Tag Archives: Wisconsin

A Constitutional Question

I’ve done a pretty bad job of posting lately. My interest in politics has been tested throughly. I’m just tired of the same arguments coming from either side over government spending and taxation. The Tea Party has thoroughly destroyed my faith in Congress, and the American public. I will talk more about that in a later post. Today, I want to pose a question. It’s a question I thought of a long time ago, but never got around to asking. First, a little reminder of our recent history.

Back in March, all the talk was about Wisconsin. Governor Scott Walker was trying to push a bill that stripped the collective bargaining rights of public employees. State Senate Democrats fled in an effort to obstruct him. In the end the bill was passed, but not without gaining significant national attention and a repeated FOXNews claim that was completely wrong. In the last six months, I’ve been mulling this issue over in my head. Education is very important to me. I’ve been a public school system employee. I have strong views about the issue. Personally, I don’t believe that public school teachers have the awesome, easy job that conservative talking heads say they do. I also believe that we should be encouraging people to become teachers not discouraging it. Having the smartest people want to be teachers is good. Education in the cornerstone of everything we do.

All that aside, I thought of an argument that makes the repeal of public employee’s collective bargaining rights is unconstitutional. This argument maybe crazy. It may have been addressed already. I would genuinely like to know what you think. So please leave comments below. As long as their civil and honest of course.

The 1st Amendment to the Constitution says:

     “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

We’re going to focus on the last part of that amendment. The government cannot abridge our “right to peacefully assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”  The way I read that is that collective bargaining is a right of public employees. Collective bargaining is people assembling (as a union) and petitioning the government over grievances (such as pay, working conditions and so on.)

I know that a strict constructionist view of the Constitution would not allow this, because it doesn’t talk specifically about collective bargaining, but collective bargaining didn’t exist. I believe we have to view the Constitution in the era it was written in, and decide for ourselves what is right and wrong. Let me know what you think.

Who Wants Be A Teacher?

“Education will not cure all the problems of society, but without it no cure for any problem is possible.” -President Lyndon Johnson

Attacking teachers is becoming an all to common occurence in this country. We all watched the protests in Wisconsin as teacher’s rights were being stripped. We know about the bills in Ohio and other states. Recently, it really hit home for me because it hit Kansas City.

Dr. John Covington is the superintendent of the Kansas City, MO school district. The KCMO district has been plagued with huge problems in the past. Dr. Covington was brought in to turn it around. He took a radical approach, that he knew would be unpopular. He drastically cut back on staff and closed around half of the districts schools. People didn’t like it, but understood the necessity for change. Now he may have gone to far. As the Kansas City Star reports, the district recently informed a large number of non-tenured teachers that their contracts would not be renewed. So the district in reducing staff, what’s the big deal? The deal is that the district isn’t reducing staff. They have a contract with Teach For America, a groups that recruits college graduates to teach for a few years in needy schools. The district plans to bring in around 150 new teachers from this program. So why did they fire teachers they already had? We don’t know. The nice thing about non-tenured teachers, in the eyes of districts, is that you don’t have to tell them why. We do know that performance was not a consideration. Dr. Covington confirmed that. So the reason had to be money. The district has budget problems and new teachers cost less than experienced teachers. While, the average pay of teachers is 55 thousand dollars a year, a first year teacher averages only 36.

This raises a question about teacher pay statistics. We’ve heard a lot recently about teachers average pay. There are a few different ways of looking at teacher pay. One is the mean average, where you add up all the teachers salaries and divide it by the number of teachers. Another way to look at it is pay per contract hour. Teachers don’t get paid by the hour exactly, but they sign a contract that says they will work this many hours for this many days. Those contracts are usually around 8 hours a day for an average school year of 180 days. If you take their salary and divide it by the number of hours you get an estimated per hour wage. I don’t like either of these ways. Pay per contract hour is ridiculous. There is no teacher in this country who doesn’t work hours outside of their contract. It’s impossible. Teachers cannot do their jobs in an 8 hour day with kids. There are papers to grade, lesson plans to develop and any number of things that have to be done outside of contract hours. Average pay is better but it is skewed by higher income teachers. In some states teachers make considerably more simply because the cost of living is higher. Usually median pay is the best way to look at salary because it gives you a better idea of the true middle. For instance if Bill Gates is in a room with 50 low wage workers, the median income will be much smaller than the mean. It is also a more accurate view of that group. Median teacher income in this country varies by state but is somewhere between 40-43 thousand dollars a year. That’s not a bad salary by any means, but the media representation has been that teachers are living the high life. They’re not. They are living very middle class lives.

I could go on and on about teacher pay and teacher rights but there is an underlying point here. Teachers do get better benefits than the average worker in this country. They are paid decently. If we continue to hack away at those facts we will find ourselves in a difficult spot. If we continue to take away the incentives that bring people to teaching, are we going to have enough teachers in the future?

The fact is that we need teachers. There are 49 million public school students spread across 98 thousand public schools. Someone has to take on the job of educating them. The truth is not everybody wants to be a teacher. There are those who think of teaching as a calling. Education is sacred to them and they want to go out and teach the world. There aren’t enough of them. We have 3 million teachers in this country and not all of them chose teaching. Many see it as a transition from college to a career. That’s what Teach For America is all about. Those people agree to teach for a couple of years in needy schools. After that couple of years they might quit and move on to what they originally wanted to do. Some of them may find that they really like teaching but another career may offer them more. If we want to have any hope of retaining those some of those teachers we’re going to have to give them a reason to stay. A decent income and guaranteed pension might be a enough of a reason. Taking away those things is reason to leave teaching. In Wisconsin, they are seeing far more retirements than usual. Educators are leaving in droves to make sure they get the retirement benefits they’ve been promised.

In the state of the Union speech, the President said we need to “out-educate” the rest of the world. Can we out educate the world when the total amount of money spent on education at all levels of government doesn’t even equal what the federal government spends on defense? In 2010, the Department of Education had a budget of 64 billion dollars. After you remove Pell grants, they only had 48 billion dollars. Imagine if what we spent on education was equal to what we spend on defense. Somewhere around 700 billion dollars to train teachers, build schools, and send kids to college.  We live in a time where Congressman and Senators sound like the government does too much, when it actually does far, far, too little. Maybe we should look to history and something Lyndon Johnson said:

” So we must give every child a place to sit and a teacher to learn from. Poverty must not be a bar to learning, and learning must offer an escape from poverty. But more classrooms and more teachers are not enough. We must seek an educational system which grows in excellence as it grows in size. This means better training for our teachers. It means preparing youth to enjoy their hours of leisure as well as their hours of labor. It means exploring new techniques of teaching, to find new ways to stimulate the love of learning and the capacity for creation.”

The “love of learning and the capacity for creation.” We don’t talk like that anymore.  We need to add incentives and bring in new teachers, not take them away. You often hear that certain professions need to be paid top dollar. A company needs to pay their CEO millions to attract the “best and the brightest.” Shouldn’t we want the “best and the brightest” passing on all the knowledge they have? Shouldn’t we want the “best and the brightest” in our classrooms. An average teacher makes 43 thousand dollars a year and is being treated like they shouldn’t ask the government for so much. Yet, that CEO really needs more stock options.  If we want to know why education this country is consistently ranked lower than others look at how we treat educators.  If we truly valued education we would spend hundreds of billions of dollars and pay teachers more, build better schools, do more research into how to teach, and build better teacher education programs. Then we might see real results in education.

Bachmann-Trump Overdrive

A quick scan of political news seems to turn up the names of two people these days. One is Congressman Paul Ryan (R-WI) which is not that surprising. Congressman Ryan is the GOP point man on the budget issue and the major political battles going on right now are all about the budget. You would expect him to be out in front arguing the Republican side. The other person is more surprising. It is common to see him on TV and in the news, but not usually political news. He is Donald Trump, he fires people once a week for a hefty paycheck. The question is, just what the hell is Donald Trump doing on news/political TV. Apparently, he is seriously considering running for President, and his major issue seems to be that the President may not be a citizen. That’s right, Trump has put the “birther” movement back on the table and he’s pushing it hard.

If it were just Trump, I wouldn’t be here typing this. Donald Trump can run around playing presidential candidate and I really don’t care, but it’s not just him. Michele Bachmann mentioned that she would make her birth certificate public if she decided to run. She’s from Minnesota. If you are from Minnesota, North Dakota, or Wisconsin you don’t need a birth certificate. Just talk a little. As long as you don’t say, “aye” after everything we believe you’re American. If it were just Rep. Bachmann, I might not worry too much. Then at CPAC this year I saw a clip of Mitt Romney making a joke about his birth certificate. Mitt Romney is the Republican front-runner. This things got some staying power, and Republicans are trying to ride it to the White House. In fact, a recent poll showed Romney in first with Trump tied for second.

I could go on at length about the birther issue. I could talk about “certificates of live birth” vs. “certifications of live birth,” both of which fit under the umbrella term “birth certificate.” I’m not going to because I firmly believe that people are on one side or the other of this issue and nothing is changing people’s minds.

What’s more important is the rhetoric people are using. If you were to ask Mitt Romney if the President was a citizen he would say yes, but in front of a very conservative crowd he’s willing to fan the flame.  What these people say matters, and they seem willing to push their words to the point of insanity if it will help them win.  Sarah Palin is a master of this, and it’s why she has an ardent group of supporters. They may not be a huge block of people but they are very strong in their support. They are a group that truly buys into the things she says even if they don’t really make sense. It those kind of people who destroyed town hall meetings on healthcare. By dropping terms like “death panels” and “healthcare rationing” politicians like Palin were able to enrage the people who believe anything they say. So rather than having an honest open debate about healthcare, we had angry white people screaming at the President, and the HHS Secretary and so forth.  We have to demand more. We cannot sit back and allow the blatant hyperbole.  When Newt Gingrich goes on TV and says America is headed toward, “a secular nation, perhaps one run by Islamist Fundamentalists,” More people need to call him on that. We are a secular nation. We have no national religion, and what crazy muslim terrorist are you going to find who would run one? That statement probably helped him. It uses all the right terms to appeal to a white, conservative, Christian. Those are people he’s going to need if he wants the Republican nomination. Apparently, he doesn’t care if he sounds insane. Listening to NPR during the labor protests in Wisconsin, I heard a woman describe the protesters as, “willful idiots in the Communist agenda.” What Communist agenda!?!? Twenty years after we won the Cold War, and there are still people out there who think the President is a Communist and he’s renaming Dupont Circle after Stalin. Republicans are using the old standard tactic. If you want to win an election take an issue. Make people afraid of it, and tell them whose to blame for it. So they brought out death panels, terrorists and communists, and it’s all Obama’s fault. Oh and he’s not really a citizen by the way.

I bet that the closer we get to the 2012 election we’re going to start hearing about how important it is. I would put money on the table that we will hear that this election is a fight for America’s future. It’s the most important election of our lifetimes. They will play it up to make people think if Obama wins this election on Jan. 20, 2013 he’s going to pull out the launch codes and shoot nuclear missiles at all the red states. This election isn’t the most important in our lives. I would argue that the election in 2000 was the most important one I’ve lived through. It was one of the few times in American history that the succession of the Presidency was unclear. Also every election is a fight for America’s future. We’re picking the people who run the country. This one will be no different.

What needs to be different is the tone. With all the money going into advertising by special interests the tone is unlikely to change. Politicians have to start really talking about the serious issues. That is the biggest threat to the US in the long term. We cannot continue to allow politicians to push rhetoric to the fringe of reality. We have to expect more. Politicians will always focus on what gets them elected. It is our job to be more engaged in the public debate. We have to hold them accountable for what they say. If we do that they will start saying different things. Hopefully, we could have a more honest and open election. Unfortunately, I, and I’m guessing you also, will believe it when I see it.

FOX and Facts

So if you thought the controversy in Wisconsin was over; you were wrong. Smaller protests continue outside the Capitol in Madison and the biggest controversy yet has been discovered inside. Protesters were inside the Capitol for weeks. During that time they hung a number of fliers all over the place. Fliers don’t stick to the wall magically, however, so the protesters used tape. After they left the fliers were taken down. This all makes sense. As we all know, when you remove tape it still leaves a little sticky residue on the surface it was attached to. If you put tape on a painted wall and pull it up it could remove some of the paint. This is why you use painters tape and not packing tape when painting a room. FOXNews caught on to the story that the protesters weren’t so considerate. On multiple Fox shows in was reported that protesters did $7.5 million in damages during the protest. $7.5 million dollars is a lot of money. It would lead you to think these protesters have no respect for government. To cause that amount of damage is irresponsible at best and criminal at worst. Scott Walker must have been right. Obviously unions are evil. If it takes $7.5 million dollars to clean up tape residue that janitor is making way to much money.

Unfortunately, that’s not the truth. $7.5 million is what multiple Fox newscasters said, but it wasn’t an accurate number. The real cost of thousands of people squatting in the Capitol came out to about $350,000. While that is still quite a few pennies it’s not even remotely the same as 7.5 million. Look at it this way. A man who makes $7.5 million a year looks at a man who makes $350,000 a year the same way you look at a dog. They’re cute, but really not at your level. They probably don’t belong to the yacht club.

It’s ridiculous that Fox put out this figure, and they did it repeatedly. They took a very anti-protest slant in their coverage. Michelle Malkin called the protesters “union thugs.” Did you see the protests? There was chanting and drum circles. It looked more like the crowd at Burning Man than a meeting of Jimmy Hoffa and the Teamsters. How can Fox call themselves a “news organization” and then report like this? It is an obvious attempt to turn public opinion against the protesters in Wisconsin. Think of it this way. In crime dramas on television you often see a lawyer make a statement, then the other lawyer objects and the statement is withdrawn. They jury already heard it. They can try to put it out of their minds but that is hard to do. While they might not consider that statement directly, they will use it to rationalize something they might not have believed before. They may also just disregard the judge and base their opinion on it. Fox reported less than justified claims to promote their agenda. They didn’t care if they had to retract it later. They knew if you say it enough people will believe it. Say what you want people to believe loudly, because a retraction can be made quietly. It makes you wonder what the common Fox viewer thinks. It must be something like:

“$7.5 million in damages. That seems like a lot of money. Was it oil or Goo-Gone that was trading at $105 a barrel this week?”

This isn’t the first time Fox has done this. Not even six months ago, President Obama went on a trip to Asia. Apparently, part of foreign relations is relating with foreigners. Fox didn’t like that. They put out multiple stories about how the trip was costing taxpayers $200 million a day. No one at Fox thought that might be a little high? I know jet fuel is expensive but that would be ridiculous. $200 million dollars is about what it costs this country to conduct the war in Afghanistan. Still, there was FOX telling us about the extravagance of the Obama Administration. It wouldn’t be so bad but people watch them. It’s disturbing that people watch 24-hour cable news at all. It’s worse that the vast majority of them watch Fox. It’s interesting because the majority of talk radio is conservative also. Liberals must use the internet.

People used to say, “You can’t believe everything you see on TV.” Did we forget that? FOXNews is setting a trend for bad journalism and we’re letting it happen. On Fox they often say, “We report. You decide.”  Are we supposed to decide if what they just said is completely untrue? Their motto is “FOXNews: Fair and Balanced.” They should seriously consider changing it to, “FOXNews: True or False.” We have to hold news sources accountable just like politicians. The press is supposed to be the foil of government. They ensure that government can’t get away with lying to us. If we just let the press lie to us, we have no source for real information. In a highly polarized society, more information would be a very good thing but only if it is real information and not spin.

Wisconsin Battle is Over. Who Really Won?

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker finally got his way. His budget bill that strips collective bargaining rights from public employees is headed for his desk. Ohio Governor John Kasich will sign a similar bill. Other states are sure to follow. It’s unfortunate that the Tea party fervor and Democratic apathy in 2010 has led to this. In the back of my mind I can’t help but think, Gov. Walker may have won today, but will he win in the end?

I don’t think this move played well for Scott Walker. I think it was bad politics. As the protests continued, the Governor was losing public support. At one point polls showed the 2010 election would have had the opposite result were it held now. Walker could have been the good guy. He put up a bill and people protested. The unions agreed to concessions as long as they were allowed to keep bargaining rights. He refused to compromise. Democrats fled the state and prevented a vote. He still refused. He could have accepted a compromise and looked like a statesman and a leader to the people of Wisconsin. He didn’t. In refusing he forced himself into a corner and looked like the bad guy. Sure to the right he’s a hero. To the left he’s a villan, but what is he to the middle? That’s where he loses.

Political battles are won and lost in the middle. It’s the independents who matter. Walker could have looked like a great guy to the middle. A governor who is really ready to tackle a budget. A governor who is willing to set ideology aside to solve the problem. Now pictures of teachers standing up for their rights are all over the media, and Scott Walker is the guy who refuses to budge. John Kasich knew this was a thin line. He made a point that he wanted the signing of his bill to be low-key. The Ohio bill doesn’t reach as far as the Wisconsin bill, and Kasich still didn’t want to cause any stir.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out over the next couple of years. The Supreme Court ruled last year that corporations could spend as much as they wanted on political activities. That ruling also applied to unions. 2012 and 2014 could be years in which places like Wisconsin and Ohio are hotspots for union spending. The NEA, AFT, and AFSCME are all likely to be very interested in defeating politicians like Scott Walker.

Russ Feingold could be the big winner in all of this. Wisconsin took a swing to the right in the last election. I think it’s going to be swinging back and former Senator is a liberal icon in the state. If he has his eyes set on Madison, this might just be the time.

I’m an American

You may have noticed a bit of an uprising in Wisconsin the past few days.  It seems that the Governor, newly elected Republican Scott Walker, is dealing with a large budget deficit by stripping public employees of collective bargaining rights. Since the last election left Republicans firmly in control of the Statehouse in Madison, the Democratic Senators left the state in protest. This action is delaying a vote on the bill.  Meanwhile, the rotunda of the Capitol has been filled with protesting public employees. The FOXNews anchors, in all their glory, have spoken against the hateful rhetoric and said it was about people trying to create chaos. Those are criticisms that were notably absent during the healthcare debate when angry citizens disrupted town hall meetings across the country. This is expected of FOXNews.  It’s their thing. Like Bing Crosby said in “White Christmas”, “Everybody’s got an angle.”

What’s got me angry about this is the new revelations of outside tampering with the situation. A group called the American Patriot Recall Coalition (Facebook page here), which despite its name does not want to recall those it sees as “American Patriots,” has filed recall petitions for some of the Senators who left the state. There are two things that are very interesting about the APRC. The first is that they are based in Salt Lake City. Yes, the Salt Lake City in Utah. Why is a group in Utah concerned with what is going on in Wisconsin? To answer that you have to look at interesting fact number two. The APRC is “non-partisan.” The American Heritage Dictionary defines “non-partisan” as, “Based on, influenced by, affiliated with, or supporting the interests or policies of no single political party.” Does the APRC live up to that definition? The answer is a resounding no.They do not seem to be directly affiliated with anyone party, but a quick glance at their views shows that it is, at least, a conservative organization.

The founder and executive director of ARPC is Dan Baltes, a Utah-based lawyer. He is also the founder of “Americans Against Immigration Amnesty”, a group that is anti-immigrant at best. The real give away is a line from the APRC’s first press release that says:

“The President, Organizing for America, The Democratic National
Committee, the AFL-CIO, SEIU, other labor unions, as well as communist, Socialist and other progressive organizations have embarked on a campaign to undermine our Republic and the orderly operation of State legislatures.”

That’s forty words that boil down to, “Liberals are the Devil.” It’s no surprise that the APRC is going after only Democratic lawmakers, and one county Sheriff in Arizona who is critical of that state’s immigration policy.

The scariest characteristic that I’ve noticed about ultra-conservatives from Mr. Baltes to Michelle Bachmann to Glenn Beck, is their rampant use of hyperbole.  Glenn Beck goes on television every night like the world is ending.  He sounds like Chicken Little. “The sky is falling! The sky is falling.” If you listen to these people speak you will come away from it thinking two things. If people have brown skin they are either stealing all the good jobs, drastically increasing the price of healthcare, education, and so forth, and the government is the reason everything is horrible. Believe me EVERYTHING IS HORRIBLE. We just need to let business do what ever it wants, make sure the rich don’t pay any taxes (they create all the jobs you know), and everything will be fine. George W. Bush said, “You are either with us or with the terrorists.” These people have taken that statement to the extreme. That’s why Obama is a Communist (and Communist is a bad word.) That’s why liberals are the Devil. They think that if you disagree with them you are anti-American. They think they know what the Constitution says. It says government should stay out of our lives, unless you’re gay and you want to get married. It says your rights don’t matter if business doesn’t like them. It says just because you’re born here that doesn’t make you a citizen. Oh wait, we should repeal the 14th amendment so it does say that. It says, “We’re American and you’re not!” Well, I”ve got news for these people. The 1st Amendment says that you’re wrong. We all have an obligation to stand up and voice our opinions. I can say what I believe. Just because I’m not with you does not mean I support terrorism. Just because I disagree with you doesn’t mean that I’m less of an American. I say government can be a force of good and should help those that need it. I say gay people should be able to get married if they want to .I say Pres. Obama isn’t a Communist (and Communist isn’t a bad word.).   I say business’ interests should always take a back seat to citizen’s interest. I say if people are born in this country they should have the rights to citizenship. The 14th Amendment says so. To put it simply I say:

“I’m an American; you’re an American. Get used to it.”