Sunday, February 26, 2012

Issue #51 Addressing the Achievement Gap, Politics, Mining, Worker's and Women's Rights

What This Is…
Issue #51- February 26, 2012
In this issue: Addressing the Achievement Gap, Political News, Labor, Mining, and Women's Rights  

The Achievement Gap…
There is a growing sense of crisis in Wisconsin and across the United States.  We face challenges to our economic system as we work to deal with a growing gap between the richest Americans and the rest of the population.  We have deep political divisions that threaten the ability of our government to function effectively and to represent its citizens.  It's no surprise that the same sense of crisis has enveloped public education as well.

There is no doubt, but that we could do a better job of educating all students in our public schools.  If there is any positive we can take from NCLB and RTTT it is the fact that the data collection mandated by these policies has increased attention to the unequal results different groups garner from our public education system.  While public attention has been drawn to the Achievement Gaps that exist, those of us who have been directly involved in public education have long recognized (and been disturbed by) the disparity in outcomes. 

It is one thing to recognize the struggles of individuals and groups in a school system, but it is another thing to be able to act to correct the problem.  The variables involved in education are many and daunting.  As we work to directly address the Achievement Gap here in Madison we are seeing the challenges and difficulties clearly.  These challenges are deeply imbedded in our society as a whole and, as such, will need a concerted effort by all to address properly.

The Madison School District's administration has taken a step towards addressing the Achievement Gaps.  The proposal put forth has many strands and seeks to implement a variety of initiatives.  Over the next few months a great amount of discussion and analysis of the proposal will take place.  My hope is that people take the time to form their own opinions about how to best improve our public schools while keeping some of these ideas in mind.

-It is a proposal, not a final plan.  Your input is important.  We should expect that the end result will not satisfy every individual or group.  It is impossible to address the specific needs of all the different interests that exist in the population that our public schools serve.  However, the more voices that are heard in the process, the more inclusive and effective the final plan will be.  Everyone should take the time to read the proposal.

Once you are informed about this initial proposal there are many ways to get involved in the discussion.  The district is offering public forums in a number of locations in Madison.

You can also send letters or emails to district administration and school board members. 

In addition to reading about the specific plan I also believe that it is important to learn more about the issues surrounding public education.  We can debate about the costs and benefits of different aspects of the proposal more effectively if we are knowledgeable about the subjects involved.  Knowledge will help us reach more effective solutions and also help reduce the ability of others to manipulate our opinions based on emotions or sound-bites.  We have seen the damage that can be done when we base our decisions on education based on limited information.  NCLB and RTTT are examples of policies that sound good, but have significantly harmed our educational system in many ways.  

-All groups must participate in an open and honest discussion.  Just attending a session or communicating with administration or our school board aren't enough.  In addition to getting information from a variety of sources we must also listen to each other.  This means accepting another's viewpoint and recognizing the validity of other's concerns and opinions.  If we approach this process as a way to simply advance our personal/group agenda at the expense of all others then the process will result in failure.  We can't forget that each individual's experiences shape the collective whole. 

This means that community leaders and others with influence must encourage their supporters to participate in the discussion.  Educators are very familiar with the problem of getting community members and families involved.  Frequently it is the very groups who are facing the largest challenges who are least represented in discussions which affect them.  All of us must encourage participation either through formal or informal methods. 

I encourage all of us who are committed to making public education work to engage as many people as possible in discussion about this issue.  The more discussion we engage in the deeper our understanding of the problems become.  We will have more respect for each other if we connect in open dialogue and avoid formats that are not interactive.  This may mean leaving our comfort zones, but the results can be very positive. 

-Schools rely on community support and involvement.  Schools don't exist in a vacuum.  The problems that exist in our public schools are influenced by the problems that exist in our society at large.  This means that our dialog about the Achievement Gap becomes more than just an education issue.  If we can address the concerns raised by Achievement Gaps we can go a long way towards making our society a better place for all.  Our communities must be supportive of our efforts and engaged in our schools. 

Community groups, their members and individual citizens need to get accurate information about the schools in the community.  I hope that they will take the time to try and learn about ways that they can help schools effectively educate students.  There are numerous ways to be involved in our public schools.  By getting more community members involved the connections between schools and communities are strengthened and support for education will increase. 

At the same time educators must be willing to accept the opinions and ideas that community members have.  We can't expect a "blank check" and must remember our accountability to our students and our community.  The expertise of educators and our experience should be valued, but educators can certainly learn from others in the community as well.  The most important aspect of this is the idea that the dialog will be based on honest, positive intentions and not on the furthering of a political, social or economic agenda that reaches beyond the scope of education.     

-Educating students costs money.  Much will be made of the price tag associated with the proposal put forward by MMSD administration.  I certainly agree that we can't just throw money at the problems we face and expect them to be solved.  We need to be thoughtful as to how we spend money in education.  At the same time, the reality is that education requires specialized materials and a highly educated and well trained work force.  If our politicians and citizenry is willing to accept the argument that businesses need incentives and support, why isn't the same true for our public schools?

It is important that we analyze the budget associated with implementing any plan.  Yet, I can't stress enough the importance that education has for the future of our society.  The greatest asset of any culture or nation is the people who make it up.  Education provides us with a common core of knowledge and helps establish societal norms.  The fact that we are more willing to spend money on business, sports and war than we are on education does not speak positively of the direction we are headed. 

It is also true that students with the most needs will typically cost more to educate.  They need additional services and specialized attention along with modifications to materials and school environments.  These students drive up the cost of public education, but also represent a great investment.  If we don't educate all our students, what happens to them as adults?  It is also a measure of the moral soundness of a society in the way that those with the most needs are treated.  We need to commit to funding education for all students.

-We can't sell our educational system to the highest bidder.  Schools are not moneymaking endeavors.  One of the most harmful ideas put forward about our schools is that they should be "run like a business".   Groups that see schools as a way to make money do the students in those schools a disservice.  Students are not employees or simple "raw materials".  Each student's individual needs and goals deserve attention that a business model simply can't provide.  In addition to the economic interests that impact education, we can't ignore the fact that political interests play a large role in how education is funded. 

The "crisis" we currently face in education is not helped by groups that seek to privatize education.  While some privatized schools do well, others don't perform as well as public schools.  The idea that we need to completely revamp the entire system is a false and harmful one.  True reforms based on sound educational practices, combined with efforts to engage families can make a huge difference in the educational outcomes for our students.      

-It is important to recognize the past, while at the same time keeping the future in mind.  One of the biggest impediments in creating an atmosphere of open communication and trust in the system is the way that things have been done in the past.  Our history of educating groups outside of the dominant white-male demographic is not overly positive.  When you combine the historical context with the current Achievement Gaps and other issues it isn't hard to see why different groups would disengage from the system. 

Educators can look at their own reactions to the "reforms" pushed on the Federal and state levels to see how easy it is to become disenfranchised and unhappy.  As morale drops so does involvement in policy making.  However, the experiences that educators are currently having can also provide a guide towards increasing involvement in education policy discussions among historically less involved groups.  We can start by recognizing that there are legitimate reasons why people don't offer opinions about things that directly affect them, or their children.  Once we accept that people are interested in improving the system we can begin to find ways to get people engaged in the process of changing things for the better.

The experiences of educators and public employees in Wisconsin over the past year have been overwhelmingly negative.  We have been harmed financially, our rights have been restricted and we have been portrayed in increasingly negative ways.  Unfortunately, this is an experience that many of the groups that are the focus of the Achievement Gap can easily relate to.  Educators have formed networks and organized on social and political levels to try and regain what we have lost.  As we continue our fight we can work to include a wider range of groups who have interests that overlap or run parallel to ours.  Together we can form a larger voice with increased power.  That can only happen if we listen to each other and work to include each other in our efforts.    

We can't change what happened in the past.  We also won't improve our future by simply doing a "180" and thereby harming other groups to correct our past errors.  Instead we must work together to use our current strengths and prepare a path for future successes. 

-Strong leadership is vital in times like this.  When you have such a diversity of needs and concerns it is important that leaders emerge who can articulate and advance the positions of the many individuals involved.  We have a representative democracy that allows large numbers of people to have some voice in our decision making process.  The same holds true in our smaller organizations.  Strong leaders will guide their organizations while responding to the needs of their members.  In my experience, most people want to do something to help in a situation.  People frequently are unsure how to make a difference and leaders can provide direction.  Strong leaders also help bridge gaps between different groups and interests.  The success of the Wisconsin Resistance to the conservative agenda is based on individuals stepping up and taking on leadership roles. 

-We must focus our energy while preserving flexibility.  In the current environment the challenges are many.  New developments come up rapidly and it is easy to lose focus.  In the past few years the number of new initiatives and programs have increased significantly.  Educators are feeling overwhelmed and discouraged by the number of initiatives and the fact that they are often contradictory in nature.  In fact the volume of new initiatives probably is having a negative effect on education as educators scramble to adjust their teaching to fit new directives.  Directives that change on a regular basis.   

While addressing concerns raised by the achievement gap requires a broad view, it is vital that we recognize that our goals are fairly simple.  We want to engage students in meaningful learning so that they achieve to their highest potential.  We also want students to develop a positive view of learning and prepare them for future success.  If we can achieve these things then we will see positive changes in other areas as well.  Every action that we take needs to keep these simple goals in mind. 

In order to meet the needs of students we must be able to be flexible in our responses.  Each student is different in many ways and it stands to reason that each classroom, school, etc. has differences as well.  The idea that we can somehow implement a unified curriculum that will meet all student's needs is unrealistic.   

We can't afford to get boxed in to looking at education in traditional ways.  Students need experiences in many areas and research shows that we can reach students more effectively if we use a variety of approaches and mediums.  Reading, writing and math are important, but we can't ignore the value of music, PE, art, technology, science and social studies for the sake of improving our test scores.  

-Information is powerful and can be dangerous.  We've all seen how data can be used to manipulate opinion and advance a specific point of view.  In our modern world with the communication tools available it is relatively easy to spread information and just as easy to spread falsehoods.  No single person can be an expert in all areas.  We need to find reliable sources of information and utilize them to form our opinions.  As discussion continues on the Achievement Gap proposals we should keep this in mind. 

-It is possible to create a positive environment for most of our students.  Our schools work well for many of our students.  As we work to extend the umbrella of success we should keep this in mind.  I find that most students I meet enjoy school, feel relatively supported and safe and occasionally don't even want to go home at the end of the day.  There are models of success we can look to for guidance as well as models that we can look to avoid.

-Our students are only one group involved in public education.  While they are the reasons our schools exist, there are other groups that also need to be considered as we develop plans to address the Achievement Gaps.  Of course educators are directly impacted by changes in our educational system.  However, among educators the impacts are felt in different ways.  "Specials" teachers (art, music, phy ed., LMC and technology) have needs that are different in some ways from classroom teachers.  Support staff like OT/PT, Speech and Language, Psychology, Nurses and Social Workers also have unique issues associated with their jobs. 

We can't forget the hourly staff (custodians, clerical, special education assistants, security staff and others) who have been devastated by the recent legislation and corresponding budget cuts.  Any plan to address the Achievement Gaps must take all of these groups into consideration.  We focus on classroom teachers, but classrooms don't function without support and it is often our students with the most needs who interact with the most adults during a school day. 

In order for students to be successful in school, it is vital that their families feel connected and valued.  Achievement Gaps can be addressed by including families and making communication between home and school more effective.  Families of students in public education are often facing significant challenges which impact their children's abilities to perform well in school.

In addition to all the groups inside schools, the community as a whole has an interest in having a quality public education system that works for all students.  Whether it is for employment purposes, public safety, property values or many other reasons public schools provide a valuable community resource.  In return our communities provide resources that add to the quality of our school systems. 

Public schools are truly a vital part of any community and a necessary part of our society.  Public schools provide a mechanism to bring different groups together and to bridge gaps between different interests, beliefs and cultures.  This makes public education a messy and sometimes controversial part of our society.  However, as our society continues to diversify and change the importance of public education as a unifying force magnifies.  Madison has an opportunity to be a leader in creating a model for public education that works for all, we all need to be a part of making that happen.       

Not to be forgotten in all the discussion about the Achievement Gap is the political climate which is impacting all aspects of our society.  While we are in between major statewide electoral events we can't ignore the ongoing political struggles which engulf Wisconsin.  We can use this "break" to our advantage as we work to lay the groundwork for the upcoming, extremely high stakes elections.   

It is also a great time to get informed about the candidates in upcoming elections for Madison School Board as well as keeping up with issues that will impact our electoral process.

We should also continue to share the "alternative facts" that contradict Governor Walker's message about the successes of his policies.

The political climate continues to be toxic here.  The political infighting and the influence of forces from outside Wisconsin have made our state's politics a quagmire of accusations, antagonism and animosity.

We Are All Workers…
There's a certain amount of bitter irony in our current situation.  The level of hostility between different segments of our society have increased exponentially in recent months.  Groups that would seem to have similar interests are divided on political lines and are actively opposing each other in political and economic circles.  We seem to have forgotten the ties that unite us and instead are focused on looking at our differences.   

Yet, history can teach us the dangers of the direction we are headed.  No nation has been able to thrive when the gap between rich and poor becomes too large.  If allowed to operate without control the natural tendency of an economy is concentration of wealth.  However, this leads to widespread suffering and eventually to some form of uprising.  America has been a fortunate nation in that we have had a wealth of resources and an economy that has been able to grow, combined with a political and social system that has created relative stability over our history.  We have been able to allow dissenting voices to have some impact on policy and thereby avoiding major class conflicts.

With the current direction of centralization of political power coinciding with the concentration of wealth we face a mounting challenge to our democratic institutions.  If the voices of labor, women, different racial and ethnic groups and other non-"majority" groups are stifled then the tension in our society will increase to a dangerous level.  We've seen this happen several times in our nation's history and have been able to recover to some degree.  However, it has taken heroic efforts on the part of the oppressed groups to counter the conservative forces that seek to maintain the status quo.       

While the current conservative agenda being advanced in Wisconsin isn't unprecedented, it certainly is taking the fight to a level not seen here in a long time.  It is up to all of us to unite to restore a balance to our political and economic systems.

The issues raised by the controversies over the mining bill here in Wisconsin continue to provide examples of the problems we face in developing sound public policy for the good of all.  There are many questions that have been raised by the debate and they all point to the difficulty involved in making decisions in such a divided climate.

-The differences between regions of Wisconsin are highlighted.  The citizens of northern Wisconsin feel like their interests are not valued by political forces from more urban areas in the southern part of the state.  However, we live in a time when we can recognize that our environment is connected and what happens in one part of the state influences other places. 

-Different groups have different interests and needs.  Our government continues to ignore or violate the rights of other groups like the Native American tribes who are sovereign nations with treaty rights.  

-Outside forces seek to impose their agenda on our state.  The proponents of the mining bill are heavily influenced by companies from outside Wisconsin.  Along with the outside interests comes the seemingly inevitable political wrangling as legislators seek to promote the causes of their financial backers.   

-Data is used to support both sides.  "Experts" from both sides are at odds about the environmental and health impacts of the type of mining in the current bill.

Women's Rights…
It seems that the GOP wants to return us to the "Good Old Days".  They would impose a view of the world that minimizes the importance of anyone who is not a white, male, business owner.  Legislation designed to institute morality as defined by a small group of people is being forced through at a rapid rate.  In order to do this the GOP is promoting a wide range of fear based attacks on a variety of groups.  It seems like no organization is safe from their attacks.

Here in Wisconsin things are no different.  The GOP controlled legislature has once again done the unthinkable. 

One can only hope that people will realize what is being done under our current Republican controlled government and use their vote in upcoming elections.  Given the wide number of different demographic groups negatively affected by GOP policies it is difficult to imagine that they could retain power.  However, any change in political power hinges on an electorate that votes using accurate information and not one that falls under the media spell cast by the GOP and their financial backers. 

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Issue #50- Thomas Paine 2012 and Calvin Coolidge

What This Is…
Issue #50- February 19, 2012
In this issue: Recalls and Elections, America's Dual Personalities- Money or Virtue

Recalls and Elections…
There is no doubt in my mind but that we are currently engaged in a crisis that challenges the continued existence of democracy as we know it in America.  Democracy is a well loved and little understood aspect of our society.  We are fond of talking about what American Democracy means.  We are constantly reminded of what our democratic traditions are and what our "Founding Fathers" intended when they created the framework that guides our political system.

Conservatives are especially fond of using our history as a "tool" to justify and/or guide their policies, words and actions.  However, history isn't a sound bite.  It is a collection of knowledge imbedded in a larger context.  Take for example the famous words of Thomas Paine written in December, 1776, " THESE are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman."  Many of us know these words, but Paine continues on and has a great deal more to say about the situation he finds himself and his fellow colonists in.  I've put some of these quotes (from the same written work) throughout the following discussion on the current political situation in Wisconsin.  

The past year has seen important events occurring at a frantic pace.  The outcomes of these events remain to be seen, but what has unfolded here in Wisconsin is extremely troubling in nature.  The assaults on our democratic institutions and traditions have taken on many forms. 

The separation of powers and the checks and balances (both Constitutional and political) that have protected the rights of the citizens of Wisconsin have been weakened and/or ignored.
-The powers of the executive branch have been increased in a variety of ways that undermine the ability of the other two branches of government to control the executive.
-There has been blurring of the lines between the branches of government and evidence of unethical cooperation between the branches has been observed and documented.
-We've seen the effect of one party dominance of all three branches when the majority party wishes to ignore or trample over opposing viewpoints.
-Minority party members have been excluded from the decision making process and have not been allowed to have a voice in the crafting of legislation and policy.
-Party affiliation has become more important than considering an issue based on its merit and impact.

The ability of the common citizen to communicate with their elected officials and to exert influence in the political process has been restricted.
-The passage of a restrictive voter ID law disenfranchises some voters.
-A small number of well connected (and well financed) individuals have disproportionate influence on the policies and legislation that is considered and enacted by our elected officials. 
-Access to public buildings and public officials has been restricted or denied.
-Meetings and debates are held behind closed doors, at odd hours or in inconvenient places that benefit a few and not the many.
-Public debate has been eliminated, restricted or limited in nature with the people on the outside of the process looking in.

Actions of the government have targeted specific groups or interests and have been aggressively destructive to those groups/interests.
-The needs/wants of the minority have been promoted over the interests of the majority. 
-Groups like public workers and organized labor have become scapegoats for the problems that we face in Wisconsin.

(Mis)Information has been used to divide the people of Wisconsin as well as to create an atmosphere of crisis and panic.
-Data is used to manufacture a crisis and enact legislation one year, while similar data is used in different ways the following year.
-There is an active effort to pit different groups against each other to shift attention away from the actions of the political leadership.
-Political messages and other means of communication are designed to mislead the public and confuse people so that they vote against their own interests.

"But, before the line of irrecoverable separation be drawn between us, let us reason the matter together: Your conduct is an invitation to the enemy, yet not one in a thousand of you has heart enough to join him. Howe is as much deceived by you as the American cause is injured by you. He expects you will all take up arms, and flock to his standard, with muskets on your shoulders. Your opinions are of no use to him, unless you support him personally, for 'tis soldiers, and not Tories, that he wants."  -Paine
The type of political/social/economic climate is not unique to Wisconsin in the 2010's.  We've seen these things happen throughout the history of our state and nation.  All political parties and interest groups actively work to promote policy and legislation that will benefit their needs the most.  What is different about the current situation we find ourselves in is the scale of the attacks and the willingness of the conservatives here to go to nearly any length to promote their agenda. 

The results of the methods used by the GOP in Wisconsin are a divided state and a government that is unable to perform its duties in a responsible manner.  Up until recently we had what I believe to be one of the better imperfect political systems around.  The fact that a majority of people would express some form of displeasure with their government, while at the same time being able to function within the framework provided by our government was a positive thing.  Our leaders were able to work together and compromise in ways that, while not ideal at times, were at least functional.  I say this while recognizing the difficulties, challenges and inherent unfairness that were a part of the system.

Under the current conditions we see a reversal in the ability of our government to govern.  Rabid partisanship along with the apparent indifference to general public opinion have made it so our governing bodies are mired in perpetual arguing with little ability to influence their opposition's opinion.  The "debate" over the budget repair bill is an example of how the system failed.  The recent legislative sessions, or any recent Supreme Court ruling provide us with additional fodder for my argument.  More time is spent placing blame than is spent governing.   

After the ability to have their opinions heard were reduced/eliminated and after seeing the majority party trample the minority party's efforts to influence legislation the common citizen had very few options left to exert influence on the political system.  The results have been the mass protests and the recall efforts that engulfed Wisconsin over the past year.  I think that most of us would argue that protests and recalls are not the best way to govern a state.  They are the symptoms of a divided state and a political system that has failed to represent the people.

However, they are also the symptoms of a rebirth in democratic values and a reawakening in political activism.  Activism that is necessary to reverse a gradual process where a small number of citizens have purchased enough political power to effectively create a government that caters to their needs more than it represents the people.  The people of Wisconsin have seen the future as it could be under this type of government and have resoundingly spoken out to change that future for the better. 

"…a generous parent should have said, "If there must be trouble, let it be in my day, that my child may have peace;" and this single reflection, well applied, is sufficient to awaken every man to duty."  -Paine

To those who say that the recalls and protests were unnecessary, overly negative and/or undemocratic I ask what would you offer as the alternative.  Those of us who participated in these activities see them as the last recourse to a government that has become increasingly unresponsive to the needs of the people it is supposed to represent.  A government that was not only unresponsive, but also antagonistic towards the needs and rights of many of its citizens.  Protests and recalls are not a new way of governing, nor are they a method of political action that should become the norm.  Rather they are the attempt of a large number of people to peacefully reclaim a system that has failed them.

A legitimate question that is raised by the events of the past year involves looking at what the future holds.  Has American style, representative democracy become a system that is unable to cope with the current political situation?  I strongly believe that our political system is capable of adapting to the ever changing environment it exists in.  However, in order for democracy to continue to be viable here the citizens must continue to work to return the power of government to its rightful owners, the people.

"Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value."  -Paine   

There are three main pillars of democracy that must be restored and maintained.

Elections that are free of corruption and that are accessible to all eligible voters.

Equal representation for all and an elimination of the unjust influence of the wealthy on our political system.

A free and independent press or other media sources that provide accurate information to the public.

With these pillars in place we can return to a more manageable system where the interests of the governed can be reasonably debated, discussed and met by informed and reasonable policy/legislation.  If we can't control the hysteria and partisanship we will be left with governmental policy that swings wildly like a pendulum.  A government where the group in power works to maintain power at all costs while other groups wait their turn to handle the reins.  A government of extremes and one that divides not unites.

'Tis surprising to see how rapidly a panic will sometimes run through a country. All nations and ages have been subject to them. … Yet panics, in some cases, have their uses; they produce as much good as hurt. Their duration is always short; the mind soon grows through them, and acquires a firmer habit than before. But their peculiar advantage is, that they are the touchstones of sincerity and hypocrisy, and bring things and men to light, which might otherwise have lain forever undiscovered. In fact, they have the same effect on secret traitors, which an imaginary apparition would have upon a private murderer. They sift out the hidden thoughts of man, and hold them up in public to the world."  -Paine

No one side is innocent of political maneuvering.  Because of the bitter feelings and vicious nature of the political actions of the past year it is natural for the minority party to want to simply reverse the actions of the party that held the majority previously.  However, we must remember that we can never just go back to the way it was before.  Instead of looking for a "return to normalcy" we should use the current situation as a springboard to create a better future.  A future where all groups are able to be heard.  One where citizens take an active role in creating a positive government.  One where elected officials are held accountable not by threats after the fact, but by proactive collective action.

"Mutual fear is the principal link in the chain of mutual love, and woe be to that state that breaks the compact."

"There are persons, too, who see not the full extent of the evil which threatens them; they solace themselves with hopes that the enemy, if he succeed, will be merciful. It is the madness of folly, to expect mercy from those who have refused to do justice; and even mercy, where conquest is the object, is only a trick of war; the cunning of the fox is as murderous as the violence of the wolf, and we ought to guard equally against both"       -Paine

The Cost of Doing Business…
We have a significant philosophical dilemma here in America.  On one hand we trumpet the power of our capitalistic economy.  There is no doubt that Americans are driven by consumerism and materialism.  Our economic power has been a source of pride for Americans and a justification of our status as a world power.  Our economic wealth and vast resources have allowed us to be a dominant player in world politics and allowed us to exert our influence far beyond our borders.

At the same time there is a countering drive in the American mind.  Along with our materialism we have a long history of moral and/or religious destiny.  America is often portrayed (usually by Americans or our close allies) as a "shining city on a hill", a place of exceptional virtue that serves as a model for the rest of the world to follow.  While it is certainly arguable that our strong conviction in our moral superiority is misplaced, the legacy of America as an extraordinary place in the world has been widely promoted.

Calvin Coolidge is a president who, while achieving little long lasting celebrity, certainly articulated these often conflicting views of America through his words and actions.  He rose to national prominence in part through his role in supporting management during the Boston Police Strike of 1919.  Yet at the same time he was considered a strong advocate of the middle class by some.  He advocated for a reduction in the Federal government with more power given to local governments.  He was known by the nickname, "Silent Cal", yet he provides us with one of the best speeches that show the dual nature of American values.

In January, 1925 he spoke to the American Society of Newspaper Editors and said,  “After all, the chief business of the American people is business. They are profoundly concerned with producing, buying, selling, investing and prospering in the world. I am strongly of the opinion that the great majority of people will always find these the moving impulses of our life.”  This quote has been widely shared as, "The business of America is business," and has been used to promote our economic policies in many ways.

However, later Coolidge also said, “Of course, the accumulation of wealth cannot be justified as the chief end of existence.  But we are compelled to recognize it as a means to well-nigh every desirable achievement. So long as wealth is made the means and not the end, we need not greatly fear it...But it calls for additional effort to avoid even the appearance of the evil of selfishness. In every worthy profession, of course, there will always be a minority who will appeal to the baser instinct. There always have been, probably always will be, some who will feel that their own temporary interest may be furthered by betraying the interest of others.”

"We make no concealment of the fact that we want wealth, but there are many other things that we want very much more. We want peace and honor, and that charity which is so strong an element of all civilization. The chief ideal of the American people is idealism. I cannot repeat too often that America is a nation of idealists. That is the only motive to which they ever give any strong and lasting reaction."

We have seen American policy struggle with these two visions.  On the one hand attempting to promote our business interests and exert our economic power, while on the other hand attempting to try and occupy a moral high ground.  Too often (in my opinion) our stance as a moral power has been a thin veneer used to justify actions which have promoted our economic and political power.  As a nation we have found that it is very difficult to mix money and morality.  Instead we find ourselves losing our idealism and falling victim to the quest for financial success and political power. 

This struggle continues into modern day Wisconsin.  On one hand we have leadership which claims to have high moral standards based on their religious ideals.  Yet this same leadership is beholden to financial interests and finds itself promoting money over other considerations.  There is no doubt but that our financial well being is important.  In today's world it is necessary to have strong financial standing in order to survive and thrive.  However, in my opinion we have crossed a line and are now pursuing financial goals above all others.  We have a situation where it is considered not only acceptable, but desirable to acquire wealth beyond what is necessary to survive.  "Conspicuous consumption" has become a driving force that leads us to further and further excesses.  As Coolidge said in 1928, "The requirements of existence have passed beyond the standard of necessity into the region of luxury."  Then reality hit in 1929. 

I see this emphasis on financial interests are problematic in many ways.

We emphasize big money over all else.
Our politicians are spending a great amount of time and energy trying to entice large employers to locate their operations in our state.  They are willing to trade virtually anything to get a big company to come to Wisconsin.  Don't misunderstand me, I see the need to have large scale industry here.  However, we are allowing ourselves to be "blackmailed" by these companies.  We offer tax breaks and other deals to make Wisconsin seem more desirable and in return get few if any concessions from business.  While we do this the real backbone of our economy, smaller business and the middle class, is ignored and crushed.

At the same time we also ignore the long term impacts of current economic decisions.  We also overlook the moral and ethical issues that surround our actions.  Everything can be justified if it means a big employer gets what they need.

Big money leads to big corruption.
If absolute power corrupts absolutely than it stands to reason that large amounts of money would lead to large amounts of corruption.  That certainly appears to be the case here in Wisconsin.  Hypocrisy and greed are thriving here as everyone tries to get a little more of the economic pie.

The Wisconsin Retirement System may be one of the next "cash cows" to get milked here unless we can generate enough political capital to counter the effort.

Basic economics is either misunderstood or ignored.
All of these factors boil down to a basic flaw in the theory of "Trickle-down Economics".  In order for the economy to thrive we need to have a strong consumer base.  By consolidating the wealth of the nation at the top of the economic ladder we lose the foundation that supports the economy.  By cutting out the rungs that allow people to climb the economic ladder we further weaken the structural integrity of our economy.  We have seen this on a national level and are seeing it magnified here in Wisconsin.  While the nation's economy continues to slowly recover, Wisconsin's flounders.