Tuesday, July 21, 2009

American Thinker - Taxpayers: Eat your hearts out, suckers

We could have not said it better ourselves. The following appeared on American Thinker.

Spelling and grammar errors as well as typos are left as an exercise for my readers.

Taxpayers: Eat your hearts out, suckers
By Ed Lasky

A looming problem has received far too little coverage from a liberal-dominated media: the power of public pensions to destroy our nation's finances and ransack our wallets.

For many years, government workers have enjoyed munificent benefits: relatively high salaries for lenient work demands; gold-plated retirement benefits that allow most of them to "retire" at a young age with very high pensions and generous health care benefits. Days off for holidays that few of us would even recognize.

All courtesy of us: the lowly taxpayer toiling away at jobs that may vanish at a moment's notice and that certainly don't guarantee the value of any retirement package. Not true for the ever-expanding ranks of government workers.

A recent Forbes magazine article highlights the absurd benefits that public sector workers enjoy on the job and off the job when they retire. The article, describing the leisurely life of retired government employees, could be lifted from the pages of Travel and Leisure magazine. The poster boy for the problem? A retired 42 year old policeman lollygagging on a beach, comfortable with his $2 million pension.

But there are more tales from across our land: a fireman who can be "retired" at 55, collect a pension and still collect a salary while keeping the job he "retired" from (don't ask about the logic-this is the government); a thirty eight year old teacher in New Jersey earning twice the state ‘s average income who works 10 months a year and barely contributes to a pension that will allow early retirement with quite the golden nest egg; California prison guards earning $300,000 a year.

In my own area, the superintendent of a small, suburban school district earns -- well, makes -- over $400,000 a year and has a slew of benefits to boot (medical care during his retirement, 100% comped for him and his family) . Remember that story when teachers' unions decry low salaries.

These anecdotal stories of staggering benefits received by the government worker elites are companied by reams of statistics that display the ticking time bomb of government salaries and golden parachutes. Forbes notes:

In public-sector America things just get better and better. The common presumption is that public servants forgo high wages in exchange for safe jobs and benefits. The reality is they get all three. State and local government workers get paid an average of $25.30 an hour, which is 33% higher than the private sector's $19, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data. Throw in pensions and other benefits and the gap widens to 42%.

Four in five public-sector workers have lifetime pensions, versus only one in five in the private sector.

Those pensions are guaranteed by state law, regardless of how pension investments fare, because you, the taxpayer, guarantee them with your tax dollars. It is the law, made by our legislators or incorporated in state constitutions.

The problem is national in scope and severity. Often public sector employees claim early retirement for disabilities -- and sometimes find loopholes to claim disabilities when none in fact exist -- and they are able to work in other jobs. Pensions are often boosted by goosing final years' salaries that are used to determine lifetime pension levels. The practice is called "spiking" and recently prompted criticism of a California fire chief who, three days before announcing his retirement (at the grand old age of 51, no less), had his salary suddenly increased so as to boost his annual pension to $241,000. The practice is unfair because employees or employers contribute to pensions based on salaries. When a salary is boosted around retirement, a shortfall is created between what a pension system has collected for an employee and what it must pay out for his lifetime.

Cooking the books to goose public pensions? What astute fiscal management! This problem is exacerbated by the fact that politicians use faulty and overly optimistic projections about future investment returns to justify high pension payouts. Politicians can run but they cannot hide for too long even if they rely on Stupid Debt Tricks to disguise the problems.

Remember the scandals over welfare queens and executive salaries? These are dwarfed by the ticking time bomb of inflated government salaries and crippling pension obligations for us to pay off in our taxes.

Already, communities are declaring bankruptcy, done in by skyrocketing public employee salaries and pension costs. We have only glimpsed the future and it is colored red-in more ways than one. As government revenues sink and government obligations rise, the red ink will spread across the nation; as will steps by Democrats to take our savings. We are only at Act One of this tragedy to come.

How bad is the problem?

This "Hidden Pension Fiasco" will cost us over one trillion dollars. Barack Obama and fellow traveling Democrats will hoist this problem on our shoulders via tax hikes yet to come. This trillion will be to benefit government workers, a key Democrat constituency, who know who butter their bread at our expense. Forbes:

"The tax hikes you face [to fully fund public pensions] will have a much more tangible impact on your financial life than anything a Social Security fix will entail," says Alicia Munnell, who runs Boston College's retirement center..

Government employees could care less about how well the investments backing their pensions fare, since they are guaranteed. Nor do they care who invests them. But we should. Pension funds are often turned over to politically connected firms, who may know the right people, but not the right way to invest. Our once and former car czar, Steven Rattner, is embroiled in what looks like a classic pay-to-play scandal involving politically connected investment boutiques being rewarded by politicians with deals to invest government pensions.

Money can be spread around by the pension fund managers to help politicians win campaigns. If their returns come up short, well, who cares? The taxpayers pay the price.

Why do government workers enjoy such sweet deals? They determine their own benefit packages, for one. But another fact plays a role: their powerful union, the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), which can devote its resources -- money, votes, volunteer labor during campaigns -- to help elect Democrats win elections. The quid pro quo is sweetheart contracts that reward union members, and punish us, for the rest of their lives.

This is disgraceful.

Our money should not fund dream retirement packages for government workers. Government workers should not lead lives insulated from the risks and travails most of the public must bear. Are politicians too in hock to public unions to care that we may go in hock to fulfill their absurd deals?

Who will stop them?

Some far-sighted people are responding to this crisis in the making. These include an activist group seeking to publicize the problem websites that publicize the problem; even apostates who feel they have unjustly benefited and are outraged at ways public employees milk taxpayers. .

Even a legendary auto union leader, Barry Bluestone, sees risks of taxpayer revulsion leading to taxpayer revolt. How fitting that his op-ed (A Future for Public Unions) ran in the Boston Globe, home of the original Tea Party. Bluestone warns that the future of public unions is in jeopardy should they follow the practices that helped wreck the American-owned auto industry. He looks back at how auto unions often:

... insisted on job classifications and work rules that undermined efficiency and compromised the industry's competitiveness.

He sees history repeating itself:

Will public-sector unions follow the same path? Nationwide, these unions represent over 35 percent of federal, state, and local employees, roughly the same as in 1980. Over the years, they have won improved wages and benefits for their members. Yet the leaders of many of these unions, particularly in Massachusetts, seem to be setting the stage for the same kind of deterioration we see in unions like the UAW.

Teachers unions refuse to make changes in work practices that could help improve the chances of children succeeding in school. Police unions fight against lowering the cost of details at construction sites. The MBTA union and others representing transport workers lobby vociferously against reforming the state's transportation system. Municipal unions refuse to permit their local communities to join the Group Insurance Commission that would save their towns millions without compromising the quality of their members' medical care.

As a result, between 2000 and 2008, the price of state and local public services has increased by 41 percent nationally compared with 27 percent in private services. Even in the face of the worst fiscal crisis in decades, many state and local union leaders refuse to consider a wage freeze that could help preserve more of their members' jobs.

Bluestone notes that citizens and ultimately their elected representatives, will object to tax increases to pay for bloated union contracts and poor public service. Bluestone does not address the public pension time bomb that will only make our problems worse.

Of course, the key point is the need to make our elected representatives themselves pay for the steps they have taken over the years to enrich public unions at our expense. That is the only type of payback they understand: our votes. They should not come as cheaply or carelessly as they have in the past. They have cost us too much already.

Ed Lasky is news editor of American Thinker.

Please be sure to go to the American Thinker website and checkout the links.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Intertown Record

On July 10th I reported that the Eagle Times would cease to be published on said date. On that same day I just happened to hear about the Intertown Record on Brian "Bulldog" Tilton's radio show. I had contacted Annette Vogel that night and asked her to cover Croydon, she said she could not. I had offered to write for free and I also encouraged Gayle Hedrington to do the same. I also suggested the paper should be sold at the Croydon store. By Monday she had a change of heart, Gayle offered to write for free and the Coniston Store will carry the paper. If you have news for Gayle she needs it by Sunday night so she can submit her column by Monday morning please send news to ghedrington@wildblue.net.

Please be sure to keep this paper running and pick up a copy at the Coniston Store. It is important that Croydon News gets out to the people of Croydon.



We Agree Tenure Must Go

Jim and I have been saying this for years and totally agree with the article below.

Spelling and grammar errors as well as typos are left as an exercise for my readers.

The following piece appears on the The Atlanta Journal-Constitution website.

End tenure, improve teaching
By John D. Marshall

Over the past 70 years, public education has been a catalyst for America’s rise to global leadership. Public schools are a gateway to opportunity for everyone and offer the best hope for lifting a child out of poverty, giving him an opportunity for a better life.

As conscientious citizens, we must invest significantly more time and resources in our public schools, and specifically in our best teachers. On most standardized and norm-referenced tests, American students score in the middle of the pack or worse, and far below the developed countries in Europe and Asia.

We read about increasing class sizes, reduction of teachers’ aides and extracurricular activities, elimination of special ed programs, and “virtual” education replacing the traditional classroom teacher — all as a result of the current economic downturn.

However, this recession may provide the leverage to make fundamental changes to our education system and specifically, to enhance the teaching profession, whose reputation has suffered for the past 30 years.

The most important factor in student learning is the quality of the teacher. Recent research indicates overwhelmingly that, with the exception of the family’s role, the capabilities of the classroom teacher are more important than any other school factor in a student’s learning. It is more important than class size, facilities, curriculum, the number of computers in a school, and per-pupil funding.

The difference in what students learn from a good teacher compared to a poor teacher is vast. We are better off having our child in a class of 25 with a great teacher than in a class of five with a mediocre teacher.

But how do we identify promising teacher candidates? It turns out that identifying the good teachers before they enter the field is surprisingly difficult. Research indicates that a college graduate’s grades, test scores, graduate degrees and teaching certifications have little predictive value in determining effectiveness. The many intangibles make it almost impossible to predict someone’s ability to connect with kids. In fact, many experts believe that teachers’ character, integrity and personality may be more important than their content knowledge.

However, what everyone in the field can agree on is that becoming a really good teacher takes time. And by the time the school system is able to determine who is a good teacher — and who is not — everyone in the profession has achieved tenure. This is a problem.

What other professions have tenure — the guaranteeing of a job, in essence, for life? One can argue the steel and auto industries have a form of tenure, and look what has happened to their competitiveness. We must revisit tenure in public education, and all of us, the American people, must recognize that teachers unions have not been good, neither for our most gifted teachers (who deserve more recognition and money) or most importantly, for the children in our schools.

Education must become more open to talented professionals coming into teaching from a variety of fields and at different stages in their careers. We must not allow teacher certification to limit high-potential teacher candidates’ access to the profession.

I believe we can experience a true renaissance in the teaching profession if we can encourage talented people — of all ages — to enter teaching, support the best teachers through constructive evaluation and far better compensation, and reduce the influence of the unions to protect everyone, regardless of competence.

If America is to be competitive in this challenging new world, this change in how we support our teachers can’t happen soon enough.

John D. Marshall is the Rabun Gap-Nacoochee School head of school.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

For the children?

The American Thinker has a great piece titled For the Children. Below is an excerpt from the piece.

"You know your poor, dedicated, underpaid teachers? They constituted the 6th highest-ranking industry in political contributions, and gave 88% of their money to Democrats. Of course you know Big Oil has to give more than your underpaid teachers, right? Wrong. The oil and gas industry ranked 19th; teachers contributed more than twice as much as Big Oil. Lawyers gave over seven times as much.?

The piece is a must read to be shared with friends, family, your children, liberals and democrats. I will caution that many Republicans as well have been taken away are rights. Make sure the next election that you are supporting individuals that support freedom and less government.

I posted the piece below but please click on the link to read the links in the story. The following American Thinker piece is titled For the Children.

Spelling and grammar errors as well as typos are left as an exercise for my readers.

For the Children
By Randall Hoven

Hey kids. I know you're not all that interested in politics, and you don't like to read too much. But, God bless you, you vote. That's understandable. It's hip to vote. P. Diddy urges you to do it. Most of the doors in your college dorm are adorned with Obama posters and news clippings. In 2008, the 18-29 age group voted 2-to-1 for Obama. And your college campus went wild the night he won.

But before you vote again, please consider reading the rest of this article. I'll try to make clear points and keep the paragraphs short. It's OK to listen to your iPod while you read.

Politics is actually kind of important. There are about 200 countries in the world; 200 different governments. In some countries, like North Korea, people have died by the millions due to starvation in just the last few years. In others, like the Congo, Sudan, Rwanda and others, people have died by the millions due to civil war or mass murder - again, in only the last few years, while you've been alive. Yet in other countries, like the US, obesity is considered one of our worst problems. Whether the worst problem you face is being overweight or hacked to death with machetes depends much on your country's politics.

No one has it figured out yet. Humans have been around for thousands of years, yet we still have hunger, poverty, disease, war, racism, hatred and all kinds of things that have made life miserable over thousands of years. So when some politician tells you he can get rid of all of these problems in the next 4 to 8 years, or they would go away if we could just get rid of his political opponents, he is being what is called "less than truthful."

But we're not totally stupid, either. We actually have made great progress in eliminating hunger, poverty, disease, etc. Do you know that from 1900 to 2000, for example, life expectancy went from 47 to 77 in the US? Yet in other countries, like Zimbabwe, the life expectancy today is just 46. You have to believe we did some things better in the US over our history, and we are doing some things better than Zimbabwe today.

Freedom is good. We actually have a good idea of what makes these kinds of differences among countries: freedom. Countries where people can own property and are free to buy and sell what they want, are the countries that are much better off. (Some people call this "capitalism", but it is really just freedom.) Countries where the government has more control over what you can have, buy and sell, do worse. For more reading on this, go here.

Communism is bad. Communism is not just another "ism." In the last 100 years, Communism killed about 100 million people. While I'm sure you heard of Nazism's Jewish Holocaust of 6 million, you probably haven't heard about this 17-times-bigger Communist holocaust. But it's documented in the Black Book of Communism, and the numbers are not really disputed, just ignored. Also, communist countries like North Korea and Cuba kill citizens who simply try to leave the country - today. Communism, along with Nazism and fascism, represent one end of the political spectrum -- the one where government makes most of the decisions, or the opposite of freedom. For more reading on this, go here.

What to fix? Many of us want to make the world a better place. Where would you start: in one of the richest countries on earth where people live fairly long, like the US, or in one of the poorest countries where people die fairly young, like Zimbabwe? It seems kind of dumb to me that the first place we would try to change the most would be the US. It seems to me we should try to change the places that are the most miserable, like North Korea, Zimbabwe and a bunch of other countries on earth. Also, in a place already doing pretty well, like the US, should we try changing everything at once, or try just a few things at a time and see if they work out before we try the next things?

The US is really pretty good. You can convince yourself of this by looking up data like wealth and income statistics, life expectancies, number of patents, etc., not to mention putting man on the moon. Or you could travel. Here are some tips for things to look for when you travel: can you drink the water without getting sick? Do they have toilets, and if so, where does the stuff go when you flush it? The biggest boosts to life expectancy are clean drinking water and a good sewage system. It ain't rocket science, but there are many places on earth where it would be a good idea to bring your own bottled water and TP.

Republicans aren't driven by racism.

Slavery started in the US colonies between 1619 and 1650. Abraham Lincoln, took office in 1861, or after more than 200 years of slavery in the US. The Republican Party originated as an anti-slavery party. And sure enough, Lincoln, the very first Republican President, did end slavery in the US. It took the Civil War and about 620,000 American lives, including Lincoln's own, but slavery ended.
When blacks were being lynched in the decades following the Civil War, it was Republicans in the US Congress who tried to pass anti-lynching laws. The Dyer Anti-Lynching Bill was sponsored by US Congressman L.C. Dyer, Republican of Missouri, in 1922. It was passed by the House of Representatives, majority Republican at the time. It was supported by President Warren G. Harding, Republican, as well as the NAACP. But it was defeated in the Senate by a filibuster from Democrats.
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 won a higher percentage of Republican votes (about 4-to-1 in favor) than it did of Democrat votes (about 2-to-1 in favor). Al Gore's father, for example, was a Senator who voted against the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Republicans have been fairly consistent about race over the decades: they want the law to be blind to race. When government forms have a box for you to check what race you are, that is not color-blind. When your college has different ACT/SAT/LSAT test score cutoffs for applicants of different races, that is not color-blind. And you know that.

Fat cats vs. the little guy. This is one of the best cases of "branding" and one of the biggest myths ever perpetrated by political public relations. But you can follow the money yourself, on web sites like OpenSecrets or Newsmeat.

For example, if we look at the top contributing industries in the 2007-8 Congressional cycle, all of the top ten gave most of their money to Democrats (in fact, the top 14 did). Here are some of those top industries and what percent of their political contributions went to Democrats.

Lawyers and law firms (78%)
Securities/Investment (65%)
Real Estate (57%)
Misc. Business (70%)
Business Services (73%)
Misc. Finance (54%).

You know your poor, dedicated, underpaid teachers? They constituted the 6th highest-ranking industry in political contributions, and gave 88% of their money to Democrats. Of course you know Big Oil has to give more than your underpaid teachers, right? Wrong. The oil and gas industry ranked 19th; teachers contributed more than twice as much as Big Oil. Lawyers gave over seven times as much.

It might be a rip-off. Maybe you've heard of Bernie Madoff or R. Allen Stanford. They were both investment fund managers, but arrested this past year for ripping off their customers for billions of dollars. Madoff was recently convicted. They both gave big to politicians, over a million dollars combined, with almost all of it going to Democrats.

Although the Bob Dylan song Like a Rolling Stone is old now it's still considered pretty cool. Ponder these lyrics from that song.

"Ain't it hard when you discover that
He really wasn't where it's at
After he took from you everything he could steal."

When someone says he can make wonderful things happen if you would just give him more of your money (including a tax hike), consider that he might be Bob Dylan's diplomat who carried on his shoulder a Siamese cat. He's not really where it's at.

The rip-off, small or large, is an old, old game. The best test of whether someone is ripping you off is not how nice his smile is; it's whether he's asking you to give him something.

Conservative can be cool. You probably wouldn't know it, but the following people are either outright Republican or have expressed support for Republican candidates or conservative or libertarian ideas.

Stephen Baldwin (yes, Alec's brother)
Drew Carey
Jeff Foxworthy
Kelsey Grammer
Sammy Hagar
Angie Harmon
Patricia Heaton
Dennis Hopper
Kathy Ireland
Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson
Larry the Cable Guy
Kid Rock
Gary Sinise
Lynn Swan
Jon Voight
Bruce Willis
James Woods
And a whole lot more

Even 50 Cent complimented, I think, President Bush.

Use your head. Virtually everything you've watched on TV or the movies in your lifetime, from the Care Bears to Oprah Winfrey and the latest Terminator movie, told you to follow your heart, not your head.

Tell me, the last time you got ripped off, was it because you followed your head too much? What about your friends who got pregnant or got someone else pregnant when they didn't want to -- was it their head that got them in trouble? Do you think Hitler's main fault was too much reason and rationality? When you really, really want to hit someone, does that urge come from your head, your heart or your gut?

I don't know about you, but my heart always told me to sleep late, skip school, tell my boss what I really think of this job, have another drink, and call the ex-girlfriend. My head, to my chagrin, said stay in school, keep my pants on, don't quit this job until I have another one, and apologize to my wife whether I did something wrong or not. In my experience, listening to my head paid off better.

You have a brain, and it's OK to use it. No one else can think for you. And now you have easier access to information than humans have ever had before. A few decent links to information-laden web sites are here. And my advice is to go for the raw data and not rely too much on someone else's analysis -- not Al Gore's, and not even mine.

That's enough for now, kids. And before you start thinking about how to "give back," try paying your own car insurance and cell phone bill.

Randall Hoven, the father of two 19-year-olds and a 25-year-old, can be contacted at randall.hoven@gmail.com or via his web site, kulak.worldbreak.com.