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The Sentinel Gets it Wrong

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By Jerry Waxman

“All I know is what I read in the papers………………………” Will Rogers

So, what else is new? They recently published two articles on the current contract negotiations between the Orange County School Board (OCPS) and the Orange County Classroom Teachers Association (CTA) with misguided slanted statements as well as with oversimplified rhetoric which is designed to sway public opinion against the teachers and marginalize their professional standing.

When you have an organization that that has made a fiasco out of well meaning collective bargaining over the recent years, reducing the level of professionalism in teachers and support staff, what’s your next move? That’s easy. Let the Orlando Sentinel take positions with facts from only one side and use generalizations to gloss over the true story. The first sentence of each of the recent articles seeks to vilify the CTA. The last we knew it took two sides to bargain. If one side is intransigent on a policy or a contract language, and it takes at least 2 sides to bargain, then bargaining cannot take place. The CTA has learned a lesson over time and it now takes contract language very seriously, as the spirit of the agreement has been broken by OCPS many times over the last 4 years devastating many teachers economically. One result is that CTA plans on tracking the number of teachers who have to rely on public assistance during employment and shortly after retirement. Yes, it is important to work together, but it needs to be done fairly, out in the open and collaboratively.

The point is did the reporter write the articles exactly as they appeared, or did the editor change the tone and nature of them? Quoting from the April 4 article:

The union wasn’t objecting to the raises, per se, but to other elements of the proposed settlement. In many cases, the objections are over language that union leaders contend would reduce teachers’ bargaining power.

They also objected to a middle ground on health care benefits. The district wanted to pass on health care cost increases largely to employees. The union wanted the district to pay the full cost of health insurance premiums for employees opting for higher-benefit plans. The magistrate recommended that the district pay the first 8 percent of any premium cost increases, with any additional costs split between the employees and district.

The union also wanted language that would have forbidden the district from using “directives,” which are written clarifications of expectations, against the employee. The magistrate, M. Scott Milinski, wrote that he couldn’t recommend that change, since directives are intended to improve employee performance.

The latest action by the union appears to be sowing some discord among teachers. Carl Howard, a teacher who has long butted heads with union president Diana Moore, wrote her a letter Thursday demanding that she poll union members — or at least school-level union leaders — on what they want done. “A reasonable person would have settled long ago,” wrote Howard, who is a union representative at Princeton Elementary.

The rejection comes amid a contentious union election, with observers from the Florida Education Association threatening to withdraw oversight.

Had the reporter or the editor properly vetted the people they talked to they would have found Carl Howard a completely unreliable source. True, he and current CTA head Diana Moore are at odds with each other, but that’s been his history for years. He showed the same opposition to past CTA head Mike Cahill and in the process angered mostly everyone in union leadership. In case the Sentinel had forgotten, this is the same Carl Howard, who was a sitting Water & Soil commissioner when he was arrested for shoplifting about $800.00 worth of marking pens a few years ago. Howard is also behind the recall petition for Moore which has pitifully few signatures. Howard has also been using the OCPS e-mail system to push his agenda which is both unethical and not intended for that purpose, which could have the school board take corrective action against the union. Moore has said that she has received a multitude of phone calls and messages from teachers complaining about Howard and his tactics

Then on April 5 The Sentinel again published an article focusing on Moore’s leadership. Here are some excerpts from that article:

The focus of the campaign is Diana Moore, who has brought a combative, aggressive style to the union presidency since she emerged victorious from a contentious election two years ago.

“She’s made enemies of the people we need to be working with,” said Teresa Yates, a West Orange High School teacher who has thrown her support behind Glyniss Hudson, a colleague running against Moore.

Still, Moore has many backers.

“I think she’s done a lot to revitalize the union,” said Vincent Johnston, a teacher at Rolling Hills Elementary who thinks the district has tried to undermine Moore.

Moore has headed the union with a strong hand and little interest in compromise. The school district agreed last month to a proposed settlement that would give 99 percent of Orange teachers a raise of at least $2,475 but also require performance pay.

The union on Wednesday rejected elements of that ruling, which was brokered by a special magistrate.

Why is it that a woman who is steadfast in holding the line is viewed by this local media as combative, yet a man would be seen as being strong? Why is it that a woman who shows leadership is aggressive and a man demonstrating leadership is in control? The issue of demeanor aside, the two recent articles fail to connect the dots in tracking just how much of the governor’s money will not reach the teachers for personal budgeting. It may be as high as 33 Million dollars. The union lost out four years ago on the contract talks because of weak leadership with no negotiating skills, and as a result only came away with $500.00 bonuses for all teachers. The union was determined not to let that happen again. They were much better this time and it was because of stronger, more focused leadership. They made some mistakes but you only learn by going through this kind of experience.

The real culprit here is a lack of understanding the budgeting process by almost every member of the board itself, none more clueless than former chair Joie Cadle. She’s the main reason the teachers did not get raises four years ago, and she’s part of the reason that they are in that situation now. Another part of today’s problem is Chairman Bill Sublette, the only elected official in this entire country with two votes. Sublette is a former state legislator who would never question the state’s directives on VAM scores. Every other county in Central Florida, as well as all large counties in the state seemed OK without using VAM scores to settle, but not OCPS. A third part of the equation is Superintendant Barbara Jenkins. Jenkins is a graduate of the Broad Academy, which is notorious for school reform along with the Gates and Walton Foundations, which are dedicated to rigid testing, vouchers, mislabeled school choice and devaluation of teachers in general. It’s no wonder that OCPS schools are up for the Broad Prize, which was just announced on April 9. Barbara Jenkins needs to share her philosophy on union-management partnerships and the process of collective bargaining. Both the teachers and the public would like to know if Superintendent Barbara Jenkins is anti-union.

Most importantly did the Sentinel research the backgrounds of the candidates that have made comments in those articles that show an appearance to be biased in favor of one side? Is the Orlando Sentinel attempting to influence the CTA’s leadership in the upcoming election that will be held on April 11? Collective bargaining cannot properly occur with a board that begins and ends with the philosophy of “take it, leave it or lump it”. On the other hand, “advanced” public school districts with the highest scores from state to state on national tests also have the most productive union-management partnerships with true collective bargaining. They keep their word on agreements made avoided twisting terminology and false claims of legality. The issue here is what’s best for the children? This current school board has shown time and again that the 187,000 children in the system don’t matter to them. Obviously Jeb Bush’s education policies along with the Broad Foundation’s headlong attempt to destroy public education as we know it mean much more to them. The only people who actually do care about the children are the teachers. That’s why they teach. It’s certainly not to get rich.

It is the vision of CTA President, Diana Moore and her supporters to walk the narrow line through negotiations for a win-win result and a stronger contract to guide the growth of students, parents and teacher professionalism in Orange County Schools.

But Wait!!! There’s More—This just in!

In the April 5 Sentinel the article stated:

In a harshly-worded statement, FEA president Andy Ford wrote that the local committee overseeing the Orange CTA election “has no prior experience or expertise in conducting an election and that some members do not have the required neutrality to administer a complex elections process.” He said that the FEA would not continue to help oversee the election without specific direction from the CTA about what the expected role of FEA staff is.

Apparently, the Sentinel had gotten hold of an e-mail sent to Moore and others on her board expressing FEA’s concerns. When questioned by the Sentinel, Ford expressed confidence that the elections will be fair. Of course, when you read the article that statement wasn’t there. At 10:38 AM on April 9 Ford sent word to Moore that after several exchanges with union representatives he was rescinding his withdrawal of support, and at the same time he bemoaned the fact that the Sentinel chose to be deliberately misleading. Here are portions of the e-mail he sent to Moore:

Following thoughtful messages and requests from several committee members, I am rescinding my withdrawal of support for the election. The Chief of Staff has directed Tom Fackender and Aaron Hilligas to once again provide active support to the Elections and Surveys Committee, although they have continued to provide requested support to the co-chairs since last Wednesday because they knew the committee required that help.

Based on the work of the Committee and our staff, we believe that a foundation now exists for that purpose going forward.

I am aware that my email last week was provided to the press. That is an unfortunate occurrence most likely the result of someone forwarding a copy to the reporter, a likely symptom of the atmosphere that now exists in your local. We had no role in that release. When asked for comment by the Sentinel reporter, we told them that we were completely confident that the election was being conducted in a fair and legal manner and that our differences were related to lines of responsibility only. The Sentinel chose not to report our comments.

Stay tuned for further developments. There’s more to come.

“Badges? We don’t need no stinkin’ badges!”

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By Jerry Waxman

In B. Traven’s 1927 novel, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, part of the plot involved outlaws pretending to be police in order to murder the American gold prospectors for whatever loot they could steal. In the novel, Bob Curtin asks them for identification to which one of them replied: “Badges, to god-damned hell with badges! We have no badges. In fact, we don’t need badges. I don’t have to show you any stinking badges (expletive deleted)!”  This was at a time following the Mexican Revolution when many of the revolutionaries split up into bandit gangs. The Mexican government had their own police force, The Federales, as well as the army dispensing quick justice to those that they caught. The 1948 movie was as faithful to the novel as the Hollywood Code would allow, but there were a few changes that did not impede the story. In the movie Fred C. Dobbs (Humphrey Bogart) asks the question, and Gold Hat (Alfonso Bedoya) responds with the now immortal quote in this piece’s title. Taken as pure entertainment The Treasure of the Sierra Madre is one of my favorite all time movies, and I’ve also read the book. If people actually read the books that most of these movies were adapted from they would be aghast at the liberties taken and regard them, no matter how entertaining, as cheap imitations. I hate what Hollywood has done to Steinbeck and Hemingway and so many others. So, why this diatribe? That’s simple; I hate cheap imitations and I hate fraudulent representations like Teach For America.

Yes, it’s coming to OCPS and that is tragic. Ask yourself a few questions. Would you choose a doctor or dentist who only had five weeks of training out of college and not a member of the AMA to diagnose and treat you? Would you hire someone who only had five weeks of training without having taken the bar exam, and is not a member of the ABA to represent you? Would you hire any professional be it an electrician, plumber, air conditioner repairman who isn’t licensed? If you would even think about it you’re a fool. There are plenty of con artists out there who fool people all the time and they pay dearly for it. TFA is just another con that our very lackluster school board has fallen for. Shame on them. OCPS spends well over a billion dollars on construction and maintenance every year and I’m sure that their building contractors are quite reputable. That’s no Penny Saver handyman doing that construction, yet they’re quite willing to put people in the classroom that are in no way qualified to teach our most precious assets, who don’t have any stinkin’ badges. Where’s the sense there?

You might want to blame it on OCPS. Their divisive policies have forced 2300 teachers out of the system since 2012 with more to follow. They’re still fighting the teachers over a minimum raise which should have been settled long ago, yet they are willing to bring in TFA people and pay them the same money as hard working teachers who have years of classroom management experience as well as professional credentials in their chosen fields. The money will be supplied by funding from Race to the Top, which is something that any sensible school board would have rejected, but then this board has no guts. Instead of advocating for the children, they act as babysitters for their funders. They are as culpable as any Orange County and state agency, yet they could not have that power unless they were elected, and there is the missing part of the equation. Shakespeare said it eloquently: “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.”  There’s more to that quote but its meaning is clear; we elected them without knowing who they are or what they do and we pay for it dearly. This is very traceable back to former governor Jeb Bush, who at the time was quite popular. Unfortunately, the Bush era brought in legislators that harmed this state, especially in the area of education. Bush founded some foundations that set about to siphon off public money to fund unaccountable charters and enable nonproductive testing to evaluate teachers and school systems. The real enemy of education in this state is Jeb Bush and his minions, yet he was able to convince big money, like The Waltons, The Broads and The Gates Foundation to go along with his ideas. Until we completely discredit and reject Jeb Bush, Florida will wallow in less than mediocre stature

Why do we elect people who do us harm? Why do we elect people who leave us worse off than we were before? The answer to me is obvious. It’s from another famous novel and movie, All the king’s Men, where the main character reveals who the voters really are: “Now listen to me, you hicks. Yeah, you’re hicks too, and they fooled you a thousand times like they fooled me.” Again, this is not the entire quote but the message is clear-the average voter in this state is a hick who will continue to be fooled come election time. The eleventh largest school system in the country deserves much better. I just got this e-mail from Diana Moore, president of the Orange County CTA and I want to share it with you:

“Our school board members think that spending the $1.5 million additional dollars they just received from Race To The Top on a group called Teach For America is a wise investment.

Well, your Orange County teachers want you to know, that there is NO substitute for training and experience!

Orange County children don’t deserve a revolving door of teachers due to the low morale, inconsistent implementation of this evaluation system by poorly trained principals and assistant principals and holding their step level raises hostage. 2300 teachers have resigned in Orange County since 2012.  The school board members set the tone and vision for our schools, but you as voters elect them.

Paying TFA $41k and $3250 bonuses after 5 weeks of training to go into inner city schools is another slap in the face to your hard working Orange County teachers who have still not settled their contract to bring starting pay up by $3000 to $40k. That is $26.00 an hour to $28.10 since not getting a raise since 2007.

Parents and community members, now is the time to ask your school board, what they are planning for your children, and If the question at the end of the day will be “Who was your teacher today?” instead of “How was your day today?”

Read this article to see:

http://atthechalkface.com/2013/06/30/an-open-letter-to-new-teach-for-america-recruits/

Meet at 445 W. Amelia Street at 4:00 on March 11th to stand with our teachers before the next school board meeting.

These members are running for re-election in August 2014: Joie Cadle-District 1, Bill Sublette, Chairman, Daryl Flynn, District 2, and District 3. Call them about your concerns at407-317-3200.

Diana.Moore@floridaea.org

This is not a time to sit back and complain about what’s going on. This is a time to take direct action. The teachers need the support of the public and the public needs to know the facts. There’s an election coming in August and it’s time for the public to demand accountability from these people. After all, these are Public Schools we’re talking about. I have no complaint at this time on the construction projects recently. These edifices are magnificent and beautifully done. They were built by first class, licensed and insured builders. Shouldn’t what goes on inside these structures demand the same degree of competence and professionalism that went into building them? And OCPS and CTA teachers DO have those stinkin’ badges.

No Time for Talking

By Jerry Waxman

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The Orange County School Board meets on Tuesday afternoons and discusses its business supposedly in public. It has all the trappings of being public. The only thing missing is the public. Why, you ask? Simple…The board meets at times when most of the working public is either still working or in transit after a hard day at the office or the factory or school. School, you ask? Of course! Teachers don’t leave when the bell rings. Aside from those who coach, or tutor, or advise clubs there is still a lot of work to do getting ready for tomorrow’s classes, or brushing up on curriculum changes or any one of a thousand other things that teachers of past generations never had to experience. Today’s teachers are better educated, better prepared and better equipped than their predecessors, trained by mentors from my generation and my parents generation, yet they are treated by the system as domestic help or even worse. No other professionals such as lawyers, doctors or CPAs would put up with such treatment. Even bad financial advisors with lousy track records get better treatment and a lot more money. Most of the people who show up for board meetings are people directly connected to or working for the board or have proposals (use your imagination here) to present to the board. So, you get the picture; the real public is nowhere to be found. The people whose taxes actually pay the salaries of these officials are absent, and that’s completely by design. After all, why would a body elected by the people want to have anything to do with people? It interferes with business.

The School Board and the teachers have been in contract negotiations since early in the year and there is no resolution in sight. Back in September the Board’s negotiating team declared negotiations at an impasse, which means that a special magistrate has to resolve the dispute as part of the process. The process has been delayed partially because of the government shutdown and there has been no meaningful dialog to reach a settlement. Recently, the board sent a letter to CTA union president Diana Moore which urged the teachers to accept the offer on the table. Moore and the CTA felt that the suggestions and terms violated more NLRB rules than previously. The CTA official position is that they’ll wait for the magistrate’s decision. It’s as much a protest on their treatment and lack of respect as it is about the money.

At Tuesday night’s meeting the teachers held a rally outside the Board’s building on Amelia Street at 5:00. They had planned to register to speak, not on contract matters but on the teacher evaluation system which completely disrespects their professionalism, during the public comment period of the meeting.  After all, they may be OCPS employees, but they are also members of the public who have every right to speak at these meetings. The Board knew better and in their published agenda declared that there would be no public comment at this meeting. They did, however, deign to allow Moore to address them in their private meeting for a whole five minutes prior to the public meeting. Moore, showing her frustration, came out to the crowd and handed out adhesive bandages to the assembled to signify the silencing of teachers’ voices as well as the public’s voice. Teachers as taxpayers are asking to be heard. Sandy Stenoff, a parent commented on the fact that parents are not aware if what teachers are dealing with and asked them to share with parents, or taxpayers about the problems with this flawed system. This battle is far from being over and the taxpayer funded School Board has given itself yet another black eye. That’s what should be bandaged.

((((((( Under The Radar )))))))

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By Jerry Waxman

It’s been almost a month since I’ve submitted any articles and my editor is getting antsy. “What do I pay you for?” he asks, to which I reply “You don’t. I do this for love.” “I love you” he says, and for the time being that’s enough. I have to also admit that my muse took a vacation for a while and it’s impossible to write anything when that happens. I’ve also been busy with my business, a couple of speaking engagements and a heavy commitment to a local political campaign which has usurped a lot of my writing time. A pattern has emerged, however that is deeply disturbing, so let’s examine some of what’s going on; lots of important and relevant stuff is going on that most media people are ignoring.

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Will Success Spoil Tim Osmar?

You remember Tim Osmar. He was arrested for the high crime of chalking on the sidewalks of Orlando City Hall and held in jail for 18 days over the Christmas holidays. The city eventually dropped the charges, He was fortunate enough to retain an excellent civil rights attorney, Dick Wilson, who also filed federal charges against the city. The city, in its lockdown mentality, fought back by blatant judge shopping. The city attorney, Mayanne Downs was rewarded for her efforts by being taken in to the politically active law firm of Grey Robinson, who does a ton of legal work for the city. The judge shopping didn’t work too well since the city lost the case and a settlement amount was reached. Downs was effectively kicked upstairs for her loyalty to Mayor Dyer regardless of what the actual dollar costs are to the taxpayers. The settlement figures are not being withheld, yet nobody is talking.

I saw Tim recently at a social event. Gone were the long hair, the Grateful Dead tie-dye and the beard. In their place he sported a button down oxford shirt, tailored slacks and loafers. He was clean shaven and had his hair styled. Perhaps his physical appearance is a little more attractive than before but he is still the same Tim. He is truly someone who marches to his own drum beats and we all owe him a debt of gratitude.

HEYYYYYYYYABBOTT!

Moving on from the sublime to the ridiculous, another long awaited trial began April 24 that was sure to be a nail biter. When I arrived at the courthouse every media outlet had their linkup units going. Great, I thought. I can go to the press room and get the live feeds if I can’t record this myself. There was this huge line getting into the courthouse going through security and it took close to 20 minutes which meant that we would be about five minutes late for the start of the trial. It didn’t matter because the sign on the door said that the 1:30 trial scheduled would begin at 2:00 and the doors were locked.

It turns out that all of the media attention was for the attempted murder trial of boxer Christie Martin’s husband. Our courtroom was for the more mundane trials of Traffic Court. The long awaited trial was that of Lawrence Levite aka known in Occupy circles as Nome Travels who dared to defy authorities by jaywalking on a city street.

ImageNome is a rebel from way back. He’s fortunate enough to come from a family of means and he travels around with his self propelled RV and his motorcycle. He’s on an allowance so there are times of the month when he’s dead broke yet that doesn’t matter to him. He’s in the protest movement for real. He’s been through this more than once and he enjoys suing the authorities in court which he’s successfully done before.

The doors opened at 2:00 and everyone (except the prosecutors, plaintiffs and cops) were told to turn off their phones and recording devices or they would be removed from the court. The bailiffs actually did remove two of Nome’s witnesses for just that. After all, Traffic Court is a really solemn institution that needs to be respected. After about a half hour of other trials where it seems that everyone pleaded through their attorneys to traffic fines and court costs it was time for Nome’s trial. Nome’s attorney, the aforementioned Dick Wilson asked to be removed as Nome’s attorney, which the judge granted. Nome represented himself with the Abbott and Costello defense.

“Look, if I wanted a pick I would have picked the pick, but I wanted the shovel because the shovel is my pick.”

Pick any of the wordplay routines and they all work; Who’s on First? Two tens for a Five. The shovel is my pick or anything else. Nome’s arsenal was ready. When asked how he pleaded his response was “I’m not pleading-I’m the plaintiff here!” As Nome twisted the words to say “I‘m the state” the judge’s tolerance was worn a little thin, yet she gave him as much freedom as she could allow. Taking the position that Nome needed assistance in understanding his circumstance she tried to instruct him, however Nome would have none of it. His intent was clearly to make a mockery of the whole affair and he succeeded just short of being held in contempt. He knew exactly what he was doing. At that point ‘Duckie’ Wasman and I were ejected from the courtroom for “Whispering too loud.” The judge withheld adjudication and told Nome she would mail him her decision.

According to Nome her decision was that he was found guilty, but not assessed any penalty or court costs. He is starting an appeal. That should be interesting since this entire process is a monumental waste of everyone’s time and taxpayer dollars.

Hello! Is anyone there?

 That same day Seminole County teachers were planning to address their school board with reasons why they should get their pay raised. They demonstrated in front of the School Board and then went inside the building to air their grievances. The area was full and taxed to the limit with teachers and supporters. Many spoke passionately and a few spoke accusingly, as well as reminding the Board of the sacrifices they made. The spark that ignited the conflict was that the Board had voted itself a pay raise claiming that the law stipulated they had to. What came to light was that, while technically true, The Florida School Board Association sent out a letter to all state school boards warning them not to accept the pay raise, which the Seminole Board ignored. Some members gave the money back after the letter was made public, but on April 24 this board was going to stonewall. Many school officials were sitting in the back row of the chamber checking their e-mail or playing Solitaire and other games during official business. This turns my stomach. The last thing most Florida school boards do is exactly what they should be doing-advocating for the kids and those who teach them. Instead they have become the temple money changers who dole out what they get never questioning their funders or holding them accountable. Warning to Florida legislators and school boards: Screw our kids today and you’ll be amazed and horrified to see how they pay you back in 20 years. I only hope I live to see it and write about it.

“Well after all, Pickering, I’m an ordinary man, who desires nothing more than an ordinary chance, to live exactly as he likes, and do precisely what he wants. An average man am I, of no eccentric whim, who likes to live his life, free of strife, doing whatever he thinks is best, for him. Well… just an ordinary man”……But let a woman in your life….!”

George Bernard Shaw’s exquisite tale of the battle of the sexes, Pygmalion, later adapted by Lerner and Loewe for the musical stage as My Fair Lady, shows in graphic detail what men in general think of women in general. Henry Higgins molded Eliza Doolittle into whatever He wanted Her to be, without regard for her feelings or abilities. Throughout history women have been bought, sold, bartered and abused as much as through their family connections as well as by strangers. Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet offers us a glimpse into the “how-to-use-children-for-fun-and-profit” world of powerful families. Those rare instances where women were born to power and knew how to use it, Cleopatra, Elizabeth I, Catherine the Great and others proved to powerful men that women needed to be kept in their place. If Joan of Arc had been a man he might have wound up as Pope.

The women’s movement started at about the same time as the abolitionist movement in the USA. Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott organized the first women’s rights convention in Seneca Falls, NY in 1848. They had both been abolitionists who were denied any credentials at the World Anti-Slavery Convention in 1840. The abolitionists, including Stanton’s minister husband, felt that the end of slavery (meaning Black men) was more important than women’s issues. Cady Stanton, Mott, Susan B. Anthony fought for 50 years for women’s rights, never giving up the battle. Their early suffragette activism finally paid off in 1922 when women did get the right to vote. That was just another overcome obstacle on the path to true equality. The path is still not clear. It seems that as one obstacle is overcome another one is put in place.

Republican state legislators have been having a field day over the last few years passing draconian laws that affect women primarily. The recent Susan G. Komen debacle shows just how deeply the right wing has infiltrated charities and foundations that deal with women’s issues. All of this particular legislation is emanating from ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council. So now we’re engaged in the War on Women, which Republicans say doesn’t exist which is code for the War on Women does exist and the actions of all these legislators proves it beyond a doubt.

The National March Against the War on Women was planned for April 28, and in cities and towns across the nation the actions took place. There were three major actions in Florida. Orlando hosted a march that included a crowd of over 400 people at Senator Beth Johnson Park, where Occupy Orlando started. One would think that the major media outlets would have been covering the event and that would have been dead wrong. There were several speakers plus candidates for office, yet not one word was published in the Orlando Sentinel on Sunday. What better way to disavow the War on Women than to ignore it? UPDATE:  Susannah Randolph, wife of State Rep. and Orange County DEC Chairman Scott Randolph, wrote a guest editorial in the Orlando Sentinel that exposes the War on Women in graphic detail, outlining for the first time Americans United for Life, which is allied with ALEC and works solely on women’s issues. Is it time yet for Lysistrata?

“Old rockin’ chair’s got me, my cane by my side…….”

 As a Philadelphia native I’m well aware of the contributions of Maggie Kuhn and others who broke the stereotype of senior citizens. Age is now rapidly becoming a state of mind rather than a chronological condition for many people including yours truly. Kuhn founded the Gray Panthers after she was forced to retire at the age of 65. The Gray Panthers are still fighting for senior rights and everyone else’s rights as well. One of the byproducts of her activism is a huge reservoir of seniors who refuse to be put in a rocking chair and left for dead. The Alliance for Retired Americans is one such activist organization that has come about over the years and is flexing its power nationally. Originally created as a retiree organization for former union members the Alliance is in every state and numbers close to five million members. The Florida chapter alone has over 200,000 members and they are becoming much more politically active than they have been. Their issues are clear and they don’t like what has been going on in Tallahassee and elsewhere in Florida. President Tony Fransetta travels all over the state wherever there are demonstrations and adds ARA muscle to the protests. At 75 he sets a pace that people half his age would have a hard time keeping up with. During his tenure as President since 1999 he has watched his membership grow from a handful of people to over 200,000 and closing in on a quarter of a million committed seniors striving for social and economic justice. Nor is the ARA resting on its laurels. The Southeast Region had a conference recently at the Walt Disney Buena Vista Resort for activists to familiarize them with the new social media and the impact it has on political races.

These people are dissatisfied with things the way they are and they are going to help change things. They were here to learn. I was honored to be a guest panelist along with some dynamite speakers, including Tony and his terrific organizer, Jen Kenny. The audiences really enjoyed these discussions and asked great questions in the Q & A period. They are going to be very active this political season starting with Wisconsin where they are going to make their presence felt. By the way, 70 is the new 50. Trust me, I know this.

“Folks are dumb where I come from, they ain’t had any learnin.”

 You would think that a school board member would be fairly familiar with educational issues and events such as National Education Week and all the other stuff that deals with education. Orange County Public Schools is the 11th largest school system in the nation and even if the individual board members are in the dark they have layers upon layers of staff to keep them informed. At the beginning of every meeting there are always the self serving gratuitous announcements such as recognizing certain students or clubs or school organizations for their achievements, so it was a bit of a downer when during the announcing phase of the meeting Chairman Bill Sublette omitted that it was National Teacher Appreciation Week. A palpable pall was in the air. Only one board member, Nancy Robbinson, even alluded to the occasion. Sandra Maldonado-Ross, a current candidate for school board questioned Sublette who came up with excuse that he didn’t know. That’s an appalling statement for one of the most powerful people in Central Florida to admit. Sublette is the most unique elected official in the entire United States because the voters of Orange County, spurred on by the Chamber of Commerce were finagled into electing a School Board Chairman who has two votes. The 2010 elections provided for seven districts plus an elected chairman who had the power to break a tie. This is a shameful episode for a group whose sole purpose is to advocate for the students. Sublette’s only connection to education is that he has children in a public school. He’s there to protect the construction industry’s billion dollar a year budget no matter how badly the kids or teachers are shafted in the process. Parents and community activists should be outraged about this and they should get involved in the coming elections and vote these people out.

Occupy the Board Room

 The last thing any publicly held corporation, or any government commission wants is you, John Q. Public, sitting in on their meetings actually watching them make decisions. The whole atmosphere in the room changes when you are there, cameras in hand, asking probing questions. The strategy is effective and makes them nervous as hell. Publicly held corporations hold yearly stockholder meetings and they go to great lengths to make sure that you will not attend by holding them in far away cities in expensive resorts at perfectly bad times of the year. You can thank the Occupy movement for the strategy. So far in Florida there have been occupations of Bank of America and most recently on May 16th an occupation of Chase in Tampa and on May 17th an occupation of Coventry Health Care at the Ritz Carlton in Ft. Lauderdale. Coventry is one of the many insurers who are fighting tooth and nail to repeal the Affordable Health Care Act. One of the reasons is that by law all insurers must spend 80 per cent of the premium costs on actual health care, leaving them 20 per cent to deal with overhead and profit. Organize Now, HCAN, Florida New Majority, Awake Broward and other organized an action against Coventry, and the Alliance for Retired Americans joined in the action which took place outside the hotel on A1A. There was also a flash mob inside the hotel which ridiculed Coventry to the tune of Puttin’ on the Ritz which then carried over to the street. Only one reporter from the Herald with a tape recorder appeared. No camera crews…..nothin. Here’s an op-ed piece by Ben Markeson that details the days activities. Tony Fransetta again spoke elegantly about the inequality in the system. The most disturbing part was not that the crowd was ignored, but that two legitimate stockholders were denied entry into the meeting. That’s not OK.

During this election year most media outlets are going to continue to report the most mundane stuff in ways that they think will interest you. The pollsters will continue to make you think the election is closer than it really is so that they can continue to get paid. No broadcaster is going to turn down what amounts to free money for political ads however misleading they are, and very few if any corporately owned newspapers will look through these smokescreens. Why? It is not in their interests to lessen the revenue stream and it is in their interests to keep you afraid and in the dark.