Sunday, October 2, 2011

Issue #27, October 2, 2011- News about many topics

Issue #27- October 2, 2011
In this issue: Lots of news from the last few weeks about… Education, Corruption, Jobs, Wall St., Voting, Unions and Wisconsin's Economy.

Just in case you haven't noticed, I'm big on using history as a "tool" to help guide our thinking.  You can never go wrong with the Onion and they hit the nail on the head here.

I'm very proud of my union (MTI) and am glad that others recognize our contributions too.

Education News…
Education continues to be an area where misinformation is being spread to further a conservative agenda.

In this video Brian Williams misses a number of chances to really question Governor Walker.  He focuses on a topic (the thug comments made by Republican leaders) that really is irrelevant to the issues at hand.  Whether Walker has said anything disrespectful about teachers or public workers doesn't matter, instead (as Walker himself said) it's all about the actions and results and the rhetoric is less important. 

What is the reality for public schools?

Not a Walker comment, but certainly in the same category.

Along with several thousand Madison Public School teachers I got my paycheck with the pension contributions deducted on Friday.  When you consider that my last paycheck had the pay docks from our February protests, and my wife is also a MMSD teacher, our last two paychecks have been substantially reduced.  My wife and I both worked hard over the summer and looked carefully at what our budget will be like for the upcoming school year.  However, the reality is not a positive one for teachers. 

Governor Walker can say all he wants about his great respect for teachers and public workers, the fact is, it is going to be challenging to make ends meet for many public employees as the full effects of his agenda are felt.  The truth is, we pay for what we value and Walker doesn't value public education as much as he values other things (large business for example).

I don't expect anyone to feel sorry for me or my family.  I know that we are lucky to teach in a community like Madison.  A community that overall, respects and supports teachers and public education.  I am also lucky to be a teacher and not one of our support staff, who have been even more adversely affected by the budget and collective bargaining restrictions.  I know that people in all sectors of the economy are really hurting and that many people would love to have the pay and benefits I receive.  I'm not entirely sure that they would want, or be able to do, the job that I do to earn those benefits, but I do recognize my good fortune to be employed in a job that can support my family.

My frustration, and that of many of my colleagues, is that we are being singled out as the problem.  Public workers are under attack for an issue we didn't single handedly cause.  While I worry about saving enough money for my children's future, while I worry about all the little details of life that all people face like new tires on the car, the need for a new water softener, while I worry about my retirement, while I worry about health care costs, while I worry about… There is a small group of people who control a vast amount of wealth and who couldn't begin to spend it.  There are soldiers fighting wars that all of us pay for and who put their lives at risk for questionable policies.  There are people who are homeless and hungry here in the United States and around the world while some have multiple homes.  Is this a call for class warfare, or is it simply a plea for the wealthiest Americans to look carefully at what they have and what they value?  Our political leaders need to remember who they are supposed to represent and not who they are getting the most benefit from. 

My fellow educators (and other public servants) work constantly to try and address the issues that lead to the suffering of so many people in our country.  We are not to blame for the underlying problems in our state.  With the rhetoric and actions of conservative leadership we are placed in a situation where we need to defend the relatively little that we receive as compensation for our efforts.  We are faced with more responsibilities for less return.  We are also faced with students who need more from us in terms of time, energy and money.  Our administrators are faced with the unpleasant choice of where to cut so that it hurts the least, but there isn't much left to trim from budgets except for people.  They must constantly ask us to do more with less available time and resources.

That is the state of public education from one teacher's viewpoint.    

Madison Prep…
On Monday (10/3) the Madison School Board of Education will have a meeting about the proposed Madison Prep charter school.  This proposal has raised some controversy over the past months and has undergone some changes.  I encourage all people interested in education to attend this meeting to hear what the exact proposals are.

From a union standpoint it seems like some of the details have been resolved.    From an education policy and financial standpoint there are still issues to be addressed as well and I am withholding my opinion until I hear the latest proposal.  My major concerns are that all staff have union representation if they so desire and that all staff operates under the CBA currently in place for MMSD teachers.  I am also concerned about the accountability issues that arise with charter schools.  Finally, the issue of funding can't be ignored.  It will be interesting to hear what the new proposal contains.

Corruption and Hypocrisy…
In the last issue I talked about the history of the civil service and the importance of having clearly defined procedures for employing people in our important government jobs.  There are many ways that money can corrupt our political system.  The ability of government leaders to appoint individuals to government jobs is one.  The financing of political campaigns is another.  The Walker administration seems to be heavily involved in using both of these to further their political aims.   

While it is important to stay within the framework of our Constitution and remember that everyone is innocent until proven guilty, the large volume of accusations merits attention. 

With all the clamor from Republicans that public servants be accountable, they might want to take a close look at one of their own.

Another way that the people are protected from the abuse of power by elected leaders is the separation of powers within the government.  This allows for checks and balances on each branch and keeps power from being centralized in any single location.  There is a sad irony here in that our Tea Party "friends" who are so intent on returning the nation to its "pure" historical state are actually working to undermine what they supposedly stand for.  By allowing governors power beyond what is allowed in state constitutions they are creating a powerful central government, something they supposedly dislike. 

Without engaging in an economic debate between supply side economists and Keynesian thinkers, I simply offer the common sense idea that in order for our economy to thrive, people need to have income to spend.  Following that line of radical logic, people need jobs to have an income to spend.  Because the government has control over many aspects of our economy (and it should have these controls) it is also logical that one of the primary jobs of government is to make economic opportunity possible for as many people as possible.  How are our legislative and executive branches doing in Wisconsin?
How does a single day legislative session help?  Clearly the blame for our lack of action lies with progressives who worked to recall GOP senators.

How about cutting funds for public transportation?  Given that many of our jobs being created are on the lower paying end, public transportation will be vital for people to get to work. 

This article offers many classic GOP strategies for helping business.  Do we really believe that businesses will hire more people if environmental regulations are cut back?  The idea that people are unemployed because they refuse to take lower paying (non-union) jobs is also a shifting of blame from where the responsibility lies.  Why should workers take survival level pay while executives live at a significantly higher economic level?

Now we know who to blame.

Our jobs creator strikes again. 

Wall St. and Protests…
The protests in New York continue to grow.  It is disappointing how little the mainstream media is noticing these events.  As a country we need to begin having widespread conversations about our financial industry.  People need to understand the issues with the current system and how we can change things.

Another reason to take note of these growing protests is the different climate in NYC when compared to Madison, WI.  I don't claim to have any inside expertise about what is happening in NYC, but the videos and comments that I've seen have had a very worrisome feel to them.  This is not to say that Wisconsin's protests were of any higher moral character, but rather that the responses on both sides in NYC are more confrontational.  It is a concern, that as frustration grows over the injustices in our economic system we will see a rise in potentially violent confrontations. 

It is clear to me that changes need to be made in our financial system, but it is also clear that those who benefit the most from the system will fight to keep the status quo.  This is an argument with deep historical roots. 

Clearly the protests have a different tone than the ones in Wisconsin.

The GOP continues to use fear to hold on to its power base.  One of the scare tactics that is used is the threat of voter fraud.  While there continues to be little evidence that widespread voter fraud exists (especially in states like WI) the fear factor allows GOP legislation to be passed. 

Wisconsin is now the "proud" owner of one of the most restrictive voter ID laws in the country.  There is also evidence that the state is at the very least not publicizing ways to get free ID's and at worst actively trying to limit information about and access to ways to get an ID for voting.  A few articles about this issue:

Is it all about protecting Walker?  Have Republicans thought ahead to when there is a Democrat in office?  Imagine the uproar from the right when a Democrat uses the power given to the governor by the GOP.

The redistricting controversy continues.

There are always things we can do to help improve our world.  Everyone should think about helping get people out to vote, no matter what their political affiliations.

Union News…
Of course you shouldn't use your school computer for union business, but a year in jail?!?

Honesty and Integrity…
Citizens need as much information as possible to develop informed opinions about current events and policies.  Our political leaders and the media that covers stories have a responsibility to share information in ways that can be accessed and used by all people.  Citizens, in turn, have an obligation to keep informed and to exercise their rights in the voting booth and in other political actions.

Unfortunately, it seems to be getting more and more difficult to get information that is detailed and reasonably complete.  As a result more and more people are basing their opinions, casting votes, etc. without knowing the necessary facts.  Our political and economic landscape is scattered with half-truths and outright misrepresentations (lies) of facts.  These are designed to mislead people and spread fear.  All of this makes people easier to lead in directions desired by elite leadership, which may or may not have the interest of the people at heart.     

As you read the following articles look carefully for what is either left unsaid, or is only partially told.  The current administration has become very adept at saying there is a plan being developed, and then not releasing details.  They are also holding a large number of "closed door" meetings with little oversight from the media or the people.

In an article from the Merrill Courier (9/16/11) Robert Kraig, Executive Director of Citizen Action of Wisconsin, wrote about a closed door "by-invitation" only media briefing about the negative impact of the national health care reform laws.  This media session was held "off the record" and no recording devices were allowed, and quotes of speakers were prohibited.  Even the person who authored the study, Dr. Jonathan Gruber from MIT, wasn't invited. 

During the briefing many "facts" were presented to show the negative effects that this reform effort would have on Wisconsin.  The focus was primarily on the increases in premiums that will impact some individuals.  Some of the facts that were ignored or distorted:

*340,000 currently uninsured Wisconsinites will gain health insurance coverage.
*The premium increases typically result from coverage being extended to groups that are currently discriminated against by insurance company policies.
*The climate created by the reforms will allow consumers the right to purchase affordable coverage without discrimination based on their health status, it will also protect consumers in the future from being priced out of health care.
*The biggest "losers" in the reform are the insurance companies and they are lobbying our political leaders as much as possible to avoid the reforms.

Of course there is always the reality that our budget crisis and many of our other issues have a source other than the greed of public workers.  This is a long speech, but worth the time.

In addition to misleading information, there is always a "red-herring" that is thrown out to direct people's attention away from the real issues.

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