Saturday, September 24, 2011

Scott Walker vs. education: An open letter to NBC News anchor Brian Williams

Dear Mr. Williams,

I was shocked to learn that you are featuring Gov. Scott "Teachers Are Thugs" Walker on your program The State of Education, streaming online via the NBC News initiative Education Nation, at 1 p.m. on Monday, September 26.

Being familiar with some of your work on the Late Show with Jimmy Fallon, I'm aware you not only know that Scott Walker is an enemy of teachers, but have in fact slow-jammed that news yourself on at least one occasion.

Given your familiarity with Walker's attacks on educators and other public servants, you must be aware of his equally devastating attacks on public education itself in Wisconsin. But the fact that he has been invited to participate in this summit, and the eagerness with which he has already begun to reveal the lies he plans to further espouse on your show, compel me to provide you with a partial list of the many ways Scott Walker has waged war on public education in Wisconsin, and is shamefully ill-qualified to participate in a forum on education.

I hope you will use this information to expose him as the anti-education policy-pusher that he is, and use this opportunity to reveal the truth about his sinister plans to privatize public education rather than provide him with a platform to spout his usual lies about "reform" (which is his codeword for defunding public education).

1.Walker cut $1.6 billion from Wisconsin’s public education budget over the next two years, even as he passes out tax breaks like candy and increases public funding to private and charter schools. Most districts in the state had to deal with these cuts this year by forcing our top commodity, experienced teachers, into early retirement to get some short-term balance in hiring new, "less expensive" teachers.

Programming cuts are rampant all over the state. Districts are forced to raise taxes up to the existing levies, if they haven't already. Walker calls cuts "tools." Get ready to hear him say that word a lot on your show. He may also mention jobs, since he has a hard time not using "job" and "tool" in the same sentence, but don't fall for it. As the people of Wisconsin have been telling him since February, he needs to keep his brown bag full of "tools" away from our schools.

2.Walker is heavily funded by, and answers to, anti-public education privatization policy-pushers like the Koch brothers, the Walton family and Betsy DeVos' ironically named American Federation for Children, at whose annual event Walker was a keynote speaker last spring.

These groups have the admitted goal of privatizing public education and are using Wisconsin as a staging ground for advancing their political aims for our schools. They’re using the puppet Scott Walker, who is more than willing to sell out our kids to such high-rolling bidders. They have trained him to use words like "choice" and "merit" as codes for long-term agendas toward privatization and segregation of schools. His efforts to "reform" education in Wisconsin are little more than a financial venture.

3.Scott Walker is a proven and habitual liar. His biggest lie is that Wisconsin is "broke" and that we need his "reforms" to "balance the budget." The financial "crisis," which Walker manufactured in order to attempt to illegally push through his draconian budget, was the direct result of the tax cuts he distributed to his cronies in the weeks before declaring this phony state of fiscal emergency.

Further, Walker pushes a myth that the Wisconsin education system is in need of major reform, often blaming our excellent teachers for problems that do not exist. Wisconsin public schools are a national model in many areas, and we are number one in the nation in graduation rates, even as we spend less per pupil than most other states. With many of our schools already running on bare-bones budgets, Walker's cuts are devastating. Our kids are paying the price as Walker's funders cash in their checks.

4.The people of Wisconsin do not support Scott Walker. As soon as legally possible, recall efforts will begin full force and are in the planning stage as we speak. Educators throughout the state are near-universally opposed to his policies and further disgusted by his arrogant contempt for the welfare of our children and our education system. He has an approval rating around 40% and sinking. He is at the heart of an FBI "John Doe" investigation related to illegal campaigning. He engaged in campaign ethics violations at Marquette University, and he has made clear throughout his many campaigns that he did not value his own education; hardly the man we should trust to preserve and protect the education of our children.

Walker does not speak for the people of Wisconsin, who see his power grab for exactly what it was: a purely partisan bait-and-switch that led us down a path of abuses of power. It has produced painfully divisive policies that pit the erstwhile friendly and accommodating people of Wisconsin against each other.

When bragging about being part of your summit, Walker said, "I believe we have a great story to tell about our reforms and our bipartisan collaborations to further improve our schools." This from the man who famously said "There's nothing to negotiate" when revoking teachers' rights and lying about how doing so would help "balance the budget."

There has not been a single instance of bipartisan collaboration related to Walker's education agenda since he took office. And I've been paying attention. I watched live as citizen after citizen, teacher after teacher, expert after expert, testified in opposition to his budget, his education-gutting, his plans to expand charter schools at the expense of traditional public schools across the state. Walker shows open contempt for anyone who opposes him and refuses to even acknowledge citizens with whom he disagrees. (I myself have been writing to him regularly since February and have never received more than an automated email response).

Walker continues to this day to suggest that the educators who gathered by the thousands to protest his cuts to education and his abuse of power in taking away their rights were "a handful of out-of-state protesters." He is perhaps the most deceitful and divisive governor in America, and a staggering example of how to destroy public education. I trust you will expose him as such.

Yours sincerely,

Heather DuBois Bourenane
Wisconsin parent, educator, PTO member, state employee and public education advocate Saturday 09/24/2011 8:00 am

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Republicans' latest ploy to keep the economy lousy through election day

Whatever shred of doubt you may have harbored about the determination of congressional Republicans to keep the economy in the dumps through Election Day should now be gone.

Today, in advance of a key meeting of the Federal Reserve Board's Open Market Committee to decide what to do about the continuing awful economy and high unemployment, top Republicans wrote a letter to Fed Chief Ben Bernanke.

They stated in no uncertain terms the Fed should take no further action to lower long-term interest rates and juice the economy. "We have serious concerns that further intervention by the Federal Reserve could exacerbate current problems or further harm the US economy."

They didn't threaten to "treat him pretty ugly" - as Texas Governor Rick Perry told his supporters last month he'd deal with Bernanke if he "printed more money" between now and the election.

But the threat was there. "It is not clear that the recent round of quantitative easing undertaken by the Federal Reserve has facilitiated economic growth or reduced the unemployment rate."

Translated: You try this, and we rake you over the coals publicly, and make the Fed into an even bigger scapegoat than we've already made it.

Top Republicans believe they can block all or most of Obama's jobs bill. That leaves only the Fed as the last potential player to boost the economy. So the GOP will do what it can to stop the Fed.

After all, as Republican Senate head Mitch McConnell stated, their "number one" goal is to get Obama out of the White House. And that's more likely to happen if the economy sucks on Election Day.

To say it's unusual for a political party to try to influence the Fed is an understatement.

When I was Secretary of Labor in the Clinton Administration, it was considered a serious breach of etiquette - not to say potentially economically disastrous - even to comment publicly about the Fed. Everyone understood how important it is to shield the nation's central bank from politics.

If global investors suspect the Fed is responding to political pressure of any kind, investors will lose confidence in the independence of the Fed and its monetary policies. Even if the pressure is to tighten the money supply and keep interest rates high, it's still politics. And once politics intrudes, lenders of all stripes worry that it will continue to intrude in all sorts of ways. Lending to the United States becomes a tad riskier. As a result, lenders charge us more.

The Republican letter puts Bernanke and his colleagues in a bind. If they decide against another round of so-called "quantitative easing" to lower long-term rates and boost the economy, they may look like they're caving to congressional Republicans. If they decide to go ahead notwithstanding, they're bucking the Republicans and siding with Democrats. Either way, they're open to the charge they're playing politics.

Congressional Republicans evidently don't care. They want Obama out, whatever the cost. Besides, they've never met a government institution they don't mind trashing.

By Robert Reich, 21 September 2011


Robert Reich is Chancellor's Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley. He has served in three national administrations, most recently as secretary of labor under President Bill Clinton. He has written thirteen books, including "The Work of Nations," "Locked in the Cabinet," "Supercapitalism" and his latest book, "AFTERSHOCK: The Next Economy and America's Future." His 'Marketplace' commentaries can be found on and iTunes

Image is of the Federal Reserve building

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Robbie Robertson

New music from his How to Become Clairvoyant CD

Monday, September 5, 2011

Celebrating the true meaning of Labor Day

As a Vice-President for the AFT - American Federation of Teachers Guild (hence the image above) - in my hometown I am proud to celebrate this day. For some this day has turned into just another day off for partying. For others it has come to symbolize the end of summer and wearing white. However, I think it's important that we remember what this day truly symbolizes and how important it remains for worker's rights to be protected. To that end I'd like to share two articles this Labor Day. The first article is a history of this day from the U.S. Department of Labor and the second piece was written this morning by Dr. Walter Brasch, Professor of Journalism at Bloomsburg University.

Labor Day: How it Came About; What it Means

Labor Day, the first Monday in September, is a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.

Founder of Labor Day
More than 100 years after the first Labor Day observance, there is still some doubt as to who first proposed the holiday for workers. Some records show that Peter J. McGuire, general secretary of the Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners and a cofounder of the American Federation of Labor, was first in suggesting a day to honor those "who from rude nature have delved and carved all the grandeur we behold." But Peter McGuire's place in Labor Day history has not gone unchallenged. Many believe that Matthew Maguire, a machinist, not Peter McGuire, founded the holiday. Recent research seems to support the contention that Matthew Maguire, later the secretary of Local 344 of the International Association of Machinists in Paterson, N.J., proposed the holiday in 1882 while serving as secretary of the Central Labor Union in New York. What is clear is that the Central Labor Union adopted a Labor Day proposal and appointed a committee to plan a demonstration and picnic.

The First Labor Day
The first Labor Day holiday was celebrated on Tuesday, September 5, 1882, in New York City, in accordance with the plans of the Central Labor Union. The Central Labor Union held its second Labor Day holiday just a year later, on September 5, 1883. In 1884 the first Monday in September was selected as the holiday, as originally proposed, and the Central Labor Union urged similar organizations in other cities to follow the example of New York and celebrate a "workingmen's holiday" on that date. The idea spread with the growth of labor organizations, and in 1885 Labor Day was celebrated in many industrial centers of the country.

Labor Day Legislation
Through the years the nation gave increasing emphasis to Labor Day. The first governmental recognition came through municipal ordinances passed during 1885 and 1886. From them developed the movement to secure state legislation. The first state bill was introduced into the New York legislature, but the first to become law was passed by Oregon on February 21, 1887. During the year four more states — Colorado, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York — created the Labor Day holiday by legislative enactment. By the end of the decade Connecticut, Nebraska, and Pennsylvania had followed suit. By 1894, 23 other states had adopted the holiday in honor of workers, and on June 28 of that year, Congress passed an act making the first Monday in September of each year a legal holiday in the District of Columbia and the territories.

A Nationwide Holiday
The form that the observance and celebration of Labor Day should take were outlined in the first proposal of the holiday — a street parade to exhibit to the public "the strength and esprit de corps of the trade and labor organizations" of the community, followed by a festival for the recreation and amusement of the workers and their families. This became the pattern for the celebrations of Labor Day. Speeches by prominent men and women were introduced later, as more emphasis was placed upon the economic and civic significance of the holiday. Still later, by a resolution of the American Federation of Labor convention of 1909, the Sunday preceding Labor Day was adopted as Labor Sunday and dedicated to the spiritual and educational aspects of the labor movement. The character of the Labor Day celebration has undergone a change in recent years, especially in large industrial centers where mass displays and huge parades have proved a problem. This change, however, is more a shift in emphasis and medium of expression. Labor Day addresses by leading union officials, industrialists, educators, clerics and government officials are given wide coverage in newspapers, radio, and television. The vital force of labor added materially to the highest standard of living and the greatest production the world has ever known and has brought us closer to the realization of our traditional ideals of economic and political democracy. It is appropriate, therefore, that the nation pay tribute on Labor Day to the creator of so much of the nation's strength, freedom, and leadership — the American worker.

Labor Day: The Unknown Holiday
by Walter Brasch

"It’s Labor Day, and that means millions of Americans are celebrating. Most Americans have no idea what Labor Day is, other than self-serving political speeches, hot dogs, burgers, a pool party, and the last day of a three-day holiday. Few even know that Labor Day exists to allow people to remember and honor the struggles for respect, dignity, and acceptable wages and working conditions for the rank-and-file employees.

We don’t know that the Knights of Labor created the first Labor Day in 1882 and that Congress made it a national holiday in 1894.

Almost none of us, including life-long union workers, know the personalities of the labor movement. About Mother Jones (1830-1930), the militant “angel of the coal fields” for more than six decades. About “Big Bill” Haywood (1869-1928) who organized the Industrial Workers of the World, a universal coalition to fight for the rights of all labor. About cigar-chomping Samuel Gompers (1850-1924), the first president of the American Federation of Labor, a job he held for 38 years.

We don’t know about Sidney Hillman (1887-1946) who led strikes in 1916 to reduce the work week to 48 hours, from the standard 54–60 hours, and then helped create the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America and the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) before becoming a major political force for workers during the labor-friendly Roosevelt administration.

Missing from our collective knowledge is the life of Saul Alinsky (1909-1972), known as the “father of grassroots political campaigns” who worked alongside Cesar Chavez (1927-1993) who used Alinsky’s tactics to organize the United Farm Workers.

Most of us probably never heard about Eugene Debs (1855-1926), Joe Hill (1879-1915), and thousands of others who went to prison or were murdered defending the rights of the workers not only to organize, but to demand better working conditions. The names of Tompkins Square, Cripple Creek, Homestead, Lattimer, Lawrence, and dozens of other places where police forces massacred workers are unknown. We don’t know about the Avondale mine fire that killed 110, because of faulty construction of the colliery and a disregard for worker safety, or of the fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist factory, where 148 women, some as young as 12, working under brutal sweat-shop conditions, died because a fire door was chained. We won’t become involved in the struggle, risk our jobs and futures. That’s someone else’s responsibility. We’ll just follow inane rules and complain privately.

Most Americans, and certainly most journalists, don’t know the story of Horace Greeley, a social activist and the nation’s most prominent ante-bellum publisher, who created The New York Typographical Union for his typesetters and printers because he believed they needed representation. Most journalists also don’t know about Heywood Broun (1888-1939), one of the nation’s best-paid columnists who risked his own financial stability to create The Newspaper Guild in 1935 to help those reporters making one-hundredth of his salary. Most media don’t even have local stories about Labor Day, preferring to run nationally-distributed stories and not “waste” any of the few reporters they have left.

The national syndicates and wire services, plus a few socially-conscious newspapers, may make the effort to find a current labor leader who will say organized labor is having a tough time but is still strong and vital, the only recourse against poor working conditions and unfair labor practices. The stories will tell us that about 12.4 percent of all workers are in unions, down from a peak of 35 percent in 1954, but the reporters don’t dig into myriad ways of intimidation by Management, or of the professionals who mistakenly believe because they are professionals and not workers they don’t need unions.

The reporters may interview the workers. An elderly man’s remembrance of his life in the coal mines or breakers, and what Black Lung did not only to his own health but to his family and friends. They might chat with an elderly woman who worked 12-hour days six days a week for $3–$4 a day in the heat and humidity of a garment factory. They may talk with a few current workers who tell us the Recession has cut deep into their lives, but they work hard and are pleased that they still have a job.

Some stories may even dryly point out statistics—that the unemployment rate, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), is 9.7 percent, up from 4.8 percent when the Recession began in December 2007, that 14.9 million Americans are unemployed, up from 7.4 million. The stories might even note that 9.1 million Americans work part-time either because their hours and wages were “downsized” or because they couldn’t find full-time work. Another 2.3 million Americans are “marginally attached,” according to the BLS; these are unemployed Americans who aren’t listed as “unemployed” because they haven’t looked for work in four weeks; of these 2.3 million, about 760,000 are “discouraged”—their unemployment benefits have run out, they have tried to find work, but have given up.

Meanwhile, corporate executives are taking multi-million dollar bonuses for improving the “cash flow.” Even if executive management makes significant mistakes, and the “return on investment” isn’t what the Board of Directors expects, or the companies fail because of management incompetence and greed, almost all CEOs and their immediate underlings have the “golden parachute” that allows a soft drop from employment, yielding termination packages that amount to millions of dollars and considerable benefits and bonuses that no working class person will ever receive.

Business euphemistically claims because of “downsizing,” “rightsizing,” and “outsourcing,” mostly to foreign countries, the “bottom line” is improved; corporate investors are being “optimally compensated.” Since the recession began, more than a year before President George W. Bush left office, about 4.3 million Americans have been “downsized,” according to data compiled by Challenger, Gray and Christmas Inc. Data collected by NowPublic reveals that 2008 was “the worst year for layoffs and job losses in the United States since World War II.” Although terabytes of data reveal the Recession is slowing under the massive Obama stimulus package, another one million Americans will be laid off this year. Recent Department of Labor studies report that American workers are “the most productive” ever. That’s because not only are they are doing so much more to compensate for their fellow workers having been laid off, but because they live with the fear if they don’t work even harder they, too, may be laid off or lose promotions in an economy that went as far south as our manufacturing plants.

Of course, there are some industries that have gained in the past year’s plunging economy. Retail sales, which the Department of Labor reports as having the lowest average wages, is gaining workers. But, that’s because it’s just “good business sense” to hire 75 low-paid part-timers and save the cost of benefits than to hire 50 full-time clerks. Only about 16 percent of all retail workers even receive health care benefits, according to the BLS.

To the 50-year-old who worked hard for one company more than half of his life, showed up for work on time, left on time, and tolerated the company’s banal preaching about everyone is “part of our happy family,” and then is laid off as an “economy measure,” the numbers don’t matter. To the worker who put in 20 years in one job, and then is fired for reasons that would be questionable under any circumstance, the numbers don’t matter. To the $20,000-a-year worker who is told she won’t receive a raise because “we’re having a bad year,” but sees upper management not only get raises and more stock options, but also hire other managers, all of them making five times or more than her salary, the other numbers don’t matter.

But, millions of Americans will have their bar-b-ques and family reunions, they’ll splash in the ocean or hike mountain trails, and they will have no idea why the struggle for worker rights must be fought every day by every worker."

Have a wonderful Labor Day and please continue to support the tireless work done to ensure every worker's entitled rights. We continue on because the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives and the dreams shall never die.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

I know where I'll be spending part of tomorrow...

Monday Pick 6 Carryover at Del Mar $273,832 - woo hoo - here I come early bird betting windows (I don 't wanna deal with the big crowds tomorrow so I'll just go early, place my bets and then have the rest of the day to do Labor Day holiday stuff whilst awaiting race results).