Today's Fair Shots - July 14, 207

1-Malfaro: Dan Patrick School Finance Plan Asks Schools to 'Make Bricks Without Straw'

2-New TrumpCare Proposal Stays Ugly, But Awaits Further Action

3-Death of Chinese Dissident Liu Xiaobo Exposes Heart of 'Buy Chinese' Movement

4-Columnist: Millennials Need to Assume Leadership in Labor Movement

1) There's smoke. There's meta-smoke. Then there's Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick's school finance plan, announced yesterday in a news conference suffused with subliminal "Political Stunt!" messages.

  Patrick said he wanted to pursue a "serious plan" for funding teacher pay raises. He threw in the notion of longevity bonuses in addition to pay raises. He also suggested shoring up aspects of the system for providing health care to retired teachers, a subject just addressed in the regular legislative session but left with holes. His sources of funding the $700 million cost are mainly reallocation of funds already budgeted for public schools, including a portion of lottery proceeds. 

  Before laying out his plan, Patrick attacked the House plan from the regular legislative session, calling it a "Ponzi scheme" and the Senate plan "serious." The House's regular session plan to borrow $1.5 billion against the next budget may be not be the best financial tactic. But the "accounting trick" had the virtue of providing new money and has served as a tried-and-true legislative method of moving on.

  As if to leave no doubt that today's discussion was less than "serious," Patrick also declared that House Speaker Joe Straus's plan could only be paid for with a state income tax. That is not true; if it chose, the Legislature could find the money in other places. Throwing the political Molotov cocktail of an income tax into the House chamber ahead of the special session that begins next Tuesday does not look like a "serious" move on school finance. 

  Straus, for his part, was typically low-key, stating, "It's encouraging to see the Lieutenant Governor's newfound focus on school finance reform. Nothing could be more important in this special session than beginning to fix our school finance system so that we improve education, keep more local dollars in local schools, and provide real property tax relief, just as the House overwhelmingly approved in the regular session."

  Our Brothers and Sisters at Texas AFT offered this take in the form of a statement by Texas AFT President Louis Malfaro:

  Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick's numbers just didn't add up to a serious school-finance plan today as he threw out a flurry of proposals for increased teacher compensation without offering any new state money to pay for them.

  Professing his devotion to funding for education and teachers, Patrick quoted the Bible:  "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." But in reality he is insisting that our schools do more with less-that they make bricks without straw.

  For all the rhetoric he used, what his proposals come down to is no new money for education. Instead, educators are directed to reprioritize existing funds. School districts would be asked to stretch already thin budgets even more.

  In essence, he's saying let's pretend we have more dollars to work with, and then we can pretend to give teachers more money.

  The Texas Legislature should increase per-pupil funding so that school districts can meet students' needs.    

2) Meet the new TrumpCare. Same as the old TrumpCare.

  Richard Fiesta of the Alliance for Retired Americans blasted the slightly altered U.S. Senate version of the proposal to "repeal and replace" the Affordable Care Act. ACA added well over 20 million Americans to the health care rolls, including many in states like Texas that refused to participate in major aspects of the law. TrumpCare would take a huge chunk of those advances away. The scary thing is that 50 senators could propel this historic act of regression into law: 

  "The Senate Republican leadership's latest try at an Obamacare repeal bill seeks to placate the mostextreme conservative wing of their party at the expense of working and older Americans.

  "This bill still dramatically cuts Medicaid, which provides health insurance for millions of elderly and disabled Americans. By any definition, it is still cruel.

  "The Cruz amendment will wreak havoc on the insurance markets and increase costs to people with pre-existing conditions. Eighty-four percent of Americans aged 55-64 have at least one pre-existing condition.

  "Americans want affordable, quality health care but the Republican plan will make older and sicker Americans pay more. Those who need coverage the most will be sent into a spiral of rising premiums and costs.

  "The 4.4 million members of the Alliance are organized and unified in our opposition to this plan, and will continue to urge our elected officials to vote against it."

3)  A flip side of labor's drive to "Buy American" is that those who oppose preferences for U.S. products are placing themselves on the "Buy Chinese" side.

  Yesterday, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate who is mainly unknown to his own people, Liu Xiaobo, died in Chinese custody. New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof reports he was the first Nobel Prize laureate to die in custody since the Nazi era. Liu's "crime" was speaking up for democracy, Kristof notes. Kristof likened Liu to Nelson Mandela in part because he, too, praised his captors for their "professionalism."

  Some of the proponents of the recently approved Texas "Buy American" law that creates preferences for domestic steel and iron suggested the alternative was to continue supporting "Communist China." The death of Liu is a reminder that the authentic world of "free trade" bears no resemblance to the rhetoric around "free markets". China's competition is waged not merely with the cooperation of the totalitarian Chinese government, but by the Chinese government itself, which oversees labor, environmental and other matters with an iron totalitarian fist. The death of Liu puts a face on just how "free" the international trade regime is in its actual operation. I have joined many of my Brothers and Sisters in organized labor in fielding occasional accusations that we are "Communists." Here is what happens when lovers of democracy go up against real Communists:

  Liu Xiaobo died with dignity and honor, true to his principles. Everybody else, not so much.

  Some day after democracy has come to China, there will be a memorial in Tiananmen Square to Liu. There will never be a memorial there in free China to Xi, who has overseen a harsh crackdown on dissent on his watch, leaving China substantially less free.

  For those of you who don't know Liu, a few glimpses of him:

1.   He was a brilliant professor who in the spring of 1989 was a visiting scholar safely ensconced at Columbia University. But when the Tiananmen student democracy protests began, he rushed back to China to support the protesters. When the troops opened fire on protesters on the night of June 3-4, 1989, he could have fled but stayed to negotiate with the Army and arrange a safe exit for students from the center of Tiananmen Square. In the 1990's as well, he could have moved to the West, but instead he stayed to fight for freedom in his own country.

2.    His was also a great love story, and the Chinese brutalized his wife, Liu Xia, to put pressure on him. Liu Xia was emotionally fragile, and although she was never even charged with any crime she was confined to house arrest. The Chinese government knew that Liu Xiaobo would never crack, so it deliberately inflicted great isolation and suffering on his wife to gain leverage over him. Yet the couple persevered, and he once wrote a beautiful tribute to her: "Your love is the sunlight that leaps over high walls and penetrates the iron bars of my prison window, stroking every inch of my skin, warming every cell of my body ... and filling every minute of my time in prison with meaning.

3.    Dissidents are often unreasonable people, for it takes something special to risk everything and challenge an oppressive state. Liu Xiaobo started out his career unreasonable, as an enfant terrible academic, but steadily became more moderate and reasonable in his career. His call for democracy, Charter 08, is a model of reasonableness, and he periodically complimented his persecutors on their professionalism to make clear that he did not resent them-and that is one reason I compare him to Mandela.

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4)  Kashana Cauley,  a writer for "The Daily Show With Trevor Noah," posted an excellent column in The New York Times about why millennials like her should be the leaders of the next generation of labor movement. Cauley remembers the benefits unions brought to her family, including medical and paid leave benefits for her Dad when his job as an auto worker did a number on his knees. Without a new generation of leadership, that institutional knowledge could go away.

  The union constituency group in Texas known as YALL (Young Active Labor Leaders) is building leadership that knows the stakes and can act:

  The last big boom for American unions came during a period that resembles the present one: The Great Depression, like the '08 recession, left workers deeply unsatisfied with wages and working conditions. Thanks to the New Deal's favorable collective bargaining legislation, Americans felt free to organize unions and petition their employers for labor rights; there were 12 million labor union members by the end of World War II.

  People like me, who have mental museums filled with memories of the stability that came with our parents' union jobs, could be the perfect leaders of the next labor union renaissance. We millennials, many of whom entered the work force during the last recession, have borne the brunt of the country's recent decline in employment quality, with lower wages, diminishing benefits and the presence of noncompete clauses that hurt even entry-level employees from finding subsequent jobs. We show higher support for unions than previous generations, and with good reason: Unionized employees typically enjoy better benefits and have made about 27 percent more than their non-unionized counterparts for roughly the last 15 years.

  The union newsletters my father kept in our bathroom magazine rack may have faded, but their message - about the value of jobs that provide a fair wage, reasonable conditions and the ability to care for a family - is as timely now as it ever was.

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