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#576 – Dick Bernard: Election 2012 #21. Post Mortem Wisconsin

Wednesday, June 6th, 2012

I’m writing this post before the polls close in Wisconsin. I haven’t heard any predictions, or talk of the turnout, or any such thing. So the post-mortem won’t be in this post. There’ll be plenty of those without me….

Love it or not, Scott Walker is the face of the contemporary Republican Party in the United States. Reince Priebus of Wisconsin is Chair of the Republican National Committee. Rep. Paul Ryan is the darling of the House of Representatives and budget issues. Very deep, and in early in Wisconsin politics post 2010, are the Koch Brothers. This is THE place where outside money ran amuck; it’s just a preview of what’s ahead in the next few months.

Wisconsin is my neighbor state. It has a progressive tradition. It also had Sen. Joseph McCarthy.

My grandparents migrated to North Dakota from rural Wisconsin near Dubuque. Wednesday, I’ll be driving to the town of Hazel Green for a family funeral. It will be a long nice drive, lots of time in border area Wisconsin. Very, very nice people down there in the Dubuque area.

Likely we won’t talk politics at the funeral, neither place nor time.

But I do have personal feelings about all of this.

Scott Walker’s signature issue taking office was to do as much damage to public unions as possible. He succeeded.

Had a Republican Governor been elected in the State of Minnesota, my state, the results would have been the same here. Luckily for my own Republican local reps, they had a Democrat Governor to be a check and balance on their colleagues many ideas to slash and burn the public sector, especially teachers and public education, otherwise they’d be running in defense of what they did.

In Michigan, the situation is probably even worse, and Ohio had its flirtation.

Some might say “good”. I take it personally.

I spent most of my work career representing teachers in a union of public employees called MEA, Minnesota Education Association, and now Education Minnesota. The other nine years I taught public school. My parents were career school teachers.

Public Unions made a huge contribution to this country, along with private sector unions, but they, along with the middle class are in the Republican bullseye through the super-rich and the word I’m coming to despise – “business”.

During this scorched earth campaign I had one retired union member from another state, who is married to another retired union member, send me an anti-union – and false – “forward” about a supposedly bankrupt Wisconsin school district due to teacher union greed. And this person believed the tale, without any checking. I can only guess why he, whose success was made by being union, now despises unions.

With union members like these (and there are union members like these), unions don’t need enemies.

The good thing about the last year and a half in Wisconsin is that we’ve seen, up close and pretty personal, what the right wing agenda is, and it isn’t about fairness to the middle class.

The next five months we’ll see Wisconsin-look-a-likes all over the U.S. in the so-called “battleground” states – the places that are believed to be ‘in play’ by the master strategists.

Minnesota has been one of those battleground states, and it’s not pretty.

Maybe the 2012 experience will be bad enough that the geniuses in the U.S. Supreme Court will begin to take another look at what they’ve wrought but opening the floodgates to big money in elections, but I’m not holding my breath.

Maybe sufficient numbers of citizens will think a bit before casting their vote this fall, including actually showing up to vote.

It’ll be a long summer and fall.

Get informed and active.

And Vote in November.

YOU depend on it.

#346 – Dick Bernard: Part 16. “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”

Monday, March 14th, 2011

Sunday afternoon, enroute to other things, I found a cartoon I had saved for some reason back in March of 2002. (Click on photo to enlarge.)

About the same time I found the cartoon, came a CBS “60 Minutes” segment on a New York City experimental school that pays $125,000 a year. You can see the segment here.

A few hours earlier, a couple of folks had forwarded on a Nicholas Kristof post on the same general topic. One suspects that he had access to the same general source as did 60 Minutes.

The previous day my local legislator and some in her audience were lamenting being unable to get rid of “bad” teachers….

The song goes on and on and on and on: get rid of unions, and so-called “tenure” laws which give “bad” teachers life-time no-cut contracts and all will be well.

Having been in the trenches for many years, including growing up in a family whose Mom and Dad were public school teachers (and excellent ones, including their public citizenship), I know that the cartoon catches the reality far better than the high-falootin’ philosophizin’. For assorted reasons, the Power that runs things cannot abide its Public Workers having any status even roughly equivalent to it. It, including that angry Dad in the cartoon above, demands a subordinate class.

It would be truly nice to have a substantive conversation about ideas such as the $125,000 teacher in every classroom. The way things are going, when that $125,000 goal is reached; poverty level will be, perhaps, $130,000.

I have all of my Mom and Dad’s old teaching contracts – there are 71 of them in all. I pulled them out for the year I graduated from high school – 1957-1958.

1957-58 was Dad’s 28th year of teaching. He had been serving as “Superintendent” of many tiny schools since 1940-41.

We had lived in this town before, from 1945-51; in the interim, there were three other places, till Dad and Mom got another contract here. In addition to doing the assorted kinds of administrative things that go along with administrating even a tiny school, Dad had to teach two classes, as well as Drivers Ed, and he had to Coach sports. The latter was something he wasn’t interested in and was not good at, but there would have been no Basketball or Football had he not taken it on.

There were about 45 students and two other teachers in his tiny high school; my Mother taught the elementary (most elementary kids, including three of her five children, were in the Catholic elementary school down the street.)

That year Dad was paid $4800 with no fringe benefits and, excepting a one year contract, no legal protections whatever. At the end of the year his reemployment was completely at the whim of the local school board.

For Mom, it was her 17th year as a teacher – the off years were to bear and raise we kids. Her salary was $3000.

Likely there were plenty of people in that little town who were envious of this two-income couple.

Bernard family 1958. Mom was then 48 and Dad 50.

They lasted three more years in that place they were content to be, but their contract was non-renewed by the school board for some reason they had no right to know, and off they went again.

Teachers everywhere and in every age can tell similar stories. Even the ones who confide to their friends that they don’t like the Union, are the first ones to call for help in times of trouble.

Trust me. I know.

Something else has become very noticeable today. In the relatively short time I watch TV each day: the ads heavily focus on the “me”. No longer is it adequate to be covered only by a group insurance plan (if you are so fortunate as to be in one). Now the rage is to build a plan to your own specifications. Etc. Of course, with sophistication of data management, such things are possible these days. On the other hand, such schemes are just further evidence of the breakdown of our society into a mass that is the have-nots, versus the truly elite individuals who are the haves, and who believe they have earned and deserved their right to make choices.

This is a time of back-sliding. It is only a matter of time before there will be a reaction, and it won’t be pleasant. Unions didn’t happen because of benevolent and enlightened management. Quite the opposite.

One reaps what one sews.

Teachers, their unions, as well as other employees and their unions as well, may be open to criticism, as any other persons or entities are open to criticism, but we will all rue the day Unions go out of existence or are stripped of their power. Most of us are, after all, subordinates, and Wisdom does not necessarily follow Power.

Minneapolis Star Tribune cartoon September 25, 1995

This series began with Part 1 on February 17. It will likely continue.

#338 – Dick Bernard: Part 8. Public Servants bearing the burden….

Tuesday, March 1st, 2011

Before the 2011 MN Legislature had convened, and the new MN Governor sworn in, the news concerned the burden of a $6 billion deficit in the MN state budget.

At the time I did some simple arithmetic, dividing $6 Billion by 5 Million residents of the State of Minnesota. The result was $1,200 deficit per person: large, but by no means insurmountable. The $6B was an artificial mountain constructed to get Minnesotans in an almost desperate budget cutting mood.

Like people in most states, Minnesota’s residents have collectively huge personal savings accounts and we could easily balance the books with a one time very small additional tax sacrifice. But government itself is under attack by elements who have nearly taken over that very government. The desired remedy is shrinking, not restoration, of the role of government in our society. Or if not that, transfer of the burden of paying for government from those who can easily afford the bill, to those who are struggling….

Not long thereafter came Wisconsin. As the information flow has fleshed out the facts in Wisconsin, it appears that an average teacher, just for example, will have to give up about 10% of his/ her previously negotiated pension benefit – a benefit negotiated in lieu of wages – to “help” Wisconsin. A reasonable average take back from the public employee appears to be roughly $5,000. There is no comparable giveback expected of others in Wisconsin, a state roughly the population of its next door neighbor Minnesota, but with a smaller deficit. The take back will be permanent; future ability to bargain severely restricted at best.

Only time will tell how this Wisconsin conflict will be resolved.

As the Issue came to be clear – Pensions for Public Workers – I got to thinking about an advertisement that I had been seeing on television during, it seemed, the entire month of February, long before Wisconsin erupted onto the national or even state screen.

The ad was one placed by the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP).

It was a simple ad, showing an abandoned chicken coop, with the narrator stating that the founder of AARP, Dr. Ethel Percy Andrus, had founded the organization after finding a retired teacher living in a converted chicken coop.

The AARP website was not helpful in filling in the blanks about the ad. Wikipedia was a bit more helpful with an entry about Dr. Andrus.

Dr. Andrus founded her group, initially called the National Retired Teachers Association, in 1947. It seemed that she perhaps discovered that poor teacher around that time somewhere in either California or Illinois. Such was how it all began for AARP which, since its naming in 1958, has since become an immense insurance business in itself. I haven’t seen the ad the last few days. Perhaps the term of the buy has ended; or, perhaps, the ad was pulled…it wasn’t helpful to the anti-teacher mood in Wisconsin.

Until relatively recent history, the public was not kind to public employees. In tough times public employees were first to suffer; In good times, last to benefit.

In the old days, teachers, just for a single example, got a small wage and nothing else.

They were called “public servants” (see February 17 and 18) with scant more legal status than migrant workers.

Basically teaching was ‘women’s work’. Then the teacher married some man who provided decent income and status for the former school marm.

But there are only so many eligible bachelors wandering around to marry poor public workers, etc., and as time went on teachers got a bit uppity, and school boards in various places began to see – not always the result of pressure – that their professional employees deserved more than just minimal wages and annual uncertainty about jobs. Salary schedules were established unilaterally by management, and state’s implemented and then improved pension plans for their teachers and others, to keep them out of the chicken coop on retirement.

It is the old “public servant” attitude – to keep public employees in their proper subservient place – that makes it possible for Gov. Scott Walker and his abundant ilk to act dismissively towards these employees who are really essential to the American “good life”.

There is something even more offensive about today’s “public employees”. They are unusually strongly unionized, a direct outgrowth of yesterday’s oppression. As Henrik Hertzberg so well describes in a March 7, 2011, New Yorker piece, public employees are the last bastion of a declining organized labor movement. Their destruction or at minimum gross diminishment is a goal of the oligarchs who now control the Republican party and the American media conversation.

This is a case where, hopefully, “success” in beating down the public employees will truly be a failure…for everyone who works for a living.

The last chapter has not been written.

Part 1 in this series is found here, with the remaining posts subsequent. There will be further posts.