Politics & Policy

Castro’s key to Madison, &c.

I realize the heading over this column is a little ambiguous. Do I mean that Castro is key to Madison? Key to understanding what the Left is doing there, in Wisconsin’s capital? No. I’ll explain in a second.

Last week, a reader wrote me to say that the demonstrators and marauders reminded her of Venezuela: what Chávez and his goons do there. I said, in a post, that they reminded me somewhat of Cuba. On that cursed island, the dictatorship sends gangs to the homes of “unreliable” Cubans, where they scream, denounce, and threaten. (They also do worse, as a reader wrote to remind me.) These tactics are known as “actos de repudio” — acts of repudiation. They are a longtime staple of the regime.

In Wisconsin, union members are going to the homes of Republican legislators, to scream and generally intimidate. On Thursday, I spoke by phone to Sen. Randy Hopper. At the end of our conversation, I asked whether he was driving home that night. He said that he and his Republican colleagues were not disclosing information like that. They were working with law enforcement, on how best to protect themselves and their families.

I thought, “How disgusting: A legislator can’t even tell a reporter whether he’s going home to sleep. In America? It has come to that? These are the people the president of the United States is cheering on? Great, just great.”

Hopper and his fellow Republicans have received many threats. They are the kind of threat you can’t just shrug off.

In Idaho — and elsewhere, I’m sure — the teachers’ union sends to its members the home addresses and telephone numbers of elected officials of whom the union disapproves. The members use those addresses and numbers, too. I find this — to use an old-fashioned term — un-American. And undemocratic. One of the Idaho teachers went to the home of the mother of superintendent Tom Luna.

Anyway, this is what I’m winding up to: A reader sent me an article from the Wisconsin State Journal, here. It explains that Paul Soglin is running for mayor of Madison again. He does not now hold the office; but he has held it for 14 years in the past. While mayor, he gave the key to the city to Fidel Castro, the beast and dictator of Cuba. Of course he did. Whether he gave it to Pol Pot and Kim Il-sung too, I can’t tell you.

Madison: the Ann Arbor of Wisconsin (though far prettier, I must admit). (Actually, when I was a kid, in Ann Arbor, Castro wasn’t the cool one. Mao and Ho Chi Minh were the biggies.) (Castro and Guevara were very much honored too, don’t get me wrong. But I seem to remember Mao and Ho as the most glorified.)

‐If Soglin is reelected, do you think he’ll give the key to the city to Raúl? Or has that already been taken care of? How about baby Kim, Kim Jong-il? And the new baby? They better make a lot of keys . . .

‐What is really dismaying to me is that honest and decent liberals aren’t decrying the tactics used by the unions in Wisconsin (and elsewhere). At least, I have not heard such liberal criticism or rebuke. If my side — the Republican, conservative side — were behaving this way, going to people’s homes and so on, I would be quick to say that this was disgusting. Each side, in a way, ought to police its own. I would not want to be associated with bullies and thugs.

As I noted last week, the president of the United States ought to say something — ought to say something about the ugly tactics being used by the union Left. It would be big of him. Don’t hold your breath.

Let me put this another way: Your view of the policy debate in Wisconsin — your view of that budget bill — should not affect your view of the unions’ tactics. If I opposed this bill, which I certainly do not, I know I’d be against the “sick-ins” — these teacher strikes (in all but name). And I would be horrified by these actos de repudio, Wisconsin-style (and Idaho-style, etc.).

‐The press keeps referring to the protesters in Madison as “working people.” But they’re not working, are they? The teachers — “teachers” — are using the paid sick leave provided by the taxpayers to go rallying, and screaming, and drum-beating . . .

‐Jesse Jackson called the union demonstrations “a Martin Luther King moment.” When you list those who dishonor the memory of King, don’t forget Jackson. King fought and sacrificed for the basic civil rights of millions of Americans; the teachers’ unions are screaming petulantly for the continuation of a gravy train that the taxpayers, exhausted, are unable to fund.

‐Jackson has raised political ambulance-chasing to a high art (or a low one). How’d he beat Sharpton to Wisconsin?

‐Some years ago, Jackson made his view of the Cuban dictatorship clear. As a guest of honor of that dictatorship, he hollered, “Viva Fidel Castro! Viva Che Guevara!” Later, on television, Bill Buckley asked him, “When you wished long life to Castro, did you mean to wish short life to his prisoners?” A short life, some would say, would be more merciful . . .

‐In a post last week, I recalled a famous statement of Al Shanker, the late teacher-union leader: “When schoolchildren start paying union dues, that’s when I’ll start representing the interests of schoolchildren.” 

A reader wrote in recalling a 2009 statement by Bob Chanin, an NEA big, now retired. Why are the NEA and its affiliates “such effective advocates”? Chanin explained,

Despite what some among us would like to believe, it is not because of our creative ideas. It is not because of the merit of our positions. It is not because we care about children. And it is not because we have a vision of a great public school for every child. NEA and its affiliates are effective advocates because we have power. And we have power because there are more than 3.2 million people who are willing to pay us hundreds of millions of dollars in dues each year . . .

As others have pointed out, the only thing wrong with that statement is “willing” — a lot of those teachers are unwilling but coerced.

‐I heard from a reluctant union member in Ohio. He and his colleagues were at lunch:

A teacher who has been in this union for years was convinced that the district would begin firing teachers without cause. Another older teacher said, “I’m just worried about who’s going to protect you younger teachers,” referring to those of us under 30. A friend of mine quickly responded, “We’re already unprotected. Unionization makes sure we’re the first ones to go, even though we’re the least expensive and most motivated!”

Wow. That took brass. My correspondent continued, “It’s been interesting to see how this is developing” — “this” meaning unrest over education and reform. “Older teachers are lining up behind their union bosses and younger teachers are ready for change.”

‐Another letter, typical:

Dear Jay,

Back in 1988 or so, I was a young, first-year teacher, and my union went on strike. I was a member only because I had to be. I chose not to go on strike because I had a moral duty to teach my students and to honor the contract I had signed.

Among my friends were teachers who went on strike. I disagreed with them but respected their decision. Sadly, too many of them did not respect mine. I was yelled at, called a scab, hissed at, and videotaped as I walked from the faculty parking lot. I was intimidated and frightened, but continued to teach. . . .

After the strike, a few “friends” wouldn’t speak to me, but most would . . . A veteran teacher urged me to leave public education because the problems were so big. I left that year, to take a 25 percent pay cut and teach in a religious school. I still work in religious education and work with teachers dedicated to our students.

My experience taught me that unions use thug tactics and that anyone can be manipulated into behaving like an incoherent bully.

‐In some post last week, I mentioned that Tom Luna, in Idaho, had his tires slashed (and a threat painted onto the vehicle door). (This was not as bad as the visit to his mother by the unionist.) A reader writes,

I am a water-resources engineer. When I was a state employee, I gave a presentation recommending that the state issue a permit allowing the construction of a new dam and reservoir. (This was approved, though opposed by the Sierra Club and other “greens.”) Two days later, my tires got slashed. Occupational hazard, I guess.

Is it really? Is tire slashing something like . . . de rigueur?

‐Let’s move on to pleasanter topics. I’m writing you from lovely DeLand, Fla. — and, more specifically, from Stetson University (named after the hat man, yes. The teams are called the Hatters).

On the flight from LaGuardia, I had a window seat. This is unusual for me. I usually have an aisle. As we lifted out of New York, I was reminded just what a watery place it is: a place of islands and peninsulas and whatnot. Positively archipelago-esque. It is possible to forget, when you’re on the ground.

‐A stewardess — steward, actually (is one still allowed to use those terms?) — reminded us that the flight was non-smoking. So are all flights, as far as I know. Will there come a time when this announcement is unnecessary?

Hotels used to advertise color television and air conditioning. After a while, it was assumed.

‐We flew into Orlando, which is very watery itself — or at least in a watery region. From higher up, the place looks dotted with puddles, lots of large puddles.

‐My favorite street in DeLand is possibly San Souci (an innocent misspelling of “sans souci”). It’s as though there were a saint named Souci.

‐I’m not sure that birds have a better time in any other city — they sing and squawk their behinds off.

‐Moss on trees? It’s still a good idea, after all these centuries . . .

‐The people here, when they pass you, say, “Good morning.” A clue that we’re not in Manhattan anymore (and I don’t mean Kansas).

‐The Buttercup Bakery is in a pretty yellow house, with white lacy woodwork, and they have a drive-thru. The joint is closed when I walk by, heartbreakingly.

‐I see that the Hatters baseball team is next playing Maine. Remember when schools played other schools that were pretty close by? Anyway, the Maine boys — the Mainiacs — will enjoy the weather . . .

‐The pawn shop of B.J. Phelps (“Fast Cash!”) doesn’t look much like a pawn shop. It’s not seedy and forbidding. It’s pink and . . . almost pretty. Have you ever seen a pretty pink pawn shop? (Sounds kind of like Dr. Seuss, I know.)

‐A boy of about 15 called me “sir.” Like to’ve died.

‐The trumpety sound of a sandhill crane — that is something new to me. Have never heard anything like that, in nature or an orchestra.

‐A sign outside a church says, “I love you whether you like it or not.”

With that — see you soon, and thanks for reading, rants and all.




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