27 March 2011

The Media on Education – Grade: F

We Do Not Have an Education Crisis in this Country. We Have a Societal Crisis

Regardless of the dearth of media coverage, the protests and rallies here in Madison, Wisconsin continue. There are people inside and outside the capitol every single day, rain, snow, or shine. One particular group that is represented each afternoon is teachers. Yet, amid the constant media chatter about public education and teaching, and the absurd vilification of teachers, the one voice that is rarely if ever represented in the news is that of an actual classroom teacher.

Among the many segments of society profoundly affected by Wisconsin’s and other states’ recent and impending regressive legislation is public education. But despite what either of the two dominant political parties claim about their interest in and respect for education, the entire American public education system has been under attack for decades. All of the political rhetoric about leaving no child left behind and racing to the top amounts to nothing but ignorant and useless policymaking, which purposefully masks the threats to our public educational systems and disgracefully blames the only people who actually know what is going on in the nation’s classrooms.

It is not simply the conservative arch-rivals of public education who get it all wrong. Nicholas Kristoff and those behind the recent documentary travesty “Waiting for Superman” also reveal their elite status and their cluelessness when speaking about teachers and education. The only voices in the ongoing discussion about education in America are those with tenuous ties, if any, to the actual institution.

Teachers are a special segment of society. Most enter their profession out an altruistic calling to help, out of a concern for children, and because of their kind and caring natures. In addition, as one local teacher I spoke to recently stated, teachers are rule-followers. With the few iconoclastic exceptions, most teachers want to please; they do not want to publicly complain or rock the boat. Thus, it is difficult to get teachers to speak out about the horrific conditions under which they work and to demand the things they truly need in the classroom.

I am currently a university teaching assistant, which is quite different than a classroom teacher. Nevertheless, I previously taught in a public school, a private school, and a charter school. Moreover, my experience as a middle-class student who was able to attend both public and private schools opened my eyes to the great disparity in educational opportunities in America early in my life.

First of all, American public schools have not deteriorated because of bad teachers. Though what constitutes a “good” teacher can be highly subjective, I think I can safely say that most teachers are good teachers. The vast majority are competent professionals who do their jobs well. There exist some teachers who have a more difficult time with conveying information to their students, and an extremely small minority who do not put in the time they perhaps should. But most teachers are not “bad” – particularly if you consider what they are up against.

I have not met one critic of teachers who could handle teaching in a modern classroom for a full day, or even for 30 seconds - forget a career. The concentration and multi-tasking necessary for teaching has been compared to that of being an air-traffic controller. Teachers are not only responsible for imparting information. They must also serve as role models, counselors, psychiatrists, disciplinarians, and parents to their students. In fact, I have even witnessed a teacher become a guardian of a student who would have otherwise been homeless. Some teachers who may seem to be “slacking” are probably just attempting to remain sane by allowing themselves a split second of personal time and space. The amount of work that teachers have is incomparable to almost any job that I have seen - and it never ends.

Teachers begin their days well before dawn. They usually arrive at work an hour or more before classes start, and often stay long after classes end, either to engage in extra-curricular activities with their students, to work in their classrooms, or to devote extra time to their students. When they go home after their already 8-10-hour day, they normally have a bare minimum of two hours of preparation and grading for the next day. In addition, teachers usually have professional development meetings, grade-level or course-specific meetings, and other professional trainings or duties such as parent-teacher conferences and open-houses weekly or bi-weekly. Their weekdays and weekends are consumed with teaching, preparation, and assessment. Most non-teachers, even those highly respectful of the profession, cannot even conceive of the amount of time it takes to be a teacher. It is not a job for the faint of heart or for those who do not wish to work hard.

Second, contrary to popular opinion, raising teachers’ salaries will not bring better teachers to the profession. Teachers do not enter education because they care about career momentum or financial compensation. Teachers become teachers because they care about education and because they care about children. No one would tolerate the stressful working conditions and unending criticism that teachers endure if they were not at least somewhat selfless and altruistic. Increasing the base salaries of teachers might attract different people to the profession, but those people would be far from “better.” The kind of people attracted to higher salaries are careerists, people who compete to receive the most accolades, people who care more about their own egos and their own prestige - about materialism, public successes, and external validation - than about substantive, meaningful work. Ivy League graduates and straight-A students are not necessarily better people and would not necessarily make better teachers. Indeed, the reasons for their high grades and prestigious diplomas have less to do with superior intelligence than they do with fortuitous pedigrees.

To be sure, teachers deserve higher salaries – on the order of 1000% raises – but if you asked teachers what they wish for, higher salaries would be the last thing they would mention. They would tell you that they want:

• smaller class sizes, so that they can give more individual attention to their students and have fewer papers to grade, so that they can devote enough time to give students thorough feedback and assistance to help them learn
• more preparation time, so that they can devise creative and interesting lessons to enable students to learn and be engaged
• more autonomy, so that they can help students think critically instead of forcing the students to engage in rote memorization for standardized tests
• more support from school staff, so they can teach rather than having to do much administrative and bureaucratic work that is not connected to educating their students
• more social supports for students so they can devote their time to learning more effectively
• more time for their students to engage in art, music, and physical education
• and did I mention smaller class sizes?

Everything on this wish list relates directly to better education. While we spend money on new technologies and gadgets for classrooms, new books and learning programs which enrich the pocketbooks of corporations, we do nothing to enrich classrooms in the ways that teachers and students need most.

One quarter of our children live in poverty. We have a crisis of unemployment, joblessness, hunger, and homelessness that worsens by the day and deeply affects all of our school-age children. In addition, we have a cultural crisis in which superficiality and the spectacle of entertainment are revered beyond any moral and civic responsibilities to each other and to our communities. We have a crisis of technophilia, in which we are addicted to television, computers, iPads, iPhones, smartphones, etc., and lack important engagements in interpersonal conversation and true emotional attachment. And we have a crisis of society, in which the corporation has taken over all aspects of our lives, including our educational systems. Our schools have been reconstructed to train mind-numbed automaton serfs for the benefit of their corporate overseers.

Furthermore, while teachers are held to higher standards than probably any other profession, and critics of teachers have zero tolerance for anything but impossibly perfect outcomes, the children they teach are either ignored or held to no standards or personal responsibility for their own learning.

Many poor students have obligations and burdens beyond their control which impede their abilities to devote themselves to their educations. To address the educational needs of these children, their social and economic needs must be dealt with first, and this larger, societal issue cannot be adequately addressed by teachers, though many try to do so.

But there is also another fact that most teachers will never speak of publicly – students are not all perfect angels, not by a long shot. Though I hate to rely on TV as a model, the show “Supernanny” depicts how poorly some children are parented and how spoiled and entitled so many children are now more than ever. These same children who throw endless temper tantrums, speak back to adults, and obtain everything they want in every way they want it are the children that teachers are supposed to manage and educate every day. Rather than support the authority of the teacher when problems arise, parents of these children back up their offspring and complain to administrators about teachers, rather than confront the control their own children exert over them.

Clearly then, merit pay based on student achievement - another of the commonly mentioned and ill-conceived notions of politicians and pundits of all persuasions - is ridiculously biased and absurd. Classes are composed of so many different types of students with so many different backgrounds and different advantages or impediments to their educational success that have nothing to do with their teachers.

Charter schools are not the answer, either. Though some charter schools (such as the one in which I taught) are run by caring professionals who truly wish to help their students, many are run by business school graduates and are simply created for profit alone. By taking some of the best-performing students from public schools and leaving the poorer-performing students, as well as taking funds from public school which are never to be returned (even if a student leaves the charter school) charter schools were devised by politicians as a calculated means of slowly destroying public education. Study after study has demonstrated that charter schools perform on average exactly the same as public schools, even with their vastly increased flexibility in terms of curriculum and practices. Some charter schools perform better, but just as many perform worse than regular public schools, thus they are not in any way the panacea their corporate champions claim them to be. One thing that charter schools are most able to do is to take away the union-won rights of teachers. So, charter schools are free to exploit teachers as they see fit – and they often do.

Private schools, on the other hand, actually do hold the key to educational success.* They graduate the most successful students who attend the most celebrated universities. But their teachers are generally not paid more than public school teachers, which proves false the idea that increased teacher compensation will increase student success. Here is what most private schools have:

1. Class sizes with no more than 12-15 students
2. Teachers who teach only 4-5 classes per day rather than 5-6
3. Teachers who, because of #1 and #2, are able to offer individual help to their students
4. Teachers who, because of #1 and #2, are able to assign more rigorous coursework and spend more time on offering thorough and precise feedback on student work
5. Teachers who are able to be creatively flexible in their curriculum and autonomous in their course structure, instead of having to adhere to bureaucratic standards devised by people with little or no educational experience
6. Students who, because they are generally rich, have no worries for their personal health and safety or concerns with meeting their basic needs
7. Students who, because they are generally rich, have no other pressing responsibilities or obligations and can thus dedicate all of their time and their full attention to their studies
8. Students who, because they are rich, know that they will be able to attend college and can thus concentrate on working toward that goal

But what needs to be clear is that the argument over good and bad teachers or good and bad schools is a straw-man that masks the real problem with the American educational system. We need to rethink education, true, but not in any of the ways that our politicians and media suggest. We need to make students, teachers and education a priority by making the quality of life for all citizens a priority. The only way this will be accomplished is through focusing on what is really wrong with education: the immoral inequalities and injustices rampant in American society. Until our media portrays these realities accurately and until we attend to the actual deficiencies within our systems, public education will never improve.

*N.B.  The argument being made here is not that private schools are the solution; it is that schools with students who have no other vital needs and teachers who have greater flexibility, smaller class sizes, and fewer burdens themselves are the ones that succeed. If only public schools (and our society as whole) could be so lucky to have that kind of ideal situation ...

20 March 2011

In Solidarity: Remembering War and Exposing Color Lines

The fifth weekend of the Madison, Wisconsin protests against the budget “repair” bill, and now also the state budget bill, saw a smaller turnout than the 150,000 plus ralliers from last week. Even so, a sizable number in the thousands if not tens of thousands congregated once again at the capitol. As usual, few if any major media outlets are painting a complete picture of this, over month-long, grassroots movement. While the media has mainly spoken of the loss of collective bargaining rights for workers in Governor Walker’s recent bills, the regressive legislation takes away so many more provisions, especially those for the poor, women, and people of color. Moreover, while the mainstream media has maintained the fallacious right-wing narrative of large state deficits needing to be paid by the poor and working class, the people in Wisconsin and beyond have been duly awakened to the true causes of the federal and state fiscal “crises”: corporate welfare, the ultra-rich not paying their fair share of taxes, and billions of dollars spent on unnecessary and illegal wars. These stark media omissions became apparent Saturday as important and interrelated contingents, who have been wholly unrepresented, comprised the focus of the March 19th rallies.

Marking the eighth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, the Iraq Veterans Against the War sponsored the first march and rally of the day. At this point, we seem to forget how some of us called foul when we were told that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and was an imminent threat to the United States. We seem to forget that George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Colin Powell and others in the administration lied about the reasons for the war. We seem to forget the illegality of the offensive strike against a nation that did not threaten the U.S. We also seem to forget the millions of people around the world who protested against the war, the trillions of dollars spent on the war, the thousands of U.S. soldiers needlessly slain, and the hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqi citizens killed. Finally, we forget the veterans who have returned to find themselves physically, psychologically, and socially impaired by their ordeal in Iraq. Contrary to the lip service of the war hawks, veterans have been disgracefully neglected by their government, unable at times to receive decent medical care or suitable, stable employment, and often becoming homeless. Now, with the cuts in the federal and state governmental spending on social services, these same people who went to fight a war that has done nothing but enrich corporate war profiteers, are losing the rights and privileges that should have been awarded to them for their service. And the corporate media fails to notice.

Though teachers, nurses and other public sector employees have been the subject of most news reports, the emergence of farm laborers at last week’s rally demonstrated how far-reaching the effects of Walker’s new budget bills would be on other sectors of society. As usual, the dominant false rhetoric about the budget in the mainstream media only pertained to white and middle class workers. Yet no sector will be more affected than the working poor. And the largest segment of the poor tends to be people of color. This disregarded group held the second march and rally of the day, under the moniker “Cultural Resistance: Exposing the Color Lines.” The loss of wages, Medicaid, Badger Care (the state health program) and numerous other essential social services will particularly affect people of color. More specifically, the new budget contains provisions to repeal food stamp benefits to legal immigrants, to eliminate in-state tuition rates for undocumented immigrant students, and to “increase flexibility” to the UW-Madison, meaning greatly increased and unaffordable tuition rates.

Interestingly, the two rallies were intricately connected, as the poor people of color tend to be overrepresented in the military, due to both recruitment targeted at their population and their lack of viable alternatives in terms of employment. When the war broke out, I was an inner-city school teacher in East Los Angeles and I witnessed the tragic events unfold. Relatives and friends of my largely (99%) non-white middle school students were disproportionately represented and killed in Iraq. I also witnessed the vulnerability of impoverished students who had every bit as much talent and capability as their white peers in Beverly Hills, but far, far fewer opportunities. When all of your basic needs are met (and then some), your ability to succeed in school is exponentially increased. However, when you struggle to meet your basic needs, as is the case for too many people of color, your familial and social problems are greatly exacerbated, and your ability to succeed in school is hampered by all of your more pressing responsibilities Thus, students who could otherwise be college-bound are enticed by recruiters to see the military as an immediate solution to these exigencies.

As my current graduate school and TAA colleague, Kaja Rebane, proclaimed in a speech at the rally on Saturday, we should thank Governor Scott Walker. His brazen actions have unveiled the truth behind his lies, and as a result, we have become united. We have connected the dots and placed these myriad issues in their proper global context. We have recognized not only the enormity of the war that has been waged on the bottom 98% of the population by the upper class, but the fact that we all actually have much in common. Now, we should work within our various circles to include one other, help one other, and use our strength in numbers to finally fight back – on behalf of all workers, veterans, immigrants, and taxpaying Americans of all colors.

19 March 2011

George Carlin was Awake - Are You?

George Carlin knew what many of us have for years: The American Dream is a myth and the country has been under corporate control for decades. I recall seeing this routine and thinking how doomed we all are, as everyone is asleep.

In the past month, people have awakened. But it is not enough to finally be awake. Now, we have to all be active - not just active but pro-active, vigilant, and unrelenting.

Now is not the time to return to slumber. Now is the time to fight.

Let's prove Carlin wrong in his belief that no one is awake and no one will fight. (RIP George)

13 March 2011

Madison, Wisconsin Protest: Saturday, March 12, 2011

Though the media seems indifferent to the protests, low-balling the 150,000 person turnout and reporting it in the margins of the news with headlines taken directly from corporate talking points (see earlier NPR post for one example), the largest rally yet occurred here in Madison on Saturday.

The event featured a collection of people, including farmers, who showed up with
their tractors, to protest, among other things, the fact that Badgercare, the health care program that most of them rely on, will be severely cut under this administration.

People of all stripes attended with signs and costumes and banners too numerous to catalog, but I was able to document at least a sample of what was out there.

The Fab 14 were in attendance, the returning state senators who had been in Illinois to give the people time to illuminate some of the nightmare that Walker and his puppetmasters have wrought for the state (more on that from "Wisconsin Death Trip" in COUNTERPUNCH). Earlier in the day on the opposite side of the capitol, democratic assembly members spoke, including Peter Barca, the one who read out the law that the republican senators were breaking as they brazenly voted on the bill last Wednesday. The republican assembly passed it Thursday, and Walker signed it into law Friday. Lawsuits are pending on several counts. Firstly, that the republican senators used an illegal procedure to pass the bill. Secondly, that the logic used for dividing the bill in the first place, separating the stripping of union bargaining from 

what was considered "fiscal," thereby not requiring a quorum, which is what the democrats denied the senate by exiting the state, was in fact false, since stripping unions of bargaining has fiscal implications. Plus, Walker still insists that the purpose of stripping unions of rights is to balance the budget. You can't call it nonfiscal and claim that it has fiscal implications. Therefore, all this might go away in the courts.

above: union cab (cooperatively owned taxi company) procession up State St

One of the most important messages in Saturday's protest was to elect a Wisconsin supreme court judge on April 5th, Joanne Kloppenburg, to replace a hideous conservative, which would throw the balance away from a 5-4 conservative majority.

All-in-all, the protest was packed, passionate, and peaceful. Fixed News insists that Union Thugs were imported for the protests, and of course this is nonsense. Here are their thugs:

My greatest pleasure was marching with Kristine and her union from the library mall on campus, up State Street, and around the capitol. Empowering is the word for it, shouting "Union Power!" and "How do we fix the deficit? TAX, TAX, TAX THE RICH!" You could see the excitement spread to others as we marched past.

And no, half the people were not tea baggers. Every person was anti-Walker. Every one. If your news is telling you otherwise, you are watching propaganda.

At 7 pm, we went to the Barrymore to hear a very fiery Dennis Kucinich, Jim Hightower ("I'm as pleased to be here as a flee at a dog show"), union organizer Bill Franks, Laura Flanders of Grittv.org, our fed rep Tammy Baldwin, and others. What a crowd. I'll attempt to embed the Kucinich speech below. Definitely worth your time:


Carl & Kristine

12 March 2011

Dear corrections@npr.org:

Again this morning, Saturday, March 12, 2011, on my NPR station here in Madison, Wisconsin, you said the same line at the end of your brief report: "Walker said he needs the bill to balance the budget in Wisconsin."

This is wrong.

Walker, his Republicans puppets, and their corporate masters are clearly and directly stripping unions of rights. This is not a budget issue. Please report this simple truth rather than the lie, the corporate talking points, you are constantly repeating.

Please consider these things:

1) Even the Republicans have tacitly admitted that the bill Walker signed has been removed from the fiscal realm in order for it to be passed, since only fiscal issues require the quorum they could not obtain with the 14 democrats out-of-state. They did this by removing fiscal portions of the "budget repair bill." This alone reveals your repeated line to be inaccurate. Only the union stripping and other "nonfiscal" provisions of the bill remain. Please confirm this simple fact rather than parrot out-of-date Republican talking points.

2) Why do you have to use (an old and now irrelevant) falsehood from the governor? Is it because he is an authority figure? Is it because it is easy? Your laziness on this repetition hurts what the people of Wisconsin are trying to do. Every time you repeat it, millions of people get the wrong message, one that makes them more complacent. We want America to wake up, rise up and fight corporate tyranny. How can that happen if you are spreading this soporific lie?

3) If you need an authority figure for a quotation (which is a questionable practice in any event) why not quote a democratic state senator here like Miller, Larsen, or Erpenbach? Why not quote a union leader? Any of them will tell you the truth, that what was signed into law was union busting, plain and simple, and that it was done illegally. This should be your ending statement to your hourly brief report. Why isn't it? Has your corporate funding made the truth too inconvenient for you to support?

I am going to start a campaign against you on this issue until you start to report this story correctly. I am going to spread this letter to as many people and Internet sites as I can, urging them to use your email address to correct your false reports.

The fight in Wisconsin is far from over, and your reporting has been disgraceful. It is hindering our just cause. Please report the people's news, not news tailored by corporate talking points.

Carl Mumm
Madison, WI

10 March 2011

Tyranny in America; Dateline: Wisconsin

(photo courtesy: AP)
Since these peaceful protests against the “budget repair” bill in Wisconsin began on February 14 of this year, and as crowds amplified day after day, everyone here recognized one truth about how our story would be told to the nation and the world: “Fox News will lie about this.” - A slogan later to be found on many protest signs. But the truth is NBC, ABC, CBS, CNN, NPR, Time, Newsweek, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, and the New York Time would also lie about this. Their lies began when they allowed our dictatorial governor to speak complete fallacies without questioning, investigating, or critically examining any of his claims, such as:

This bill is about a budget crisis.

Now the lies have been exposed for all they are worth.

Here is what happened the evening of March 9, 2011 in Wisconsin from someone who was there.

At 5:15pm I readied to tackle all of the work I had piled up before me, as my civic responsibilities of late have undermined my academic ones. I quickly checked my email, only to find a flurry of messages labeled “Urgent!” (I probably would have received word via text/ cell if I had one.) They implored me to rush to the capitol building in Madison. The republicans in the state senate had found a way to extract the collective bargaining provision out of the “budget repair” bill and vote on it as a separate entity, since they can vote on non-fiscal matters without a quorum of senators, and the 14 democrat senators needed to produce a quorum were still in Illinois. The republicans had rather surreptitiously convened a hearing (as has been par for the course since the entire bill was announced) and were set to vote on it at any moment.

But the bill was about a budget crisis, right?

I immediately fled to the capitol, as did thousands and thousands of other concerned taxpaying citizens. Upon arrival, we found ourselves waiting outside in a single-file line as we attempted to enter the building, which was supposed to be completely open to the public. Entrance was permitted through only one door. Once we passed through, we were met by numerous police officials who searched our bags and sent us through metal detectors. In addition, a large sign alerted us to the dozens and dozens of items that were no longer permitted in the building. After over three weeks of completely peaceful, non-violent protesting with nary an arrest – despite what erroneous rumors you may have heard – we could no longer simply enter our statehouse. We faced draconian rules and regulations and we were herded like mere cattle.

Nevertheless, many of us made it in, and despite their having to search us and treat us as criminals, the police kindly assisted us in finding the senate chambers where the vote on the bill was being held. Hundreds and hundreds of loud and angry, yet still extremely peaceful citizens continued their familiar chants from the past twenty-three days:
“Whose house? Our house!”
“Recall Walker!”
“Tell me what democracy looks like.” “This is what democracy looks like.”
And finally, to those cowardly, duplicitous republican senators: “Shame. Shame. Shame.”

By shortly after 6pm, the bill which effectively strips all employee unions in WI – minus the police and firefighters – of collective bargaining rights was passed by the state senate. The senators fled quickly. The citizens remained.

But this bill was about a budget crisis, right?

Initially, there were hundreds if not a couple of thousand of citizens in the capitol building, as the outside doors were being strictly monitored. People of all ages and all walks of life – from infants to seniors, from preppy, to hippy, to working-class, to hipster, to “regular” folk – remained in the capitol feeling resentment and disappointment about their government, but feeling solidarity and kinship with their fellow citizens. People assembled back in the center rotunda, as we had all done so many weeks back, and began collectively chanting and letting out the frustration of the moment. Then cheers erupted as scores of more people flooded into the rotunda. The police had opened all of the doors to the building, against the orders of the governor, apparently. Within minutes, from my vantage point on the second floor, I could smell the scent of pizza wafting up through the rotunda. Soon thereafter, boxes of fruit and snacks came in, bottles of water were passed around, and sandwich stations were created. At some point during this flurry of activity, a first aid headquarters was organized, and volunteers began to don those familiar fluorescent Marshall vests to help maintain the peace. In addition, blankets, sleeping bags, and bedding started to arrive. The energy and conviviality in the air was electric. All of the items banned under the tyrannical Walker regime were allowed back into the building. It was Day 1 all over again. Thousands upon thousands of people were occupying the capitol building in response to an imminent loss of their rights as workers and citizens. (The revamped bill will have to pass the assembly on Friday, which it will easily do.)

But this bill was about a budget crisis, right?

To the world, it might seem the people have lost. To us, we have only just begun.

The right-wing shock doctrine that promoted American imperialism around the world has come home. It is in our state of Wisconsin, and it is in yours too. We are not defeated here; we are reinvigorated. Our small battle is now a national war against these emerging tyrannical states and against the corporate plutocracy that has stolen our money, our lives and our futures. This is our story today, but it will be yours tomorrow. It is a national call to arms for the working people – for all the citizenry.

This bill is not about a budget crisis. It was never about a budget crisis.

This cannot stand.

09 March 2011

Ladies and Gentlemen of Wisconsin:

The corporate Republican representatives in our state capitol, masquerading as your state senators, have met in the dark and have stolen your rights to collectively bargain for wages and benefits.

On Tuesday, in a feint worthy of a master fencer, Wisconsin Corporate Governor Scott Walker released emails that appeared to show his stubborn stance on his budget despair bill to be weakening. Then on Wednesday evening, the Republican state senate Koch brother marionettes formed a committee to split the bill so that they could pass the union-busting measures without a quorum.

As Democratic senate minority leader Miller stated, “In 30 minutes, 18 state senators undid 50 years of civil rights in Wisconsin. Their disrespect for the people of Wisconsin and their rights is an outrage that will never be forgotten.”

Even if you are not in a union, even if you are not currently employed, this decision will affect you, your family,  all Wisconsinites, and eventually all Americans unless we take our rights back. If you ever wish to improve your standing in the workplace, if you want to earn enough to survive in the future, it is vital that you understand what unions do: they make it possible for us to band together to stand against the tide of corporate tyranny in a country that has been usurped by corporate power.

As I read on a sign wielded by an iron worker on the capitol square: “Together we bargain. Alone we beg.” They love it when we have to beg. The corporate agenda is to divide us so they can lower our wages, strip our health care benefits, and remove pensions entirely.

But it won’t stop there. They want to raze public education so they can privatize it. In Michigan, legislation is nearly passed in which municipal governments might have a good chance of being run not by democratically-elected governments, but by corporations. Naomi Klein on Wednesday’s Democracy Now! spoke about how this could occur:

“They have created, if this passes [in Michigan], the possibility for privatization of a whole town by fiat. And this is actually a trend in the contracting out of public services, where you now have whole towns, like Sandy Springs in Georgia, run by private companies. . . . It’s a kind of a corporate coup d’état at the municipal level.”

The moneyed interests of this country have spoken through their Republican sock puppets of the Wisconsin senate. Wisconsin must become the third world for their benefit, even though they caused all the budget shortfalls of every state in the union, and even though the corporations and the banks that caused the 2008 crisis and the recession that followed have more capital now than ever before. They already gorged themselves on the bailout. Now they want more of what you do not have.

We must rise up to face them head-on, and we must do it immediately. There can be no division. The corporate machine that we all contribute to through our modern lifestyles and our daily jobs must stop dead for as long it takes. We must hurt them, slam into them with our great numbers. We must swarm the capitol and recall all the Koch-addicted Republican finger puppets that took part in passing this disastrous bill.

It is time for a general strike. Buy only essentials. Do not work.

Make. Them. Pay.


07 March 2011

This is what Democracy is all about - The "Fab Fourteen"

Fourteen brave Wisconsin Democratic state senators have been in Illinois for three weeks, doing exactly the job that their constituents have asked of them: fighting for the will of their people and staying strong in their resolve to help see that the democratic process is upheld.

There can be no better example of fulfilling one's duties as public servants.

Thank you Fab 14!

(Video courtesy Shahin Izadi)

05 March 2011

Notes from the Renewed Labor Movement

My grandfather, Pio, was born in 1909 in New York City, the son of poor Italian immigrants who had recently arrived in America seeking prosperity. He began working at a very young age to help support his family. At thirteen, Pio lost his father and as the eldest son with six siblings, took responsibility as the family wage earner. On one occasion, he was out making deliveries during a blizzard. The streets were empty in the lower east side of Manhattan and a police officer came up to Pio, thinking he was a delinquent up to no good. My grandfather explained that he needed to work so that his family could eat; the officer escorted him through the rest of his route.

Life never came easy for Pio, but he nonetheless became a hardworking, diligent husband and father who raised three capable and successful children. He worked numerous jobs throughout his adult life, and after having some major setbacks, including the devastating loss of his first daughter when she was just nine-years-old and the theft of an electrical contracting business by an unscrupulous partner, Pio became a union-backed electrician who worked on projects for the city of New York.

Pio was able to send both of his remaining children to private colleges. In his later years, Pio and his wife retired to a comfortable condominium in Connecticut. All of this time he constantly showered his four grandchildren with an abundance of gifts (not the least of which was his unconditional love and adoration). How was a man with no high school diploma able to so successfully provide for his nuclear family and even their offspring? He had a union.

What was granted to my grandfather – the simple ability to raise a healthy and productive American family – is far too rare today. Families with two incomes cannot even afford to send their children to state universities, let alone private ones. Moreover, pensions and retirement savings either no longer exist or are threatened with being revoked.

By the 1950s and 1960s, both public and private sector employees enjoyed relatively healthy incomes with considerable access to necessary benefits such as family health insurance and pensions. These comforts came as a result of union victories over the horrendous exploitation and abuse of workers that had occurred so prevalently for decades and decades prior. In subsequent years, beginning around the time I was born in the 1970s, private sector unions were diminishing and the public perception of unions began to decline. Or so we thought. Recent polls reveal that the public still overwhelmingly supports unions in spite of the well-orchestrated campaign to vilify them.

The media took the reins in promulgating the narrative that unions crumbled due to rampant corruption and the laziness and/or ineptitude of the union workforce. Though these situations existed to a minor extent, unions were in fact systematically dismantled by moneyed corporate interests whose wealth enabled them to lobby government as well as dole out millions in public relations messages to control the rhetoric about unions. We continue to see these same baseless rhetorical tactics right now with the attacks on teachers and public employees throughout the United States.

Concurrently, as private sector unions lost power over the past three to four decades, all employee benefits were cut, the middle class deteriorated, the gap between rich and poor expanded, and the richest 1-2% of citizens amassed record wealth while paying their lowest tax rates in history. Furthermore, corporations began to dominate all aspects of American life. They paid (or avoided paying) minimal taxes, and gained greater and greater rights as citizens, culminating in the Citizens United verdict of last year. This profoundly irresponsible and unethical Supreme Court decision allowed corporations to not only control our media and commerce, but to establish complete control of our governments. The influx of corporate money into elections ushered in the many tea party and ultra-conservative officials in local, state, and federal governments. These candidates won narrow victories that would never have been accomplished without enormous sums of private funds. These crony politicians do not represent real people, nor do they reflect the people’s choice. They are tools of the corporate elite.

Now, because of the profound corporate influence on our democracy, state and federal officials are adopting the same regressive legislation that the governor here in Wisconsin is attempting to put forward. It constitutes the decimation of the entire social infrastructure – which already stood on shaky ground – to be replaced by a sociopathic corporate model via the ideological cronies that the corporate backers spent millions to get elected.

However, the same pathological greed inherent in corporate capitalism, which served to enable the consolidation of wealth and power by the corporate elite, may ultimately prove to be its doom. As I said in my testimony to the Wisconsin legislative Joint Finance Committee less than two weeks ago: When people lose all rights, they also lose all fear. There will be nothing left to lose. People around the world are no longer tolerating their lack of freedom under dictatorial regimes. And indeed, we here in Wisconsin have reached our critical breaking point.

No single one of us could ever have resisted alone. The struggle in Wisconsin immediately united working people as we remembered a few simple truths: We are much more alike than we are different. We all deserve a decent existence. We all have been robbed by the rich and powerful. And the mainstream media’s conventional wisdom and false paradigms represent corporate interests, not ours. In order for this large group of organized, committed individuals to come together in Wisconsin, we relied on the same tools that our grandparents used: our unions. Without unions, the convergence of common citizens and taxpayers seeking representation and dignity may have never occurred. With unions, there is a fighting chance to battle injustice. We may not have the money or the power, but there is great strength in numbers, which is exactly why the minority elite wish to see unions permanently destroyed.

My grandfather was a proud American patriot, a devout Catholic, a tireless laborer, and a staunch unionist whose American dream was fulfilled. He would never have imagined that his granddaughter and her peers would again be fighting for rights that his generation had already secured. He would be appalled to see how his nation, which had afforded him so many opportunities, has methodically removed those same opportunities for his grandchildren. He would be livid about the attacks on public sector employees, yet he would also know that through his precious union, a means of resistance was possible.

Some may call Saturday, March 5, Day 20 of sustained resistance to the so-called “budget repair bill” in Wisconsin. Or they may identify it as a continuing protest against the oligarchic administration of Gov. Scott Walker. But we might as well stop counting the days because this will not soon be over. And we may as well stop calling it a protest. This is a movement.

We are here for the long haul to protect our rights to collective bargaining. We are here to preserve our rights to a just standard of living. We are here to honor our fellow Wisconsinites and all Americans. And in addition, I am here to honor my beloved grandfather.

03 March 2011

Locked Out - Day 18 Madison, WI

The public has been illegally locked out of he capitol building since Monday morning. Peaceful protesters left early Monday, thinking they would re-enter the capitol after going to work, fulfilling obligations and responsibilities, and resting. They returned to find that unlawful, arbitrary policies had been imposed by the Department of Administration, under Gov. Walker's direction, to keep people out of the building. Regardless, dozens are adhering to the archaic policies and maintaining a small vigil in the rotunda, while hundreds, if not thousands return daily to continue the marches and rallies outside the capitol, opposing the cruel and unnecessary austerity measures proposed by this governor.

Here's a look at the recent conditions:

Wisconsin State Capitol Budget Repair Bill Protest March 1st from Michael Kienitz on Vimeo.

(Video courtesy Michael Kienitz)

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