Sunday, August 5, 2012

#74 August 5, 2012- Battles that can't be lost...

What This Is…
Issue #74- August 5, 2012
In this issue: Battles That We CAN'T Afford To Lose

A War We Need To Win…
Americans take great pride in our nations strength and power, whether that be military, economic, athletic or any other field of human endeavor.  It isn't enough for us to be successful or competitive, instead there is a general national sense that America must be the dominant force in anything we participate in.  We emphasize our successes and relive our triumphs with great enthusiasm.  

Yet at the same time we are often reminded that our dominance isn't guaranteed and we live in a competitive world.  We find ourselves constantly struggling to maintain or in some cases establish our nation's role in different spheres.  One of the most challenging parts of participating in any competitive situation is finding the balance between being competitive, while still operating with class and dignity.  As a nation we often struggle with being proud of our country, while still respecting the accomplishments of others in the world.

It makes perfect sense that, as a nation, we would strive to be #1 in all areas.  Perfection is a noble, if unattainable, goal for all of us to work for.  No politician would be elected, or athlete supported who voiced the goal of finishing 2nd.  However, we must also realize that in many ways it is the struggle and effort that truly measures success and that the ends don't always justify the means.  Hard work and honest effort, even without a "victory" at the end can be respected more than a "win" through devious, illegal or underhanded methods.  I believe that concept holds true in most areas of life.  I strive for success, with the recognition that my efforts may fall short at times.   

This belief may be seen by some as unacceptable.  There are people who believe that the only way to be successful is to "win", no matter the cost or the manner that success is achieved by.  I see this in education on a regular basis as students struggle to learn new material.  We judge them against the standards that have been established for their grade level and evaluate them accordingly.  However, I also make it a point to encourage students for their work ethic and effort.  A student isn't a failure if they work to overcome the challenges that a particular subject or skill may present them.  To judge the value of a student's work by a single set of evaluative tools ignores too many other factors that may influence their long term success more than any individual skill or concept. 

Economics also provides us with examples of the different values that exist in our society.  For me it's acceptable to make enough money to support myself and my family, but there are those who feel the need to be the richest and to be able to always purchase the "best" of everything.  Some would see my attitude as one that goes against the ideals of America, that our nation was build on the desire to acquire more and more.  These are the people who are striving to make their 2nd, 3rd, 4th, etc. million, the people who accumulate wealth beyond their need. 
There is a fine line between positive competitiveness and an extreme, often destructive need to be the top in any area.  We hold up our most "successful" competitors in any field as examples of what all of us should aspire to be, yet we also ignore the reality that their success has been built through the cooperative efforts of others and is sometimes created at the expense of fellow citizens.  We don't want to penalize greatness, but at the same time realize that in a world of finite resources it may not be in our society's best interest to have wealth and power collected in the hands of a few. 

This is especially true in areas like politics, economics and other human activities that rely on cooperative efforts to truly succeed.  These are areas where success is sometimes ambiguous and fleeting.  We all know that any industry is constantly undergoing change as technology, demand or other variables change.  In order to build long-term success it is sometimes necessary to compromise in the present and create a strong base to build from.  Simply looking at our current "bottom-line" and proclaiming success based on our present assets isn't enough to guarantee future success.

These battles for social and economic justice are ongoing and difficult to "win".  Every generation finds itself struggling to address the immediate needs of its present citizens while being sensitive to the past experiences and aware of future needs that will arise.  We see our nation's political, social and economic landscape change over time as new issues and challenges arise. 

What makes our struggle towards a truly just society difficult is the fact that we have difficulty staying on a course that allows all citizens equal opportunity to succeed.  This is due to many issues, some of which are merely differences of opinion and others that are more unpleasant and difficult to address (racism, homophobia, sexism, etc.).  With the natural tendency that humans have to make their world complex it is often difficult to uncover and deal with the real motivations behind our nation's policies.

Unfortunately it is easier for most of us to simply throw up our hands and wonder how we can ever overcome the challenges we face.  Problems like poverty, intolerance and injustice are too big and overwhelming for us to face.  We lose ourselves in areas where immediate success is easier to define, getting that promotion or new job, cheering on a sports team or enjoying entertainment where the "good guys" always win (and you know which characters are "good" and "bad").  We fall for political rhetoric that clearly defines goals for us and we isolate ourselves from the unpleasant realities that many fellow citizens face. 

With all our national pride in our Olympic teams, our military dominance and our economic power we continue to ignore some of our weaknesses.  This article starts out with the line, "RONALD REAGAN famously said, 'We fought a war on poverty and poverty won.' With 46 million Americans — 15 percent of the population — now counted as poor, it’s tempting to think he may have been right."  This raises the question of just what does it mean to be patriotic and proud of our nation.  Are we proud of the glitzy and obvious things, or should we be taking more pride in our ability to create a place where all citizens have an opportunity for success and happiness (like our Constitution declares)? 
With all the resources and power that exists in America, how can we continue to accept the reality that so many of our citizens live in poverty while others enjoy unparalleled wealth?  A nation's health is defined not only by its power relative to other nations in the international sphere.  It is also, and probably more importantly, defined by its internal well-being.  Our society's long term success is protected by the pursuit of social justice in all it's aspects.  We could bounce back from a silver medal in Olympic basketball, we can't recover from an income gap that excludes most citizens from opportunities to be happy, productive citizens. 

Political Upheaval?…
One of the reasons that we are seeing a rise in poverty and other social problems is the fact that our political environment has become incredibly toxic.  In fact it appears that there are those in power who would hold our citizens hostage in order to promote their political, social and economic goals.  GOP leadership here in Wisconsin and on a national level have made it very clear that they want to retain power, even at the expense of many of the people they are supposed to represent.   

This toxic environment is spreading outside the halls of government and into the streets of America.  What started as a peaceful and powerful movement in Wisconsin spread across the nation last year.  The Occupy movement met with uneven responses around the nation and there were some clashes with law enforcement.  As the rhetoric builds towards our national elections and the negative political talk increases we will probably see more heated exchanges both in the press and in our communities.   

Our best defense and most potent offense will hopefully continue to be at the ballot box. 

While the defense keeps trying any tactics possible to stall, the investigation proceeds onward. 

Issue Updates…

Most of us want to be wealthy and enjoy economic success while doing a job that we enjoy and that has maximum benefits.  The reality that most Americans experience is different.  As our economic stratification continues and the gaps between social classes increase we are seeing fewer citizens reach their financial goals. 

Politicians are claiming to be sympathetic and concerned.  Both parties claim to represent the interests of the "common citizen".  They have conflicting views about how to achieve economic success for our nation's residents and are engaged in a vicious battle for dominance in creating economic policy.

What is missing from much of the debate about improving the quality of life for America's workers is a simple thing, the voice of the worker.  In fact many of the policies advanced recently have gone to extreme lengths to eliminate the ability of labor to influence their wages, working conditions and benefits.  Instead of allowing workers a voice, the trend has been to give management exclusive control over all areas that affect the workplace environment.        

In fact conservatives have made it a point to place blame for our economic struggles on labor and labor unions.  They have done so while ignoring other causes for the economic downturn that we are facing. 

Unions are one of the major ways that workers have been able to exert their influence to protect their interests and rights.  Without the ability to have a collective voice in establishing working conditions, wages and benefits workers are at the mercy of management.  As unions have lost membership and power we have seen workers steadily lose ground over the past decades.  This decline has been facilitated by political policies and practices supported by politicians purchased by management and owners of corporations. 

The public sector is in many ways the last defense of unions in America.  These positions are difficult (educating children, although on-line education provides an opportunity), or impossible (you can't have your streets plowed by someone overseas) to outsource.  Because of this the conservative agenda has been to divide and conquer the workforce.  By calling attention to the wages and benefits enjoyed by public workers as being excessive and unreasonable, conservatives are able to deflect criticism away from the fact that CEO's and other wealthy Americans are enjoying a standard of living far above the rest of us.       

It is difficult to predict what will happen next in the struggle for worker's rights.  In reality it is up to us and our willingness to defend ourselves, we can't rely on others to support our interests. 

Americans really believe that their public education system is broken beyond repair.  They hear the news about our low test scores, see stories about behavior in the schools and accept that we are facing a need for extreme measures. 

There are a few realities that the general public ignores when they look at America's public schools.  For starters there's the perception that our schools are failing beyond any hope of repair.  They ignore or justify the success stories that occur every day in our schools.  They hear partial truths and ignore the bigger picture of what is happening in the efforts to educate our children.  Here's an article that was shared from August of 2010 that demonstrates one area where our schools have been very successful. 

They also ignore the reality that our schools are underfunded and the situation is getting worse.  It is difficult to imagine any industry accepting the level of funding that schools receive while facing such high expectations.  Instead of confronting the problems we are moving towards a system where we segregate based on social class and race. 

The education reform efforts also ignore the expertise of the professional educators who work in our schools.  Instead of treating them as experts who have valuable experience and knowledge that can be used to improve educational efforts, we see an effort to marginalize the voice of educators from the discussion.  Educators want to improve the system, but are given little real power to make our schools better places to learn on a larger scale. 

Instead of working to develop a coherent and proactive plan to address the needs of our students and their schools we have turned to a large scale reform system that puts money ahead of people.  The results have been devastating for our most at-risk students and their families.  It's time to change our focus away from politics and economics and really educate our children.    

Great satirical piece about where education reforms could take us.

Education isn't the only place where money has a negative influence.  Our future is being shaped by a few donors with deep pockets.

The impact of money has reached the local level here in Madison.  Mary Burke blames the educator's union (MTI) for her need to outspend them $128,000 to $7,000.  Really?!?!

It's not just spending that impacts our political process.  If the GOP has their way we will have fewer people voting in fewer contested elections.

 If you thought the mining issue in northern Wisconsin was dead, you were sadly mistaken.  Democrats are promising to listen to the citizen's concerns about how mining will affect their communities.  Will it be enough to combat the influence of the WMC and other corporate supporters?  The upcoming elections will decide who gets to control the debate (or if the GOP wins the lack of debate).
Keep looking for ways to support local businesses and help our economy and environment. 

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