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“An Edge Of Ruthlessness”: Scott Walker; Uncle Scrooge’s Lackey In Wisconsin

Economically speaking, all 237 GOP presidential candidates are selling the same magic beans.

Everybody knows the script by now: Tax cuts for wealthy “job creators” bring widespread prosperity; top off Scrooge McDuck’s bullion pool, and the benefits flow outward to everybody else, the economy surges, budget deficits melt away, and the song of the turtle dove will be heard in the land.

Almost needless to say, these “supply side” miracles have never actually happened in the visible world. State budget debacles in Kansas and Louisiana only signify the latest failures of right-wing dogma. Hardly anybody peddling these magic beans actually believes in them anymore. Nevertheless, feigning belief signifies tribal loyalty to the partisan Republicans who will choose the party’s nominee.

However, with everybody in the field playing “let’s pretend,” a candidate needs another way to distinguish himself. I suspect that Scott Walker, the Republican governor of Wisconsin, may have found it.

See, Walker won’t just put money back in “hardworking taxpayers’” pockets. Like a latter-day Richard Nixon, Walker will also stick it to people he doesn’t like: lollygagging schoolteachers, feather-bedding union members, and smug, tenured college professors who think they’re smarter than everybody else. If Walker lacks charisma, there’s an edge of ruthlessness in his otherwise bland demeanor that hits GOP primary voters right where they live.

No less an authority than Uncle Scrooge himself — i.e. David Koch of Koch Industries, who with his brother Charles has pledged to spend $900 million to elect a Republican in 2016 — told the New York Observer after a closed-door gathering at Manhattan’s Empire Club that Walker will win the nomination and crush Hillary Clinton in a general election “by a major margin.”

Viewed from a distance, the determination of prosperous, well-educated Wisconsin to convert itself into an anti-union right-to-work state like Alabama or Arkansas appears mystifying. To risk the standing of the University of Wisconsin system by abolishing academic tenure, as Walker intends, is damn near incomprehensible.

Attack one of America’s great public research universities for the sake of humiliating (Democratic-leaning) professors over nickel-and-dime budgetary issues? Do Wisconsinites have the first clue how modern economies work?

Maybe not. But Walker’s supporters definitely appear to know who their enemies are, culturally speaking. Incredulity aside, it would be a mistake not to notice the craftiness with which he’s brought off the transformation. Not to mention that Walker’s won three elections since 2010 in a “blue” state that hasn’t supported a Republican presidential nominee since Ronald Reagan.

Wisconsin’s 10 electoral votes don’t mean much by themselves, but throw in Michigan and Ohio, Midwestern states also trending similarly, and you’ve definitely got something.

Act 10, the 2011 law that took away collective bargaining rights for many public employees in Wisconsin (except, at first, for police and firefighters), brought crowds of angry teachers (also mostly Democrats) to the state capitol in Madison for weeks of demonstrations. As much as MSNBC was thrilled, many Wisconsinites appear to have been irked.

In the end, the state ended up saving roughly $3 billion by shifting the funding of fringe benefits such as health insurance and pensions from employer to employee, costing the average teacher roughly 16 percent of his or her compensation. Mindful of budget shortfalls, the unions had proposed negotiations, but that wasn’t enough for Gov. Walker.

For the record, Act 10 was an almost verbatim copy of a bill promoted by the Arlington, Virginia-based American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a think-tank largely funded by, you guessed it, the Brothers Koch.

Four years ago, a documentary filmmaker caught Walker on camera telling wealthy supporters that the new law was just the beginning. “The first step is, we’re going to deal with collective bargaining for all public-­employee unions,” he said, “because you use divide-­and-­conquer.”

“If we can do it in Wisconsin, we can do it anywhere — even in our nation’s capital,” Walker wrote in his book, Unintimidated, notes Dan Kaufman in the New York Times Magazine. Elsewhere, Walker has boasted that as president, he could take on foreign policy challenges because, he’s said, “If I can take on 100,000 protesters, I can do the same across the world.”

Ridiculous, of course, but it plays.

Meanwhile, rueful trade unionists who endorsed Walker in 2010 are crying the blues, because they never imagined that having vanquished the women’s union he’d come after the ironworkers and the electricians in their pickup trucks. Divided, they’ve been conquered.

So right-to-work it is: diminished salaries, job security, pensions, health and safety regulations will inevitably follow.

More bullion for Scrooge McDuck’s pool.

So now it’s the professors’ turn. Walker, a Marquette dropout, has described his new law as “Act 10 for the university.” Tenure’s a dead letter in cases of “financial emergency… requiring program discontinuance, curtailment, modification or redirection.”

So who gets redirected first? Left-wing culture warriors or climate scientists? Hint: Scrooge is a fierce climate-change denier.

Meanwhile, Democrats underestimate Scott Walker at considerable peril.

 

By: Gene Lyons, The National Memo, June 17, 2015

June 17, 2015 Posted by | GOP Presidential Candidates, Scott Walker, Supply Side Economics | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Shoot-Me State”: New Missouri Law Will Allow Teachers To Carry Guns, Defying Statistics And Common Sense

Nobody really knows how Missouri got the nickname the “show me state,” but what we do know is that under a new gun law passed last week, Missouri residents will be able to walk around openly showing their guns. And what we further know is that this law drops the concealed carry (CCW) age requirement from 21 to 19 and allows local school districts to grant CCW privileges to teachers whose job will be to protect everyone else in the school from all those bad guys carrying guns.

The intent of this new law obviously is to make Missourians more safe because lowering the CCW age to 19 will qualify more people to walk around armed and letting teachers bring concealed weapons into schools will also protect the children and other teachers when a bad guy with a gun comes into the school. In other words, the new law supports a favorite theory of the NRA which can be summed up as “more guns equals fewer guns.” Oops, what we mean is more guns carried around by the “good guys” means fewer guns carried around by the “bad guys.”

The last time Missouri made it easier for its citizens to arm themselves was in 2007 when the legislature abolished a law which required that people wishing to buy handguns first had to go to the police department and get a permit-to-purchase (PTP) in order to take possession of the gun. To show you how successful this measure was in helping good-guy Missourians use guns to protect themselves from bad-guy Missourians, the gun homicide rate over the next three years jumped by almost 25 percent, even though the non-gun homicide rate remained about the same.

Of all 50 states, only Louisiana currently has a higher gun homicide rate than Missouri, and while the overall violent crime rate in Missouri has declined by about 20 percent between 2007 and 2012, the homicide rate has remained remarkably stable and remarkably high, a testament no doubt to the legislature’s uncanny ability to understand how making it easier for everyone to acquire handguns would lead to a safer and more secure place to live. Having seen the positive impact of easier handgun access on gun homicide rates, the legislature in its wisdom now believes that it will move the gospel of “good guys with guns protecting us from bad guys with guns” into the schools.

But what are the facts about the utility of using guns to protect kids (and teachers) in schools? Actually, the number of homicides that take place in schools each year has shown the same gradual decline over the last twenty years that has characterized violent crime rates in the United States as a whole. From 1994 to 2013, violent crime dropped roughly 50 percent, with most of the decline taking place prior to 2004. As for school homicides, according to a Justice Department study, they have dropped by about the same amount over the period 1992 to 2010, and serious victimizations, including robberies and assaults, have declined by as much as two-thirds.

Most of this decline in school criminality seems to have been the result of increased attention paid to people entering school buildings and increased surveillance within the buildings. By 2011, nearly 90 percent of all public schools had some kind of security measures to monitor access and the same percentage reported requiring visitor sign-ins. On the other hand, less than one-third of all schools had armed security patrolling on a full-time or part-time basis. And while I don’t have specific numbers on school security in Missouri, I can tell you that the last school shooting in the ‘show me’ state occurred in 1993.

Do you think there was any connection between the passage of the new Missouri gun law and the racial strife in Ferguson after the shooting of Michael Brown? It’s as good a theory as any about what really motivated legislators to let guns into schools, because there sure isn’t any violence problem in Missouri schools that this law will solve.

 

By: Mike Weisser, The Hufington Post Blog, September 15, 2014

September 16, 2014 Posted by | Guns, Missouri, Schools | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Work And Worth”: What Someone Is Paid Has Little Or No Relationship To What Their Work Is Worth To Society

What someone is paid has little or no relationship to what their work is worth to society.

Does anyone seriously believe hedge-fund mogul Steven A. Cohen is worth the $2.3 billion he raked in last year, despite being slapped with a $1.8 billion fine after his firm pleaded guilty to insider trading?

On the other hand, what’s the worth to society of social workers who put in long and difficult hours dealing with patients suffering from mental illness or substance abuse? Probably higher than their average pay of $18.14 an hour, which translates into less than $38,000 a year.

How much does society gain from personal-care aides who assist the elderly, convalescents, and persons with disabilities? Likely more than their average pay of $9.67 an hour, or just over $20,000 a year.

What’s the social worth of hospital orderlies who feed, bathe, dress, and move patients, and empty their ben pans? Surely higher than their median wage of $11.63 an hour, or $24,190 a year.

Or of child care workers, who get $10.33 an hour, $21.490 a year? And preschool teachers, who earn $13.26 an hour, $27,570 a year?

Yet what would the rest of us do without these dedicated people?

Or consider kindergarten teachers, who make an average of $53,590 a year.

That may sound generous but a good kindergarten teacher is worth his or her weight in gold, almost.

One study found that children with outstanding kindergarten teachers are more likely to go to college and less likely to become single parents than a random set of children similar to them in every way other than being assigned a superb teacher.

And what of writers, actors, painters, and poets? Only a tiny fraction ever become rich and famous. Most barely make enough to live on (many don’t, and are forced to take paying jobs to pursue their art). But society is surely all the richer for their efforts.

At the other extreme are hedge-fund and private-equity managers, investment bankers, corporate lawyers, management consultants, high-frequency traders, and top Washington lobbyists.

They’re getting paid vast sums for their labors. Yet it seems doubtful that society is really that much better off because of what they do.

I don’t mean to sound unduly harsh, but I’ve never heard of a hedge-fund manager whose jobs entails attending to basic human needs (unless you consider having more money as basic human need) or enriching our culture (except through the myriad novels, exposes, and movies made about greedy hedge-fund managers and investment bankers).

They don’t even build the economy.

Most financiers, corporate lawyers, lobbyists, and management consultants are competing with other financiers, lawyers, lobbyists, and management consultants in zero-sum games that take money out of one set of pockets and put it into another.

They’re paid gigantic amounts because winning these games can generate far bigger sums, while losing them can be extremely costly.

It’s said that by moving money to where it can make more money, these games make the economy more efficient.

In fact, the games amount to a mammoth waste of societal resources.

They demand ever more cunning innovations but they create no social value. High-frequency traders who win by a thousandth of a second can reap a fortune, but society as a whole is no better off.

Meanwhile, the games consume the energies of loads of talented people who might otherwise be making real contributions to society — if not by tending to human needs or enriching our culture then by curing diseases or devising new technological breakthroughs, or helping solve some of our most intractable social problems.

In 2010 (the most recent date for which we have data) close to 36 percent of Princeton graduates went into finance (down from the pre-financial crisis high of 46 percent in 2006). Add in management consulting, and it was close to 60 percent.

Graduates of Harvard and other Ivy League universities are also more likely to enter finance and consulting than any other career.

The hefty endowments of such elite institutions are swollen with tax-subsidized donations from wealthy alumni, many of whom are seeking to guarantee their own kids’ admissions so they too can become enormously rich financiers and management consultants.

But I can think of a better way for taxpayers to subsidize occupations with more social merit: Forgive the student debts of graduates who choose social work, child care, elder care, nursing, and teaching.

 

By: Robert Reich, The Robert Reich Blog, August 2, 2014

August 4, 2014 Posted by | Economic Inequality, Workers | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“It’s The Kids’ Fault”: Why Women Still Earn Less Than Men

As thousands of high school graduates head off to college in the next few weeks, they’ll see a lot more women than men on campus — specifically, they’ll see three female students for every two male students they spot. These scenes are dramatically different from the ones their grandparents would have seen in the 1960′s when the percentages were reversed.

The surge in women’s college enrollment appears in their graduation figures.While only about 30 percent of women (and men) older than 25 have a college degree, in recent years, women have earned about 57 percent of bachelor’s degrees. Mark J. Perry, an economics professor at the University of Michigan and scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, estimates that there are now about 4.35 million more women with college degrees in the United States than men.

That’s some progress.

Yet, progress in college degrees received (women also earn a larger share of master’s and doctor’s degrees than men do) has not turned into progress in paychecks received.

In 2011, women working full-time earned about 77 cents for each dollar that a man earned, according to data compiled by the U.S. Census Bureau and the Bureau of Labor Statistics.The gap has narrowed over time, which is good news. But, as President Obama said on the 50th anniversary of the passage of the Equal Pay Act making it illegal to discriminate in pay on the basis of sex, “does anybody here think that’s good enough?”

I sure don’t.

So, after all these years, why does the pay gap still exist? Is it because women choose to become social workers rather than rocket scientists, as some have noted? Or is it because they have decided to stay home with the kids and stop working or to work part time, as others have noted?

On the first point, rocket scientists certainly do make more than teachers. The median wage for an aerospace engineer in 2012 was $103,720, almost double the $53,400 a typical elementary school teacher could expect to make that year. It’s also true that only about 14 percent of architects and engineers are women, while more than 80 percent of elementary and middle school teachers are women. Over all occupations, women’s wages would be lower than men’s wages due to differences in occupational choices.

On the second point, fathers are more likely to work full-time than mothers. Nearly 40 percent of mothers worked part-time or not at all compared with 3 percent of fathers, according to a study by the American Association of University Women. Women who leave the labor force don’t gain much work experience so that when they return to work, they’re likely to make less than another person, male or female, with the same qualifications who has an unbroken career record.

Again, the data support this assertion. Judith Warner recently wrote for the New York Times Magazine about the cost to mothers when they leave their careers to spend more time with their families. Warner found that the women she interviewed who had returned to the work force a decade after leaving their jobs to take care of their kids were generally in lower paying, less prestigious jobs than the ones they left.

A separate study found that women who returned to work after an extended time off were paid 16 percent less than before they left the work force, while another study Warner cites found that only one-quarter of women who returned to the work force took a traditional hard-driving job, such as banking, compared with the two-thirds of women who were employed in such jobs before taking time off.

One final factor helps explain the pay gap: kids. In a paper published in the late 1990s, Columbia University professor of social work and public affairs Jane Waldfogel showed that having children has a negative impact on a woman’s wages, while it has no or even a positive effect on a man’s wages. The fact that the pay gap between women without children and women with children is larger than the pay gap between men and women further highlights the negative impact of kids on earnings. Waldfogel noted that it’s as true in 1998 as Victor Fuchs reported a decade earlier, that “the greatest barrier to economic equality is children.”

The research shows that having kids is bad for your paycheck. What the research doesn’t seem to show, however, is that many moms may actually not care.

 

By: Joanne Weiner, She The People, The Washington Post, August, 13, 2013

August 19, 2013 Posted by | Economic Inequality, Women | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Racket With Standardized Test Scores”: Treating Test Scores The Way A Corporation Might Treat Sales Targets Is Wrong

It is time to acknowledge that the fashionable theory of school reform — requiring that pay and job security for teachers, principals and administrators depend on their students’ standardized test scores — is at best a well-intentioned mistake, and at worst nothing but a racket.

I mean that literally. Beverly Hall, the former superintendent of the Atlanta public schools, was indicted on racketeering charges Friday for an alleged cheating scheme that won her more than $500,000 in performance bonuses. Hall, who retired two years ago, is also accused of theft, conspiracy and making false statements. She has denied any wrongdoing.

Also facing criminal charges are 34 teachers and principals who allegedly participated in the cheating, which involved simply erasing students’ wrong answers on test papers and filling in the correct answers.

In 2009, the American Association of School Administrators named Hall “National Superintendent of the Year” for improvement in student achievement that seemed, in retrospect, much too good to be true. On Georgia’s standardized competency test, students in some of Atlanta’s troubled neighborhoods appeared to vault past their counterparts in the wealthy suburbs.

For educators who worked for Hall, bonuses and promotions were based on test scores. “Principals and teachers were frequently told by Beverly Hall and her subordinates that excuses for not meeting targets would not be tolerated,” according to the indictment.

But there was a sure-fire way to meet those targets: After a day of testing, teachers allegedly were told to gather the students’ test sheets and change the answers. Suddenly a failing school would become a model of education reform. The principal and teachers would get bonuses. Hall would get accolades, plus a much bigger bonus. And students — duped into thinking they had mastered material that they hadn’t even begun to grasp — would get the shaft.

State education officials became suspicious. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution wrote probing stories. There seemed to be no way to legitimately explain the dramatic improvement in test scores at some schools in such a short time, or the statistically improbable number of wrong-to-right erasures on answer sheets. But there was no proof.

Sonny Perdue was Georgia’s governor at the time, and in August 2010 he ordered a blue-ribbon investigation. Hall resigned shortly before the release of the investigators’ report, which alleged that 178 teachers and principals cheated over nearly a decade — and that Hall either knew or should have known. Those findings laid the foundation for Friday’s grand jury indictment.

My Post colleague Valerie Strauss, a veteran education reporter and columnist, wrote Friday that while there have been “dozens” of alleged cheating episodes around the country, only Atlanta’s has been aggressively and thoroughly investigated. “We don’t really know” how extensive the problem is, Strauss wrote, but “what we do know is that these cheating scandals have been a result of test-obsessed school reform.”

In the District of Columbia, for example, there are unanswered questions about an anomalous pattern of wrong-to-right erasures on answer sheets during the reign of famed schools reformer Michelle Rhee, who starred in the documentary “Waiting for ‘Superman’ ” and graced the cover of Time magazine.

Our schools desperately need to be fixed. But creating a situation in which teachers are more likely than students to cheat cannot be the right path.

Standardized achievement tests are a vital tool, but treating test scores the way a corporation might treat sales targets is wrong. Students are not widgets. I totally reject the idea that students from underprivileged neighborhoods cannot learn. Of course they can. But how does it help these students to have their performance on a one-size-fits-all standardized test determine their teachers’ compensation and job security? The clear incentive is for the teacher to focus on test scores rather than actual teaching.

Not every school system will become so mired in an alleged pattern of wrongdoing that officials can be charged under a racketeering statute of the kind usually used to prosecute mobsters. But even absent cheating, the blind obsession with test scores implies that teachers are interchangeable implements of information transfer, rather than caring professionals who know their students as individuals. It reduces students to the leavings of a No. 2 pencil.

School reform cannot be something that ostensibly smart, ostentatiously tough “superstar” superintendents do to a school system and the people who depend on it. Reform has to be something that is done with a community of teachers, students and parents — with honesty and, yes, a bit of old-fashioned humility.

 

By: Eugene Robinson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, April 1, 2013

April 3, 2013 Posted by | Education Reform, Educators | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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