Thursday, July 24, 2014

Christie: If You Want Pain, I'm Your Man

Yes, we have seen this before.

If there was any doubt that Governor Chris Christie wants to be president, let the dispelling commence. His full-throated diatribe against public worker pensions and benefits today marks the moment when he unofficially officially began his run. And if anyone thinks he's a moderate, sensible Republican, then that person is seriously fooling himself.

As opposed to 2011, when Christie was able to use his alliances with key Democrats to get a pension and benefits bill through the legislature, this attempt at making not only current workers but also retirees pay more for their retirements will be a far more difficult sell. The New Jersey Education Association has recovered from its lackluster response three years ago and is now ready to properly defend itself and its members. Representatives of the police and firefighters were protesting outside the hall where Christie was speaking in Belmar, and it's never a good idea to present yourself as a healer and unifying force when the people who fight fires, protect and educate the public are behind the barricades. Christie can make the argument that the 2011 reform was necessary, but this time it has "appeal to the right-wing" written all over it.

From an economic viewpoint, taking more money out of the pockets of middle and working class people makes little sense. Less money means less spending. Less spending means slower growth. What the state's economy needs is an infusion of money to stimulate spending and investment. Remember that only Illinois stands between New Jersey and the terrible 50th ranking on the economic growth charts. This is hardly the economy Christie wants to run on in 2016. There's no New Jersey Miracle; the only miracle is that Christie thinks he's doing a good job.

Christie apparently has not learned the lesson of Mitt Romney's run in 2012, because his plan protects the wealthy from any kind of pain. Christie's argument has always been that if the state raises taxes on the wealthy, that they will then leave the state and take their money with them. Never mind that there's little statistical evidence of that happening. In fact, in New York, more working class people left than wealthy people when taxes went up.

Christie's math must then assume that middle class residents will not be able to leave the state because, with their houses under water literally and figuratively, they'll be stuck. The workers pay more so that the wealthy can stay. That's been his position ever since he became governor and that's going to be his downfall.

What complicates Christie's position even further is that the New Jersey Pension system is seeing larger than expected gains because of the rise in the stock market. While this will not last, it supports the Democrats' arguments that if Christie had only authorized full state pension payments since the reform law was passed, then there would be even less of a shortfall. But the Republican argument since the economic crash of 2008 is that the country needs radical fiscal restructuring on taxes and the debt. A growing economy works against them because it means a lower deficit and more money in people's pockets. GOP scare tactics don't work when consumers feel better.

In the end, my sense is that this proposal is dead on arrival at the Democratic legislature's door, but I've been wrong before. This sounds like a campaign platform pure and simple, and one that will not only not solve the problem, it will make it worse. If the GOP-controlled House of Representatives has taught us anything, it's that supply side economics is alive and well in the country and is holding back the recovery. Electing Christie would be a disaster for the middle and working classes.

Let the campaign begin.

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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Silly Season Gets Serious

I took my talents to South Beach over the weekend for a relative's surprise birthday party, and on the plane to and fro I had the opportunity to...think. Love airplane mode. Phones and tablets should have other modes, such as marriage mode, play-with-children mode, just-watch-one-screen mode, or perhaps physical media mode, where you would be forced to consume news and entertainment using a newspaper or magazine. I know, I know. I'm old and out-of-touch.

Not really.

Consuming news over the past 10 days has been a wild ride. The Middle East is blowing up again, Malaysia Airlines underwent another tragedy. U.S. courts are issuing contradictory opinions on the same set of facts. We have reached a news critical mass.

I am worn out about the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian war and the war over which press outlets are too pro-Israel (FOX) and too pro-Palestinian (The New York Times). Terrorist groups and organizations have for too long molded the narrative and have sabotaged every attempt at peace in the region. And the governmental authorities in the warring camps have let it happen. Clearly, Benjamin Netanyahu is not the man who will lead Israel to recognize a two-state solution and there is no current Palestinian leader with the credibility to make peace with Israel. As long as countries in the region refuse to recognize Israel's sovereign right to exist, there is no basis for meaningful talks. As long as Israel continues to blow up Palestinian homes, the world will continue to paint it as an immoral country.

And speaking of leaders with no credibility and few morals, Vladimir Putin has almost succeeded in building his neo-Soviet state out of the ashes of the USSR. Covering up the shooting of the Malaysian airliner, then having his thugs block access to the crash site is right out of the Chernobyl 101 textbook. The problem is that textbooks are so passe and the technology we have now has laid bare his claim that it was Ukrainians, not pro-Russian separatists, who perpetrated this horrific deed. I don't believe that this will lead to Putin's downfall in the short term because he's still very popular in Russia and he controls the media. Some Russians even believe that Putin himself was the target as he was flying in the general vicinity at the time the Malaysian plane was destroyed. Next up to blame will probably be the Israelis. Putin loves the Israelis.

As for the latest domestic squabbles, the Third Circuit Court in DC upheld the ACA subsidies and the Fourth Circuit in Richmond struck them down. Gotta love our judicial system. Both sides can claim victories, but my sense is that the ultimate decision by the Supreme Court, either next year or the year after, will uphold the subsidies that people get when buying insurance on the national exchange even though the law says that subsidies should only be given to people who buy on the state exchanges. Of course, the last time we tried to parse the ACA arguments in the court, the general consensus was that the law was toast. Ouch. And even if the Republicans win the Senate in November, which they won't, the law will still survive.

Meanwhile, sleep tight America. Rick Perry's got the border covered. 

But don't worry; he'll never be president.

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Sunday, July 13, 2014

Stupid Costs More

I know, I know: Money is the answer, plain and simple. School districts don't want to pay teachers for advanced degrees and right wing politicians don't want public schools to begin with, so it makes sense that Texas and North Carolina are both in the forefront of starving their states of effective teachers in an effort to...well, I'm not sure.

The debate over whether teachers who earn advanced degrees and credits that allow them to earn more money on the salary scale are actually better teachers than those who don't, or are better themselves than if they had just stuck with their Bachelor's degree credits, is becoming louder and more intense. As any teacher can tell you, though, there really is no debate. Teachers who continue their educations, broaden themselves or even go in  a new educational direction tend to be more effective. There is no question that teachers should be encouraged (required?) to take courses in content or pedagogy.

So why the screed? Because  a few states, most notably Texas and North Carolina, have decided that paying teachers more for advanced degrees doesn't necessarily lead to high student test scores. And they might be right, but that's exactly what's wrong with the current push for test scores to evaluate teachers. Earning a higher degree makes the teacher more knowledgeable and exposes them to more effective teaching methods. Students are then exposed to a greater variety of teaching methods and more expansive content. That's the point of an education. Equating the tests with teacher effectiveness is a terrible idea whose time, unfortunately, has come.

Even worse is the fact that public leaders continue to say that we need the best and brightest college graduates to become teachers (as if we don't have a significant majority of them in classrooms right now). What the best and brightest know, and being one of them allows me to represent their argument, is that educating yourself is the best practice any teacher can follow. The best and brightest also know that motivating people to push themselves should be recognized monetarily. Isn't that what law firms, banks and other corporations do?

The best and brightest are not swayed by specious arguments from elected officials who are not, in most cases, the best and brightest. For proof, consider the reaction in North Carolina: 
In April, the Wake County Public School System – the largest in North Carolina with about 150,000 students – said more than 600 teachers had left since the beginning of the school year, an increase of 41 percent over the same period the year before.
One district official blamed a lack of a significant pay raises in recent years, along with the phasing out of tenure and extra pay for advanced degrees. Human Resources Superintendent Doug Thilman called the figures “alarming” but “not surprising.”
Not surprising? If your best teachers are leaving the schools, why continue the policy? And who, might I ask, is taking the place of these best and brightest? People with no interest in getting advanced degrees? These are not the best people to have in your classrooms. This is the kind of lazy thinking that will rule the country if conservatives are elected to the Senate and the White House.

Something to seriously think about this fall and for 2016.

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