Florida Could End Teacher Tenure, Embrace Merit Pay : NPR

“The Times They Are A’Changin’”

This is inevitable, folks. The teaching profession is going to be radically changed in the near future, and I am inclined to think it’s an overdo overhaul. Let’s look at a couple of the specific ideas bandied about in the article, because I’ve heard those same suggestions several times.

Merit Pay seems like an obvious one to me. This is the sort of thing that every job field should embrace: Be paid a living, base wage. Do well, be rewarded; do poorly, face sanctions. Makes sense. Continue reading

What Was the Supreme Court Thinking?

The Court’s decision to overturn longstanding limits on corporate campaign spending baffles me.How can they extend First Amendment rights to corporations? They’re not people; they’re legal structures that support the ownership of businesses, so why are we giving them the same rights you and I have?

This is supposedly a conservative court, right?

Perhaps it would be more accurate to call it a corporate court.

What Is the Bush Legacy?

While I’m sure there will be many electrons spilled answering this question, I will add my own to the mix. The last eight years of the US government has been… interesting. I’ve thought on this a bit, and there are several ways one could go with this recap. I think I’ll go with this as my theme word:

Discombobulated

Discombobulated

Yes, that’s right. Discombobulated. That’s the theme I will append to President Bush’s legacy. Here’s how I see it.

  • 9/11 – Beyond his control. Less than a year into his presidency and this changes everything. Education reform? Backburner. Healthcare reform? Maybe tomorrow. Fiscal reform? First things first. President Bush never really had the chance to try and execute his gameplan. He was down nil – 3 within minutes of the opening whistle.
  • “Mission Accomplished” – OK, that was just boneheaded. Baghdad had fallen, true; but that wasn’t the mission was it? I thought it was Bin Laden who was behind 9/11, not Hussein. And the destruction of something is only the beginning. A life, which takes nine months to be born can be ended in a second. The real work is in creating. To his credit, President Bush has pretty much admitted that this was premature at least.
  • Hurricane Katrina – Come on now. Seriously? First terrorists and now the nature’s wrath? I can only imagine the conversation in his head went some thing like this:  “OK, GW, lets put it together. Iraq is turning into a bit of a debacle, but it’s not yet beyond us. We’ve still got nearly four years. Let’s just put aside distract — WTF!!! You’ve got to be kidding me!” Unfortunately the response was about as well coordinated and planned as the post-invasion effort in Iraq.
  • The Financial Meltdown – The experts are still weighing in on the causes, but I don’t think anyone can credibly lay this at President Bush’s feet. This ball started rolling many years before him. He likely gave the whole thing an extra push, and that only made the inevitable fall that much more harsh, but even his push was only one of many. Where was Congress? Where was the market’s “Invisible Hand?” It’s unfair that he will likely go down in history as the one responsible for the whole thing.

Bottom line: Do I think he was a good President? Not particularly. I don’t think he was able to marshall effective reponses to the unquestionably large challenges that were thrown at him. I think they knocked him for a loop and he never regained the plot. I don’t fault him for effort, but the results left much to be desired. I don’t think we’ll ever know who George W. Bush wanted to be as President, and we can only speculate about how Kerry or Dole or Gore or anyone else would have faired in his shoes.

Casting a Bold Vision

Today I nearly cried. As someone who doesn’t remember the last time he had an actual cry, an almost cry is pretty significant. 150 years ago, a black man in the United States was denied his humanity.  50 years ago, he denied his citizenship . Today, he has become our Chief Citizen. The promises and struggles of the past are bearing fruit in the present. This is not a moment whose significance is to be underestimated.

I heard President Obama’s speech on my lunch hour. While this isn’t particularly substantive and it probably reveals a certain snobbery of  my character, I am happy to have an eloquent president whom I enjoy hearing. President Bush took folksy and home-spun too far. In his effort to sound ordinary he sounded ignorant, something unbecoming of a President. This is a small change I gladly welcome.

As far as substance, I believe the President has laid out a grand vision for the future of America, a vision rooted in its foundation. He wishes to draw a line in the sand of history, and I, for one, hopes he succeeds. I am as cynical as any toward government (and business and religion, too, for that matter), but I would gladly embrace a rason for optimism. “Love hopes all things.” I want and need help loving more.

Surely President Obama is not so naive to think the change he heralds will be complete on his watch. Rather, I believe he sees his task as one of setting a new course and of countering the inertia of previous decades. For our President I pray courage and wisdom.

Demand-Side Economics

First, understand that the main problem right now is not the supply of credit. Yes, Wall Street is paralyzed at the moment because the bursting of the housing and other asset bubbles means that lenders are fearful that creditors won’t repay loans. But even if credit were flowing, those loans wouldn’t save jobs. Businesses want to borrow now only to remain solvent and keep their creditors at bay. If they fail to do so, and creditors push them into reorganization under bankruptcy, they’ll cut their payrolls, to be sure. But they’re already cutting their payrolls. It’s far from clear they’d cut more jobs under bankruptcy reorganization than they’re already cutting under pressure to avoid bankruptcy and remain solvent.

This means bailing out Wall Street or the auto industry or the insurance industry or the housing industry may at most help satisfy creditors for a time and put off the day of reckoning, but industry bailouts won’t reverse the downward cycle of job losses.

The real problem is on the demand side of the economy.

via Robert Reich’s Blog: The Mini Depression and the Maximum-Strength Remedy

I Am Outraged!

Tuesday afternoon I’m listening to NPR on the way home from work, and a story covering President Bush’s address to the United Nations General Assembly earlier that day comes on. The story opens with the President’s sweeping statement that “Americans are outraged by the situation in Burma, where a military junta has imposed a 19-year reign of fear.” I’ve since been following the story in Myamnar, and what is happening there isn’t good. But that’s not what has me outraged.

After the story was introduced on NPR, I slammed off the radio (to the extent one can slam off a radio when the action consists solely of pushing a small, fragile knob) and let out a few choice words of my own outrage. Really? With everything going on in the world this is what Americans are outraged about? This is what the President chooses to focus on? Not Iraq or Iran or Afghanistan or Palestine or North Korea or Pakistan? Ye gods!

I did turn the radio back on to see if I was really hearing the story correctly, and I also skimmed the transcript of President Bush’s full address. Myanmar isn’t the only topic, but it is the one that get the most coverage, two full paragraphs. In fact, that section reads more like a policy statement press release than an address to the U. N. The whole of the middle east share parts of three paragraphs, the last of which is a plea for the Human Rights Council to stop picking on Israel.

Am I wrong, but wasn’t this the perfect opportunity for the President to defend the United States policy in the Middle East, and particularly Iraq, before the host of world leaders?  Will there a better opportunity to speak frankly and directly about something that is in many places of the world regarded as a dubious and failed occupation? Given a world stage, President Bush seems to play at slight-of-hand.

President Ahmadinejad certainly didn’t hesitate to speak directly; here is a transcript of his address.

Post-Election Blues

No, that’s not a Red-state, Blue-state pun. I don’t even remember which side is which. Rather it’s an intro to a confession.

I was woefully uninformed for this election. I made a last-ditch effort, but couldn’t find any information easily. A few thoughts:

  • WILL THE ATTACK ADS EVER END!!! I was looking at one of my state offices, and I only recognized one of the two names. Then it got complicated: Did I recognize the one name because they ran attack ads, or because they were the target of attack ads? I couldn’t remember, so I skipped that race.
  • I voted for gridlock, which meant a fair bit of change. I’m feeling cynical and I’ve already confessed to a bit of ignorance, so in those races which I didn’t skip altogether I did my part to tie things up. We’ve got a Republican President, a Democratic House, and an undecided Senate. “The government that governs least, governs best.” Perhaps Paine meant this as an endorsement of free markets and minimal regulation. I’m reading it as the hope that politicians will be unable to screw things up because they’ll be too busy biting each other’s ankles.
  • Ohio had several ballot initiatives. I voted against all three constitutional amendments, because I didn’t think any was worthy of inclusion in the state constitution. I was torn on the minimum wage amendment; I just didn’t like the way it was worded for a constitutional amendment. That said, I’m not sad to see it pass. The “Smoke Less” amendment also came close to meeting my standards for constitutional amendment, because it’s a public health issue; but I would have voted against it anyway. I did vote for the other anti-smoking initiative and the worker’s comp initiative that received no campaign promotion around here.
  • Oh yeah… I’m amazed as how much misinformation was given in some of the initiative advertising. Now I’m amazed that I was amazed.

Independence Day Thoughts

There are enough “Happy Birthday, America!” thoughts going around that I don’t feel any need to add my modest weight to them. Anne republished the Declaration of Independence over at The Golden Pencil, and over breakfast Kerri and I read it aloud in its entirety. I couldn’t help but be struck by some of what I read. While Will has posted his Top 5 Abuses, these are more like Abuses that to me ring strangely relevant in our time. Consider: (My commentary is in bold.)

  • He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance. I may be engaging in hyperbole, but this sounds a lot like today’s ever expanding Federal government.
  • He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power. Again, military tribunals and such.
  • He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation… For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offenses. Air Torture?
  • He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us. – Again, I’m using hyperbole, but there is something amiss with the vilification and demonization that now occurs between the two major political parties.

Now, I’m not patriotic, which might seem odd coming from the child of a career airman married another child of a career airman with veterans of military and government service replete on both sides of the family. It is odd, and I am fully aware of the irony (hypocrisy?) that I write from safe within the US heartland. Yet, there it is. I’m grateful for the “sole surviving son” draft exemption, for it will save me the potential trouble of choosing whether of not to be a concientious objector.

My lack of patriotism, however, is derived not so much from disapproval of US policy and values. Yes, I have my questions and concerns illustrated by the Abuses I picked out above, but there are also passages in the Declaration that ring true and noble. Rather my lack of US patriotism grows from a new, “first citizenship” that I believe ought to characterize all who claim to be Christians.

My point, since I suppose I ought to have one, is to call attention to the above listed Abuses from an outsider/insider perspective. Perhaps those who proudly wave the flag can mine out any truth resident in my comments and do their part to effect a resolution. There is for much patriotic Americans to be proud of. I pray their pride would not blind them to the shadows that exist.

Economics and Birthdays

This was in Monday’s Writer’s Almanac:

We don’t know when Adam Smith was born, but it was on this day in 1723 that Smith, the economist who popularized the idea of free trade, was baptized in Kirkcaldy, Scotland. His first important book was The Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759), in which he argued that all people are selfish, but that the combined selfishness of many people benefits everyone. He wrote, “[We are] led by an invisible hand … without knowing it, without intending it, [to] advance the interest of the society.” He developed this idea in the book for which he is best remembered, Wealth of Nations (1776). That book established many of the most important principles for economists for the next two hundred years.

Adam Smith wrote, “It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest.”

Today is also the birthday of the economist John Maynard Keynes, (books by this author), born in Cambridge, England (1883). He’s best known for his book The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money, published during the Great Depression in 1935. He argued that governments can correct severe depressions by spending lots of money, even if it means running a deficit, to put people back to work. Keynes greatly influenced Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal policies, and his ideas have been used to justify budget deficits ever since.

Interesting that these two men share a birthday, or something like it. Also interesting that the birthday is so close to my own. (At least it’s interesting to me.) A couple thoughts to share… mostly on Smith.

Invisible Hand

Invisible Hand? Not So Much

The Invisible Hand is broken… if indeed it ever existed. Within the constraints of perfect competition, the Invisible Hand the collective selfishness might (See my next thought.) work out to the benefit of most… or at least many. Not in today’s economy, which is a far cry from anything resembling perfect competition. Atomicity? Nope; try oligarchy. Homogeneity? Perhaps, but billions of marketing dollars are working hard to obfuscate that fact. Perfect Information? Equal Access? Free Entry? Not if the oligarchies have anything to say about it… and they do!

No, the Invisible Hand of the market has been bound and gagged. Motivated self-interest serves only the self, and those who possess power are best able to serve themselves.

Selfishness Is NOT an Agent of Good

It is noteworthy that Smith doesn’t say, “People will overcome and progress beyond selfishness, attaining to a more noble fundamental value.” No, he says in effect: “We’re all selfish bastards, and that ain’t gonna change. Fortunately, there is Something beyond our selfish little souls to protect us from each other.”

As a Christian I have to respond, “Close, but not far enough.” True Something is kind enough to protect us from ourselves to an extent, but it doesn’t end there. There is the possibility of real transformation of the soul. Self-interest need not be our driving motivation. Instead, our souls can be moved by genuine love.

Check Please!

The economic difference between Republicans and Democrats has nothing to do with accepting or rejecting Keynesian theory. Maybe it did at one time, but not anymore. Both parties embrace a bigger government role, because it protects their power and position. They only quibble over where government should expand next.

I was ready to shut the door on politics in 2004. Today, the door still remains cracked… but just a little. I’ve got some thinking to do here, still.