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 BastaDobbs.com 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 dave@edgeofsports.com. Contact him at mailto:edgeofsports@gmail.com.]

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.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

ACLU of Wisconsin opposes mayoral takeover of MPS as another quick fix

On October 1, 2009 the ACLU of Wisconsin’s executive director Christopher Ahmuty released the following statement:

Changing the governance of Milwaukee Public Schools will not remedy Wisconsin’s failure to provide an adequate education to far too many of Milwaukee’s children. Mayoral takeover will not narrow the racial achievement gap, which should deeply trouble all Wisconsinites. Schemes such as mayoral control and school vouchers that focus on control rather than education in the classroom are bound to fail our children.

Rather than spending time and effort to push through a controversial takeover program that will not provide resources for programs that work, the governor, mayor and state legislators need to ensure that all Milwaukee children have the opportunity to obtain a meaningful, adequate education.

Those genuinely concerned about student performance need to evaluate what programs and services - such as smaller class sizes - help students succeed. They must look at researched-based findings on what programs and services best educate students with disabilities, English language learners, and low income students. In light of the racial achievement gaps in our community, they must look at whether specific programs are needed to support children of color. Then they must determine what these programs cost, and how those programs will be fairly and adequately funded. That is the kind of adequate education that all Milwaukee students deserve - but are too often denied.

Moreover, efforts to improve the education of Milwaukee children must address the needs of all students who attend taxpayer-supported schools, not just those who attend schools operated by MPS. Approximately 1/5 of Milwaukee students attend private voucher schools at taxpayers’ expense - and most of those schools perform no better than MPS, and in some cases fall short of MPS performance. Yet neither the takeover proposal nor any other plan that has been offered seek to improve education for those 20,000 Milwaukee children.

Nor does the takeover plan deal with the negative impacts of voucher turnover on MPS schools. As a recent audit shows, each year far more students leave voucher schools for MPS than transfer from MPS to voucher schools. Some voucher schools close during or after the school year, for reasons ranging from poor physical conditions to financial mismanagement. Voucher schools can and do expel students who present behavioral and other challenges. And research has also shown that voucher schools educate a far smaller percentage of students with disabilities and English language learners than MPS – requiring MPS to divert a far greater percentage of its resources to educate these children.

The poor outcomes of voucher schools are a clear indication that quick fixes will not meet the educational needs of Milwaukee children. Vouchers were sold as a free market, competitive model that would succeed without regulation, oversight or public disclosure – but overall, the system has failed and should be phased out, starting with those voucher schools that are underperforming MPS.

Nor should there be a headlong rush for other quick fixes. Neighborhood schools, for example, were sold – and funded - as a way to provide a better education to Milwaukee children, and they too have failed. There is no evidence that yet another quick fix – a mayoral takeover of the public schools – will have any more success in meeting students’ needs.

The ACLU of Wisconsin believes the primary constitutional responsibility for the education of Milwaukee’s children rests with the State of Wisconsin. The state needs to put adequate resources into the public school system to provide the educational services and supports those children need – including adequate supports for children living in poverty, children with disabilities, English language learners, and other special needs children. It needs to ensure that the per-pupil funding for Milwaukee Public Schools students is at least comparable to that of suburban districts. Those are the reforms that will help Milwaukee students succeed.