Monday, October 15, 2018

Blog #44 - Flat tax or Progressive Tax

During this week, we discussed the 16th Amendment and the income tax - its fairness and unfairness. Its opponents have proposed a flat tax that everyone pays the same rate across the board: 20%. That way, if you earn more, you technically pay more. So, in some ways it sounds progressive. If you see the chart below, this is where almost all of our tax income comes from: 
Image result for chart of U.S. government spending  The biggest portion comes (47%) comes from income taxes.  Another portion comes from payroll taxes (32%) and then corporate taxes are the third biggest chunk (13%) as of fiscal year 2016.  

The argument for the flat tax focuses on several arguments:
1. It eliminates special- interests by treating all taxpayers equally. Taxpayers will no longer be able to "scam the system by hiring enough lawyers, accountants and lobbyists."
2. It will boost economic growth by allowing businesses and investors to invest more money (saved by not giving as much money in taxes) into other businesses and ventures.
3. It eliminates the capital gains tax, the estate tax (other people call it the "death tax"), and double taxes on savings (taxed once when you earn it and it's deposited into the bank and then twice at the end of the year as part of your income though it already is in your bank account).
4. It's amazingly simple. Household income tax forms are now done on a postcard. It also treats all businesses the same: "Microsoft to a hot dog stand would play by the same rules."

Arguments for the progressive tax include:
1. All Americans benefit from two of our government's responsibilities, protection (police, firefighters, public health, military) and empowerment (roads, public education, banking system for loans and economic stability, SEC for the stock market, courts, national parks, public buildings, etc.), and they should be available to everyone. We are financially responsible to maintain these so that they may be used for the common good. These protections are maintained through taxes.
2. The wealthy (corporations, investors and other wealthy individuals) pay more into the system because "our taxes create and sustain, [and] empower the wealthy in myriad ways to create (and sustain) their wealth." In other words, they have benefited from the system in place, they should pay to maintain it.

"Consider Bill Gates...Though he has undoubtedly benefited from his unusual
intelligence and business acumen, he could not have created or sustained his
personal wealth without the common wealth [of the United States]. The legal
system protected Microsoft's intellectual property and contracts. The
tax-supported financial infrastructure (phones, electricity, Internet) enabled
him to access capital markets and trade his stock in a market in which investors
have confidence. He built his company with many employees educated in public
schools and universities. Tax-funded research helped develop computer science
and the internet..." and so on.

3. The wealthy are morally obligated to sustain the American system b/c they benefit more from it than the average American. "Ordinary people rarely use the courts; most of the courts are used for corporate law and contract disputes." Therefore, the rich pay more than the poor or middle class b/c the rich utilize the system more often to create and sustain their wealth.  Their wealth is protected from useless lawsuits in courts and by laws.  

So, I think we have two very persuasive arguments here, but I think we're missing the real questions that we should be asking. The questions we should be asking are: 
1. What are we spending our money on? 
2. Why are we spending so much of our money instead of letting the American people spend it? 
3. Why do we have such a huge national debt? 
4. What can we do about it? 

If you see the chart below, the U.S. federal government spend almost 4 trillion dollars a year:
Image result for chart of U.S. government spending 1/3 of the budget goes to programs like Social Security and unemployment (not sure what labor means in this graph).  27% goes to pay for Medicare and other federal health programs.  16% of our total budget goes towards military spending, and 6% of the budget just goes to pay for the interest on the national debt (which is currently $21 trillion and growing - see National Debt link below).  That's like paying the minimum amount due on a credit card without paying the balance off. 

We can pressure our Congressmen and women about spending too much by writing letters / emails. You are the future voters. Get educated now about the National Debt.   Check here for an up-to-date look at the National Debt -

Your job: 
1. Which do you think is a fairer tax - the flat tax or progressive tax?   Why? 
2. If you were rich, which tax would you prefer and why? 
3. Since our federal government is spending more than it is bringing in, how do you think the federal government should stop this deficit?  Decrease spending or raise taxes?  Both?  Why?  If we're cutting spending, where do we cut and why?  If we raise taxes, who pays and why?  

300 words minimum for all three questions.  Due Monday, October 22 by class.  

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Blog #43 - Your favorite top 3 inventions of the past 200 years

In the next few days, we will talk about the most influential inventions and concepts that have changed human life for the better or worse, initially in our short lives, and then we expanded it to the past 200 years (of course, the Snuggie is right up there in the Top 1 Million Inventions of the Decade).

There are many inventions from the past few hundred years that would qualify as being the best.  They include, but are not limited, to:

 - antibiotics, painkillers, refrigerators, televisions, telephones, harnessing the use of electricity, light bulb, airplanes, computers, calculators, air conditioning (I think that's in my selfish top 3), duct tape (someone insisted on putting it on the board), the car, steam engine, gasoline engine, light saber, and many others.

Your job in this blog is to think of how your life and your parents' and grandparents' lives would have been amazingly different w/o the top three inventions that you have chosen.  Ask your parents and / or grandparents, aunts, uncles or other family members for perspective on technology, b/c we have a hard time looking past the few years we've lived in.  Right now, I don't know how I've lived w/o cell phones, but I obviously had for over 20+ years.  Now, try finding a pay phone.  But my personal favorite invention in the past 200 yrs (mainly b/c I'm not a huge fan of going outside in the middle of the night when ya gotta go) is the flushing toilet, right along w/ toilet paper.  It has made life so much more comfortable.  You can laugh, but think of having a pit toilet / outhouse in your back yard, and having to go there in the middle of the night.  In the winter. I know, the girls, you would hold it, but the boys.... you're gross.  

Here's an article that can get you thinking about what are your top 3 inventions of all time: 

Your job: List your favorite or most significant top 3 inventions of the past 200 years and explain why.  Provide a good solid paragraph explanation for each invention and why you think it's significant or your favorite.  

Due Monday, Sept. 24 by class.  300 words minimum.  

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Blog #42 - "Prisoner of War camps" = Indian Reservations?

For most American history books, we see that they talk about the Indians almost always when they are being pushed off of their land by Europeans (King Philip’s War, Powhatan War, Seminole War, Indian Removal Act) or when they fight back (Battle of Little Bighorn, Red Cloud’s War) or after being indiscriminately massacred (Sand Creek and Wounded Knee Massacres).  Few cover the decimation of disaeases that faced the Native Americans when the Europeans first arrived.  Even fewer touch on 20th Century issues and laws regarding education, reservation (and sale of Indian land), tribal recognition, citizenship, Termination policy in the 1950s or other Indian policies like the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934.  Our textbooks might talk about AIM or the standoff at Wounded Knee in 1973, but just as an inclusion of many minority groups in the chapter on the late 1960s / early 1970s. There might even be something about the seizure of Alcatraz Island by Native Americans. But rarely anything is heard after that.

In the following disturbing and moving video, photographer Aaron Huey lists the many things done (in the name of America) to the Lakota Sioux tribe.  He juxtaposes the lists of broken treaties and promises and horrific things with his own photos of the Lakota tribe at Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.

Aaron Huey’s wish is that the American government honor the treaties and give back the Black Hills.  To atone for America’s sins, to use such a phrase, can anything truly be done?  Where, if anywhere, should Americans start to make up for what has been done to the Native Americans?   Is it right that we should speak in such manner as atoning for sins or asking for forgiveness?  Or do you feel that you have nothing to ask forgiveness for since these things had been done before you were born?  

What responsibility do we have to Native Americans?
One major thing to consider is that though we may not have been personally responsible for oppressing the Native Americans, we benefit from the results of past policies of our government towards Native Americans (and even from past colonial practices).
 - Should we replace Columbus Day with Indigineous Peoples’ Day?
 - Should we push Congress to rescind the Medals of Honor distributed to the 7th Cavalry handed out after the Wounded Knee Massacre in 1890?
 - Should reservations be abolished? Or should those that exist still remain yet receive generous help?
 - Should the Washington football team, the Cleveland Indians, or Atlanta Braves be forced to take new mascot names?
 - What can we learn from Canada and the way they have treated and honored their Native Americans?
 - Should we continue to oppose the Dakota Access Pipeline (since President Trump has rescinded President Obama’s cancellation of it) or other industrial things that impact the environment of Native American reservations?
 - Should Native Americans be given back their religious ceremonial artifacts, tens of thousands of which sit in museums, some on display, others locked in vaults? 

In finishing up the research for this blog (including reading chapters of the book, “All the Real Indians Died Off”: And 20 Other Myths About Native Americans by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz) I found that Congress passed, as part of an appropriations bill, a resolution called the Native American Apology Resolution in 2009.  Introduced by Republican senator from Kansas, Sam Brownback, he said the reason he did this was “to officially apologize for the past ill-conceived policies by the US Government toward the Native Peoples of this land and re-affirm our commitment toward healing our nation’s wounds and working toward establishing better relationships rooted in reconciliation.”
The Apology Resolution states that the United States, “apologizes on behalf of the people of the United States to all Native Peoples for the many instances of violence, maltreatment, and neglect inflicted on Native Peoples by citizens of the United States.”
The Apology Resolution also “urges the President to acknowledge the wrongs of the United States against Indian tribes in the history of the United States in order to bring healing to this land.”
The Apology Resolution comes with a disclaimer that nothing in the Resolution authorizes or supports any legal claims against the United States and that the Resolution does not settle any claims against the United States.
The Apology Resolution does not include the lengthy Preamble that was part of S.J Res. 14 introduced earlier this year by Senator Brownback.  The Preamble recites the history of U.S. – tribal relations including the assistance provided to the settlers by Native Americans, the killing of Indian women and children, the Trail of Tears, the Long Walk, the Sand Creek Massacre, and Wounded Knee, the theft of tribal lands and resources, the breaking of treaties, and the removal of Indian children to boarding schools.
  1. Tell us your reactions to the Ted Talk;
  2. Discuss your thoughts / concerns about how to acknowledge the debt America owes Native Americans and why.

400 words minimum for both answers total. Due Wednesday, Sept. 12 by class. 

Friday, November 02, 2012

Blog #41 -- Do we have free speech during war times?

During the Great War, the United States went to great lengths to stop people from expressing their views on the war and the draft. According to historian Sean Dennis Cashman, Wilson that war "required illiberalism at home to reinforce the men at the front. We couldn't fight Germany and maintain the ideals of Government that all thinking men shared...once led into war, [Americans] will forget there ever was such a thing as tolerance" (505).

So, in order to set Europe free from tyranny, the government had to restrict more of Americans' rights. Historian Howard Zinn has written at length that part of this suppression was done to keep Americans from expressing their anti-war sentiments/feelings:
- Why should we get into a war that we have no interests in? This is only about European colonialists, not U.S. interests;

- Why should I be drafted to go protect France or Belgium? (only 73,000 volunteered in the first 6 weeks after Wilson declared war on Germany in April 1917);

- Why should we spend millions and millions of our tax money to do this?;

- Why should we join a war that current French soldiers are beginning to mutiny against? (in essence, why we should we join a losing fight?);

- Why should we break away from our tradition of isolationism? It's served us well for this long (if it ain't broke, don't fix it);

So Wilson and Congress together got tough on this kind of anti-war talk and anti-draft interference w/ the Espionage Act of 1917 and the Sedition Act of 1918. The Supreme Court affirmed that we do NOT have the right to free speech as long as it creates a "clear and present danger" (much like yelling "FIRE!" in a crowded theatre like Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes jr. so eloquently phrased it in the 1919 court decision, Schenck vs. U.S.).  Under these acts, a person can be fined up to a max of $10,000 (almost $200,000 in 2012 dollars) and given a 20 year sentence for interfering with the sale of war bonds or the draft, or saying anything profane, disloyal, or abusive about the government. Obviously, these laws violate the 1st Amendment.

A speech like this one by Eugene Debs is the kind of thing that got him in trouble and thrown in the big house:

"Wars throughout history have been waged for conquest and plunder. ...the
working class who fight all the battles, the working class who make the supreme
sacrifices, the working class who freely shed their blood and furnish their
corpses, have never yet had a voice in either declaring war or making peace. It
is the ruling class that invariably does both. They alone declare war and they
alone make peace. They are continually talking about their patriotic
duty. It is not their but your patriotic duty that they are concerned
about. There is a decided difference. Their patriotic duty
never takes them to the firing line or chucks them into the trenches."
(emphasis added)

*Debs was sentenced to jail for this speech and while in jail ran for President under the Socialist Party for which he received almost one million votes in 1912 and in 1920! Website for Debs:

During wartime, there is a feeling that certain ideas may be considered dangerous, traitorous, or even downright unpatriotic. Many have been accused of such things when criticizing their government during times of war, and our history book mentions some of them.  As I mentioned above, Eugene V. Debs, a Socialist Party leader and candidate for the Presidency, was sentenced to ten years in prison and fined $10,000 for "speaking out against the war and the draft" (Danzer, et. al. 392). Anarchist Emma Goldman was convicted and sentenced for creating a No Conscription League and then was deported to Russia after two years in jail. 

But my questions still remain:
1. Is questioning your country's conduct during a war o.k.?

2. Should asking questions about how the war is conducted, about the tactics being used (torture, waterboarding, etc.), about how the goals are being met (or if they're being met at all), or is it all worth the sacrifice of all the young men and women's lives??

3. Is this line of questioning during war time o.k. or does it make you unpatriotic? Why?

Your response to all three questions should be a minimum of 250 words, due by Wednesday, November 7.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Blog #40 Puerto Rico statehood?

In less than two weeks, the territory of Puerto Rico will decide on a ballot issue that determines their future. On the ballot, there are two choices:
1. Should Puerto Rico stay as a commonwealth of the United States (its current status)?
2. a. Should Puerto Rico become an American state (something which hasn't happened in over fifty years - adding a new state to the Union);
   b. should Puerto Rico become an independent nation and break political ties with the U.S.;
   c. or should PR become a free nation with an association with the U.S.? 

The territory's residents have voted on this issue three times previously and all attempts to become a state have failed.  The latest vote, in 1998, saw a majority of voters (50.3%) vote for "none of the above" while 46.5% picked statehood and only 2.5% picked independence. 

An argument for independence points to the fact that Puerto Rico is a Latin American nation and that it is culturally, linguistically, and socially different than the U.S.  An advocate for independence stated the following:

"There's no reason for the United States to try to incorporate a Latin American country," he said. "If they want a country, why not Jamaica? They speak English there. It doesn't make sense." 5

Puerto Rico would become the poorest state in the nation, with a GDP of $16,000 and an unemployment rate of 13.7%.  Mississippi is currently the poorest state in the nation with a GDP of $21,000, and Nevada's unemployment is the worst w/ 11.8%.  3 4  By becoming a state, Puerto Ricans would be required to pay federal income taxes, even though the territory currently receives $4 billion in federal aid.  3  If Puerto Rico decides against statehood, they'd still receive federal aid.  Nearly half the island's 3.7 million inhabitants live below the poverty line, but the island is still currently big on tourism.  5

An advocate for statehood feels that the island would get more federal aid than it's currently receiving, especially because of the relative poverty:

"People are getting tired here of having to beg for things states automatically get," said Secretary of State Kenneth McClintock. "Many people who support statehood have moved to the States to enjoy the benefits of statehood. Some people are getting impatient." 5
Benefits for PR statehood would include gaining three representatives in Congress (a representative and two senators). Plus, though Puerto Ricans have been US citizens since 1917, they cannot vote in presidential elections. 1.  The island's residents are allowed to vote in presidential primaries and send delegates to both the Democratic and Republican National Conventions.  Puerto Ricans living in the United States, however, can vote in presidential elections. 

Senator Obama in 2008 promised to let the Puerto Ricans decide the issue of their statehood and is therefore in support of this referendum.  He became the first president to visit the island in 50 years when he went in 2011, since JFK went in 1961.  Former governor Mitt Romney has also supported this vote.  What statehood would mean for American politics is unclear: Luis Fortuna, the state's governor, is a Republican, and the state tends to be socially conservative but economically liberal.  Also, the people of the District of Columbia are looking to become a state as a way of balancing out the statehood issue. 

One big thing to remember is that even if a majority of Puerto Ricans vote to become a state on Tuesday, November 6, that does not mean they automatically become a state.  Congress would have to approve of their application for statehood, just like it had done with previous states. 

Your questions:
1. Should Puerto Rico become a state?  Why or why not? 
2. Does the U.S. want or need another state?  What benefits could Puerto Rico bring with it?

Your answer should be a minimum of 200 words and are due Friday, October 26 by 11:59 p.m. 

3. Cornell Sun, "Puerto Rico Moving Towards Statehood." 9/13/12.
4.  Bureau of Labor Statistics.
5.  International Business Times, "Puerto Rico Statehood: Bad Business For The U.S. Or The Next Swing State?"  8/23/12.
6.  The Washington Times. "New D.C. statehood plan: strategize with Puerto Rico?" 9/6/2012. 

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Blog #39 -- Is there a war on women today?

This week, we've been studying women's suffrage and the fight to get women the right to vote.  With the Supreme Court case, Minor v. Happersett, that equated women with the insane and criminals, to the anti-suffrage sentiments and the crack down on Alice Paul and Lucy Burns for marching in front of the White House, women have not had an easy road towards equal rights.

This past year has seen a variety of misinformed comments about rape, criticisms or limitations of reproductive rights, and attacks on individual women like Sandra Fluke.

For instance, the pro-life forces have been working to restrict or end access to a woman's right to an abortion.  Texas ended funding of Planned Parenthood, an organization which is recognized as one that "delivers vital reproductive health care, sex education, and information to millions of women, men, and young people worldwide."  1  Defunding Planned Parenthood directly affects poor women's access to affordable health care.  

Here's a commercial that highlights the fears of liberal women concerning this war on women 3:

Also, former Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum has a stance on abortion in which there are no exceptions, not even in cases of rape, incest, or the health of the mother. 

Also, Republican Missouri senatorial candidate Todd Akin has claimed that a woman's body knows the difference between a "legitimate rape" and consenual sex and can shut down any chance of a baby conceived by a rape from occurring.  Apparently, this is a believe that some men still believe: 

Also, the Republicans opposed the Paycheck Fairness Act which its proponents say is supposed to be equal pay for equal work but its opponents say that the PFA is the "kind of labor regulation will likely hamper the job market for women of all political stripes – unless, of course, if they are trial lawyers -- by expanding the definition of “wage discrimination,” making it easier to file class-action lawsuits, and opening businesses up to greater litigation and uncertainty." 2  Fox News reports that 74% of women find that there is discrimination in the workplace, yet they don't think that there should be some kind of government regulation about this issue.  In fact, they don't think workplace discrimination is a "burning issue" with women. 2


Democrats have characterized these restrictions as a "war on women" while Republicans say that this is nothing but a myth.  For instance, Mary Kate Cary in the U.S. News and World Report has summarized the following five myths that have been tossed around in the past year:
1. If you are pro-life, you are anti-woman;
2. Republican men believe that they should control women's bodies (see cartoon above);
3. Republicans are trying to take away women's contraception (birth control);
4. Republicans don't support "equal pay for equal work" laws;
5. Any cuts that Republicans call for in Medicaid, Social Security, and Medicare will automatically hurt women. 
Cary summarizes her points by saying "I and most women I know want to be empowered to pursue our own opportunities and... live our lives free of too much bureaucracy. We want to leave our children free of debt and deficits, with a smarter, smaller government."  She doesn't buy this "war on women" concept and thinks it's the Democrats who are trying to change the issues during a very close election year to attract more women voters. 

So, what do you make of these comments and quotes about a war on women?  Things to think about:
1. Is there an actual war on women or has the press latched onto something that is sensational?  Why?
2. What do you think of these comments by Republican law makers? 
3. Ask a woman in your life and ask her what is the most important issue to her.  Does this issue match up with what the Democrats are criticizing the Republicans over? 

Your response is due Thursday, Oct. 18 by class time.  250 words minimum. 

Sources: 1.  Planned Parenthood.
2. Read more:

3.   Top 10 shocking things from the war on women and their news sources. 

Monday, October 01, 2012

Blog 38 - Immigration Reform

We've talked a bit about immigration these past two weeks (both past and present), and so I wanted to see what you thought about current immigration reform. 

Since the economy has been changing over the past 20 years, so has the need for a diverse work force.  Immigrants can bring some of those skills to America that Americans don't have or haven't been trained to do yet.  Sometimes, highly skilled immigrants have to wait for work visas to come to America even though American companies have requested their presence in the country to work here.  Yet these workers have had to wait months if not years to get work visas.

Another issue concerns undocumented or illegal aliens.  It is estimated that 50-75% of America's agricultural workforce is undocumented.  "Farmers across the country don’t want to see their best workers taken away from them, but whether these workers are given the legal authorization to work will depend on action by Congress." 1

President Bush proposed a plan about seven or eight years ago that would help put undocumented immigrants "on the path to citizenship."  This plan included having the immigrants receive legal immigrant status in exchange for paying a penalty for having stayed here illegally, learn English, become citizens within five to ten years, and become tax-paying, Social Security number-having, green-card-carrying aliens. Opposition in Congress shot this plan down , and so it remains in limbo. 

As we saw in the Frontline special, "Lost in Detention," President Obama and ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) have cracked down on illegal immigrants and cast a very wide net across America to deport illegal immigrants with their Secure Communities program.  ICE has tried to reach its quota of 400,000 undocumented immigrants deported every year for the past three years.  The show seemed to imply that if Obama enforced the laws vigorously, then Congress would pass some meaningful immigration reform.  But so far, that hasn't happened yet. 

Two U.S. Senators, one from each party, working with President Obama, had proposed an immigration reform bill in 2010 based upon: "four pillars: requiring biometric Social Security cards to ensure that illegal workers cannot get jobs; fulfilling and strengthening our commitments on border security and interior enforcement; creating a process for admitting temporary workers; and implementing a tough but fair path to legalization for those already here." 2
This plan acknowledges the idea that America must do something about the estimated 10-12 million undocumented immigrants living here already.  The plan also goes after businesses who hire undocumented immigrants and avoid paying taxes on these workers.  "Employers who refused to swipe the card or who otherwise knowingly hired unauthorized workers would face stiff fines and, for repeat offenses, prison sentences."

The plan also wants to improve our economy by insuring that educated immigrants stay here: "Ensuring economic prosperity requires attracting the world's best and brightest. Our legislation would award green cards to immigrants who receive a PhD or master's degree in science, technology, engineering or math from a U.S. university. It makes no sense to educate the world's future inventors and entrepreneurs and then force them to leave when they are able to contribute to our economy." 2

And lastly, the plan addressed temporary workers to acquire green cards: 

"Our blueprint also creates a rational system for admitting lower-skilled workers. Our current system prohibits lower-skilled immigrants from coming here to earn money and then returning home. Our framework would facilitate this desired circular migration by allowing employers to hire immigrants if they can show they were unsuccessful in recruiting an American to fill an open position; allowing more lower-skilled immigrants to come here when our economy is creating jobs and fewer in a recession; and permitting workers who have succeeded in the workplace, and contributed to their communities over many years, the chance to earn a green card.
" 2

Over the summer, the Obama administration helped out young undocumented immigrants by deferring their deportation with an executive order that President Obama had signed.  This program, called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), affects young people between the ages of 16-30 who meet certain requirements like be in school and not have been a criminal.  DACA potentially affects 1.7 million people, and since it began in August of this year, 82,000 people have applied to stay here for two years. 3   

Pick one of the issues that I've mentioned above:
1. allowing highly-skilled immigrants to get work viasas more quickly;
2. what to do with the 10-12 million undocumented immigrants already here;
3. should Secure Communities continue deporting people;
4. the Senate's plan to reform immigration;
5. deporting school aged children who were brought here illegally by their parents
and discuss your opinions about that issue and possibly if it has affected your family or friends. 

200 words, due by class Thursday 10/4. 

2. "The Right Way to Mend Immigration," by Charles Schumer and Lindsey Graham. The Washington Post. March 19, 2010.
3.  "Deferred Action Program Moves Forward." National Immigration Reform. 

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Lost in Detention video

Here's the video from Wednesday and Thursday, Lost in Detention, about President Obama's immigration policy called Secure Communities. 

Watch Lost in Detention on PBS. See more from FRONTLINE.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Blog #37 - Unions

This week, we have spent some time looking at the reasons that unions exist, including the following reasons:

  • unions raise wages of unionized workers (by roughly 20%) and compensation including benefits by 28%; 
  • Unions help reduce wage inequality b/c "they raise wages more for low- and middle class workers than higher wage workers, more for blue collar workers than white-collar workers, and more for workers who do not have a college degree." 
  • Unions set a pay standard for other non-unionized employers to follow; 
  • Probably the most important area that unions help is in fringe benefits, things like paid leave, health benefits, and employer paid pension plans. 1 
In the video that we saw on Friday, the Amalgamated Steel workers tried initially to work together with Carnegie Steel until Andrew Carnegie and his business partner, Henry Clay Frick, decided to break the union and lock them out in the summer of 1892.  As the video said, the whole world was watching to see what would happen between the most powerful steel company in the country and its most powerful union.  After the strike was broken, wages decreased by almost half (which also could have been caused by the Depression of 1893 - something the video failed to mention).  But, what the professors in the film did emphasize was that workers felt that once they worked a job for a while, they felt like that there job is theirs.  The battle at Homestead was between who was to control the resources of the country - labor or management, and the owners won this war even though the workers defeated the Pinkertons.  2

Labor unions did not gain official or legal security until the Wilson administration in 1914 and then even more security during the Great Depression under President Franklin Roosevelt in 1935 with the Wagner Act and in 1938 with the Fair Labor Standards Act (which established the minimum wage, overtime pay, and ended child labor for good).  Since that time, workers wages had increased and union membership had increased until the 1950s (1/3 of the workforce) and falling to a low of 12.1% of the workforce in 2008 when union membership came back up, according to the Washington Post.  Most of these gains in union membership, according to the article, were NOT in the private sector but in government jobs.  As the economy crashed in 2008, private sector workers lost their jobs but unionized workers, for the most part, did not because of their contracts signed before the crash began.  3


Since the 1980s, states and Congress and the presidents have worked to weaken union regulations and security by allowing "open shop" laws - which require workers to not have to join a union if they work in an unionized industry.  These laws, called "right to work" laws, are spread throughout the U.S., but Michigan is not one of these states.  These laws build off of an anti-union law called the Taft-Hartley Act passed in 1947 after World War 2, and currently 23 states have their own "right to work" laws.  5

The question now is, have unions outlived their usefulness?  Back when wages were terribly low and union membership was at only 7% of the workforce, workers forming together and collectively bargaining made sense to get better working conditions, wages, and benefits. 3  But critics have always charged that these union benefits come at the expense of higher prices passed on to the consumers by the unionized companies. Critics also charge that having union contracts prohibit businesses and government agencies from making changes (meaning firing workers, lowering wages and eliminating benefits) when times are tough like they are now, and this lack of flexibility can force some companies out of business or have to eliminate jobs by outsourcing them overseas -thereby defeating the purpose of union protection in the first place.  6

However, manufacturing jobs have disappeared over the past 30 years, and unskilled laborers have had to get more education and skills just to get a job.  Plus, we're seeing the size of the middle-class shrink as the size of union membership shrink since the mid-1960s.  It took almost ten years to raise the minimum wage in 2007, and most families cannot survive on that alone.  Currently, Republican governors like our own Rick Snyder and Wisconsin's Scott Walker have worked at restricting the legal rights of unions - whether for skilled or unskilled workers - rights that have been guaranteed for almost 80 years. 4 Michigan workers are organizing a ballot initiative called "Protect Our Jobs" that would make collective bargaining a constitutional right in Michigan.  You've probably even seen some of their commercials on TV in the past few weeks as well as commercials against this proposal.  Could more people benefit from being unionized if companies would let them?  Could unions make a resurgence if times were better?  Or does that only happen when times are bad? 

So my question for you is this: have unions outlived their usefulness?  Why or why not?  Use the ideas above to answer the question, and look at the sources linked below.  There's lots of good information out there on unions.  If you find another source, please site it in your comment.  

Your comment is due Monday, Sept. 24 at the beginning of class, 200 words minimum! 

1.  "How Unions Help All Workers," Lawrence Mishel and Matthew Walters, Economic Policy Institute, August 2003.  
2. "The Homestead Strike," 10 Days That Unexpectedly Changed America, DVD. 2006. 
3. "American Union Ranks Grow After Bottoming Out," Peter Whoriskey, The Washington Post, 1/29/2009.  
4.  "Who Killed American Unions?" Derek Thompson, The Atlantic Monthly, June 2012.  
5. National Right to Work Legal Defense Fund. 
6. "What Unions Do: How Labor Unions Affect Jobs and the Economy," James Sherk, The Heritage Foundation, May 2009. 

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Blog #36 - Best inventions in the past 200 years

In the next few days, we will talk about the most influential inventions and concepts that have changed human life for the better or worse, initially in our short lives, and then we expanded it to the past 200 years (of course, the Snuggie is right up there in the Top 1 Million Inventions of the Decade).

There are many inventions from the past few hundred years that would qualify as being the best.  They include, but are not limited, to:

 - antibiotics, painkillers, refrigerators, televisions, telephones, harnessing the use of electricity, light bulb, airplanes, computers, calculators, air conditioning (I think that's in my selfish top 3), duct tape (someone insisted on putting it on the board), the car, steam engine, gasoline engine, light saber, and many others.

Your job in this blog is to think of how your life and your parents' and grandparents' lives would have been amazingly different w/o the top three inventions that you have chosen.  Ask your parents and / or grandparents, aunts, uncles or other family members for perspective on technology, b/c we have a hard time looking past the few years we've lived in.  Right now, I don't know how I've lived w/o cell phones, but I obviously had for over 20+ years.  Now, try finding a pay phone.  But my personal favorite invention in the past 200 yrs (mainly b/c I'm not a huge fan of going outside in the middle of the night when ya gotta go) is:

The flushing toilet, right along w/ toilet paper.  It has made life so much more comfortable.  You can laugh, but think of having a pit toilet in your back yard, and having to go there in the middle of the night.  In the winter. I know, the girls, you would hold it, but the boys.... you're gross. 

Here's a website where you can rank your own top ten list of inventions:
Top medical breakthroughs -

200 words minimum for the blog.  
Due Tuesday, Sept. 18 by the beginning of class. 

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Blog #35 - Musings about history and peace


Pick one of these quotes and tell me what you think the speaker means by it and what he/she is saying about history/peace specifically.  Please make sure you don't restate the quote.  Explore its meaning, especially for today's world.  

Mankind must put an end to war, or war will put an end to mankind...War will exist until that distant day when the conscientious objector enjoys the same reputation and prestige that the warrior does today.
John F. Kennedy

No man is good enough to govern another man without that other's consent.
Abraham Lincoln

Finishing second in the Olympics gets you silver. Finishing second in politics gets you oblivion.
Richard Nixon

People ask the difference between a leader and a [political] boss. . . . The leader works in the open, and the boss in covert. The leader leads, and the boss drives.
Teddy Roosevelt

Liberty has never come from the government. Liberty has always come from the subjects of it. The history of liberty is a history of resistance. Woodrow Wilson
No democracy can long survive which does not accept as fundamental to its very existence the recognition of the rights of minorities. Franklin Roosevelt

The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.
Franklin Roosevelt

200 words minimum.  Due Monday, September 10 before class begins.  

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

FYI - New websites

Hi folks,

I'm not teaching American history this year, but I am teaching Advanced Placement U.S. History (APUSH) which you can find here .  In the blogroll on the side, you'll find tons of links for all sorts of cool US History stuff in addition to help w/ the AP test.

I am also teaching a junior / senior elective called Honors Philosophy in which we focus on the history of Western Philosophy.  You can see what we're writinig about here . 

Earlier this year, I was teaching World History.  In Michigan, our first semester goes from the fall of Rome to the Enlightenment (yeah, 1200 years!).  The second semester covers the French Revolution to the present.  Thanks to the folks who wrote the state curriculum for that one.  Our school decided to put an emphasis on more current history in the World History class, so you'll see in my freshmen's blog that I've done a concerted effort to tie in old stuff w/ new stuff.  Click here: 

Enjoy the reading.  Leave your feedback here on this blog.  I highly recommend getting your class on a blog and using either Blogger or Edublogs - both are free and relatively free of ads.  Lets the kids take control once in a while and have them write the questions. 


Thursday, January 27, 2011

Thanks to History Masters

They have us listed as one of their Top 50 American History Blogs. 
Check them out here.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

Blog #34 - Nixon - "When the President does it, that means it's not illegal."

Frost/Nixon: The Original Watergate Interviews
"When the President does it, that means it's not illegal. If the President approves something because of a threat to internal peace and order, of significant magnitude, then the President's decision, in that instance...enables those who carry [the President's order] out to carry it out to do so without violating the law" - Richard M. Nixon

During all of the Vietnam protests, President Nixon became convinced that there was a foreign power/country/enterprise directing these American kids, so he wanted to find out who and how these directives were getting done. He signed an Executive Order that allowed the intelligence agencies to spy on Americans in the hopes of finding that foreign element that funded subversive groups that were planning protests and other crazy things. The FBI could tap more phones, open mail, and break into homes and offices w/o warrants. These powers were later curtailed by Congress in the mid 70s, but then expanded again recently in the name of securing the nation from another terrorist attack called the Patriot Act.
Reinventing Richard Nixon: A Cultural History of an American Obsession (Cultureamerica)


"Did Erlichmann inform me that these two men were going to California? He may well have. And if he had, I would have said, 'Go right ahead'" - Nixon, in reference to Gordon Liddy and Howard Hunt going to California to break into Daniel Ellsberg's psychiatrist's office.

So, give me your comments on Nixon's statements. (pick one of the following questions).

1. Is it o.k. for the president to do just about anything in the defense of the United States during a time of war? Why or why not? Do you agree with Nixon's reasoning? Why or why not?

2. Or, comment on any similarities to today's events in the war on terror. Think about the comparisons to the Patriot Act, National Security Agency's unwarranted wiretapping, checking emails, library records, torture and methods of torture, etc. Since we haven't had a terrorist attack on American soil in almost eight years (knock on wood), does this lack of an attack mean that what we've doing is working? Why or why not? If President Bush / Obama hadn't or doesn't continue to do these measures, then who is at fault for another attack? CIA? NSA? The President? Bush/Obama is in a no-win situation here: you do too much, he's infringing on peoples' rights. He does too little, he gets most if not all of the blame.

Due Tuesday, June 8, 2010 - 200 words
Check out this website on Watergate:
Also, awesome link on the real history and media reaction behind the Frost/Nixon interviews:

Monday, May 31, 2010

Blog #33 - Follow up to Civil Rights unit - Racism dead? Klan in the classroom, say what?

Finally, this blog is getting close to being done.  Part of the reason I've taken a lot of time on it is because I've wanted to say exactly what I mean with the blog.  I try to do that with all of my blogs, but especially b/c this one tends to fall into a sensitive area, I want to be particularly careful about what is said. 

On Wednesday and Thursday, we discussed (as a long-overdue follow-up to our Civil Rights unit) some issues concerning race in America.  One issue concerned how Americans viewed racism after the 2008 election: 1. Was racism a pretty much done deal since the country had elected a black man, so let's, as a nation, move on to other things like our tanking economy?   2. Or, had America achieved some kind of post-racial enlightenment by electing Barack Obama, a man whose skin color would have kept him barred from an equal education had he lived in, say Topeka, Kansas back when Linda Brown lived in the early 1950s (he wasn't born until 1961)?  3. Or, as many of you voiced your opinion agreed, that racism hadn't perished in 2008 and that news of its death had been greatly exaggerated. 

We then turned our attention to the unfortunate occurrence in Lumpkin County H.S. in northern Georgia last week when a few American history students and their teacher offended students as they walked through the school hallways dressed in Klan robes (though the teacher claims that sheets were used, not robes).  The teacher didn't inform anyone of what she was doing, rumors spread throughout the school afterwards that the Klan had been roaming the halls, and that there had been no school-wide announcement to correct the record.  “The brief appearance of four robed and hooded figures caused a commotion in the cafeteria as several students became upset and angry. Some became angrier than others.” Principal Tracy Sanford said 1.

News Update!! - Apparently, in nearby Gwinnett County schools in Lawrenceville, GA, another social studies teacher had the same idea of dressing her kids up in Klan robes for a re-enactment and was told to stop.  However, by the time the teacher was told to stop, she had already done a similar activity with her 8th grade class at Sweetwater M.S..  In the Atlanta Journal Constitution article I found about this event, it makes one major distinction: the Gwinnett County teacher, Stephanie Hunte is black where as the Lumpkin H.S. teacher is white. 

The AJC's Rick Badie wrote about many of the issues that we had discussed in his editorial dated Friday, May 28.  Why weren't these things pre-approved by an administrator?  Why not inform the kids in the school as to what's going on before the students go traipsing through the halls?  But I think he misses the point when he says that the administrators will lend "an ear to those with objections."   I don't think many of us get the point here. 

(If you'd like to tell Mr. Badie your opinion, be respectful and send him a copy of your response and a link to the blog at his email address 

The Rise of the Ku Klux Klan: Right-Wing Movements and National Politics (Social Movements, Protest and Contention)I don't think either of these projects should have gotten past the planning stages.  For the most part, asking kids to re-enact something in a structured framework is fine, even if they are reenacting a contentious, controversial or previously accepted idea in history (one makes me think of Social Darwinism).  But, I think there comes a point in time where some issues can be taught in a different way and do not need to be taught through re-enactment.   What were the teachers allowing the students to do as Klansmen?   When the student becomes the person who perpetrated the heinous race crimes, what are we actually trying to teach that child (especially when it comes to the 8th graders - seriously, are they having a moment of soul-searching reflection as the hoods slip over their heads)?  Then, the teachers didn't take into account other people, mainly students of color, who these re-enactments might negatively affect.  One student at Lumpkin H.S., Cody Rider, felt very strongly about it, and had to be restrained by members of the staff in the cafeteria (see video below).  Furthermore,  the Lumpkin H.S. teacher still thinks her students should have just filmed that segment off-campus, which to me, shows that she still doesn't get that there's anything wrong with having her students put on Klan, sheets.  She thought she was doing the right thing by teaching her AP students about racism, but could she be teaching the nation something else instead?

I don't even know where to start with questions, b/c I think I answered most of my own questions above. 

Please answer the following questions:
1. Why does it seem that white America tends to be clueless when it comes to racial sensitivity?   If this Klan reenactment offends most members of the black community, but other black Americans don't say anything or other more visible black Americans just dismiss the media circus as a tempest in a teapot, who should you listen to?  Why? 
2. Watch the video below on Tim Wise talking about "How White People Talk About Race" and share your reactions.  Do you think his comments are accurate?  Why or why not? 

Due Thursday, June 3 - 200 words


Sunday, May 16, 2010

Blog #32 - Vietnam Debate Blog

This week, we debated America's fate in 1965 - should America escalate the war in Vietnam or withdraw?  There were several nuanced options within the debate: 1. Escalate fully; 2. Escalate slowly and control the risks; 3. Withdraw slowly, negotiate and provide aid to SV; 4. Pull out completely. 

Each option stated their main points vigorously and defended them well.  When the votes came in, 2nd hour had a tie between option 2 and 3; 3rd hour had a tie between option 1 and 2.  Interestingly enough, option 4, the pull-out of Vietnam now choice, only received a couple of votes in each class (but not for lack of trying).  I don't know if this is b/c of the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the backlash vs. an Iraq pullout.  But well done to all involved. 

In the film, Fog of War, that we've been watching recently, former Secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara asked the following question when reflecting thing when analyzing America's use of chemical weapons like Agent Orange on Vietnam to defoliate the jungles and make it "easier" for our soldiers to fight and win against the Viet Cong. 

"How much evil must we do in order to do good?"
Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara

A couple things to consider when answering this question:  if we're doing evil in order to do good, is that good really a good thing?  If it is a good thing, then at what point do the evil means (that you are using, for instance, Agent Orange) become so heinous that it negates the good that you are doing? 

This is an optional question to answer if you feel like tackling it for 4 extra credit points. 

On a different angle, Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal has been exposed has having misrepresented his time during the Vietnam Era as he runs for the U.S. Senate spot in this upcoming election.  It seems that some members of the Baby Boom generation, especially those who serve in the military can't really come to terms with what they did during this time period, Mr. Blumenthal included. 

When talking to a group of veterans, he talked about the "days that I served in Vietnam" when talking supporting our troops unconditionally.  He never served and actually went out of his way to obtain five deferments so that he didn't have to serve like less fortunate soldiers who didn't go to college or have connections like Blumenthal.  His father worked with the Washington Post, and somehow young Dick received the deferment 2-A, one of the most coveted deferments, which meant that his job or role was so important that he needed to stay in the U.S..  This allowed him to finish up his Harvard grad work, go to Britain for more grad work, get a job at the Post, and then worked for the Nixon White House.  Only after the war looked like it was wrapping up did Dick join the Marine Reserves. 
Former president Clinton went overseas during the war while on a Rhodes scholarship and protested the war in Britain, while George W. Bush spent his service time in a cushy Air National Guard post protecting the Alabama skies from Communists. 

Here's an article that examines why politicians lie about their war service:  It makes for some very fascinating reading. 

Your three questions:
1. Why do you think some of the Baby Boom generation have such a difficult time with what they had done (or not done) during the Vietnam War? 
2. Which of the four options in your class (please identify 2nd or 3rd hour) argued the best case and why?  Please include specifics.
3. Why do you think the debate was set up like this (four different views, working in teams, debate, using primary resources)?  Explain. 

18 points (+4 extra if you choose to
answer McNamara's evil/good question). 

300 words minimum - due Monday, May 24, 2010