Sunday, November 25, 2012

Issue #89- Thanksgiving Thoughts and Educator Pride



Don't Know What You've Got 'Til…
Happy Thanksgiving to all!!  This Thanksgiving, much more than in past years, I am realizing just how much I have to be grateful for.  At the same time I am also seeing that much of what I value is threatened and I recognize that I must act now, or eventually I'll look back on the good old days with a sense of loss.  For me, part of being thankful is recognizing those things that we often take for granted.  Things that we believe are a natural part of our lives, that is until they are taken away or lost. 

So, in addition to all the things in my personal life that I'm thankful for, there are a number of societal things I hope to be able to appreciate through the upcoming year.  I fear that these things will be in jeopardy over the coming months, but also know that they are worth fighting for.  

Worker's Rights- Being treated fairly and compensated at an acceptable level are things that should be the norm in modern America.  There is enough wealth in our nation so that no person should suffer the deprivations of poverty.  Our gaps between the wealthy and the rest of us is unacceptable and we need to see changes made in how we "do business" here in the United States.  Whether this means increased taxes on the rich, or if it means that corporate leadership voluntarily changes their policies matters little to me.  I find it morally reprehensible that we put profits over people in so many cases.





I am also troubled by the continued efforts to paint unions and organized labor as "un-American", or somehow subversive.  People uniting to have a collective voice in their working conditions shouldn't be viewed in such a negative way.   






Environmental Protections- With all the talk from conservatives about the importance of economic growth and stability, there is a conscious effort to ignore the impact that our economic activities can have on the environment.  It is one thing to create jobs, it is another to do so at the expense of our future survival on the only planet we have to live on.



Voting Rights- In a democracy it is necessary for the people to have a voice.  If the people are not allowed to participate in fair and honest ways then the it is no longer a democracy and becomes another form of government.  Strange that our most visibly "patriotic" party seems willing to sacrifice part of our nation's identity to maintain political power.  



Finally, I am thankful that we live in a society where we attempt to hold all people, no matter how powerful, to the legal standards set by our elected officials and courts.  While it seems to be taking forever, we continue to hope that we will have something to be extremely thankful for in the upcoming year.  


Proud To Educate…
These are stressful times to be a public educator in America.  Public educators find themselves on the defensive in virtually all communities across the nation.  In some places this has been true for a very long time, while in others the most direct attacks on public education are relatively new to educators.  The "reform" movement has become entrenched at the highest levels of our educational administrations and has become a powerful voice in the public debate over how to "improve" our schools.

Unfortunately, this effort to "reform" or "improve" our public education system has a different, and much more sinister motive behind it.  While those of us currently working in public education might not realize it, there is significant money to be made in education.  The reality is that there are companies and individuals making significant profit in education.  However, in order to maximize profits the system must be changed to one that favors privatization and centralized control of curriculums across the nation. 

These "reform" efforts have coincided with a period of budget crises at all levels of government that has helped increase the influence of those who call for change in our public education system.  As public money becomes a scarcer commodity education reformers are able to call for more "accountability" and present public education as a "failed investment" that is unaffordable in the current economic climate.  The "reformers" offer the promise of more efficient and cost effective schools.  They claim to be looking out for students and taxpayers all in one neatly wrapped package. 

For conservative politicians there is an added bonus.  By undermining public schools they are also able to undermine public educator unions.  These unions are one of the last strongholds of organized labor and have had a huge impact in elections recently.  By weakening public educator unions, conservative candidates eliminate a significant source of political capital for their opponents.  The educator unions provide a voice for employees, students and taxpayers that isn't heavily influenced by "reformers" who are looking for profit over production.  They are a thorn in the side of those who would look to turn our education system into a series of privatized layers with those who have money and power at the center of a dysfunctional system.         

There are several key weapons in the "reform" arsenal.  The first is the fallacy of accountability as measured through standardized testing.  The second is the myth that a system of privatized charter or voucher schools, operating without the inconvenient oversight of local school boards and the bothersome voice of educators, can produce better results for all children.  That is, all children who don't come from poverty, don't have learning or behavior issues and who have families or advocates who can navigate their way through a maze of applications and layers of bureaucracy.   

Nothing I've written in this post is new to those who've been following these issues.  If anything the efforts to seize control of our education system are only intensifying at all levels.  The efforts of "reformers" to mislead the public and to distort the perception of public schools is having an impact.  This confusion shows up in recent Gallup polling.  Americans are listening to the debate and are influenced by what politicians say, even though they may not see evidence to support "reformers" claims in their own schools.  Locally, 48% of respondents gave their schools an A or B while 17% gave a D or F.  However, when asked about schools nationwide 19% gave schools an A or B while 30% gave a D or F.  In other words, the attack on schools is having the desired effect of undermining public confidence in public education.  Data from this poll also shows support for privatization growing, even while the performance of local schools is rated higher than in previous years.      


Debate over public education rages at all levels of government.  We are seeing "reformers" work to cement their control of political and economic power while working to control the flow of money to public education as well. 

Nationally- The re-election of President Obama was hailed as a victory for moderates and progressives, but it gave little solace to supporters of public education.  President Obama has surrounded himself with "reformers" who have done little to promote public education and who have bought into the "reformers" twin pillars of testing and privatization.

Federal mandates influence how local schools operate, but are often imposed without financial support or consideration for local needs.  In addition to the money that the Federal government can provide, our national leaders also have a powerful platform to promote (or in the current case undermine) public education.     





Conservatives and education "reformers" are looking at ways to extend their control of schools through national efforts to elect local leaders.  We've seen this happen across America as local elections are influenced by outside forces.  


Statewide- Wisconsin has seen a radical shift in politics on the state level over the past two years.  This drastic swing to the right has resulted in a very unfavorable climate for public education and severe cuts in state aid to schools.  We are also seeing increased efforts to privatize our state's schools.  All of this happening in a state that has long prided itself on the quality of our public schools.



While all of the proposed and implemented changes coming from the Walker administration are concerning, it all starts with the budget.  Walker has used our state's budget "crisis" to implement draconian cuts to areas like public education, and, after regaining control of the legislature it is unlikely that we will see a change in his stance on school funding.       






The rhetoric coming from the GOP about education is also troubling.  They are continuing their efforts to try and turn schools into job training centers, at the expense of student's opportunities to exercise creative thinking and problem solving abilities.  By emphasizing business' needs over all other considerations we know that we will see a renewed effort to impact the way students are taught and tested.  



The feelings of disrespect for public educators from the conservatives here have been made quite clear.  Legislation like Act 10 eliminated the power of educators in many districts and shifted the balance towards school boards and administrators.  This also allows for conservatives to advance their agenda and control the dialog around education.  Merit pay is one example of an idea that may sound logical to the general public, but is very troublesome for educators.  By silencing the voices of educators, conservatives gain the upper hand in any "reform" efforts in many districts.    





What is also troubling is the reluctance of legislators and education policy makers to fully address issues that impact the outcomes of testing and other educational measurements.  They are very willing to point blame at educators or our public school systems, but rarely look at the whole picture when it comes to our students and the challenges they face. 


Madison- Of course, it can't happen here in liberal Madison, in the heart of liberal Dane County, can it?  After all, we still have a powerful union and the support of the unwashed and brainwashed Socialists who populate our fair city.  There's no way that the "reformers" could have an impact on our schools, right?

Unfortunately, we are seeing the effects of the national and state level "reforms" "trickle down" to local communities, even Madison.  Local educators are finding themselves under siege from a barrage of district initiatives and have seen our contracts change for the worse over the past two years.  (This doesn't change the fact that we should be thankful for what we do have, while still fighting to regain what we've lost).  We have seen our take-home pay decrease and our benefits have been significantly impacted as well.

I've seen morale in the MMSD decline drastically over the past two years as educators find themselves with more to do and less to do it with.  Educators who love to work with students are now saying that it might be time to move on and retire or look at a different line of work.  Educators are feeling the strain of being told that their efforts are not good enough and that they need to adopt new methods of teaching (methods that change almost weekly).  We are struggling to meet the needs of our students, but are being threatened with consequences for things that are often out of our control.

We find ourselves constantly changing our instruction to fit new models that are imposed on us from outside sources.  Many of these policies and procedures come from groups or individuals who are not closely connected to classrooms.  Our public education system is being shaped by people who don't work directly with students and who frequently are influenced by factors other than  what is best for kids.    

In many ways, local educators are being crushed under the weight of the state and national efforts to reform schools.  We are the first layer, but the layers above us are also under pressure to conform to standards and meet expectations of the layers above.  It all comes back to the dialog and policy making at the highest levels that shape citizens perceptions of our public education system.  I sympathize with administrators who are facing heat from their superiors who are facing heat from theirs and so on.  Public education is truly being run as a business in this regard. 

What is missing from the current situation in many communities is the recognition from administration and school boards that we are all in this boat together.  While there are some leaders in public education who buy into the "reformer's agenda", many have serious concerns about the testing, curriculum alignment and privatization efforts currently underway in our school systems.  What needs to happen is for the leaders in school districts to rally to the aid of their employees who are resisting these "reforms".  Public educators in Wisconsin have put themselves at risk by speaking out in defense of public education and worker's rights, now we need to see our "bosses" step up and support us.  If they don't they won't have much, if anything to administrate in the future.      


The current landscape appears bleak, but as long as we are fighting there is always hope.  We must recognize this as a fact and take every opportunity to spread our message to counter the rhetoric that comes from the "reformers".  We need to challenge the "facts" that are generated by test scores and that are manipulated by those who are hostile to public education.       

One of the first things that educators must do is stop apologizing and defending.  Instead, we need to express pride in our profession and in the work that we do.  As I talk with educators, one of their biggest complaints is that their expertise is ignored.  Educators with decades of experience are being told what and how to teach, as thought all their experience and knowledge is irrelevant.  We are professionals and are competent in our field and should hold our heads up with pride for the work we do every day.  Those who are outside of our profession don't know, or understand, what we do, or how we do it.

It is true that there are new ideas and lots of current research that allows us to modify, refine and improve our techniques for educating students.  Education, like any profession, isn't static.  Rather it is a dynamic field where innovation and creativity are a strength.  Yet, new ideas often come from outside the classroom and need to be modified and implemented by educators working with students.  Instead, our current system calls for "experts" to come in and educate educators, without allowing for the diversity and uniqueness of any particular educator or educational setting. 

Teaching someone a skill or a concept requires a blend of knowledge, patience, insight and multiple other talents.  It can't be done effectively in a formulaic or prescribed manner.  Instead we must make room for a variety of methods for reaching students in our schools.  Teaching, when done well, is truly an art.  What modern "reformers" want to do is turn artists into "paint by numbers" technicians, following a set pattern to churn out "products" that have a similar skill set and monolithic experiences. 

Educators can't forget that we are ambassadors for our profession and our schools.  Instead of accepting the top-down curricula and prescribed methods of teaching we need to make it clear to our families and students that we are utilizing our professional knowledge to best serve our students.  We must take every opportunity to build bridges between schools and the community and to educate others about our efforts.  While there is certainly much room for improvement in public education, there is also much to be proud of.  It is our responsibility as public educators to act in ways that promote and protect these valuable institutions.            



Spend Your Money Wisely…
In case you hadn't noticed, we are in the midst of a busy shopping season.  Try and take time during these hectic times to try and buy products that make a statement about your social, economic and political beliefs.  It may mean a little extra time, or a little extra money, but the effort you make to support local, worker friendly businesses and products is extremely worthwhile. 

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Issue #88 November 18, 2012- Stop the Insanity


Last Tuesday you cast your ballot and exercised your power in the voting booth.  This Friday (and in the days that follow) use your economic power and spend wisely to support your local economy and labor rights. 

 
Stop the Insanity…
It's been said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.  There's also no denying that the recent political events in Wisconsin and around the nation have been intense and even "crazy" at times.  I can't count the number of times I've read about, witnessed or participated in something and thought that "truth really is stranger than fiction". 
We've seen and heard some amazingly extreme things, especially in the past couple of years.

While I could go on at length about my opinion of the craziness coming from the far right, I would much rather focus on what progressives and liberals can do to offset the extreme tactics, legislation and policies that the GOP is pushing on our society.  That's where the definition of insanity comes in to play.  We've seen this pattern happen before as the pendulum of politics swings back and forth.  An extreme push by one political philosophy is met with a strong response from its opposition.  The people "wake up" and realize that they have power, and also responsibility to exercise that power in order to stop an extreme agenda from dominating our political, social and economic landscape.  Unfortunately, that takes a lot of effort and for many citizens it is difficult to maintain a level of engagement in politics.  The end result is that we see large numbers of citizens disengage from the process and return to a state of political apathy.  Thus the election of 2008 is followed by significantly different results in 2010.

It's only natural that people focus their energy on what they see as having the most impact on their personal lives.  We all have an obligation to provide for ourselves and those we care for.  When times are tough this means that our focus narrows and we often lose sight of the "big picture" in our efforts to make ends meet.  Plus, our political system isn't necessarily terribly interesting to watch work.  Many of the important details are masked by long winded debate, many paged documents and confusing legal language.  In the end it becomes easier for many of us to simply let someone else take care of political business.

The events in Wisconsin during 2011-12 have shown us several things.  One is the fact that politics do matter in our daily lives.  I only have to look at my significantly depleted paycheck every month to see the impact that one piece of legislation can have.  I talk to educators around the area and hear about the ways that their daily work has been impacted by the changes in, or the elimination of, their contracts as a result of the actions of our legislature and governor.

Another lesson to be learned from recent events is that the people must hold their government responsible for creating policies that are in the best interest of the citizens.  In the end we can only rely on ourselves to protect our rights.  While we may have others who represent our interests in some venues, we can't cede power to anyone else and expect to see positive results.  This means that we can't afford to retreat from our current state of political activism and still hope for our voices to be heard by those in power.  Those who advocate for us only have power because of the people who are behind them.  Unions are a great example of this.  Our union leaders can lobby and advocate for their members, but union members need to be active in the process as well for their voice to carry any weight in the debate. 

Need evidence that a mass withdrawal from politics would be "crazy"?  Just look at some of the things that are happening, even as we celebrate our successes at the ballot box from a week ago. 

--We've seen Governor Walker and legislators decide to make a political statement using healthcare as a "tool".        




--We've seen GOP leadership as well as conservative businesspeople continue to promote economic theories that don't work and use fear to confuse people.  This conflict will continue to escalate as we get closer to the deadline for making decisions around taxes and budget cuts.  The grandstanding and political manipulations won't help our nation's economy.  





The rest of the world is making their voices heard about "austerity".


--Along with the failed economic policies, we are also seeing a continuation of the attacks on worker's rights.  Organized labor played a large role in the successes enjoyed by Democrats nationally and that won't be forgotten by the GOP.  Conservative business leadership has little interest in supporting their worker's efforts to improve their economic conditions and continue to offer poor contracts, then blame unions for not accepting them.  This creates a volatile labor environment as workers are faced with fewer ways to resolve disagreements without resorting to labor actions.      





www.wkow.com

Meanwhile here in Wisconsin, we are told that we won't see the legislature try to pass "right to work" legislation.  This from the same group that was going to "work with" unions after the 2010 elections.

watchdog.org

--With control of many statehouses and an election loss to mourn, conservatives are not going to give up their efforts to change voting laws.  They use the argument that laws protecting voting rights were needed in the mid-1900's, but these protections are no longer needed.  Government oversight and protection of rights is an infringement of individual freedom according to the conservative ideology.  Interesting, but flawed logic.





--One of the wildest ideas coming out of the November 6th election is the number of petitions circulating to have states secede from the Union.  While this is certainly coming from a relatively small percentage of the population it clearly shows the depth of the hatred as well as a significant lack of knowledge by petitioners.  GOP leaders like Mitt Romney don't help our healing process by continuing their heated rhetoric attacking a large portion of America's people.




--GOP leadership continues to use Benghazi and other national security issues as political weapons.  Republicans can claim to be the party of national defense, but their record isn't quite as definitive as they would like us to believe.    


--It wouldn't be a post from me if I didn't at least mention education.  The national victories for Democratic candidates doesn't do much, if anything to give public educators hope.  We still need to change the debate away from a defense of public education to an offense that promotes the strengths of our educational system.  In order to do this we need to educate people about the fallacies surrounding the "education reforms" that have been promoted by both parties.    


None of this should come as a surprise to anyone.  It is na├»ve and unrealistic to assume that conservatives would simply concede defeat and accept the results without fighting back after Tuesday's election.  In fact it is logical that, given the heated campaign, that their would be a strong response to the loss.  While the election was a positive step, the path to recovery and social justice is littered with traps and pitfalls.  Success at the ballot box doesn't guarantee success in society.  The same problems that existed prior to the election remain.  It is up to us as citizens to move our nation forward.  Find a way to get involved, and then stay involved, it's not enough to simply cast a ballot in an election anymore.     

Sunday, November 11, 2012

#87 November 11, 2011- Thoughts About Nov. 6th and Holiday Shopping Already



What This Is…
Issue #87- November 11, 2012
In this issue: Election Results

Honoring Our Veterans…
Today we honor the men and women who serve our nation in so many ways.  Be sure to remember those who have given so much in your thoughts words and actions today (and all days).

Election Results- Where Do We
Go From Here?…
It's over, or is it?  While many of us breathed a sigh of relief on Tuesday and woke to positive feelings on Wednesday morning, I have to admit to mixed feelings.  Of course the victories for President Obama, Tammy Baldwin and Mark Pocan meant that the signs in my yard were finally signs of victory (after a couple of long years of defeat).  I too, basked in the glow of the many victories for progressive causes from around the nation.  Yet, maybe due to my recent political "awakening", at the same time I felt the happiness of these victories I also am fully aware that we have a lot of work still to do.

The victories on Tuesday were many and raised the hopes of progressives around the state and nation.  





Of course there is the significant problem in Wisconsin that the GOP regained complete control of our state government.  This means that we face the same situation as we did in the spring of 2011, and we all know how that turned out.



While the loss of the senate is obviously problematic, I was heartened by the statewide victories of Obama and Baldwin.  To me this points towards a shift in Wisconsin away from the conservative agenda and more towards a moderate direction.  Local races are heavily influenced by districting, incumbency and other factors beyond political philosophy.  The statewide elections give me hope that we are seeing a change in the Wisconsin electorate.

While we may look ahead with concern about the immediate future of Wisconsin, we also know that we can directly impact what legislation and policies are proposed and implemented here.  Conservatives in Wisconsin may want to push ahead with their "reforms" in many areas, but they also know that we stand ready as a collective group to hold them accountable to all citizens.

We have learned some painful lessons over these past years as we have relied on elected officials to represent us without fully engaging in efforts to make sure that our interests were adequately advanced and defended.  Without oversight, even the best of our political leaders can easily fall victim to the big money and become mired in politics that fail the very citizens who need representation the most.  Over time this has resulted in a slow deterioration of safety nets and the implementation of legislation that benefits the few, rather than the many.  This process has accelerated in recent years and threatens the fabric of our national identity. 

I don't want to leave readers with a sense of disappointment or despair.  There really is a lot to celebrate from this past week.  However, I also hope that we can avoid becoming complacent and seeing a repeat of 2010 occur.  The gains we made on Tuesday can only be maintained by our participation in the process.  A citizenry does get the government and society it deserves, so we need to work together to make sure we create a positive future for ourselves, our communities and our world.

So, while we enjoy the victories of November 6th, we need to maintain our focus on topics and issues that will impact our future in significant ways.  Look for ways to get involved and stay involved, remember the union chant "One Day Longer, One Day Stronger!" 

Campaign Finance- Some may argue that the victories of progressive and Democratic candidates demonstrates that money may not have the impact it is given credit for.  They say this with the assumption that it is only Republican candidates who benefit from the changes in campaign financing brought about by Citizens United.  Yet we know that all candidates and both parties spent huge amounts of money on ads and propaganda designed to vilify and distort the image of the opposition.

There are numerous examples of exorbitant spending from races around the nation.  A senate race in Montana cost over $40 million.  Here in Wisconsin our race for U.S. Senate cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $60 million.  There is talk that the presidential campaign may run well into the billions of dollars.  With the reality of a struggling economy and rising poverty, this type of spending on politics is sickening.  
    

It would be one thing if the information that was being spread by the huge amounts of spending helped citizens make informed decisions.  The truth is that there is little if any truth in most of the "attack ads" financed by big money interests.  The volume of negative ads drowns out any positive message that would attract voters and forces all of us to sift through piles of unsolicited, inaccurate information forced on us using every available medium. 

Clearly we need to work for a change in how America's political "business" is conducted. 

Misleading and Divisive Information- In the same way that advertising and other political messaging driven by out of control spending damages our nation's collective view of politics, so too does the propaganda that passes for "news" on many TV and radio shows.  Because of inaccurate coverage deliberately designed to mislead and spread fear among citizens, our nation is always on the edge of disaster.  Political talk and TV also increases divisions among the people of our nation, painting different groups in extreme ways that portray us as a society of opposing "cultures" that are mutually exclusive and incapable of coexisting.     




The more people hear the message that we are a nation in crisis and that there are specific groups that are to blame, the less rational our debate and our problem solving strategies will be.  Jokes and satire are one thing, but the efforts to incite negative feelings between groups of citizens have tremendous potential to be incredibly harmful to our nation's future.  In the end, we must remember that we are all American's and all world citizens.  Our responsibility is to a greater good, not a political party. 



Gerrymandering and Lack of Competitive Local Races- I've heard many Republicans talking about how Wisconsin voters were mislead in the national races, but "saw the light" in local races.  They claim that this is the reason behind the results that put the state senate back in GOP control.  What they are ignoring is another possible analysis (and one that I believe to be more accurate), the senate districts were set up by the GOP controlled legislature to insure Republican control of our legislature for the foreseeable future.  The redistricting plan that was put in place sets up "safe" districts for most legislators and reduces the number of "purple" districts where there are competitive races.  By gerrymandering the different districts the GOP is able to control local races and dominate state politics in a way that benefits only a minority of voters.  We saw the results of this last February and are fearful that this will continue into the future. 

In my district here in Madison, no GOP candidate was involved in the race against Senator Risser.  A strong democracy needs discussion, debate and competitive elections.  Without challengers our elected officials don't have to represent the people of their district as diligently.  They are not held accountable in as meaningful a manner as if they need to defend their performance every election cycle.  Non-competitive races also drive down voter participation.  Many voters wonder why they should bother voting when their either isn't a race, or a there's a race that is already essentially decided before it begins.     

Election Reform- We must restore trust in our electoral system.  Because of the emphasis on voter ID and voter fraud in the past year, the electorate has developed a skewed view of our electoral process.  This has resulted in significant concern about the integrity of our elections and led to efforts to change the ways that we vote. 

It should be obvious to all citizens that we need to be sure that all laws and policies are followed during elections.  However, the idea that we need to make drastic changes based on false assumptions about voter fraud results in disenfranchisement for voters and cynicism about elections in general.  At my polling place on Tuesday there was an election observer who created a sense of discomfort for many voters.  He kept trying to get closer to poll workers and voters and was obvious in his efforts to check out voters by entering names in his phone as people went through the line.  This type of behavior, while technically fine under election rules, is intimidating for some and unpleasant for all. 


Worker's Rights- There is little doubt that states like Wisconsin, Ohio and Michigan went for Obama due in large measure to the efforts of organized labor. Unions provide a sense of hope and support while protecting the interests of their members.  People who feel empowered, are organized and who are educated about issues are able to make choices based on a wider world view. 


Unfortunately for organized labor, this means that we will continue to be a primary target for conservatives who want to use their influence to dominate our nation politically and economically.  You can be sure that the attacks on unions and workers will not end with this election, but will probably intensify in states where the GOP holds control.  


For Wisconsin this means we must be ready to fight against any efforts to implement "Right to Work" legislation or policies.  We must also be vigilant about efforts to raid pensions like the WRS.  Walker and his GOP allies have shown that they are willing to go to extreme lengths in their attacks on workers, but we have also shown our willingness to resist these efforts.      

Public Education- Another area that has taken significant hits in recent years is public education.  This is true at all levels of government and is one place where we can find little joy in the results of Tuesday's elections.  While some would argue that wins by the Democrats will benefit public education, the policies that the current administration has implemented don't give us much hope.  It seems that unfortunately, both parties have bought into the ideas of the "reformers" and subscribe to ideas like testing and privatization of our public schools.     





With the results of our state election creating a GOP majority in all branches we can assume that there will be efforts to impose more cuts to public education.  Our only recourse is to continue to work at all levels to make the voices of public educators, students and families heard, and heard loudly.  We must stand firm in our resistance to "reforms" that don't work and in our efforts to educate our society about the benefits of education and the value of our public education system.  




Buy Local- Make a Wise Investment In Our Future…
I'm sure you have all been as "pleased" as I am to see that many stores seem to have skipped Halloween and Thanksgiving and gone right to their Christmas/Holiday sales.  With the impending holiday shopping season approaching rapidly, now is a good time to start planning for ways to spend our money wisely.  I continue to believe that we should be implementing "Buycotts" and focusing our efforts on finding merchants who sell products and services that support progressive ideals.  As you get ready to shop for the holidays remember that your money is one of the most valuable "weapons" in your arsenal of change.  In addition to shopping in stores that are worker friendly, local and that sell American made products, be sure to mention the reasons you are frequenting their business.  Each purchase helps send a strong message that we value all labor and that we are willing to put our money where our values are.