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Memo To Gov Walker: This Is What Solidarity Looks Like

All of us have learned some lessons about the meaning of solidarity from the recent events in Wisconsin. Gov. Scott Walker’s so-called “budget repair bill” was a draconian assault on workers’ rights and unions. He followed this with what the Wisconsin education superintendent called “the greatest state cut to education since the Great Depression” and a host of other cuts that disproportionately affect poor people and people of color. Teachers and other public sector employees, along with parents, students, and many, many others, responded with an outpouring of creative, imaginative, and hope-inspiring acts of solidarity.

Solidarity is parents texting teachers to say: “I heard you were going to Madison today. Do you have space for one more in your car?” Solidarity is firefighters (who are not losing collective bargaining) showing up to parade among thousands of protesters every day for two weeks and sleeping on the cold, hard Capitol floors to keep the “people’s house” open for the people. Solidarity is people from as far away as Egypt and Antarctica calling in donations to Ian’s Pizza to feed protesters. Solidarity is strangers running up and saying “Thank you” as they sign a petition to recall their state senator in the most conservative, affluent white suburbs. Solidarity is when two educators can put together a protest on Wednesday night and get 200 picketers at a biased local news station Friday—after school and in the rain. The experience of being in the midst of something much larger than oneselfand realizing that we can change the world for the better, can take care of each other, can make decisions together—is life changing.

Acts of solidarity are growing in Wisconsin and beyond. And it’s a good thing, because solidarity is what we need to sustain us during the most difficult time for public employees and public education that our country has seen in our lifetimes. As the wealthy—and the politicians they have purchased—continue their pursuit of privilege and privatization, we need to be even more audacious in nurturing solidarity for survival.

The attacks on the public sphere go well beyond Wisconsin. Ohio recently passed a law that prohibits collective bargaining over health care and pensions for all public employees, including police and firefighters. Michigan’s Public Act 4, passed in March, allows the governor to appoint “emergency managers” for municipalities with “fiscal emergencies.” The governors of Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, and a handful of other states hope to replicate and expand the policies of Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, who eliminated collective bargaining for state employees six years ago through executive order. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is refusing to negotiate with state workers over health and benefits, and has proposed eliminating tenure, seniority, and civil service protections for teachers while imposing a mandatory test-based evaluation system not subject to collective bargaining.

Teacher Leadership

In Wisconsin, the teachers’ union was a major force in getting people out to the Capitol, with the Madison local, Madison Teachers Inc., taking the lead. After the first day of sick-outs by Madison-area teachers, the president of the Wisconsin Education Association Council called on 98,000 Wisconsin educators to come to the Capitol to protest the bill on Thursday and Friday instead of going to work. The push and pull between rank-and-file union members and union leaders was evident. Activist locals pushed the state organization, and rank-and-file members pushed their union locals. On the flip side, many union leaders asked reluctant members to go beyond their comfort zones and get active to defend their rights.

When Wisconsin teachers arrived at the Madison Capitol to join the protests, they stepped into a powerful tradition of progressivism and unionism. The signs, T-shirts, and invited speakers made it clear that this wasn’t just about teachers, it was about all workers’ rights. As the days wore on and the fight drew increasing attention in the national media, protesters became increasingly conscious that losing in Wisconsin could be the beginning of the end for workers’ rights across the country. Walker saw the situation the same way. He told a prank caller impersonating billionaire donor David Koch that “Ronald Reagan . . . had one of the most defining moments of his political career . . . when he fired the air traffic controllers. . . . This is our moment, this is our time to change the course of history.”

Walker claimed that “Wisconsin is broke” but, as Michael Moore told protesters at the Capitol: “America is not broke. Not by a long shot. The country is awash in wealth and cash. It’s just that it’s not in your hands. . . . Today just 400 Americans have the same wealth as half of all Americans combined.” In fact, one of Walker’s first acts as governor was to give the rich another $140 million in tax breaks.

America’s wealth is not only held unequally, it’s also misappropriated in obscene ways. Virtually always ignored in these discussions is the looming U.S. military budget, which was $663.8 billion last year. What would that money and those human resources mean, directed to meeting social needs instead of poured into weapons and conquest, including the endless occupation of Afghanistan? The current crisis is not an “unavoidable” consequence of economic recession; it is a bill come due for bailouts, bombs, and unsustainable inequality. And it’s being delivered to the wrong address by the political servants of the rich.

Cuts Target the Most Vulnerable

Compounding public employees’ anger at the attacks on their jobs and unions has been growing anger about the debilitating budget cuts that destroy public services and make it impossible to serve the needs of students, patients, or clients. Among Wisconsin teachers, this led to a feeling of “What do we have to lose?” Late one night, as dozens of teachers debated whether to organize a sick-out, one teacher remarked: “If one-third of your building calls in sick tomorrow, you’ll have the same staffing levels as you’ll have every day next year after the budget cuts.”

Attacks on the public sector—teachers, nurses, social workers, librarians, public health workers—are in essence attacks on the people they serve: children and those who are sick, elderly, homeless, disabled, jobless, newcomers, or otherwise in need of public services. In state after state, budget cuts have targeted those who are most vulnerable. The racial and class injustice of the cuts is undeniable. In Michigan, proposed cuts would close half the schools in Detroit, where 95 percent of the students are African American, and increase class size to 60. The Texas budget proposal would eliminate pre-K funding for almost 100,000 children. In Washington, cuts would eliminate prenatal and infant medical care for 67,000 poor women and their children. In Wisconsin the governor’s new budget hits Milwaukee Public Schools, the state’s largest and most impoverished district, particularly hard. The proposal denies health care coverage and food stamps to many more people in need, including both documented and undocumented immigrants. It will take away college opportunities from undocumented immigrants by repealing the current state law that allows any resident to pay in-state tuition.

Also in Walker’s proposal is a huge expansion of public support for private schools. Milwaukee would become the first city in the United States in which any child, at any income level, could attend private school (including a religious school) on the public dime. And lest we think that this is a peculiarly Wisconsin development, the spending deal to avert a federal government shutdown in April included a plan to provide federal money to low-income students in Washington, D.C., to attend private schools.

This insistence on spending money on vouchers in the midst of a “fiscal crisis” exposes the right’s real goals. This is the future that many people with great wealth, and those who do their bidding, have in mind: the decimation of workers’ rights to organize, the withering of the public sphere, wealth and power increasingly concentrated at the top. The signs that proclaimed “We are all Wisconsin” and the solidarity protests across the country were a recognition that—as the Industrial Workers of the World said more than 100 years ago—an injury to one is an injury to all.

Sustaining Resistance

No doubt, in the face of these increasingly aggressive right-wing attacks, frustration, depression, and even desperation are widespread. But here, too, communities around the country can draw inspiration from Wisconsin. Months after the first protesters marched into the Capitol, people continue to organize. A few examples: massive recall campaigns aimed at state senators who voted to destroy collective bargaining; street protests dogging the governor’s footsteps; teacher “grade-ins” at local malls to make weekend grading and planning visible to the community; campaigns to get out the vote for progressive candidates; a boycott, led by the Wisconsin Firefighters Union, against M&I Bank, whose executives are major funders of Gov. Walker.

Yes, this is no time to despair. There is too much on the line. But it’s also no time to ignore very real and enduring problems in our schools. Too often, the enemies of public education have taken advantage of schools’ failure to meet the needs of disenfranchised communities to push privatization schemes and market reforms—from vouchers to Teach for America—as the alternative. As educators, we need to listen to students’ and parents’ genuine grievances about public schools and respond with engaged imaginations and a determination to work together as school communities. We need to build labor-community alliances that directly confront racial injustice. Moving in that direction were May Day celebrations this year in Wisconsin, New York, and other states built by conscious collaborations of labor and immigrant rights organizations with demands for human rights that were explicitly pro-immigrant, pro-labor, and anti-racist. We need more cross-union alliances like Jobs with Justice to organize the unorganized and support all workers’ rights—here and around the world. We need more teachers’ unions that defend communities as well as contracts, and political organizations that see electoral campaigns as one aspect of a permanent mobilization toward democracy and justice.

As the articles in our cover section point out (see p. 14), we need to equip our students to recognize what’s at stake—and to look at history and current social movements to see what people, including young people, can do when they act on their beliefs. If Wisconsin’s Scott Walker has taught us anything, it’s that what is at stake is the kind of society we want to live in.

These past few months in Wisconsin have shown that consciousness-raising and organizing can be filled with humor, imagination, and a bold spirit of resistance. We can build on this work, deepening and multiplying our expressions of solidarity, to sustain us through this intensely difficult time and propel us toward a more humane and just future.

By: The Editors, Rethinking Schools, June 24, 2011

June 25, 2011 Posted by | Class Warfare, Collective Bargaining, Conservatives, Democracy, Economy, Education, Equal Rights, GOP, Gov Scott Walker, Government, Governors, Health Care, Ideologues, Jobs, Koch Brothers, Labor, Lawmakers, Middle Class, Politics, Public, Public Employees, Republicans, Right Wing, States, Union Busting, Unions, Wisconsin, Wisconsin Republicans | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Year Of Living Adulterously: What Is It With Republicans Lately?

Nobody wants to run for the presidential nomination. Mike Huckabee said God told him to stay on Fox News. NBC told Donald Trump to stay on “Celebrity Apprentice.”

Whatever happened to putting your country first? Our forefathers would never have passed up the presidency for anything less than the Charlie Sheen role on “Two and a Half Men.”

The Republicans are terrified that they’ll wind up with Mitt Romney, who has been fund-raising like crazy and seems to be planning a campaign based on the slogan: “Money can’t buy love, but it can definitely purchase a grudging, defeatist acceptance.”

Some party leaders are looking hopefully at Mitch Daniels, the governor of Indiana, who’s promised to make up his mind this month. If he runs, one thing you are not going to get from Mitch Daniels is the politics of joy. Have you ever seen “Game of Thrones” on HBO? It’s about a mythical kingdom that sends some of its young men to the remote tundra to live in perpetual celibacy and guard a 700-foot-tall wall of ice. Their reaction is very similar to the way Mitch Daniels looks when he talks about running for president.

Daniels is apparently worried that a presidential run might prove embarrassing to his wife, who ditched him and the kids and ran off to California to marry a doctor and then later recanted everything and came back. I think it is pretty safe to say that this topic might come up.

Which brings us to sex. What is it with Republicans lately? Is there something about being a leader of the family-values party that makes you want to go out and commit adultery?

They certainly don’t have a lock on the infidelity market, and heaven knows we all remember John Edwards. But, lately, the G.O.P. has shown a genius for putting a peculiar, newsworthy spin on illicit sex. A married congressman hunting for babes is bad. A married congressman hunting for babes by posting a half-naked photo of himself on the Internet is Republican.

A married governor who fathers an illegitimate child is awful. A married governor who fathers an illegitimate child by a staff member of the family home and then fails to mention it to his wife for more than 10 years is Republican.

A married senator who has an affair with an employee is a jerk. A married senator who has an affair with an employee who is the wife of his chief of staff, and whose adultery is the subject of ongoing discussion at his Congressional prayer group, is Republican.

We haven’t even gotten to Newt Gingrich yet!

Gingrich is the best-known of the second-string Republicans who are ready, willing and eager to take on Romney for the nomination. The question is whether social conservatives will resent the fact that he was having an adulterous relationship with his current wife while she was a House of Representatives staffer and he was trying to impeach Bill Clinton for the Monica Lewinsky affair. Also, this week, Politico reported that in 2005 and 2006, Gingrich had an account with Tiffany’s that sometimes ran to $500,000 in debt.

Never have we had sex issues with so many layers. It shows you how far we have evolved as a nation. In the old days it was: Warren Harding making whoopee in the presidential coat closet: yes or no?

Really persistent sexual misbehavior says something about the character of the person involved. In Gingrich’s case, we have a failure-to-settle-down problem that extends way beyond matrimony. He can’t even hang onto a position on Medicare for an entire week. This man is a natural for an occupation that rewards attention deficit. Maybe God actually meant to tell Newt to stay on Fox News, but accidentally shipped the message to Huckabee.

As to Governor Daniels, the voters are unlikely to give a fig about the interesting past of his wife, Cheri. But if he wants to protect her from the embarrassment of being asked about it 24/7, perhaps he could just declare her off limits. The news media has generally respected those kinds of rules when it comes to presidential candidates’ children, as long as said offspring don’t show up on reality shows or as teen-abstinence ambassadors for a shoe store foundation.

Of course, a wife who is off limits would not be able to campaign for her husband. I think that would be terrific. Finally, we could end the tradition that a presidential candidate’s spouse is running for something, too. If we want a first family to obsess over, we should just hire a king and queen.

Don’t know how the social right would feel about this. But there’s always Mitt Romney.

By: Gail Collins, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, May 18, 2011

May 19, 2011 Posted by | Congress, Conservatives, Donald Trump, Exploratory Presidential Committees, GOP, Governors, Lawmakers, Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, Politics, Republicans | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Even Without Donald Trump, Plenty Of Clowns In The 2012 GOP Field

Farewell Donald Trump. For a brief moment last month, his birther buffoonery powered him to the front of the Republican pack. What a difference a birth certificate, a death announcement, and serious treatment by the press make. Now The Donald has announced that as with his previous presidential flirtations he is not making this race. Suddenly he looks like one of the celebrity has-beens who gets fired on his television show—or worse, like a celebrity has-been who doesn’t actually get onto the show at all.

Trump peaked in mid-April when a survey from the Democratic group Public Policy Polling set him as the frontrunner for the GOP nomination, with 26 percent of the vote. Then reality intruded. The press went from treating him like a celebrity making silly noises about running to treating him like a genuine would-be candidate, checking out who he contributed to and fact-checking his weird claims. Then Obama’s long form birth certificate put an end to birtherism while Osama bin Laden’s violent end reminded us that there are monsters in the real world and that the presidency is for serious people, not reality TV blowhards.

Public Policy Polling’s survey last week had Trump at 8 percent, in a fifth place tie with Ron Paul.

But with Trump-mentum ended, where can we hope to find entertainment value in the GOP primary field? The answer is, where can’t you? Donald Trump, entertainer-turned-pol was never going to be the second coming of Ronald Reagan. But neither will the other maybes and might-want-tos.

Take Newt Gingrich, whose announcement video last week said we should “look reality in the face, [and] tell the truth.” The truth and the reality are that Gingrich is an abrasive bomb thrower who resigned his speakership after his colleagues, and most voters, had enough of him, not the profile swing voters usually latch onto. His disapproval rating when he left office was 70 percent and was still as high as 38 percent as recently as last summer. And Gingrich, a self-styled historian, is fighting history. Only once has a former speaker of the house made the transition to the White House. That, NBC’s Chuck Todd notes, was James Polk in 1844. And not since James Garfield in 1880 has a politician achieved the White House having only served in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Newt is not alone with this problem, of course. Sitting Rep. Michele Bachmann seems happy to conflate her fanatical Tea Party following with actual broad-based support. But again her lack of experience in winning even a statewide office in Minnesota makes one wonder whether she’s drinking tea or Kool-Aid. For sheer “what is he thinking” chutzpah, however, it’s hard to beat Rick Santorum, whose last act in American politics ended when the voters of his home state of Pennsylvania fired him from the U.S. Senate. I can think of one modern politician who won the White House after losing his last previous election, and Richard Nixon is not a figure whose mantel many GOPers lay claim to these days.

Sure Newt, Bachmann, and Santorum are members of the GOP presidential B Team, but is the A Team much more impressive? You could have made an argument for former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, before he announced this weekend that he would not run. The best that can be said of Tim Pawlenty, the former governor of Minnesota, is that he is inoffensive (read: bland), while the worst that can be said of 2008 vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin is that she’s . . . Sarah Palin.

Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels commented last week that “the chances [of his beating Obama] would actually be quite good.” Apparently channeling some Trump-ian bombast, he added that, “The quality and the number of people who have said they’d like to be associated is really quite awesome to me.” Also awesome is the idea of someone running as a gimlet-eyed spending hawk whose previous job before governor was as George W. Bush’s budget chief. As the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities notes, “By themselves, in fact, the Bush tax cuts and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will account for almost half of the $20 trillion in debt that, under current policies, the nation will owe by 2019.”

Then there’s Mitt Romney, who Thursday made his highest profile attempt to explain why the healthcare law he passed while governor of Massachusetts, with an individual mandate, is good, but the national-level version of it, signed by Barack Obama, is bad. Romney’s dilemma: He can’t embrace the individual mandate because conservatives don’t like it any more at the state level than they do at the federal one. But he also can’t repudiate it lest he feed the political chameleon image that led the Democratic National Committee to tout “Mitt Romney, Version 5.0.”

The most damning illustration of the state of the GOP field may have come in a Politico report noting that virtually the only issue the contenders agree on is that “Sharia law is a continuing threat to the United States.”

One can’t help but look forward to the GOP nominee explaining that urgent threat in a general election debate while standing next to the president who got bin Laden.

By: Robert Schlesinger, U. S. News and World Report, May 16, 2011

May 16, 2011 Posted by | Birthers, Conservatives, Democracy, Elections, Exploratory Presidential Committees, GOP, Ideologues, Ideology, Independents, Journalists, Media, Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, Politics, President Obama, Press, Pundits, Racism, Republicans, Right Wing, Swing Voters, Tea Party, Voters | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The “Serious Republican Candidate”: Mitch Daniels Suddenly Discovers Planned Parenthood Funding

About a month ago, Time’s Joe Klein noted his disgust with the Republican presidential field, lamenting the fact that the candidates are “a bunch of vile, desperate-to-please, shameless, embarrassing losers.” The whole lot looks like a “dim-witted freak show.”

But, Klein said, the field may not be set. The columnist pleaded with Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels (R) to run. “I may not agree with you on most things, but I respect you,” Klein said. He added that Daniels seems to respect himself enough not to behave like a “public clown.” This is an extremely common sentiment. Daniels, the former Bush budget director who helped create today’s fiscal mess, is supposed to be The Serious Republican Candidate For Serious People. He has no use for culture wars — Daniels famously called for a “truce” on these hot-button social issues — and despite his humiliating record, the governor at least pretends to care about fiscal sanity, earning unrestrained praise from the likes of David Brooks.

Perhaps now would be a good time for the political establishment to reevaluate their opinion of Mitch Daniels.

Gov. Mitch Daniels of Indiana said Friday that he would sign a bill cutting off Medicaid financing for Planned Parenthood, a move that lawmakers in several states have begun pondering as a new approach in the battle over abortion. Indiana becomes the first state to go forward.

Abortion rights supporters condemned the decision, saying it would leave 22,000 poor residents of Indiana, who use Planned Parenthood’s 28 health facilities in the state, with nowhere to go for a range of women’s services, from breast cancer screening to birth control.

Daniels, who apparently no longer has any use for his own rhetoric about a culture-war “truce,” said his decision was dictated by the fact that Planned Parenthood provides abortion services, adding that the health organization can resume its state funding by refusing to help women terminate their unwanted pregnancies.

That only 3% of Planned Parenthood’s operations deal with abortions, and that public funding of abortions is already legally prohibited, apparently didn’t matter.

What’s especially striking about this is how cruel and unnecessary it is. Daniels has been governor of Indiana for more than six years, and he’s never had a problem with Planned Parenthood funding. He was Bush’s budget director for more than two years, and he never had a problem with Planned Parenthood funding.

But now that he’s thinking about running for president, and has hysterical right-wing activists to impress, now Mitch Daniels has suddenly discovered Planned Parenthood funding — which has enjoyed bipartisan support for decades — is no longer acceptable to him.

It’s not as if Planned Parenthood, its mission, or its menu of health services has changed. The only thing that’s changed is the radicalism of new Republican Party and those who hope to lead it. The real-world effect of Daniels’ cruelty is unmistakable: fewer working-class families will have access to contraception, family planning services, pap smears, cancer screenings, and tests for sexually-transmitted diseases. Indiana has 28 Planned Parenthood centers in the state, and most of its patients live in poverty.

Also note that this was as clear a test of Daniels’ purported principles as we’ve seen to date — he had to choose between fiscal considerations (millions of dollars in federal health care funding) and culture-war considerations (cutting off a public health organization to satisfy rabid conservatives). As of late yesterday — Daniels made the announcement late on a Friday afternoon, probably out of embarrassment — the governor prioritized the latter over the former. To prove his right-wing bona fides, Daniels decided to put politics ahead of women’s health.

Ironically, the Republican who claims to oppose abortions is going to make it more likely more women will have unwanted pregnancies.

It’s indefensible. Daniels should be ashamed of himself and the pundits who praised Daniels’ “seriousness” should feel awfully foolish right about now.

By: Steve Benen, Political Animal, Washington Monthly, April 30, 2011

April 30, 2011 Posted by | Abortion, Class Warfare, Conservatives, GOP, Governors, Lawmakers, Medicaid, Planned Parenthood, Politics, Republicans, Right Wing, States, Women, Women's Health, Womens Rights | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Republicans’ 2012 Slogan: It’s Anything But The Economy, Stupid

The GOP has turned one of the most effective slogans in American political history on its head. The Republican rallying cry for 2012 will be “Anything but the economy, stupid.” Let’s see how that works out for them next year.

Last year Republican leader John Boehner promised Americans that his party’s priority would be fixing the economy and creating jobs if voters gave the GOP control of the House of Representatives. Republican House candidates echoed their leader’s call to focus on the economy like a laser beam. This year, they have done almost everything but. Two of the first three bills introduced by House Republicans at the start of the 112th Congress in January were designed to take away a woman’s right to choose. One of them, H.R. 3, would have allowed abortion only in cases of “forcible” rape. Like there’s some other kind.

Then there was the battle in the first week of April that almost led to the shutdown of the U.S. government and the end of all programs to create jobs. What was the GOP hang-up on waiting till the last hour to avoid the debacle? Concern that the budget wasn’t doing enough to create jobs? No. The issue that the GOP pushed in the negotiations until the very end was defunding programs at Planned Parenthood designed to limit the number of abortions.

But that’s not all Republicans are doing to create jobs. Tuesday, Speaker Boehner hired a lawyer at $520 an hour to defend an unconstitutional law, the Defense of Marriage Act. The law passed in 1994 defines marriage as the union between a man and a woman. President Obama wisely decided not to waste any money defending the law because it’s clearly unconstitutional. The 10th Amendment reserves the power to regulate marriages to the states. So much for wasteful government spending and states’ rights. But at least the GOP has created one good paying job.

Meanwhile, the religious right is busy attacking a conservative potential GOP presidential candidate, Mitch Daniels. He is the governor of Indiana and former director of the Office of Management and Budget. Daniels angered religious conservatives because he had the nerve to say economic issues are more important than social issues. The religious right feels anyone like Daniels who short changes social issues is either a heretic, a lunatic, or both. Yes, the Taliban wing of the Republican Party believes that persecuting gays is more important than creating jobs.  Good luck trying to sell that message to the millions of Americans who are one paycheck away from bankruptcy. If they are lucky enough to have a paycheck.

When Republicans go down to ignominious defeat in 2012, they will have only themselves to blame.

By: Brad Bannon, U. S. News and Worl Report, April 21, 2011

April 22, 2011 Posted by | Budget, Congress, Conservatives, Deficits, Economy, Elections, GOP, Government Shut Down, Jobs, Planned Parenthood, Politics, President Obama, Republicans, Right Wing, Voters, Women, Womens Rights | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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