Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Of Pensions and Christie

Would you buy a used pension from this man?
We just recently purchased new vehicles for my wife and daughter. We went to a total of five dealerships for those two cars. We found that two of the dealers were fair, in the sense that they did not try to hold us upside down by the ankles and shake money from our pockets like the others did.

The shadier dealers tried every trick in the book on us, including the old "Ask Three Questions to Get Them in a YES Frame of Mind" trick, which goes like this:

Salesman: Wasn't Adolph Hitler a terrible person?
Us: Yes.

Salesman: Weren't those 9/11 terrorist attacks awful?
Us: Yes.

Salesman: Wouldn't you like me to put you in this new car TODAY??
Us: We're outta here.

As awful as some of our experiences were, we ended up with two good deals, meaning they agreed to give us a car for a reasonable price and we agreed to pay them approximately forever.

Imagine now, if you will, the worst car dealer ever. He gets you to agree to purchase a very expensive car by offering you a great trade in. He takes the old car, but never delivers the new car. And he goes to court to make sure he never has to give your promised vehicle, and that you have to make the payments even though you got nothing.

Meet car dealer extraordinaire: Chris Christie. Except it isn't phantom cars he's pedaling--it's phantom pensions.

Four years ago, Chris Christie decided that he could no longer fund the state pension system, because he needed to give the taxpayers' money to the rich to buy diamond encrusted saddles for their polo ponies, and for taxpayer funded helicopter rides to his son's baseball games. So what happened was exactly what would happen to you if you stopped paying for your car. They repossessed New Jersey.

Just kidding, of course. Only the common people get things taken from them when they don't meet their obligations. What really happened was that Christie reached a deal with NJ's public employee unions, in which he agreed to make those payments if the unions agreed to pay more into the pension fund themselves.

For four years, the unions have dutifully paid their agreed portion, but Christie decided he did not have to actually do what he agreed to do. He stopped making payments. So this time around, they really did repossess New Jersey.

Just kidding again. What really happened was that Christie was taken to court and ordered to make the payments on the law he signed. End of story, right?

Well, no. He went to the NJ Supreme Court, which decided in its infinitesimal wisdom that it could not force Christie to make the 1.57 billion dollar payment he promised to make. Instead, the court said the governor and legislature--the ones who wrote the law in the first place--should figure it all out and fix the problem.

This is akin to the car dealer mentioned above. He takes what you had, gives you nothing new, and forces you to make payments for years. When it gets to court, the judge decides that the salesman and his manager should go back and figure out what to do about it.

In the mean time, public employees are keeping up their end, because they can not just stop paying in the money they agreed to like they're the governor or something.

This should be a cautionary tale for all public employee members. Never, EVER, agree to pay into the pension fund, because if you do, there is already a judicial precedent that the state does not have to hold up their end, but you do.

As things stand right now, New York is not in any serious danger of this happening, as the public employee pension systems and TRS are pretty solvent, mostly because our previous governors went to their kids' baseball games by land. But beware--now that the precedent has been set, you can bet Cuomo is working on his spiel already:

Cuomo: Aren't pensions a wonderful thing?
Unions: Yes.

Cuomo: Aren't you glad you can retire at 57?
Unions: Yes.

Cuomo: Wouldn't you like to contribute a portion of your salary to make sure things stay that way?

Our answer should be a resounding NO. Even if he throws in free rustproofing.


Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Deflategate vs. Inflategate

You might have heard, if you live on this planet, that Tom Brady of the New England Patriots was found guilty of cheating because his people deflated footballs before the AFC Championship Game with the Indianapolis Colts.

This isn't the first time the Patriots have cheated, either. There was the infamous Spygate scandal, in which the Pats filmed the defensive signals of the Jets. It's difficult to blame them, because we all know how hard it was to defeat the 2007 Jets. /sarcasm

So, we have serial cheaters here in the Pats and Tom Brady. In the latest Deflategate scandal, Brady was hit with the truly harsh penalty of having to miss a quarter of the season--four games--without pay, which he will presumably spend with his supermodel wife. After that, he will go back to being a quarterback and continue making millions. How will he ever manage to recover?

Why bring this up? I think it's noteworthy to compare it to another cheating scandal--the one in Atlanta. In 2013, 35 educators in Atlanta were accused of cheating on a high stakes test by getting together and changing student answers in order to inflate scores. Let's call it Inflategate.

There are many similarities between these cases. Brady conspired with his equipment people to violate the rules, while Atlanta teachers conspired to increase test scores. Brady refused to cooperate with investigators and claimed to be innocent, and twelve Atlanta teachers refused to accept plea deals. All of them presumably did their misdeeds in order to gain an unfair advantage.

So it's safe to assume that the Atlanta teachers got a penalty at least somewhat similar to Brady, right? A fine, and a suspension for a quarter of a school year without pay so they could spend time with their supermodel spouses?

Well, no. These are teachers. Teachers are not held in the high esteem that Tom Brady is. Teachers have the meaningless task of educating our children, while Tom Brady has the highest calling one can have--throwing pigskin with accuracy.

So the judge in the Atlanta case hit three of the educators with the harshest penalties he could. Found guilty of racketeering, he sentenced them to twenty years in prison of which they would serve seven, 2000 hours of community service, and a $25,000 fine. But never fear--the judge had a change of heart and decided that these educators would only have to serve three years in prison.

Both of these cases featured people who conspired to cheat--one with balls and one with bubbles. Yet the outcomes could not have been more different. So what lesson can we learn here?

If you're going to cheat, it helps a lot to be rich. Brady got a slap on the wrist, while the guys who did the deflating have already been put out of work, although they've not been put in jail.

The Atlanta teachers had several other strikes against them. First, they were mostly black. Second, they were predominantly female. Most damning of all, of course, is that they were teachers, and it has been open season on teachers for quite some time now.

I don't condone what the educators in Atlanta did. Not at all. But whatever monetary gain they received or job security they obtained pales in comparison to what Brady and the Cheatriots got--namely a Superbowl win and all the financial benefits that accrue from that.

Cheating pays if you're rich. Just ask Tom Brady, or Alex Rodriguez. While you're at it, ask all the bankers who benefited from bringing this country to its knees financially while the poor and middle class suffered from a recession and unemployment. How many of you teachers out there lost a bundle when Wall Street tanked the economy? You know how many of those rich bastards went to jail for selling what they knew were junk securities?

That's right. None.

If you're rich, you can conspire to deflate footballs--no problem. Ditto if you're rich and deflate the economy--they'll just take taxpayer money to bail you out.

Inflate some scores? It's a long stretch in the pokey for you.

That's the American way.

EDIT AND UPDATE: In perhaps the stupidest thing I have read in a LONG time, it seems that an apparently mentally unstable Pats fan as started a GoFundMe page to help the Pats pay that whopping $1 millon fine. This is great news, as Pats owner Robert Kraft only has an estimated fortune of 4.3 BILLION dollars. Hey, stupid Pats fan, this is why the country is going to hell in a hand basket. You're trying to bail out a man who could pay a million dollar fine EVERY DAY for the next 11.78 years before he went broke. He would likely not start a GoFundMe page to hire someone to spit on you if your hair was on fire.





Tuesday, April 14, 2015

By Georges! The Truth about Teaching and the UFT

"The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which."--George Orwell, Animal Farm

SPOILER ALERT: The above quote is the last line of Animal Farm, by George Orwell. If you haven't read it, you should. If you have not, here's the summary in SWBS form (the way many English teachers show kids how to summarize--Somebody Wanted But So). Here we go: The animals on Farmer Jones' farm were being abused, so a pig named Napoleon wanted to take over the farm and run things the right way, but once he got into power, he became just like Farmer Jones, so the animals were just as bad off as they were before.

Animal Farm was originally intended to satirize Stalinism, but it applies as much to teaching and the UFT today. The UFT was organized to stop the abuse of teachers, and for a while, it did. As the union gained power, however, they stopped giving a shit about teachers and only worried about keeping themselves in power.

Can you deny this sentence: "The teachers looked from Mulgrew to Cuomo, and from Cuomo to Mulgrew, and from Mulgrew to Cuomo again, but already it was impossible to say which was which"?

Cuomo and Mulgrew both support Common Core, the teacher evaluation system, Race to the Top, and charter schools (the UFT ran two).

In the last gubernatorial race, Mulgrew could have chosen to endorse Zephyr Teachout, who was relentlessly pro-teacher and against the testing craze that is sweeping our state and destroying our profession. Instead, Mulgrew stayed neutral, refusing to throw his support behind the one candidate who would have supported public schools.

So why didn't he support Teachout? Because the very last thing the UFT wants is a thoughtful, activist base of members who understand the issues and are willing to fight for themselves. If teachers actually protested things, they might just take in into their heads to protest against a union that sells of huge chunks of our rights in exchange for keeping the membership stupid and inactive.

Hearkening back to Animal Farm, Mulgrew looks at every teacher as Boxer. The workhorse of the farm, with little brainpower, Boxer's solution to every problem was to say "I will work harder" and to claim the Napoleon was always right. Of course, Boxer was worked nearly to death and his retirement gift was a trip to the slaughterhouse.

So, how are YOU like Boxer? Every year, you are asked to work harder and harder. If you just keep working harder and doing what Napoleon...err...Mulgrew says, you'll get that sweet retirement. But maybe you won't. Under Mulgrew's "leadership", you can work your ass off and if you get rated ineffective you can be, in effect, summarily fired. And what are we up to now...Tier 27? How many of you will actually get to retirement, and how many will be discarded after years of hard work?

Some of you no doubt will stand up for Mulgrew--especially those of you who are chapter leaders who've taken a loyalty oath, or those of you who stay informed through the union newspaper. But what has he done to get the membership out there? Virtually nothing, other than ask you to tweet your displeasure at the governor with clever hashtags.

Many of you will spend 6 days in the next two weeks administering and proctoring tests that will determine whether you'll have a job. Fifty percent of your evaluation will be based on how well your kids do on these tests--or 100% if you are rated ineffective on test scores.

What could Mulgrew have done? He could have latched on to the growing displeasure among parents with non-stop testing. He could have asked teachers to give up 10 minutes a week to leaflet parents after school, informing them of their right to opt their kids out of testing. Remember, parents and voters mostly approve of the job teachers are doing, and overwhelmingly disapprove of the job legislators are doing. We could have brought Pearson to its knees and made the evaluation system a joke.

But we did nothing, other than tweet #allkidsneed and #inviteCuomo. You can see what an impact that has made as you check your kids for #2pencils.

Mulgrew did nothing because he wants nothing to change. He wants you to be a big, stupid workhorse like Boxer who will do what he is told and quietly go to slaughter. When you are finished, there will be someone new from whom to collect those sweet union dues that will keep paying for Mulgrew's chauffeur and those wonderful conventions and soirees.

And now for the harshest truth of all: Most of you deserve this. You had it in your power to throw Mulgrew out in the last election, but 80% of you were too apathetic to vote, and of those of you who did vote, an overwhelming majority chose to give Mulgrew your support. And, I'm sorry to say, the same thing will most likely happen again in the next election. Most of you will vote the Unity slate like good little soldiers, provided you vote at all. Have fun on your trip to the slaughterhouse!

You may think there's little you can do, but you're wrong. Many, if not most, of the people in my school voted for MORE in the last election, mainly because I did a LOT of talking to people who otherwise would have not voted or voted for Unity. You can be that person in your school. If every school had just one person speaking out and speaking the truth about what's happening, it could make a world of difference.

You should be able to look at your union leader and a neo-liberal, anti-union governor like Cuomo and see the difference.

Apropos of the title of this blog post, I leave you with the words of another George--one named Carlin. These are his words as he described corporate America. I have made a few changes, in bold, so you can see how it applies to teachers today. (NSFW):

The union doesn't want well informed, well educated people capable of critical thinking. They’re not interested in that. That doesn’t help them. That's against their interests.
That's right. They don’t want people who are smart enough to sit around the teacher's lounge and think about how badly they’re getting fucked by a system that threw them overboard 30 fucking years ago. They don’t want that!
You know what they want? They want obedient workers. Obedient workers, people who are just smart enough to teach the kids and do the paperwork. And just dumb enough to passively accept all these increasingly shitty jobs with the lower pay, the longer hours, the reduced benefits,...and vanishing pension that disappears the minute you go to collect it....They’ll get it all from you sooner or later cause they own this fucking place! Its a big club, and you ain’t in it!  You, and I, are not in the big club...
...The game is rigged and nobody seems to notice. Nobody seems to care! Good honest hard-working people; white collar, blue collar it doesn’t matter what color shirt you have on. Good honest hard-working people continue, these are people of modest means, continue to elect these rich cock suckers who don’t give a fuck about you….they don’t give a fuck about you… they don’t give a FUCK about you.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Why Cuomo and Mulgrew Are Both Wrong

Governor Cuomo and Michael Mulrew have been waging a war of words in the Daily News, each accusing the other of not caring about the kids of NY. Here's what they've said:

Cuomo referred to the teacher unions and the entrenched education establishment as an “industry” that is more interested in protecting the rights of its members than improving the system for the kids it is supposed to be serving.

Mulgrew: “If he truly believes that, it’s the clearest piece of evidence that he does not understand the people who choose to make their life’s work teaching and educating children."

I believe they are both wrong, and I hope I can articulate why without sounding as if I don't care about kids. I most certainly do care about them. I've spent the vast majority of my adult life working for and with children. And part of the problem is that I felt the need to say that before the rest of what I have to say. Because if you are a teacher, and you say that anything matters to you other than the children you teach, you run the risk of being labeled a monster.  Because God forbid if teachers want to make a decent living while serving the community. How dare we?

Perhaps the best way to approach this is to remind myself, and everyone reading, what the purpose of the union is. And this applies to any union, not just teachers.

The purpose of a union is to give individual workers the ability to collectively bargain and to make a better life for themselves.

Cuomo is wrong because he believes that it is the union's responsibility to improve education. It is not. It is the state's responsibility, as part of the constitution, to provide each child with a "sound, basic education". The governor is attempting to shift the burden for this responsibility from the state to the union. If he can make people believe that the union is responsible, then he can blame teachers for all his own failures, especially the failure to address the inequality of school funding.

Mulgrew is equally wrong because he seems to confuse the union with the membership. They are, in fact, separate entities. The union is made up of teachers, of course, and it is our job to educate children, but it does not therefore follow that it is the union's job to educate children, which is what Mulgrew seems to be saying.

Frankly, I wish Mulgrew saw the union's role differently. It is absolutely the union's job to protect the rights of its members. PERIOD.

That doesn't mean that the membership shouldn't advocate for children. We should. In fact, we must, because there are wealthy forces out there looking to destroy public education for their own profit.

The reason that teachers pay union dues is so that the UFT can advocate for teachers--to protect us from abuse, to negotiate fair contracts with adequate compensation and benefits, and to ensure that we have good working conditions.

What Mulgrew needs to make clear is that by protecting teachers, the union is freeing us to do what's right for kids. No one goes into teaching to get rich, or because the job is easy (half of all teachers leave within the first five years, which clearly speaks to the difficulties teachers face). We go into teaching because we are called to it, because it is an honorable profession, and because if we do our jobs, we can make a definite impact on the lives of children and the world we live in.

I think it's high time the Mulgrew owns what the union is. But he needs to make the case that a strong union is a benefit for children. He has allowed the politicians and hedge fundies to hijack the conversation by conflating the role of the union (protecting teachers) with the role of teachers (educating and advocating for children).

He needs to make the case that when the union is strong, education is strong. When teachers feel respected and safe from unjust evaluations, we are free to do the job we were hired to do. Bright and capable college students will be attracted to teaching, and veterans won't be looking to flee as soon as they are able.

Unions working on behalf of their members helped build this country and its middle class. Instead of fleeing from this basic truth, Mulgrew should embrace it.

Unionism helps teachers help kids. That should be the message.



Thursday, January 22, 2015

Political Theater, Cuomo Style

It's no secret that Andrew Cuomo seeks to crush his political foes. If you run afoul of him, watch out. The Working Families Party buckled under to him, as did the UFT by choosing not to endorse pro-teacher candidate Zephyr Teachout for governor over Andy boy.

Now let's look at recent events. Yesterday, Cuomo pushed the most anti-teacher agenda of any democrat governor in these 50 states. It's well known that he took a lot of campaign money from groups like StudentsFirst and others, then lo and behold, a series of virulent anti-education "reforms" make their way into Andy's SOTS speech.

The very next day, the man who would have stood in the way of Andy paying back his political donors, Sheldon Silver, was arrested by the Feds for corruption. Pretty neat, eh? Quite the coincidence there.

Now let me say here and now that if Silver is actually guilty, he should go to jail. Of course, he is innocent until proven guilty, but this undoubtedly taints his reputation and weakens his power in the Assembly at a time teachers need his support the most.

This is a federal indictment, so it could not have been orchestrated by Cuomo. Well, at least not entirely. But is it beyond the realm of possibility that Andy's fingerprints are all over this?

Remember the Moreland Commission--which Andy created to "fight" corruption in Albany, but which he mysteriously abandoned? Is it possible that the Moreland Commission got the goods on Silver, and then was disbanded before they got too close to the governor's mansion?

I have no proof of this, of course. But the timing seems like the entire thing was staged to discredit Silver at a time when Cuomo was determined to butt heads with him.

Would anyone be surprised if that's what happened? I know I wouldn't.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

NYPD: Being Attacked, Or On The Attack?

Some comments my blog post about how Mulgrew and other municipal union leaders have turned their back on de Blasio got me to thinking. Before I even delve into that, however, there is an important question to be considered:

Should city unions stick together no matter what? My own view is that most of the time, we certainly should. When it comes to raises, seniority, equal treatment, layoffs, and most other reasons for which unions exists, we absolutely need to stick together.

To me, the current situation feels different. It's not about any of those major union issues--the current conflict stems from the fact that most of the NYPD is far more to the right politically than other city unions and would like to take Mayor de Blasio out if they could. Simply put, the NYPD fares better under Republican mayors (as we have seen time and again over the past 20 years) and other municipal unions fare much worse (ditto those 20 years).

Here's what one anonymous commenter, ostensibly a teacher, had to say: The attack on cops is just like the attack on teachers. It is an attack on middle class union jobs. People keep forgetting to mention that the PBA are working without a contract. Lynch is busting his behind to get a decent contract for his members which is something that the UFT has not been able to accomplish since before 2005.

Frankly, I don't see it that way at all. The mayor has not threatened to lay off police, bust the union, privatize policing, or anything of the sort. In fact, the PBA is in binding arbitration, so nothing Lynch does will have an effect on the contract. What the mayor has done is limit the ability of the police to stop and frisk whomever they please--a position supported by the 73% of voters who elected de Blasio knowing one of his major priorities was to sharply curtail that practice.

Another commenter said: There is and has been a war on policing as a profession. New retirement tiers have been created, new massive oversight of Complaint Board, fights to try to get all cops to live in the 5 boroughs, ticket and arrest quotas, and yes, their pensions are also under attack. It is not as bad as the war on teachers but it seems to me that cops are becoming the new punching bags for the hedge funders to get their hands on.

There are several points to be made here. First, the new retirement tiers affect teachers, too, so that's not just an attack on cops. And even more to the point, Bill de Blasio is not the one who instituted the new tiers, so how can he be held accountable? If there's a war here, it was waged by Bloomberg during his 12 years (which the NYPD supported) and Andrew Cuomo.

As far as the complaint board, residency requirements, and quotas, I admit I don't know much about those issues, but I do know that they were not instituted by de Blasio, the man who police are waging war on. Frankly, it reminds me of when we were attacked by Al Qaeda and President Bush decided to wage war on Iraq.

Are the police the new target of hedge funders? I don't know enough to be sure, but I do know how teachers were (and are) being treated when the fundies got the idea of "reforming" education. As I commented: Are they (the police) being put in rubber rooms? Unfairly evaluated? Threatened with layoffs? Having their seniority taken away? Having their pensions questioned? Is someone trying to privatize the police department? Is there a "Cops for America" corps taking jobs?

Those thing are not happening to the NYPD, and I can't see them happening under Bill de Blasio.  However, based on the antics of PBA President Pat Lynch, you can bet that the fundies are just salivating at the idea that they can paint the NYPD as a bunch of out of control armed union crazies, and attack police rights for that reason. Lynch is just playing into their hands. And sadly, the fundies will paint all municipal unions as a bunch of insubordinate louts.

So, to my fellow city workers in the NYPD, here's what I have to say. When it comes to pay, benefits, retirement, job protections, work rules, etc., I am on your side. However, when you try to wage war on de Blasio, the only pro-union mayor we have had in decades, I will not support you. The outrageous antics of your union president give all unions a black eye, and I do not want to see a return to the bad old days when the city was run by those whose main interests were breaking the UFT and other municipal unions.







Monday, January 5, 2015

Mulgrew Turns His Back on the Mayor

How many of you remember the last 20 years when teachers were under the boot of Rudy Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg? I know I do. I could make a very long list of the ways they degraded the teaching profession, but you probably know them all. So my question is:

How many of you want to spend the next 20 years under similar or worse bullies after the next election?

I don't. I hope you don't either.

But that is precisely what is going to happen if PBA hothead and provocateur Pat Lynch  has his way. He has groomed anti-de Blasio sentiment in this city with stunning expertise.

Luckily, I do believe that a backlash is beginning. Many people are not happy that the police disrespected the funeral of Officer Liu by turning their backs on the mayor yet again. And I can't imagine that too many people are thrilled about the de facto police work slowdown.

Speaking of which, while not getting tickets may seem nice, refusing to make arrests is beyond the pale. When someone is inevitably murdered, raped, or robbed because the police refuse to so their jobs, will Pat Lynch have blood on his hands?

And where is Mulgrew in all this? Let's not forget that Mulgrew endorsed Thompson for mayor, not de Blasio. Yet our mayor did not turn his back on teachers. He continued to fight, and still is fighting, against charter schools in this city. He succeeded in establishing universal Pre-K, which may yet turn into the greatest education boost for underprivileged kids this city has seen. He settled a contract with us quickly, which will give us the raises and retro money we deserve. (For the record, I voted against the contract due to the ATR issue, but that is something Mulgrew apparently agreed to.) He put a much more teacher-friendly chancellor in place--and while I do not by any means think Carmen Farina is the best choice, she is light years better than Joel Klein or Cathie Black.

Don't kid yourselves--if Pat Lynch triumphs in his crusade against the mayor, de Blasio will not be succeeded by a teacher-friendly Democrat. His successor would almost certainly be a right wing, pro-charter republican, or worse still, a faux Democrat like....dare I say it?

How does Mayor Moskowitz sit with all you UFT members?

So the question remains--why has Mulgrew turned his back on a mayor who has had his back for the last year?

Mulgrew doesn't have to oppose the PBA to do this. He needs to show his support for de Blasio with public appearances and praise for this mayor. He needs photo ops shaking the mayor's hand, and a new initiative or two that will help change the perception that the mayor has lost union support. And make no mistake, that is the public perception, because not a single union chief has come out in support of this mayor since Pat Lynch seized control of the narrative.


If he keeps turning his back on this mayor, he may turn around in three years to see Eva Moskowitz staring him in the face.