Sunday, January 31, 2010

It's the recession (not combined reporting) stupid!

Jack Norman's Crossroads' column is a well documented repudiation of the Republican assertion that combined reporting is causing Wisconsin to lose jobs.

As Norman points out combined reporting is nothing more than legislation that closed a loophole used by profitable corporations to hid their profits and avoid Wisconsin taxes.

Norman writes that the worst recession since the Great Depression is causing Wisconsin to lose jobs.

One could add to the culprits the lack of an industrial policy, a commitment to "free trade"and China's policy of pegging the value of the renminbi against the value of the United States dollar.

It is worth the read.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Howard Zinn 1922-2010

Howard Zinn, the celebrated author of "A People's History of the United States," made a difference.

As Bob Herbert, who lunched with Zinn, a veteran of the Civil Rights and anti-Vietnam War movements, only a few weeks ago, recounts:

He was an unbelievably decent man who felt obliged to challenge injustice and unfairness wherever he found it. What was so radical about believing that workers should get a fair shake on the job, that corporations have too much power over our lives and much too much influence with the government, that wars are so murderously destructive that alternatives to warfare should be found, that blacks and other racial and ethnic minorities should have the same rights as whites, that the interests of powerful political leaders and corporate elites are not the same as those of ordinary people who are struggling from week to week to make ends meet?

Mr. Zinn would protest peacefully for important issues he believed in — against racial segregation, for example, or against the war in Vietnam — and at times he was beaten and arrested for doing so. He was a man of exceptionally strong character who worked hard as a boy growing up in Brooklyn during the Depression. He was a bomber pilot in World War II, and his experience of the unmitigated horror of warfare served as the foundation for his lifelong quest for peaceful solutions to conflict...

He was a treasure and an inspiration.

He will be missed.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Great recession worse than any post WWII downturn

Voters' anxiety over the state of the economy continues to rise.This anxiety is warranted. The chart below compares the growth of gross domestic product (GDP) since the beginning of the current recession in 2008 to previous recessions. GDP is the broadest measure of economic performance, tracking the market value of all goods and services produced in the United States.

The most recent recession is notable not just for the severity of economic contraction but also the length of decline. As the figure shows, in the nine previous recessions on record, by seven quarters after the official start of the recession the economy had actually grown by an average of 4% compared to its pre-recession peak.

However, seven quarters after the current recession began, the economy remains 3.2% smaller than its pre-recession peak. This is true even though the third quarter of 2009 saw the first positive growth in GDP in a year. Despite the GDP uptick in the most recent quarter, the current recession remains the worst performer on record this long after a business cycle peak. The economy failed to recover its pre-recession peak after seven quarters only once before, following the 1973 recession.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Mayoral control in Chicago fails to live up to its hype

The Chicago Tribune reports that mayoral control of Chicago's public schools has failed to improve student achievement:

Six years after Mayor Richard Daley launched a bold initiative to close down and remake failing schools, Renaissance 2010 has done little to improve the educational performance of the city's school system, according to a Tribune analysis of 2009 state test data.

Scores from the elementary schools created under Renaissance 2010 are nearly identical to the city average, and scores at the remade high schools are below the already abysmal city average, the analysis found.

The moribund test scores follow other less than enthusiastic findings about Renaissance 2010 -- that displaced students ended up mostly in other low-performing schools and that mass closings led to youth violence as rival gang members ended up in the same classrooms. Together, they suggest the initiative hasn't lived up to its promise by this, its target year.

The Tribune analysis confirms that mayoral control is not the educational panacea its proponents claim. It will take more to improve academic performance and accountability than a simple change in governance.

Nor has mayoral control in Chicago led to more fiscal accountability.

Tribune's inquiries into the board's spending habits fueled an expensive investigation that reveals Mayor Richard Daley's last two board presidents, Rufus Williams and Michael Scott have used taxpayer credit cards to charge thousands of dollars in meals, travel, gifts and artwork.

Documents obtained by the Tribune listed a $2,500 gift to Mayor Daley's Chicago 2016 Olympic bid committee, despite the mayor's repeated assurances that no public money was going toward financing the bid, and numerous meals at notable Chicago restaurants. Other expenditures included $6,000 in September 2008 with the vendor who supplies food and beverages at Soldier Field; a $650 limousine ride in August 2008; and a $640 tab in January 2009 at Table 52, an acclaimed restaurant on the city's Gold Coast.

These questionable credit card expenditures were in addition to the yearly spending allowance each man received — $19,200 for Williams and $36,000 for Scott in public money. Scott committed suicide while under investigation last year.

The disclosures about the board's spending come at a time when the Chicago district is cutting programs and laying off teachers and staff members. More than a thousand school employees are expected to be out of work by the end of the year, and millions of dollars in programs has been trimmed because of a shortage of money.

The president of the union representing Chicago's teachers, Marilyn Stewart, has also criticized Renaissance 2010:

The experiment of Renaissance 2010 has had more to do with privatization, prime real estate, Olympic dreams and money than it has about really addressing student needs."

In September 2004, the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) published an analysis of Renaissance 2010 outlining the potential impact on CPS students and educators. The union raised concerns about a top-down model with no proven data for success. The report exposed the failure of 10 of 14 charter schools enrolling 87 percent of charter students that failed to make adequate yearly progress as required by No Child Left Behind. Our (CTU) calls for accountability, and those from other concerned citizens, were dismissed in the rush to the largely empty promise of Ren 2010.

Education is hard work. And it is especially challenging in impoverished communities. In Chicago mayoral control has not improved student achievement or improved accountability, the alleged goals of Milwaukee's mayoral takeover proposal.

Education is hard work. And it is especially challenging in impoverished communities with significant numbers of costly special education students. The key to providing a quality education and improving academic achievement lies in empowering teachers and other front-line educators, the trained personnel who work directly with children and their families

Unfortunately, the Journal Sentinel editorial board and some mayoral control advocates have begun scapegoating Milwaukee's teachers, suggesting that the growth in their benefits as a percentage of total compensation illustrates the elected school board's inability to govern. Nothing could be further than the truth. This relatively meaningless statistic is simply a reflection of health care costs rising at three times the rate of inflation, something neither a mayor, the teachers or a school board control.

The elements of a successful urban school strategy are known. They include early childhood education, parental involvement, small class sizes, strong, collaborative school leadership, professional development of faculty and staff, equitable funding (fixing Wisconsin's flawed state funding formula), wrap around supportive services and expanding Science Technology and Math Education (STEM) among other things. It requires providing teachers, parents and students with the resources they need to succeed in stable, well equipped class rooms and labs.

These reforms require mayoral support, but, as Chicago demonstrates, not mayoral control.

US faces economic emergency

Politicians, economists and pundits blithely agree that the economy is recovering. After all the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) which measures the nation's output is growing and Wall Street's "too big to fail" investment banks are handing out bonuses larger than the lifetime earnings of American workers.

But if the economy is recovering, the American people are not. As the New York Times Bob Herbert writes:

There is an economic emergency in the country with millions upon millions of Americans riddled with fear and anxiety as they struggle with long-term joblessness, home foreclosures, personal bankruptcies and dwindling opportunities for themselves and their children.

The door is being slammed on the American dream and the politicians, including the president and his Democratic allies on Capitol Hill, seem not just helpless to deal with the crisis, but completely out of touch with the hardships that have fallen on so many.

The column is linked.

John Stewart to Fox: Don't stash your IQ in an offshore account

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Friday, January 22, 2010

A return to the robber-baron era

The New York Times calls the Supreme Court's decision a return "to the robber-baron era:"

With a single, disastrous 5-to-4 ruling, the Supreme Court has thrust politics back to the robber-baron era of the 19th century. Disingenuously waving the flag of the First Amendment, the court’s conservative majority has paved the way for corporations to use their vast treasuries to overwhelm elections and intimidate elected officials into doing their bidding.

Congress must act immediately to limit the damage of this radical decision, which strikes at the heart of democracy.

The entire editorial is linked.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Massachusetts voters demand action!

Richard Trumka, President of the AFL-CIO, the nation's largest labor organization, says that the election of Republican Scott Brown in Massachusetts should not be interpreted as the electorate moving to the right, but as a message that people are angry about the economy and want change!

When Massachusetts voters cast their ballots for Scott Brown on Tuesday, they were sending a message to Washington lawmakers that they have not gone far enough to create jobs, reform health care and fix our nation’s economy, says AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka. In a video message, Trumka says voters showed they don’t believe Democrats have overreached—they think that the Democrats underreached.

You see, they believe that Wall Street’s being taken care of. They believe that corporate America is being taken care of. They believe the insurers are being taken care of. But they don’t think that workers are being taken care of.

The corporate media is spinning the election results to make it appear that voters don’t want health care reform or funding for job creation. But as Trumka states: “Voters haven’t changed their mind. Their two top priorities are jobs and health care.”

Yesteday’s election gave us that opportunity. It said to everybody: “We don’t want excuses. We want action. We want you to fix these problems.”

It’s up to us to fight for those issues, because there’s nothing more important than creating an economy that works for average working people. There’s nothing more important than creating jobs, and there’s nothing more important than putting our people to work. Now’s the time for us to do that. It’s up to us to force both parties to fix the problems for working America.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Investment banks recover but not American workers!

The nation lost another 85,000 jobs in December.

15.3 million Americans are unemployed, up from 7.7 million when the Great Recession began in December 2007.

The unemployment rate remained at 10% only because 661,000 workers dropped out of the labor market altogether and are no longer considered unemployed. If they had continued looking for work the unemployment rate would be 10.4%

Equally disturbing 40% of the unemployed have been unemployed for two years or more.

There are now 6.4 job seekers for every available job.

If discouraged workers and those working part time who want full time work are included 27 million workers (17.3%) are either unemployed or underemployed, twice as many as when the recession began. While white underemployment has more than doubled over the course of the recession to 14.6%, underemployment is now 24.3% for black workers and 25.1% for Hispanic workers: A staggering one in four minority workers cannot find the amount of work they want.

The high rates of unemployment are effecting those left on the job. Real (inflation adjusted) wages fell by 1.6% last year-the largest drop since 1990. Inflation adjusted pay has now declined in five of the past seven years.

But don't worry. On Friday JPMorgan Chase announced that it earned $11.7 billion last year, $3.3 billion in the last quarter alone. The firm has earmarked a whooping $26.9 billion for employee bonuses. Next week the nation's largest banks such as Goldman Sachs, Bank of America and Citigroup will dole out six, seven and even eight figure bonuses.

The investment banks and bankers have recovered even if the American people have not!

As John Stewart wryly noted: "The only people who have recovered from the financial meltdown are the ones who caused the financial meltdown!"

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Bill Thomas, educator and AFT Local 212 leader, dies

One of the giants of MATC history has passed away. Former Local 212 President Bill Thomas died unexpectedly on Monday, January 4th.

Bill devoted his professional life to MATC and its students. He taught physics for more than 30 years, retiring in the mid 1990s. He was equally dedicated to his colleagues, serving Local 212 in many capacities, including as President from 1968 through 1969 and then again from 1986-1990.

Bill Thomas was President of Local 212 when the faculty and staff were forced to go on strike in the winter of 1968. Faculty and counselors walked the picket braving the bitter cold, demanding that they be treated like professionals and not cheap hired hands. MATC students as well as labor organizations such as the United Automobile Workers Union rallied to 212’s support.

Under Bill’s disciplined leadership Local 212 used a variety of creative tactics including have a children’s march in support of their striking parents and picketing the Carpenters’ Union office because the Carpenters’ President, a member of the MATC Board, was not supporting the striking teachers.. In many ways, the creativity and militancy that has helped establish Local 212 as one of the nation’s most effective teacher unions took quantum leaps under Bill’s leadership.

Local 212 won the respect and professional treatment it was demanding in that strike. No longer would teachers be required to punch a time or monitor the cafeteria. Most importantly, the resulting labor agreement included language that established shared governance at MATC, requiring the college president to meet with Local 212’s leadership monthly. That critical language remains in our labor agreement.

Last summer Local 212 Executive Vice President Charlie Dee and I interviewed Bill Thomas and several other former strikers. Portions of that interview will be incorporated into a video being done by instructor Kevin Mulvenna and shown at our Spring Social Solidarity party, which will be a tribute to the 1968-1969 strike and strikers.

Bill Thomas was a quiet and unassuming man. Yet his work helped thousands of students obtain the skills they needed to pursue productive and fulfilling lives. He also led a critical battle in the struggle to ensure that MATC faculty, counselors and professional staff would be treated with the dignity and respect we deserve as professionals. He made MATC and Milwaukee better places.

Those of us who knew Bill Thomas fully understand what he meant to MATC. Those of you who didn’t know him nonetheless benefit daily from his life’s work.

He will be missed. His unfinished work is left to all of us.

Visitation will be at the Hartson Funeral Home, 11111 W. Janesville Road on Saturday, January 9 from 11 AM until 1 pm. Service at 1 PM.

Bill with a new generation of MATC students after presenting a lecture on the 1968 strike

Bill with veterans of the historic 1968 strike

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Too soon to declare victory over Great Recession

Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman warns that the economy's recovery could be derailed if policy makers declare victory too soon.

He writes:

The next employment report could show the economy adding jobs for the first time in two years. The next G.D.P. report is likely to show solid growth in late 2009. There will be lots of bullish commentary — and the calls we’re already hearing for an end to stimulus, for reversing the steps the government and the Federal Reserve took to prop up the economy, will grow even louder.

But if those calls are heeded, we’ll be repeating the great mistake of 1937, when the Fed and the Roosevelt administration decided that the Great Depression was over, that it was time for the economy to throw away its crutches. Spending was cut back, monetary policy was tightened — and the economy promptly plunged back into the depths.

Krugman concludes:

Will the Fed realize, before it’s too late, that the job of fighting the slump isn’t finished? Will Congress do the same? If they don’t, 2010 will be a year that began in false economic hope and ended in grief.

The entire column is linked.