November 18, 2019

Last week the elected leadership of that 34,000-member union voted 80% to endorse Sanders — “capping the most comprehensive member engagement process that UTLA has ever conducted for a political candidate.”  (Wow.)

“Thursday’s House vote followed a six-week discussion at school sites.”  (They do that over there?)

"More than 500 elected site representatives voted 72.5% yes to the presidential endorsement” of Sanders at nine regional meetings.  (Starting to get angry.)

The quotes are from the union’s website, which includes this from their president, Alex Caputo-Pearl:

“Why now, and why Bernie? Because we want him to win in the primary election and because we need an unapologetic, longstanding ally of progressive policies to make public education a priority in the White House. Sanders is the first viable major candidate in 25 years in the Democratic Party to stand up against privatization, the charter billionaires, and high-stakes testing and to stand up for a massive redistribution of wealth to schools and social services. Critically, like UTLA, Sen. Sanders believes in building a national movement for real, lasting change.”

Now, that’s an endorsement. 

The deal breaker over here is that bit about Sanders being a “longstanding ally of progressive policies,” because our leadership, alongside its decision to never ever poll the rank and file on endorsements, isn’t interested in progressivism. They may borrow the terminology from time to time to gain some points with us lefties, but not much really translates into the kinds policies we’d favor. I mean, the UFT still has its own charter school and boasts of its “organizing efforts of NYC’s charter educators through the UFT Alliance of Charter Teachers and Staff.” Condoning the charter movement’s direct threat to public education doesn’t seem progressive to me. More like accommodation.

Keep these endorsements coming, Bernie. Maybe you'll find some needles here in the NYC unions that can be moved.

PS:  There are more details on the about this endorsement (timeline, links to commentary elsewhere, the Nurses endorsement) over at Ednotes.

November 17, 2019

Weingarten's playbook: old or new?

I really enjoyed Randi Weingarten’s speech yesterday at CUNY’s School of Labor and Urban Studies, her central points being:
Unions have lost their power.
Get it back through DENSITY, COMMUNITY, and NARRATIVE.
Turn values into actions.
The strategy is to organize. Catch phrase: “Community is the new Density.”
Slogan: “Organize, don’t agonize.”
And the blue AFT bookmarks they were handing out mirrored the messaging, especially in the second paragraph: “We live in a perilous era of extreme economic inequality, existential threats to our democracy ... opponents aren’t going away ... we are the change agents ... the dreamers and the fighters for a better life, a better world and the soul of America ....”

Hold on.

The whole speech was beginning to sound like the old ICE meetings, when we were hammering out our strong social justice position for the 2010 UFT election.

You can still read the platform on the web.

The “Introduction” alone precedes her remarks by about a decade, so of course I have to re-post a chunk of it here. DOWN BELOW. Am still proud of the work ICE did then and very glad Weingarten’s furthering our fundamental caucus messaging.

By the way, I've included the 3rd- and 5th-paragraph attacks on the UFT’s collaboration in the excerpt below because one can never be sure that the progressive words we heard from Weingarten yesterday represent the actions she’ll actually be taking. They haven’t tended to in the past. After all, leadership’s had a hand in continued class size issues, the whole ATR situation in general, arbitration concessions, a despicable tolerance for rubber room and 3020-a procedures, unremovable grievances, that kind of thing.

I was going to end this post by saying I am pleased with what I heard yesterday from the AFT prez, but then checked back in my archives and found to my dismay she did more of the same progressive-speak in 2009 pushing her new ACES plan: “Active Communities Enabling Success.” wrote extensively about that fluffery in a post called ACES sounds like ICE,” and this morning tried to find out how long she stuck with that plan. A google search produced the message “PAGE NOT FOUND.”

Seems like it was a hat-tip to progressivism then, and this whole production that we witnessed yesterday — though energetic, clever and seductive — may still be just from the same old play book. But she must be getting better at it. I felt happy when I left the meeting.

But, then we have to come back to what my old ICE buddy’s been saying for years (e.g., EdNotes 2006, 2013, 2015) — “Watch what they do, not what they say.”

A chunk of the ICE platform Introduction ...

We believed then and continue to believe now that we cannot afford to be silent on the issues that affect our working conditions, in many cases our jobs, and the future prospects of the children we educate.

In these difficult times for unionism across the nation, and with union officials failing the members politically, contractually, and philosophically against a dictatorial mayor [=Trump admin]
they continue to back under the present system of mayoral control, we have chosen once again to offer an alternative platform for the 2010 elections.

While we stand with the members of the three other caucuses against outside attacks, the Weingarten/Unity team has weakened the union. Furthering an almost 50-year record of autocratic control, it continues to stifle dissent. More than this, Unity is tirelessly committed to its failed policy of collaboration — with government officials unprepared and sometimes even improperly certified to run this school system and with private organizations that have other agendas. We speak up to make the union stronger and provide an opportunity for any UFT member who is critical of Unity’s stranglehold on policy to get involved. One of our major goals is to bring the entire opposition movement together through this election process.

What continues to unify ICE? The sense that we can be both strong trade unionists and strong educators, that by its very nature, a school is a mini-community, and everyone who works in a school — teachers, psychologists and guidance people, paras, secretaries, administrators, custodial staff, and security agents — has a role in the education of children.

We aim to provide a voice for all UFT members, in particular the classroom teacher, often the most neglected by school administrators and the union staff. These people bear the brunt of the responsibility, and the blame when things don’t go well. We believe that members need to participate in school governance, for it is through grassroots movements that individuals become empowered and active in shaping institutions and the roles of the people working and learning within them. Our union, when it is truly in the hands of members and not a band of misguided and self-interested union managers, can be central to growth of good learning environments.

In the past six years, ICE has developed three functions. The first is keeping up to date with education issues, analyzing and talking about them in the form of essays (in the blogosphere and other media), speeches, videotaping, and forums. They participate in union activities (such as running for and serving as chapter leaders and delegates, attending meetings of all kinds, and studying the contract and other laws) and share their knowledge and experience freely with any union members who ask them for help. Lastly, ICE members are activists, who stand strongly against the many inequities in our learning communities. They mount and/or participate in demonstrations of all kinds, particularly against the ATR situation, rubber rooms, charter schools, and war.

November 12, 2019

The public option needs to go on the “ash heap of history”

The public option was viable ten years ago when the fight was on to get universal coverage, and since then Congress hasn't done anything to control costs. That's why ex-health insurance insider Wendell Potter says we're living with a healthcare system that can no longer work.

Potter appeared on a recent Joy Reid podcast (starting at 15:30), where Reid broke down healthcare insurance this way:
Those who get coverage through their job — employers pay some of the cost of premiums, and
Those who don’t — you’re on your own for the whole thing.
The fundamental concept of all insurance is the larger the “risk pool,” the more predictable and stable the premiums can be.

But, even when lots of people are insured by sprawling companies, the pool for each one of these is still much smaller than Medicare’s. That social program puts all 43,000,000 seniors into one super large group, then administers the payments. These two factors mean lower costs for everyone in the pool, which is why seniors would never think of giving up Medicare.

The M-4-All legislation backed by Sanders and Warren aims to create one big mega-pool for the whole country. The reason why it’s taking so long to catch on is that the for-profit health industry has been mounting a massive campaign to protect its gains. Fearmongering makes people queasy about changing a system they’re used to.

In a recent article in NBC’s Think, Potter talks about the propaganda being put out against the M-4-All bills, saying:
“ ... the industry strategy has been more effective in manipulating journalists and pollsters than I could have ever predicted. I feel compelled to speak up and help set the record straight when so many politicians and journalists are using talking points that come straight from health insurance central casting scripts.”
Potter enumerates four lies promulgated by the PR groups running the industry’s campaign (the Partnership for America’s Health Care Future in particular) to create a sense of national apprehension for anything that smacks of single-payer.

1. Free market can work in health care — yet free market depends on price transparency, which (Potter notes) is largely nonexistent in healthcare. Plus, people don’t always get the chance to decide on what procedures they’re going to get.

2. Reforms mean a government takeover — yet under the proposed tax structure of M-4-All, providers would still be working for themselves. Single-payer would be publicly financed, privately delivered.

3. It would be “one-size-fits-all” healthcare — yet the new legislation creates more options for everyone (e.g., no networks, no referrals, helps more hospitals stay open).

4. It would be too expensive and too disruptive — yet we spend more on health than any other country because of the high admin costs, because the law created boondoggles like Medicare not being able to negotiate drug prices and the infamous donut hole, and because people have to go through hoops to get access to benefits and drugs.

One has to keep asking: 
Why is it so important for our union’s leadership to bolster the notion that healthcare is purchasable commodity rather than a social amenity paid for by taxes?
Why do they advocate proposals that back fractionated risk pools instead of embracing one enormous, cost-saving group?
Why don’t they support real cost-control legislation or anything that would make services and products more accessible?

I've already written on how some unions have signed on to M-4-All, which is a transformative piece of tax legislation. Unfortunately, our union continues to support positions that are truly harmful to so many people. The UFT/NYSUT/AFT combo is often more aligned with Wall Street and Conservative think tanks than we'd like.

They’d serve us much better if they’d start COUNTERING what’s coming from the corpocracy by calling out its propaganda. We’re not going to get universal healthcare, better choices or lower prices by regurgitated platitudes spewed out from a tired old armchair on the sidelines. That just stinks of status quo — a position that Weingarten and the rest of them seem more than willing to just curl up and die for.

November 5, 2019

"The glib and oily art" (part II)

For once, I’d love to read something from UFT leadership that doesn’t smack of fake progressivism and lip-service reform.

Not to say that a lot of what Retired Teachers chapter leader Tom Murphy says in the October newsletter isn’t about what we’re all feeling. It is. The country and its values are a mess under this administration, sold to the highest bidder, and not a single one of us who’s paying attention is feeling happy-clappy about the conversion.

But, but, but.

It’s lines like these that make me actually wince: 
“Like any other labor and political progressives, I am hoping to play my part in transforming our national nightmare, reclaiming the rightful heritage of enlightened government.”

“Perhaps we are on the eve of a new Progressive Era, a New Deal or a New Frontier/Great Society.”
Why wear the mantle of progressivism when at no level does UFT/AFT leadership enter the fray?
“Words, words, words.”   Hamlet, act 3
If after the congressional wins in 2018 Murphy says there’s now “a bit more clarity,” I have to ask: Why now? Educators have been have been seeing the “shadows of anti-union” and “regressive social policies” for decades, and guess what, the union has played right along with practically all the “erosion of ... labor achievements.”

Whose classes are smaller?
Who has real autonomy in the classroom or is being encouraged to bring their own talents and skills to the learning environment instead of having to conform to ridiculous cookie-cutter designs and dance before the mindless minions of DOE-trained administrators?
How many kids are getting the counseling they need?
And which of them is getting help with time-tested old-style math, grammar, civics, and vocational classes to allow them to function adequately in society?

Our union has done nothing about any of this, so don’t come to us now and say you’ve got “clarity” or that you “can’t give up fighting to prevent further erosion.” It is leadership itself that has given up the ghost on any of this a long time ago.

Moving on to what Murphy says about health care, I doubt very much that he or any other exec can “show the way.” Let’s look at the four health care “improvements” he mentions.

“Guarding pre-existing conditions...”
The regulation of pre-existing conditions started way back in 1945 (when it was left to individual states), and continued through laws enacted at the state level and Congress in 1974 (ERISA), 1978 (pregnancy), 1996 (HIPAA), and 2010 (ACA) (Wiki). Since in some form or other pre-existing conditions legislation has been around for more than 40 years, I’d say guarding them is tantamount to keeping the status quo, nothing special.

“Cutting pharmaceutical prices, and allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices...”
Our union clearly has helped us, the rank-and-file members, with medical costs: My more expensive drugs don’t cost much, and I love getting reimbursed for Part B premiums and IRMAA. But as far as fighting for cutting pharmaceutical prices for everyone else, I’m not so sure leadership has done a darn thing except yap about it.
      The various proposals for drug coverage in Medicare all relied on “private pharmacy benefit managers on a regional basis to negotiate drug prices (Wiki).” I’m just now finding out that the Dems actually advocated one-size-fits-all benefits nationwide, but were out-maneuvered by the Republicans, whose plans called for multiple choices and “a wide array of deductibles and co-pays (including the famous ‘donut hole’).” Those are what we’re stuck with til now. So, good on the Dems, but where was the union voice from 1999 to 2003 in that fight. Maybe I missed it.

“... and perhaps creating a public option.”
What a great word, “perhaps.”
But apart from that position of extreme fence-sitting, the public option is defined as “a proposal to create a government-run health insurance agency that would compete with other private health insurance companies” (Wiki). Please tell me how that could work.
As far as I’m concerned, competition with private health insurance companies solidifies in stone their very existence, yet these companies are the very essence of the crazy cost and access problems in the current design.  Again, the public option just can’t be part of what Murphy is calling a “new Progressive Era, a New Deal or a New Frontier/Great Society.”  This position is about 5 mm left of center.

As for his last paragraph:
Our premise has to be the creation of a vision and perception in the midst of self-doubt. If there is ambiguity out there, then we have to sharpen our focus. Can we distinguish between seeing the safety of a domesticated dog or the threats of a wild wolf?  I’m betting on clarity and vision.
Oh, my! I’m not entirely sure I’m getting his rhetoric, but as far as I can see, the union is very comfortable with “the safety of a domesticated dog” — it’s had so much practice.

As for “clarity and vision,” it hasn’t had much of either.

November 1, 2019

"The glib and oily art to speak and purpose not" (part I)

Medicare for All means restructuring the tax code to eradicate a market-driven, for-profit industry that deprives Americans of coverage, needless expense and choice.

I’d venture to say that what the 99% really wants, in addition to universal coverage, is a reduction of the overall costs we pay for public items — infrastructure, government, education, and the like. Under Medicare for All, we’d pay for healthcare like everything else, through taxes, not with bloated out-of-pocket amounts for healthcare in the current design of things.

Unfortunately, as the Kaiser Foundation noted earlier this month, you can’t discern that widely held position from the polls. Wording of the questionnaires themselves affects the responses you get, and how successful politicians and their spokespersons “sell” the various proposals in different parts of the country also makes analysis slippery.

The true Medicare for All candidates, catching the tailwind of the two bills already introduced in the Senate and House, are very clear on the issues. We have to change the tax structure to achieve two goals: make healthcare universal and reduce the overall cost. What’s in their way is Big Money, Big Pharma and a couple of the Big Unions, ours included.

That the AFT/UFT’s position on Medicare for All is not progressive, even spineless and duplicitous, is clear from Weingarten’s Sept. 27th letter in the Jacobin, from which I’ll riff on a few things she’s written.

“I am supportive of AFT members fighting for diverse viewpoints and positions”
and “the AFT has embarked on a very different process — one that puts member engagement front and center.”

Silky smooth. The fact that leadership may support members “fighting for diverse viewpoints” doesn’t mean that Weingarten, Mulgrew or other execs actually listen to or buy into the arguments made by the rank and file, particularly those of us who support M4A legislation. In fact, I’d argue there’s been a certain hostility to polling the membership, much less following its lead.
“I want that glib and oily art to speak and purpose not.” (Shakespeare, King Lear, act 1)

“Everything that deceives may be said to enchant.” (Plato, The Republic, book 1)

“We agree that we must make healthcare a basic, universal human right ... but ... I don’t believe there is just one way to get there.”
It’s way too facile to agree with Progressives that healthcare is a basic right. To suggest that there’s more than one way to get it is catastrophic for any real change. Every proposal that sidelines M4A legislation buttresses the fundamentally self-serving layer of bureaucratic redundancy and greed we have now in for-profit insurance. But Weingarten supports that fluffy prose.
“We may yet go singing on our way — it makes the road less irksome.” (Virgil, Eclogue 9)

“The safest road to Hell is the gradual one — the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.” (C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters)
In fact, restructuring the tax code is the only way to kill this dragon and make healthcare truly universal and truly universally accessible.
“There is but one road that leads to Corinth” (Pater, Marius the Epicurean)

“I argued for Medicare for all as a floor, not a ceiling, with a role if people want for private insurance.”

This stance is idiotic. Anyone who advocates for it condones for-profit healthcare.
“Here the boundaries meet and all contradictions exist side by side.” (Dostoevski, The Brothers Karamazov)

“Faith may be defined briefly as an illogical belief in the occurrence of the improbable.” (Mencken, Prejudices, 3rd series)
And, in fact:
“This was the most unkindest cut of all.” (Shakespeare, Julius Caesar, act 3)

“In concept, health insurance is supposed to lower the cost of care and expand coverage ...” That’s a false premise right there. Let’s be honest. The purpose of health insurance right now in this country is to limit the amount of care people can get and make money for shareholders.
“He who would distinguish the true from the false must have an adequate idea of what is true and false.” (Spinoza, Ethics, pt. 1)

“Truth exists, only falsehood has to be invented.” (Braque, Pénsées sur l’Art)

“That which has always been accepted by everyone, everywhere, is almost certain to be false.” (Valéry, Tel quel)

... Unfortunately it hasn’t worked that way. Medicare for All is one way to fix the concept, but it’s not the only way. The point is to get to universal coverage, and to stop the prohibitive costs that keep prescription drugs and healthcare out of reach for too many people.”
You can’t stop “prohibitive costs” when the biggest players back industry-driven out-of-pocket expenses. This argument is essentially a sham.
“A picture is something which requires as much knavery, trickery, and deceit as the perpetration of a crime.” (attributed to Degas)

“If I be false, or swerve a hair from truth ...
Upbraid my falsehood!” (Shakespeare, Troilus and Cressida, act 3)
Upbraid her falsehood indeed.

“ ... the goal for us as a union remains finding a standard-bearer who fights for universal coverage.”
So they want us to fight just for universal coverage? If that’s all she’s willing to go to the mat for, our cause is truly hopeless.
What might ills have not been done by woman!
Who was ‘t betrayed the Capitol? — A woman!
Who lost Mark Antony the world? — A woman!
Who was the cause of a long ten years’ war,
And laid at last old Troy in ashes? — Woman!
Destructive, damnable, deceitful woman!
                                                     (Otway, The Orphan, act 3)