Archives for February 2011

Teachers (and the government) under attack

This is insane. Not sure how the city intends to keep on running its schools, except through an environment of fear and loathing. The Providence, RI School Board just voted 4-3 to send dismissal letters to all its teachers.

Yep, every last 1,926 of them.

Despite the fact that “more than 700 teachers jammed a high school gymnasium to tell school officials that their hearts were broken, their trust violated and their futures as teachers jeopardized,” every single teacher received a letter informing them that they might be terminated at the end of the school year.

Speaker after speaker demanded to know why they were being fired. Didn’t the teachers union sign on to the federal Race to the Top initiative? Hasn’t the union collaborated with Supt. Tom Brady on new curricula? Isn’t the union working with the Rhode Island Federation of Teachers on a new teacher evaluation?

“I’m feeling disrespected, devalued and marginalized,” said Ed Gorden. “Termination is a career-ender. You are putting a scarlet letter on every one of us.”

I don’t know the local politics involved here. I can only surmise that the Democratic mayor would pull a stunt like this because he feels emboldened by the full frontal attack on teachers that high profile Republicans like governors Chris Christie and Scott Walker are leading. And the fact that he can now ignore seniority and fire the teachers who cost the most. But it sets a terrible precedent, one that is damaging to the profession of teaching, and one that incredibly demoralizes teachers who already don’t feel as though they get enough support in the classroom.

I don’t doubt that severe budgetary problems are also a big part of Mayor Taveras’ calculations, but if you look at how Republicans are cutting the federal budget, and what proportion of the cuts are to state and local grants, one can’t help but feel like it’s a deliberate, calculated effort to starve the beast. It’s not just an attempt to control the teachers’ unions but rather a concerted effort to push the new “budget fundamentalism” by cutting government down despite the devastating impact that it might have on the economy (says none other than Goldman Sachs.) This sentiment is perfectly encapsulated in conservative poobah Grover Norquist‘s oft-quoted line, “I don’t want to abolish government. I simply want to reduce it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub.”

And the GOP is doing this at not just the federal level but also the state level. Look at the must-read NYTimes Magazine profile of Chris Christie:

The centerpiece of Christie’s frenzied agenda, which passed the Democratic-­controlled Legislature last July, is a strict cap on local property taxes, which will be allowed to rise no more than 2 percent every year. When combined with a reduction in state aid, what this means, practically speaking, is that New Jersey’s townships and cities will have to hold the line when negotiating municipal labor contracts if they want to remain solvent, because they can’t rely on either their residents or the state for more money.

Or for another perspective, let’s look to Howard Fineman’s analysis of the political math in Wisconsin:

For all of the valid concern about reining in state spending — a concern shared by politicians and voters of all labels — the underlying strategic Wisconsin story is this: Gov. Scott Walker, a Tea Party-tinged Republican, is the advance guard of a new GOP push to dismantle public-sector unions as an electoral force.

Last fall, GOP operatives hoped and expected to take away as many as 20 governorships from the Democrats. They ended up nabbing 12.

What happened? Well, according to postgame analysis by GOP strategists and Gov. Haley Barbour of Mississippi — who chaired the Republican Governors Association in 2010 — the power and money of public-employee unions was the reason.

“We are never going to win most of these states until we can do something about those unions,” one key operative said at a Washington dinner in November.

It’s about attacking public sector workers such as teachers, nurses, and firefighters and their right to form unions and bargain collectively. It’s about attacking the unions that represent them, bur more than that, it’s about shrinking the size of government and using those monies to privatize jobs and essential services. Think vouchers for everything – schools, private security forces that only answer to some to replace police precincts that cover everyone, Enron-like deregulated public utilities that jerk energy prices according to whim. That’s the endgame. That, and good middle class jobs are what’s at stake.


Journalist points out flaws w/ US citizenship test

Canadian American journalist Dafna Linzer has some good points to make on errors and oversimplifications with the United States citizenship test in “How I Passed My U.S. Citizenship Test: By Keeping the Right Answers to Myself.”

Now, most of us wouldn’t consider the Vice President to be a member of the President’s Cabinet (which consists of appointees to head branches of the executive government versus the elected Veep.) But, question 36 considers “vice president” an accurate answer.

How would you do if you had to take the citizenship test? Read this entertaining article for a skeptical look at some of the questions involved. Not to mention the fact that this reporter, born in 1970, gets asked if she was involved with the Nazi party between 1933 and 1945. (It’s part o the verbatim questioning.) And for those of us who happened to be born into US citizenship, let’s thank our lucky stars that we don’t have to run the bureaucratic gamut to gain citizenship here.


Freedom for Libya

How many more days will Libya’s dictator Moammar Qaddafi hold onto power?  While insurgents have taken over cities throughout the country, Qaddafi has bombed his own people and unleashed his thugs to intimidate anyone from speaking out.

Beyond evacuating American citizens from the Libyan capital of Tripoli, President Obama needs to mobilize the international community to do what it takes to help Libyans gain freedom.

— Gautam Dutta

First APA Chicago Alderman Elected

Ameya Pawar, a Chicago-born Indian American, won an open seat as Alderman in Ward 47 today to become the first Asian Pacific American (APA) elected to the Chicago City Council.  Mr. Pawar is an emergency response specialist who works in the Office of Emergency Management at Northwestern University, and also is enrolled as a Social Service Administration graduate student in the University of Chicago.

The Asian American Action Fund of Greater Chicago, the local affiliate of the national AAA-Fund PAC based in Washington, endorsed Mr. Pawar, along with Rahm Emanuel, the winning Mayoral candidate.  “We are extremely proud of Ameya, and look forward to working with him as he serves his Ward 47 constituents and the Chicago area Asian Pacific American community,” said Lawrence Benito, AAAF-GC President.  “We also congratulate Mayor-elect Emanuel, and look forward to working with him to assure that APAs are represented in his new administration.”

The 47th ward, located on Chicago’s North Side, does not have a significant APA population and Pawar was not favored to win. The incumbent retired, AAAF-GC endorsed him, and the Indian American community rallied behind him, however, so it was an open seat with an opening for a young, motivated insurgent candidate.

By Election Day, Mr. Pawar had the momentum with fundraising and endorsements because of what many consider an excellent grassroots campaign.  Significantly, he ran a campaign committed to transparency and political reform, not politics as usual.  See his website for details.

In Chicago, APAs make up nearly five percent of the total population. Although there are several APAs in elective office on the local level in several cities surrounding the Chicago area, there still are no APA elected officials in the City of Chicago or on the State and Federal levels. 

More than one in four Chicagoans is an immigrant or the child of an immigrant, and the percentage is even higher among APAs. “Chicago is a world-class city because immigrants built it from the ground up,” said Selma D’Souza, AAAF-GC Board member and longtime political activist.  “The APA community and other immigrant communities look forward to working with Mr. Emanuel to strengthen Chicago and embrace the contributions of immigrants.”

The mission of AAAF-GC is to encourage APA Democrats to participate in the political process and to empower the APA community so that we can address the under-representation of APAs in the political life of the Greater Chicago area. The AAAF-GC also supports non-APA candidates who are supportive on issues of concern to the APA community. The Asian American Action Fund achieves its goals by identifying qualified Democratic candidates, providing them with financial and technical assistance, and building a local network of activists, funders, and supporters. To learn more about the AAAF-GC, visit our website.

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