Sunday, October 28, 2012

Issue #85 October 28, 2012- Vote!!!

What This Is…
Issue #85- October 28, 2012
In this issue: Vote 

Get Out and Vote…
Early voting started this past week here in Wisconsin and we are less than 10 days away from Election Day.  Elections always matter, but this year's election has taken on extra significance for a variety of reasons.  The rancor of the discourse has amped up the interest as well.  Here in Wisconsin we are not only interested in the national races, but also in the local races that will determine control of our state senate.  A GOP majority in the senate would allow Governor Walker to resume his unobstructed attacks on public services and public employees.

I would guess that for most citizens, November 6th will bring a sense of relief.  Relief from the constant barrage of advertising and the vicious political dialogue that has poisoned our airwaves and media outlets.  Relief from the robocalls and polling.  A chance to return to "Normalcy" and ignore politics for at least a year or two.  Even those of us who have been "awakened" politically feel worn down and in many ways discouraged by our nation's inability to engage in meaningful, polite discourse over the issues of the day.

These feelings of exhaustion and frustration lend themselves to a mood of pessimism.  Pessimism fueled by the ongoing cacophony of attack ads and angry rhetoric that fills our airwaves, mailboxes and newsfeeds.  Citizens of all political persuasions are expressing dissatisfaction with the process and the results of recent campaigns.  We face widespread concern about the validity of our electoral process as well. 

The result is a curious blend of activism and apathy.  On one hand there are a significant number of people who are more involved now than they have ever been, while at the same time a significant number of people are continuing to "opt out" of the voting process.  Look at the turnout in the June recall elections in Wisconsin.  With all the hype and significant reasons for involvement turnout still only reached around the 60% mark.  While everyone trumpeted the record number of voters as evidence of the intense interest we cant forget that 40% of the population still didn't make it to the polls.

There are many reasons for the continuing lack of voter participation in elections at all levels, but in the end there really is no reason that any eligible voter should fail to cast a ballot.  With early voting, absentee ballots mailed to your home, free taxi rides on election day and numerous other "Get Out the Vote" efforts we should see close to 100% participation by citizens fulfilling their most basic of duties. 

Each of us has a responsibility to encourage, cajole and motivate those around us to get to the polls and cast a ballot on, or before November 6th.

            Why I (Usually) Vote Democrat, and Why I Will Do So Again…
I claim to be an independent progressive when it comes to identifying my political allegiances.  However, it sure seems like this means that most of my votes have been given to Democrats.  This excludes a brief relationship that I had with the Republican party in the late 1970's and early 1980's when I was drawn to the color blue that was used to show states that had voted Republican.  I guess it was to contrast with the gray used for Democrats in a time when some viewers still had black and white TV's.  As a Civil War buff I couldn't find a way to support the colors of the Confederacy.  I was also around 10 so my political views were not fully developed either. 

I'm not alone in this and recent elections have only cemented the party affiliations that many of us have.  This is true whether we fully support the party we cast a vote for, or even if we have significant problems with the platforms they put forward.  In a two party system like the one in America today, there is little wiggle room for the independent voter.  It feels to many like we are stuck voting for a candidate because casting a ballot for an independent only serves to lend support to a candidate we oppose. 

I hear dissatisfaction coming from both camps, even though the spokespeople of the different parties do their best to mask dissension and spin any internal conflicts to limit the appearance of disagreement in the party ranks.  Since I am neither a conservative, nor a Republican I won't speak to their squabbles over just how far to the right they would like Mitt Romney/Paul Ryan to veer.  My concern is that the issues that many here in Wisconsin have with President Obama may end up with people casting ballots for negative reasons instead of choosing the candidate that most closely represents their interests while still having a reasonable chance of winning. 

The issues that Wisconsin's progressives have are many and legitimate.  We wonder where President Obama was during our struggles with Governor Walker and why he provided so little support for our efforts to advance causes that he claimed to have such passion for in his campaign of 2008.  We look at his record on education and the fact that worker's rights have continued to erode under his watch.  Many feel that he hasn't gone far enough in speaking out to represent those who supported his candidacy 4 years ago.  In some ways it seemed like our resistance in Wisconsin fueled a change in Obama's words and actions and provided a spark that strengthened his resolve and put him on a path towards becoming the president we hoped to have when we elected him.

Yet, it seems like it may be too little and too late for some voters.  Their dissatisfaction leads them to think seriously about casting a ballot for a 3rd party candidate.  They do this with the knowledge that a vote for anyone but Obama is a vote for Romney.  They do this with a clear motivation and a resolve to make a statement about their perceived lack of choice in this election.  I understand their feelings and opinions and wholeheartedly support their right to cast a ballot as they choose.  No one should be "guilted" or coerced into voting for a candidate. 

I do hope that people consider all their options and cast their vote thoughtfully and with care.  We saw the results of a divided and disconnected electorate in 2010 and are paying a heavy price for those results.  When you compare the election results of 2008 and 2010 you see a huge number of voters who chose to sit out the most recent election.  These voters silenced themselves and now face challenges much more significant as a result. Wisconsin provides an excellent example of a state where this occurred.

On a very basic level it is true that we should cast our votes without thought about strategy or political consequences.  I know that whenever I vote my first criterion is the candidates stance on issues that I feel are important.  Political repercussions are farther down on my list, but certainly have come into play at times.  Unfortunately, there have been elections where I felt I was casting a ballot for the "lesser of two evils".  Luckily for me, the election of 2012 isn't one of those.

The candidates on their ticket aren't perfect, but then no candidate ever is.  In my opinion there are many reasons to get out and vote Democrat in this election.  The most important of these reasons isn't based on any specific position on a single issue.  Based on recent experiences at the local and state level, along with observations of what has happened nationally it appears that the Democratic party offers the best chance for more voices to be heard.  Here in Wisconsin we have seen the GOP use their power to stifle opinion and force legislation and policy through the system without allowing for debate or discussion to occur.    

I know that within any demographic there is a wide range of opinions.  Our nation's system of representative democracy should mean that individual voices will be blended into policy that (if our representatives do their jobs) will trend in the direction that benefits our society.  It may not happen quickly and there will be setbacks, but by allowing for public input and debate between representatives a common interest can often be reached.  Even when we fall short of our aspirations for our nation we still can see trends towards something "better".  If we don't then it is our obligation as citizens to rise up and make our voices heard. 

The key to the process is allowing multiple voices to be heard and for all parties to approach the problem solving process in an open and rational manner that looks beyond individual needs.  Our representatives need to defend the interests of those they represent, but not at the cost of undermining the system or by excluding other opinions from the debate.  We see the GOP trying to silence the voices of a majority of citizens and advance the goals of a minority in many ways.

Voter suppression is one obvious example of the Republican effort to limit participation in the process.  The consequences for our democracy should be obvious and GOP control of any part of our government (local, state, national) will help them in their efforts to seize control of our nation.  

Voter suppression doesn't have to be done through legislation or public policy.  In fact, when done through the workplace or on a personal level it may even have a more damaging effect.  Intimidation and threats are one way to get employees to vote against their own interests.  

Wisconsinites have seen firsthand what happens when this current brand of Republican does when they have full control of the government.  Public debate is silenced and/or ignored and radical policy is implemented without due process.  Who can forget the image of Representative Barca trying to make a point while the role is called to push Act 10 ahead. 

On a all levels our political discourse and culture has changed drastically for the worse.  The rules of our legislatures and political entities are designed to facilitate discussion, but can be manipulated and used to achieve just the opposite.  We have seen the GOP use tactics to stall initiatives that may have helped numerous citizens.   

These types of actions are done, not for positive reasons, but rather to undermine the opposition.  We know that politics is all about public perception and "spin", but to bring our government to a standstill isn't in anyone's best interest.  I should take a moment to address the obvious argument from the conservative point of view, isn't that exactly what the Wisconsin 14 did last spring?  I would argue that the Democrat senators from Wisconsin left the state because due process and legislative procedures were not being followed.  If the GOP controlled legislature in Wisconsin had shown any sign that reasonable debate was going to occur I don't know that the senators would have gone to Illinois.  We won't ever know, but they were facing an unreasonable situation and their options were limited.  There is a difference between making a stand on an issue (one that could result in significant consequences for them) and simple obstructionism for political purposes. 

The fact that the economic policies that these GOP legislators are advancing are not in the best interests of most Americans makes their actions more troubling.  While attacking President Obama's ideas the Republicans are offering an agenda that weakens our nation's economy and harms many citizens opportunities to succeed.  

This is just as true in Wisconsin as it is around the nation.

Dividing the population isn't only done economically.  It is difficult to see how the GOP's policies benefit citizens who are not white and male.  I am hesitant to accuse anyone of racism, sexism or other prejudice.  It is difficult to know another person's true thinking or the reasons for their actions and accusations are often thrown around too quickly.  However, it is just as difficult see how the rhetoric or policies advanced by conservatives benefits groups outside what they consider "mainstream America".       

The divide and conquer approach has been used effectively by the GOP in the arenas of education and labor relations.  In both places we see conservatives using fear and intimidation, combined with some envy and misinformation to pit groups that should be working together against one another.  The result is bad policy that is supported by people who thought they were getting something different.    

This is a great SNL skit that puts our economic and labor issues in a different light.

In the end, the question remains, who are our representatives representing?  It certainly appears that many of them are not representing their constituents, but rather their large money donors.   

The public struggles to find accurate information that isn't politically motivated.  Any action by any political figure or public event is presented in ways to make a specific candidate or agenda look good.  This is politics as usual, but it is politics as usual on an inflated scale.  The rhetoric around the attacks in Libya provide an example of pain and suffering manipulated for political ends.    

We face a critical election that will have significant consequences.  Our next president will, in all likelihood, make multiple appointments to the Supreme Court.  We face some difficult challenges in foreign policy.  Domestically, we need to address our economic troubles and get our nation moving ahead.  All of these issues demand strong leadership on all sides, statespeople instead of demagogues. 

The progressive philosophy is one that looks for the greater good and emphasizes collective action.  Now is not the time for us to abandon our beliefs or to give in to more aggressive political agendas that claim to be the quickest path to success.  

What started in Wisconsin has been spreading across the nation.  We need to cast our ballots in ways that will allow the movement to continue to grow.  By voting Democrat we won't necessarily get someone who represents our specific interests, but we will allow for debate and discussion to continue.  

There are other, more influential, people who think the same as I do.

In the end, no matter what your stand on politics is, we need to see huge turnouts in the November 6th election.  In Wisconsin it is even more important for progressives to turn out to make sure that the senate retains its Democrat majority.  Every vote counts, make sure to use yours.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Issue #84 October 21, 2012- Politics, Schools and Hope

What This Is…
Issue #84- October 21, 2012
In this issue: Politics, Public Schools and Hope for the Future

MMSD now has a website for Spanish speaking families!!

Style Over Substance
We are nearing the end of another heated election cycle (for those of us in Wisconsin it has been over a year of near-constant campaigning) and politicians everywhere are providing us with examples of "style over substance" as they trade one liners and air advertising aimed at convincing voters to "buy their product".  As a society we face many very difficult issues, issues that can't be summarized in a brief ad, speech or other campaign communication.  Unfortunately, those short, limited communications are what many citizens use as a basis for deciding what candidates and policies to support. 

The reality is that the solutions to our challenges and problems can't be generated by bumper sticker slogans that oversimplify a problem or vilify a particular stance on an issue.  By relying on the "packaging" of a candidate or party we ignore the substance of their positions on important issues.  It reminds me of my childhood (and embarrassingly, my adulthood as well) where I would buy a cereal for the prize in the box, not necessarily the cereal itself. 

The obvious danger to our society is that by voting on style, we put politicians in place who don't have the knowledge, ability, skills, and/or desire to work to find reasoned, moderate solutions to issues.  Our elected officials are often beholden to special interests, or products of a flawed system where they have been able to essentially purchase their office.  This is certainly not true of all politicians, but an alarming number of them do fall into this type of category. 

Voters in our nation are swept along in a mass wave that is generated by propaganda with little basis in fact.  Thus we see Russ Feingold's statesmanship replaced by Ron Johnson's demagoguery.  We also see people casting ballots based on incomplete information.  Scott Walker's call to balance the budget resonated with voters, would it have had the same support if he had proposed eliminating public employee's collective bargaining rights during the campaign?   

The policies that result from these elections mirror the elections themselves.  Candidates that are elected based on glitzy campaigns find themselves mired in a process that is far removed from the "glamour" that the campaign trail offered.  When done well, our democratic process is not a thing of beauty to most of us.  Meetings, compromise, debate, meetings, debate, communicating, discussion, compromise… the process of creating positive policy and legislation is a tedious one that offers few opportunities for publicity.  Yet, our politicians need their "moments of glory" so that they can get re-elected every election cycle.

Elected officials find themselves looking for issues and policies that will allow them to stand out and gain support among the electorate.  This isn't necessarily a bad thing, we want those who represent us to do just that, represent us.  We elect them to stand up for us and to protect our interests while shaping policy that will allow our entire society to prosper.  Unfortunately, along with the need for votes, our modern candidates need significant financial support to "package" their "product" for the next election.  This leaves them vulnerable to influence by wealthy donors who may not be interested in promoting socially just, or economically fair policies.  In the end, we lose the substantive debate that our society's current, and future issues deserve and get a "sugary treat" that can end in decay.               

Public Education- Policy vs. Reality…
Public education is an area that has been significantly damaged by the lack of informed debate and the poor policy decisions that result from "Bumper-sticker Politics".  Too many of the people making important decisions about public education have too little knowledge about education in general and our public schools specifically.  This has resulted in decades of poor policy and obviously has damaged our public education system. 

This damage has accelerated exponentially in the last couple of decades.  Legislation like No Child Left Behind and numerous other "Education" bills have created an atmosphere where real education reform is stunted and resources are drained from our public schools.  All while touting privatization and attempting to funnel public money to for-profit schools. 

The actions of GOP leaders like Governor Walker have expanded the attacks by attacking not only public education (record budget cuts), but also by directly attacking public educators (Act 10 and the effort to eliminate collective bargaining for public employees).  This combination seems to have awakened many public educators and their supporters in states like Wisconsin.  We are realizing that we are involved in a struggle that goes beyond contracts, wages and benefits.  The future of our public education system is in jeopardy if we continue on the paths mapped for us by those claiming to want to "reform" our schools. 

The false reformers rely on their ability to simplify a problem and to create what appears to be a "common-sense" solution that will gain popular support.  They create and publicize a "crisis" and use the public concern to take control of the debate surrounding education.  The GOP has been very effective in their efforts to set the tone of discussions about public education.  So effective that Democrats echo many of the sentiments that Republicans have initiated. 

The "reformers" have used a few basic arguments to attack public education and have been very effective in delivering their message.  I have no problem with the supporters of these "reforms" touting their ideas, nor do I have a desire to stifle debate that could lead to positive results for our public schools and the students they serve.  The proposing and advocating of ideas is a vital part of our democratic process.  Concepts and ideas like the Madison Prep proposal focus attention on issues and generate more involvement from all sides of an argument. 

However, there is a more sinister side to these discussions that appears all too frequently.  It is up to all of us involved to make sure that we don't allow a small number of individuals with specific interests to manipulate and control the debate.  

We are seeing discussion in Madison about a proposed change at Toki Middle School that could result in a charter school program replacing the existing, more traditional school model.  More discussion needs to occur in a positive way, but discussing changes allows for growth to occur.  As Frederick Douglass said, "If there is no struggle, there is no progress".  

My problem with education "reform" as it is currently presented in America is twofold.  First, I don't believe that a significant number of the "reforms" proposed are really designed to improve education.  Many of the proposals are simply efforts to funnel money to a new recipient, usually a private company or individual. 

My second major problem with education "reform" is the fact that policies based on simplifying issues or hyper-focusing on specific issues results in flawed policy.  If these policies were simply broad, generalized and relatively harmless that would be one thing, but instead these policies result in specific damage to schools and students.  Every piece of legislation or educational policy implemented has an impact on students or educators somewhere and we can't ignore the realities of the impacts that they have. 

A couple examples…

Accountability- We've been hearing it for some time, our schools are failing and we need to hold them accountable in order to compete with other nations in a global marketplace.  In order to know whether our students are succeeding or not we need to assess them.  We can use the data generated by these assessments to evaluate school districts, specific schools, programs and individual educators as well.  In addition there are key concepts that, if understood, will predict a student's ability to be successful in future activities.  That's what "reformers" would have us believe. 

It is true that assessment is a vital part of the educational process.  Assessments can be used to guide instruction and to determine a student's understanding of a subject or skill.  However, the best assessments are not single events based on a small number of responses on a standardized test.  Instead, a professional educator is able to assess a student in multiple formats on a number of occasions and monitors student progress over time. 

The results of the flawed "reform" policies are things like the upcoming DPI School Report Cards.  These evaluations focus on a small number of specific criteria and standardized testing.  The results will be released on Monday, October 22nd and I predict that turmoil, finger-pointing and confusion will result. 

You see, in order for a report card to be effective, everyone involved needs to understand what is being evaluated, how it is being evaluated and what the significance of the evaluation is.  None of these things is true with the school report cards and most people will simply look at the number and use that as a comparison of what schools are "good" and what schools are "bad".  Families will see a score and wonder what it is that they are missing when they think about the education their child is receiving. 

The report card is only the most recent, and most visible, example of the flawed policies involving schools and accountability.  I've written quite a lot about the problems with testing and other accountability measures.  The reality is that students lose valuable instruction time, educators find their curriculum limited to "testable" skills and topics and families are frustrated by the different numbers and results that are shared after assessments are given. 

If another example is needed, it comes from many Madison educators who are just finishing their initial rounds of required assessments.  Now they are ready to start teaching, but wait, November is "Standardized Test Month" here in Wisconsin.  This narrows many educators instructional time to a few weeks in October and early November sandwiched around 2 professional development days and Halloween.  No worries though, we will get back to instruction just in time for Thanksgiving, Winter Break and the assessments necessary to complete our end of semester report cards.  No wonder so many educators are frustrated.  Policy makers just don't understand what damage they've done to our students.    

Of course there are always those who resist these reforms.

School Finance Reform/The Schools as a Business Model- Reformers argue that our public schools are like "money sponges", just soaking up dollars and not releasing much of value.  They point to the test scores and rising costs of educating students and claim that it could be done more efficiently and more effectively if we just cut costs, trimmed staff, and ran our schools like businesses. 

The best example of this rhetoric, turned into policy should be obvious.  Scott Walker's budget trimmed the "fat" from public schools in Wisconsin to the tune of $1.85 Billion over two years.  In return for the loss of state aid, he gave local school boards "tools" to offset the cuts.  Act 10 and the changes in rules regarding collective bargaining for school district employees was supposed to make up the difference by having employees pick up more of their health care costs, pension contributions and eliminating the unions that supposedly cost the system so much money.

Here's a sampling of articles from the past week or so, showing just how successful this idea has been.    

Then there is the reality that if you combine high stakes testing with school financing you will get a business model.  Corners will be cut and changes made in order to insure success.  Unfortunately, we aren't talking about discontinuing a product line, or changing hours of business.  We are talking about someone's child.

As budgets are cut, students and families are also impacted as they look ahead to their college careers.  We are seeing a huge rise in student loan debt that is making a college education "unprofitable" for many Americans.  

Forming a Partnership Between Schools and Communities…
The current climate surrounding public education may be gloomy, but there is always hope.  An example of this occurred last week when a small group met at a local Madison restaurant to discuss public education and what can be done to defend it.  The group included a couple of educators and several community members who have students that attend Madison's public schools.  Discussion ranged from testing, to charter schools to curriculum and more. 

We talked for almost two hours and decided to meet again in the near future.  Each of us will try to bring a few more people in to the discussion group and we will look for topics that are of interest and importance.  We don't know where the group is headed and what will come from our meetings, but I have hope that it will be the beginning of a larger effort here in Madison to connect our schools and educators with the larger community. 

I am participating in a couple of other efforts to facilitate communication around issues involving public education and public educators.  These initial efforts to expand communication and to share information about what is happening to/in our public schools gives me optimism for the future.  I hear from other educators about their efforts to connect with the communities they serve and my "Hope-Meter" jumps more in the positive direction. 

As Ralph Ellison said, "Education is all a matter of building bridges."  Along the same lines, Isaac Newton stated, "We build too many walls and not enough bridges."  The survival of public education depends on the number of walls we knock down and the number of bridges we build.  The time to start construction is now.       

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Issue #83 October 14, 2012- Problems with elections, Charter schools and Walmart

What This Is…
Issue #83- October 14, 2012
In this issue: Democracy at Risk, Charter School in Madison?, Support Walmart Workers

A Crisis For Our Democracy
We live in a time period when everything that happens seems to be a crisis, the most important…, or some grave threat to our way of life.  Of course there are some recent events that are historical in their proportions, but with the constant blaring of 24/7 TV and radio shows, combined with the instant commentary on the internet, it is often difficult to see the real significance of any event/policy/individual.  The competition to be the first to cover a story or to offer some different analysis means that we are flooded with constant hype and rhetoric.

Having said that, it appears that we are at a definite crisis point in our nation's electoral process.  America is a remarkable nation when it comes to the election of new officials and the transferring of power.  We have developed an elaborate system for electing our leaders and (even though many of us don't bother to vote) for the most part Americans have supported and trusted this process.  Our democratic traditions have allowed us to endure significant turmoil and heated debate, while avoiding widespread bloodshed and civil unrest.  A case may be made that there are other, perhaps more sinister, forces that play a role in this as well, but in the end we have developed a relatively peaceful way of putting new leaders in power.  This is especially true when you look at other places around the world and the conflicts that erupt as power is transferred or seized.

Like all human creations, our electoral system has a checkered past and a few inherent flaws.  We've excluded entire groups from participating and witnessed significant corruption during our nation's history.  The system isn't perfect, but at the same time is a process that we can work with and that allows for citizens to voice their opinion in a positive and potentially meaningful way. 

Like most aspects of our nation's government and political structure, the electoral process has seen its share of successes as well as challenges.  What makes our current situation such a crisis in our political development?

Trust in the System- As I mentioned before, our electoral system has never been free of corruption and/or scandal.  If we admit that power has a potentially corrupting influence, then it is logical that at least some of those interested in achieving powerful positions will be corrupt as well.  We've all read about the scandals that have happened in our history and comments about things like "Chicago Politics" or "Political Bosses" aren't met with surprise.  We all recognize that there are individuals and groups that will do just about anything to gain, and hold on to power. 

What makes the current erosion of trust in our electoral system potentially disastrous is that it isn't the candidates involved who are being questioned (that's an important part of the process), it's the system itself and the results of our elections that are under fire.  Conservatives have made it a point to question the validity of elections because of the "rampant voter fraud" that they claim exists (but have little evidence for).  Their solution…voter ID and other restrictions on voting rights.  


Liberals and progressives find flaws on the other end of the voting path, the counting of ballots.  There are significant concerns about the accuracy of the vote tallies as well as the ability to alter the voting totals by "hacking" the machines.  These concerns have been visibly demonstrated in numerous elections recently. 

Whatever the issues about our electoral system may be, the concern is that we are headed down a path where the results of our elections are not viewed as legitimate.  Without meaningful elections is it possible for us to claim we have a democracy here in America?  We need to restore the faith that people have in the process or risk undermining the foundation of our political system. 

Participation in the System- At the same time we are facing a crisis in confidence in our electoral system, we also face the ongoing reality that many Americans are simply not participating in the process.  What is considered a good turnout on election day is often less than half of the potential voters.  This obviously results in skewed election results that favor a mobilized base that consistently votes, while the majority of the citizens of our nation simply accept the results as they occur.  Even in "high turnout" elections we don't get the participation that our democracy needs to be a true representation of the general public. 

The results of this voter apathy are skewed results that represent a minority of the population.  We also see our elected officials losing their accountability to the people they are supposed to be representing.  If most people don't vote, then those elected only need to represent the interests of a small, well connected few.  The long term effects of this are clear as our leaders become more insulated from their constituents and more susceptible to the influence of their donors and vocal supporters. 

There are many reasons that people don't participate in the current system, but as a nation we need to change this pattern in order to regain control of a system that is currently governed by special interests.  Recent efforts have been made to limit participation in the electoral process, but we have also seen actions designed to encourage voters to become informed and involved.  

Another huge problem is the lack of knowledge that many citizens have in how our government works and what the candidates who are running stand for.  The electorate is divided between those who are firmly entrenched in opposite camps.  At the same time there is a significant number of "independent", "undecided" voters who are drifting between candidates and who are susceptible to propaganda and the, often unreliable, information put out by candidates and the media.

In order to have a working system we need our citizens to realize that it is their actions which have created the system we have.  A nation where people have the freedoms that we do will get the government it deserves and we, as voters, need to be accountable for the officials we elect.  It may take some extra time, but the results will be positive for all of us if each person becomes truly and accurately informed and gets involved.

Money and its Corrupting Influence- We can't ignore the impact that big money has on our political system.  Citizens United has changed the political landscape and made our system one that is ripe for purchase by the highest bidder.  This doesn't change the fact that we still elect our leaders and representatives and as citizens need to actively seek out accurate information and recognize what our candidates stand for.  Money is only one of the reasons our system is declining and we need to stop using it as an excuse.  There are many candidates and activists working to counter the influence that large donations have and we should be working to support their efforts. 

Confidence in our Candidates and Political Parties- With all the negative advertising, conflicting information and mudslinging in politics today, it is no wonder that many Americans are disgusted and fed up with politics.  Almost all parties and candidates seem to have changed their campaign strategies away from promoting themselves to attacking their opponent.  This means that we potentially lose our ability to make a choice between ideas and instead vote out of fear or hatred.  Too many voters see their choices as an opportunity to vote for the lesser of two evils.       

Media Coverage and Lack of Accurate Information- Our major media outlets often seem more like gossip magazines and are more focused on small relatively petty issues or surface data than they are on the underlying realities that shape candidates platforms or policies.  In depth, investigative reporting based on facts doesn't seem to get the attention that opinion driven, shallow stories garner.  Whatever the reason, our media outlets have limited their coverage to sound bites and short pieces that repeat information that is given to them by political parties, candidates or special interests.  Anyone who is directly involved in an ongoing story being covered by the news immediately recognizes the differences between the reality experienced and the "reality" reported.

What Do We Do?- All of these problems add up to a significant problem in our electoral system.  The only real answer is for the people of America to decide that they are not going to be manipulated any more.  People of all political beliefs must recognize that it is only a small minority of citizens who are benefiting from the current trends in the system.  The good of the many is not being served by the direction our nation is heading.  If we are going to get the government we truly deserve we must be willing to fight for it. 

Our fight starts by finding accurate sources of information, challenging ourselves to listen to other viewpoints and being an informed voter.  We need to be able to discuss politics with others who may not agree with us.  We must communicate our concerns to our elected representatives in articulate and persuasive ways.  We also must be willing to organize and exert our collective influence when necessary.  The statement "United We Stand, Divided We Fall" has never been more true.       

New Madison Charter School?
I don't know enough about the situation to make any real commentary about it, but the Madison Board of Education is meeting on Monday 10/15 to discuss making changes in the programming at Toki Middle School.  These changes could result in the school becoming a charter school.  This is a development that is of obvious concern to all of us who fear the potential for privatization of our public schools, and bears careful watching and monitoring.      

Stand With Walmart Workers
No single company is more representative of the current conflict between corporations, their employees and the well being of our nation than Walmart.  Most of Walmart's employees don't make a living wage and they frequently require public assistance to supplement their low wages.  The company pulls in huge amounts of money, and at the same time benefits from negotiated tax breaks.  Companies that supply products to Walmart are pressured to produce more at a lower cost, thus harming workers at other companies.  Walmart eliminates competitors and drives local businesses out of the market.  Yet, there are those who would hold up Walmart as an example of the "American Free Market" and the success it can bring (to a small number at the expense of many).    
Walmart workers are starting to organize and fight back.  These workers need our support.