Sunday, March 06, 2011

Some Thoughts on Wisconsin

Just some brief thoughts that I'll jot down in no particular order.

1). I'm no constitutional lawyer, but if what is happening in Wisconsin and Ohio isn't already illegal, then it should be.
Because our forefathers will worried about legislative assemblies voting away certain basic human right, they added the The Bill of Rights to our constitution. It doesn't matter how many votes you have in the senate, you can't legally vote away someones right to freedom of religion, or freedom of speech.

If the right to collective bargaining isn't already guaranteed by our constitution, then it should be. State legislatures should not be able to legally strip unions of their rights. I'd like to see federal law makers in Washington introduce a new constitutional amendment to prevent this from happening in the future.

2). In recent years Fox News, Glenn Beck, and Jonas Goldberg have made a career out of comparing liberals to fascists. (And if you don't believe me see "Glenn Beck's Nazi Tourette's", 24-Hour Nazi Party People, Bill O'Reilly Defends His Nazi Analogies, and Liberal Fascism by Jonas Goldberg (A).)

In general I try and stay away from fascist analogies, but...If we are going to go down that road...

Anyone with any historical knowledge whatsoever knows that Franco and Mussolini rose to power by first trying to demonize the labor unions and then proceeded to crush the labour unions once they got into power. Fascism as it developed at least in Spain and Italy can be said to be a right wing reaction against trade unionism.

Now of course I'm not saying that the labour unions have to win all the time, or that reasonable people can never disagree with union demands. But when you support legislative efforts to strip unions of their collective bargaining rights--well, I'm just saying people who live in glass houses should be careful about throwing around Nazi analogies.

3). Short digression here, but speaking of Glenn Beck: I can usually disagree with someone without thinking that their insane. But I just don't know about Glenn Beck. Watch this video here from his show(in which he ties together the Libyan protests with the Madison Wisconsin protests, and then talks about the end of the world order as we know it) and make up your own mind about whether this man still has a firm grip on reality.
This wouldn't bug me so much if the man were a marginal figure, but he's not. He's got a very highly rated program, on the highest rated cable news network in the country. I was just in airport bookstores recently, and he has authored not one, but several books being displayed prominently on the shelves. His name is even being used as an endorsement to sell other people's books.

I cringe often when I imagine what future historians are going to write about the political dialogue from our time.

4). The Daily Show has been doing a great job recently satirizing the right wing hostility towards public school teachers. Highly recommended viewing (see here, here, here, and here.)

Nor, by the way, is the right-wing attack on teachers anything new. See this "This Modern World" cartoon from back in 1997.

It's worth remembering at this point the high turn over rate of teachers (Washington Post Article here), especially first year teachers.

Anecdotally, I can't begin to tell you about the number of disillusioned former teachers I have talked to over the years. As an education major in college myself, I know several former classmates who taught for one year, and then decided the level of stress involved in teaching at the public schools just wasn't worth it, and then quickly switched over to easier and better paid jobs.
As an English teacher in Japan, I also encountered several former public school teachers who had decided teaching in public schools in America wasn't worth the stress, and decided to escape by becoming English teachers abroad instead.
I also know several people who started out as Education majors, and then were warned that the stresses of the job were rapidly beginning to outweigh the rewards. I could probably write a book about all the things former teachers have told me over the years.

Now, with public school teachers becoming villainized and their pay attacked, I can't imagine anyone with any talent that would be remotely attracted to this job. So remember this the next time you hear a pundit complaining yet again about how American education is falling behind, or how talented people never seem to want to go into teaching.

Which brings me to point 5

5). Remember this e-mail from some anonymous wall street stock trader that was circulating a few months back? Full text here, brief quotation below.

Go ahead and continue to take us down, but you're only going to hurt yourselves. What's going to happen when we can't find jobs on the Street anymore? Guess what: We're going to take yours. We get up at 5am & work till 10pm or later. We're used to not getting up to pee when we have a position. We don't take an hour or more for a lunch break. We don't demand a union. We don't retire at 50 with a pension. We eat what we kill, and when the only thing left to eat is on your dinner plates, we'll eat that.

For years teachers and other unionized labor have had us fooled. We were too busy working to notice. Do you really think that we are incapable of teaching 3rd graders and doing landscaping? We're going to take your cushy jobs with tenure and 4 months off a year and whine just like you that we are so-o-o-o underpaid for building the youth of America. Say goodbye to your overtime and double time and a half. I'll be hitting grounders to the high school baseball team for $5k extra a summer, thank you very much.

This was making the rounds on Facebook a few months back, and most people were responding with the predictable "hey buddy, if you think it's so easy to handle 40 unruly inner-city middle school students, I'd like to see you try."
And no doubt there's some serious misrepresentation going on here. (Contrary to popular belief, teachers can't just abandon the classroom to take bathroom breaks whenever they feel like it. Nor do they retire at 50. And summer break is down to 2.5 months).

But all this is to miss the point. For the sake of argument, let's just assume everything this guy asserts is true. Let's assume that he and his Wall Street buddies are super talented, and the rest of us really suck, and that they could just swoop down and take our jobs whenever they feel like it.

Assume all that's true, and perhaps you begin to see the absurdity in his threat. I would absolutely love it if the most talented people in society would choose to become teachers. Instead, it appears all the talented people are sucked up by Wall Street, where they produce absolutely nothing of value.

And this ties in with the whole problem of capitalism. In a capitalist economy all the profits go to the people who create none of the wealth. The workers who actually manufacture the goods and services that power the economy get paid only a small portion of the value of their labour. However the stockholders, bankers, and Wall Street traders, who do not do any of the work of production, get all of the profits which result from the workers' labour.

And when the economy crashes because of poor choices made by banks and Wall Street, you better believe that they are not going to be the ones who have to pay the price. When sacrifices have to be made, it's the teachers' unions that have to be broken.

Link of the Day
Noam Chomsky on Wisconsin protests (From Democracy Now!)

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