Friday, February 25, 2011

The Final Death of the 20th Century

The last few weeks have been among the most exciting and promising in recent memory.

People all over the middle east are rising up against the tyrants who have lorded over them for decades.

Even Colonel Gaddafi -- a brutal dictator, who has been in power for 42 years -- is fighting for his survival. This should tell us all that something very big is happening in the world.

The turmoil isn't just occurring in the middle east.

Beleaguered taxpayers in Europe and America have staged their own revolutions as well -- booting out fiscally irresponsible politicians who have run up their public debt and torpedoed their economies.

In America, the Tea Party movement helped spur an electoral revolution that saw the largest GOP gains in the Congress in more than a generation.

Expectedly, the forces of reaction are waging a bitter fight against change.

Government bureaucrats and others who live off of tax money have staged violent protests in Greece, France, and the U.K.

In the U.S., the teacher's unions are mounting an all out effort to hold on to the unchecked power that they have over our wallets and our children.

America has among the worst public schools in the developed world. Last year we were 25th out of 34th in math and science. People across the political spectrum understand that we need fundamental reform in education. Over the last three decades, every proposal by both Democrats and Republicans to fix the public schools have been met by bitter opposition from the NEA and other government employee's unions. The NEA has been successful in blocking any and all change.

Today, the NEA is fighting for it's very survival.

The more I look at what's going on around the world, the more I am convinced that we are witnessing the final death of the 20th century and the concept of the all powerful state that it spawned.

People from Tea Party members in America to lowly peasants in Libya are standing up and saying: we've had enough, NO MORE.

It's a great time to be alive to witness this monumental struggle for freedom against the state.

The sad part is that America may very well lag in this revolution because our vested interests are the most powerful vested interests on earth. It's going to take more than one election to push them aside.

Let's hope that our resolve remains strong and that we remain focused, so that America remains the leading beacon of freedom in the world.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Fundamental Difference Between Private and Public Unions

I grew up in Detroit. I make a huge distinction between industrial worker unions like the UAW and Teamsters on the one hand and government bureaucrats unions like the NEA on the other hand.

The NEA funnels compulsory union dues into political campaigns to essentially elect their own bosses. The politicians who benefit from this refuse to make any changes whatsoever in the horrible school systems no matter how bad they get.

Milwaukee teachers earn on average for $100,000 a year in salary and benefits. What do we get for it? 32% of kids in Milwaukee never graduate high school. Many of those who do "graduate" are functional illiterates who can't read, write, or perform simple arithmetic.

American cannot remain a prosperous country with our awful school system. This has to change. It will never change as long as the NEA and AFSCME own the Democrat Party.

FDR himself was against government workers unionizing. He was right.

Common Thread to Middle East Protests: Young, Connected Populations

There have been a lot of uninformed commentaries on the cause of the various uprisings in the Middle East, especially among the neo-cons who have become hysterical about a plot by the Muslim Brotherhood to take over the Middle East and then the world.

The fact is that the situations in the countries experiencing protests in the middle east are all very different.

1.) Tunisia is a relatively wealthy country. The protests there are very similar to what happened in Chile and many Southeast Asian countries in the 80s and 90s -- people who got some amount of economic freedom finally demanded political freedom as well.

2.) Egypt is very poor and corrupt. Young people decided not to take it any more. Sure, the Muslim Brotherhood was involved in the protests, but they didn't start it or lead it. In the end, I suspect that Egypt's military will behave a lot like Turkey's military and not allow a theocratic state to emerge in there.

3.) Bahrain is also a wealthy country. It has a population that is 2/3rds Shiite being ruled by a Sunni minority. The Shiites see a fundamental unfairness and have finally have decided to do something about it.

4.) Iran is run by religious tyrants. The young people don't like it. Prior to America invading Iraq, the young people in Iran were electing reformist governments. The Iraq war enabled the clerics to whip up mistrust of America in Iran, warning that we were secretly plotting to install the Shah's son as ruler. Those type of scare tactics are no longer working.

The common thread running across all of these countries is that their populations are very young. They are restless. They are also on social media like Facebook and Twitter. So they understand more about the outside world than ever before.

Having direct contact with free people in North America and Europe is a catalyst for all of this discontent.

The neo-cons have it exactly wrong. The young people in the middle east don’t hate our freedom. They envy it. They see the freedom that we have and it causes them to be furious with their own governments for denying it to them. This is a good thing.

This is why cutting off trade and restricting travel is exactly the wrong policy when dealing with tyrants. We need to encourage more contact between Westerners and the oppressed peoples of the world. Yes, this even includes Cuba. Once they see what we have, they won’t stay silent any longer.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Milwaukee Teachers Earn Over $100,000 a Year

The Wisconsin teacher strike has ignited another debate about America's supposedly underpaid teachers.

Let's talk reality here.

According to the MacIver Institute total teacher compensation in Milwaukee is $100,005 a year. Salaries average $56,500 and benefits are $43,505. It's a strange salary to benefit ratio, but unions have been pushing benefits over salaries for decades. It was their choice to do this.

Teachers work less than 37 weeks a year. They get 10 weeks off in the summer, 1 week at Christmas, 1 week for mid-winter break, 1 week for spring break, and 11 holidays. The leaves 1472 hours for work. $100,005 / 1472 hours is $68 an hour.

Over the last couple of years, I ran a little consulting firm. When I needed people, I brought them in as 1099 subcontractors at a straight hourly rate. No benefits whatsoever. Over the last two years, the average hourly rate I've paid is $65. That's less than the Milwaukee teachers make.

There are three important differences as well:

First, I live on the west coast, where the cost of living is much higher that it is in Wisconsin. Computer programmer rates are much lower in the Midwest than they are in Seattle. The average teacher in Wisconsin makes significantly more per hour than the average contract programmer.

Second, I hire people who have quantitative college degrees, like Computer Science where they go through 4 semesters of calculus, linear algebra, and statistics. I don't hire people who have worthless teaching certificates or degrees in "Phys Ed".

Third, if the people I employ don't do a great job, my customers won't pay me. They certainly won't bring me back to do more work. On the other hand, teachers get "tenure", which makes it impossible to terminate them no matter how screwed up their product (your kids) become.

The sad fact is that America's poorly performing public school system has little to do with lack of funding or poor teacher compensation. The schools don't perform because the unions care more about their own power than they care about our kids. That's the bottom line.

Friday, February 18, 2011

MSNBC: Wisconsin Teachers Out to Lunch

This morning on the MSNBC show Jansing & Company, they showed an interesting graph on the real financial situation with the teachers in Wisconsin.

According to MSNBC:

- The average single private sector employee pays 18% of the cost of his/her healthcare insurance.

- The average married private sector employee pays 29% of the cost of healthcare insurance for themselves and their family.

- In Wisconsin, teachers only pay 6% of the cost of their healthcare insurance.

Wisconsin has a budget deficit of $3.5 billion. They are constitutionally mandated to balance their budget. To help balance the budget, Governor Walker has proposed to increase the amount teachers contribute to their health insurance premiums from 6% to 12% of the cost. This is still far lower than people in the private sector pay. The teachers's union response? Close the schools, stop educating our kids, and run around carrying signs that equate Governor Walker to Hitler.

The underlying story is that America has among the most under-performing public school systems in the developed world. Last year, American students ranked 25th out of 34 developed countries in Math and Science. American was right in the middle on language skills. It's not a great performance for the students of the greatest country on earth.

Money isn't the problem. America spends more money on education per student than every other country except Switzerland.

Wisconsin teachers earn on average $89,000 a year in salary and benefits. They work less than 9 months of the year. That's $10,000 a month, equivalent to $120,000 a year if they worked full time like the rest of us. That's a fair chunk of change. Quite frankly, great teachers should probably make more than this. That's how to attract great teachers. We need to attract more great teachers. However, we also need to terminate bad teachers. Bad teachers are rarely terminated. Why?

The problem is that the NEA owns the Democrat Party. The NEA uses forced union dues to support Democrat politicians who reciprocate by blocking merit pay for great teachers, Charter Schools (which was the idea of courageous Democrat politicians), and school choice. Of course, any notion that a Principal could terminate a lousy teacher who is destroying your child's future is just not even open for discussion by the NEA and their Democrat protectors.

The McKinsey Global Institute just released a study which showed that America's public sector and especially America's public schools are the among the most unproductive in the developed world. They are also the most resistant to change. McKinsey also faults the U.S. government for creating the most burdensome regulatory climate in the world; not doing it's job in providing a healthy infrastructure that meets our needs; and ignoring our growing energy challenges.

What did The Economist say about McKinsey's conclusions? "Alas, a country which is so good at business is pretty bad at government".

That about sums it up.

This is our challenge.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Every American Should be Proud of the Egyptians

The brave Egyptian protesters are in day 16 of their protest against the dictator Mubarak. Mubarak refuses to leave. The Egypt military is starting to make veiled threats against the protesters. Yet, the protests continue.

Every American should be proud of the civil disobedience the Egyptians are displaying. After all, Americans pretty much invented civil disobedience. Sorry President Obama, it wasn't Gandhi. Gandhi was a big fan of Henry David Thoreau.

Unfortunately, there is a segment in American society that is alarmed by the protests in Egypt. It's a segment of the population that I have a great affinity with and respect for -- conservatives.

One has to wonder how "conservatives", who champion American values, came to be alarmed by and even oppose the Egyptian's desire to be free of tyranny.

It all started with the Cold War. It continues with the desire of some "conservative" politicians (the neo-cons) to remain relevant by exploiting the fears of Americans, rather than exploiting our ideals.

During the Cold War, America faced an organized, ideological enemy (Communism) that enslaved half of the world and had tens of thousands of nuclear weapons pointed at us. America did what it took to fight this tyranny. One thing America did was prop up anti-Communist dictators -- some of whom were pretty nasty at home. American did what we had to do for the future of world. I supported it 100% and I won't apologize for it.

However, after the Cold War ended the U.S. government stopped propping up dictators in Latin America and Asia. Most countries in Latin America and Asia have progressed to market economies and pluralistic political systems.

Unfortunately, the U.S. government did not stop propping up dictators in the Middle East.

Who flew the Airplanes into the Word Trade Center? Hondurans? Chileans? Filipinos? South Koreans? NO. It was people who lived in oppressive regimes in Egypt and Saudi Arabia, that are supported either financially or militarily by the U.S. government.

Today, Tunisians and Egyptians are clamoring to be free. Others are likely to follow.

Americans should be cheering. Unfortunately, many "conservative" politician are sounding the alarm bells instead.


The GOP coalition is much more ideologically diverse than the Democrat Party. The only thing that held the GOP coalition together was anti-communism. After the Cold War ended, parts of the GOP coalition including libertarians like Ron Paul and paelo-cons like Pat Buchanan started questioning our expensive military commitments abroad.

This alarmed the "neo-cons", so they started looking for a new enemy. For a while during the 1990s, they were beating the drums against "Red" China, which in many ways is more capitalist than the U.S.

9/11 saved the GOP coalition for while. But 9/11 is not the hot topic for Americans today. So the neo-cons are reaching for new solutions. Some are starting to beat the drums against China again. Others are warning of an imminent threat that radical Muslim regimes will pop up all over the middle east. But Egypt is not Iran. There isn't an exiled Ayatollah waiting to take over. The most respected institution in Egypt is the pro-Western military.

I love my country. I often call myself a "conservative". But American conservatives who oppose the demonstrators in Egypt are on the wrong side of history.