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Sunday, September 23, 2012

Erica Loberg: Bullying In The Workplace - You're The Boss of You!

bullying in the workplaceWith our current economy, none of us are in a position to lose our job.  So – what – does this mean we have to put up with endless psychological nightmares at work?  When does bullying in the workplace become worse than waking up with no job?

The current economy puts us in a situation of being victims at our job, and in our lives.  This is a terrible situation that demands attention and guidance.

I once had a toaster oven thrown at my head.  It was my first job out of college and I didn’t know the rules and boundaries of the workplace, and what’s acceptable and not acceptable.  I was working for a producer (about 90% of industry jobs are fueled with inappropriate behavior: verbal, mental abuse runs ramped) who mentally tore me down every day. I lost weight, I lost my hair, I lost myself.

But a toaster?  I’d take a toaster over a passive aggressive or verbally abusive boss any day of the week.

Bullying in the work force gets little coverage or attention because we don’t want to lose our jobs, especially when we love what we do but hate the people above us.  And it’s not only superiors that are a problem, sometimes our peers in the workplace are bully’s.  I’ve found a majority of jobs to be an extension of high school.  Cool people are bullies and others aren’t, so they become isolated from the pack, left to feel alone and rejected, lowering ones self esteem and pride.

We have two types of bullying: bosses and co-workers.  Both are terrible in their own right.  As a former, and sometimes present, victim of bullies in the work force, I’d like to share a few stories:
When I started out in the work world I worked in the movie industry; it was bullying on crack.  In fact, I was so shocked and disturbed by the treatment of assistants that I made a documentary.  I’ll never forget a story told to me by a guy that worked for some major producer that demanded he had a specific energy bar on his desk everyday at 4:30 pm.  The assistant was so paranoid that he put the bar on his boss’s desk at 4:25 pm just to make sure it wasn’t late.  The boss called everyone into his office for a meeting and half way through the meeting, he saw the energy bar on the corner of his desk and stopped:

“Why is this energy bar on my desk?”  And the terrified assistant, living in fear every day, replied, “You said you wanted it on your desk at 4:30 pm so I put it there to make sure it wasn’t late.”  

And the bully’s response was, “The kitchen is two degrees cooler than my office, so if you put it there before 4:30 pm it gets melty.”  (“Melty” isn’t even a word, probably my most favorite line of this ridiculous story). “You’re fired.” And that was the end of him.  But, having said that, I’d rather have some ridiculous circumstance over an energy bar then a mentally abusive situation.
Being yelled at or put down is worse.  Mental abuse in the work place resides in your brain when you go home.  You wake up dreading going to work, and sit at your desk all day feeling as though it may come under attack at any given moment.  It’s also very difficult to prove mental abuse, and sometimes impossible.  Since society barely acknowledges mental abuse in the work place to begin with, it leaves us alone, and more or less at a dead end.   It is the worse kind of abuse, not because you can’t document it, but because it affects your psychosis.

My next job was a government job.  My new boss came from the corporate world.  (I have some experience in corporate America, but bullies in this environment have more to fear since the threat of a lawsuit is always looming).  What I learned at this job is that, if it’s not sexual harassment or verbal harassment that can be documented or proved through emails, you’re dealt a terrible card.  An abuse that you can’t prove with concrete data, but feel exposed to on a regular basis, is the worse kind of abuse.  You get an anxiety attack when an email comes from your bully, or when you see their number pop up on your phone and know you have to answer it.  It is truly a terrible situation.  Government jobs have unions to address this type of behavior, but in my experience, don’t do much to remedy the situation.

Since bullying is psychological, you have to turn the tables and play the game right back in your bully’s face.  Set some boundaries, slowly.  Stand up for yourself in a savvy fashion, which will gain respect from your bully.  They can’t get away with everything so pick your battles and stand strong with confidence.  Make the bully look ridiculous in a soft psychological fashion; it’s a tight rope to walk, but a starting point to redirect the relationship to a place of balance that involves less threatening bullying throughout your day.

Then we have the co-workers.  Co-workers bully all the time without even realizing it.  They’re not your “boss,” so they really don’t have the right to inflict pain (bosses don’t have the “right” either but have clout to get away with it).  This type of bullying isolates you from the pack and makes you dread work.  Sometimes our workplace is a terrible high school cafeteria.  Are you in the “in” crowd?  No.  So what do you do?  Keep a low profile.  Not being the loud mouth, the funny one, the lame co-worker that thinks they have all the answers, is just fuel for your coolness.

Sometimes when I shop for wine and have zero knowledge of wine, I ask the cashier, “Do people like this?  I’m a follower so…”  It’s an inside joke I play with myself cause I’m most definitely not a follower and you must keep that in mind when dealing with the crowd of bullies, or even one bully, in your work force.  We’re not in high school anymore.  Unfortunately some never left high school, so laugh at it.  Be nonchalant.  That attitude will beat your bully and give you the mental freedom you deserve.

Try to take on bullies in the work force with hard pride and confidence.  You’re better than that, and as far as your nightmare boss is concerned: he or she is a sad, unhealthy, pathetic person, dealing with demons that unfortunately you have to live with in the hours you work.  Switch your perspective.  Pity them and know that YOU are a rock star and will do your best to mentally rise above it all, everyday.  And you will end up stronger at the end of your day, everyday.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Rebecca Schleifer: Disabled and Disenfranchised

State efforts to restrict voting access have dominated election news this year. Since the beginning of 2011, legislators in 41 state governments have introduced at least 180 bills that wouldmake it harder to register or to voteAt least 25 laws and two executive actions have been enacted, affecting 19 states. These include laws requiring proof of citizenship or photo identification to register or to vote; limiting voting registration opportunities; and reducing early and absentee voting.
The U.S. Department of Justice and voting rights advocates have challenged these laws for violating the Voting Rights Act and the National Voter Registration Act, and raised concerns about their discriminatory impact on low-income people, and racial and ethnic minorities. But what hasn't been mentioned in the media coverage, and what seems of little concern to supporters or opponents of these laws, is their discriminatory impact on one of the country's largest minorities: people with disabilities.
At least 36 million people with disabilities -- more than 11 percent of the population - live in the United States. Adults with disabilities face high rates of unemployment and poverty relative to their non-disabled counterparts. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, one-third of working age (21-64 years old) adults with disabilities are unemployed; and 27 percent of working age adults with disabilities live below the poverty line -- twice the rate of people without disabilities.
Many people with disabilities already face physical and other barriers when they seek to exercise their right to vote. Federal laws like the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Help America Vote Act require accessible voting systems, to ensure equal access and participation for people with physical and visual disabilities. But according to a 2009 US Government Accountability Office study, more than two-thirds of polling places are not fully accessible; nearly 25 percent did not have equal access to a secret and independent ballot, and voting in a polling place, considered the "hallmarks of an effective and informed right to vote," as voting rights expert Michael Waterstone has noted.
People with intellectual and psychosocial disabilities may be barred from voting by state laws disqualifying voters judged "mentally incompetent" by a court (as permitted by 39 U.S. states,according to a study published before the 2008 election) or because election officials or service providers improperly screen out those they determine incompetent to vote.
In Virginia, for example, election officials refused to provide absentee ballots for people in state psychiatric facilities because they read the state law to authorize such ballots only for people with physical disabilities. A 2008 study of Philadelphia nursing homes found that staff were denying residents the right to vote based on their own assessment of capacity to vote, notwithstanding that Pennsylvania law does not require that voters be deemed competent to cast a ballot.
People with disabilities are significantly less likely to vote than their non-disabled peers. A 2012 studyfound voter turnout for people with disabilities to be11 percentage points lower than for people without disabilities, leaving more than 3 million Americans with disabilities "sidelined" on Election Day.
In this context, laws imposing additional burdens threaten to further suppress political participation and voter turnout by people with disabilities.
Consider, for example, laws requiring proof of citizenship or photo ID to register or to vote. The Supreme Court has made clear that states that require government-issued IDs for voting must make them available free of charge to indigent voters. But people with disabilities still face considerable challenges. Because they are more likely to live in poverty, securing the necessary documentation to get a photo ID may be out of reach ($15-$25 for a birth certificate). Also many people with disabilities don't drive and must rely on family members, caretakers, or public transit for transportation. These problems with transportation are compounded for people in rural areas or group homes.
Rather than legislating ways to take away people's voting rights, state governments should instead be coming up with initiatives to ensure that all qualified U.S. citizens -- including people with disabilities -- can register to vote, get to the polls, and cast their ballots. States should make information about the voting process and candidates accessible to all people with disabilities, using simple language, visual aids, or oral instructions, and training local election supervisors to provide such information during the voting process.
These measures would ensure that people with disabilities can make informed decisions at the ballot box, and send a clear message that they are welcome in the political sphere, and have a say in who gets to represent their interests, like all other American citizens.
Rebecca Schleifer is the health and human rights advocacy director at Human Rights Watch.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Joe Nocera: How To Fix The Schools

Joe Nocera


No matter how quickly the Chicago teachers’ strike ends, whether it is this afternoon or two months from now, it’s not going to end well for the city’s public school students. Yes, I know; that’s the hoariest of clichés. But that doesn’t mean it’s not true.

It’s not just the school days that are being lost. Far more important, the animosity between the Chicago Teachers Union and Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his administration will undoubtedly linger long after the strike ends. The battle will end, but the war between education reformers and urban public schoolteachers will go on.
Teachers — many of them — will continue to resent efforts to use standardized tests to measure their ability to teach. Their leaders — some of them — will denounce the “billionaire hedge fund managers” who are financing many of the reform efforts. Reformers will continue to view teachers’ unions as the greatest roadblock to higher student achievement. How can such a poisonous atmosphere not affect what goes on in the classroom? Alienated labor is never a good thing. “It is not possible to make progress with your students if you are at war with your teachers,” says Marc Tucker.
Tucker, 72, a former senior education official in Washington, is the president of the National Center on Education and the Economy, which he founded in 1988. Since then he has focused much of his research on comparing public education in the United States with that of places that have far better results than we do — places like Finland, Japan, Shanghai and Ontario, Canada. His essential conclusion is that the best education systems share common traits — almost none of which are embodied in either the current American system or in the reform ideas that have gained sway over the last decade or so. He can sound frustrated when he talks about it.
“We have to find a way to work with teachers and unions while at the same time working to greatly raise the quality of teachers,” he told me recently. He has some clear ideas about how to go about that. His starting point is not the public schools themselves but the universities that educate teachers. Teacher education in America is vastly inferior to many other countries; we neither emphasize pedagogy — i.e., how to teach — nor demand mastery of the subject matter. Both are a given in the top-performing countries. (Indeed, it is striking how many nonprofit education programs in the U.S. are aimed at helping working teachers do a better job — because they’ve never learned the right techniques.)
What is also a given in other countries is that teaching has a status equal to other white-collar professionals. That was once true in America, but Tucker believes that a quarter-century of income inequality saw teachers lose out at the expense of lawyers and other well-paid professionals. That is a large part of the reason that teachers’ unions have become so obstreperous: It is not just that they feel underpaid, but they feel undervalued. Tucker believes that teachers should be paid more — though not exorbitantly. But making teacher education more rigorous — and imbuing the profession with more status — is just as important. “Other countries have raised their standards for getting into teachers’ colleges,” he told me. “We need to do the same.”
Second, he believes that it makes no sense to demonize unions. “If you look at the countries with the highest performance, many of them have very strong unions. There is no correlation between the strength of the unions and student achievement,” he says.
Instead, he points to the example of Ontario, where a decade ago, a new government decided to embrace the teachers’ unions — to treat them as partners instead of as adversaries. The result? Ontario now has some of the best student achievement in the world. (Alas, relations between teachers and the government have recently deteriorated after a two-year wage freeze was imposed.)
High-performing countries don’t abandon teacher standards. On the contrary. Teachers who feel part of a collaborative effort are far more willing to be evaluated for their job performance — just like any other professional. It should also be noted that none of the best-performing countries rely as heavily as the U.S. does on the blunt instrument of standardized tests. That is yet another lesson we have failed to learn.
The Chicago teachers’ strike exemplifies, in stark terms, how misguided the battle over education has become. The teachers are fighting for the things industrial unions have always fought for: seniority, favorable work rules and fierce resistance to performance measures. City Hall is fighting to institute reforms no top-performing country has ever seen fit to use, and which probably won’t make much difference if they are instituted.
The answer lies elsewhere — in a different approach to teaching education and to dealing with the unions. It won’t be easy, but it is not impossible. It’s the way forward.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Gail Collins: The Lows of Higher Ed

Welcome back, college students! Always nice to see you.
Although we are sort of worried by those bleak stories about student debt, which suggest a lot of you may graduate owing a ton of money and unqualified to do anything more remunerative than selling socks.
This year, Newsweek cheerfully welcomed the Class of 2016 by asking, “Is College a Lousy Investment?” And in The Times, Andrew Martin reported that the Department of Education is paying more than $1.4 billion per annum to folks whose job it is to collect on $76 billion in defaulted student loans. “If you wait long enough, you catch people when their guard’s down,” one debt collector told Martin after garnishing the savings of a disabled carpenter.
Look on the bright side, students. Perhaps when you graduate, some of you will be able to qualify for a good job in the booming accounts receivable management industry.
Higher education is still the key to most good jobs, but the nation is starting to ask some questions about the way we finance it. Shouldn’t there be more of a match between the cost of school and the potential earning power of the graduates? Who speaks for the art history majors? And why is tuition so high, anyway? (Parents, if your kid is planning to take out student loans, you might want to avoid any college where the dorm rooms are nicer than your house.)
“People don’t believe much any more about the altruistic motives of colleges and universities,” sadly noted Pat Callan of the Higher Education Policy Institute.
Not without some reason. In his reporting, Martin uncovered a newsletter aimed at college admissions officers that advised them to avoid using “bad words” such as “cost” or “pay” in their admissions materials. Instead, it suggested: “And you get all this for ...”
In Washington, Congress is holding hearings! The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee is considering a bill — co-sponsored by Democrat Al Franken and Republican Charles Grassley — that would require all schools to fill out the same form telling the student loan applicants useful facts like exactly how much per month they’ll be forking over when they start paying.
That would be the superminimum, right? How amazed are you that this isn’t happening already?
“Some of the packages don’t delineate what’s a grant, what’s a scholarship, what’s a loan,” said Franken. “And the information all comes in an award letter, so you’re thinking: Award!”
The Obama administration, which can’t do much about this without Congress, has been working to get the schools to voluntarily adopt a “shopping sheet” that would provide clear basic information so students could compare different schools’ financing before making a choice. “We’ve been encouraged by the feedback from the higher-ed sector,” one of the experts working on the program said. “I think we have 100 individual colleges and universities.”
The good news is that controlling college costs really does seem to be an administration priority. The bad news is that there are more than 4,000 colleges and universities.
People, don’t you think young adults should get the clearest, most easy-to-compare information conceivable before they sign a huge, life-changing loan deal? Don’t you think there should be somebody in charge of calling them up once a week and yelling: “Eight hundred dollars a month until you’re 51 years old!”
Maybe I’m underestimating the ability of teenagers to make serious, well-thought-out decisions about their higher education. All I can tell you is that when I was 21 years old, I signed up to go to graduate school at the University of Massachusetts because I had always wanted to live in Boston. I had no idea the main campus was on the other side of the state until I got there.
Franken is hoping the Senate might take up his proposal next year. I presume you weren’t expecting anything sooner. Congress can’t even get it together to keep the Postal Service from defaulting. And the Senate leaders admitted the other day that they’re not going to be able to pass a bipartisan bill to legalize Internet gambling on poker, which seems to be a really high priority for some important people. If they can’t do poker, they are not going to get to student loan transparency.
The House is planning hearings on student loans, too. The chairwoman of the subcommittee assigned to this task is Representative Virginia Foxx, a North Carolina Republican who once said that she worked her own way through college and had “little tolerance” for people who complain about their huge student loan debts.
“New ideas to advocate for financial aid transparency are always welcome in this discussion,” Foxx said in an e-mail on Friday. “But we have to question whether the federal government’s dictating the terms of every college and university’s financial aid communications will actually achieve the desired results.”
So maybe a little less sense of urgency there.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

G. Alan Tarr: Judicial Accountability and Independence - Can We Have Both?

Rutgers-Camden Constitutional Scholar Pens Book on Judicial Independence and Accountability

September 13, 2012
Alan Tarr
G. Alan Tarr is a professor of political science at Rutgers-Camden.
CAMDEN — For more than two centuries, Americans have struggled with how to strike the proper balance between judicial independence and judicial accountability, and this debate continues to the present day.
In his new book, Without Fear or Favor: Judicial Independence and Judicial Accountability in the States(Stanford University Press, 2012), internationally noted constitutional scholar G. Alan Tarr, a professor of political science at Rutgers–Camden, asks how we can hold judges accountable while maintaining their independence.
“On one hand, we want judges to be free to decide impartially based on the law,” Tarr says. “On the other hand, because their rulings have important policy consequences —think abortion, same-sex marriage, and racial desegregation —we want to have some control over how they decide. The book focuses on the ways in which the states have attempted to deal with this over time.”
Judicial independence refers to removing external influences that could interfere with a judge’s ability to impartially decide cases.
In his book, Tarr classifies champions of judicial independence as “defenders.” These defenders say external pressures come from those who seek to influence judges to make politically acceptable decisions.
But people Tarr describes as “bashers” say if judges are too independent, they are free to pursue their own ideological or political agendas at the expense of fidelity to the law. The judges are making important policy decisions or affecting public policy in their decision making.
If that kind of power is being exercised, bashers say the people should have some control over how it’s being exercised and judges should be held accountable for their decisions.
Tarr notes in the introduction of his book, “Legislative steps to curtail judicial power are portrayed as attempts to intimidate judges and threaten their independence. Efforts to hold state judges electorally accountable for their rulings are condemned for the same reasons.”
Tarr traces the debate over judicial independence and accountability in the states from America’s early years to the present day. At the outset, most state judges were appointed by the governor, a method New Jersey still uses today (the method is the same at the federal level, with the President of the United States appointing Supreme Court justices). 
“That model is very much a minority model among states across the nation,” Tarr says. “Over time, there was concern about party bosses dictating who sat on the bench. Judicial elections developed in the mid-19th Century to depoliticize the process. That didn’t work and the many states moved to so-called merit selection, but that reform movement died in the 1980s.”
Today, 39 states hold elections for their Supreme Court justices and races for those seats have become politically charged. Most of the current debate about judicial independence and judicial accountability in the states revolves around judicial elections, Tarr says.
“Part of the argument is that it’s going to be political no matter what system you use,” Tarr says. “So the question becomes, how do you get judicial accountability while maintaining independence?”
One suggestion Tarr makes is that every judge — no matter the process of selection — serve a set number of years without reappointment at the end of the term.
“It seems to me that the real problem with judicial independence is that judges may make decision with an eye to the forthcoming election or reappointment,” Tarr says. “But if there is no second term, you can take away that sort of pressure on sitting judges.”
Tarr notes in his book that a single, nonrenewable term would seem inadequate for many “bashers” because judges who are perceived as making rather than interpreting the law are not threatened with the loss of their positions.
Recent proposals to safeguard judicial independence or promote accountability also include the greater use of recusal and disqualification for judges who receive campaign contributions and the public financing of judicial elections.
Tarr writes that because judges who are elected depend on campaign contributions, their decisions could be influenced by gratitude for past contributions or the hope of future donations.
A Camden resident, Tarr directs the Rutgers–Camden Center for State Constitutional Studies. He has consulted with numerous state legislatures and Supreme Courts on the complexities of state constitutions.
The Rutgers–Camden scholar is the co-author of numerous books, including State Supreme Courts in State and Nation (Yale University Press, 1990) and American Constitutional Law (Westview Press, 2009), now in its eighth edition.
Media Contact: Ed Moorhouse
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