Sunday, October 18, 2015

#216- October 18, 2015 Evol-union, Evil-union or Extinct-union

Wisconsin has been on the front lines of the battles around organized labor for the past 4 1/2 years. In this span Wisconsin has transformed from a relatively peaceful state to one of animosity and conflict. While there are a host of issues that have divided our state, the conflicts about the rights of public employees to organize have been at the center of the struggles since Governor Walker and the Wisconsin Legislature introduced the controversial legislation that drastically altered the climate that public employees had worked in for 50 + years and undid a legacy of Progressivism around labor rights going back over a century.

In this day and age where news stories come and go quickly and our attention spans for issues seem to shorten daily, the staying power of this issue has been impressive. Whether during Walker's short lived presidential bid, in ongoing debates around public education, or recent efforts to change Civil Service protections, public employees rights to organize and advocate for themselves and their professions have been on the radar of many Wisconsinites on a regular basis. Passions still run high, and it doesn't take much to get a storm started when these issues arise.

One of the reasons for this intensity of emotion is the divisive way that the so called reforms were advanced and implemented. This wasn't your typical exercise in democracy that plodded forward through a series of hoops and that involved significant build-up. These changes were proposed suddenly, pushed forward with little real substantive debate and passed in the middle of the night during a storm of controversy and protest. Because of the way this progressed the best way for supporters of the "reforms" to build their case was to create a scapegoat, in this case public employees. Suddenly, teachers and other public servants were vilified and demonized in an effort to cement political and economic power for a small number of individuals.

This was a power grab and one that has left us divided and weakened. Those who have lost their collective bargaining rights mourn the loss. However, it has become clear that the political climate has changed and that public employees, especially educators need to move forward from where we are now. We can look back with fondness at the "good old days" of pre-February 2011, but the reality that we have is the one that we must deal with. Yet at the same time, we can't simply accept this new reality as fixed in stone because it is one that isn't good for the majority of the people in this state, or good for any democratic society where the good of the many should be the primary focus.

The current reality is one where unions, public or private sector, need to take a look at the past to understand how we got to where we are, and then look towards the future. One where they will either evolve (through a process hereby know as evolunion) or become obsolete and go extinct due to member attrition, loss of political power and a loss of financial capital. This occurs as unions are demonized, their power is curtailed through legislation/policy and members are convinced that their unions are either not necessary or actually harmful to their interests.

It seems almost ridiculous to suggest that unions are obsolete, especially given the fact that our economic disparities are at some of the highest levels in our nation's history. Unions are the result of the simple reality that employees need to have a voice in their wages, benefits and working conditions. Without a collective voice each individual worker is left at the mercy of their employer with those who either have a needed skill, connections, or luck rising to the top.

It is no surprise that we are seeing the idea of unions and collective action under attack at the same time we are told that we no longer need protections like Affirmative Action, Voting Rights Laws or other similar defenses against the abuses of the powerful. The idea that individuals will rise through a system to achieve the status that their ability allows is one that sounds reasonable, just as long as the system is fair, and there are equitable ways to determine an individual's worth. Given the fact that our society is a long way from this reality, unions clearly are still a necessary part of our labor landscape.

Given the long history of organized labor protecting and advancing the rights of workers one is left to wonder how we reached the point where a small number of individuals could so effectively undermine some of the most powerful labor organizations in the nation. Wisconsin's public workers have a long history of organizing and have been an active voice in the state for decades. Public educators in Wisconsin, and around the nation, are still the largest of unions. In general public employees have been considered an asset to our state and were respected as important parts of the communities they served.

The simple answer to this is that a budget crisis was created to justify the destruction of collective bargaining for public employees in Wisconsin. We know that times of crisis are times when the climate is ripe for drastic action to be taken. Some of these actions have a positive effect such as FDR's leadership during the Great Depression. Unfortunately, many times crisis brings out the worst in us. The same administration that brought us the New Deal also interned over 100,000 citizens of Japanese descent. Too often we are willing to sacrifice our greater values for short term gains or feelings of safety or vengeance and this was clearly the case in Wisconsin where economic strife and inequity was turned against a small group of people.

Why attack public employees in Wisconsin? The rhetoric from those who supported these "reforms" centered around a need to fix the state's budget crisis. When union leaders agreed to make changes in the ways that pensions were funded and other economic concessions the rhetoric changed to one of ending the power of union bosses and to attacks on the long standing abuses of power by unions in their work with local and state governments. The reasoning given was that these government entities needed legislative support in order to change a system that was supposedly harming our economies and imbalanced in favor of public sector unions. Additional arguments invoked quotes from FDR and essentially stated that the public sector was no place for unions, and that Civil Service laws protected public employees quite well without additional union advocacy.   

There is significant evidence that the real reason behind these attacks on collective bargaining had little to do with balancing budgets or strengthening local governmental control. In fact, Governor Walker himself when testifying before Congress admitted that the "reforms" implemented didn't have an economic basis. In reality, Act 10 and the effort to dismantle public sector unions was part of an ongoing effort to eliminate political rivals and to wage a divisive struggle that cemented power in the hands of a single party. Weakening public educator unions allowed for a more intensive assault on public education in an effort to privatize education and reap the profits that entails. It was also a moment created so that Governor Walker could launch himself on to the national scene and begin his run for President.

Some Republican leaders in Wisconsin are disputing Gov. Scott Walker’s latest account of how he took on the GOP establishment during his battle...|By Mary Spicuzza

One might argue that some of my retelling and analysis of these events is biased by the fact that my wife and I are public educators and that my family has been negatively impacted by the changes that have occurred since 2011. There is no doubt that the loss of tens of thousands of dollars from our take home pay has affected my family. There is also no doubt that the changes have resulted in more challenging conditions for us to work in, and for our own children to learn in. But, my displeasure with the actions of the Republican dominated Wisconsin government are not purely personal. The "reforms" implemented in 2011 and expanded over the following years have clearly not achieved what was promised.

The economic recovery since the recession has…

When Scott Walker was elected Wisconsin governor in 2010, he came into office with a playbook he’d followed as the Milwaukee County executive: he declared...

UW-Oshkosh economist M. Kevin McGee says Wisconsin's inability to hang onto its workforce is causing the jobs slump.|By Steven Elbow | The Capital Times

Minnesota is the first union-friendly state with high wages and high taxes to reach the top of CNBC's annual ranking. The North Star state ranks so well in areas...|By The Christian Science Monitor

There's Republican economics for ya!|By Susie Madrak

Few details have emerged about the city of Green Bay’s budget plan for next year, but spending has been steadily rising since Act 10 forced cuts.|By Adam Rodewald

Not only have the "reforms" been ineffective, the very way that they were enacted was questionable.

MADISON (WKOW) -- Personal email records received by 27 News from the office of Gov. Scott Walker (R-Wisconsin) show a high level of coordination between…|By Greg Neumann

The public has been mislead about a number of issues and this has resulted in continuing challenges to public employees including potential raiding of our pensions (supposedly to protect the public interest).

As state officials eye ways to improve the pension system serving hundreds of thousands of public employees and retirees in Wisconsin, a national…|By Jason Stein

2015 SB 312 and 2015 AB 394 require the Group Insurance Board, in consultation with the Division of Personnel Management in the Department of Administration, to submit all proposed changes to public employee group health insurance programs to the Joint Committee on Finance (JCF). Under the bill, the…
The Civil Service laws that were supposedly more than enough protection for public employees are being challenged as well.

The public needs to keep a close eye and make sure that these legislators don’t return the state to the bad old days when political loyalty mattered more than...
MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- Gov. Scott Walker told Republicans who control the state Assembly...

The Republican proposal would make sweeping changes to the century-old system.|By Jessie Opoien | The Capital Times

All of the history and the review of current events won't change the fact that Act 10 is the law of the land and that other states have similar laws/policies that have changed the reality that public employees work in. However the law was passed, whatever the impact it has had and whatever the motive was for passing it is in many ways irrelevant. What matters most now is what happens next, and what happens next is in the hands of union leaders, union members and workers across Wisconsin and around the nation.

Central to this is the fact that our public employees are vital to our communities and that they fill roles that must be maintained for our society to function. Public roadways, schools, police, fire and countless other services have been central to our nation's political, social and economic health. Public employees may be portrayed as "enemies of the state" but the fact is that they are not the problem, but rather the solution to the challenges that we face.

This importance of public employees and the services they provide still doesn't answer the questions around their ability to unionize and to bargain collectively with their employers. Some might argue that public employees are important, but that doesn't mean that they should be allowed to form unions. This argument fails to recognize some important realities about what public employees do. I can't speak for all public employees, but can articulate the need for contractual protections for educators.

The best reasons for public educator unions are two fold. First, public educators work in jobs that require us to fill many roles in the lives of our students and their families. We administer medications, keep our students safe, help them access needed services, provide emotional support through trauma, and don't forget, teach them skills and concepts they need to become positive, productive members of society. We know that our diverse student population requires diversity in teaching methods, we know that there are many competing ideas for teaching students, we also know that measuring student progress isn't as simple as many would have us believe. Our students face purchased curricula that may not be the best fit for them, they are overtested and then tested some more, they are subjected to policies that fail to meet their needs or that are not responsive to their culture or community. Given this, it is no wonder that educators are in a position to be strong advocates for their students, families and community. Without protections provided by unions and contracts any educator speaking out for students and against the system faces the consequences of losing their job or more.

The second reason is simple, our teaching conditions are our students learning conditions.

As time has gone by we have started to see a shift and some pushing back against the anti-union rhetoric.

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, an independent from…

Scott Walker ran a bizarrely off-key campaign for the Republican presidential nomination. So it made sense that he would end that campaign on a bizarre...

Opposition to unions is a thin agenda for a presidential bid.

Unions might never recover the strength they had decades ago, but recent signs suggest renewed support for labor, or at least an end to its run as a Republican...

Unions are, at their heart, the most democratic of structures and ones that have deep roots in our national ideology.

Scott Walker's evangelical faith and union-busting do not go hand in hand.

We know that unions are crucial to the success of our nation's middle class.

One thing we can learn from history is that there are patterns and cycles to human behavior. This means that unions will arise again in some form and that we will see the people unite to advance the needs of the collective whole. What we can't afford to do is wait for this to happen. We know that the income gaps in our society are widening, more families are living in poverty, tensions caused by economic stresses increase divisions in society and other problems multiply when the voices of the people are silenced. Eliminating union rights silences people's voices. It is up to all of us to make sure that the needs of the people are heard loudly and clearly.

It may sound like an immense challenge, but we've seen it done many times before. The fact that so many of our public and private unions are continuing their struggle gives us a framework to use in our efforts. What it takes is an active and engaged population that is informed about the issues of importance to them. Unions can provide this information and organizing strength. In fact, it is vital to the long term health of our nation that unions find a way to regain their status in the political, social and economic realms of our society.

Public educator unions are providing some of the blueprints for successful evolunionizing. We have to remember that unions arose when workers united and actively engaged in tactics that forced employers to take notice. Unions were not some vague concept, but rather a real entity made up of colleagues who wanted the respect and dignity they deserved. They had their roots in a sense of social justice and forged links that went beyond economic causes and spoke to a deeper set of values. Today's unions can return to this and provide opportunities for members to connect more deeply with their communities and forge stronger links within our society.

Guaranteed recess for all elementary school students is one of them. Here are the others.

Seattle High School teacher Jesse Hagopian came straight from the picket lines in Seattle to speak to the crowd at Fighting Bob Fest 2015 in Madison,...

Sunday, June 28, 2015

#215 June 28, 2015- Truth, Justice and the American Way

We live in a world filled with contradictions, conflict and confusion. We are constantly facing challenges and making decisions in an environment that is changing and dynamic. This is part of who we are as a species, as parts of groups and as individuals living in the world. While we may strive for stability and long for consistency, we also continually find ourselves acting in ways that create, or add to the chaotic climate of our lives. Change and conflict are a part of the fabric of our lives, as well as a vital part of our continuing development and growth. One of my favorite Frederick Douglass quotes reflects this well when he states, "If there is no struggle, there is no progress."

Yet, with all of this complexity and challenge, there is also a constant undercurrent of simplicity. When we strip away all of the extraneous and sometimes irrelevant "noise" around us, we often find that the most simple choices are the ones that lead us in the most constructive direction. Too often we allow ourselves to be distracted from what is really important. We also allow ourselves to be mislead, or find ways to mislead ourselves and justify ideas or actions that we know to be untrue or simply wrong. As Arthur Conan Doyle's famous character Sherlock Holmes said on multiple occasions, "Eliminate all other factors, and the one which remains must be the truth."

We can't forget that truth is a tricky concept. Too often those who claim to speak "truth" are the ones who would lead us further away from goals of social justice and the promise that was made to all citizens at the founding of the United States. We mix the concepts of truth with morality and justice on a regular basis, and this blending of very different terms causes us a significant amount of difficulty. This idea that we can continually strive for, to quote from Superman, "The never ending battle for truth, justice, and the American way," implies that these three concepts are inextricably linked. Yet we know that America is a nation built by humans, with all of the flaws and problems that this entails.

When trying to uncover the "truth" it is a good idea to gather facts to help us further our investigation. In this case I turned to Merriam-Webster to give me the basic definitions of the words truth and justice. These definitions shine some light on the reasons for our ongoing confusion about these concepts. Truth is defined as, "The real facts about something: the things that are true," which seems straightforward enough until a later part of the definition states that it is "A statement or idea that is true or accepted as true."  This means that truth can be a fact like 2+2=4, or a something like this. . .

How can Ann Coulter and so many others in the Republican Party support the Confederate battle flag while also claiming to have a monopoly on patriotism?

Truth now becomes something potentially different from fact, "Something that truly exists or happens: something that has actual existence, or a true piece of information." Truth defined this ways isn't a universally accepted fact, in other words, my truth can be different from your truth. This becomes clear when we hear people discuss current events and make statements according to their perceptions of reality and their interpretations of what should, or shouldn't happen. It is in this context that statements about any controversial issue can be so divergent and contradictory. This becomes confusing as our society grapples with such opposite ways of defining the truth about any issue.

Because we struggle to define truth we turn to the second part of the Superman quote, Justice. Justice is linked to truth in that it exists in (once again turning to Merriam-Webster) "conformity to truth, fact or reason." So we recognize that justice has a basis in truth, but can't ignore the fact that truth is now a shakier foundation than one might hope for. Further exploration of the concept of justice leads us into more confusion and new terminology. Justice is defined as, "The maintenance of administration of what is just especially by the impartial adjustment of conflicting claims or the assignment of merited rewards or punishments." It is also, "The quality of being just, impartial, or fair." Even if we rely on the safety of the rule of law we must also deal with the concept of equity, as justice is "The establishment or determination of rights according to the rules of law or equity."   

We find ourselves in a troubling situation, and one that leads us back to our ongoing struggle as individuals, communities and a nation to collectively identify what exactly is promised to us by the Constitution, Bill of Rights and the legacy of rhetoric around truth, justice, freedom, opportunity, equity, and the idea that America is a place where all of these grand ideas are available, accessible and even guaranteed to every one of us on an equal basis. This is the "American Way" part of the Superman saying. There are some who would cling to the idea that this is a concept that is clearly defined and absolute throughout our nation's history, and one that should continue on without change or significant modification into our future. This idea that we need to interpret all our current actions through the lens of an elite group of males from the 1700's is one that finds it's champions in the current extreme conservative movement.

The case is "one more nail in the coffin of originalism."

The U.S. Supreme Court's legalizing of same-sex marriages nationwide comes as longtime opponent Scott Walker prepares to officially launch his campaign for president.|By Channel 3000

The struggle to define the "American Way" is the true heart of our growth and change as a society and as a nation. We may frame it in glowing terms like freedom and justice, but its essence is one that we share with all other cultures, nations and groups throughout history and around the globe. America's struggles to fulfill the promise made to all citizens is grounded in the ongoing struggle for power and wealth that motivates us as individuals and groups. In order to achieve the lofty pledge made to all of us as American citizens we must struggle for, utilize and maintain our individual and collective power. The rest of the Frederick Douglass quote sums this up clearly:

“If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. This struggle may be a moral one; or it may be a physical one; or it may be both moral and physical; but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.”

The measure of our success in this struggle becomes the way that we as a collective whole define the "American Way", and how we define the terms like equity, justice, truth, fairness, etc. In this context freedom becomes a vitally important concept and something that must be guaranteed and protected with vigilance. The power to coerce will always find its primary resting place in the hands of those at the top of a society's hierarchy. The power to resist and move our nation forward is contained in our ability to express ideas, organize and work to address inequities where they exist. While this freedom, expressly laid out in the 1st Amendment, is one that we must defend, it is also a freedom that allows for all sides to express their ideas. This constant tension between divergent ways of thinking is troubling in some ways, but incredibly healthy in others. It is only through free and honest debate that we can arrive at any lasting resolutions to the challenges we face around equity, justice and eventually leads us to an "American Way" that resonates with our modern reality.
While it is true that there are many ways that truth, justice and the American Way have been, and are, defined, this isn't to imply that all of these definitions are equal. One of the dangers of a society where free speech is considered a right, is the fact that this allows for all opinions to be given consideration in a debate. This is especially true in the modern age where communication is quick, easy and ideas are spread widely. This is why an educated population is as important, or even more so, for the ongoing growth of our nation. We need to be able to find our way through the barrage of ideas and arrive at ones that are well reasoned, morally derived and sustainable in nature.

It is clear that we face an ongoing challenge in convincing the general public of the value of a liberal education and the absolute necessity of some form of truly public education.

Social dysfunction can be traced to the abandonment of reason

State Rep. Nancy VanderMeer, R-Tomah, wrote a guest column claiming that the proposed state budget will help Wisconsin students (June 15 Tribune).|By Kathryn Mayer, Anita Jagodzinski, Liza Collins Holmen

Under him, Wisconsin’s public school students have endured the biggest cuts to public education in our state’s history.|By Scot Ross

School is out for the summer, and kids are overjoyed. But across the country, the future of public education is in serious jeopardy.

There is a growing anti-intellectual dumbing down of our culture

Without tenure, it will be easier to eliminate fields that give us an informed historical perspective.

I have served on the River Valley Board of Education for the past nine years and I have seen, first hand, the erosion of support for our rural public schools

The more the people of Milwaukee find out about the Takeover of MPS, the more concerns and questions they have. One question keeps being asked is: What's...

These tensions and struggles are always with us, but become heightened at times. The times that we are currently living in are one of those periods where the conflict between ideas and beliefs are magnified. We've seen all aspects of the struggle clearly these past few weeks with horrific violence directed at members of an African-American church and the opposite occurring when the Supreme Court made its ruling on Marriage Equality. The comments and dialog around these events clearly show the divergence that exists in our society, the misunderstandings around our past, and the need for continued struggle to move our nation forward.  They provide an exclamation mark and a reality check for those of us struggling in places like Wisconsin where we see a concerted effort to change the way that truth, justice and the American Way are defined and reverse any progress that has been made towards a more socially just society. 

We need to debate and dialog about what our society's truth is, and what justice really means for all of us. But, we also must recognize some absolutes and things that are "non-negotiable." We can no longer, nor could we ever, interpret the words that guide our society's progress through a lens created in the 1700's by people who were limited by their own experience and who crafted documents that were political in nature. Our founding documents were forged in a crucible of change, struggle and revolution that required compromise in many areas for survival's sake. To question our nation's past isn't to reject our values, but rather to enhance them. In many ways this is similar to our quest for truth in science. We build on the experiences, knowledge and efforts of the past, but always with an eye on moving towards a greater understanding of the world around us. 

Justice Anthony Kennedy praises marriage—and same-sex marriage.

In order to do this we must be honest with ourselves and be willing to let go of some lines of thinking while opening ourselves to new ways of looking at the society we live in.  We have to be ready to sort through the maze of contradictory information, be prepared for ideas that don't conform to our way of thinking and be willing to accept or reject the reasoning of others in our effort to move towards a more equitable and just society. Yet we also must stay true to our ideals and recognize where we see inconsistency and/or hypocrisy in our own, and others', reasoning. We also have to be ready to see the weaknesses in our thinking and recognize when we are compromising our core values for the sake of expediency and convenience.

While flexibility and open-mindedness are crucial to growing as individuals and as a collective whole, we can't allow this to be at the expense of our core values that we need to define on a societal basis. These values must include an ongoing effort to increase access to opportunities for all people, protect the rights of all citizens and to develop a society that is not only tolerant of diversity, but seeks to actively promote and engage a diversity in beliefs and ideas. For this to occur we must maximize the ability of all people to engage in meaningful discussion about important issues, provide equitable access to decision making processes, and find the balance between protecting the freedoms and rights of all people and at the same time promoting the greater good.  

It certainly appears that there is an effort from some of those currently in power to negatively impact all of these efforts and goals. They have employed a divide and conquer approach that has been incredibly effective in places like Wisconsin, where the message of freedom, equity and justice sold to the public is in direct contradiction to the reality of the policies and legislation that is enacted.  Essentially, we've been sold a package of "reforms" packaged in a combination of fear, untruths, and the rhetoric of the American Way that have moved us in a direction completely opposite of the one that most Wisconsinites appear to desire.    

Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin has gone on the offensive against women again, despite the backlash against his previous ugly remarks about rape victims...|By Amanda Marcotte

Our story so far in America's laboratories of democracy: Over the past few years, Republican governors have been eagerly implementing big tax cuts, insisting that they will supercharge their states' economies and increase revenue instead of reducing it. Kansas was the poster child for this experimen…

Amid criticism from many educators and school officials over the upcoming Republican K-12 education budget, Rep. Dale Kooyenga rejects the notion that...

Milwaukee city leaders made it clear on Tuesday morning that they are unanimously opposed to a Takeover of Milwaukee Public Schools. They also...

The No Vouchers Coalition says Speaker Robin Vos has no business setting education agenda for local legislators.|By Pat Schneider

On a national scale we've seen this message of fear and division play out in the violence directed at African-Americans by angry whites who act out of fear. Fear that is promoted and directed by those who would manipulate others for the sake of maintaining power, and fear that generates hatred, anger and violence. This is a historical and current reality. When we look at the social structures around race and other demographic characteristics we see both overt and covert efforts to divide the populations that should be acting cooperatively to improve their status in society. Look at the rank and file members of the Confederate Army which was made up of poorer, often non-slave owners (by the start of the war about 75% of Southerners did not own slaves) fighting to defend a way of life and economy that was decaying rapidly. These men had been indoctrinated in a way of thinking that belittled and dehumanized the slaves while failing to acknowledge the significant similarities in social and economic power that they shared with these people who they considered "lesser." Nothing excuses the entrenched prejudices and biases that exist in our society, but efforts to make positive change happen must be supported on all levels.  

Calling Wednesday’s shootings in Charleston a “tragedy” makes this explosion of murderous violence seem like an accident. It isn’t.|By Stephen Kantrowitz

"We utterly condemn Roof's despicable killings, but they do not detract from the legitimacy of some of the positions he has expressed."

This effort to divide and conquer the majority of citizens has continued into the present day. The debate over the Confederate flag flying over South Carolina's capitol has returned it to the national spotlight. Yet, the reality and results of racism are evident in all parts of our nation. We face a lasting legacy of hatred and fear that will take all of our concerted effort, and significant amounts of time to overcome.

The Confederate battle flag, a symbol of treason and brutality, somehow still flies in America.

The battle over a fraught symbol is resurrected.

What does Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) think about South Carolina flying the Confederate flag outside its state Capitol? It depends on when you ask him. As a...

Blaming "mental illness" is a cop-out -- and one that lets us avoid talking about race, guns, hatred and terrorism|By Arthur Chu

It is clear that hate begets hate and creates a climate of fear, anger and division.

Ahem.... it is 2015 in much of America: It's still 1963 in the South, apparently. Following the Attack on...

While we work to change the future of our nation in terms of relations between the diverse populations that make up our country we can see how those in power work to help perpetuate the divisions. Once again looking at education, the emphasis on a skills based, benchmarked and standardized curriculum restricts our conversations about social justice issues, and limits students' exposure to important topics around issues of equity, race, gender, etc.

Common Core pressures make it difficult to educate students about social justice

It is good to see that there is significant resistance to the excessive testing, but we must also recognize that those who profit from this system will seek to defend it using any tactics available. One of these is the reliance on data to drive decision making, even at the expense of professional expertise, community input and un-measurable factors that influence and measure a student's growth and progress.

Seven percent of Madison students opted out of the test, compared to 2.2 percent of students statewide.|By Molly Beck | Wisconsin State Journal

Expanding the number of tests parents could opt their children out of taking could have consequences, such as obscuring actual school performance and...|By Erin Richards

While charts and graphics can help us visualize large amounts of data, they can also greatly misinform if not presented correctly.

Our national ideals of freedom and opportunity has been co-opted by the rhetoric of individualism, the marketplace and capitalism. It is interesting to me how often we hear about the values of America in terms of a combination of capitalism and Christianity. These are two concepts that almost seem mutually exclusive, and have given rise to a host of policies, reforms and social constructs that actively contradict each other. We find it difficult to be a nation built on individual effort and "rugged individualism" while still displaying the values that are espoused in Christian teachings. This emphasis on individualism has an impact beyond the religious and/or philosophical as well.

Is it because the idea of the collective good has given way to ‘individualization’? Whatever happened to e pluribus unum?|By Thomas B. Edsall

This overemphasizing of the role of individuals over the work of a collective group has been on display in the attacks on labor unions, both public and private sector.
Unions have the ability to provide a collective voice for those who lack the power to influence the system. They also provide structures that can help alleviate fear based on demographics. A well negotiated collective bargaining agreement provides a structure that works to eliminate overt and covert discrimination in the workplace. Union have been an integral part of our nation's progress towards equity and social justice throughout history.

Women and men in unions will continue to lead the way, fighting for rights and protections for all workers. The more workers who join us, the stronger we are, and the better off we all will be.

EduShyster has a fascinating report on the...

In the end we begin to realize that the grand ideas of "Truth, Justice and The American Way of Life," are difficult to define and quantify. In many ways we know them when we see them, but struggle to describe them. In fact, we may not need to identify them, define them, or attempt to lay out a plan to achieve these ideals. Instead we need to take a closer look at what our founding documents say, and apply them to modern America. The blueprint for a socially just society is contained in our national dialog around rights, freedoms and justice. What needs to happen is for the general citizenry of our nation to unite and work towards equitable implementations and equitable applications of the contents of these documents. An organized, engaged and informed population is what it takes to overcome the errors of our past, to equitably define the "American Way" and to fulfill the promises made to all citizens.









Sunday, June 21, 2015

#214 June 21, 2015- Accountability, Honesty and Trust

Human beings rely on each other for survival, happiness and support through the many challenges we face. No individual is an island unto themselves, despite the omnipresent theme of "rugged individualism" that runs through our public narratives. Sociologists, psychologists, historians, political scientists and others who study the behavior of humans recognize this and have spent a great amount of time and effort trying to understand what conditions are necessary for us to be most successful as individuals and as groups. They offer theories and label or categorize our behaviors in order to make sense out of the complexity that is humanity.

In the end all of our complex theories and our many ways of explaining human interactions rest on some basic principles.
1- People need each other to survive no matter what political, social or economic system we live in.
2- Once people form groups they establish rules and norms that govern how our interactions are supposed to occur.
3- All of our different configurations and ways of organizing ourselves involve ceding at least some individual rights and liberties to our collective whole in exchange for the protection and support that living in a society bring.
4- In order for all individuals, and the entire group to thrive in a sustainable democratic society every member must be accountable to the others and there must be a sense of trust and honesty that exists between all members.

If we accept the premise that we want to live in a free democracy where "liberty and justice for all" is the accepted norm, then that last societal principal must take precedence over the others. No matter what form of government or organization the first three will naturally occur, the difference is in the degree to which we surrender liberties and rights. The more power that is ceded to an authoritarian regime, the smaller the number of  people who will enjoy basic freedoms and opportunities. Freedoms and opportunities that we claim are the foundation of the concept of the "American Dream" and "American Exceptionalism."

How we choose to define and apply these important concepts (Accountability, Honesty and Trust) is vital to the ability of our society to fulfill its promise of equity and opportunity for all citizens. It is clear that we as a collective whole have defined these words in different ways for different people throughout our history. This struggle to define these basic concepts have caused significant conflict and inequity historically and in the present day. These words hold in them the promise of a better future, but also the threat of continued suppression and struggle.

The words themselves are fairly easily defined and most of us would agree with the basic definitions found in any dictionary that read something like this. . .

Accountability- the quality or state of being accountable, especially an obligation or willingness to accept responsibility or to account for one's actions.

Honesty- the quality of being fair and truthful. Fairness and straightforwardness of conduct. Adherence to the facts.

Trust- assured reliance on the character, ability, strength or truth of someone or something. Dependence on something future: hope    

The problem isn't in the basic definitions, but in the application and "working definitions" of these essential elements of a democratic society. These key components are defined in different ways by different people and in the end the true meaning of the words are obscured, diluted, or changed beyond recognition. People apply the concepts in ways that support their own ideologies, or sometimes that just are convenient. Too often we fail to think about the broader implications of our thoughts and actions and the responsibilities we have to our fellow citizens.

We also see these foundational values applied differently to different groups based on specific situations, existing biases and sometimes just for the sake of convenience. Instead of being uniting forces for all members of society these words become weapons to be used to gain political, social or economic advantage. They also become symbols of the failures of our society and the problems that we face in our efforts to achieve a more socially just nation.

Take the word accountability for example. This word has become a buzzword for those who actually seek to undermine confidence in our public institutions like our schools. We label our public schools as failing, when the reality often quite different. In the name of accountability we have expanded standardized testing and treated education as a measurable commodity. We have attempted to install a business model into our public schools and treated educators accordingly.

Refuse to be a willing victim. There is a point where teachers themselves must stop arguing about some finely worded minutia in their evaluations. The argument had been framed...

The drive to make our schools accountable has found another tool in the privatization movement. This is a misguided concept for many reasons. Public schools are truly accountable to the public in ways that private schools do not have to be. The more we expand the privatizing of our schools, the less impact individual families, educators and local communities will have in the process.

Supt. Tony Evers makes some remarkable comments at about the 23:20 mark in this June 1st interview (which I wish I had seen earlier). Evers discusses a radi

This lack of accountability to the public isn't only apparent in the world of education. There are countless examples of elected leaders abusing their power and forgetting who they serve.

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker is perhaps best known for dramatically weakening public and private unions in his state—something that has propelled...

More than two dozen awards worth more than $124 million were made to companies without a formal staff review by the underwriting department of Gov....|By Chicago Tribune

Accountability only has value as a socially uniting force when those who represent us are accountable to all citizens. The problem here in Wisconsin, and many other places, is that our elected officials don't feel accountable to those they represent. Instead, they are accountable to financial donors, outside forces, or their own, self-serving agendas. Once our elected leaders lose their sense of accountability to the electorate democratic rule ends.

Political scientist Katherine Cramer’s report on interviews with citizens in rural Wisconsin indicated support for public education.

The potential GOP presidential candidate has taken four foreign trips this year, three funded by taxpayers.

As the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee makes its way through Gov. Scott Walker’s proposed budget, a number of significant policy changes have been inserted into the package with little or no...|By James B. Nelson

Loading up the budget with non-budgetary items is no way to run a government. Gov. Scott Walker acknowledged that in 2010. Legislators should come to the same conclusion and stop this nonsense.

Honesty is a cornerstone of our democracy. Citizens can't make informed decisions without accurate information and rely on the honesty of those in power and the press that reports the news. Too often we see those in power mislead, lie and abuse the power that they have to disseminate information. Instead of honestly sharing and reflecting information they "spin" things for their own gain or to promote their own agenda. While this is a natural human tendency, and "facts" are often open to debate, there are definitely lines of truth that shouldn't be crossed consistently.

Wisconsin's economic growth, or lack thereof, provides us with an example of this lack of honesty. We are constantly getting completely opposite messages about the state of our state's economy.

Some of the  most egregious examples of dishonesty come to us from the anti-union actions starting here in Wisconsin in 2011. The lies about the damage done to the state capitol continue to be used against those supporting public sector unions. Even the rationale for Act 10 is questionable (at best) in its integrity. The impact that Act 10, other legislation and policies is also open for debate.

New analysis by bipartisan expert on good government explodes the myths about Walker’s signature achievement.

Act 10 and the ACT — any connection?|By Tom Kertscher

So much evidence points to reasons beyond an effort to improve our schools for all students as the impetus behind education "reform." The many connections and the financial trails lead us to believe that honest reform isn't the driving force behind vouchers, privatization and other so called "reforms."

Where’s the big money in privatization? Take it from the teachers.

Plans are under way for investment corporations to execute the biggest conversion - some call it theft - of public schools property in U.S. history.

The presumptive GOP frontrunner thinks privatization is a cure-all. In truth, that idea couldn't be more dangerous|By Matthew Pulver

Sometimes this honesty slips out and we get a glimpse of what it is that those advancing these agendas really want.

Iowa radio host Jan Mickelson, the state's self-appointed vetter of GOP presidential candidates, recently told members of the League of Women Voters...

The lack of accountability to the general public and the lack of honesty in our leaders erodes the trust that citizens have in their government and in the system that could provide us with stability and hope. A democracy can only hope to thrive when the people living in it believe in their ability to have an impact and to improve their own status and situation. By undermining the public's confidence in our social institutions and our political system those currently in power are able to cement their status and expand their influence.

There is a conscious effort being made to weaken support for our public schools by attacking the educators who work in them.

Wisconsin will have among the lowest standards for teacher licensure in the industrialized world.|By Freda Russell and Anthony Frontier

Teachers are leaving Arizona in record numbers due to low salaries and persistent legislative intrusion in their classrooms. In the Phoenix area alone, there are more than 1,000 open teaching posit...

The widespread attacks on things that citizens value, all done under the name of "reform", "freedom" or "liberty" significantly damage our future hopes for a more sustainable, socially just society. There is a long history of suspicion of government in America that can be healthy in some ways. Without an engaged and vigilant electorate power will be abused. Yet, at the same time we rely on government and need strong public services to maintain our standards of living and freedoms. The efforts to balance our need for government with our own personal liberty has been a driving force for so much change in our nation.

As governor of Wisconsin, the likely Republican presidential nomination-seeker consistently dismissed science and sided with polluters|By Siri Carpenter

In the end it all boils down to a fairly simple concept. It is our engagement as active citizens that makes our system work, or in their absence fail. We are the ones who hold our leaders accountable, force honesty and build trust in the system. In a democracy, the citizens are the government and we are the ones who must act to create a system that works for all. It isn't enough to criticize or berate our elected officials, public servants, and public institutions as failing us. We must act to make them be what we need them to be. There are countless ways to get involved in the process, starting with the simple act of casting a thoughtful ballot in the next election.

Tensions over changes at one northern Wisconsin district have apparently reached a boiling point.

"We don’t believe these are failing schools. We believe they’ve been failed," said special education teacher and union leader Amy Mizialko.

With two conservative Republican senators already saying they’d be tough to win over, the loss of just one more GOP lawmaker would send the plan plummeting.|By Jason Stein

2015-6-1 Badger Exam Parent Opt-Outs 2014-15 (updated).pdf

Where is the single, national voice of the teacher in the United States decrying the fallacy that teachers and teachers unions are destroying American education?|By Chicago Tribune

Americans love to think of ourselves as rebellious and independent. Yet, it is not always easy to find those characteristics in the daily workings of our society. We are a nation built on the premise of radical social change and the promise of a socially just and equitable society. The accountability for the successes and failures  of these efforts rest squarely on all of our shoulders.  

ver the past few years, Americans have spent millions of dollars to enjoy fictional rebellion. Combined, "The Giver," the "Hunger Games" series, and the...

The Good, The Bad and
The Ugly. . .
The Good . . . Organizing a union (or any other group) is more complex than any app or other tool can handle, and the most important part of any organizing effort is the direct, face-to-face contact between people. Yet, the fact that there is going to be "an app for that" means that there is a market for labor organizing tools and that indicates a positive trend.

"If you can plan a party with an app, you should be able to organize a union."

Unions provide so much for workers, and of course an increased income is one of our primary indicators of success. Unions increase incomes for all workers, but unionized laborers see (and rightfully so) the largest increases.

You could be missing out on millions of dollars in lifetime earnings.

Beaver Dam, Wisconsin is a safer community thanks to this quick action by their elected officials.

The Bad . . . Donald Trump for President, enough said. At least there will be some memorable quotes and images from his campaign, late night talk show hosts must be ecstatic.

Whenever Trump brags about his wealth remember this: In two decades, the billionaire gave just $3.7 million to charity. Total.

Maybe his presidential candidacy has opened his eyes and gotten at least some common sense into his thinking.

In a wide-ranging interview with Bloomberg Politics, Donald Trump, the GOP's newest presidential candidate, opens up about his insecurities, Republican rivals, and his tiff with Club for Growth.

While some would argue that any conflict within the Conservative movement can only help Progressives, we have seen the influence that the Koch brothers have had in pushing politics in Wisconsin to the extreme Right. Their activism and vast wealth puts pressure on any Republican candidates to shift their campaigns and platforms further away from what most Americans would like to see. Conflict breeds extremism, and with the current state of our electoral system, the Koch's can have a significant impact in what American politics looks like for the immediate future.

The libertarian billionaires have exerted influence on the GOP for years. But now they're actively taking the reins|By Heather Digby Parton

The Ugly . . . The shooting deaths of 9 innocent people in South Carolina forces us to look at so many issues and should prompt meaningful, positive action from all of us. We have so many problems in our society around race, guns and more that we need to find ways to address. Too many of our fellow citizens are dying and each death represents significant losses on a personal and societal scale. We can't continue down this path of death and destruction, but must change the way that we look at each other as individuals and as members of different demographic groups. The violence stops when all of us act collectively to truly value human life and the contribution that every person makes to our society, simply by virtue of being human. It also stops when we refuse to be helpless in the face of those who seek to subjugate, coerce and harm others and instead choose to exercise our power for the good of all.   

In which we confront the dark heart of America. Again.|By Charles P. Pierce

South Carolina, a state that thoughtfully welcomes its 19 known hate groups by flying a Confederate flag over the statehouse, is facing a real quandary today....|By Jia Tolentino

Where are the white fathers? When will white leaders stop the violence? Our racial double standard continues|By Chauncey DeVega

U.S. citizens may fear homegrown jihadists, but law enforcement is more worried about right-wing extremists.|By Charles Kurzman and David Schanzer

The Daily Show host found himself unable to crack jokes as he addressed the terrorist attack at a historic black church in Charleston, South Carolina

In the wake of the South Carolina shooting massacre that killed nine at an African Methodist Episcopal Church, The Wall Street Journal editorial board claimed...

A board member for the National Rifle Association blamed pastor and South Carolina state Sen. Clementa Pinckney for not only his own death, but the...

Bullets will not end a church whose history speaks to its heroic resilience.

ISLA VISTA, CA—In the days following a violent rampage in southern California in which a lone attacker killed seven individuals, including himself, and seriously...