Sunday, December 16, 2012

Kerry for Secretary of State??

Comment posted to Telegram Online AP article, Sunday, December 16, 2012:

On foreign policy, Kerry is Obama's good soldier

Sen. Chris Coons, in praising Kerry's performance as Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said: "The role of the chairman ... is ... lots and lots of time listening to folks who've got concerns, whether it's on behalf of the defense community, the business community, the diplomatic community and being the person who's at the intersection of all that and trying to keep the Senate productively engaged..."

This is what we get if Kerry is appointed?  Where in that dynamic are the interests of the American people being represented?  Over and over again, when we've been asked or offered a chance, the people of Massachusetts and America have spoken loud and clear for peace, and for demobilizing and bringing home our troops from the endless wars and occupations our defense, business and diplomatic communities have instigated - but the American people are apparently not represented at the table where such things get decided.  

How about a Secretary of State who is clearly committed to peaceful resolution of disputes and to not engaging in war and the threat of war to promote private interests?  How about, for example, Congressman Dennis Kucinich?  He's available now, thanks to some of the most outrageous gerrymandering ever seen - his new district consisted of mostly someone else's district connected to a piece of his home base in Cleveland by a strip so narrow that in places it consisted of only the Lake Erie beach!

In naming Kucinich, Obama would avoid putting a nominally Democratic Senate seat at risk, and  would signal his intention to actually pursue the policies that he earned a Nobel Peace Prize for making great speeches about.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Hands off the kids - then what?

OK, I get it. 

As teachers we're not allowed to put our hands on the students, or have a personal relationship with them. 

With 20 students a class, 5 classes a day and 4 minutes between classes, I had no time for personal relationships. I had to simply process them through the plan of the day. I was sternly warned never to visit their homes. I was not allowed to bring parents into the classroom because so many would have to be told they couldn't be there because of their arrest records. 

I was of course not allowed to strike a student, but even a reassuring pat on the back - Lord forbid I should comfort a child with a hug - would have put my job and career on the line - and touching is so important for forming deep emotional connections. Being alone with students after hours was strictly forbidden - even sometimes as I discovered when we carefully remained in full public view. 

As for fights, no matter how many times I was warned, I would always put myself between two students who were fighting. In the moment I couldn't let go of my inner conviction that that is what an adult, a man, had a duty to do. Each time I did that I risked my job. 

The students all of course knew that they had us over a barrel. One unsubstantiated accusation of abuse could wreck a career - and I had children of my own depending on my paycheck. 

Furthermore, in Springfield I couldn't pull students out of my class, couldn't send more than one or two a day to the Principal's office because they too were overwhelmed. 

The threat of calling meetings with gave me some power, because parents could lose a day's pay or even their jobs to come in, and they would take out their anger on their kids. But there was only so much of that I could do. 

So what do we do about that? Letting kids run wild doesn't work, and restoring the paddle won't work either. 

If I found myself in the schools again I would approach it as an organizing problem, not as a control issue. 

Mollycoddling the youth?

Answer to my previous post in the T&G Online:

Smertz wrote:

"Criminal and antisocial behvior continues to go unchecked in many of these families. ...  Love and compassion are needed, I agree. But also discipline and accountability. If they continue to get mollycoddled whenever they break the rules, they are not going to improve. ... I am sure the key is stricter rules that are enforced, and now winked at, as they are here."

Mollycoddled?  As you travel round the world, you'll never see police in the school halls or middle school students in adult criminal courts, except for here! With 2 1/4 million people in prison or jail, five million more on probation or parole, we lead the world in depriving people of their freedom.  If it hasn't worked yet, why would more of the same work?

Agreed, we have a duty as adults to teach children to be responsible members of society, and they need our firmness, strength and leadership.  But how do we do that when society itself is breaking down?

We can blame and punish whoever is below us in the pecking order to keep it under control, or we can stand in solidarity with all who are trapped inside this disaster, working together for new solutions and a new deal of the cards.  This goes also for how we work with the children, who are moving beyond our control.  If we choose the path of standing with each other - for example around the demands for no more foreclosures, good jobs for all, the right to a home and a good education - then perhaps we must also stand with our youth.  Yet somehow, as we stand and work with them, we need also to teach them how to be responsible adults.

I honestly don't know how this will work.  We've never been in a moment like this, with such a profound social and economic breakdown - not even during our Revolution or the Great Depression.  But groups like Worcester Roots, Earn a Bike, Toxic Soil Busters and the Youth Center by Foley Stadium are exploring this new way of relating to and working with our youth.  They have something to teach us all.

Violence at North High

Comment to Telegram Online article

North High problems aired at forum; LATEST: ASST. PRINCIPAL SHOVED TO GROUND

I taught at the High School of Commerce in Springfield.  I had what they called the worst of the worst - 9th grade Algebra I Support for kids who were in algebra because the School Board said they had to be, but who shouldn't have been been because they didn't understand arithmetic.  Since I left I'm told the teachers have lost control of the halls, and the school is failing as a place to learn.

My students were actually very sharp.  They were so fed up with the b.s., and were hungry for something that made sense.  They showed up in high school hoping this time would be different, this time they would get the break they needed.  But there was so much else wrong in their lives: chaos at home, the shame of poverty and even fear of death.  And always hanging over them was dread of getting pushed out into a world that had no use for them, no jobs that pay enough to build a life on.

Today it's worse; half the kids who don't go on to college - and many that do - aren't finding *any* job!

But face it, when are you ever going to need the algebra we're force feeding these kids, unless it's prove you're smart enough for college?  It doesn't even teach thinking skills, just memorizing a bunch of made-up rules.  The "trouble-makers" kept challenging me with the questions we should all be asking: how does this make any sense?  So the schools brand them as stupid, failures, and some here call them animals, sub-human, deserving only to spend their lives in prisons and jails.

My students' parents, every one I met, wanted the best for them.  But they too were struggling with all the problems of a society and economy that's breaking down and failing - too much work or not enough, broken homes, a broken social safety net - and crippled by arrest records. (Over half the adults in Mass. have one!)

Hard to deal with as these "tough kids" may be, we need to listen to them, work with them, never forget the "love" part of tough love - and admit that they too are our future!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Dear Occupy Worcester...

OK, so let's talk about the purpose and context of the Occupy movement.

There was a great outpouring of public rage at Wall Street following the bailouts, but nothing much changed, no fundamental causes were addressed, no one was held accountable as t
he economy collapsed and failed to recover in any meaningful way while the billionaires continued to profit. The foreclosure crisis and the ballooning student debt created a mood of anger and rebellion directed at the banks and the wealthy. People, inspired by the Arab Spring uprisings and frustrated by the inability of the old-line movements to organize a response, took these grievances to the street. The potential for a mass rebellion was in the air, but that mass rebellion didn't happen. 

Now OW is the local heir to this moment of expectation, however disappointing the outcome may seem. And the need for such a movement is about to become wildly apparent.

The Arab Spring is a shambles, but the crises that fueled it and fueled Occupy continue to build as the US and world economies slumber toward the next stage of the Great Debacle. Congress is about to come home from the Fiscal Cliff circus in Washington with a Very Bad Deal. (But people will remember who offered to lead them in the struggle to prevent this!) The economies of Europe, Britain, China and Russia are already going back into recession. The $640 trillion derivatives market, a vast Ponzi scheme, is teetering on the brink, and the world flight from the dollar is already beginning. 

Everyone who is still holding their breath hoping that things have at least stabilized is about to get a massive jolt of reality.

Among other things, tens of millions of people, young and old, who borrowed to stay or go back to school are about to find themselves without further financing for school and without jobs to pay their new debts. The foreclosure crisis, which has receded like the ocean from a beach before a tsunami, is building up toward a massive new assault by the banks on people's homes. Millions thrown out of work will find themselves not eligible for even minimal unemployment benefits. 

The food security net, already stretched to the limit and probably further cut by Congress next week, will be unable to cope, and actual hunger will stalk the land. 

The Occupy movement has earned its place as a brand name, looked upon with hope by millions. Remember the steady stream of regular people who stopped at the encampments to find out what was going on? When public outrage starts to spike again, OW has the potential to give it some urgently-needed leadership, direction and focus. What would that look like? I don't know. But it's worth talking and thinking about, preparing for and sowing the ground for.

One thing it would look like is the ability to take on and keep commitments to, for example, show up at a meeting no matter how we feel when the moment comes.

Are the people who still identify with OW the ones who can take on this great historic challenge? Are you? Are we?

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Youth unemployment disaster

In response to article in GoLocal Worcester by Adam Drici,

The job situation for young adults and teens in Worcester is indeed very serious. We don't know what the real unemployment rate is, but it could be quite high - because the official U-3 unemployment rate doesn't count anyone with any sort of job, even a few hours a week work on a family business, and especially because it doesn't count anyone who has never held a job!

The article quite rightly points to the problem of older workers taking the "starter jobs" that would go to teens and young adults. Older workers are getting hammered. Men and women with 30-year careers behind them are having to take whatever they can find to survive. And that's not a figure of speech. That is literally what is at stake for them. And teens who outgrow their family homes and need to go stay on someone else's couch - that couch is already taken by an unemployed aunt or uncle!

It isn't just about finding a way to earn income. Starter jobs are where youth learn how to be a worker - how to show up on time every day, how to take direction and respect the authority of a supervisor, how to do tasks impeccably and maintain a cheerful attitude no matter how you feel inside and more. Say what you will about MacDonalds, it's a place where you can learn these skills. And they are real skills and take a lot of learning. For far too many youth there is no place to go now to learn them! And as the workplace standards we used to have continue to degenerate, a growing climate of hostility and suspicion is poisoning even this well. (Hopefully this will be offset by what for young folk will be a new tradition of solidarity as workers self-organize in the fast food industry and workplaces like WalMart.)

Drici's article has uncovered some wonderful programs. The Worcester Unemployment Action Group (WUAG)is an active participant in the Community Labor Coalition and has shown up for Worcester SAGE Alliance and Worcester Roots events and applauds their efforts. And the workshops at Workforce Central have much to offer. But this unemployment catastrophe is outgrowing the model of a program with a paid staff. A political effort is called for, one that can bring thousands out for political rallies and events and to pressure the politicians and corporations, one that can grow exponentially, unconstrained by available funding.

WUAG invites unemployed youth to join with us in the effort over the coming weeks to defend the social safety net they and their families need to survive the hard times, which are the target of the Fiscal Cliff circus the politicians have set up. And we invite youth to join with us in building an irresistible demand for a major jobs program like the WPA and a public commitment and program for full employment for all, like the Humphrey Hawkins Full Employment and Training Act that Congressman McGovern is co-sponsoring.

Perhaps the time is right now also for a broad youth conference on unemployment.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Warren's post-election campaign

Susan77 wrote "Someone needs to tell her and Obama the election is over - they can stop campaigning. Act like grownups and get to work in Washington ..." 

Actually that's a major part of what is wrong with Congress. I'd fault the Dems for this as much as the Republicans. Real politics only usually happens in this country during election season. People come together and organize to elect a candidate, but the organization is there for the candidate. The donor, voter and activist lists belong to the candidate, and win or lose they get put away in a file cabinet until the next election season. 

We need Senators who will support people in organizing and staying organized around our issues, who will encourage us to keep holding them accountable, and who keep coming back from Washington to get out to our meetings and events, to hear us out, tell us what they've learned and rally us to put more pressure on. A politics that doesn't belong to the candidate or even to the party, and that never stops. 

No matter who we elect, anything else soon becomes one flavor or another of business as usual. 

I thought Warren's speech yesterday was very encouraging from that perspective. She's making herself super available, and coming to the people for give and take of ideas. I hope she keeps it up. 

As for calling her a Marxist, just what does that mean? She bluntly said that the wealthy are going to have to pay up. A good majority of the American people agree with her - are they all Marxists? The billionaires, great banks and corporations are sitting on trillions of dollars and are just speculating with them, when we clearly need that money to be spent on putting people back to work. Efforts to bribe them into investing it productively haven't worked. These are just facts, and calling people names for saying so doesn't change them.

I hope that some of the folks on this list will give Senator Warren the benefit of the doubt for a while and watch with an open mind.