The Republican Party’s War on Workers:  Anti-Union – Anti Middle Class!

Dear Commons Community,

The New York Times editorial yesterday cautioned the Republican Party that the anti-union moves of GOP governors is at odds with its hopes to appeal to middle class voters and workers in general.  It described the situation as follows:

“The Republican-dominated Senate in Wisconsin passed a bill this week to weaken the state’s private-sector unions. Similar to “right-to-work” laws in 24 other states, the bill would prevent unions from requiring dues or other fees from workers they represent in collective bargaining, a crippling constraint. The Republican-run State Assembly is expected to pass the bill next week, and Gov. Scott Walker, who stripped Wisconsin’s public employees of collective bargaining rights in 2011 and is now eyeing the Republican presidential nomination, has said he would sign it.

In a nation where the long decline in unions has led to a pervasive slump in wages, Republicans’ support for anti-union legislation is at odds with their professed commitments to helping the middle class. Right-to-work laws do not attract businesses and create jobs, as proponents claim. Rather, they are linked to lower wages, fewer benefits and higher poverty. They win support among conservative lawmakers not because they are in the public interest but because cutting labor costs is a priority of far-right groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council, which is tied to the Koch brothers. The Wisconsin bill is almost verbatim from a model provided by ALEC.

Wisconsin is hardly alone; 13 other states have pending right-to-work bills, and in Illinois the Republican governor is trying to disable the state’s public unions by executive order. In addition, at the behest of the construction industry, legislation is pending in 18 states to repeal “prevailing wage” laws, which require private-sector bidders on taxpayer-financed construction projects to pay wages that are in line with those for comparable work in the locality. Prevailing wage laws, which are enforced by federal statute on federal projects and by 32 states on state projects, prevent lowball bids from depressing wages. Without them, taxpayer money would be routed away from workers’ paychecks and into corporate coffers.

One question is whether the maneuvering in the presidential race will tip the scales one way or the other between the pro- and anti-union forces. As has been the case in recent years, eyes are on Wisconsin to see if Republicans, including Mr. Walker, will continue to attack unions even as they profess to stand for good jobs.”

It seems to me that the Democrats will make a lot of this in the presidential elections next year.


Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh, Former President of Notre Dame University and Champion of Human Rights, is Dead at the Age of 97!


Dear Commons Community,

One of the great champions of human rights, the Rev. Theodore Hesburgh died yesterday at the age of 97.  He is best known as the president of Notre Dame University where he served for thirty-five years.  He was an outspoken critic of government and church policies on a number of issues.  He also was am important leader of higher education  He once wrote:

“The Catholic university should be a place where all the great questions are asked, where an exciting conversation is continually in progress, where the mind constantly grows as the values and powers of intelligence and wisdom are cherished and exercised in full freedom.”

The New York Times obituary had this to say:

“The Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh, the strong-minded former president of the University of Notre Dame who stood up to both the White House and the Vatican as he transformed Catholic higher education in America and raised a powerful moral voice in national affairs, died late Thursday in South Bend, Ind. He was 97.

The university confirmed his death in a statement on its website, saying he had died just before midnight at Holy Cross House, which is next to the university.

As an adviser to presidents, special envoy to popes, theologian, author, educator and activist, Father Hesburgh was for decades considered the most influential priest in America. In 1986, when he retired after a record 35 years as president of Notre Dame, a survey of 485 university presidents named him the most effective college president in the country.

“In his historic service to the nation, the church and the world, he was a steadfast champion for human rights, the cause of peace and care for the poor,” the Rev. John I. Jenkins, Notre Dame’s president, said in a statement.”

I had the pleasure of meeting Rev. Hesburgh once at a conference in the early 1990s.  He had a presence and there was something special about him.


Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker Compares Labor Unions to ISIS!

Dear Commons Community,

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, a potential Republican nominee for president, likened his experience in dealing with the state labor unions as to how he would deal with ISIS.  As reported in The Huffington Post:

“Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) on Thursday said his experience undermining labor unions in Wisconsin has prepared him to take on the threat of the Islamic State in the Middle East.

“If I can take on 100,000 protesters, I can do the same across the world,” Walker told a packed crowd at the Conservative Political Action Conference, in response to a question about how he would fight the terrorist group, which has killed thousands in Iraq and Syria.

Walker was referring to protesters who led an unsuccessful recall effort against him in 2012, after he proposed a budget that stripped Wisconsin’s public sector unions of their collective bargaining rights. The protests lasted for months and catapulted Walker onto the national political stage…

…Wisconsin AFL-CIO President Phil Neuenfeldt sharply rebuked Walker’s remarks Thursday evening, calling the comparison “disgusting.”

“To compare the hundreds of thousands of teachers, students, grandmothers, veterans, correctional officers, nurses and all the workers who came out to peacefully protest and stand together for their rights as Americans to ISIS terrorists is disgusting and unacceptable,” Neuenfeldt said in a statement. “To compare hard-working men and women who work for a living to terrorists is a disgrace. Coming together to peacefully protest for freedom, to raise your voice for a better Wisconsin, this is not an act of terror.”

Walker had reportedly made similar remarks at a private dinner hosted by Republican billionaire John Catsimatidis — the same dinner where former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani controversially claimed that President Barack Obama “doesn’t love America.”

Scott Walker may be the darling of the Republican Party’s right wing but the more he says, the more he is toast as far as national politics are concerned.


Inside Higher Education Article Praises CUNY’s Accelerated Study in Associate Programs (ASAP)!

Dear Commons Community,

Anthony Rini passed on to me this piece in Inside Higher Education which comments on an evaluation of CUNY’s Accelerated Study in Associate Programs (ASAP).  Anthony did his dissertation a couple of years ago on this program and came to a similar conclusion that is, if you put enough resources and enrich an associate degree program, graduation rates will improve. Here is a summary of the article:

“Fans of Accelerated Study in Associate Programs (ASAP) like its comprehensive approach to dismantling the hurdles low-income students face. And the results are compelling.

Students in the program are almost twice as likely to earn a degree, according to a new study from MDRC, a nonprofit research group. The research found that 40 percent of those students earned an associate degree in three years, easily topping the 22 percent rate of their peers in a control group who completed, and far surpassing typical community college graduation rates.

“The figures are terrific,” said Barbara Bowen, president of the Professional Staff Congress, CUNY’s faculty union. “If you invest more per student, you get a better result.”

So far 8,672 students have enrolled in ASAP, according to CUNY, at 7 of the system’s colleges (see list below). But the new study suggests that the program could be expanded, perhaps even broadly, without getting too expensive.

That might be surprising, given the wide range of supports participating students receive, including free tuition, textbooks and public transportation, as well as regular (and mandatory) access to an adviser with a relatively small caseload.

That all adds up to annual cost of $4,700 per student, on top of the roughly $8,000 CUNY spends each year to educate a full-time student. To help pay for the program, which began in 2007, the city kicked in $35 million.

Yet ASAP is cost-effective, at least per degree produced, which is an increasingly popular way for lawmakers to look at return on investment in higher education.

“The cost per graduate is less because we’re graduating twice as many students,” said Donna Linderman, CUNY’s university dean for student success initiatives.

The total cost to CUNY for a degree earned by a student in the tuition-free program was $105,000, according to MDRC, compared to $118,000 in the control group. The study’s sample included 451 ASAP students and 445 students in the control group.

The expense is dropping, too, as the program expands and up-front spending pays off. ASAP will cost an extra $3,900 per student this year, according to the system.”

Congratulations CUNY and all those involved with ASAP.


Union Members Denounce Scott Walker and Protest Pending Right to Work Legislation in Wisconsin!

Wisconsin Union Right to Work Protest

Dear Commons Community,

Hundreds of union members in hard hats and work boots waved signs under falling snow, denouncing Gov. Scott Walker and his fellow Republican lawmakers outside the Capitol building yesterday. As reported in the New York Times:

“As Mr. Walker builds a presidential run on his effort to take on unions four years ago, he is poised to deliver a second walloping blow to labor. After saying for months that an effort to advance so-called right-to-work legislation would be “a distraction” from dealing with larger issues like the state’s economy and job growth, Mr. Walker is now preparing to sign a measure — being fast-tracked through the Republican-held State Legislature — that would bar unions from requiring workers to pay the equivalent of dues.

The State Senate passed the bill, 17 to 15, mostly along party lines, Wednesday night after about eight hours of debate. As the results were announced and senators left the chamber, protesters chanted “Shame” from the balcony. The State Assembly is expected to take up the measure next week. Where Mr. Walker’s earlier high-profile strike against labor cut collective bargaining rights for most public-sector unions, this one is aimed at workers in the private sector. And where Mr. Walker led the drive in 2011, he has taken a far less publicly forceful role this time, saying only that he will sign a bill. Yet the political effect will be the same, burnishing Mr. Walker’s record as an unafraid foe of Big Labor, who has been able to prevail in a state where Democrats have won presidential elections.”



Students from For-Profit Corinthian College Go on Debt Strike!

Dear Commons Community,

With help from anti-debt activists, the fifteen Corinthian College students are challenging the U.S. Department of Education and Arnie Duncan over lackluster supervision of the chain of for-profit colleges. In refusing to make payments, the group alleges the Department allowed Corinthian to lure students into taking out loans backed by taxpayers that were used to pay a company that lied about the quality of education students would receive.   As reported in The Huffington Post:

“Corinthian, once one of the nation’s largest for-profit college chains with more than 110,000 students, is effectively shutting down under the weight of numerous state and federal probes that allege it cheated students by lying to them about job placement and graduation rates. Though the chain has previously disputed allegations from state and federal authorities that it defrauded students, it recently sold more than 50 campuses under pressure from the U.S. Department of Education, and Canadian authorities last week forced another 14 into bankruptcy.

A contingent of former students, backed by prominent student advocates, the Massachusetts attorney general and more than a dozen Senate Democrats, has demanded the Education Department forgive federal student loans that thousands of people took out to attend Corinthian’s schools. The department has the authority to cancel loans in instances where students demonstrate that schools defrauded them. Lawyers from the Department of Justice have argued that Education Secretary Arne Duncan has “complete discretion” when it comes to canceling loans for all students at a particular institution if he determines it defrauded students, even absent a formal application from individual borrowers…

Experts in higher education have previously assailed the Education Department for its spotty track record in protecting students from unscrupulous colleges. Some have said the department views colleges as its partners, rather than as regulated entities. Others have said the department puts the needs of colleges over those of students.

After a multi-year investigation, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the federal agency charged with protecting borrowers from unscrupulous lenders, accused Corinthian in September of inflating its job placement rates by creating fake companies, defining a “career” as a job that lasted one day with the promise of a second, and by paying employers to temporarily hire its graduates.”

This is a sad state of affairs and one that could have been avoided if the U.S. Department of Education had done more to regulate digital diploma mills such as Corinthian.  Unfortunately, the for-profit college industry has provided substantial sums of money for lobbyists in Washington, D.C. and have a good deal of influence among many of our politicians.


Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel to Face Run-off Election against Teachers Union Backed Candidate Jesus “Chuy” Garcia!

Dear Commons Community,

In yesterday’s Chicago mayoral run-off election, incumbent Rahm Emanuel failed to win a majority of votes and now must run again against the second place vote getter, Jesus Garcia.  As reported in The Huffington Post:

“…Rahm Emanuel won the most votes in Tuesday’s Chicago mayoral election, but he failed to receive the degree of support needed from voters to avoid a runoff election in April.

In his quest for a second term as Chicago mayor, Emanuel won 45 percent of the vote with 97 percent of precincts reporting. Election law states that should the winning candidate in a municipal race fail to win more than 50 percent of the overall vote, he or she must face off with the second-place challenger in a separate runoff election.

That election will take place April 7 between Emanuel and Cook County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, who outperformed recent polling on the race to win 34 percent of the vote Tuesday. The Associated Press confirmed Emanuel is heading to a runoff.

In the 20 years since Chicago’s mayoral elections have consisted of one election potentially followed by a runoff, an incumbent mayor has never before been forced into runoff.

Among the three other candidates, entrepreneur Willie Wilson won 10 percent of the vote, Chicago alderman Bob Fioretti won 7 percent and perennial candidate William “Dock” Walls won roughly 3 percent….

Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis, who had all but declared her candidacy, abruptly withdrew from the race in October 2014 after she was diagnosed with brain cancer.

Lewis later threw her support behind Garcia, who says the fiery labor leader essentially talked him into running.

…Garcia and his fellow challengers had some success painting Emanuel as out of touch with Chicago’s neighborhoods and obsessed instead with the city’s central business district and tourism reputation. Garcia was particularly critical of Emanuel for not hiring 1,000 new city police officers, as he had said he would do during his 2011 campaign. ”

It will be interesting to see how this election plays out.  Good luck Mr. Garcia!



Paul Krugman: Soaring Inequality Isn’t about Education; It’s about Power!

Dear Commons Community,

Paul Krugman destroyed the myth that the economic inequality in this country is tied to our education system. This myth started in 1983 with the deeply-flawed Nation at Risk Report which blamed economic woes on public education. Conservatives and neoliberals then and now have use it as an excuse to impose horrific reforms on public education. Paul Krugman refuted this rationale in his New York Times column yesterday:

“…I’m in favor of better education. Education is a friend of mine. And it should be available and affordable for all. But what I keep seeing is people insisting that educational failings are at the root of still-weak job creation, stagnating wages and rising inequality. This sounds serious and thoughtful. But it’s actually a view very much at odds with the evidence, not to mention a way to hide from the real, unavoidably partisan debate.

The education-centric story of our problems runs like this: We live in a period of unprecedented technological change, and too many American workers lack the skills to cope with that change. This “skills gap” is holding back growth, because businesses can’t find the workers they need. It also feeds inequality, as wages soar for workers with the right skills but stagnate or decline for the less educated. So what we need is more and better education.

My guess is that this sounds familiar — it’s what you hear from the talking heads on Sunday morning TV, in opinion articles from business leaders like Jamie Dimon of JPMorgan Chase, in “framing papers” from the Brookings Institution’s centrist Hamilton Project. It’s repeated so widely that many people probably assume it’s unquestionably true. But it isn’t….there’s no evidence that a skills gap is holding back employment. After all, if businesses were desperate for workers with certain skills, they would presumably be offering premium wages to attract such workers. So where are these fortunate professions? You can find some examples here and there. Interestingly, some of the biggest recent wage gains are for skilled manual labor — sewing machine operators, boilermakers — as some manufacturing production moves back to America. But the notion that highly skilled workers are generally in demand is just false.

Finally, while the education/inequality story may once have seemed plausible, it hasn’t tracked reality for a long time. “The wages of the highest-skilled and highest-paid individuals have continued to increase steadily,” the Hamilton Project says. Actually, the inflation-adjusted earnings of highly educated Americans have gone nowhere since the late 1990s…

…As for wages and salaries, never mind college degrees — all the big gains are going to a tiny group of individuals holding strategic positions in corporate suites or astride the crossroads of finance. Rising inequality isn’t about who has the knowledge; it’s about who has the power.

Now, there’s a lot we could do to redress this inequality of power. We could levy higher taxes on corporations and the wealthy, and invest the proceeds in programs that help working families. We could raise the minimum wage and make it easier for workers to organize. It’s not hard to imagine a truly serious effort to make America less unequal.”

Krugman concludes that our polarized federal government is incapable of solving the real problems of inequality in this country and instead looks for scapegoats like public education.


Daniel Katz Rebuts New York Times Editorial Calling for Congress to Maintain Standardized Testing in NCLB!

Dear Commons Community,

Yesterday’s New York Times editorial praised the results of No Child Left Behind and called on Congress to reauthorize it and to maintain its excessive testing requirements.  Daneil Katz, Director of Secondary Education and Secondary Special Education Teacher Preparation, Seton Hall University, rebuts the Times editorial on several issues but especially on the weakness of the test score argument.  Here is an excerpt:

“Two weeks ago the New York Times published a guest editorial by Chad Aldeman defending keeping annual testing as a part of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) as Congress is debating revisions and renewals to the changes made in the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). I was not especially impressed. Today, the editorial board itself has chimed in with what could have been a carbon copy of Mr. Aldeman’s position. The board implores Congress to maintain annual testing as a key component of federal education law, and, unsurprisingly, I find the arguments less than stellar.

The board covers fairly familiar ground while acknowledging that some aspects of NCLB have been negative, such as the inability of test-based accountability to distinguish between so-called “failing” schools and schools that missed certain accountability targets as measured by tests. The board also acknowledges that testing has expanded to consume too much attention in many states and districts.

However, their recommendation that states “fix this” by “identifying and discarding unnecessary tests and, if necessary, placing explicit limits on how much time can be spent on testing” misses that it is the federal accountability requirements that spawned excessive testing and test preparation in the first place. It is an act of fancy rhetorical footwork to blame states and municipalities for an over focus on standardized testing when federal requirements have incentivized that very focus, first with threats to label schools as failures under NCLB and then with the Obama administration pressuring states to use discredited statistical models to evaluate teachers as part of Race to the Top. The “wave of over-testing that swept this country’s schools during the last decade” is the responsibility of the federal government, and it is up to the federal government to fix it…

The Editorial Board of the Times fails to make any convincing argument that maintaining standardized testing of every child in every grade each year is necessary to address the root problems our education system faces — concentration of poverty and increased segregation in our communities. Do we need annual testing to tell us that poverty in childhood has lifelong consequences in health, education, and economic opportunity? Do we need annual testing to tell us that communities with high concentrations of minority students from impoverished households struggle on test-based measures? Do we need annual testing to tell us that income segregation means that constituencies with political power have no personal stakes in the outcomes for disenfranchised constituencies? Do we need annual testing to tell us that governors and state houses from Albany to Madison have cut state spending for education and maintain patently discriminatory state aid funding formulas?”

I would add that another issue is one of policy overreach by the U.S. Department of Education.  School districts in this country were empowered to fund and to oversee education.  The federal government provides no more than about ten percent of the funding for K-12 education and yet by virtue of No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top has forced states to implement standardized testing, Common Core Curriculum, and teacher evaluation systems.  After more than a decade of these federal policies, it has become painfully clear that they do not work in most school districts.  Furthermore, Washington, D.C., has come to epitomize government dysfunction as driven more by party politics, ideology, and influence peddling than what is good for its citizens.   I join with those parents and educators who would prefer to minimize Washington’s involvement in the lives of children.


Rudy Giuliani Displaces Donald Trump as the Republican Party’s Bloviating Ignoramus!

Rudy Guiliani

Dear Commons Community,

Earlier this week Rudy Giuliani made the TV rounds to talk about the uproar he caused by claiming that President Obama doesn’t love America.  Giuliani did not apologize or explain that he had misspoken. Those of us in New York who have seen Giuliani’s stubbornness  when he was mayor were not surprised by his comments.  What is surprising is that he doesn’t realize he is undermining the early phase of the Republican Party’s presidential nomination process.  Even the New York Daily News which has always been friendly to Giuliani had an editorial yesterday lambasting him and comparing him to Donald Trump’s excesses during the 2012 presidential elections. The editorial commented:

“…in the Daily News online and in Saturday’s paper, investigative reporter Wayne Barrett devastated Giuliani’s assertion that Obama harbors ill will for his nation or his fellow Americans in part because he “wasn’t brought up the way you were brought up and I was brought up.”

Barrett reminded [us] that Giuliani’s father did time in Sing Sing for robbing a milkman and served as enforcer for a loan-sharking operation, that Giuliani secured draft deferments to avoid serving in the Vietnam War and that his father and five uncles avoided service in World War II.

We liked much about Giuliani the mayor. He started winning the war against crime; reformed welfare; … championed immigration and gun control and peerlessly led after 9/11.

That leader is no more. He has gone where no Republican had gone before — into a galaxy beyond Donald Trump…”

As a reminder, it was Washington Post columnist, George Will, who commented in 2012:  “what voter is going to vote for him [Mitt Romney] because he is seen with Donald Trump? The cost of appearing with this bloviating ignoramus is obvious it seems to me.”

It will be interesting to see what Republican potential nominee appears with the new bloviating ignoramus, Rudy Giuliani.   Scott Walker maybe!