Historians back Cronon against Wisconsin witch hunt

March 31, 2011

Just the news, folks.  Just the news.

The Organization of American Historians Speaks Out on Academic Freedom and Defends OAH Member and University of Wisconsin–Madison Professor William Cronon

March 30, 2011

For more information, contact:
Katherine M. Finley, Executive Director
Organization of American Historians
112 N. Bryan Avenue, Bloomington, IN 47401
ph 812.855.7311; fax 812.855.0696

The Executive Committee of the Organization of American Historians (OAH), led by President Alice Kessler-Harris, R. Gordon Hoxie Professor of History at Columbia University, issued the following statement on March 30, 2011, supporting academic freedom and deploring the recent efforts of Wisconsin politicians to intimidate OAH member and professor William Cronon:

The Executive Committee of the Organization of American Historians deplores the efforts of Republican party operatives in the state of Wisconsin to intimidate Professor William Cronon, a distinguished and respected member of our organization and currently the president-elect of our sister association, the American Historical Association. As a professional historian, Professor Cronon has used his extensive knowledge of American history to provide a historical context for recent events in Wisconsin. Requiring him to provide his e-mail correspondence, as the Republican party of Wisconsin has now done, will inevitably have a chilling effect on the capacity of all academics to engage in wide public debate. The timing and character of the Freedom of Information Act request for Professor Cronon’s e-mail correspondence leave no doubt that the purpose of this request is to use the authority of the state to prevent William Cronon from freely exercising his rights as a citizen and as a public employee.

Cronon, a professor of environmental and U.S. western history at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, has come under fire from the Wisconsin Republican party. A longtime member of the OAH and a former member of its executive board, Cronon is the incoming president of the American Historical Association. He has been thrust into the spotlight for his March 15, 2011, blog post and for a subsequent op-ed piece in the New York Times, critical of the Wisconsin legislature and Governor Scott Walker. The OAH Executive Committee believes that the action of the Wisconsin Republican party in requesting e-mails sent by Professor Cronon will have a negative impact on academics who engage in wide public debate.

For Further Reading

American Historical Association, “AHA Deplores Effort to Intimidate William Cronon,” online posting, March 27, 2011, AHA Today http://blog.historians.org/news/1293/aha-council-deplores-recent-intimidation-efforts-aimed-at-cronon.

William Cronon, “Who’s Really Behind Recent Republican Legislation in Wisconsin and Elsewhere? (Hint: It Didn’t Start Here),” online posting, March 15, 2011, Scholar as Citizen, http://scholarcitizen.williamcronon.net/2011/03/15/alec/.

William Cronon, “Wisconsin’s Radical Break,” New York Times, March 21, 2011, http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/22/opinion/22cronon.html.

William Cronon, “Abusing Open Records to Attack Academic Freedom,” online posting, March 24, 2011, Scholar as Citizen, http://scholarcitizen.williamcronon.net/2011/03/24/open-records-attack-on-academic-freedom/.

Posted: Mar. 30, 2011

Now is the time for all good citizens to phone legislators for the sake of their country . . .

March 31, 2011

Ready to start dialing?  It’s time to dial to save your country.

MoveOn.org asks Texans to phone their U.S. senators for help:

Dear Ed,

Heads up: Congress is debating a budget plan that would be devastating to Texas. Will you pass this along?

Senators Kay Hutchison and John Cornyn need to hear from all of us about it right now, before they cut a deal in the next few days.

Please spread the word about all of these proposed cuts to Texas:

  • $98 million would be cut from federal funds for clean and safe water in Texas.1
  • 12,000 Texas children would be immediately cut from Head Start, which provides comprehensive early childhood development services for at-risk children ages zero to five.2
  • $391 million would be cut from Pell Grants, affecting all 664,000 higher education students with those grants in Texas.3
  • Job training and employment services would be effectively eliminated for 5,800 dislocated workers, 99,000 low-income adults, and 16,000 youths age 14 to 21.4
  • $10 million would be cut from law enforcement assistance, taking cops off the beat.5

It’s especially galling when the same budget protects tax breaks for corporations like GE and the very rich.

Just last night the news broke that Congress may be close to striking a deal on the budget. Now is the only time we can influence the outcome.

Can you call Sens. Hutchison and Cornyn and ask them to oppose these cuts in the budget? You can pick one of the cuts in this list to highlight in your call.

Senator Kay Hutchison
Phone: 202-224-5922

Senator John Cornyn
Phone: 202-224-2934

Click to report your call. Then pass this email along locally!


The cuts that the Republicans are proposing would disproportionately hit those who can least afford it in Texas, and it’s up to us to stop them.

Thanks for all you do.

-Daniel, Amy, Milan, Tate, and the rest of the team


1. “House Bill Means Fewer Children in Head Start, Less Help for Students to Attend College, Less Job Training, and Less Funding for Clean Water,” Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, March, 1, 2010

2. “Projected Reduction in Children Served in Head Start Based on H.R. 1—Fiscal Year 2011 Continuing Resolution,” Center for Law and Social Policy

3. “House Bill Means Fewer Children in Head Start, Less Help for Students to Attend College, Less Job Training, and Less Funding for Clean Water,” Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, March, 1, 2010

4. Ibid

5. Ibid

Want to support our work? We’re entirely funded by our 5 million members—no corporate contributions, no big checks from CEOs. And our tiny staff ensures that small contributions go a long way. Chip in here.

Meanwhile, the Texas House of Representatives scheduled the start of debate on H. 1 for Friday, April 1 — the budget resolution that would gut Texas schools and higher education, and set Texas on a course of decline that will make California’s troubles look serene by comparison.

NEA’s Texas affiliate, the Texas State Teachers’ Association, asks teachers to call their Texas representatives to weigh in against the drastic budget cuts (and you can call, too):

March 30, 2011

House Bill 1 is an assault on the public schools!

This Friday, April 1, the Texas House of Representatives is scheduled to begin debate on House Bill 1, its version of the state budget for 2012-2013. If this bill were to become law in its present form, it would cut almost $8 billion from public education and, with it, tens of thousands of school district jobs.

Unfortunately, this is no April Fool’s joke.

It is, instead, the proposal of a state leadership that would rather plug a huge hole in the state budget by firing teachers, packing kids into overcrowded classrooms and closing neighborhood schools than by adequately investing in our state’s future.

NOW is the time to call your legislator and let him or her know what these budget cuts will mean in your classroom, your school and your community. We must stop House Bill 1, and your call is critical!

To contact your state representative, call 800-260-5444, and we will connect you [That’s the number for TSTA members, but try it — I’ll bet they’ll accept your help!]. You can call any time, day or night, but you need to call before Friday. Leaving a voice message with your representative’s office is just as good as talking to a staff member.

It is important to include the following points in your conversation or message:

  • Your name, that you are a TSTA member and that you live and vote in their district.
  • An overwhelming number of people in your community – parents, teachers and other taxpayers – oppose cuts that would harm public schools.
  • Your own story, how laying off educators, cramming children into crowded classrooms and closing neighborhood schools would have a harmful impact on your students and community.
  • Ask your representative to find the revenue necessary to avoid harmful budget cuts, restore full education funding and end this assault on our public schools.

This will take only a few minutes of your time, and it will be time well spent. Your representative needs to hear from you before Friday!

Pick up your telephone and strike a blow for freedom, democracy, education and sanity in government.

Alan Alda speaks about the future of science communication, for NSF

March 28, 2011

After the long-running, ever popular television series M*A*S*H ended, star Alan Alda got roped into hosting a science program on public television for Scientific American. Alda discovered he really likes science.  He discovered he has a flair for talking about science, too.

With the constant discussion among scientists about how to overcome the War on Science, and especially how to combat the fruit loops, crank scientists, junk science purveyors and others who muddy the waters of understanding science, I thought this interview at a National Science Foundation function was interesting:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Alan Alda speaks about the future of science co…, posted with vodpod

Caption from NSF:

Alan Alda, award winning actor and Visiting Professor with the Center for Communicating Science, talks about his experiences with communicating science to the general public. Looking to close the gap between the scientific community and the public, Mr. Alda discusses what needs to be improved, and how science can be better understood.

Credit: National Science Foundation

Can Alda really do anything about saving science communication, rescuing it from the propaganda machines?

FOIA “request” in Wisconsin could be violation of whistleblower protection law

March 27, 2011

Wisconsinite Jean Detjen sent me a note correcting my misinformation:  Wisconsin does indeed have a whistleblower protection act.  The law protects Wisconsin state employees, against retaliation for disclosing information about wrongdoing.

William Cronon, Frederick Jackson Turner Professor of History, University of Wisconsin

William Cronon, Frederick Jackson Turner Professor of History, University of Wisconsin - University of Wisconsin photo

My reading suggests that, since professors are not specifically exempted, Prof. Cronon, at the University of Wisconsin, is specifically protected.

If the University of Wisconsin gives that answer to the Wisconsin Republican Party, however, the Party will argue that it is not a government official prevented from retaliating against a government employee.  That would be ample reason for the state to deny the FOIA request of the Party flatly and completely.

There is another, potentially more pernicious angle here:  The Republican Party in Wisconsin is, in this case, an agent of the Republicans in the state legislature, those whose tails are on the line for violating Wisconsin law, and as Prof. Cronon outlines it, Wisconsin tradition and historical norms.  It’s likely that the Party is acting at the direction of legislators.

In short, it’s kind of an organized crime action.  I think that the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act (RICO) would cover this sort of action — any retaliation for hire, or by an agent, which creates a pattern or practice of organized crime activities.  Worse for the Wisconsin Republicans, if there were an ambitious U.S. attorney out there somewhere, there is no scienter requirement on RICO actions — that is, there need not be a clear formation of criminal intent.  The mere actions of an organized crime group, even with no intent to break the law, can be a RICO violation.

Even worse for the Republicans, RICO is available for anyone to use.  Were I Prof. Cronon, and were the Republicans to press their FOIA request to court, I’d counterclaim in federal court with the RICO statute.

That’s a nasty escalation.  But in these days, in this case, where a state party organization has gone to the employer of a university professor to get his job after he merely reported history, I wouldn’t take chances that the Republicans would later play fair or nice.

Every step against Cronon, every press release, every statement from a legislator or party apparatchik, provides more evidence of the coordinated effort, and establishes further the “pattern and practice” of organized crime activity.

Maybe cool heads will soon prevail, maybe patriotism and love of the First Amendment will break out among Wisconsin Republicans, and they will retract their demand that Prof. Cronon deliver them all of his e-mails as a professor at  the University of Wisconsin.

Maybe badgers will fly.

“Badger” is supposed to be the mascot of Wisconsin’s top-flight university, not a tool of partisan politics.

Canada? It’s in North America? What?

March 27, 2011

And in other news that didn’t make most U.S. local newspapers today, the government of Canada fell yesterday.

Canada government falls, Politically-Illustrated

"The Conservative government in Canada was toppled on Friday after a vote of no-confidence passed in the parliament by 156 to 145." Cartoon at Politically Illustrated by Cam Cardow

You know:  Canada.  That nation north of North Dakota, the one that keeps Alaska stuck to the North American Continent.  Remember?   It’s got about 20% of the world’s fresh water.  Those guys who helped us whip Hitler on D-Day.

Oh, c’mon.  Google the place, will you?  It’s the nation where, when you go there, ‘those bastards with the drug problem south of the border’ is the United States.

No, no, it’s probably not important.  We buy a lot of our oil from Canada.  Canada is our biggest trading partner.  They buy a lot of the goods that we still produce here.

And the conservative government there, under a parliamentary system that kids in the U.S. are never tested on in Texas, lost a vote of confidence Friday, in Ottawa.

Ottawa?  It’s the capital of Canada.  No, Montreal isn’t even the capital of Quebec.

Oh, come on! Quebec.  Quebec! It’s the province of Canada with all the French speakers. Yeah, Quebec City is the capital of Quebec.

Ottawa’s in Ontario.  No, Ottawa is the capital of the whole nation, Canada.  Ontario’s capital is Toronto.

Lone Ranger?  No, Toronto has nothing to do with the Lone Ranger.  It’s the biggest city in Canada.

Anyway, to get back to the topic, Canada’s government failed.  Conservatives lost a vote because of ethics issues.

Ethics issues, conservatives.  No news there.  No wonder it wasn’t covered better.

Elections in May. You’d know this, if you read the blogs of the Natural Resources Defense Council.

As if anyone cared.

Hey, get this:  Ontario alone has more than 250,000 lakes, natural lakes.  In a good, very wet year, Texas has two, maybe three natural lakes.

You could look it up.

No, NATO won’t intervene.  Canada is part of NATO.

More seriously:

Energy- and environment-interested people should take note. Canada is our largest source of imported oil at about 2 million barrels a day — more than Mexico and Saudi Arabia imports combined — and we share two ocean coasts with the nation.  See what Susan Casey-Lefkowitz said at her blog:

Hopefully, whoever takes over next in Canada will be a bigger proponent of clean energy and fighting climate change than the Harper government has been. The Harper government has been a vocal proponent of tar sands oil expansion – pushing this dirty fuel in the United States and in Europe. In fact, the Harper government has been instrumental in undermining clean energy efforts at home and abroad all to promote the tar sands oil industry. A fresh approach in Canada gives the country a chance to get back to its green roots and to listen to its provincial governments such as Ontario, Quebec, Manitoba and British Columbia who have been developing innovative ways to promote clean energy and fight climate change. A fresh approach also provides an opportunity to lessen Canada’s dependence on the oil and gas sector and its heavy control over the Canadian dollar leading many to fear “Dutch disease.”

Clean energy and fighting climate change are critical issues now and in the coming decades. Hopefully, Canada can step forward as a leader on both in the future.

We can overlook the abuse of the word “hopefully” to extract important information, I think.  Did your local paper cover this story today?

More, resources:



Surely ALEC wouldn’t be purging e-mails that are now evidence, would they?

March 26, 2011

You could write a soap opera about this stuff.

You remember Wisconsin?  Remember the teachers, cops, firefighters and other public employee unions?

Of course.  And it’s still a mess.  Gov. Scott  “Ahab” Walker signed into law a bill that would have the effect of abrogating union contracts without any bargaining, but the skullduggery used to sneak the bill through the Wisconsin legislature opened the door to charges that Wisconsin open meetings laws were violated, and a judge has stayed the implementation of the law.

In the meantime, a Wisconsin historian stepped up to lend historical perspective to the whole affair.  He thought he was turning on some lights, but Wisconsin Republicans have treated it like great heat.

[Off-topic note:  Some creatures are negatively photo-tropic, which means they avoid light.  You know, like the way the cockroaches in your first New York apartment scattered when you’d turn on the light.]

So, just as Virginia Attorney General and Chief Inquisitor and Witch Hunter Ken Cucinelli tried with those pesky scientists who keep finding the global temperature rising, Wisconsin Republican legislators have turned on the historian.  Here’s how the  New York Times‘ editorial, “A Shabby Crusade in Wisconsin,”  described it:

The historian, William Cronon, is the Frederick Jackson Turner and Vilas research professor of history, geography and environmental studies at the University of Wisconsin, and was recently elected president of the American Historical Association. Earlier this month, he was asked to write an Op-Ed article for The Times on the historical context of Gov. Scott Walker’s effort to strip public-employee unions of bargaining rights. While researching the subject, he posted on his blog several critical observations about the powerful network of conservatives working to undermine union rights and disenfranchise Democratic voters in many states.

In particular, he pointed to the American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative group backed by business interests that circulates draft legislation in every state capital, much of it similar to the Wisconsin law, and all of it unmatched by the left. Two days later, the state Republican Party filed a freedom-of-information request with the university, demanding all of his e-mails containing the words “Republican,” “Scott Walker,” “union,” “rally,” and other such incendiary terms. (The Op-Ed article appeared five days after that.)

American Legislative Exchange Council.  ALEC, in K Street lobbyist parlance.

But, Dear Reader, do you see the potential problem here for Republicans in Wisconsin?  They have based their request on a Wisconsin law that prohibits private use of state-supplied e-mail — no politicking, no religious proselytizing.

What about all those ALEC e-mails to Wisconsin Republican legislators?  Sure, they’re more than fair-game for such a witch hunt, too.  And, since it’s the state Republican Party, and not a state or other public official making the FOIA request, surely that means the Republicans would not mind a similar request to cover contacts legislators had with the Wisconsin Republican Party, to the National Republican Party, or even ALEC itself.

Fair is fair, right?

ALEC generally has better lawyers than state legislators, and so we’d expect a group like that to recognize they could be in trouble.

Of course, purging of e-mails now would be a crime, a Watergate-style cover-up, destruction of evidence and obstruction of justice — after it’s become clear that there could be court action and claims of violation of law.

Jean Detjen provided links to the stories of the attacks on the distinguished Prof. Cronon over the last couple of days.  In a Facebook exchange, I noted that ALEC is fair game for such a witch hunt fishing expedition FOIA inquiry, too.

Don’t look now, Ms. Detjen said — but the ALEC site is down.

Server Error

The server encountered an internal error and was unable to complete your request.

JRun closed connection.

[Here’s a general link — try it, and let me know when the site is back up, if Paul Weyrich and the other ALEC-ians don’t skip to Brazil.]

Surely ALEC wouldn’t be illegally purging e-mails to Wisconsin, New York, Ohio, Texas, Idaho, Washington, California, Arizona, Florida, Kentucky, Louisiana and Florida legislators, would it?

Update:  As of this evening, March 26, 2011, the ALEC site is back up.  Why was it down?

The NYT editorial closed with this:

The party refuses to say why it wants the messages; Mr. Cronon believes it is hoping to find that he is supporting the recall of Republican state senators, which would be against university policy and which he denies. This is a clear attempt to punish a critic and make other academics think twice before using the freedom of the American university to conduct legitimate research.

Professors are not just ordinary state employees. As J. Harvie Wilkinson III, a conservative federal judge on the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, noted in a similar case, state university faculty members are “employed professionally to test ideas and propose solutions, to deepen knowledge and refresh perspectives.” A political fishing expedition through a professor’s files would make it substantially harder to conduct research and communicate openly with colleagues. And it makes the Republican Party appear both vengeful and ridiculous.

Well, yeah, Wisconsin’s Republicans wouldn’t want to be caught stifling discussion, nor taking revenge on a whistle-blower — because certainly if Cronon’s e-mails are discoverable with an FOIA request, he is a Wisconsin state employee.  “Whew,” the Wisconsin Republicans might wheeze:  Wisconsin has no specific whistleblower protection.  Ah, the plot thickens:  There are general laws that would appear, to me, a no-longer-practicing-in-that-area lawyer, to offer some protections for any employee engaged in general political speech, or in speech protecting the employee’s rights, or in speech designed to shed light on a wrongful or wrongfully executed official act — that is, Cronon’s evidence showing the unsavory and potentially illegal links of legislators to businessmen and business groups, and the potential conspiracy issues of ALEC’s nationally-directed efforts to use state legislators to gut union laws.

I wish Ahab would just get Jesus and quit thickening the plot.

More, resources, links from Jean Detjen and others:

Obviously, big tip of the old scrub brush to Jean Detjen, in Wisconsin.

Annals of global warming: Records from Mauna Loa show continuing rise in atmospheric CO2

March 26, 2011

NOAA's Mauna Loa Observatory, NOAA photo, 1982, Cmdr. John Bortniak

NOAA's Mauna Loa Observatory, from NOAA At the Ends of the Earth Collection, 1982 NOAA photo by Commander John Bortniak

John Adams observed, and Ronald Reagan was fond of quoting, “Facts are stubborn things . . .”

Here are the facts on atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2):


Monthly CO2 levels since 1960, Mauna Loa Observatory (Scripps Inst of Oceanography)

Mauna Loa Observatory, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UCSD (University of Calfornia-San Diego); CO2 concentrations in parts per million (ppm)

As described at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography site:

Monthly average atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration versus time at Mauna Loa Observatory, Hawaii (20°N, 156°W) where CO2 concentration is in parts per million in the mole fraction (p.p.m.). The curve is a fit to the data based on a stiff spline plus a 4 harmonic fit to the seasonal cycle with a linear gain factor.

Data from Scripps CO2 Program.

For perspective, here’s a chart from Scripps that shows why there is concern over current levels of CO2:

CO2 over the past 420,000 years - Scripps Institution of Oceanography

CO2 over the past 420,000 years - Scripps Institution of Oceanography

Resources, More:

No, Henry Wallace would not have been president long, had FDR died a few months early

March 25, 2011

Oh, it’s a technical quibble, I know.

Henry Wallace campaign button from 1948

Henry Wallace campaign button, probably from 1948. R. Emmett Tyrell worries unnecessarily that Henry Wallace might have been president, had FDR died a few months earlier.

I’ve read R. Emmett Tyrell for years.  Back in the day, when American Spectator was scratching to get anyone to read, they sent me free copies — I presume because they got my name off of a list for National Review.  At some point they decided they could actually get someone to pay for the magazine, and I fell off their list.

It was a fun read back then.  American Spectator showed up on newsprint, not slick paper.  There was a college newspaper feel to it.  They had a great section called “Brayings from the barnyard,” in which they’d quote stupid things that people said.  That was the first place I encountered the old saw, “Those whom the gods destroy, they first make mad.”

And I’m sure that, had he thought about it for three minutes, he wouldn’t have written it.  But Tyrell didn’t think.

In the on-line blog for the Spectator, in the traditionally-named “The Current Crisis,” Tyrell wrote:

Progressives have long been in favor of One World vouchsafed by the United Nations. Henry Wallace, Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s second vice president and the 1948 presidential candidate for the Progressive Party, spoke of it often. On the campaign trail in 1948 he spoke of “jobs, peace, and freedom” that “can be attained together and make possible One World, prosperous and free, within our lifetime.” He too promised to coordinate policy through the United Nations. Had President Roosevelt died but six months earlier, America would have had this fantastico in the White House. As it was, in one last act of cunning for his country, Roosevelt maneuvered Wallace out of the vice presidency and Harry Truman in. Harry was green but he was not naïve. We came that close to Henry Wallace and his “Gideon’s Army” in the White House.

Does Tyrell really believe that?

Henry Wallace could not have succeeded to the presidency at any time after noon, January 21, 1945, and had he succeeded to the presidency any time before January 21, he’d have served only until January 21.  Had Roosevelt died any time after November 7, 1944, Harry S Truman would have been inaugurated on January 21, 1945.  Had Roosevelt died between the Democratic Convention and the election, one could make an argument that Truman would not have won the nomination nor the presidency — we’ve never had a candidate die before election day, nor between election and inauguration (though William Henry Harrison sure pushed it).

Berryman cartoon, 1948, Truman v. Tom Dewey

Berryman cartoon, probably from the Washington Star, 1948 — New York Gov. Thomas Dewey was expected to handily defeat President Harry S Truman; the election was held anyway. Elections have consequences.

Roosevelt died on April 12, 1945.  Six months earlier quickly calculated would have been October 12.  [I goofed when I submitted a comment at the Spectator site, and calculated December — too quick a calculation!]  Wallace, then the vice president to FDR, almost certainly would not have won the Democrats’ nomination for president.  It may have been possible for the party to name a new ticket, and if so, it would not have had Wallace on top.  One can make a case that Truman wouldn’t have been on top of a new ticket, either — but even October 12 may have been too late to change the ballot, for pragmatic purposes, prior to the election.  Most discussions I’ve seen suggest that the vice presidential candidate would be moved up in such a case.

So, had Roosevelt died months prior to April 12, 1945, we would have had Henry Wallace as president for only a few weeks, until inauguration day the next January.  Then we would have had Harry S Truman, or Thomas E. Dewey.  Dewey ran against Truman in 1948, and lost.  There’s a good case to be made that Truman would have defeated Dewey in 1944, had they run against each other then.  Truman would have had the sympathy vote, and he would have been thought to have been the heir to the Roosevelt legacy and policies near the end of World War II.  With Hitler and Tojo on the run, it would have been a bad time to switch parties and policies.

We’ll never know, but Tyrell need not worry.

Harry Truman and Chicago Tribune from November 4, 1948

Harry Truman and Chicago Tribune from November 4, 1948

EDUSolidarity Day After, Part 3: Why would a teacher like me hang with a union?

March 23, 2011

I mean, really.  I have two degrees after attending three colleges.  I’ve taught at three different universities.  My parents were (nominally) Republicans.  I worked the Republican side of the U.S. Senate, for Orrin Anti-Labor-Law-Reform Hatch, for heaven’s sake.  I sat  through the hearings on the graft in the Operating Engineers local, the graft in the welders union in Pennsylvania that provided workers to the nuclear reactors, and the graft in the Central States Teamsters Pension Fund.  Two of my staff colleagues went on to chair the National Labor Relations Board, one is a well-known anti-labor lobbyist, and I’ve sat through the “no union here, ever” courses at three different corporations as a member of management.

What gives?

Why do I and other teachers stick with the union?

Diagram of a Liberty Ship

Diagram of a Liberty Ship

My father did carry a union card, though he was a Republican.  He had lots of stories about the difficulty of working with unions from his days with the United Cigar Stores in Los Angeles, and he probably had plenty of reason  to dislike them — but he got a job as a pipefitter building Liberty Ships.  He had to join the pipefitters union, and so he did.

Deep at heart, my father wanted to be a successful businessman.  After the war, he went back to sales.  He wound up in Burley, Idaho, managing a Western Auto store, when he struck out on his own.  Well, he and a partner.  Sedam and Darrell Furniture.  They had a disagreement, and it ended up as Sedam’s on one side of town, and Paul Darrell Hotpoint on the other.

Liberty Ships under construction during World War II

Liberty Ships under construction during World War II

It was about that time that he got a lung x-ray for something, and they found the spot.  He’d given up smoking in the 1930s, but as a pipefitter, he put a lot of asbestos on pipes to shield merchant marines from heat, to insulate the pipes, to prevent shipboard fires.  That was before the dangers of asbestos were well understood.  On the x-ray, it looked like cancer.

But it didn’t grow.  The spot just stayed there, for years.

The store in Burley fell victim to a bad economy when the union at J. R. Simplot Potatoes struck one year, in November.  The strikers weren’t buying Christmas gifts.  There were about 16 furniture and appliance stores in a county with about 16,000 people total.  Several of them didn’t survive the strike and my father’s was one of them.  A lot of people in town cursed the union for causing the strike.  On one of our trips moving to Utah, I rode with Dad and asked him about it, and why the union went on strike.  As a victim of the strike, he could have unloaded.  But he didn’t.

He explained how workers organized to get power to negotiate with big businesses.  Jack Simplot was a man we knew, a good man and a customer from all we knew — but the workers were good people, too, my father explained.  Sometimes workers and employers can’t agree.  My father explained that a strike was one of the few tools workers could use to get an employer to change his position against his will.  I told him I thought it was unfair that workers could strike and force other businesses out.  My father explained that it was tougher on the workers who didn’t buy from us — they needed the stuff they didn’t buy.

Over the next few years I watched as my father got screwed over by good people running good companies, people who were anti-union, but more, anti-employee.  He lost guaranteed bonuses.  He lost promised promotions.  He didn’t get promised raises.  My father never again owned his own business.  Instead he was an employee, unprotected by unions in a string of positions where union protection would have been a good deal for him.  He could not strike, as the workers at J. R. Simplot had.

One of the investigators for the Senate Labor Committee was a character of great proportion — no central casting bureau could have thought up a character like Frank Silbey.  Silbey headed Orrin Hatch’s investigations into unions, and he was a marvel to watch.  Soon after Hatch took over as chair of Labor, Silbey and I had a long lunch to work out just how we would work together.  I expressed to him my concern that any investigation of a union might hurt unions, and hurt workers.

Silbey thought for a minute, and took in a deep breath.  He started to put his finger in my face, but he stopped, and used it to doodle on the table cloth at the old Monocle, near his office in an odd building the Senate owned.

“Listen,” he said.  “You need to know that I am not anti-union.  I can’t be.”  And he told me about his own father.

I don’t remember the business.  I remember that Frank talked about how his family was not rich by any stretch, and his father worked hard at a union job.  The old man had not a lot of time for friends off the job, not after spending the time he wanted to with his wife and kids.  And so it was that, when he died unexpectedly, too young, Frank’s mother knew that it would be a sad funeral, with very few people attending.

When they got to the synagogue for the funeral, though, there was a huge crowd.  The place was literally overflowing with people.  The union had closed the business in honor of Mr. Silbey, and the union turned out for the funeral.  Each of the workers spent time meeting the widow, and telling her what a great man and good friend her husband had been.

“And that’s why I can’t ever be anti-union,” Frank said.  “When all is said and done, the union will stick by you when nobody else does.”

Over the next five years we found a few unions where that was not exactly true, but in most of those cases, those people who made that not true, went to jail.

The health care side of the Senate Labor Committee had a hearing into lung diseases, including black lung, brown lung, and the mesothelioma, the disease pipefitters got from asbestos.  One of the witnesses came from a pipefitters union.  Among other things, he testified to the astonishing rates of illness and untimely deaths among the pipefitters on the World War II Liberty Ships.

On the way out of the hearing I mentioned to the guy that my father had worked on the Liberty Ships, as a pipefitter.  He looked stricken, and paled.  He pulled me off to the side of the hallway, and said, “I am so sorry for you.  Your father did heroic work and the nation owes him a deep debt.”  No one had ever spoken about my father like that to me before, and I teared up.

“How long has he been gone,” the guy asked.

“Well, he’s got a spot on his lung, but it hasn’t changed.  He’s still alive,” I said (my father would die within the decade).

The pipefitters representative smiled, then laughed.  “He’s one of a very small band of survivors.  He’s still a hero, though.”

Throughout his life, my father was a very good man.  Think of the character Jimmy Stewart played in “It’s a Wonderful Life.”  That was my father.  He organized across party lines for local elections.  He organized blood drives.  During the Korean War he headed the local program to take care of soldiers passing through town who ran out of money, or got sick, or got thrown in jail.  My father served on more Troop Committees for the various Boy Scout units my brothers and I joined than anyone had a right to expect.

For all his good work, he didn’t get anything but his own satisfaction out of it.

It was a staffer who never met him, for a union he hadn’t worked in for 40 years who called him the hero he was.

“When all is said and done, the union will stick by you when no one else does,” Frank Silbey said.

It’s still true.  In America, we still need that kind of loyalty to working people, especially to teachers.  We need it now more than ever.

EDUSolidarity Day, Part 2: Stanley Fish, formerly opposed to teacher unions, changed his mind — “We’re all badgers now”

March 22, 2011

WordPress was down for a few hours this afternoon, and I had a longish meeting this evening.  I’m running behind.

While I’m gearing up to get my promised comments up, take a look at Stanley Fish’s post at his New York Times blog:

In over 35 years of friendship and conversation, Walter Michaels and I have disagreed on only two things, and one of them was faculty and graduate student unionization. He has always been for and I had always been against. I say “had” because I recently flipped and what flipped me, pure and simple, was Wisconsin.

When I think about the reasons (too honorific a word) for my previous posture I become embarrassed. They are by and large the reasons rehearsed and apparently approved by Naomi Schaefer Riley in her recent op-ed piece “Why unions hurt higher education” (USA Today). The big reason was the feeling — hardly thought through sufficiently to be called a conviction — that someone with an advanced degree and scholarly publications should not be in the same category as factory workers with lunch boxes and hard hats. As Riley points out, even the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) used to be opposed to unionization because of “the commonly held belief that universities were not corporations and faculty were not employees.”

Good discussion from smart guys.  Go see.

EDUSolidarity Day

March 22, 2011

From the EDUSolidarity site:

Throughout the day of March 22, teachers will be sharing posts entitled “Why Teachers Like Us Support Unions”.  For those of you here to share, thank you for doing so.  To submit your posts, click here.

For those of you not sharing, we hope you will take the time to read from an extremely varied and wide variety of teachers across the country and world.  We ask that you read with open minds.  You will read many different reasons for support, some of them contradictory.  What all stories will share though is a desire to serve students.  We all feel that teachers unions give us the best shot to give our students the best possible education.

The full list of posts can be found here.

If you’re a blogger and you want to join us, please do.  Send the link to your post to the EDUSolidarity site — and let us know about it here, in comments.

Teachers in New York City are wearing red in support of union teachers (so are some in Dallas).

Of course, this is a part-time activity for those of us who teach.  I don’t have my post up yet, and may not until the school day is over.

We’re professional teachers, not professional lobbyists.  We don’t have billionaires paying for our political speech, only our hearts and minds.

Other bloggers’ contributions

  1. Rachel Levy at All Things Education
  2. Sarah Puglisi at A Day in the Life
  3. Leo Casey at EdWize
  4. Sherman Dorn
  5. f(t)
  6. Gregg Lundahl at Edwize
  7. Doug Noon – Borderland – Fairbanks, AK.
  8. Jamie JosephsonDontworryteach – Washington, DC.
  9. Kate Nowakf(t) – Syracuse, NY.
  10. Sabrina Stevens Shupe – Failing Schools – Denver, CO.
  11. Jonathan – jd2718 – Bronx, NY.
  12. Anthony Cody – Living in Dialogue – Oakland, CA.
  13. Stephen Lazar – Outside the Cave – Gotham Schools – Bronx, NY.
  14. Nancy Flanagan – Teacher in a Strange Land – Cedar, MI.
  15. Ken Bernstein aka “teacherken”teacherken at Daily Kos – Arlington, VA. teacherken
  16. Jose Vilson – The Jose Vilson – New York, NY. thejlv
  17. Sophie Germain – A Brand New Line – Santa Clara, CA. sophgermain
  18. Sarah PuglisiA Day In the Life – Oxnard, CA.
  19. Jeff Silva-BrownA Passion for Teaching and Opinions – Ukiah, CA. ukiahcoachbrown
  20. Dan Anderson – A Recursive Process – Saratoga Springs, NY. dandersod
  21. Mr. A. TalkAccountable Talk – New York, NY.
  22. Frank Noschese – Action-Reaction – Cross River, NY. fnoschese
  23. Lisa Butler – Adventures with Technology – Harrisburg, PA. SrtaLisa
  24. Rachel Levy – All Things Education – Ashland, VA. RachelAnneLevy
  25. Jason BuellAlways Formative – San Jose, CA. jybuell
  26. The Reflective EducatorAn Urban Teacher’s Education – New York, NY. urbanteachersed
  27. Apple A Day – Apple A Day Project – Boston, MA. appleadayproj
  28. Amy Valens – August to June: Bringing Life to School – New York, NY. augusttojune
  29. Chana – Blogging at the Edge of Democracy – Durham, NC. democracysedge
  30. Bud Hunt – Bud the Teacher – Fort Collins, CO. budtheteacher
  31. ChazChaz’s School Daze – Queens, NY.
  32. Marc Bousquet – Chronicle of Higher Education – Los Gatos, CA.
  33. David Coffey – Delta Scape – Spring Lake, MI. delta_dc
  34. Leo CaseyDissent Magazine – New York, NY.
  35. Brent NyczDon’t Settle – New York, NY. BNiche
  36. Peter – Ed in the Apple – New York, NY.
  37. Norm ScottEducation Notes – Rockaway Beach, NY.
  38. Deven Black – Education on the Plate – New York City, NY. devenkblack
  39. David Andrade – Educational Technology Guy – Bridgeport, CT. daveandcori
  40. educator4WI – educator4WI – Madison, WI.
  41. Francis S. Midy – EduSolidarity Essays – Bronx, NY.
  42. Suzanne Donahue – EduSolidarity Essays – Rockland County, NY.
  43. Eric BrunsellEdutopia – STEM Blog – Appleton, WI. Brunsell
  44. Esther BerksonEdwize – Bronx, NY.
  45. Jason LeibowitzEdwize – New York, NY.
  46. Jessica JacobsEdwize – Staten Island, NY.
  47. Lissette VelazquezEdwize – New York, NY.
  48. Marc KorashanEdwize – New York, NY.
  49. Roseanne McCoshEdwize – Bronx, NY.
  50. JennyElementary, My Dear, or Far From It – Springfield, VA. jenorr
  51. Marie Levey-Pabst – English Teachin’ Vegan – Boston, MA.
  52. Christal WattsFive Feet of Feisty – Fairfield, CA. christal_watts
  53. Jay Bullockfolkbum’s rambles and rants – Milwaukee, WI. folkbum
  54. Fred Klonsky – Fred Klonsky’s Blog – Chicago, IL. fklonsky
  55. Zeno – Halfway There – Northern CA.
  56. Mimi YangI Hope This Old Train Breaks Down… – El Salvador (formerly NYC). untilnextstop
  57. Cathy B – I.M.O. In My Opinion – Detroit, MI. Cathy_Brackett
  58. David B. Cohen – InterACT – Palo Alto, CA. CohenD
  59. Ruben BrosbeIs Our Children Learning? – New York, NY. blogsbe
  60. Lynne Winderbaumjd2718 (friend’s blog) – Rockland County, NY.
  61. Larry Ferlazzo – Larry Ferlazzo’s Websites of The Day – Sacramento, CA. larryferlazzo
  62. Julia TsyganLearning (by) Teaching – Stockholm, Sweden.
  63. Kathryn Coffey – Literacy Gurl – Spring Lake, MI. literacygurl
  64. Gregg LundahlLundahl – New York, NY.
  65. Brian CohenMaking the Grade – Philadelphia, PA. bncohen
  66. Mark Anderson – MAnderson’s Bubble – New York, NY. mandercorn
  67. Nick Yates – Maryland Math Madness – Baltimore, MD. nyates314
  68. CurmudgeonMath Curmudgeon – VT.
  69. Chris Hill – Math is a Shovel – Seattle, WA. hillby258
  70. Sue VanHattum – Math Mama Writes – Richmond, CA.
  71. Owen Thomas – MathEdZineBlog – Columbus, OH. vlorbik
  72. John Goldenmathhombre – Grand Haven, MI. mathhombre
  73. Miss Adventure – Miss Adventure’s Adventures – GA.
  74. Michael Dunn – Modern School – San Francisco, CA. ModSchool
  75. Bill IveyMy Blog at ISENET.ning.com – Shelburne Falls, MA.
  76. Tricia DiPasqualeMy Life – Somerville, MA. PDiPasquale
  77. Kristen FoussMy Web 2.0 journey – Cincinnati, OH. fouss
  78. Courtney FerrellNo Teacher Left Behind – New York, NY.
  79. Miss EyreNYC Educator – New York, NY.
  80. Christopher SearsOmega Unlimited – Maysville, KY.
  81. Stephen LazarOutside the Cave – Bronx, NY. SLazarOtC
  82. John Mcrann – Outside the Cave (guest post) – Bronx, NY.
  83. Penelope MillarOutside the Cave (Guest post) – VA. PetiteViking
  84. Alexa – Pas Pour Tout Les Yeux (personal blog, mostly private) – Chicago, IL.
  85. Chris Spiliotispassing notes – Enterprise, FL. _thelink
  86. Pat BallewPat’s Blog – USA.
  87. Peggy RobertsonPeg with Peg – Centennial, CO. PegwithPen
  88. Brendan Murphy – Philosophy Without A Home – Waukegan IL. dendari
  89. pissedoffteacherPissedoffteacher – Queens, NY.
  90. Chris LehmannPractical Theory – Philadelphia, PA. chrislehmann
  91. Gamal Sherif – ProgressEd – Philadelphia, PA.
  92. Alice Mercer – Reflections on Teaching – Sacramento, CA. alicemercer
  93. Chuck Olynyk – Remember Fremont – Pomona, CA.
  94. Nancy Cavillones – Se Hace Camino al Andar – Bronx, NY.
  95. Shakespeare’s SisterShakespeare’s Sister – CO. shakes_sister
  96. Sherman Dorn – Sherman Dorn – Tampa, FL. shermandorn
  97. Chris Janotta – SOS Million Teacher Blog Site – Tinley Park IL. SOSMTM
  98. Ira David Socol – SpeEdChange – Holland, MI. irasocol
  99. Maria AngalaTeacher Sol – Washington, DC. TeacherSol
  100. Mary Rice-BootheThe Education Traveler – New York, NY. Edu_Traveler
  101. Jose VilsonThe Jose Vilson – New York, NY. thejlv
  102. Timothy Boyle – The Notebook – Philadelphia, PA.
  103. Samuel ReedThe Philadelphia Public School Notebook – Philadelphia, PA. sriii2000
  104. Kelly Mueller – The Power of Accomplished Teaching – St. Louis, MO. lkelly46
  105. Rich Trash – The Trashman’s Disposable Reader – Queens, NY. RichTrash
  106. David ReberTopeka K-12 Examiner – Lawrence, KS. David_Reber
  107. Tuba BauhoferTuba Bauhofer – Kent. springrose12
  108. Mary Tedrow – Walking to School – Winchester, VA. mtedrow
  109. Katie Svoboda – What’s on Katie’s Mind? – Sturgis, MI.
  110. Paul Wagnerzenbassoon at Daily Kos – Hebron, IN. BssnistPaul

Quote of the moment: Thomas Jefferson on public works

March 21, 2011

Map of "internal improvements" in Virginia - Library of Congress

Map of "internal improvements" in Virginia - Library of Congress: "What is the transportation improvement between Fairfax Courthouse and Warrenton - the Alexandria-Warrenton turnpike, or the Orange and Alexandria Railroad? Can you spot the Columbia Pike connecting the Little River Turnpike to Washington DC, via Alexandria (now Arlington) County? Note how roads do not connect Dumfries to the Shenandoah Valley... Source: A map of the internal improvements of Virginia; prepared by C. Crozet, late principal engineer of Va. under a resolution of the General Assembly adopted March 15th, 1848, Library of Congress"

Back in the 18th and 19th centuries, they called public works, “internal improvements.”

The fondest wish of my heart ever was that the surplus portion of these taxes, destined for the payment of that debt, should, when that object was accomplished, be continued, by annual or biennial re-enactments, and applied, in time of peace, to the improvements of our country by canals, roads, and useful institutions, literary or others; and, in time of war, to the maintenance of the war.

♦  Thomas Jefferson, in letter to John Wayles Eppes, Poplar Forest, September 11, 1813; found in The Quotable Jefferson, collected and edited by John P. Kaminski, Princeton University Press, 2006

Quote of the moment: Goodbye unions, goodbye democracy

March 20, 2011

Nelson Lichtenstein, University of California - Santa Barbara

Nelson Lichtenstein, University of California - Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara Independent photo

Most jobs in America are not in manufacturing or subject to international competition. So the service sector, retail, construction — there are a huge number of jobs where international competition has nothing to do with it. The obstacles there are domestic. Labor law is totally dysfunctional. Workers really don’t have the right to form unions of their choosing. So you’re right to be pessimistic, just for different reasons.

I also have a mega-historical answer to that question, though. If you look at the last 150 years of history across all nations with a working class of some sort, the maintenance of democracy and the maintenance of a union movement are joined at the hip. We’ve seen this dramatically reconfirmed in Spain and South Korea and Poland over the years. If democracy has a future, then so too must trade unionism. Sadly, that doesn’t offer much hope for my lifetime. But there is such a thing as conflict between capital and labor.

Nelson Lichtenstein is arguably the most influential living historian of American labor; interviewed by Ezra Klein of the Washington Post blogs, March 10, 2011

When reform efforts frustrate themselves

March 20, 2011

Sometimes, state and administrative pressure to change school culture is counterproductive, sometimes destructive enough to derail reform efforts.  How?

When the teachers are made scapegoats.

Dana Goldstein, Lady Wonk, followed up on the reform efforts at Central Falls High School in Rhode Island, from last year:

Despite their clear pleasure in working with the students, Kulla and Cherko said teacher morale throughout the building remains low, in part because of last year’s termination crisis and the resulting high-turnover among staff, and in part because student discipline remains a major problem.

“The kids, when they’re here, need to know this is a place of learning,” Kulla said. “Right now they don’t.” Cherko added that the layoff crisis was interpreted by many students as a sign that their teachers were incompentent. “I’m not sure they realize how nationally-driven what happened last year was,” he said. “They say, ‘The teachers got fired because they’re bad at their jobs.'”

The Central Falls administration certainly seems hard at work attempting to improve discipline and attendence; the fact that the numbers remain problematic show just how difficult it is to revitalize a school’s culture. The termination crisis, unfortunately, probably worsenend the problem by sending students and their parents the message that CFHS teachers are not respected professionals.

Goldstein discusses other issues, and it’s worth a read.

“I Have Sex” — students speak out against ideological attack on Planned Parenthood

March 20, 2011

Here’s something to think about, from students at Wesleyan College:

The film’s producers on Facebook.

Tip of the old scrub brush to Dana Goldstein, Lady Wonk.

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