Archive | December 2011

Determining Authorship of Ron Paul’s Newletters Through Text Analysis: Part 2

Update: Part 3 is here.

Last week, readers (all two of you), may remember that I attempted to explore the question of authorship of Ron Paul’s controversial newsletters. You may recall that I attempted to compare the frequency of word length of a number of Paul’s known writings with four newsletter excerpts of which Paul denies authorship.

The trouble with the approach I took is that the tests are designed to show differences in authorship, but do not address the question of similarity. We may be able to statistically show that two pieces of writing come from different authors through a chi-square test of independence through the appearance of a small p-value. A large, p-value, however, does not necessarily show that the same author wrote two pieces of writing, though many take this result to be implicit.

What the results of the previous post do require, however, is further tests.

I focused on four articles, one on the coming race war, one on carjacking, one on AIDS and another one calling for Paul reelection to Congress. By analyzing word length, punctuation and letter appearance, We were able to determine that Paul probably did not write two of the four articles, namely the re-election article and the particularly offensive article on carjacking. The article on AIDS and the coming race war, however, are still in dispute.

Taking a cue from a paper sent my Mr. JD Klein, who kindly took the time to comment on the last post, I ran a principal component analysis (PCA) on word length. I have since added several articles by Lew Rockwell, head of the Mises Institute (a libertarian think tank), a few articles written by other members of the institute, more of Paul’s articles and three more of his books.

PCA is a mathematical procedure that uses an orthogonal transformation to convert a set of observations of possibly correlated variables into a set of values of uncorrelated variables called principal components. It is normally used as a data reduction technique when one has multiple correlated variables and wishes to reduce them into one, two or possibly three compact, but uncorrelated variables. In this case, there 30 variables representing the percentage of word lengths (from 1-30) in all of the texts.

What one can also do, is find important clusters of observations when plotting the first and second PC’s against one another. Thus, if Paul wrote some works, but someone else wrote others, we might see that all of Paul’s writings occupy a particular region on the plot, whereas the other author occupies another.

Biplot of First Two PC's of Word Length of Writings by Ron Paul, Other Authors and Disputed Articles from the Ron Paul Newletters

I have included the plot on the right. Interestingly, Paul’s writings are all over the place. What is of not, is that some of Lew Rockwell’s writings appear to be clustered in one region, along with the re-election and carjacking articles, the very two aritcles that were found to likely NOT to be written by Paul in the previous post. I have circled the appropriate region.

Searching further on authorship attribution and text analysis (this field is rather new to me), I also found a software package called JGAAP (Java Graphical Authorship Attribution Program) . It is a Java based textual analysis program. It allows one to feed in a number of text files, assign authorship to each one of them, and compare them with a number of texts of unknown authorship. While the program allows for a number of comparison methods, I opted for the path of lowest resistance (and time) and compared word length between the texts using and nearest neighbor driver and a histogram distance.

I have included a table of the three most likely authors of the four articles based on word length. Interestingly, Paul is not the definitive author on any of the texts. In fact, he is not even in the top three for the re-election article. Lew Rockwell, however, is implicated in all four of these articles. Michael Rozeff (I included a number of “control” articles) made the top three for the race war article, a result that I’m not sure how to interpret.

Clearly, further analysis is in order. Given extra time, I will pursue this to the best of my ability. I find these results fascinating, however. Paul maintains that he did not write the articles and, given these results, that may be true. Lew Rockwell, long involved in Paul activities could have, in fact written these.

That Paul himself disavows these articles is not surprising in an election campaign. What is missing, though, is the question of who wrote these articles and the extent of Paul’s knowledge of what was written in his name. I think that I have, in some way, cracked this egg for further investigation.

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Determining Authorship of Ron Paul Newsletters through Text Analysis

Update: Part 2 is here.

Update: Part 3 is here.

Ron Paul sold newsletters in the 80’s and 90’s. The content of these newsletters was appalling though unsurprising. Here’s a sample:

“We don’t think a child of 13 should be held responsible as a man of 23. That’s true for most people, but black males age 13 who have been raised on the streets and who have joined criminal gangs are as big, strong, tough, scary and culpable as any adult and should be treated as such.”

“And Stanford, Michigan, and many other universities have banned speech that offends privileged groups. Anti-white, anti-male, anti-heterosexual or anti-Christian remarks are perfectly OK, of course.” You can imagine, then, what a relief it must be to minorities, homosexuals, women and non-Christians to find themselves the privileged people of America. The rest of this page and part of the second details a cabal of homosexuals in the Bush administration who like to lead “the young” astray.

“Boy, it sure burns me to have a national holiday for that pro-communist philanderer, Martin Luther King. I voted against this outrage time and time again as a Congressman. What an infamy that Ronald Reagan approved it! We can thank him for our annual Hate Whitey Day. Listen to a black radio talk show in any major city. The racial hatred makes a KKK rally look tame.”

“Dr. Douglass believes that AIDS is a deliberately engineered hybrid of these two animal viruses cultured in human tissue, and he blames World Health Organization experimentation at Ft. Detrick, Maryland…. Could the government have experimented with it in the civilian population, as it did in the 1950s with LSD, and had things get out of control? I don’t know, but these sure are interesting questions.”

“A well-known libertarian editor just back from New York told me: ‘The ACT-UP slogan, on stickers plastered all over Manhattan, is “Silence = Death.” But shouldn’t it be “Sodomy = Death”?'”

Paul claims not only to NOT have written the trash in his newsletters, but also claims to not have known of the content of them. I find it highly unlikely that, given Paul’s prolific written output, that Paul would not have had the time to write the content of newsletters and signitures which bear his name. I also find it unlikely that he himself wouldn’t have read them, given that he drew a portion of his income from their continued sale.

Regardless, the claim that Paul did NOT write the content of his own newsletters needs to be put to rigorous test. Clearly, Paul himself is of no use in this venture, given his precipitous position as a Presidential candidate.

PhiloComp.net offers the “The Signature Stylometric System,” a text analysis software package offered for free. One can use the package, for example, to determine if the same author wrote all of Shakespeare’s plays or to determine the authorship of the Federalist Papers. It compares word and sentence length between texts, and determines frequency of letter usage and punctuation. Authors have particular styles. For example, one author may often use three letter words (or four letter words!). We may take a disputed work, compare the word length of it against all other works by said author, and then statistically test whether there is evidence to suggest that the work came from that author.

I collected a number of works known for a fact to be written by Paul. I included a couple of chapters from “End the Fed,” a number of his speeches, and more than 20 articles and compiled them into a single corpus. On the internet, I then found four articles from his newsletters: one asking readers to assist in his re-election to office (his present seat in Congress, actually), one on the supposed government conspiracy to create and spread AIDS (partially quoted above), one on the coming race war, and one particularly deplorable article on carjacking and the need for an armed populace.

A graph of the distribution of word length in Paul’s output can be seen below.

Word Length

Using the software, I compared the word length and sentence length of each of the four newsletter articles to works known to be written by Paul. The results are below. For those unfamiliar with stats and/or p-values, the gist is this: If the p-value is less than , say, .05, there is reason to believe that authors of the newsletter articles is someone other than Paul. If the p-value is greater than .05, we might concluded that there is not enough evidence to suggest that Paul did not write the articles, and move on to other methods of testing (as is seen in the next post).

Results of textual analysis on Ron Paul writings

The results are interesting. There is not enough evidence to suggest that someone other than Paul wrote the piece on AIDS and the piece speculating on a coming race war, though to confirm (or refute) Paul’s authorship, we may have to resort to other methodologies. On the other hand, there is reason to believe that someone else may have written the other two articles, the one on carjacking and the re-election piece.

I have also included a comparison with a piece on health care that is known to be written by Paul. The tests confirm that it compares nicely with the rest of Paul’s known writings (or at least provides no evidence that it is significantly different). For reference, I have also included the results of a tests between Paul’s writings and the entire text of this blog starting in 2007. Again, the test confirms that the authors are likely different people (which I already knew).

A visual comparison of word length between the feature on the coming race war and the rest of Paul’s works shows that the two are very similar. For reference, I have included a comparison of Paul’s works with my last blog post, which, incidentally was also statistically different from Paul’s writing on all measures.

Race War and Paul Works

My Last Blog Post and Ron Paul

Obviously, we will never know without a doubt who did or did not write the trash that appeared in Paul’s incendiary newsletters, though results like these and more casual spot-check analyses indicate that the case is hardly closed. I am convinced that Paul happily exploited the worst elements of the American political landscape. He willfully mixes with racists, conspiracy nuts and paranoid gun freaks for nothing more than political gain, political contributions and worse yet, book sales. I am also convinced that he was aware of the newsletters that he has “disavowed” though the results above indicate that he may, in fact, have farmed out some of the writing to other people.

Subjecting myself to his writing was one of the most painful and useless experiences of my life. I really wanted to give the man a chance, particularly after his impressive display at the Republican foreign policy debate. “End the Fed” read more like a paper from freshman comp than a serious book, though it somehow attempts to pass itself off as a work of deep economic analysis. Not to disparage people I know that may support Paul (and I do apologize), but I think that Krugman’s recent quip that Newt Gingerich is “a stupid man’s idea of what a smart man sounds like” is actually more true of Ron Paul.

It doesn’t take a piece of software to know that it is possible that Paul at least signed off on some of the nonsense in his newsletters. The jury on whether he did or did not write these articles may be out, but a reading of his works shows that philosophically, it doesn’t take a great leap of faith to move from Paul’s public persona to some of the ugliest portions of right wing politics.


Update: Please see further analysis in the next post that expands upon these results. If Paul didn’t write these letters, who did?

Further discussion of methods and criticism of this post on another blog can be found here.

Africa’s Bright Future

GDP per capita by year for all African states

For all the nay-saying and mud that gets slung at Africa’s troubles, it’s economic indicators signal nothing but a positive future. Economic growth per capita has been rising consistently throughout the past decade, the financial crisis of 2008 and teh more current European economic crisis barely registering a blip on overall trends of growth. The picture is fasinating. I have included China as a reference. Gabon, Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and formerly war torn Angola all have outpaced China’s much lauded growth. In fact, Gabon’s per capita GDP for 2010 was more than double that of China’s.

Fertility has been declining overall for African countries since the 1960’s. Fertility rates are lowest for Africa’s strong performers, such as South Africa and Namibia. Countries which lack commodity exports and rely on agricultural exports continue to experience not only continued low GDP per capita, but also serve as the source of Africa’s population growth. Realistically, as African economies expand, we would expect fertility to drop even more. Regionally, the African continent is one of the few sources of real human population growth on the planet. Europe, the United States and Canada, China and Japan are all experiencing population stagnation or declines.

Percent of population living with HIV

Despite a growing population, the number of people living with HIV has either plateaued or declined in nearly all African countries, though given the bottom heavy nature of African populations, we could conceivably see a rise again within the next decade.. Malaria is on the decline everywhere though reductions in the amount of foreign health aid, most notably in the Global Fund could undermine efforts to control it. Life expectancy is up just about everywhere, and infant mortality is down. Africans are having fewer children and seeing more of them survive to live longer and healthier lives.

Challenges still exist, however. Africa is home to unrivaled inequality as economies depend on narrow commodity exports for revenue, rather than bolstering manufacturing sectors which create jobs. Declines in funding for health initiatives could signal a collapse of health care and intervention programs in many African countries which do not budget for health delivery. Poor education infrastructure could further undermine efforts to create viable manufacturing sectors due to a lack of skilled labor. Wild cards like Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo could see rapidly return to the bad old days of resource fueled African conflict. The recent election rows in the Ivory Coast and the DRC show that at least some African countries aren’t out of the woods yet. Recent upsets in South Africa and an increasingly autocratic government do, indeed, give one pause to consider a political future for Africa’s strongest economy.

The future looks bright, however, and Africa could follow east Asia’s economic miracle to finally earn its place in the world economy. For the present, however, traditional images of a dying continent and an ineffectual population are slowly being proven wrong.

GSRA Unionization Effort: Response to Concerned Faculty Member

As some readers may know, the union which represents graduate student instructors (GSIs) at the University of Michigan, GEO, is moving to allow research assistants to vote to join, as well. Presently, graduate student research assistants (GSRAs) do not have formal representation through the union, despite being employed under similar terms as GSI’s.

Recently, a faculty member at the UM left a comment in response to my post on the Michigan State Attorney general’s involvement in trying to block the effort. Caren Winehouse, a GSRA and a member of the group fighting to allow GSRA’s to vote to become part of the union, crafted the following response to answer what are likely common concerns among UM faculty. I have included an abbreviated version of the faculty members comment at the head.

As a faculty member, who has to work very very hard to bring in funding to support GSRAs (and for those in this business you know how abysmal the success rate is), I fail to see the prevailing argument for *this particular union*. If the wages and benefits go up (as the union presumably will fight for) faster than my ability to obtain funding (which is very likely; there is only so much I can do as an individual), then I will be forced to reduce the number of GSRAs I support or hire, meaning some of them will lose financial support all together. Is that considered a desirable outcome for the GSRAs? Certainly not for me, but the union is supposed to protect them, and will/can they be protected against loss of external funding??

What I see is that (the inclusion of GSRAs into the union) will eventually force me, an individual faculty member who cares about his/her students, to simply hire fewer number of GSRAs. It’s pure, simply math; there is only so much I can do. Or I will have to spend so much more time in writing grants that I will have no time left to actually work with my GSRAs. Is that considered added benefit for the GSRA? The university is not going to chip in in any significant way in this regard, which is universally viewed as a matter of personal and academic competence.


Dear Dr. Anonymous:

Firstly, thank you for your thoughtful question. The point that you raise is a very important one; I’d like to take a shot at it.

I am a GSRA in Environmental Health Sciences in the School of Public Health. I’ve attended GEO meetings as interim steward for my department since approximately February 2011 and have officially been involved in the GSRA campaign since September. I have a GSRA appointment that is funded through one of my advisor’s grants; she is a wonderful, caring mentor and I am glad to work hard under her supervision. If I thought that forming a union would make her very hard job harder or would decrease the number of GSRAs hired, I would not be working to help form one.

Speaking for myself, I recognize that my advisor has a tough time funding students, and I try not to take for granted what I am offered and to do my part in bringing in funding. I have successfully applied for internal funding to allow my advisor to redirect my summer funds to other students, and plan to apply for external funding to make available the remainder of my GSRAship to other students.

Generally, it sounds like your concerns are that GSRAs will bargain for unreasonable wages and benefits packages that will either make grants more difficult for faculty to secure or make each grant stretch to cover fewer GSRAs, thus making faculty lives harder and GSRA jobs more scarce.

I do not believe that is a likely scenario. As my own situation illustrates–and I am by no means rare, as I’ve found in talking to others through GEO–GSRAs recognize how expensive GSRA positions are and do not want to make faculty lives harder; also, we do not want to price ourselves out of a job or out of the market. GEO, GSRAs, and the university each have vested interests in keeping GSRA positions affordable for the faculty who bring in the grants. While GEO has a history of bargaining for pay and benefits that keep graduate education accessible, it also has a bargaining partner–the UM administration, which always includes faculty on its bargaining team–that would provide a structural check if GEO’s bargaining positions were out of line with what would keep UM competitive.

GSRA wages and benefits have, for the most part, increased in sync with GEO-negotiated increases for GSIs/GSSAs every three years, when the contract is re-negotiated. Therefore, advisors, such as yourself, have had to slightly increase the wages and benefits packages on GSRA appointments on your grants, even without a union. Have you found these small cost-of-living increases to be onerous? If so, let’s chat. If not, there is no reason to believe that this will change much. On a personal note, I am happy with my current wages and benefits and would NOT vote to bargain for more of an increase than GEO has historically bargained for, in line with cost of living/inflation; anonymous survey data of the GSRA unit don’t suggest that pumping up wages and benefits are a major priority for most GSRAs.

A union contract would legally protect what we already have in terms of wages and benefits, such as zero-premium GradCare, as well as providing a bargaining platform for other benefits that are provided directly by the university, such as the childcare subsidy, Importantly, it would also provide a third-party arbitration/confidential third-party guidance for students in tough relationships with advisors. [I don’t think this would be used frequently, but the existence of a mechanism helps keep everyone behaving well; unlike you, not all faculty members treat students fairly.] For the most part, I envision very little changing for GSRAs with a union; it will be business as usual, except with a legally-binding contract.

In summary, a union provides a platform for GSRAs to potentially ask for and secure much higher wages and benefits than they currently have, but I strongly doubt that they will, because GSRAs care about you as much as you care about them and do not wish to screw you, because GSRAs do not want to bargain themselves out of a job, because the university wants to remain competitive in securing research grants and in maintaining GSRA employment, and because GEO has not negotiated for unreasonable increases in wages and benefits in the past.

I hope that this response has been useful in some way, and I invite you to continue the conversation. If you would like to talk off-line, my email address is cweinhouse (at) gmail. I would be glad to provide you with a phone number via email or to meet in person, if either is your preference.

Thanks for listening.

Caren Weinhouse

A Short Literature Review on HIV in Mississippi

In lieau of an actual post….

Despite making up only 37% of the state population, African Americans account for 78% of HIV cases[1]. HIV infections nationwide are increasing rapidly among African American women(find ref). In 2000, Rural Mississippi had the second  highest incidence of HIV of any region in the country, and heterosexual transmission of HIV was highest in Mississippi, compared with other states[2].  State policies such as abstinence only education, low access to health services and policies which prevent individuals from entering the system until they have full AIDS are exacerbating transmission[3]. HIV in Mississippi has long been shown to be disproportionately high in rural African-American compared with urban and rural whites[4]. Among HIV infected pregnant women, African-American women far outnumber women of other ethnicities, are less likely to present to clinics and more likely to have co-infections with other STIs[5].  Incarceration has been shown to be associated with HIV/Hep C co-infections[6].

Adherence to treatment regimens is affected by lifestyle factors such as drinking and drug use, individual symptoms of depression and social attitudes which stigmatize HIV infected individuals in rural Southern populations [7]. HIV transmission in rural areas of Mississippi has been shown to occur through heterosexual contact and partnerships largely occur between older men and very young women[8]. In urban areas, HIV transmission among MSM has been well documented. Increases in incidence rates of MSM in the urban South is higher than that of MSM in all other regions combined[9]. Like heterosexual partnerships among African-Americans in rural Mississippi that results in HIV transmission, age disparities among MSM pairings are highly associated with HIV transmission[10]. Rural African American male HIV cases were more likely to report being IDUs, were more likely to report concurrent sexual pairings and to report having exchanged sex for money than urban cases. Urban cases, however, were less likely to use condoms than rural HIV positive individuals. These results suggest vast differences in the nature of sexual pairings and thus opportunities for HIV transmission between urban and rural African American populations[11].

Mississippi has one of the highest incarceration rates in the country, and prison populations tend to be overwhelmingly African American and male[12]. Prisons and crime are known to be associated with HIV transmission[13].  Among formerly incarcerated HIV positive males residing in rural areas, those with larger number of past arrests are associated with more sexual pairings, are less likely to use condoms and more likely to buy or sell sex[14]. Risky sexual behavior among parolees has been shown other contexts to be common[15].

Migration which might affect spatial data quality appears to not coincident with HIV diagnosis. One study concluded that although IDUs were more likely than others to change location of residence following diagnosis of HIV, in general HIV transmission in new HIV cases in rural Mississippi and Alabama appears to be occurring locally[16].

 

1.            Mississippi State Department of Health SHO: Reported cases of HIV disease in Mississippi, 2010. Jackson, MS: Mississippi State Department of Health, STD/HIV Office; 2010.

2.            Hall HI, Li J, McKenna MT: HIV in Predominantly Rural Areas of the United States. The Journal of Rural Health 2005, 21:245-253.

3.            Talha Khan B: State policies worsen HIV/AIDS crisis in Mississippi. The Lancet, 377:1994.

4.            Young RA, Feldman S, Brackin B: HIV SEROPREVALENCE AMONG ADOLESCENT MISSISSIPPI SEXUALLY TRANSMITTED DISEASE (STD) CLINIC ATTENDEES-IS THIS A RURAL EPIDEMIC? Southern Medical Journal 1990, 83:2-103.

5.            Rana AI, Gillani FS, Flanigan TP, Nash BT, Beckwith CG: Follow-up care among HIV-infected pregnant women in Mississippi. Journal of women’s health (2002) 2010, 19:1863-1867.

6.            Burton MJ, Reilly KH, Penman A: Incarceration as a risk factor for hepatitis C virus (HCV) and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) co-infection in Mississippi. Journal of health care for the poor and underserved 2010, 21:1194.

7.            Amico KR, Konkle-Parker DJ, Cornman DH, Barta WD, Ferrer R, Norton WE, Trayling C, Shuper P, Fisher JD, Fisher WA: Reasons for ART non-adherence in the Deep South: adherence needs of a sample of HIV-positive patients in Mississippi. AIDS care 2007, 19:1210-1218.

8.            Cluster of HIV-Infected Adolescents and Young Adults–Mississippi, 1999. JAMA: The Journal of the American Medical Association 2000, 284:1916-1917.

9.            Mena L, Johnson K, Thompson C, Thomas P, Toledo C, Heffelfinger J, Sutton M, Ellington R, Larkins T, Rynn L, et al: HIV Infection Among Young Black Men Who Have Sex With Men-Jackson, Mississippi, 2006-2008 (Reprinted from MMWR, vol 58, pg 77-81, 2009). JAMA-JOURNAL OF THE AMERICAN MEDICAL ASSOCIATION 2009, 301:1428-1429.

10.          Oster AM, Dorell CG, Mena LA, Thomas PE, Toledo CA, Heffelfinger JD: HIV risk among young African American men who have sex with men: a case-control study in Mississippi. American journal of public health 2011, 101:137-143.

11.          Williams PB, Sallar AM: HIV/AIDS and African American men: urban-rural differentials in sexual behavior, HIV knowledge, and attitude towards condoms use. Journal of the National Medical Association 2010, 102:1139-1149.

12.          Stemen D, Sorensen J: The Effect of State Sentencing Policies on Incarceration Rates. Crime & Delinquency 2002, 48:456-475.

13.          Okie S: Sex, Drugs, Prisons, and HIV. The New England Journal of Medicine 2007, 356:105-108.

14.          Oser CB, Leukefeld CG, Cosentino-Boehm A, Havens JR: Rural HIV: Brief interventions for felony probationers. American Journal of Criminal Justice 2006, 31:125-143.

15.          Morrow KM: HIV, STD, and hepatitis risk behaviors of young men before and after incarceration. AIDS care 2009, 21:235-243.

16.          Agee BS, Funkhouser E, Roseman JM, Fawall H, Holmberg SD, Vermund SH: Migration patterns following HIV diagnosis among adults residing in the nonurban Deep South. AIDS CARE-PSYCHOLOGICAL AND SOCIO-MEDICAL ASPECTS OF AIDS/HIV 2006, 18:S51-S58.

 

Movie of the Week: “Viva Riva” (Democratic Rep. of Congo, 2010)

In “Viva Riva” Congolese director Djo Munga presents a gritty tale of stolen gasoline, African international organized crime and a society in chaos. Riva is a petty criminal who has appropriated a truckload of gasoline from an Angolan crime group. The DRC, like most African countries, is in the midst of a fuel crisis, not having enough foreign exchange with which to buy fuel, poor transportation infrastructure with which to ship it, and a corrupt political system which fails to address the underlying problems which contribute to both. Consequently, gasoline brought in on the black market can fetch more than $10 a liter and fuels (no pun intended) a deep culture of criminal activity.

Munga follows Riva as he gavalants through Kinshasa, visiting the deepest slums, crumbling mansions occupied by Congolese crime lords, families ravaged by the male pursuit of money and status, corrupt but well meaning government officers straddling a knife’s blade of professional and family obligations, desperate women who sell their bodies for survival, the shifting priorities of morality and money and the ubiquitous violence which plagues this vast country.

Viva Riva is an honest though stylistic portrait of a troubled country, shot, unfortunately, not with cell phones (as in his previous “Congo in Four Acts“) but with expensive digicam equipment. The big budget (by African standards) production values unfortunately work against this film’s gritty message, giving it a look that is more appropriate for straight to DVD exploitation features. Despite this, it is clear that Munga seeks to make a political statement while creating a piece that will satisfy viewers looking for gobs of sex and violent action. The most effectively shot scenes of the movie are the candid documentary style depictions of long lines of cars waiting for fuel and shots from cars while driving through Kinshasa at night. The actors in the foreground, unfortunately, take away from this reality.

Right Winger Schuette Proposes to Block Unionization by UMich Research Assistants

The University of Michigan boasts one of the most successful graduate student unions in the country. The Graduate Employees Organization (GEO) can be credited for helping UM graduate students get one of the best deals among all American graduate schools. Those of us who receive funding from the UM and other sources enjoy a guaranteed decent wage, a health care plan identical to that which standard UM employees receive, and a place to turn for help to when things go sour.

Though all funded graduate students receive the same minimum guarantees that GEO members do, until now only teaching assistants have been officially allowed into the union. In the early 80’s when GEO was formed, teaching assistants far outnumbered paid research assistants (GSRA’s_, and the thinking was that GSRA’s were a special category of graduate student that did not require representation by a union.

The numbers, however, have vastly shifted as UM slowly became a research giant. Now, GSRA’s outnumber teaching assistants and play a vital role in the University’s standing as a massive research institution. GEO has embarked on a plan to allow GSRA’s to integrate with the union and is calling for a vote among all GSRA’s to decided whether this should, in fact, happen. What appeared to be a simple procedure has now turned into a political battlefield.

Right wing groups, specifically, the conservative think tank the Mackinac Center (whom I’ve written of before), have entered the fight, seeking to prevent the student union from expanding. As we have seen in other states, all public unions are under fire from rightists who ostensibly see collective bargaining as an obstacle to a free market but, in reality, merely seek to consolidate power into a few hands.

It’s no surprise, of course, that 19 present and former self-interested school deans have also opposed the unionization of GSRA’s, making the bizarre claim that a worker’s union (which in effect already represents the GSRA’s in practice) would somehow discourage students from coming the UM. I can see it now, “Hmmm, this school has a graduate student union, not going there!”

Really?

Fortunately, the Mackinac Center failed in their bid to block the state board, MERC, from hearing the case to allow GSRA’s to merely vote on whether to join the union. The Mackinac Center waged a laughable campaign where they enlisted a single poorly spoken graduate student to public protest the GSRA effort, implying that the unionization of GSRA’s would prevent students from finishing their degrees and shutter the mighty University of Michigan for good.

Tea Party favorite and extreme right-winger Bill Schuette has now also entered the fight against unionization of GSRA’s, though this should be of little surprise. Schuette has intimate ties with the Mackinac Center and, in fact, was a guest of honor at one of their events. Schuette opposes the Affordable Health Care Act, and has in fact sued (using Michigan dollars) to have it overturned. Schuette can’t figure out whether he’s for or against medical marijuana but definitely knows that he wants to put pot-heads in jail. Schuette has actively tried to close abortion clinics in Saginaw. Schuette hates immigrants, and, in fact, despite being in the Michigan government, inexplicably made supporting the racist Arizona immigration law a part of his election platform. Wow. Who voted for this guy?

It should be obvious that this issue is about more than just some small local issue, but part of a growing trend of right wing power consolidation that is occurring (or maybe has been continually occurring) all over the country. I, for one, support the right for all to unionize. The small can only resist the powerful in large numbers.

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