Friday, December 31, 2010

Hubris, or Just Plain Stupidity?

UC Berkeley Law Dean Christopher Edley, one of the 36 highest paid UC executives who threatened to sue UC if they didn’t pay out increased retirement benefits, was quoted today in the SF Chronicle saying that UC had to stick to its promise because it was financially important to his family.

It is understandable that one would try to appeal to the sympathy and understanding of the masses, especially if one was truly suffering. But it’s just plain stupid to think that the masses have any sympathy and understanding for another greedy rich guy (or even his family). Who cares if he has to retire on a paltry $180,000 per year instead of $300,000? In any case, who really believes that his pension is the only thing between his him and the poor house? What about all his property and investments?

What about the other promises that UC broke, like their promise to keep university costs affordable to working Californians, a promise broken in order to pay for increased executive pay?

Top Twenty Toddler Treats for 2010

1.       Potty Training Complete! By two he was using the potty regularly. Now he is three and virtually accident-free. No more dirty diapers! (Bonus: that’s $65/month we no longer have to pay to the diaper service).
2.       Toddler Logic: “Where are your pants?” I asked my boy today. “I had to take them off to play baseball, Daddy.” While the logic was classic toddler, which is to say virtually lacking, he was telling the truth: he was indeed practicing tee-ball in his room.
3.       Monsters: Monsters have been the rage for the past year. When he wants the car heater or stereo off, he tells me to turn them off, or monsters will get me. He told me he wanted to tie up a tree with his rope, to protect it from monsters. When I ask what he dreamed last night, it’s usually good monsters or blue kitties. Blue kitties? Monsters? What’s the connection, you ask? My wife and I were equally perplexed until we watched Monsters Inc. with him one evening, a movie he saw often at daycare. The protagonist is a blue monster named Sully who is adopted by a little girl who calls him “Kitty.”
4.       Hugging: My boy insists on hugging everyone before leaving daycare each day, sometimes two or three times, and sometimes with such gusto that they all tumble into a giggling heap on the floor.
5.       Playing Rocket Ship: He lays belly down across my feet, as I lay on my back with my knees bent. “Ready, Daddy? O.K. Five-Four-Three-Two-One-Blast Off. [Rocket noises].” At this point I launch him up toward the ceiling by straightening my legs and fly him around for as long as I can stand it, all the while humming “Ride of the Valkyries.”
6.       Playing Hole: I lay on my back, one knee bent, the other leg crossed over it, forming a tiny hole through which my boy loves to crawl. “Make it smaller, Daddy.” He loves to squeeze through the tightest hole possible, perhaps reliving the birthing experience? (Note: works best with sleek nylon sweatpants).
7.       Junk House: We keep a loveseat in the corner of our living room, behind which we store a few odds and ends. My boy loves to get behind there and build forts with all the junk we store there. Hence, he started calling the forts his “Junk House.”
8.       Seafood: He’s a relatively brave eater, for a toddler. While his favorite foods include hotdogs, berries, carrots, noodles and rice, he also enjoys clams and crabs. Today we purchased crabs from a boat in Half Moon Bay and he insisted on lugging the bag all the way back to the car, with the beasts flailing and clacking their claws the whole time. There’s nothing cuter than watching him sucking on crabs legs (or gnawing on a lamb chop bone).
9.       Backyard Foraging: We are one of the incredibly lucky five or six families in San Francisco that actually have a yard, let alone one well-suited to farming. While the clay and slugs (and my aversion to pesticides) limit what we can grow, we actually do quite well, especially in the eyes of my son, who enjoys nothing more than foraging in our garden and eating right off the plant various treats like corn on the cob, which he shucks himself, blackberries, sweet peas and beans.
10.   Super Mole: This is his own creation, an alter ego super hero that lives in caves (generally tents we build for him out of pillows and blankets). “Daddy, say ‘Help me, Help me.” I do, and he comes running, screaming ”Super Mole, to the rescue!”
11.   Reverse Timeouts: When my son needs some quiet, private time with Daddy, he says, “Daddy, you need a timeout,” and then leads me to his room, closes the door, and we read and play games. One of the favorite timeout games is playing doctor (see below).
12.   Playing Doctor: “Daddy, I’ll fix you now.” He takes out his toy saw and starts sawing my leg. He gets out his electric toy drill and starts drilling my navel. He uses his pliers and wrench to pinch and twist my arms and legs, and then makes me feel all better with a bandage (usually an old rag or security blanket) and a kiss.
13.   Toddler Humor: If you ask, he will tell you his full name, his mommy’s full name, and those of his aunts and uncles. But when you ask him my name, it’s always “Uncle David.”
14.   More Toddler Logic: “Cars are dangerous, Daddy. Cars are really, really powerful. I’m more powerful than a car, Daddy.”
15.   Toddler Empathy: Around thanksgiving time we were talking about turkeys. I explained how I used to live in a house in Berkeley, with a big yard, with chickens and turkeys, and that when I tended my vegetable garden, the turkey would sit down next to me and eat the snails and slugs I tossed to it. The bird was terribly affectionate and loved to have its scaly, carbuncled neck stroked. “What happened to it, Daddy?” After explaining to my boy what happens to turkeys in Berkeley, he said, “That’s o.k., daddy. I’ll get you a new one.”
16.   More Toddler Empathy: The other day I was cooking and cut myself, ”Ow!” I shouted. “What’s wrong, Daddy?” I showed him my bleeding finger and explained what happened. “It’s o.k., Daddy. You just need a bandaid,” and he led me to the bathroom and helped me put one on.
17.   Swimming: He is fearless in the water, dog-paddling across the width the pool on his own, without any cajoling or begging by the instructor. Within a few weeks of starting his lessons, he figured out how to keep his mouth shut under water (pretty much the only time it is).
18.   More Toddler Humor: A favorite game involves pretending to twist off my nose and then chucking it across the room, or placing it into his mouth and joyously chewing it up. Then come the ears, lips and occasionally the eyeballs.
19.   Toddler Mischief: “I’m going to my room for some private time. You stay out here, Daddy,” which is to say, “I’m off to be naughty. You stay out here, so I won’t get caught.”
20.   Giants Fever: I’m not a big baseball fan. However, by playoff time I had caught Giants fever like many of my fellow fair-weather Friscans. Obviously, sleep was out of the question with all the blaring horns, screaming hordes, vuvuzelas and fireworks outside our house. So I brought my boy out to the living room (we’re on the second floor) and we hung our heads out the window and for a half an hour screamed at the top of our lungs, “Gi-ants! Gi-ants! Gi-ants!” much to the amusement of the drunken passersby. Once calm returned to our neighborhood I asked my son, “What’s a Giant?” He replied, “Oh, you know, Daddy, he’s one of those really, really bad guys.” (As in fairytale giants).

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Losing the Right to Strike in Illinois

The billionaire boys club, headed by Bill Gates and Eli Broad, is at it again. They blamed the schools for failing our students. They attacked teachers and unions, too. The unions fought back, albeit, in a mostly impotent war of words. Nevertheless, they are still seen as a meddlesome impediment by the billionaires in their lustful grab for the $600 billion spent annually on public education.

In order to smooth out this speed bump, the billionaires have enlisted lawmakers in Illinois to fast track legislation called The Performance Counts act, which will ban the use of the strike by teachers and make it easier to fire them. Legislators predict they will be able to pass the law by early January, 2011. The legislators supporting the bill have been receiving large contributions, in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, from a front group called Stand For Children (SFC), which is funded primarily by Bill Gates.

While STC grew out of The Children’s Defense Fund and initially had the support of some Oregon teachers and other progressives, they are staunchly anti-union. Geoffrey Canada was their initial board chair. They have been active in six other states, trying to limit tenure protections and implement performance pay schemes.

If ever there was a reason to strike, it would be now, preemptively, to let the state know that teachers are organized, angry, and unwilling to accept any further attacks on their rights and working conditions. However, Chicago Teachers Union President, Karen Lewis, has said that a strike is off the table, so long as the school board honors their contract.

One Step Backward, Two More Steps Backward
Prior to the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), 1934, unions did not have the right to strike, making all job actions wildcat. The NLRA was passed after a wave of militant and successful strikes during the great depression. NLRA legitimized unions, but also set strict rules for their behavior, setting the tone for their increasing bureaucratization and collaborationist tactics.

In two weeks, Illinois teachers may find themselves working under labor conditions much like the pre-NLRA days, with local school boards acting with greater impunity and arrogance in cutting pay, benefits and job rights. Teachers will find themselves having to take wildcat actions in order to defend their rights and those of their students. However, the union bosses will continue to act as if we are in the post-NLRA era, playing by the rules, trying to appear “reasonable” and “professional,” and increasing their level of collaboration.

CTA Supports Education Cuts

Parents, teachers, students, brace yourselves for more education cuts. 

Budget Cuts by byronv2
California has already sliced $21 billion from education over the past 3 years. "I can't promise there won't be more cuts, because there will be," said Governor-elect Jerry Brown, speaking recently to a group of educators and union officials. These cuts will be made to try to close a $28 billion state budget deficit, and do not include an additional $2 billion that schools will lose due to declining prop 98 revenues.

“We oppose further cuts,” said Mike Myslinski, a spokesperson for the California Teachers Association, the state’s largest teachers union, representing 325,000 members. 

CTA Opposes Further Cuts? Yeh, right.
CTA has “opposed” all sorts of terrible policies, budgets and legislation in the past, including NCLB, Common Core Standards and Race to the Top (RTTT). They oppose with their words, occasionally with advertisements, and sometimes through newsletters and phone calls to their members, and very rarely through a mass protest in Sacramento, all the while collaborating with law makers to implement these same policies and budgets, albeit, in a form they think will do the least harm.

This is not opposition. It is spectacle. It is part of the expected and acceptable behavior in the game. The ruling elite make their decision and promote it through bogus science, sympathetic pundits and respected community leaders. Opposition groups, especially the unions, cry foul, demand that they back down, perhaps pump some money into the campaigns of opposition politicians, and then walk away when they lose.

Huck/Konopacki Labor Cartoons
The union bureaucrats are far more concerned with appearing “reasonable,” and maintaining a seat at the table, than they are with defending the interests of their members or communities. They start with the same assumptions and biases of the ruling elite, in this case, that the budget deficit must be closed on the backs of children, families and working folks; that the rich should be allowed to pilfer from the rest of us, not only by cutting jobs and paying low wages, but through tax cuts and loopholes that worsen the deficit. They buy into the deception that “We all must tighten our belts,” an Orwellian phrase that actually means “Everyone but the rich must suffer more, so the rich can maintain or increase their wealth.”

Direct Action Gets the Goods
Real opposition requires mass action that causes pain or discomfort to the bosses (corporate or political). The goal is to make life so unbearable for them that they back down and accept our demands. The principle is simple and straight forward, so simple that it is shocking that we don’t do it regularly, like they do in France. Consider that we are in the overwhelming majority. We have all the power, yet we choose not to use it. Even if only 25% of us withhold our labor, the economy would come to a stop, costing the bosses billions of dollars in profits.

Some might argue that the French workers lost; their pensions were cut despite their walk-out. This is true, they did lose a battle. However, the fact that they were able to get so many workers and students out into the streets so quickly, for so long, and despite the efforts of their union bosses to quash their action, sent a powerful message to the ruling elite and to their union bosses that they are organized and willing and able to take action whenever they feel it is necessary. This reduces the chances that the bosses will try again soon to impose further austerity measures.

Certainly strikes and other forms of direct action are risky and difficult. By undertaking such action, we risk losing income or even our jobs. We risk arrest and occasionally even being assaulted or jailed. The way to minimize these risks is to have strong unity or solidarity: everyone needs to take part. This may seem unlikely for some workplaces where workers are scared or have identified with the boss’ needs and objectives. The solution to this is to be very organized. Those who understand and accept the need to be organized must meet with colleagues one on one, get to know them well, learn to understand their fears and concerns, not just about job actions, but about the job, in general. Commiserate with them. Build trust. Help them get small needs met. Be a friend and an advocate. Eventually, it will be safe to start agitating, to move from commiserating about grievances toward discussions about fighting the grievances.

For teachers, nurses and others in the “caring” fields, walking off the job may feel like a callous and unacceptable abandonment of our clientele. Yet not doing so means allowing our working conditions to be further degraded, with the consequence of deteriorating services for our clientele. They lose either way, so why not take the risk and fight for better conditions that benefit us and them? Indeed, many teachers unions have taken this stance in past, striking often during contract negotiations, to ensure a fair contract that benefited teachers and students.

Real Opposition Requires a General Strike
If the CTA really opposes further education cuts, they need to massively invest time and resources into organizing their members and building solidarity with other unions, all in preparation for mass, on-going job actions throughout the state. These actions could be work stoppages, work to rule, sit down strikes, or other forms of direct action, but to be effective they must cause the system to shut down for an extended period of time.

The network for this has already been created, with dozens of other education organizations paving the way last year (see list below). March 2011 has been declared National Month of Actions to Defend Public Education, and would be an appropriate time to take such actions (assuming we had already been organizing for it).
·         Support Public Schools

Unfortunately, because the organizing has not been done, what we will most likely see is more safe and sanctioned (and fruitless) mass protests, like k-12 teachers spending a half-day in front of the capital waving picket signs (with the support of their administrators) and college students protesting peacefully at CSU and UC campuses, along with a few isolated examples of angry college students occupying campus buildings and lighting barricades on fire.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

UC Student Faces Assault on Officer Charges

Peter Howell, the UC Merced undergrad facing a felony count for the Regents’ meeting, had his arraignment today around 10:45 am.  Brought out in orange scrubs and cuffs, Howell’s lawyer asked that the felony charge be reduced to a misdemeanor given that the prosecution’s case is so weak and that there is video evidence demonstrating that Howell never touched the weapon.  The prosecutor attempted to defend the position that he grabbed Kemper’s baton, but the reasoning was incoherent.  Here’s Howell on the scuffle:
“I put my hands on my chest and backpedaled,” Howell said in the interview. “I was trying to get away. (Officer Kemper) shoved through me, and he may have lost control of his baton. You can hear it rattle on the ground in a video. At no point did I strike him on the head, so I believe that statement was false.”

The read the rest of the article, please visit 

UC Student Faces Serious Charges Still

Close the Budget Gap--Abolish High School Exit Exam (and NCLB and CCS)

Stephen Krashin may not be able to close the entire $28 billion California budget deficit, but his suggestion that we do away with CAHSEE is an excellent start. You can read his complete editorial to SF Examiner by clicking on the link. I’ve included an excerpt below:

“Here’s how we can save another half-billion: Eliminate the high school exit examination. Analyst Jo Ann Behm has estimated that the combined state and local costs of California’s test exceed $500 million per year.The most recent review of research on exit exams, done by researchers at the University of Texas, concluded that high school exit exams do not lead to more college attendance, increased student learning or higher employment. In fact, researchers have yet to discover any benefits of having a high school exit exam.”

Here Are Some Other Quick Fixes for California's Budget Woes:

Executive Hubris or Business as Usual?

Image by Beau B
Thirty-six of the University of California’s highest paid executives are demanding tens of millions of dollars in increased retirement benefits, at a time when they are raising tuition and cutting benefits for their lowest paid employees, and they are threatening to sue UC if they refuse to go along.

UC bosses presently only earn retirement benefits on salaries up to $245,000. Those earning more than this want all of it covered, which could raise their benefits to over $300,000 per year. This poses a problem for the UC system, which is trying to cut a $21 billion pension obligation by reducing benefits. If the top bosses’ demands are met, it would add an additional $5.5 million per year to pension costs, plus $51 million in retroactive benefits, while their legal challenge could cost the university millions more.

Moral Obligation to Pay Executives Bloated Retirement Benefits
“We believe it is the University’s legal, ethical and moral obligation” to increase the benefits, they argued in a letter to the regents. In 1999, the regents agreed to lift the cap, but never implemented the policy due to financial difficulties. The top bosses also argued that they signed on with UC in good faith because of the promised increase in benefits, when they could have chosen to work elsewhere. However, the same could be said for custodians and gardeners, who are being threatened with large cuts in retirement benefits, as well as teachers and researchers, many of whom also chose UC over other potential employers because of promised benefits packages that are now being stripped away. And what about students who chose UC and made financial plans accordingly, only to have those plans undermined by unpredictable tuition hikes? (Tuition is now $11,000 per year, compared with $3429 in 2000, while it was only $1200 back in the 1980s).

Apparently, salaries over $400,000 are insufficient for these spendthrifts to survive in California, as they were also receiving additional compensation in the form of secret bonuses and perks. It is hypocritical to accuse the regents of being unethical for reneging on a promise to raise the pension cap, while they were beneficiaries of illegal and corrupts payment schemes.

Hubris, or Business as Usual?
While it may seem the epitome of hubris for wealthy executives to demand retirement benefits worth 5-10 times what most of us earn when actually working full-time, and then call it a moral obligation, it is actually just business as usual. Wall Street bankers and investors demanded government bail-outs and then paid themselves big bonuses. Corporations and rich individuals demanded tax breaks for themselves, while crying for cuts to Medicare, social security and education. Why should UC executives be denied a similar trip to the trough?

Morality, ethics and legality are simply tools that are effectively exploited by bosses to achieve their objectives. What is moral for them is what is right, even if it results in unmoral consequences for their underlings. What is ethical and legal for them now, is what is valid, regardless of past (or present, but as yet undisclosed) unethical or illegal behavior. They are the ones who define what is moral, ethical and legal, and therefore the ones who benefit most from them. And when their moral and ethical arguments fail to persuade, they resort to extortion, as they are presently doing, by threatening expensive legal challenges that UC cannot afford to resist.