Friday, December 25, 2009

Ida Berman May 2, 1911 - December 22, 2009

On November 4, 2008 Ida Berman, immobilized by a stroke, was wheeled to the poll site at 210 Riverside Drive in New York City to cast her ballot for Barack Obama for the president of the United States. It was the last political act by a remarkable woman.

Ida Berman, ninety-eight years old, died peacefully in her niece’s arms on Tuesday, December 22nd. Ida was a celebrated photographer, a lover of the English language, a nasty scrabble competitor, an immigrant who took seriously the ideals of her adopted country. She never married, but was a second mother to her siblings' many children. She was my mother’s oldest sister and my aunt.

The oldest of Issac and Sarah Berman’s eight children, she migrated with her Yiddish speaking parents from Denmark when she was two years old. For the first seven years of her life until her parents enrolled her in school, she spoke only Yiddish. But she mastered her new country’s language quickly and graduated as Binghamton Central High School's valedictorian. Since the family was large and poor, Ida had no plans to continue her education. But a teacher encouraged her to apply for scholarships. She earned a full one to NYU, becoming the first in her family to graduate from high school and attend college.

Ida leaves behind a remarkable collection of photographs, mainly portraits of family members and the people and places she encountered in her many travels. Her most renowned is a portrait of Rosa Parks that hangs in the Smithsonian Institute. The Smithsonian’s Curator of Photographs, Mary Panzer who selected it as the Curator’s Choice wrote about the portrait: “This photograph combines all the elements I look for when adding new portraits to the collection. It is a beautiful image of an important person, made at a significant time in her life. It is the product of an important historic moment and the story of an encounter that also tells us much about the photographer and her work.”

Ida took the photograph in the summer of 1955, at the Highlander Folk School, a training ground for labor organizers and community activists. Parks and her husband were already leaders in the Montgomery branch of the NAACP when friends offered her a scholarship to Highlander. Berman, a professional photographer who worked for the Fur and Leather Workers union in New York, visited Highlander that summer at the invitation of the author Myra Page. She, Page and Annette Rubinstein, educator, writer and advisor to New York Congressman Vito Marcantonio, drove from NYC to Tennessee in a large Cadillac that Berman had inherited from her father. According to Berman, “Rosa Parks…wasn’t well known then, the [Montgomery Bus] boycott hadn’t happened. She came [to Highlander] because it was a place that instructed people in community action and I think she learned a lot.”

When Highlander’s director, Myles Horton, noticed that Berman had a camera, he asked her to take photographs for the school. She chose subjects at random, looking for faces that interested her. Later she recalled, “I was just lucky that one of them was Rosa Parks. We were talking and I liked her. Not because she was anybody. I’m sorry I didn’t go the next year because Martin Luther King was there!”

Panzer notes: “Like all good portraits, this photograph came from a rich encounter between a subject and an artist. Ida Berman and Rosa Parks met at the Highlander School because of their shared commitment to social change. Berman’s portrait also shows us a soon-to-be national heroine as she appeared to her friends and family. Such intimate views are unusual, but when they exist, they often take the form of a photograph, made by perceptive (and lucky) men and women, often without a thought to the generations that will later treasure their pictures as a rare and valuable record.”

Myles Horton, and Berman become good friends. At his invitation she visited the Literacy Citizenship School in the South Carolina Sea Islands where she took several noteworthy photos including a famous portrait of Septima Clark, the school's organizer, and Bernice Robinson, its first teacher, and their students. Ida fondly recalled that singing enlivened the evenings, blending with the joy of learning.

Ida Berman studied at the Photo League in New York City, where from the late 1930s through the early 1950s photographers of all levels found classes and exhibitions. The teachers emphasized the use of photography as a documentary medium, and many students went on to careers in journalism. Because classes and exhibitions of photography were relatively rare, the
Photo League attracted some of the most important photographers of the era, including Paul Strand, Aaron Siskind, Berenice Abbott, Lewis Hines, and Ansel Adams.

As the only noncommercial photography school in America and having trained over 1,500 photographers during the years it was open, the Photo League was poised, by 1947, to realize an ambitious plan to become the Center for American Photography. That plan was cut short after the League appeared on the attorney general's list of subversive organizations in December 1947.

In January 1948, the photographer Walter Rosenblum published the article "Where Do We Go From Here?" in response to the blacklisting of the Photo League by Attorney General Tom Clark. Disregarding the actual photographs produced by the League's members, the FBI emphasized the organization's commitment to social causes in order to allege subversive activities and social alliances. Despite the fact that the claims were never substantiated, the Photo League was forced to disband in 1951 after an informant testified that it was a front organization for the Communist Party.

Ida was a member of the League until it disbanded. She fondly recalled telling the FBI to go to hell when they visited her during the height of the Red Scare. Quite an image since Ida was all of 4’10” tall and tipped the scales at less than 100 lbs soaking wet.

For Ida it was always about the size of your heart, not your height. When union members made fun of this tiny woman lugging large, heavy camera equipment to their meetings, she would let them know in no uncertain terms she was a working professional who would be respected. After doing her shoot, Ida would pack her stuff up, go home and work through the night to deliver the prints the next day. She remained a night owl for the rest of her life.

Ida was a devoted aunt. Every one of her nieces and nephews was beautiful, exceptional and smart. She would regal us with Leo the Lion stories, taking us to world’s unknown. It was most certainly under Ida’s and Leo’s influence that as a kindergartner, I reported in show and tell that my family has visited Africa over the weekend. When questioned how that was possible by my not too sympathetic teacher I replied we had driven there. When Ida learned of my teacher’s incredulity at this rather tall tale, she shook her head, angered that a teacher would fail to appreciate such a creative and worldly child.

Ida was particularly devoted to siblings’ youngest offspring. But her affection and interest continued no matter your age. This woman who had befriended Rosa Parks and W.E. B Dubois, who had danced with Marlon Brando and been immersed in New York’s left wing intellectual and artistic circles always wanted to know what you were doing and thinking. She always made you feel important.

Ida was a lover of language. A committed and even nasty scrabble player, a lover of Shakespeare and dirty, sardonic limericks like this one:

There once was a man from Havana
Screwed a girl on a player piano
At the height of their fever
Her ass hit the lever
And Yes he has no banana

Ida hated injustice and inequality. The photographs she leaves behind reflect that commitment. While she was often exasperated by the neo-conservative politics of both political parties, she never wavered in her belief that a better, more just world was possible. She had seen it during the union drives in the 1930’s and at the Highlander School.

Ida’s apartment on the upper west side, adorned with interesting paintings and books, was an exciting and warm place to visit. Because it was rent controlled Ida lived there from 1948 til she died. For many of her nieces and nephews it was a home away from home. It was also known to thousands of my econ students since I used it to illustrate price ceilings..

Ida was many things, but to her nieces and nephews Ida Berman was mainly an adoring and feisty aunt. She lived a good, long and decent life.

Good night Leo. Good night Ida.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Congresswoman Moore calls for pre-apprenticeship training program

Demise of printing cluster's technology center is a warning to policy makers

The final nail in the coffin of the printing industry's advanced technology center was driven last week when Waukesha County Technical College (WCTC) ended its relationship with the Institute on Graphics and Imaging just 2 ½ years after it began. The $4 million publicly funded building will no longer be a printing industry research and technology center. It will now house regular WCTC classes and services.

The failure of this taxpayer funded facility to generate economic growth, research and development, job creation or training should be a warning to those who have uncritically supported the M7 Water Council's water cluster initiative.

The rhetoric and promises of printing and water cluster advocates are startling similar. Wisconsin is alleged to house a vibrant cluster of printing and water technology companies. Industry success requires public investments in R and D to support these firms. The result: Southeastern Wisconsin will become another Silicon Valley.

In both cases, the drive for public investment has been championed by industry CEOs, justified by industry financed studies and uncritically supported by the local media.

In 2004 the Milwaukee Business Journal, for example, enthusiastically proclaimed:"Wisconsin's printing cluster leaders continue to support a move to make the area the 'Silicon Valley of printing.' The centerpiece of that plan calls for a 27,000-square-foot applied technology center at WCTC...The proposed center...would serve as the hub for a printing industry cluster...."

The printing technology center was first proposed in language that parallels the rhetoric of today's water cluster advocates in the Wisconsin Printing Industry Cluster report to the state's Economic Summit III in 2002:

With high-pay jobs, several market- leading companies, significant private sector R&D, and a steady supply of skilled workers from technical and baccalaureate colleges, the Printing Cluster is well positioned to continue as a major driver of the Wisconsin economy.”

The Council’s recommendation mirrored the M7 Water Council's push for UWM's fresh water research to be industry focused: "“Since the presence of R&D units is critical for the success of any knowledge-based industry, one of the colleges or universities should establish an R&D capability."

"...The Printing and Graphic Design Center, which is staffed by WCTC and UW-Stout, is one logical site for an applied R&D center."

The Printing Industry Cluster like water cluster advocates also argued that establishing a publicly funded research and development technology center would help attract additional R and D activity to the state. “PIW (Printing Industries of Wisconsin) and its members should lure the R&D operations of printing trade associations to Wisconsin...These R&D operations could obtain critical mass if combined with a college technical capability and support from private companies in R&D consortiums."

One of the printing industry cheerleaders was Milwaukee Journal Sentinel weekly business columnist John Torinus who also owns Serigraph, a West Bend printing company. He championed the center as "infrastructure …established to support the (printing) cluster.” Torinus, in a column that sounds errily similar to current promises by water cluster advocate and Badger Meter CEO, Rich Meeusen, even promoted the notion “that our growing muscle in the industry cluster could result in Wisconsin becoming ‘the Silicon Valley of printing.’"

The failure of the printing clusters' advanced technology center is a warning that policy makers should not rely on industry financed research and CEO anecdotes to develop economic development policy.

CEOs and business association spokesman have good reasons to try to externalize the costs of their firms' and sector's technology development, research and training. Most importantly it reduces their costs and increases profits. But it violates the fundamentals of market economics. Without significant skin in the game, business leaders have no incentive to minimize risky investments.

Industry financed research is unreliable. For generations the tobacco industry funded studies that denied any link between smoking, cancer and heart disease. Oil companies have financed climate change denial research in order to defeat legislation designed to reduce fossil fuel consumption. Industry financed research promoting sectoral strategies raises similar conflict of interest issues. Before public dollars are invested in a particular industry, citizens should insist the analysis and strategies be validated by independent research.

None of this means that UWM's efforts to establish a School of Fresh Water Sciences is misguided. Given the college's proximity to Lake Michigan, the importance of the Great Lakes, UWM's leadership in fresh water science and the wide range of fresh water scientific and policy issues, the School of Fresh Water is an important initiative. Nor is it an argument against developing a coherent and strategic industrial policy.

The demise of the printing industry's advanced technology center is a warning that policy makers should not allow private firms or the corporate community to define the School of Fresh Water Sciences' research agenda and scope of inquiry. That is the responsibility of the Fresh Water school's faculty and staff. And it is a warning to all of us to examine any industry spokeman's claim that taxpayer assistance is all that is needed to create another Silicon Valley.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Wisconsin Jobs Initiative is crucial for economic recovery

Wisconsin’s unemployed workers are enrolling in the state’s 16 technical colleges in record numbers, stretching the Wisconsin Technical College System's (WTCS) capacity to the breaking point.

Milwaukee Area Technical College (MATC), the WTCS's largest institution, is currently experiencing a 27% increase in enrollment.

The states other 15 technical colleges have experienced similar record enrollment increases, led by Blackhawk Technical College in Janesville, home of the a closed GM manufacturing plant, which led all tech colleges last year with a 21.5% increase and an astounding 42% over the last two years.

Record enrollments are being driven by dislocated workers and veterans seeking retraining and because the relatively low cost of technical colleges is attractive to all students.

On Saturday the Milwaukee Journal Journal highlighted MATC's work retraining laid off Midwest Airline pilots.

With unemployment projected to remain stubbornly high into 2012 and a record number of long-term unemployed, tech colleges anticipate that enrollment increases will continue. This year, 14 of the 16 colleges are estimating increases of over 10 percent and half of the colleges are estimating increases of 15 percent or more in FTE enrollment.

In an effort to accommodate the influx of students, technical colleges have added increased sections, expanded evening, weekend and on-line courses, increased student pupil ratios, relaxed enrollment deadlines and waived application and other fees for dislocated workers

Many programs at MATC and other tech colleges are now at capacity, despite running day and night and on weekends. Waiting lists are growing.

The Obama administration recognized the key role tech colleges play in helping the economy and the nation's workers recover when it appropriated $12 billion for two -year college education and training.

But there is a catch. Federal training dollars in the America's Graduation Initiative require a local match. Once the bill passes the United States Senate early next year, it will be up to Governor Doyle and the democratically controlled Wisconsin Legislature to appropriate additional funds so that Wisconsin qualifies for these federal training dollars.

State Representative Cory Mason (D-Racine) has authored legislation, the Wisconsin Jobs Initiative, that would appropriate $145 million and generate a $135 million federal match. The bill provides enough funds to train an additional 40,000 Wisconsin workers. Milwaukee's Tamara Grigsby (D-Milwaukee) is the second lead on the bill which has been endorsed by 18 additional legislators and the Wisconsin Technical College Boards Association.

When the Legislature reconvenes after the holidays it is critical that it pass this legislation. Otherwise, the doors of opportunity will begin to close on Wisconsin's dislocated workers.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Losing 11,000 jobs is nothing to cheer about!

Last week the Bureau Labor Statistics reported that the nation lost 11,000 jobs in November.

Most of the coverage was like the of the over the top Milwaukee Journal Sentinel headine which declared: "Optimism returns as unemployment rate dips to 10%."

Not so quick.

As Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman points out:

I don’t think many people grasp just how much job creation we need to climb out of the hole we’re in. You can’t just look at the eight million jobs that America has lost since the recession began, because the nation needs to keep adding jobs — more than 100,000 a month — to keep up with a growing population. And that means that we need really big job gains, month after month, if we want to see America return to anything that feels like full employment.

...we need to add around 18 million jobs over the next five years, or 300,000 jobs a month. This puts last week’s employment report, which showed job losses of “only” 11,000 in November, in perspective. It was basically a terrible report, which was reported as good news only because we’ve been down so long that it looks like up to the financial press.

So if we’re going to have any real good news, someone has to take responsibility for creating a lot of additional jobs. And at this point, that someone almost has to be the Federal Reserve.

I don’t mean to absolve the Obama administration of all responsibility. Clearly, the administration proposed a stimulus package that was too small to begin with and was whittled down further by “centrists” in the Senate. And the measures President Obama proposed earlier this week, while they would create a significant number of additional jobs, fall far short of what the economy needs.

But while economic analysis says that we should have a large second stimulus, the political reality is that the president — faced with total obstruction from Republicans, while receiving only lukewarm support from some in his own party — probably can’t get enough votes in Congress to do more than tinker at the edges of the employment problem.

The Fed, however, can do more.

The entire column is linked.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

U.S.troops out of sight and out of mind

We are sending another 30,000 troops into combat, young men and women who are our husbands, wives, sons and daughters.

New York Times columnist Bob Herbert notes:

The air is filled with obsessive self-satisfied rhetoric about supporting the troops, giving them everything they need and not letting them down. But that rhetoric is as hollow as a jazzman’s drum because the overwhelming majority of Americans have no desire at all to share in the sacrifices that the service members and their families are making. Most Americans do not want to serve in the wars, do not want to give up their precious time to do volunteer work that would aid the nation’s warriors and their families, do not even want to fork over the taxes that are needed to pay for the wars.

To say that this is a national disgrace is to wallow in the shallowest understatement. The nation will always give lip-service to support for the troops, but for the most part Americans do not really care about the men and women we so blithely ship off to war, and the families they leave behind. ..

The reason it is so easy for the U.S. to declare wars, and to continue fighting year after year after year, is because so few Americans feel the actual pain of those wars. We’ve been fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan longer than we fought in World Wars I and II combined. If voters had to choose right now between instituting a draft or exiting Afghanistan and Iraq, the troops would be out of those two countries in a heartbeat.

I don’t think our current way of waging war, which is pretty easy-breezy for most citizens, is what the architects of America had in mind. Here’s George Washington’s view, for example: “It must be laid down as a primary position and the basis of our system, that every citizen who enjoys the protection of a free government owes not only a proportion of his property, but even his personal service to the defense of it.”

What we are doing is indefensible and will ultimately exact a fearful price, and there will be absolutely no way for the U.S. to avoid paying it.

The column is linked.

Monday, December 7, 2009

The Fugees: soccer, hope,redemption and the immigrant experience

Two years ago, Warren St John of the New York Times, wrote an article about a soccer club composed of refugees from some of the most violent nations in the world and their volunteer coach, a young woman, Luma Mufleh.

It is an inspiring story about how Ms Mufleh, an immigrant herself, used soccer as a vehicle to help her players adapt to their new lives in the United States.

While the experiences of these athletes are unique and in many cases horrifying, generations of immigrants have built soccer clubs in the US and used them as a supportive community to understand and adapt to their new circumstances.

Long before the soccer had established a foothold in Milwaukee's suburbs, immigrants had organized ethnic clubs like Verdi, the Bavarians, the Serbs, the Croatian Eagles, and Polonia. Many of Milwaukee's soccer legends like Bob Gansler and Mario Carini played for these clubs that were firmly rooted in the city's immigrant neighborhoods. One of the largest clubs in Milwaukee today, Club Latino, continues this tradition.

St John has now written a book, "Outcasts United," about the Fugees soccer club which is shorthand for Refugees. It's a great read. To learn more about the Fugees and how soccer serves as an effective vehicle for self expression and acculturation read the book or watch attached video.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Wave district proposal is bad economics

Badger Meter CEO Richard Meeusen recently proposed that the city offer water free to firms that relocate to the area. The concept has been endorsed by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel editorial board and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett. According to the Wall Street Journal the city is preparing an application for the Wisconsin Public Service Commission that would offer reduced water rates for up to five years to businesses that bring in at least 25 jobs.

This is very bad idea based on a fundamental misunderstanding of economic principles.

Proponents of “wave districts” are right that Milwaukee has a competitive advantage in reliable water. It’s the result of the city’s location and years of public investment. Climate change is making Milwaukee’s water even more valuable as UWM economics professor and department chair, William L. Holahan, has documented in his paper, "Reliable Water Supply: Milwaukee's Comparative Advantage."

Milwaukee’s competitive advantage in water makes it attractive to businesses that need reliable sources of water such as bottling plants that are relocating from cities in the southeast and southwest that are plagued by water shortages.

But if Milwaukee truly has a competitive advantage in water reliability, there is no reason to reduce its price or give it away. No business firm would cut its price in response to increased competitive advantage. In fact, it is standard for business firms to raise their prices, not reduce them, when their competition is "drying up." Badger Meter certainly wouldn’t cut its prices if a major competitor went under. So why should the city of Milwaukee?

Rather than providing water hungry-firms with windfall profits by cutting the city’s nationally low water rates to zero, Milwaukee should use its competitive advantage in reliable water to attract water hungry-firms and invest the revenue generated through increased sales of water in other public goods that benefit all of the city’s citizens and businesses, like our schools, employment and training programs, parks, transportation and communications infrastructure, or in property tax relief.

The economic attractiveness of the city depends on its quality of life, its schools, parks, streets, public health, safety and tax rates among other things. Milwaukee badly needs revenue to invest in these attractors in no small part because shared revenue from the state has declined by almost 25% over the past decade.

The Milwaukee Water Works is an asset of the city, paid for by rate-payers, and its value must be maximized for the benefit of the city, its residents and employers. Proper pricing and investment of water revenue is a key to maximizing the value of the city’s competitive advantage in water reliability. Establishing “wave districts” will not contribute to this objective or enhance the city’s competitiveness.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

US debt a phantom menace

Yesterday the New York Times reported that the United States is borrowing trillions of dollars under terms that seem "too good to be true" just as a "spending explosion" on benefits programs like Medicare and Social Security is set to begin.

In a series titled "Payback Time: Debt Bomb," the Times details the magnitude of our nation's borrowing and warns of an impending and monumental reality check:

"The government faces a payment shock similar to those that sent legions of overstretched homeowners into default on their mortgages.

With the national debt now topping $12 trillion, the White House estimates that the government's tab for servicing the debt will exceed $700 billion a year in 2019, up from $202 billion this year, even if annual budget deficits shrink drastically."

Replete with charts and stupefying figures (Americans must pay off more than $1.6 trillion in debt by March 31, 2010), the piece states that there is "little doubt that the United States' long-term budget crisis is becoming too big to postpone."

Au contraire, says Times columnist and Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman, who warned about the very fear mongering about the deficit that the Times was engaged in:

"Most economists I talk to believe that the big risk to recovery comes from the inadequacy of government efforts: the stimulus was too small, and it will fade out next year, while high unemployment is undermining both consumer and business confidence."

Krugman cites a recent interview during which President Obama warned that "if we keep on adding to the debt, even in the midst of this recovery, that at some point, people could lose confidence in the U.S. economy in a way that could actually lead to a double-dip recession."

Krugman's response: "What? Huh?"

"The concerns Mr. Obama expressed become comprehensible if you suppose that he's getting his views, directly or indirectly, from Wall Street.

Ever since the Great Recession began economic analysts at some (not all) major Wall Street firms have warned that efforts to fight the slump will produce even worse economic evils. In particular, they say, never mind the current ability of the U.S. government to borrow long term at remarkably low interest rates -- any day now, budget deficits will lead to a collapse in investor confidence, and rates will soar...

A better model [for our current economic plight], I'd argue, is Japan in the 1990s, which ran persistent large budget deficits, but also had a persistently depressed economy -- and saw long-term interest rates fall almost steadily. There's a good chance that officials are being terrorized by a phantom menace -- a threat that exists only in their minds.

Read Krugman's full piece here.

Likewise, economist Dean Baker, who was one of the first to recognize the housing bubble years before it burst, scoffs at the Times's over-hyped debt reporting. Baker's post -- titled, "In Just a Decade the U.S. Interest Burden Could Be as High as It Was in 1992!!!!!!!" -- notes that there is "no evidence presented in this article that the rise in interest rates will place the U.S. government in a situation where it will be unable to pay its bills and no one cited in this article makes such a claim."

Incidentally, today's Wall Street Journal features more evidence that the Obama administration is rejecting Krugman's advice. "The White House is lukewarm about proposals by congressional Democrats to introduce broad legislation to create jobs, instead favoring targeted measures that would be less likely to inflate the deficit," the Journal reports, citing administration officials.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Jobs deficit requires bold action

Since the beginning of the Great Recession, unemployment has increased by 5.8%, the biggest increase since the Great Depression. The ranks of the long term unemployed (those laid off for more than six months) has soared to 5.6. million, also a post-depression peak. While Republicans like Congressman Paul Ryan, and Blue Dog Democrats hyperventilate about the threat of inflation and the federal deficit, America's working people are experiencing a real jobs deficit!

As the New York Times Bob Herbert notes:

Wall Street can boast about recovery all it wants, much of America remains trapped in economic hell.

It will take a monumental leadership effort by the administration and Congress to spark the kind of changes necessary to transform this wretched employment landscape. Ross Eisenbrey of the Economic Policy Institute has written: “By itself, the private sector is unable to create jobs in the numbers the United States needs to obtain a robust, full economic recovery.”

...we need to rethink our entire approach to employment. Conventional efforts to kick-start economic growth are dwarfed by the vast scale of the problem. Bold new efforts — creative efforts — are needed.

Herbert's piece is linked.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Bankers pocket billions while unemployment soars

Maureen Dowd writes:

Now we have two economies. We have recovering banks while we have 10-plus percent unemployment and 17.5 percent underemployment. The gross thing about the Wall Street of the last decade is how much its success was not shared with society.

Goldmine Sachs, as it’s known, is out for Goldmine Sachs.

As many Americans continue to struggle, Goldman, Morgan Stanley and JPMorgan Chase, banks that took government bailout money after throwing the entire world into crisis, have said they will dish out $30 billion in bonuses — up 60 percent from last year.

The saying used to be, whatever happens, the lawyers win. Now, it’s whatever happens, the bankers win.

The entire column is linked.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Labor Secretary calls for jobs program

A jobless recovery is an oxymoron

If you are looking for an economic recovery you can believe in, the October employment report is not for you.

After contracting for a year and a half, the economy grew in the quarter that ended in September, driven largely by federal stimulus. But government spending, as large and as necessary as it has been, has not been enough to revive hiring.

Unemployment surged from 9.8 percent in September to 10.2 percent last month, its highest level since 1983. At the same time, the economy lost 190,000 more jobs. That means employers have eliminated 7.3 million positions since the recession began in December 2007.

As dreadful as they are, the headline numbers understate the severity of the problem. They also obscure an even grimmer fact: Unless there is more government support, it will take several years of robust economic growth — by no means a sure thing — to recoup the jobs that have been lost.

The unemployment rate includes only jobless people who have looked for work in the past four weeks. The underemployment rate — which also includes jobless workers who have not recently looked for work and part-timers who need full-time work — reached 17.5 percent in October. And the long-term unemployment rate — the share of the unemployed population out of work for more than six months — also continues to set records. It is now 35.6 percent.

The official job-loss data also fail to take note of 2.8 million additional jobs needed to absorb new workers who have joined the labor force during the recession. When those missing jobs are added to the official total, the economy comes up short by 10.1 million jobs.

Taken together, the numbers paint this stark picture: At no time in post-World War II America has it been more difficult to find a job, to plan for the future, or — for tens of millions of Americans — to merely get by.

At a recent meeting at the White House to discuss job creation, President Obama said that “bold, innovative action,” would be needed — from the administration, Congress and the private sector — to undo the devastation in the labor market. Americans are waiting for Mr. Obama to lead the way.

There were good ideas floated at the White House meeting, including bolstered federal support for efforts to retrofit and weatherize homes and public buildings. There was also talk of using government money to establishing a so-called infrastructure bank that would issue bonds to help finance big construction projects.

The country also needs a program that would create jobs for teenagers — ages 16 to 19 — whose unemployment rate is currently a record 27.6 percent. Deep and prolonged unemployment among the young is especially worrisome. It means they do not have a chance, and may never get the chance, to acquire needed skills, permanently hobbling their earnings potential.

We know that more stimulus spending and government programs are a fraught topic. But they are exactly what the country needs. It may be the only way to prevent a renewed downturn.

And the only way to create the jobs needed to put Americans back to work. Those are the essential — and missing — ingredients of a sustained recovery.

New York Times, November 8, 2009

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Job loss dominates political landscape

On Friday the Department of Labor reported that the unemployment rate had climbed to 10.2%, its highest rate since April 1983.

Nearly 16 million people cannot find work.

The underemployment rate which includes discouraged workers who have given up looking for jobs and those working part-time because they cannot find full time employment hit 17.5%

Economic insecurity and jobs have become the the nation's dominant political issue.

New York Times columnist Charles Blow writes:

This is now Obama’s crisis, and it carries political consequences. During Tuesday’s gubernatorial races in New Jersey and Virginia, nearly 9 in 10 voters said that they were worried about the direction of the nation’s economy in the next year. And the majority of those who held that view voted for the Republican candidates. This could portend a flashback to 1994.

It isn’t President Obama’s fault that he inherited this mess, but it is his to fix, and he must make haste. To paraphrase his Toledo prelection: you need to do it not five years from now, not next year, you need to do it right now. J-O-B-S.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Declining wages threaten economic recovery

Global growth in real wages slowed dramatically in 2008 as a result of the economic crisis.

Wages are expected to drop even further this year despite some signs of an economic recovery, the International Labour Organization (ILO) reports.

“The continued deterioration of real wages worldwide raises serious questions about the true extent of an economic recovery, especially if government rescue packages are phased out too early. Wage deflation deprives national economies of much needed demand and seriously affects confidence”, said Manuela Tomei, Director, ILO Conditions of Work and Employment Programme and lead author of the study.

Consumption accounts for seventy percent of the U.S. economy and has been the engine of growth for almost thirty years. A continued decline in real wages will further depress consumption at a time when U.S. consumers are already tapped out on credit, business investment is stagnate, unemployment is expected to rise to over 10% and banks remain reluctant to make loans.

If real wages continue to decline economists worry that the 3.5% increase in GDP last quarter, driven by federal stimulus spending including the cash for clunkers program and the homeowners tax credit, will not be sustainable.

In this context Milwaukee County Executive and Republican candidate for Governor Scott Walker's pledge to cut wages if elected would undermine any possibility of economic recovery in Wisconsin.

The ILO adopted a Global Jobs Pact at the International Labour Conference in June that calls for measures to maintain employment and avoid the damaging consequences of deflationary wage spirals and worsening working conditions.

The update of the Global Wage Report says “the picture on wages is likely to get worse in 2009” regardless of other economic indicators suggesting an economic rebound. The report notes that in half of the 35 countries for which figures are available, real monthly wages fell in the first quarter of 2009 compared to their average of 2008, often due to cuts in hours worked.

The current deterioration in wages follows a decade of wage moderation before the global economic crisis. The report says that years of stagnating wages relative to productivity gains – together with growing inequalities – have contributed to the crisis by limiting the ability of many households to increase consumption other than through debt.

“In the future, restoring the link between productivity growth and wage increases is essential for economic and social sustainability. Companies should be able to achieve competitiveness through rising productivity rather than by cutting labour costs, and workers should have sufficient bargaining position to defend their wages. This will go a long way towards addressing income inequalities”, Ms. Tomei said.

The report also concludes that excessive bonuses, unrelated to actual performance, contributed to the crisis by distorting incentives in the financial sector and promoting short-term risk taking.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Favre's Green Bay return like your high school 25th reunion

The Packers Vikings game drew the largest non-playoff crowd in Green Bay history. It lived up to its hype, after the Packers came alive in the second half.

There was more Viking purple in the stands than one would expect. But as a friend of mine from the Philly area noted, the Green Bay fans were extremely good natured in their support for the home team and their tolerance of visitors from the north.

The Wall Street Journal Jason Gay had the game's best one liner which is actually two:

If you were a Packer fan at Lambeau, it had to smart. Sort of like watching your high school girlfriend show up to your 25th reunion—with George Clooney.

Nobel Prize winner calls for more federal job creation

Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman writes:

The good news is that the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, a k a the Obama stimulus plan, is working just about the way textbook macroeconomics said it would. But that’s also the bad news — because the same textbook analysis says that the stimulus was far too small given the scale of our economic problems. Unless something changes drastically, we’re looking at many years of high unemployment.

And the really bad news is that “centrists” in Congress aren’t able or willing to draw the obvious conclusion, which is that we need a lot more federal spending on job creation.

The article is attached.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

New York Times calls for additional stimulus spending

Today's New York Times opines:

Without another round of effective stimulus, the worst recession in modern memory will likely become — at best — the weakest recovery in modern memory. Another boost to federal spending that is targeted and timely should not be too much for politicians to deliver.

The editorial is linked.

Poor Performance of City of Milwaukee Charter Schools raises questions about Mayoral Control of MPS

Today, State Representative Tamara Grigsby (D-Milwaukee) made public recently obtained information related to City of Milwaukee charter schools, raising new concerns over the merits of a mayoral takeover of Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS).

A memo drafted by the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau reveals that, on average, more students at MPS are performing better than the students attending charter schools under contract with the City of Milwaukee.

“It’s one thing to talk about accountability and achievement in education, but it’s another thing to see it through,” Grigsby said. “MPS is in need of serious reform, but after looking at these scores, it is incredibly difficult to believe that placing our public schools under mayoral control would improve education outcomes for our children. As far as the city’s charter schools are concerned, the evidence indicates otherwise.”

As the Legislative Fiscal Bureau notes, in the 2008-2009 school year 49.9% of those attending a city-controlled charter school scored proficient or advanced in reading, while 59% of MPS students scored at that level in the same year. In the area of mathematics, 49% of the tested MPS students scored at a proficient or advanced level in the 2008-2009 school year, while only 33.1% of students at the City of Milwaukee charter schools met that standard.

In recent years, Milwaukee’s public schools have consistently outperformed the schools run by the City of Milwaukee by nearly ten percentage points or more. As the recent fiscal bureau memo concludes, after averaging together test scores from the three most recent school years, “49.6% of City charter school pupils were proficient and advanced in reading, and 32% were proficient and advanced in math.” Within that same time period, 59% of MPS pupils scored at the proficient or advanced level in reading and 45% scored at those levels in mathematics, resulting in an achievement gap in which MPS students are outperforming City of Milwaukee charter students in both subjects.

“Milwaukee’s schools are in need of sweeping reform, but poor performance at the schools already controlled by the City of Milwaukee raise serious doubts over whether or not a mayoral takeover will deliver the change we need,” Grigsby said. “The need for improvement at both our city charter schools and MPS is a clear indication that no simple change in school governance or sleight of hand will be the solution needed to better educate our children. We cannot afford to pander to such ideas, just as we cannot afford to abide by the status quo.”

Friday, October 23, 2009

Where is US headed?

In a provocative column in the New Republic Simon Johnson writes:

The U.S. increasingly displays characteristics that we have seen many times in middle-income “emerging markets”--new dimensions of vast inequality, forms of financial instability that benefit the best connected, and consistently easy credit for the privileged. But this raises the question: Who exactly is going to dominate our economic and political landscape moving forward?

His answer might not surprise you. But it will disturb you if you care about the future of this country and its people.

The article is linked.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Congresswoman Moore challenges Governor on MPS

Earlier this week Gov. Jim Doyle reiterated his support for a mayoral takeover of the Milwaukee public schools.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel which continues to blur the line between reporting and editorializing began its initial coverage: “Jim Doyle said Monday the state must give control of Milwaukee schools to the mayor to put in a 'good faith' application for federal economic stimulus funds.”

Wispolitics was more measured when it wrote: “Doyle hedged on whether mayoral control of the MPS will be part of the application, though he continued to voice support from the governance change.”

Doyle's position contradicts that of the Obama administration.

In a letter to Congresswoman Gwen Moore, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan acknowledged that dismantling elected school boards was not a Race to the Top requirement. He wrote: Although we have not yet released the final priorities and criteria for Race to the Top, mayoral control was not a criteria included in the proposed priorities...."

According to the Journal Sentinel: “Doyle said the education reforms he and Evers are advocating would require the steady push only a mayor can provide. Otherwise, school policy could "vacillate from year to year" with changes on the School Board…”

That’s a particularly interesting observation since Mayor Barrett is actively considering a run for Governor, hardly a recipe for continuity.

It also contradicts the argument that mayoral run school districts are more accountable to the public than elected school boards because of higher voter turn-out. By acknowledging that the mayor of Milwaukee is as close to a life-time position (continuity is assured) as one can find, Doyle undermines the electoral accountability argument.

Today in a letter to the editor Congresswoman Gwen Moore challenged the Governor’s position. She wrote:

“… Doyle's contention that mayoral control of the Milwaukee schools is critical to receiving these Recovery Act funds is inconsistent with multiple assurances I have received from Secretary of Education Arne Duncan that mayoral control of MPS is not a prerequisite to Wisconsin receiving Race to the Top funds (Page 1A, Oct. 20).

In a letter dated Oct. 7, Secretary Duncan wrote, 'Mayoral control of the public schools was not a criterion included in the proposed priorities (for Race to the Top funding) that were released for public comment in July.'

I agree that the Milwaukee schools face serious challenges - the achievement gap and 69% graduation rate among them. But I have yet to see evidence that placing the School Board under any mayor's control will magically erase the problems that have long plagued our public schools.

To wrongly suggest that the badly needed Race to the Top funds will not be awarded to Wisconsin unless Milwaukee wrests control away from a democratically elected School Board and hands it over to the mayor is unfair. And wrong on the facts.

To advocate for mayoral control of the Milwaukee schools is one thing; to suggest that not making the switch will restrict Wisconsin's access to a pot of money is simply untrue."

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Wall Street hucksters paid billion in bonuses

New York Times Columnist Bob Herbert writes:

We’ve spent the last few decades shoveling money at the rich like there was no tomorrow. We abandoned the poor, put an economic stranglehold on the middle class and all but bankrupted the federal government — while giving the banks and megacorporations and the rest of the swells at the top of the economic pyramid just about everything they’ve wanted.

And we still don’t seem to have learned the proper lessons. We’ve allowed so many people to fall into the terrible abyss of unemployment that no one — not the Obama administration, not the labor unions and most certainly no one in the Republican Party — has a clue about how to put them back to work.

Meanwhile, Wall Street is living it up...

Even as tens of millions of working Americans are struggling to hang onto their jobs and keep a roof over their families’ heads, the wise guys of Wall Street are licking their fat-cat chops over yet another round of obscene multibillion-dollar bonuses — this time thanks to the bailout billions that were sent their way by Uncle Sam, with very little in the way of strings attached.

We need to make some fundamental changes in the way we do things in this country. The gamblers and con artists of the financial sector, the very same clowns who did so much to bring the economy down in the first place, are howling self-righteously over the prospect of regulations aimed at curbing the worst aspects of their excessively risky behavior and preventing them from causing yet another economic meltdown.

We cannot continue transferring the nation’s wealth to those at the apex of the economic pyramid — which is what we have been doing for the past three decades or so — while hoping that someday, maybe, the benefits of that transfer will trickle down in the form of steady employment and improved living standards for the many millions of families struggling to make it from day to day.

That money is never going to trickle down. It’s a fairy tale. We’re crazy to continue believing it.

The entire column is linked.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Republicans block help for unemployed

The New York Times reports:

There are now more than five million Americans — roughly one-third of the unemployed — who have been out of work for six months or longer, ... a record since data was first recorded in 1948.

Congress has extended benefits several times, most recently in February, but for many workers they are again running out.

The Senate majority leader, Harry Reid (D Nevada), and other Democrats have introduced a bill that would extend unemployment insurance by up to an additional 14 weeks in all 50 states, with another six weeks for states with a jobless rate above 8.5 percent. It is an improvement on a bill passed by the House, which would extend benefits only in states with unemployment above 8.5 percent.

February’s extension, which included a $25-a-week increase in benefits, kept 800,000 people out of poverty...Putting more money in the pockets of the unemployed provided much-needed stimulus for the entire economy.

Every day that the Republicans continue to block an extension...means thousands more Americans pushed closer to the edge of despair.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Lou Dobbs bigotry

Latinos are the fastest growing ethnic group in the United States. That makes them a very attractive market. So CNN is making serious efforts to attract Latino viewers. Soldead O'Brien's Latino in America special is part of this effort.

While CNN is courting the Latino viewers, it is also allowing Lou Dobbs to poison the airways with anti-Latino bigotry. The folks at have put together this primer on Lou Dobbs and his hatred for Latinos. It's ugly stuff, and CNN can't ignore it forever. The network has a choice. Either attract Latino viewers, or alienate them. It certainly can't do both.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Walker's budget is a job killer

Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker’s proposal to create a Department of Business Development is an empty, political gesture. It won’t help the area’s unemployed or promote economic growth. But it will spend almost half a million dollars creating a new government bureaucracy.

Taxpayers need to ask do we really need another economic development bureaucracy?

Metropolitan Milwaukee already has several public and private agencies devoted to business development and job creation including the M7, the highly publicized public private partnership devoted to regional economic development, Milwaukee’s 200 person Department of City Development, and similar shops in West Allis and Wauwatosa. Most other communities like Cudahy, Greenfield and Franklin have economic development directors, teams or commissions devoted to business development.

And this list does not include the many state agencies, the Department of Commerce, the Department of Workforce Development and Forward Wisconsin, for example, devoted to the same effort. . Only three years ago the Great Milwaukee Committee criticized “the astonishing” duplication of services between the county and its municipalities. This proposal only exacerbates the problem.

The fanfare surrounding Walker’s proposal, including a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel editorial and an opinion piece by County Supervisor Joe Rice, is reminiscent of the hoopla that accompanied the Greater Milwaukee Committee’s Initiative for a Competitive Inner City (ICIC).

ICIC proponents, just like Walker and Rice today, alleged that labor market policies and non-profit organizations had distorted the labor market and impeded business development. They argued we should abandon these well-meaning, but misguided efforts, and let market forces drive revitalization, ignoring that it was unfettered market forces that had caused Milwaukee’s deindustrialization and nationally high rates of unemployment and poverty. In the end, the only real job that ICIC created was for the Harvard consultant, Michael E. Porter, who was extremely well compensated for designing the project.

Rice asserts that the County's Park East Redevelopment Compact (PERC), which he and Walker opposed, is responsible for the lack of development in the corridor. He conveniently ignores that no one is building because we are mired in the worst recession since the Great Depression, the nation's credit markets virtually collapsed more than a year ago and the downtown condo market is saturated, burdened with extremely high vacancy rates.

What Rice and Walker mischaracterize as obstacles are carefully crafted standards that require local hiring, wage standards and state of the art, energy efficient (cost saving) construction. Local governments have a responsibility to the taxpayers to establish such standards particularly for developers who are receiving millions in tax benefits and public subsidies. In the private sector it is called a return on investment.

Lest we forget, Milwaukee County had a Department of Economic Development that Walker eliminated in a cost cutting move a year ago.

What has changed in the last twelve months to justify resurrecting a half million dollar bureaucracy? The only difference between the department Walker eliminated the one he envisions is that the new employees will be appointed by Walker without the County Board’s consent. The lack of checks and balances virtually guarantees the appointment of cronies who could use the new agency to undermine the Park East Corridor's development standards.

While Walker talks about job development, his actual budget is a job killer. It will eliminate another 400 middle class jobs in Milwaukee County (7% of the County’s employees) and slash the wages and benefits of those who continue to serve the County as airport firefighters, information management specialists, and park maintenance workers.

Rather than create another bureaucracy devoted to costly pursuit of jobs, Walker should devote himself to preserving real and existing middle class jobs. These jobs pay real Milwaukee County residents modest, but family supporting wages that they spend in the local economy stimulating additional hiring and business development. Cutting these middle class workers’ wages by between by $6800 and $8400 annually will force many into poverty, demoralize the County’s workforce, undermine productivity, and reduce aggregate demand in a local economy that is mired in a deep and prolonged recession. If Walker is really committed to having market forces drive local economic development he should not pursue an agenda that undermines the consumer market (aggregate demand) for goods and services.

Walker’s proposal is the most cynical type of political grandstanding. While eliminating hundreds of real jobs, the only jobs Walker’s proposal will create are for the cronies he will almost certainly hire to staff his new agency.

The County Board should reject this proposal for the political grandstanding gesture than it is.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Black football players speak out against Rush Limbaugh

Rush Limbaugh, the radio talk show host who was removed from the ESPN Monday night football booth for blatantly racist remarks, is now negotiating to buy the hapless St Louis Rams.

Black NFL players are speaking out against Limbaugh's attempt to buy the team.

Sportwriter Dave Zirin writes that allowing Limbaugh to purchase the team would be "a catastrophic error in judgement." He writes:

National Football League owners could be on the verge of a catastrophic error in judgment. In a league that is 70 percent African-American, an unapologetic racist is in talks to buy a team. Yes, Rush Limbaugh, along with St. Louis Blues owner Dave Checketts, is close to buying the St. Louis Rams.

In his last NFL intervention, the man who claims “talent on loan from God” lasted less than a month as an NFL commentator on ESPN after saying the Philadelphia Eagles' Donavon McNabb was overrated because the media wanted to see a black quarterback succeed.

Limbaugh said to KMOX radio, "Dave and I are part of a bid to buy the Rams, and we are continuing the process. But I can say no more because of a confidentiality clause in our agreement with Goldman Sachs." So Rush Limbaugh, champion of East Coast elite-bashing, is in financial cahoots with bailout world champion Goldman Sachs.

But financial scuzziness aside, Limbaugh's bid must be stopped. The NFL owners have the power to nix any prospective owner, and if they have a shred of conscience in their overfed, underworked bodies, they should collectively veto Limbaugh's joining their exclusive club.

This has nothing to do with Limbaugh's conservative politics. Most NFL owners are to the right of Dick Cheney. Over the last twenty years, officials on twenty-three of the thirty-two NFL clubs have donated more money to Republicans than Democrats.

Most of them are also anonymous figures on the sports landscape. However, with Limbaugh at the helm, the face of one of the most valuable sports properties in the world would officially be a person who has a history of brazen contempt for people of African heritage.

How can the NFL in good conscience embrace an owner who once said , "The NFL all too often looks like a game between the Bloods and the Crips without any weapons. There, I said it."

In a league that has practiced historic partnerships with the NAACP, how can you have an owner who has said, “The NAACP should have riot rehearsal. They should get a liquor store and practice robberies.:

In a league with an all-white ownership and a paucity of African Americans in front office positions, how can you have an owner who says, “We didn't have slavery in this country for over 100 years because it was a bad thing. Quite the opposite: slavery built the South. I'm not saying we should bring it back; I'm just saying it had its merits. For one thing, the streets were safer after dark.”

In a league that has long had a mutually beneficial interaction with whoever was occupying the oval office, how can you have an owner who compares the President to a Nazi and says about “ life in "Obama's America" : “The white kids now get beat up with the black kids cheering, ‘Yay, right on, right on, right on, right on."’

And finally, in a league made up of predominately African-American athletes, how can you have an owner who says , "[Black people] are 12 percent of the population. Who the hell cares?"

You might think that NFL players with their nonguaranteed contracts and short shelf life may not be the first people to speak out against Limbaugh. But you'd be wrong.

New York Giant Mathias Kiwanuka said in the New York Daily News , "I don't want anything to do with a team that he has any part of. He can do whatever he wants; it is a free country. But if it goes through, I can tell you where I am not going to play."

McNabb said in his weekly press conference, "If he's rewarded to buy them, congratulations to him. But I won't be in St. Louis anytime soon."

New York Jets linebacker Bart Scott said, "I can only imagine how his players would feel.... He could offer me whatever he wanted; I wouldn't play for him."

In the NFL there has always been one code of conduct for players and one for ownership. Retired player Roman Oben called out the hypocrisy perfectly: "Character is a constant point of emphasis for NFL and team officials when it comes to the players; potential owners should be held to the same level of scrutiny and accountability."

Oben is absolutely right. In a league where commissioner Roger Goodell constantly drones on about "character," the idea that a prominent bigot could rise to a position of power would be an example of unforgivable hypocrisy. Tell your local NFL owner: you must flush Rush.

[Dave Zirin is the author of “A People’s History of Sports in the United States” (The New Press) Receive his column every week by emailing Contact him at]

Friday, October 9, 2009

Republicans echo Taliban in condemning Obama's Nobel Peace Prize

The Republican National Committee, still giddy over America losing its bid to host the 2016 Olympics, had this to say about the President of the United States being award the Nobel Peace Prize:

The real question Americans are asking is, ‘What has President Obama actually accomplished?’ It is unfortunate that the president’s star power has outshined tireless advocates who have made real achievements working towards peace and human rights. One thing is certain – President Obama won’t be receiving any awards from Americans for job creation, fiscal responsibility, or backing up rhetoric with concrete action.

Their statement echoed the Taliban's criticism of Obama's selection for the prestigous award.
"We have seen no change in his strategy for peace. We condemn the award of the Nobel Peace Prize for Obama" Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told AFP.

The real question patriotic Americans are asking is, "Why do Republicans hate America?" Or as the Democratic National Committee put it:

Republicans cheered when America failed to land the Olympics and now they are criticizing the President of the United States for receiving the Nobel Peace prize — an award he did not seek but that is nonetheless an honor in which every American can take great pride — unless of course you are the Republican Party.

The 2009 version of the Republican Party has no boundaries, has no shame and has proved that they will put politics above patriotism at every turn. It’s no wonder only 20 percent of Americans admit to being Republicans anymore – it’s an embarrassing label to claim.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Nobel Prize winner calls for federal job creation

Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman has added his voice to those calling on the Obama administration to increase its job creation efforts, calling anything less "unacceptable."

He writes:

"...while not having another depression is a good thing, all indications are that unless the government does much more than is currently planned to help the economy recover, the job market — a market in which there are currently six times as many people seeking work as there are jobs on offer — will remain terrible for years to come... "

The entire column is linked.

Let Congress Go Without Insurance

NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF, a New York Times columnist, writes:

We accept that life is unfair, that some people will live in cramped apartments and others in sprawling mansions. But our existing insurance system is not simply inequitable but also lethal: a very recent, peer-reviewed article in the American Journal of Public Health finds that nearly 45,000 uninsured people die annually as a consequence of not having insurance. That’s one needless death every 12 minutes.

When nearly 3,000 people were killed on 9/11, we began wars and were willing to devote more than $1 trillion in additional expenses. Yet about the same number of Americans die from our failed insurance system every three weeks.

The obstacle isn’t so much money as priorities. America made it a priority to provide tax breaks, largely to the wealthy, in the Bush years, at a 10-year cost including interest of $2.4 trillion. Allocating less than half that much to assure equal access to health care isn’t deemed an equal priority.

The entire article is linked.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Rudy Kuzel 1935 to 2009

Wisconsin lost one of its finest on Thursday when Rudy Kuzel, former president of UAW local 72 and leader of Kenosha's auto workers, lost his battle with cancer.

Rudy was tough and compassionate, fiercely dedicated to the state's working men and women and to the fight for social and economic justice.

Everyone of us who had the opportunity to work with him and to learn from him feels a terrible sense of loss.

Rudy demanded that management respect working people. He was a UNION MAN who made all of us aspire to follow the trail he blazed. He taught an entire generation of young labor leaders how to fight, think and lead.

Rudy hated spineless politicians who talk about working people and our issues to get our votes, but forget us once in office.

Rudy is gone, but his belief that a better world is possible lives.

Thank you Rudy Kuzel.

One of the men Rudy worked with and mentored was John Drew. His reflections on Rudy are posted below.

Rudy Kuzel 1935-2009

By John Drew

Rudy Kuzel. Throughout his life as a husband, father, grandfather, brother, uncle, brother in law, friend, mentor and UAW leader he bettered the lives of those close to him and thousands more. Time and again, he demonstrated those rare and priceless qualities of wisdom, strength and leadership in his daily life and in the cause of justice.

Former UAW President Walter Reuther once said, ‘You can’t opt out of life. You’ve got to make up your mind whether you’re willing to accept things as they are or whether you’re willing to try to change them.” Today, we mark the passing of a man who dedicated his life to trying to change things for the better for working people.

Once when a newspaper reporter asked Rudy what he thought about Chrysler executives receiving a bonus equal to 100% of their pay he said “They earned it the old fashioned way, the workers made it for them.”

Lee Iacocca responded to the pounding that Rudy had given him in the fight over the Assembly plant closing, by announcing that Chrysler would set up a trust fund to help the children of laid off workers. Rudy immediately held a press conference on the same stage Iacocca had used. With the cameras rolling Rudy compared Iacocca to Jessie James dropping enough money out of his saddlebags to slow the posse down as he rode out of town after robbing the bank.

But in typical Rudy fashion, he went on to serve on the Board of that Trust Fund to make sure that the workers were treated fairly. That was the Rudy Kuzel I knew, someone who could capture the essence of injustice in one sentence but then also figure out a way to make things better. He not only could talk about injustice, he could also figure out how to change things.

At critical times Rudy was there with wise counsel for those of us who were his friends just as he was there for the membership. And let me tell, you were definitely better off being his friend than his enemy.

Like the time he told me, Tod Ohnstad, and Jon Melrod that we should get involved in the union not just criticize it in our newsletter.

There was also the time we were leading a wildcat strike in 1978. I don’t know how he did it but the phone in the phone booth in our unofficial strike HQ at Freddie’s Bar rang. It was Rudy advising us that there was a tentative agreement and we better get the people back to work before the situation got out of hand.

So too, Rudy gave the membership of Local 72 wise counsel and leadership when it was needed. In the 1960’s he was part of a revolution that put younger leaders in office and fought for dignity for the average worker and for equal enforcement of the contract.

In the 1970’s he returned to leadership in the union as part of a movement to move Local 72 forward.

In 1980, Rudy designed and negotiated a no-nonsense alcohol and drug policy that recognized that addiction was a disease and that people should be given a chance for treatment instead of discharge. Rudy went on to serve as the first A&D rep and laid the foundation for a program that improved hundreds of lives.

Also, around that time, Rudy was instrumental in negotiating a paid holiday to honor Martin Luther King and in starting an annual program to honor Dr. King and show Local 72’s commitment to civil and human rights. I am sure he will be on many minds in January when that program celebrates its 30th anniversary.

In 1984 he took on his greatest challenge when he decided to run for President during a time of great transition at AMC/Renault. Somehow he guided a militant membership and leadership through difficult negotiations that kept the plant open.

In 1988, Rudy led Local 72 in the legendary fight against the plant closing that resulted in the engine plant staying open and at that time the most expensive plant closing settlement in history.

After that Rudy recognized that the membership needed to get involved in improving quality and the Local needed to join the UAW Chrysler Council. His leadership and vision at that critical time paved the way for 20 years of work and the recall, retirement or transfer of the 5,000 workers who lost their jobs in the plant closing

Along the way Rudy never wavered from his own brand of populist progressive politics. He took on Les Aspin over U.S. involvement in Central America. He fiercely supported labor’s friends like Gwen Moore and went after our opponents in his own inimitable style. He led Local 72 to endorse Jesse Jackson for President in 1988.

Rudy was a fierce critic of the K-12 funding system and hated vouchers. He would have been pleased to know that the lawsuit that he filed with Attorney Rich Saks last year against a pro-voucher group for campaign irregularities was successful.

Rudy was not just a great leader, all along the way he also connected with people. Like his crew in the piston department where he worked led by Chief Steward Charlie Underwood. I still don’t know if it was Rudy or Charlie who took that lie detector test in Chicago when Charlie was fired for sabotage.

Then there were his allies on the Board in the late 60’s including Willie Foxie and Jim Robenson. That alliance was best captured in the famous front page picture of the white guy Rudy and the two black guys Willie and Robenson showing up for negotiations during the 1969 strike wearing berets of the type favored by the Black Panthers.

In the late 70’s Rudy connected with a solid group of unionists that included Gene Sylvester, Curt Wilson Jack Cole, Kenny Johnson, Dick O’Brien and others who put the local back on the right path.

In the 80’s and 90’s he became a friend and mentor to another generation of union activists that I was fortunate to be a part of along with Tod Ohnstad, Jon Melrod, the late Bob Rosinki, Phil Anastasi, Lula Smith and many others.

And in recent years he gave sound advice to the current President of Local 72, Glen Stark.

Those are the things he did. But oh the way he did them. To many, he was the stereotypical union leader. A reporter once wrote that with his gruff manner, his crew cut and union jacket he looked like he had been sent over by central casting to play the part of a union leader.

But beneath that rough exterior was something else entirely. He was the son of a librarian. Not only was he well read but he had an incredible memory and could pick a quote out of thin air or turn a phrase that would leave us all shaking our heads wondering how he came up with it. He was a vegetarian and took his last drink of alcohol in 1960.

In our union education classes we teach our reps that they are on equal footing with management in the eyes of the law. For AMC and Chrysler management, their problem was that they were never on an equal footing with Rudy. He was a brilliant strategist who was always two steps ahead of everyone else in the room. He was a visionary who could see around the corner when most people didn’t even know there was a turn coming up.

It may come as a surprise to you but Rudy was not always an easy person to work with.

When we were going through rough times, we could gauge Rudy’s mood by how many donuts he had in the morning. We knew we were in for a rough day when he reached for the fourth one.

As I said, Rudy was well read but obviously he had never heard the phrase “don’t kill the messenger.” Many times one of us would go to Rudy to inform him of something he didn’t want to hear and would catch the full force of his reaction which usually included the words No and Never and a few that were much stronger. You just had to let it wash over you and by later in the day Rudy had a plan on how to deal with the problem.

Rudy was admired and respected by union leaders like UAW Region 4 director Dennis Williams and State AFL-CIO President David Newby. Many elected officials will tell you that Rudy was not shy about sharing his views with them.

His good friend Congresswoman Gwen Moore was not able to be here but she wrote a wonderful letter to Connie and the family. UAW Vice President General Holiefield and Rudy’s great and dear friend former UAW Vice President Marc Stepp both asked me to share their sorrow at Rudy’s passing.

When Rudy retired, there were those of us who urged him to run for office, perhaps for the state assembly. But Rudy chose not to go that route. Instead he spent the last 13 years with his high school sweetheart Connie and the rest of his family. That was Rudy Kuzel too. He knew there was more to life than the headlines.

I will close with another quote from Walter Reuther. “There is no greater calling than to serve your fellow man. There is no greater contribution than to help the weak. There is no greater satisfaction than to have done it well.”

Rudy, my friend, you did it well indeed.

The Racine Journal Times obituary is linked here.

Leader of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising dies

Marek Edelman, a distinguished cardiologist who was the last surviving commander of the 1943 Warsaw ghetto uprising against the Germans, died Friday in Warsaw. He was

Dr. Edelman was one of a handful of young leaders who in April 1943 led a force of 220 poorly armed young Jewish men and women in a desperate and hopeless struggle against the Germans who had murdered over 350,000 Jews before the uprising began.

In his memoir he describes the initial disbelief of Jews in their fate. Nearly 400,000 Jewish men, women and children had been sealed into the Ghetto in 1940—the prelude to the final solution, which murdered almost all of Poland’s three million Jews, half of the final total. Paralysis and fear was the dominant mood:

“To overcome our own terrifying apathy, to fight against our own acceptance of the generally prevailing feeling of panic, even small tasks required truly gigantic efforts on our part.”

The Nazis succeeded in “deporting” two thirds of the Ghetto population to the death camps before the Jewish Fighting Organisation, (in Polish, Zydowska Organizacja Bojowa, ZOB), was finally formed from three political parties, Edelman’s Jewish Socialist anti-Zionist Bund, the Socialist Zionists and the Communists.

The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising broke out on April 19, 1943, on the first night of Passover. Edelman helped lead the Jewish resistance when the Nazis began to close in on the fighters. At first, Edelman and his soldiers were in charge of defending the "Brushmakers" ghetto district.

After the ZOB forces began to withdraw, Edelman and his men joined the fighters centered at 30 Franciszkanska Street. The Nazis progressively destroyed the Warsaw Ghetto and cut the Jewish fighters off from one another. Edelman was among one of the last groups to hold out in the ZOB's headquarters at 18 Mila Street. On May 10 he was able to cross over to the non-Jewish side of Warsaw by way of the city's sewers.

Dr. Edelman reflected on the importance of the resistance he helped lead:

“For the first time the halo of omnipotence and invincibility was torn from the Germans’ heads. For the first time the Jew in the street realised that it was possible to do something. It was a psychological turning point.”

Almost all the Jewish resistance fighters eventually died but Marek Edelman managed to escape, and then joined the Polish resistance struggle in greater Warsaw.

Dr. Edelman remained a human rights activist his entire life helping to found the independent Solidarity trade union movement and towards the end of his life calling for the creation of an "Israeli-Palestinian movement with the aim to exert pressure on the authorities on both sides of the conflict to demand a cease-fire and, in the longer run, a just peace acceptable to both sides."

In Yiddish we say" koved zayn ondenk (Honor his memory.)

Dr. Edelman's obituary is linked.

Labor Secretary calls for more stimulus spending

Robert Reich, U.S. Secretary of Labor, from 1992 through 1996, writes:

Let me say this as clearly and forcefully as I can: The federal government should be spending even more than it already is on roads and bridges and schools and parks and everything else we need. It should make up for cutbacks at the state level, and then some. This is the only way to put Americans back to work. We did it during the Depression. It was called the WPA.

Yes, I know. Our government is already deep in debt. But let me tell you something: When one out of six Americans is unemployed or underemployed, this is no time to worry about the debt.

His entire blog is link here.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Unemployment soars. Will Madison and DC politicans respond?

In another sign that the Great Recession is far from over, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported this morning that the nation lost 263,000 jobs last month, far more than predicted. As a result the official unemployment rate increased to 9.8 percent.

The largest job losses were in construction (64,000), manufacturing (51,000), retail trade (39,000) , and government (53,000).

The nation has lost 2.1 million manufacturing jobs and 1.5 million construction jobs since the onset of the recession in December 2007. Unemployment has surged from 7.6 million to 15.1 million, and the unemployment rate has doubled to 9.8 percent.

Unemployment rates for the major worker groups--adult men (10.3 percent),adult women (7.8 percent), teenagers (25.9 percent), whites (9.0 percent),blacks (15.4 percent), and Hispanics (12.7 percent)--are much higher than at the start of the recession.

The actual rate of unemployment is significantly higher than the 9.8% figure. The U-6 rate, which includes discouraged workers (those who have given up looking for work) and the involuntary part time (those who want full time work, but cannot find it) jumped to a Great Depression level 17%.

The number of long-term unemployed (those jobless for 27 weeks and over) rose by 450,000 to 5.4 million. In September, 35.6 percent of unemployed persons were job-less for 27 weeks or more.

In another ominous sign, the Labor Department's reported earlier this week that there there are only 2.4 million full-time permanent jobs available. Yet there are 15.1 million people officially unemployed. That's one job opening for every six people looking for work, the worst ratio since the government began tracking open positions in 2000.

During the last recession in 2001, the number of jobless people reached little more than double the number of full-time job openings. By the beginning of this year, job seekers outnumbered jobs by four-to-one, with the ratio growing ever more lopsided in recent months.

The four county Milwaukee area lost 50,400 jobs over the last twelve month, the largest annual decline since 1967.

Midwest Airlines, Badger Meter, GE Medical, Harley Davidson, GM, Quad Graphics and Delphi have shed thousands of workers. The Department of Labor reports that Wisconsin was one of eight states to reach a record high in average weekly new unemployment claims in August.

The city of Milwaukee has been especially hard hit. The number of employed residents in the city fell by 18,333 between August 2008 and August 2009 in what the UWM Center on Economic Development calls "a stunning decline of 7.03 percent."

This is the largest “over-the-year” employment decline in Milwaukee in any month since the Great Recession officially began in December 2007 and the second worst in the nation. Only perpetually distressed Detroit, the epicenter of the auto industry collapse-- suffered a larger employment decline. African American male unemployment remained at almost 50%.

Milwaukee, like the state and the nation, is mired in an employment crisis. Ivory tower discussions about lagging indicators, the economy's green shoots, and market corrections ring hollow as jobs continue to hemorrhage and lives are uprooted. The unemployed are losing their homes, their health insurance and their hopes..

The employment crisis demands action.

Democrats who claim to care about working people control the levers of power and the public purse in Madison and Washington D C. They certainly didn't create this employment crisis. But they are in charge now.

The federal stimulus plan, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, watered down by Republican demands for less stimulus spending (demand) and more ineffective tax cuts, helped keep the economy from collapsing. It has slowed, but not stopped the loss of jobs, Nor has it revived the economy.

The employment crisis demands decisive action at the state and federal level.

Where is the Obama administration's plan to put people back to work?

Where is the planto provide aid to states and local governments so they don't add to the nation's unemployment rolls by laying off even more people.

Where is the Wisconsin plan for jobs and training?

If policymakers in Washington and Madison don't move quickly to address the employment crisis, they will likely find their own jobs are in danger come November 2010.