A Teachable Moment

Former local teacher union pesident Morty Rosenfeld periodically attempts to make sense of the increasingly senseless world of public education.

Time for Chuck Schumer to Stand Up for Working People

Are you wondering why New York’s Chuck Schumer, the Minority Leader of the United State Senate, hasn’t gotten behind Bernie Sanders’ Medicare for All legislation? Here a bit of insight. Long the darling of our state teachers union, Schumer has taken huge amounts of political contributions from sectors of our economy whose interests are inimical to those of working people. According to OpenSecrets.org, Schumer has taken the following amounts since 1989 from businesses with much to lose from taking profits out of our medical system.

Securities and Investments – $12,823,522
Lawyers and Law Firms – $8,188,027
Real Estate – $6,059,229
Insurance – $2,098,920
Health Professionals – $1,383,810

If like me you expect progressive Democrats to support health care as a right; if like me you can’t understand why most of the industrialized world grants this right to its citizens at much lower cost; if like me you can’t understand why we have a system of private insurance with huge administrative cost when Medicare operates with about a 3% administrative cost; If like me you can’t understand how a leader like Chuck Schumer from a progressive state like New York can fail to support Medicare for All, then take a few minutes and email Chuck Schumer demanding that he get behind Bernie’s bill. We all know it will be a long road before we accomplish the task of providing truly universal coverage to Americans. Good leadership can shorten that road, however.

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Some Pragmatism Please

I’ve been a democratic socialist my whole adult life. In college, I was forced to read Michael Harrington’s The Other America, and I was hooked. I read all of his books, went to see him speak several times, joined what then was called the Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee. So, it should have surprised no one that I have a supporter of Bernie Sanders. Yet, I deeply believe that Bernie has gotten a little too full of himself and a little too self-righteous to boot. His criticism of the Democratic Party serves no useful purpose that I can discern.

If we have a hope of taking back the House of Representatives in 2018, Democrats are going to have to be competitive in some congressional districts that have historically voted Republican and some that have gone back and forth between the two parties. While I wish Bernie’s views could win in all those districts, the fact is they can’t. No amount of wishing will make that so. So, if we have to supports some candidates who are not for single payer healthcare at the moment, it is imperative that we do. There are probably a few districts where people will support a basically progressive agenda but will not support a pro-life candidate. We simply cannot be ideologically pure and expect to win the House.

Taking back the House is our best hope of disrupting the Republican/corporate agenda that seeks to end what has always been an insubstantial U.S. social safety net. To save that safety net, such as it is, and so much else of value demands that those of us on the left subordinate some of our more progressive ideas in the interest of protecting the least among us from the reign of economic terror the republicans have in store for them.

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A Very Good Day

I’ve been an ardent supporter of Bernie Sanders. I’ve been literally thrilled to see a democratic socialist like me give voice to ideas that I have long cherished and to see millions of Americans throng to his call for economic justice. I’m not surprised that Bernie lost the battle to be the Democratic nominee for president; I’m still amazed and encouraged by the fact that he got as far as he did.

Many in our ranks of education unionism were divided this primary season. Many did not like the move by our national leaders to an early endorsement of Hillary. Some are still engaged in the magical thinking that says Bernie still has a path to victory at the convention. Feeling are still sore on all sides. That’s to be expected.

But let’s try to begin the healing process with some sober reflection on the fact that America took a giant leap forward last night. A woman is now the nominee of one of our major political parties. Hillary accomplished that, and that accomplishment is not to be sneered at. Public education unionists who have made women’s equality part of their social justice agenda for years can all take pride in this historic event. If they haven’t done do, they need to listen to Hillary’s pitch-perfect speech last night, magnanimously praising Bernie and his campaign, acknowledging his energizing of progressives everywhere, locating her victory in the historic context of an ever-improving America, an ever more just nation, a nation seeking an ever more perfect union.

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I’m Voting for Bernie Tomorrow

This primary season has offered an opportunity to understand why the message of a large part of the labor movement fails resonates with the American people. It has become a movement that shuns idealism. In no segment of our movement is that clearer than in our public education unions who leaders have ridiculed Bernie Sanders for his call for tuition free college education at state supported schools, universal health coverage, breaking up too big to fail financial institutions and even more disturbing pooh-poohing the possibility of a political revolution to substantially change an economic system heavily rigged in favor of a kleptocratic elite. They are obtuse to the reality that there is no future for our unions in the current system. They have lost faith in the promise of America becoming a better society, one in which education, health care and economic security are the rights of all Americans.

I’ll vote for Bernie Sanders tomorrow because I continue to believe that it is possible to reverse the 30 year trend of stagnating wages of the American worker. I believe that all citizens should have an opportunity to receive as much free education as they are able to absorb. While I applaud the Affordable Care Act, there are still too many Americans who do not have access to quality health care. I don’t understand, and never will, why they can’t have the same Medicare that covers me. I will vote for Bernie because he is as outraged as I that so many American children are stunted by poverty in the richest nation the word has ever known. We have a system that is literally shortening the lives of millions of our citizens. The movement Bernie Sanders seeks to build wants to change that. How can I not be a part of that noble goal?

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It’s Outreach Time for NEA and AFT

It’s certainly clearer this morning that while Bernie Sanders can and will stay in the race for the Democratic nomination for President of the United States, there won’t be enough voters feeling the Bern to put him over the top. It’s not too soon for the leaders of our two national education unions, full-throated supporters of Hillary Clinton from the very beginning, to begin the fence mending process with the many rank and file members who are passionate supporters of Sanders, support that for many got all twisted up with their alienation from and resentment of what they see as the policy failures of their unions and the coziness of their leaders with a Washington establishment that has supported education policies that have been detrimental to the work of teachers and the students they teach.

In her victory speech last evening, Clinton took care to embrace some of Sanders’ themes, a significant step to begin a uniting process and recognition of the extent to which Bernie has pushed Clinton leftward from her comfort zone to the right of center. Many of my colleagues in the education labor movement don’t feel that the NEA and AFT treated Sanders fairly, both in the process of their endorsements of Clinton and in some of the ridiculously thoughtless criticism of Sanders. If our leaders, like their preferred candidate, will take a few steps to the left, if will reach out to the Sanders supporters, maybe even finding subtle ways to admit that their early Clinton endorsement was heavy-handed, it should be possible to bring our membership together for the challenge posed by Donald Trump. Hillary is going to need the passion and energy of the Sanders members. The effort to bring them into the fold must start today.

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Attacking Medicare for All

Why can’t we face the fact that while the Affordable Care Act was a huge leap forward in the direction of universal health care, it will not get us to that goal? Why can’t those who claim to be progressives recognize that despite the fact that the politics of today makes this an inopportune time to achieve healthcare for all, that does not mean that we cease our advocacy for it as a basic right of any decent society. My blood pressure is really starting to rise in response the criticism of Bernie Sanders by Hillary Clinton supports for advocating a Medicare for All system. We know that Medicare works. Why then is a system that has done so much to lift the aged out of poverty not an appropriate system to care for the health needs of all Americans? It’s simply disheartening to see leaders of a great union like the AFT and other liberal establishment figures succumb to political expediency and work discredit an idea that has motivated progressives for generations. Even if a single payer system like Medicare would increase our healthcare costs (which I don’t believe), it is morally imperative that those who claim the progressive mantel keep advocating for universal care as a basic civil right. If such advocacy is not to come from the ranks of labor, where is it to come from?

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How Did Idealism Become a Bad Thing?

I realize that having decided to endorse Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primary, NEA and AFT leadership need to try to organize membership support for their endorsed candidate. Being a practical man, I’m prepared to work my ass off for Hillary should she become the party’s candidate for the presidency, even though I’m a strong supporter of Bernie Sanders and the program he advocates. What I don’t get, is their line of attack against Sanders.

For labor leaders, for union leaders who represent hard working, underpaid people, people who find themselves being squeezed out of the middle class and robbed of their profession by a corporate led school reform movement to attack Sanders for being idealistic, an unelectable socialist is to ironically betray what real leaders do – offer those they would lead a vision of a better world than the one they inhabit. Bernie is attacked for unrealistically believing it possible for our public colleges and universities to educate for free the children of the taxpayers who fund these institutions as is done by most of the world’s industrial democracies. Bernie is attacked and ridiculed for not wanting to settle for the Affordable Care Act but wanting to continue to work for the day when quality healthcare is no longer a commodity but a human right. Paid family leave, absolutely essential to the people I represent, is yet another example of Bernie’s hopeless idealism and evidence for his not being qualified to be president. It’s just weirdly unsettling to have the national leadership of our teacher unions attacking a life-long defender of working people, a man with the temerity to attack the corporate elites of our nation, the very elites who have financed the attack on public education.

In a deeply troubling way, the manner in which our national union leaders, and to be fair many other liberal elites, are treating Bernie Sanders is a manifestation our union movement’s lack of motivating idealism. Our leaders would do well to learn from Bernie, particularly his appeal to the young. They might gain some insight, stimulate what’s left of their imaginations, to come up with an agenda for re-inventing the education labor movement for a new generation of members. A little idealism would go a long way in the battle against the forces arrayed against us.

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Tonight’s Debate

I’m looking forward to the Democratic debate tonight. I’m hoping that unlike what we have seen thus far from the Republicans, education policy will figure significantly. A lot depends, of course, on the questions the moderator asks, but with Hillary having gotten the endorsement of the NEA and AFT and Bernie likely to try to minimize its impact, the subject is likely to come up one way or another.

Look for signs tonight that the candidates understand that there is a grassroots rebellion surging against the corporate driven education policy of the Obama administration. If the candidates understand this phenomenon and its huge potential electoral power, especially in low turnout primary elections, we should hear them competing for the votes Americans who oppose yearly high stake testing and the connection of these tests to the evaluation of teachers. I’ll be looking for recognition that poverty is the central factor prejudicing the achievement of America’s children and specific recommendations for hoe to confront the fact that so many American children begin school substantially behind their wealthier peers.

All of the Democratic candidates claim to be strong supporters of public education. We need more than their claims. We need to hear definitive plans for how they are going to do this, plans for ceasing the war on teachers and public education.

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Support for Hillary

I’ve been clear that I opposed the early endorsement of Hillary Clinton in the Democratic presidential primary by the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and the National education Association (NEA). I’m a proud supporter of Bernie Sanders because he offers a vision of a more decent and humane society in which the rights of working people trump the endless greed of the gang of plutocrats currently calling the shots. I’m pleased that so many young people are flocking to his cause. It says to me that they aspire to live in a more equal and just society in which they have obligations to others as well as themselves. Some recent polling by Pew Research suggests that a majority of young people support government interventions in our economy that promote economic justice. It’s similarly pleasing in that it suggests that our public schools may be doing a better job of inculcating notions of good citizenship than I thought despite the ed reform movement.

Yet, Should Hillary be the nominee of the Democratic Party, I will do whatever I can to see to it that she is elected, it being unimaginably horrifying to think of any of the Republican candidates winning. What I’m having real trouble accepting is the banal blither the leaders of our two great education unions are bombarding me with, ostensibly aimed at giving me reasons to enthusiastically support Hillary but which elicit far more anger than excitement. Just this morning, Randi Weingarten, a Facebook friend, posted a piece pushing the incredibly stupid notion that Hillary is actually more progressive than Bernie. Here’s the link if you have a need to have your intelligence assaulted.

I know I may have to vote for Hillary in the end, but please let me do that out of sheer pragmatism. I won’t have buyer’s remorse when she wins. I know exactly what I’m getting. Better than any Republican to be sure, but not Bernie.

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A Premature Endorsement

Over the weekend the Executive Council of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) voted to endorse Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primary. That endorsement coming out of the blue has upset many union activists who have found in Senator Bernie Sanders an authentic champion of working people who has rekindled their idealism – idealism that has been hard to come by in a world of declining private sector union membership and a corporate funded assault on organized workers in the public sector. Most union activists, I suspect, would have been completely open to supporting Hillary Clinton later on in the primary process, recognizing the longshot nature of the Sanders candidacy. Many of us hoped that the give and take between Sanders and Clinton would force Hillary to the left on economic, worker and education issues than she would naturally tend to be without serious opposition.

The AFT based its endorsement on the questionnaires completed by the candidates and a poll conducted of the membership during the last week in June indicating members support for Clinton. While some of my union colleagues mistrust the findings of the membership poll, I accept the results for what they are – a snap shot of the membership at the very beginning of the primary process when a good number of the members know very little about Bernie Sanders and the progressive policies he has supported over his distinguished career in Congress. If that poll were taken today after news reports of the crowds Sanders has been attracting in Iowa and New Hampshire, I suspect we would see a different picture.

In pushing this early endorsement, AFT Randi Weingarten has very unnecessarily poked her finger in the eye of many of the organization’s activists, the very people whose work on the ground is infinitely more important to a candidate than the money the union is able to provide. While the membership poll was clearly intended to make the endorsement appear to be membership driven, the timing of it was so ham-handed as to have generated the exact opposite effect.

If we look at the candidate questionnaires, it seems to me we find strong support for the thesis that the endorsement came too early. Were we to base our endorsement solely on the positions of the candidates, it seems to me Sanders would clearly get our nod. But don’t take my word for this; see what Sanders and Clinton had to say.

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