look at the conditions that most people lived in during our history before government regulations were put in place.  For another example, look at the history of regulation and the banking industry.  From the founding of our country, through Andrew Jackson, and on to the present day it is clear that the financial industry is one that needs some controls placed on it.    

This idea of deregulation is also put forward in the labor market.  Conservatives want to extend their laissez faire ideas to the relationships between employer and employee.  This concept can never work for the simple reason that there is an inherent inequality in power between the parties involved.  As a result the outcome is unequal distribution of wealth on an increasing scale and a loss of power for the laboring classes.  Conservatives would have you believe that labor unions (especially public labor unions) create an imbalance of power that favors the workers.  The reality is that the unions simply stabilize the relationship between employee and employer by reducing the disparity in power that exists when workers bargain individually.  

Here's the next step in their attack on Wisconsin workers.  It is also interesting to read the comments following this article.  They clearly show the divided nature of our community and the lack of ability to have a civil discourse.   

We clearly need to take a closer look at where we stand regarding the government's role in the economic interactions at all levels of our society.  We also need to clearly recognize that business and government exist for different purposes and can not be directly compared.  Business exists to make money by providing a good or service.  Government exists to protect the people's safety and rights.  These are not money making activities and can't be treated as such.   

As a nation we have been able to avoid some of the struggles that have happened in other parts of the world because of our country's wealth in resources and great amount of usable land.  When I was in college I wrote a paper called, "Scarcity and the End of American Democracy?".  This paper dealt with the growing stress placed on our country as we use up the resources that are available to us.  For years the United States has operated on the premise that there is always room to grow and new resources to tap into.  What will we do as these assets begin to become more difficult to attain?  Will we be able to share the resources for the betterment of all, or will we become a nation made up of 2 classes the haves and the have nots?

Education News…

We can take pride in this ranking, while still recognizing that there is a great deal of work to be done to make sure all our residents reach a high level of education.   We also need to keep working to make sure we stay educated, even as our access to educational opportunities are being taken away. 

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Issue #24- Sept. 11, 2011-- Remembering 9/11, Higher Costs for Higher Education, and More

Issue #24- September 11, 2011
In this issue:
*Remembering 9/11
*So many skilled people can have a huge impact
*More truths and 1/2 truths
*Higher(costing) education
*Union Building

Remembering 9/11…
It is hard to believe that it has been 10 years since the attacks of 9/11.  It is important that we remember what happened.  It is important that we honor the bravery and sacrifices of citizens that day.  It is also important to recognize the suffering and pain caused by the actions of a few misguided and evil people. 
Nothing can ever undo the agony and hurt done that day.

At the same time it is vital that we are able to reflect on these events and carefully look at our nation's responses to them.  It is easy to get emotional when the footage of the planes hitting the Twin Towers is shown.  It is easy to get emotional when you watch the interviews of the families and friends of citizens who died in the attacks.  It is easy to get so emotional that the events and losses of that day become something that blind us, and cause us to react in ways that do little to truly honor the memory of the damage done to our nation and our world by the terrorist mentality. 
Whenever any event happens to human beings there are multiple responses possible.  Responses vary based on the scale of the problem and whether the response is on a personal level or a larger scale (family, community, nation).  We constantly face things that are threatening or harmful to things that we value.  These challenges can be life threatening, life changing or sometimes simply inconvenient.  We can try to prevent them, but the reality of our world is that we are all vulnerable in so many ways. 

While the challenges may be inevitable, our response to them are what truly define us as individuals or groups.  Frederick Douglass was one of the leaders of the movement to abolish slavery in the United States and he often spoke about how to respond when a wrong is committed against a person or group.  In one of his most famous speeches he talked about reform and I think that it applies to how we respond to disasters, setbacks and challenges. 

"Let me give you a word of the philosophy of reform. The whole history of the progress of human liberty shows that all concessions yet made to her august claims, have been born of earnest struggle. The conflict has been exciting, agitating, all-absorbing, and for the time being, putting all other tumults to silence. It must do this or it does nothing. If there is no struggle there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground, they want rain without thunder and lightening. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters."
"This struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, and it may be both moral and physical, but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress. In the light of these ideas, Negroes will be hunted at the North, and held and flogged at the South so long as they submit to those devilish outrages, and make no resistance, either moral or physical. Men may not get all they pay for in this world; but they must certainly pay for all they get. If we ever get free from the oppressions and wrongs heaped upon us, we must pay for their removal. We must do this by labor, by suffering, by sacrifice, and if needs be, by our lives and the lives of others."
Frederick Douglass, 1857
Source: Douglass, Frederick. [1857] (1985). "The Significance of Emancipation in the West Indies." Speech, Canandaigua, New York, August 3, 1857; collected in pamphlet by author. In The Frederick Douglass Papers. Series One: Speeches, Debates, and Interviews. Volume 3: 1855-63. Edited by John W. Blassingame. New Haven: Yale University Press, p. 204.      

I take this statement to mean that we are engaged in a perpetual struggle to make the world a better place for all people.  Douglass was writing about a specific issue at a very unsettled time in our history.  However, his words can be a guide to our response to any negative event.  While Douglass speaks to a potential need for violence, I believe that we can take later movements as examples and emphasize non-violent resistance as an effective mode of protest and reform.  The struggle that we engage in is fought on many levels and in many ways, but always with the intent that we are working toward a greater good.      

It is defining this greater good that is problematic for society.  Religious, philosophical and other ethical beliefs come in to play and these can be distinctly different for individuals existing together in a civilized society.  The attacks of 9/11 were a turning point in our continuing struggle between the rights of citizens and the need for national security.

September 11th caused a response that has greatly impacted the world that we currently live in.   As time goes by, we can begin to get a new perspective on our national responses to the attacks.  In our efforts to honor and avenge this assault on our nation, we have in many ways done more to harm ourselves than we have done to preserve and protect our country.  Look at some of the costs of the last 10 years:
*Unfunded wars that have cost us many lives (and many more lives of citizens in the countries we are fighting in) weakened our economy, stretched our military to the breaking point and damaged our reputation around the world because of their dubious justification. 
*Laws that are supposed to protect us, but often undermine the rights of citizens.
*Anti-Muslim and anti-Arab rhetoric and feelings have increased.  These sentiments have also allowed for a climate that has been more and more anti-immigrant in tone.
*Increased distrust in government because of misinformation about our foreign policy. 

These costs have been borne largely by the middle and lower classes while the wealthy and corporations have profited from the involvement in foreign wars.  At the same time, we are still vulnerable in many ways to future attacks.  It seems so unfortunate that we, as a nation, seem unable to learn from our history and instead we repeat the mistakes of the past.

So, as we remember the losses of 9/11, we must work to move forward and to make the world a better place.  We must work to develop a more proactive foreign policy based on knowledge of the countries and cultures we interact with.  We must work to unify our nation and support each other instead of individualizing and compartmentalizing our struggles.  We are a union of many different people and many different cultures.  It is important to our nation's future that we reverse the trends that have accelerated after 9/11.  That would be the best memorial possible and a better protection for future generations than the policies we have been using.    

No One Can Do Everything, But
Everyone Can Do Something…
We have a strong movement with many different organizations involved.  With the large number of interests and organizations come the challenge of trying to coordinate our efforts.  In addition to this challenge we also face the reality that most of us are just "regular folks".  We are living in an historical time and don't have the benefit of hindsight to guide our choices.  Often people in this situation look for a leader who will steer the movement in the proper course.  Our history is full of these great individuals (Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr., Mother Jones, etc.), but there is a danger in looking for a heroic leader.  Charles Willie, Moorehouse classmate of Rev. King, said, "By idolizing those whom we honor, we do a disservice both to them and to ourselves.  By exalting the accomplishments of Martin Luther King Jr., into a legendary tale that is annually told, we fail to recognize his humanity- his personal and public struggles- that are similar to yours and mine.  By idolizing those whom we honor, we fail to realize that we could go and do likewise." 

Let's all try and remember that within each of us there is some skill, trait, or ability that we can use to help our movement succeed. 

One area that we need to be sure we don't overlook is making sure all voters have proper ID and are registered. 

We Hold These (half) Truths…
Taxes on corporations are too high- As a nation we continue to struggle with ways to be sure that the tax burden is shared equally.  While the comments after the article make it seem that the findings are incorrect the idea that 1/4 of the corporations who paid no tax had at least $250 million in assets is disturbing. 

National Republican leaders economic ideas and Governor Walker's budget will help our state-

But, it's not all bleak, remember our budget had a provision to make a special day to honor Ronald Reagan.

We Hold These Truths…
An idea that's time has come.

It was good to hear President Obama talk about creating jobs.  Now if we can just get everyone in government to remember that if more people are employed our tax revenue will increase and our budget situation will improve.

It was funny to read this and think about how many times we faced "tricks" like this from our Republican legislators over the past months.

Protests continue around the state and around the nation.

The Cost of Higher Education…
As the parent of two children who are just a few years away from their college years this issue hits home very hard.  It is even more disturbing when you realize that because we are a two teacher family we will be bringing home at least $520 a month less this year.  

Surging College Costs Price Out Middle Class

By Annalyn Censky  NEW YORK (CNNMoney)
"As the out-of-pocket costs of a college education go up faster than incomes, it's pricing low and medium income families out of a college education," said Mark Kantrowitz, publisher of financial aid sites and
The crux of the problem: Tuition and fees at public universities, according to the College Board, have surged almost 130% over the last 20 years -- while middle class incomes have stagnated.
Tuition: In 1988, the average tuition and fees for a four-year public university rang in at about $2,800, adjusted for inflation. By 2008, that number had climbed about 130% to roughly $6,500 a year -- and that doesn't include books or room and board.
Income: If incomes had kept up with surging college costs, the typical American would be earning $77,000 a year. But in reality, it's nowhere near that.
In 2008 -- the latest data available -- the median income was $33,000. That means if you adjust for inflation, Americans in the middle actually earned $400 less than they did in 1988.
Financial aid: Meanwhile, the amount of federal aid available to individual students has also failed to keep up. Since 1992, the maximum available through government-subsidized student loans has remained at $23,000 for a four-year degree.
Facing that disparity, it's no wonder then that two other trends have emerged: Families are taking on unprecedented levels of debt or downgrading their child's education from a four-year, to a two-year, degree to cut costs.
Of those, Kantrowitz estimates that about half will still be repaying their loans in 20 years -- the traditional student loan period. And for many, that may very well mean they won't be able to buy a home, save for retirement or fund the next generation's education.
"They could still be paying back their own student loans, when their children are in college," he said.
On the flip side of this problem, some families are trying to limit their student debt by opting for two-year degrees.
According to the Department of Education, the portion of middle-income students that enrolled in four-year colleges has dropped, while their enrollment in 2-year colleges has risen, over the last decade.
Many of these students, who would otherwise qualify for four-year college, are getting fewer job skills at a time when employers are demanding just the opposite.
Economists speculate that one reason unemployment is so high is because the American workforce lacks the skills needed to fill the jobs that are open. As a result, companies may shift these jobs overseas, where wages are often cheaper.

As if this wasn't bad enough, in the latest "On Wisconsin", it was stated that tuition will rise another 5.5% this year.  So, my family's income declines by 5.8% and tuition goes up.  What happened to the dream of having your children be better off then you were?

What's Uplifting? Union Building!…
According to an article I read somewhere earlier this year, teaching is the 6th most depressing job in the U.S.  When you add to the existing stresses that educators already face things like the attacks on our wages, benefits and working conditions things seem even bleaker.  For example,

So, what's a depressed, stressed, overworked, underpaid educator to do.  Stick with your union and take pride in what you do.

Our unions give us a supportive place where people believe in public education, believe in the value of what we do for society and are willing to fight for what is right.  We need them to help protect and preserve our democracy.