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September 14, 2012

the teacher compensation myth

This is what I'm angry about this morning.

You've no doubt heard about the public teachers striking in Chicago, and all the fascinating subplots that follow (like Will it affect the election? and Does Rahm Emanuel like Nickelback?).  And you've probably already noticed that the support for the teachers is not as prevalent as it would have been in, say, the 70s.  That's worth getting angry about, I guess.

But what's really burning my grits about this thing is the one factoid that inevitably gets cited by those who oppose the union (as phrased in this morning's predictable David Brooks):

The average Chicago teacher makes $76,000 a year in a city where the average worker makes $47,000 a year.

There we have it — the reason that the teacher's union should be broken is that they are making too much money.

First: is that too much money?  No, it is not.  It may be well above median, but it is still well below what Mitt Romney describes as middle class.

Second: remember how when the financial crisis hit there was some noise about how well paid the CEOs of The Banks were even though they nearly wrecked the economy?  Or even the growing (but not yet big enough) cry against income inequality, like, why should a silly banker be worth millions of dollars a year?  And what is the response to that?  The response is, "Why are you punishing success? Why are you not celebrating success? Is this not the American way?"  Well, apparently, it's not the American way, if you are talking about an occupation as unimportant as teaching the entirety of American youth.

And third: can we please move past the point where the vast majority of Americans who are not in the financial services industries stop arguing over the crumbs that are left us?  If some career is better compensated then the one that you are in, then join that career, or make more money.  Aspire.  But to take the gains of the marginally-better-off will not reward the unrewarded in any way.  It's petty bullshit.

Agitate for performance pay for teachers, or more charter schools, or whatever venal Michelle Rhee bullshit you read in the Wall Street Journal.  But if you have a problem with how much teachers are getting paid you are misidentifying the problem; the problem is that everyone else ain't getting paid enough.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:41 AM

September 13, 2012

romney and libya

If you are unsure what the whole kerfuffle was yesterday about Libya, you're going to have to look pretty hard to find an explanation of what the hell happened, because Mitt Romney sucked all the air out of the room.

To wit: for the past two days there have been protests at U.S. embassies in Northern Africa.  Putatively these protests are against some deliberately inciting fake movie that some asshole "made" which slanders Islam in general and Mohammed specifically.  I say putatively because there is speculation that there is ulterior motive behind these protests, a flex of the muscles by Salafists, who have been eclipsed by more moderate Islamists in the post-Arab Spring governments.

OK, so, during this, on Tuesday night, the U.S. embassy in Benghazi, Libya came under coordinated military attack.  The attackers allegedly claimed to be protesting the fake movie, but again, there is doubt.  After the four hour attack was finally repelled, the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans were dead.

Now that right there is a nest of rabid snakes and a foreign policy boondoggle that needs first to be separated into its component issues.  Add to that the murdered Americans and you've got a multifaceted and deadly serious foreign policy issue that could use the attention of grown-ups.

Enter Mitt Romney.

Tuesday night, before the attacks in Libya were underway (and before protesters broke into the embassy in Egypt), the Egyptian consulate issued a statement that said basically that the fake movie was deliberate demagoguery and not the official position of the United States.  So Romney, before the clock has ticked on September 11, issues a statement saying that the president is disgraceful and sympathizing with terrorists.

So in the middle of a crisis, a legitimate crisis, Romney is not only playing it for political points but also going with that quasi-racist "Kenyan Imperialist" bullshit.

And then the sun rises and come to find out there are dead Americans, so Romney is officially looking pretty damn bad for this.  So what does he do?  He goes into a press conference and hits the same points, harder.  Here's a relevant portion (as transcribed by Gail Collins):

“They clearly — they clearly sent mixed messages to the world. And — and the statement came from the administration — and the embassy is the administration — the statement that came from the administration was a — was a statement which is akin to apology and I think was a — a — a severe miscalculation.”

The topper is that as he walked off the stage, he had this conspicuous shit-eating smirk (check it here, which was a kick in the stomach considering that the man had just accused the sitting president of sympathizing with those that murdered a United States ambassador.

He's no longer a comically bad candidate.  He's now a dangerously bad candidate, who shouldn't be trusted to command a garage door opener, let alone the U.S. armed forces.

Last word goes to Collins, for context:

It isn’t clear how the movie, the protests in Egypt and the murders of four American diplomats in Libya fit together. That’s the job of intelligence experts. We’re stuck with the task of evaluating Mitt Romney, who went for a cheap attack at a time when any calm, mature adult would have waited and opted for at least a brief show of national unity.

Hope is that Romney can manage not to hamstring U.S. foreign policy before the election.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:34 AM

September 12, 2012

kids books for the awl

Hey there.

As you know in my spare time, when I'm not blogging like it's 2003 on these pages, I churn out content for The Awl.  And the new one's up, titled "The Cost of Being a Kid in a Classic Adventure Novel."  An umwieldy title, yes, but it's the latest installment of the Adjusted for Inflation series, where we look at something, like comic books or candy bars or television sets, and see how the cost of these items evolve over time.

And since The Awl was running a little beginning of school year series on Youth, we thought that we'd superimpose some rudimentary economic analysis on some of your favorite kids books: The Box Car Children, My Side of the Mountain, Harriet The Spy, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, Bridge to Terabithia, Tiger Eyes and Scat.  We look at the adventures depicted therein, and how much they would cost now.  But mostly we just talk about kids books.

If you liked any of those books growing up, maybe you'll like my piece.  Or if you like me.  That would also influence liking my piece.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:23 AM

September 11, 2012

voter homogeneity bias

Just heard a bit on the NPR, about the electoral landscape of Ohio.  As we know, the state is tilting Obama, to the extent that the Romney campaign has decided to devote resources to other battleground states.

But the interesting thing is that they ran a handful of man-on-the-street spots with Romney voters, and they all agreed that the polls were nuts.  Look for a big surprise in November, said one man, and said a woman, "I don't know if I trust the polls."  Basically, these Ohio Romney voters have a hard time giving credence to a poll that does not reflect their preference.

I'm leery of polls too, but for a different reason (I think people have a shifting relationship with the truth), but I do think that these Ohioans are not expressing anything unusual, this inability to imagine oneself as in anything but the majority.  Even in the face of logic (Ohio is a big place, it has urban and manufacturing areas, not everyone hates Obama, etc.), people are unable to let go of the idea that personal opinion is a reflection of fact, and not subjective choice or even consensus.

I don't know if this has always been the case (I suspect it has?), but it seems like it's more pronounced these days — at the risk of being glib, as long as a black man is in the White House.

Posted by mrbrent at 7:27 AM

September 10, 2012

strike in chicago

News you can use of the day is the fact that the public school teachers are on strike.  They walked out of the negotiations with the city of Chicago in the middle of the night, visibly frustrated.

And it is frustrating, as the new mayor, Rahm Emanuel, former Obama chief-of-staff, could've been anticipated to at least not be openly hostile to organized labor no matter what Michelle Rhee dope he's been smoking.  But that is not the case!  He cussed labor into a corner, and the only weapon labor has is a labor action.  They used it.

The sides are not far apart on money; they are split on issues like insurance, seniority, stuff like that.  Emanuel should find a way to cut a deal and still claim victory, as against-labor is always the wrong side of the issue.

But do note this passage from the linked NYT story:

A strike was not expected to affect the 45,000 students in the city’s charter schools, officials said.

See, that's 'cause the teachers at charter schools are non-union.  They have no rights whatsoever, other than to cash that paycheck or quit.  And this is for charter schools, which are just schemes to put public funds into private hands, where classic free-market principles can be enacted by cherry-picking only the high-performing students, cooking the test scores, etc.

Support your local public school-teacher, unless you want your kids to grow up as dumb as America.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:05 AM