Sunday, January 12, 2014

Who is Attacking Randi on the Radio and in the Papers (And Now On a Five-Story Billboard Midtown?)

As a member of MORE, the opposition caucus the UFT and AFT leadership, I've become more accustomed to being critical of the policies of my unions' leadership than supportive. Having said that, a five-story billboard here in New York City that personally attacks Randi Weingarten has been erected. A member of MORE (the one who forwarded the message responded with, "Don't like Randi, but ... NOT THIS). 

I agree. Not this

So who is attacking Randi? 

The billboard and organization that paid for the website it advertises ( are paid for by Washington Lobbyist Rick Berman of Berman & Co. The name of the Organization Berman & Co. established is the 'Center for Union Facts'. Education blogger Mercedes Schneider wrote about the group back in December on her blog. This billboard has been preceded by an AM radio commercial that was aired several times over this past Fall and is responsible for a full-page ad in the NYTimes (for a price that may possibly be worth more than six months worth of my salary). I think it's safe to say that a pattern -of a sustained attack on Randi- by Berman & Co has begun. 

I am member of the opposition group. But I'm also a fan of Randi (call me nostalgic. Call me grateful for all those cash rasies she got me during the oughts when things like seniority and pension didn't matter to me and I was young (and handsome). Whether you are fond of her or not, you should recognize that  Randi has become the face for unionized teachers in America.

So an attack on her is clearly an attack on unionized teachers -which is of course an attack on public education. This is an old song and dance; right-wing (or, as Bloomberg proved, even left-wing) corporations attack public education by attacking public educators. That all starts with attacking their unions (which begins by attacking the leaders of those unions). 

 As a blogger (note to self: I love teaching and I really should write more about teaching. I don't like blogging about this type of stuff), I have chosen to save any energies I may have for the topics that I feel really do matter on the local scene. I rarely write about national things (who needs to? we have Diane Ravitch!).  But the fact is that public perception about public education matters.

And a sustained attack from a Washington DC lobbyist firm on public education in America is an issue that really (really) matters.

To that end, I'd like you to know a little more about who's attacking our union president.

  • He heads a lobbying firm  that has attacked public teachers in the past in Wyoming and in Newark and in DC. 
  • He is being paid to so. He has no stake in public education other than -his paycheck (which is rather large). 
  • His nickname is Dr. Evil and he was featured on 60 minutes back in 2011 with a segment inviting you to meet him (entitled "Meet Dr. Evil"). 
A few things about the company he runs. 

  • The firm's website brags the motto "The Power to Change Debate".  
  •  It's Wikipedia entry  says (among other things) that 28 people work at his lobbying firm -yet it rakes in a whopping $10 million each year!! 
  • That 60 Minutes did a piece on him is classic!  It's well worth the watch

About Rick Berman's "Center for Union Facts":

  • This Sourcewatch piece about Berman & Co reveals that, because his lobbyist firm is privately owned, there is no way to really know his funding sources.
  • Butthe Center for Union Facts has 501(c)(3) status and that finding funding sources for them is possible by searching IRS forms 990s.  You can check out their IRS 990 tax return here (although it was their first year and found a loophole to the rule of revealing their tax exempt status). 
  • The tax return from 2007 revelas that they have done this same thing in the past: In Newark in 2007. They told the IRS that they paid for Op-Eds and 'Letters to the Editor' several times over the course of that year paid for letters to the editor? wow!), as well as paying for billboards throughout the city and on the sides of buses.  
  • That IRS 990 comes courtesy of a CREW website called Berman Exposed (ah, Washignton politics. So predictable, yet still so very interesting). That website lists which lists all of the other front groups Berman & Co. has established.  

The guy who is attacking Randi has run as many as 28 front groups advocating for things like:

  • Allowing more mercury in fish
  • Opposing sin taxes on Alcohol
  • Encouraging us to drink more soda
  • Opposing Obamacare
  • The death of ACORN (yeah. This is one of the guys who killed ACORN)
  • Encouraging us to go get more indoor tans (cancer be damned!)
  • Michelle Rhee (well, they established a group called "DC Teachers Exposed" and the timing roughly matches Rhee's tenure)
The group's's support of these things have been met with varying degrees of success in the past.

So what? What's important to know here?

Those radio ads attacking Randi here in New York are a part of Washington DC hatchet job. Although Randi's face is on the billboard, and although her name is mentioned in the radio ads, she's far from the real target here. The real target is you and I and the $24 Billion that New York City spends on public education and on the salaries and pensions of its educators.

If anyone asks you who is responsible for the radio attack ads, or the newspaper attack ads, or the FIVE STORY BILLBOARD attack ad, you should tell them it's Dr. Evil himself: Rick Berman of Berman & Co. Tell them he's doing this through a thinly veiled front group called the Center for Union Facts.. And -again- you should them that the attack on Randi is just a proxy: The real targets here are you and me. 

We are entering the most tumultuous time of the year for public education in New York: Budget Season. That season begins at the end of this month with the mayor's introduction of his first budget and it ends in two phases:
1) On (or near)_ April 1 when the state budget is passed.
2). On or near June 1, when New York City's budget must be submitted to the city council.

It is during this season that Randi is attacked (as a mere proxy for attacking us). You'll be seeing more of these attacks, not less, as the budget season unfolds. As you do, just know one thing: some hired gun (linked with the national right-wing scene) is doing it. His name? Dr. Evil.

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