Monthly Archives: June 2016

Paying Teachers More

You hear it all the time: you get what you pay for.

rbrb_2779The Curmudgeon has written about this before: underpaid teachers, especially in Philadelphia, where there’s an acute shortage of teachers and the school district is in the midst of planning its most extensive summer school program in years, in large part to serve students who’ve essentially wasted a year in school because the school year’s almost over and they never had a full-time, certified teacher in their classroom.

Why no teachers? Because other school districts pay more.

As it turns out, teachers need to eat, too.

And not just in Philadelphia, it’s especially hard both to get good teachers and to get those teachers to agree to teach where their skills are needed most.

If you owned a business and needed someone with special skills, you’d create a position and offer the kind of salary commensurate with the skills you need, a salary that would attract applicants and give you an opportunity to find the right person to meet your needs.

Now, a school district in Florida is considering doing exactly that.

Officials of the Pinellas County school district are proposing to increase salaries $20,000 to $25,000 a year for teachers at five specific, struggling elementary schools. If the proposal is adopted, teachers will have to interview for the positions and school officials will pick the best of the applicants for the job.

And they hope to get what they’re paying for: the best teachers.

We talk a lot about running government more like a business. Well, this proposal would do exactly that. You want teachers? Pay enough to attract people to the teaching profession. You want the best teachers? Find them and pay them more.

A Place Where Knowing Nothing Is Never an Obstacle to Having An Opinion

Even if you’re not a sports fan (and relax, those of you who aren’t: this isn’t really about sports) you may be aware, on some level, of the football and basketball drafts. These are major events, televised and everything, during which the professional sports teams take turns “drafting” players out of college to join their teams. Why this is permitted The Curmudgeon will never understand – a subject for another day, but shouldn’t these young men be free to choose their own employers, just like the rest of us? – but it is permitted and it’s a very big deal.

Rabid sports fans and even ordinary sports fans and those who write about and report on those sports talk about these drafts for months before they are held. The fans are so involved because with so many college football and basketball games on television they are often quite familiar with many of the young men who are available to be drafted. There are web sites devoted to the drafts, magazines devoted to the drafts, lists of the best players available in the drafts, even mock drafts in which people thought to have some expertise in such matters attempt to predict what teams will select which players. Through all of these activities, fans evaluate their favorite teams’ strengths and weaknesses, cross-index them with the young men available for hire, and spend endless hours discussing and debating whom their team should choose.

And then, when the draft is over, discussing and critiquing their teams’ selections.

A lot.

For a long time.

The baseball draft, though, is very different.

baseballIn baseball, players are drafted out of both high school and college; in fact, more are drafted directly out of high school, when they are 18 years old, than are drafted out of college. There’s no nationally televised high school baseball and very little televised college baseball, so everything the fans know about the young men is based on what they have read in newspapers and magazines and online.

Which ultimately, The Curmudgeon has observed, makes no difference in fans’ propensity for judging their favorite teams’ selections in the hours and days after a draft.

You learn this, of course, by going where you should NEVER go: to the comments section at the end of articles about the draft on various web sites.

The Curmudgeon certainly knows better – but he did it anyway. It’s sort of like that sore in your mouth that, no matter how hard you try, you absolutely cannot stop your tongue from probing.

A few weeks ago The Curmudgeon’s baseball team, his Philadelphia Phillies, had the very first choice in the entire draft ­– a distinction they earned by being the absolute worst team in baseball – and while most readers expressed hope for the future of the young man their team selected and wished him well, others were… not quite so positive.

This is a HORRIBLE pick. The lifeless Phillies need help now or by ’17 or ’18, not 2020 as experts predict. This kid is an unproven commodity, underweight and only recently developed as a “flash in the pan hitter.” For the life of me I can’t understand why the Phils didn’t pick a solid College prospect who only needs 2 years or less to make it to the bigs and produce.

 I’m not an expert on this draft, but the Reds selecting Teneessee’s 3B Nick Senzel, as the second pick would seem to have been a better pick for the lackluster hitting Phillies.

 How the Fk could this happen?

 Philly picks another dud–Boston another stud. Im moving.

 Six of the first twelve picks were pitchers and the Phillies go for a player (CF)not known for power or speed — incredible esp. on team that needs a heavy hitter for the future since this kid won’t make it to the majors for at least three years.

 I hope he works out but frankly I was shocked they went for hitting, and the wrong kind of hitting IMNSHO. nuff said.

 Another wasted pick

 Thought they’d take Kyle Lewis don’t know why not.

One question. Why did they pick the 5th best prospect in this draft.

seems really risky to take such a young kid-I would have thought a 2-3 year older college kid would make more sense.

Another high school kid who won’t pan out.  Haven’t we been down this road before?

To be fair, more people liked the choice than didn’t, but in the end, The Curmudgeon has the same observation about all of them:

They are expressing opinions about the skills of players they have never, ever seen actually play. Not a single one of the fans commenting on any of these players has ever seen ANY of them play.

And The Curmudgeon finds that absolutely amazing: these people never miss an opportunity to go out of their way to express an opinion, even about something about which they know absolutely, positively nothing.

Of course, as a blogger, The Curmudgeon could be considered guilty of the same offense.

But that hardly seems like the same thing, does it?

Slow and Steady Wins the Race?

That must be the philosophy of Weis Markets, a regional supermarket chain with 163 stores in Pennsylvania, Maryland, New York, New Jersey, and West Virginia.

Born free, as free as the wind blows, as free as the grass grows...

Born free, as free as the wind blows, as free as the grass grows…

Weis recently announced that it was jumping aboard the cage-free egg bandwagon: that it was only going to sell cage-free eggs.

Well, maybe the folks at Weis only managed to get one foot on that bandwagon because they announced that all the eggs they sell will be cage-free.

By 2025.

The Curmudgeon will give them one thing: it took enormous cojones to go public with such a preposterous announcement.

Enormous cojones to complement small brains and even smaller ambitions.

When it Comes to Corruption, Some Politicians Just Don’t Get It

Last week, Philadelphia congressman Chaka Fattah was convicted of all 23 counts of public corruption (bribery, money-laundering, racketeering, fraud, and other things worthy of a Tony Soprano) with which he was charged. Fattah was in the midst of his 21st year as a member of Congress and before that he spent 11 years in Pennsylvania’s state legislature.

Once Fattah got elected to office he barely faced any opposition, routinely receiving roughly 90 percent of the votes in his re-election bids. More than anything else, he was known for his ability to bring home the bacon: he was responsible, and made the world know he was responsible, for bringing millions of dollars in federal money to his district, mostly for various private sector education programs run by community non-profit organizations.

Maybe he can share a cell with his son.

Maybe he can share a cell with his son.

What the people who voted for Fattah didn’t know was that he was taking a little off the top of those federal grants. The money went to a wide range of local, tax-exempt non-profit groups and they routinely funneled some of the money back to the congressman.

Sort of like a commission.

Corruption in public office is nothing new in this country, and as much as we hate to admit it, we’ll never entirely get rid of it. That should come as no surprise: no matter what the area of endeavor there will always be bad people who steal and cheat and there’s no inherent reason we should expect public officials to be any different.

But that doesn’t mean other public officials should be casual or indifferent when one of their peers gets caught with his hand in the cookie jar.

That’s why The Curmudgeon is appalled not only by the confirmation of Fattah’s corruption – he’d heard about this second-hand years ago from someone he considers a reliable source – but also by the reaction of other some public figures to the congressman’s conviction.

Philadelphia mayor Jim Kenney, not exactly a favorite of The Curmudgeon, said the right words: “The jury spoke, and the criminal justice process went forward.” Even so, he wouldn’t say that Fattah should resign immediately. You have to wonder why.

Another disappointing, although hardly surprising reaction, came from a man named Bob Brady, himself a nine-term Philadelphia congressman who also has been chairman of the Democratic Party in the city for the past 30 years. Brady told the Philadelphia Inquirer that

I’ve known him 30 years. He’s done an awful lot of good for the city of Philadelphia, for the region, and for the United States. It’s a shame to have something like this happen.

A congressman who acts like a fellow congressman stealing money is something that just sort of happened on its own.

A congressman who acts like a fellow congressman stealing money is something that just sort of happened on its own.

Think about that statement for a moment: “It’s a shame to have something like this happens” – as if Fattah got hit by a bus or something else happened over which the poor guy had no control. It was nothing like that: the guy put his hand in the money drawer time after time after time, stealing money not only from the government but also from the organizations and causes for which it was intended. “It’s a shame to have something like this happen”? No, it’s a shame an elected official has such a warped view of what just happened.

Another disappointing reaction came from a former public official named Tom Massaro, someone The Curmudgeon has long respected and who once hired a young Fattah and was viewed as his mentor. Massaro told the Inquirer

A jury verdict that disdains that [public service] – well, it’s a 1 percent contravention to the other 99 percent.

As if all the good Fattah may have done justifies stealing public money or should be given consideration in weighing his guilt. The guy stole: he’s a thief. Did he do good things? Perhaps. But is he ultimately a thief? Abso-freaking-lutely.

The manner in which public figures just shrug off this kind of corruption is appalling. It speaks poorly of them and poorly of those of us who return these people to office. They seem to view such behavior as just one of the perks of the job and are more sad to see their friends get caught than they are outraged that their friends did something terribly wrong.

Knowing that it was wrong from doing an end-run around the State Department's email system wasn't enough to stop her from doing it.

Knowing that it was wrong to do an end-run around the State Department’s email system wasn’t enough to stop her from doing it anyway.

We see this all the time. Consider, for example, Hillary Clinton and this email business. Did she do something illegal? Probably not. Did she do something she knew was wrong? Of course she did. But after years and years and years as a public official and the wife of a public official she’s come to feel that the rules that apply to everyone else just don’t apply to her; that clearly runs in the family.

Republicans still like to complain about the 47 percent and a lot of working-class people like to complain about the sense of entitlement low-income people sometimes exhibit but some politicians can be the same way: they think that holding public office somehow entitles them to behave in ways that are outside the social and legal norms that govern the rest of us.

The Curmudgeon’s glad Fattah got caught and will pay for his crimes. Still, he worries that public officials who don’t think he did anything so wrong, or who think the law treated him too harshly because Fattah also did some good things in office, may see their own conduct through a similar lens and could be just an ambitious prosecutor away from a similar fate.

And for those of us who stubbornly insist on playing by the rules, that’s discouraging and disheartening.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If It’s True, This is One Woman Who Can REALLY Keep a Secret

adeleObservers were left scratching their heads and wondering what in the world they should be thinking after the singer Adele told a critic recently that he should “suck my dick.”

Um, Adele, is there something you’d like to share with us?

Bad Nutrition Education

“There are no good foods or bad foods.”

You know that’s not true and The Curmudgeon knows that’s not true but 28 million American elementary school children have been taught by a health curriculum called “Energy Balance 101” that there are no good foods or bad foods.

Who’s behind this curriculum?

According to Mother Jones, one of The Curmudgeon’s favorite magazines,

This approach isn’t surprising when you consider the source. The class is part of “Together Counts,” an educational campaign promoting energy balance that is wholly funded by a group called the Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation—which is in turn run and bankrolled by junk food corporations. Indra Nooyi, CEO of PepsiCo, is the chair of the board, and directors include the CEOs of Kellogg, Hershey, Nestle USA, Coca-Cola, Unilever, Smucker, and General Mills.

And this group, with purely charitable motives, has developed similar curricula for the Girl Scouts and the Head Start Association.

According to the people who make drinks like these, they're part of a well-balanced and healthy diet.

According to the people who make drinks like these, they’re part of a well-balanced and healthy diet.

And it’s not alone. As Mother Jones reports,

Earlier this year, Coca-Cola came under scrutiny after the New York Times revealed that the company had provided $1.5 million in seed funding to start the Global Energy Balance Network, a think tank that downplays the role of sodas in causing the obesity epidemic.

And some of the major fast food chains agree.

McDonald’s, meanwhile, has marketed energy balance for years; in 2005, with the rollout of a new jingle (“It’s what I eat and what I do…I’m lovin’ it”) former CEO Jim Skinner said, “One of the best things we can do is communicate the importance of energy balance in an engaging and simple way.” In the most recent corporate social-responsibility report of Yum! Brands, which is the parent of Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, and KFC, nutrition officer Jonathan Blum says, “We believe that all of our food can be part of a balanced lifestyle if eaten in moderation and balanced with exercise.”

The Curmudgeon’s not going to tell you he doesn’t eat food that’s bad for him. That would be dishonest, and any look at him from the side would be all the proof you need that he does. But when he eats something that’s bad for him he knows that it’s bad for him, knows that getting some exercise may help with weight issues but does nothing for the damage he does to his heart and liver, for example, when he does.

But now, millions of school kids are intentionally being misled about this. Their teachers, people they respect, are telling them it’s just fine to chow down on all the junk food they want so long as they play a little jump rope or basketball after school.

Which is utter nonsense. Do you have any idea how much exercise it takes to work off some of the more offensive foods?

She's been running for one minute. 90 more minutes of jogging and she will have successfully burned off a single cup of Kraft macaroni and cheese.

She’s been running for one minute. 90 more minutes of jogging and she will have successfully burned off a single cup of Kraft macaroni and cheese.

Try 91 minutes of jogging for a child to work off a single cup of Kraft macaroni and cheese.

Or 150 minutes of jogging to work off five KFC chicken tenders.

Or 240 minutes – four hours! – of jogging to work off a McDonald’s chicken mcnuggets value meal.

The problem, though, isn’t with the people who pay for the development of these damaging nutrition education programs. In a warped way that should only (but probably doesn’t) prevent them from looking themselves in the mirror at night, they’re just doing their jobs.

And the problem isn’t even with the people who use their medical credentials to advance such hogwash, although someone should look into revoking those credentials.

No, the real villains here are the school board members and school superintendents who swallow this nonsense like it’s a Big Mac, a 32-ounce Coke, a pint of Ben & Jerry’s, and a cream donut, put this grotesque misinformation in their curriculum, and tell the young and impressionable minds they’re responsible for molding that there’s nothing wrong with eating such crap as long as they play a little dodge ball.

Which makes these “educators” incompetent – and dangerous to the young people they’re supposed to be educating.

NRA Supports Assault Rifles for Terror Suspects

That’s right.

The NRA vigorously opposed a bill that would deny individuals on the “no-fly list” the right to purchase assault rifles like the one that killed 49 people and injured 53 more in Orlando last week.

The NRA thinks that’s a bad idea, that individuals suspected of terrorist leanings should have the same right to such weapons as everyone else.

And you know what’s worse?

The U.S. Congress agrees.

When Free Speech is Inconvenient for Some…

…some will try to limit free speech.

And in this case, “some” is an elected official in Philadelphia.

After a raucous community organization meeting that degenerated into name-calling, Philadelphia city councilman Kenyatta Johnson has a plan to stop such things from happening in the future.

He calls them “standards of conduct.

The Curmudgeon calls it “limiting free speech.”

Councilman Johnson has proposed creating new standards of conduct/limits on free speech for “registered” community organizations. He proposed legislation to do this, although he either knows better than to try writing those standards himself or is too clueless to have any idea how to begin. Instead, he punted responsibility for limiting his constituents’ first amendment rights to the city’s planning commission, which is staffed by people who are experts in urban design, zoning codes, transportation infrastructure, economic development, and other such things but in no way qualified to figure out a way to circumvent the first amendment.

Who is – Vladimir Putin?

The birthplace of the constitution is having second thoughts about the first amendment .

The birthplace of the constitution is having second thoughts about the first amendment.

It’s a terrible idea. And limiting raucous speech is certainly something new for councilman Johnson, who stood silently with the other 16 members of Philadelphia’s city council three years ago while city employees, unhappy with the lack of progress in their contract negotiations with the city, booed Philadelphia’s mayor off the podium when he tried to deliver his annual budget address. No, Johnson had no problem with that kind of raucous speech, never tried to extend to the mayor the courtesy of an opportunity to speak his piece or to urge the president of city council, who presided over the proceedings, to do so but has suddenly seen the light and decided that he’s on a mission to civilize.

You civilize by treating people with respect and talking to them about treating others with the same respect they themselves believe they deserve. You civilize by demonstrating the behavior, by modeling the behavior, as they say these days, that you seek to inspire in others.

You don’t civilize by putting a muzzle on people. It’s worse than unconstitutional; it’s just plain wrong.

Political Bait and Switch

Jim Kenney was elected mayor of Philadelphia last November and took office in January. The Curmudgeon has a particularly low opinion of Mr. Kenney and has expressed this on several occasions in this space (including here, here, here, and here).

Alas, Kenney is living down to The Curmudgeon’s expectations.

The “living down” part actually began with an encouraging development: Kenney proposed spending $80 million so the city could provide universal pre-K education and so he could transform some of the city’s public schools into more community-oriented institutions, complete with family services such as health care, counseling, child care, after-school programs and more.

So far, so good, right?

Although he served for 23 years on Philadelphia’s city council, Kenney apparently didn’t think there was any fat at all in the city’s budget, so he decided he needed to raise the $80 million through new tax revenue – and not an ordinary increase in any existing city taxes, either, but through the creation of a new tax: on “sugary drinks.” The Curmudgeon shared his thoughts about that idea here.

It was a cagey political gambit: instead of just an ordinary tax increase, Kenney was proposing a special tax for a god/country/apple pie kind of purpose. It was hard to say no to “Let’s do it for the kids.”

A lot of people wanted to say no, of course, including those in the soft drink industry, which would bear the brunt of the tax increase, as well as convenience store owners, restaurant owners, and people who drink a lot of sugar-filled soft drinks. It was a new kind of sin tax, but still similar to the surcharges government imposes on people to smoke and drink alcohol (although the idea that sugar is “sinful” is ridiculous).

The public campaign was built around this premise: a three cents per ounce tax on sugary beverages, with the proceeds to go for full-day pre-K education and turning public schools into more community-oriented facilities. While the campaign to support this was geared toward the public, the public had no voice in the matter: it was the public’s elected members of city council who would make the call. The purpose of the campaign was to generate public support to encourage members of the city council to vote for the tax. The soda industry launched an aggressive campaign in opposition, often making it look as if it was joined by small convenience store and restaurant owners. Of course the soda people paid the freight – a reported $5 million – but still, there was organized and forceful opposition.

For a while the mayor’s proposal looked like it was in trouble, especially when the president of city council, who is waaaaay smarter than the mayor, expressed his opposition. Still, the idea of taxing something bad for people to do something good for people exerted a powerful pull on a lot of folks and eventually, the city council came around and passed the new tax.

And then the public learned what really happened.

The opposition to the size of the tax proved effective: the tax rate, three cents per ounce, was cut in half.

So how to make up for the lost revenue? Simple: tax diet beverages as well.

Whoa, Nelly: that wasn’t at all part of the public discourse during the months the proposal was discussed and debated.

So what happened? How did the tax change from one that penalized the use of something thought to be harmful to a tax that just raised money through beverage sales regardless of whether the beverage in question is considered harmful?

Through an old sales tactic known as “bait and switch,” that’s how.

But there’s more: that was by no means the end of the baiting and switching.

It turns out that the new tax that was supposed to be solely for the school improvements isn’t actually solely for school improvements after all: 20 percent of the new money will go into the city’s general fund, with all of the rest of the local tax revenue and be spent on ordinary, everyday city government things like the local community college, juvenile offender programs, and city employee benefits.

Another bait and switch.

It’s not right. Regardless of whether you were for or against the tax, the mayor made it clear how the tax money was to be spent and why he chose to tax sugary beverages. In the end, though, it wasn’t about healthy or non-healthy, it was about getting the money.

And then at the eleventh hour he informed Philadelphians that he wasn’t going get the money the way he explained he was getting it and wasn’t going to spend the money the way he said was going to spend it. His entire campaign for the tax, a campaign designed to encourage taxpayers to encourage their members of city council to support it, was built on a gigantic and intentional, with malice aforethought, fabrication.

Kenney is the perpetrator of a huge political bait and switch.

In other words, he is a liar.

Gun Week, Part 8: The Republicans Got it All Wrong

(During our time together The Curmudgeon has written occasionally, but not too often, about guns and the havoc they are wreaking on our society. In light of last weekend’s events in Orlando he is devoting this week to the issue of guns. A few of the pieces are new and others are from the past – in one case, only two weeks ago.)

 *       *       *

Again.

But for once, that’s unfortunate – because The Curmudgeon wishes they had gotten it right.

When Barack Obama was elected in 2008, Republicans and conservatives made a mad rush for gun stores because their leaders, loons like Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin, with no basis for their assertions other than their own delusional thinking, told them that “Obama is coming for your guns.” Check it out: gun sales skyrocketed between the time Obama was elected in November of 2008 and when he took office in late January of 2009 and they have remained at record levels ever since.

The truth is that Obama has been gun owners’ best friend in office. Except for a brief flurry of activity in the wake of the Sandy Hook mass murder, he’s been pretty quiet on the subject. The Curmudgeon was going to do a little research to dig up some facts and figures to support this argument but then recalled that this had already been done for him on an episode of the HBO series The Newsroom. In three minutes the show summed up the case, and you can see it here.

Last week, of course, we had a new tragedy when a racist – does it even matter that he was a racist? – opened fire on people in a church in Charleston, South Carolina, killing nine black people. The president was outraged – well, as outraged as Barack Obama ever allows himself to be seen in public.

The following is an account of the president’s remarks last Friday from the publication Business Insider.

President Barack Obama on Friday renewed a push for measures to curb gun violence, in the wake of a deadly shooting in a historically African-American church in South Carolina.

 “I refuse to act as if this is the new normal, or to pretend that it’s simply sufficient to grieve, and that any mention of us doing something to stop is somehow politicizing the problem,” Obama said Friday during remarks at the US Conference of Mayors in San Francisco.

 “We need a change in attitudes among everybody — lawful gun owners, those who are unfamiliar with guns. We have to have a conversation about it and fix this.”

 Dylann Roof, the 21-year-old alleged shooter in the church shooting that left nine people dead Wednesday night, was arrested on Thursday and appeared at a bond hearing on Friday.

The Department of Justice said Friday that it is investigating the incident as a possible act of domestic terrorism.

 Obama spoke from the White House on Thursday, where he mourned the victims and lamented the fact that it was the 14th time he has addressed the nation after a mass shooting during his presidency. He said Thursday that it was another instance of someone who “wanted to inflict harm” having “no trouble getting their hands on a gun.”

On Friday, he said simply grieving for the families is not enough and urged action. He chided Congress for not passing new legislation in the wake of the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, which left 20 children and six others dead. The Senate in 2013 filibustered the most broadly popular measure unveiled in the wake of the Sandy Hook shooting — legislation that would have expanded background checks.

 “If Congress had passed some common-sense gun safety reforms after Newtown, after a group of children had been gunned down in their own classroom — reforms that 90 percent of the American people supported — we wouldn’t have prevented every act of violence, or even most,” Obama said. “We don’t know if it would have prevented what happened in Charleston. No reform can guarantee the elimination of violence. But we might still have some more Americans with us. We might have stopped one shooter. Some families might still be whole.  You all might have to attend fewer funerals.

 “And we should be strong enough to acknowledge this. At the very least, we should be able to talk about this issue as citizens, without demonizing all gun owners who are overwhelmingly law-abiding, but also without suggesting that any debate about this involves a wild-eyed plot to take everybody’s guns away.”

Obama said he thinks Congress will eventually “do the right thing,” despite comments on Thursday that some observers took as “resignation” to the dim political prospects for new gun regulations.

 “I want to be clear — I am not resigned. I have faith we will eventually do the right thing,” he said. “I was simply making the point that we have to move public opinion. We have to feel a sense of urgency.” 

But he didn’t say he was going to do anything more than talk about it because, even though he’s kinda/sorta outraged, it appears he’s still not outraged enough to act.

In hindsight, the Republicans had absolutely nothing to worry about because on gun issues, the guy’s all talk and no action.