The Politics of Weather Prediction

A certain Republican Senator from Oklahoma who shall remain nameless was once quoted as suggesting that the US should withdraw from the World Meteorological Organization and stop providing its weather data to competing nations like China. A professor of mine from Stony Brook was in a large group of scientists called down to Capital Hill to discuss the upcoming Kyoto Summit on Climate Change back in 1998 when these remarks were uttered in frustration (this particular Senator was angry because China – now the world’s largest consumer of fossil fuels – had pointed the finger at the US for being the leading source of global warming and wagged their finger at us for not participating in Kyoto while they themselves had no intentions of complying with emission reduction standards either) and remembers chuckling at the Senator’s ignorance of the importance of WMO data to scientific research. Of course, the Senator was not ignorant – he was just venting – but many are quick to assume that if you wear an R on your lapel, you’ve got the scientific knowledge of a three year old.

I will have other comments about climate science in future articles – this, however, is not a global warming rant. That story is presented to give you an indication of the unfriendly relationship between our government and the scientists in charge of weather data and information. This is a rant about the intrusion of politics into the science of short term weather prediction. Today, there is a fairly strong tropical cyclone sitting off the Florida coast heading North toward the Carolinas. Like dozens of tropical storms in the historical record (which now dates back to 1861 with the application of some clever reconstructions of ship reports and surface analyses hand drawn by members of the old-time US Weather Bureau), Tropical Storm Nicole is not an ideal case. Most of the thunderstorms with it are well east of the surface low pressure system and it is interacting with a coastal front (currently producing HUGE rainfalls in the Appalachians). In fact, yesterday at this time, it looked very much like it does now (this is being written Thursday afternoon, September 30th)…a ragged surface circulation, a much better defined mid-level circulation (several thousand feet above our heads) and a lot of thunderstorms to its east. Yesterday it was a named storm and Tropical Storm Warnings were posted for South Florida and most of Cuba. Today, the National Hurricane Center has no interest in the storm because yesterday evening, they declared that the storm had “dissipated.”

I would like for someone to explain to me exactly how a storm that hasn’t changed at all in satellite appearance, potential impacts on the US coast line, and overall intensity has “dissipated?” In meteorological terms, dissipation implies that the storm can no longer be tracked…this is clearly not the case here. Nor is it the case that the system no longer meets the criteria of a tropical cyclone. There are three scientifically accepted methods for determining whether a storm is tropical or extratropical (the central criteria for a tropical cyclone are that it must be warmer aloft over the circulation than around it, it must have a complete surface low pressure system that surrounds it in all directions, and it must be born over waters that are warm enough to support development on their own with no influence from the mid-latitude storm track). Those criteria are the Dvorak intensity estimates from satellite observations (which currently classify this storm as a 50 mph tropical cyclone), Dr. Bob Hart’s Cyclone Phase Analysis project (you can see that analysis here if you care about the details of this storm), which tries to get a mathematical measure of a storm’s directional symmetry and of the temperature of its’ core, and hurricane hunter aircraft measurements (which the NHC has refused to commission today, saying the area is of no interest). No objective criteria calls this a non-entity.

I’ll tell you exactly why this storm was downgraded. If they did not discontinue tracking Nicole, they’d have had to issue tropical storm warnings for a large portion of the East Coast. With those warnings would come an onslaught of calls from reporters, political figures, and FEMA coordinators demanding to know what to expect and what needed to be done to prepare. This very thing happened when Hurricane Earl took a sideswiping run at the coast…the NHC issued watches and warnings for everyone from Wilmington, NC to Eastport, ME…most of which did not verify (there were minimal hurricane conditions at Cape Hatteras and some minial Tropical Storm conditions over Cape Cod, the rest of the coast was largely spared). There’s only one thing worse than issuing warnings and watches and fielding all those pressure-filled calls…and that’s issuing warnings, fielding the calls, and being wrong. THOSE calls – the ones that begin “where the hell is this tropical storm you forecasted?!”…those calls are very…very painful. Every time a tropical storm warning is issued, the estimated cost of preparation for the event is roughly $80,000 per mile of coast affected. Every time a hurricane warning is issued, the cost is roughly $0.15-$0.5 MILLION per mile depending on whether evacuation orders are issued. The average warning bar covers 400 miles of coastline…you do the math. Yes…it really is that expensive. When you bust, you made the government spend a bunch of money it doesn’t have, attend a bunch of time-sucking threat-assessment and preparedness meetings, and put a bunch of emergency managers on all-day stand-by for no good reason (or so the view is from the government).

Of course, if the top priority were safeguarding the lives of our citizens, that cost would be considered a necessary evil…we do these things because tropical cyclones are inherently hard to predict and if we don’t prepare and are wrong, people die. But at the government level, lives are on a ledger against government resources, and the anger when that money was spent without the warnings verify is enormous. The consequence is that NHC forecasters are so afraid of being wrong that as soon as it becomes possible for them to pass the buck to another agency (in this case, the National Weather Service), they do it and don’t look back. For the same reason, the NHC is frequently caught naming storms that shouldn’t be named in the middle of nowhere and retroactively changing their analysis to buff up their seasonal forecast accuracy. Because guess what…if they predict 14 named storms and only 9 verify, they get angry calls too. Last year, for example, they predicted 11 named storms and by late October, had only SIX…so they named a storm that supposedly developed at FIFTY DEGREES NORTH LATITUDE…IN OCTOBER!…OVER 65 F WATER!!…and then killed it 12 hours later…just to get the verified storm count closer to their forecast.

None of this happens in the private sector. Private sector weather forecasters do not benefit from cheating…if they forecast 15 storms and their clients think there were only 6…they’re not going to get business next season whether they claim there were 8 or 12 storms. No amount of false-naming or sudden downgrading protects you from accountability for your forecast if you are not viewed as the “official record.” I know this to be precisely what is happening at the NHC and all other NOAA branches because they routinely make pronouncements like “The National Hurricane Center is the authority on hurricane prediction. There needs to be one unified voice for communicating risks and issuing warnings or public confusion may result.” Translation: we are your government…we know more about hurricanes than anyone else…we should be the only ones allowed to make hurricane forecasts and our records should be held as the official facts.

Of course, if you knew anything about how forecast offices are actually run, you would laugh at the idea that the government should be the only source of information about the weather. I recently observed with some frustration to my adviser here at Stony Brook that the National Weather Service seemed unable to adjust their forecast to evolving reality even when it was obvious that things weren’t working out as earlier predicted. During the July 3-8 heat wave, their forecast high temperatures over Long Island were consistently way…way too low. If I can spend five minutes looking at the model forecast on July 1st and say “ah crap…here comes a huge heat wave” based on nothing more than large-scale pattern recognition…and I’m far from a perfect forecaster, mind you…then why can’t the NWS even do so much as adjust their numbers up after they busted 10 degrees too low on the 4th? It’s obviously a horrendous heat wave…conditions have not changed…and yet they’re still calling for cooling 24 and 48 hours later. This happens because NWS forecasters know that it’s easier to blame a computer model for forecast errors than to take responsibility and diverge significantly from the model output statistics (MOS)…and then be wrong and have to explain yourself. It also happens because the NWS runs two-man forecast shifts (and only 3 shifts instead of 4) now…and there is no one to protect the scientists from having to answer ten calls an hour from reporters when the weather becomes extreme. They literally have two hours to make a forecast and that is not enough time to do more than look at the models and the current data and tweak MOS a bit.

That is the NATURE of government work…anyone who works for a government agency knows that all of the people there really want to do good work and that the vast majority of their problems comes from the extreme inefficiency of government projects (and that inefficiency comes from the fact that the government is constantly besieged with media intrusion and administrative bureaucracy that borders on farcical in scale). There are lots of great…great scientists employed by the National Weather Service. The data shows that despite the rapid improvement in numerical weather prediction skill, we still consistently out-forecast the models despite the lack of time to do in depth forecasting. That’s remarkable. Unfortunately, our forecast skill VANISHES when we need it the most. When there’s a huge a tropical rain and wind-maker heading for Cape Hatteras and NYC, the Hurricane Center passes the buck and the NWS has to field hundreds and hundreds of calls demanding information while scrambling to hoist eleven different watches and warnings that would ALL BE COVERED by a Tropical Storm warming…if you think scientists can make a good forecast under those conditions..think again. They’re parroting the models and curled up in a fetal position at their AWIPS terminals right about now, praying the models aren’t way off. Case in point..if you go the http://www.nws.noaa.gov right now, there’s a headline stating that TS Nicole has dissipated (which is just horribly misleading to anyone who does not understand basic weather satellite data and cannot therefore see that there’s still a huge storm out there). What’s worse, when you click on, say, Central Long Island and look at the point and click forecast, it’s calling for winds tonight of 22-26 mph gusting as high as 41 (hilarious how precise they’re intuitively claiming to be and also hilarious how way…way underdone those wind forecasts are)…do you think Joe Public is going to read the High Wind Warning statement that says winds could gust to 65 mph tonight…or will he just look at the point and click and go “gee…that doesn’t sound so bad?”

I am not saying we shouldn’t be doing government forecasting…the government is tasks with protecting its’ people and part of that is forecasting the weather. And the government actually does admirably well at forecasting the weather given their extenuating circumstances and the chaotic nature of our atmosphere. I am, however, saying three things need to happen to improve our reaction to very inclement weather.

1) We need to get better at communicating the uncertainty in weather forecasts as well as communicating the possible dangers of any weather disaster to the public. If there’s a heat wave coming…but your model guidance says it may not be all that severe…and you post a forecast high of 91…people are going to assume it’s just another warm summer day…if there’s any chance that it actually gets to 98 (heat advisory ends up being needed)…the public should know that chance exists. Point and click forecasts should NOT be deterministic…you shouldn’t click on Long Island and see a high of exactly 74 for tomorrow and 62 for Saturday…that’s madness. The point and click should be zone-based and the forecasts should express uncertainty (ranges should be given).

2) We have GOT to devote more financial resources to advancing all of the sciences (I would not pay for that with extra tax money…I would divert spending away from corporate bailouts and wastes like the National Endowment for the Arts (sorry…but art should pay for itself…demand for it certainly won’t vanish without government aid)…we need staffers around to field questions from reporters and play blocker for the scientists and we need more than two people on shift at any given time to actually collaboratively make a forecast.

3) Everyone…non-scientists and scientists alike need to demand accountability from the government when it comes to maintaining accurate weather records. As it stands right now, playing with the hurricane numbers every..single…year…is completely acceptable behavior and storms are named or not named to fit the previous forecasts at least twice a month during the season. PAY ATTENTION to your public authorities on weather prediction…don’t let them get away with claiming their weather stations are properly cited when in fact they’re between a highway and an airport runway. Don’t let the NHC get away with changing the facts to suit their mood. We all have to do our part to demand that scientific branches of the government remain dedicated to the truth and not to reducing paperwork or fitting a long term agenda (e.g. what happens re: global warming).

In the meantime, at times like these, I’ll get my extreme weather forecasts from the private sector, thank you very much.

Movie Rec: The Lottery (2010)

Davis Guggenheim’s Waiting for Superman has been getting a lot of positive press lately (I’ll let you know my own thoughts when I see the film in Bethesda on Friday), so this seems like a good time to draw some attention to a similar movie that hit the film festival circuit earlier this year and is currently available on DVD: The Lottery.

Like Guggenheim, director Madeleine Sackler is also interested in public education reform, though she focuses specifically on the Harlem Success Academies, two charter schools in New York City that get results. The stars of the film are the parents of four children who have been entered in the HSA’s lottery, though we also hear from Joel Klein (NYC Chancellor of Education), Eva Moskowitz (founder of the HSA), and other involved parties. Many of those interviewed are Democrats and Obama supporters, which demonstrates that for quite a few, this issue has transcended party politics. (I consider this an encouraging sign given the Democrat Party’s history on education.)

If you are interested in education reform, you need to watch The Lottery. Granted, many segments will make your blood boil. Parts of the movie, for example, cover the political struggle over the proposed relocation of the second HSA to a larger building that is currently occupied by a failing zoned school, and as you might expect, the infamous ACORN and the United Federation of Teachers both jump in on the side of the status quo. “The United Federation of Teachers is trying to halt the progress and put the interests of adults above the interests of children,” Moskowitz states, and she is precisely right.

There is also a great deal that is poignant in this film. It’s deeply touching, for instance, when the imprisoned father of one of the featured HSA hopefuls expresses his amazement that Moskowitz’s teachers tell HSA students that they will get college degrees. That kind of encouragement, the father relates with tears in his eyes, is something he never received as a boy. This scene and others foster an overall impression that these inner city parents care just as much about their children’s futures as anyone else. The message, then, is unmistakable: denying these parents the right to choose is absolutely criminal.

Re-Worked Confrontational Thoughts from 2008 that Still Hold True

It’s time to be quite frank, Democrats: when I hear your ads rumble about a politician’s pro-life views as if they are portents of a potential end of feminism, it makes me want to vote for said politician more just to spite you.

And by the way, regarding my spite, I have a great deal more to say. For example, when one of you threatens – like someone on my Live Journal friends list did back in 2008 – to move and take “the entertainment industry, the news media, the arts, the Ivy League, good education, clean energy and health care with me,” my reaction is the following: “Good! I’ll help you pack!” And yes – I know that right about now, one or two of you are going to give me the lecture about how “we need an honorable opposition to keep our democracy healthy.” I already know this, so please stay your hand and allow me to take apart that threat phrase by phrase in an attempt to explain where my anger is coming from –

“the entertainment industry” – You mean the engines of Hollywood that have, in recent years, churned out a relentless stream of dreck that directly attacks the values I hold dear as a religious American? I’ll miss House and the odd superhero movie – and some cult science fiction fare (which is not all produced in America anyway) – but that’s about it. In reality, I go to the movies maybe three or four times in an average year, and when I watch TV, it’s usually decades-old series like St. Elsewhere and M*A*S*H or Discovery Health.

“the news media” – Ah! So you admit that the mainstream media is leftist. That makes you the first. At any rate, feel free to take Chris Matthews and all of the other attack dogs slobbering over false Palin scandals with you. I won’t mind.

“the arts” – See my above comments regarding Hollyweird. The “art world” has also been engaged in a sustained attack on my values. Indeed, post-modern artists seem to be attacking the very notion of beauty itself if the religious icons desecrated with feces and urine and the sadomasochistic pornography praised by art critics are any indication. America will be so much better off without your notion of what qualifies as “art.”

“the Ivy League” – The Ivy League is a den of iniquity beset with grade inflation, ridiculous pseudo-intellectual posturing, and attacks on academic freedom. They are not the schools they once were.

Regular people have ample reason to distrust those who have been anointed our “intellectual” class. In recent years, “intellectuals” have come out in favor of infanticide, bestiality, intercourse with minors, Molotov cocktails, and submission to radical Islam. In earlier eras, “intellectuals” argued against confronting Hitler while arguing for the eugenics upon which Hitler based his Final Solution. “Intellectuals” have also published mendacious monographs favoring free love, population control, speech codes – a whole host of cultural cancers. And many “intellectuals” are personally despicable people. Take Karl Marx, who consigned his family to a squalid, bohemian existence to better pursue his “intellectual” fancies. Take William Ayers, professor of education – and unrepentant domestic terrorist. We should bow and scrape before these people because of their supposed superior erudition?

In truth, a small-L liberal education at a top-flight school clearly does not automatically bestow upon the recipient a more finely tuned sense of what is just and right. In reality, extant in the academy today is a perverse incentive system in which our “intellectuals” are rewarded more for their ability to be outre than for their genuine penetration of the truth. It is John Adams’ formulation of spectemur agendo run amok. “Look at me, look at me! Look at how clever I am!” Ordinary people in the U.S. instinctively understand this; urban elites – even those purportedly on the right – do not.

“good education” – Don’t make me laugh. You are in favor of prohibitive union rules that make it almost impossible to fire incompetent teachers. You oppose giving disadvantaged students the chance to get out of their failing urban schools and reach their full potential. You oppose any practical attempts to hold the public schools accountable for failing to teach kids how to read and cipher. You champion ridiculous things like “whole language” – which has left many impoverished kids functionally illiterate – and “constructivist mathematics,” which has rendered an otherwise bright second grade boy I tutor unable to calculate 5+6 without drawing pictures – and that’s just one example. I could also talk about the fifth grader who doesn’t have a solid grasp on her multiplication tables, or the eleventh graders who flounder when they’re presented with an algebra problem that includes a fraction, or etc., etc. With a few exceptions, these are all kids who do not have learning disabilities, unless you count “stupid curriculum” as a learning disability. Don’t talk to me about education – not while I’m on the ground trying to fix the damage.

“clean energy” – It’s called nuclear power. It’s called cleaner coal and oil technology. It’s called the all-of-the-above approach. These ideas – if they’re not being implemented already – can all be implemented right now. Nuclear power even has the French seal of approval. But leftists like you don’t want to talk about practical approaches to solving our energy issues because, as with so many other issues, you believe that pragmatism is immoral and decry the weighing of costs and benefits when there are cosmological scores to settle.

“health care” – As a sufferer of a chronic illness who has to pay her own health insurance premiums (to the tune of over $500 per month), this issue is near and dear to my heart. I remain unconvinced, however, that your idea of what American health care should look like will be good for me or for other Americans. Threatening to take socialized health care with you is not going to change my mind.

Finally, the fact that these are the issues that leap to mind when you are enraged over politics underscores that your priorities are not in order. Okay, the energy issue is important because it ties into national security, but the arts? You seriously want to talk about the arts at a time like this? This is why I can’t trust people like you in the offices of our government.

Old Essays: The Innocuous Generality of "Social Justice" and How Conservatives Should Reclaim It

Written in April, 2009:

An episode of Faith & Culture on EWTN last night finally crystallized for me why phrases like “human rights” and “social justice” make me wince: the people who usually fling these terms around define them in a manner completely at odds with my understanding of the intrinsic dignity of the human person. The left has hijacked the language of “social justice”; it’s time we take it back.

Human beings have dignity solely because they belong to the species homo sapiens sapiens. There is no other formulation that can be logically, consistently and, most importantly of all, morally defended. Human beings do not have dignity because they’re intelligent; there are animals that are intelligent in their way and human beings who are profoundly disabled, but most people would be (rightly) horrified if we were to openly prefer a dolphin to a severely autistic child. Human beings do not have dignity because of their autonomy; we come into this world utterly dependent upon other human beings for our most basic needs, but most people, unless they’re philosophers at Princeton, stop short of concluding that small children have no dignity. And human beings do not have dignity because they have been given capital or power; to claim, as many on the left do, that what people need to be dignified is an equal share of the world’s purely material wealth is to get it exactly backwards. Education, liberty, and charity must flow from a presumption that a human being has dignity; dignity cannot be state-bestowed by application of the former.

Social justice comes when we recognize the intrinsic worth of every human being – whether he be smart or dumb, rich or poor, healthy or ill, strong or vulnerable – and act, as individuals, according to that recognition. Social justice does not come from abdicating our personal responsibility and handing it over to the State; history has taught us this time and time again. How is it just, for example, that millions more impoverished American children are now living in fatherless homes, consigned to school systems that cost upwards of $10,000 per child to run and yet still consistently fail?

I have been in a welfare office before. In 2006, after a long illness that required repeated hospitalizations, I was without health insurance and facing a $30,000-plus medical debt that I would not have been able to pay even if I had cut out every single luxury from my budget. What I remember most about the experience was the austerity of the waiting room – the rows of uncomfortable plastic chairs – and the human isolation. We didn’t talk to each other; there was no sense of human solidarity in suffering. I understand that a welfare office must exist to handle certain contingencies, but I will never understand why some people consider such a place to be preferable to a private and/or religious charity. The latter presumes that you are a human being with dignity and treats you as such; charity workers ask you about your family, may share a meal with you, and are, on the whole, more willing to go the extra mile for you because they are there voluntarily. A government social worker, on the other hand, may be a caring and compassionate person in his or her everyday life, but he or she is also frequently overworked and laboring under a bureaucratic machinery that, by its very nature, doesn’t presume your dignity simply because the sheer size of the caseload prohibits such interaction. To put it another way, to the government, you are a series of numbers (income, debts, bills, etc.).

Conservatives need to work even harder to articulate the principle of subsidiarity as an avenue to greater social justice. I understand being leery of faith-based initiatives because with government aid comes the government’s ability to control (as we have learned throughout this bailout fiasco); on the other hand, we can certainly avoid penalizing charities, especially those that are religious in nature, and can even reward people for their willingness to assist and/or act to form voluntary charitable associations.

We also need to be even more vocal in our rejection of the left-wing belief that human dignity flows from material wealth and moral license. I feel this especially keenly when it comes to women’s issues. I know there are people out there who are fighting the good fight against mainstream feminism, but I think we have to be even more blunt about the alternatives. On the one hand, we have a popular culture that is training a generation of young women to chemically and/or surgically suppress their female-hood so that they may devote more time to impressing men – to be the ultimate consumers and, in the end, to be consumed; on the other, we have a religious counter-culture that dares to impose “patriarchal” notions of modesty and character – a counter-culture that believes there is a positive content to womanhood. Which women are happier?

The Democrats Are Clearly Our Intellectual Betters — NOT!

I don’t know whether to laugh or cry over the fact that Congressional Democrats thought it appropriate to bring a comedian to Capitol Hill to testify on immigration. But even though I’m not quite sure how to respond, I’m certainly not surprised. I know a number of people – Obama voters all – who believe Colbert and Stewart, his partner in crime, are trustworthy and brilliant political pundits. That’s why I will never buy the ever-present claims that lefties are smarter than us right-wingers.

Personally, I hope Colbert’s appearance in Congress ruins the Democrats. Republican candidates nationwide should use Colbert in their political ads as a textbook illustration of the left’s fundamental lack of leadership fitness.

On Taxation

In addition to their tendency to assume that the “rich” merely consume and do not in fact contribute to our economy by providing employment, investing in the stock market, etc., liberals also have an annoying habit of assuming that all Tea Party sympathizers are anarchists.

Allow me to explain what I mean: I have a liberal acquaintance – let’s call him SPA (for “Small Press Author”) – whom I’ve known for a number of years. Generally speaking, SPA is a decent and cordial guy (who, by the way, has great taste in television shows), but every once in a while, he will give in to his lefty impulses and post snooty comments on Facebook like the following:

“If you like maintained roads, regular trash pick-up, and your police force, thank taxation!”

When I see remarks like this, I feel like banging my head against the wall and screaming “Straw man fallacy! Straw man fallacy!” at top volume. We do not dispute the necessity of taxation to cover certain public goods. Where we Tea Party sympathizers differ with liberals, leftists, and free-spending Republicans is in our answers to questions such as:

  • How high should the tax rate be for each income bracket?
  • On what should we spend federal and state tax revenues?
  • Is there ever a time when the spending of our tax revenue on a particular project is not justified?
  • In my experience, most conservatives are willing to finance the following public goods at least partially through their taxes:

  • National Defense
  • Law Enforcement
  • Infrastructure (Roads/Sanitation/Water/Energy/Public Transit)
  • Public Parks
  • Public Education
  • Some Scientific Research
  • Some Social Welfare Spending
  • But here’s the thing: we believe that spending needs to be justified. Even though we grant the necessity of taxing the populace to cover spending in the categories listed above, we will never give the government a blank check to do whatever it pleases with our money.

    Take our infrastructure (please!). If the state of Virginia wants to spend money to make the stretch of I-95 between Quantico and Springfield a little less of a cluster-f***, I’m willing to fork over taxes to pay for it provided the state government can demonstrate that it will go about it in the most cost efficient manner possible. If, however, this hypothetical project becomes NOVA’s version of the Big Dig, there will be political hell to pay.

    Take public education. Again, I’m willing to pay taxes to keep our local schools running provided the district can demonstrate that my money is generating results. If, however, the local district becomes a Washington DC-style sink-hole in which thousands of dollars per pupil is spent to produce functional illiterates, I will put my foot down and refuse to vote for spending increases in education.

    We Tea Party sympathizers are not ticked off because we have to pay taxes. We are ticked off because, as far as we can tell, no government official feels obligated to present a full and understandable account of the government’s spending. Instead, government officials either lie about the true costs of their policies, or they bury their waste in 3,000 page bills – bills which, by their own admission, they don’t even read.

    We don’t want to pay for Representative So-and-So’s Memorial Bridge to Nowhere or Senator What’s-His-Name’s Museum of Art any longer. Enough is enough!

    The Problem with "Soaking the Rich"

    I’ve seen a few posts floating around the left-wing blogosphere that have basically stated the following:

    “If you have a $400,000 mortgage, a nanny for your children, a gardener, and a maid, you have no right to complain that you are just scraping by and can’t absorb a tax hike. Most Americans, after all, can afford none of those things.”

    There’s just one problem with this line of argument: these “wealthy” individuals are in fact employing nannies, gardeners, and maids who, by the way, make less than $50,000 per year. Demanding that the “rich” give up certain “luxuries” so that they can take on a greater tax burden is basically demanding that the “rich” put working class folks out of their jobs.

    I’m a tutor. My entire income (which didn’t even clear the $30,000 line last year) comes from the discretionary spending of the upper middle class. Why, exactly, should I allow liberals to scuttle MY livelihood to finance their pet projects?

    What Was Promised, What Was Delivered

    After the 2008 election The Investor’s Business Daily made a list of all that was promised by the Obama campaign. I leave it to you to note what was delivered:
    Taxes
    • Give a tax break to 95% of Americans.
    • Restore Clinton-era tax rates on top income earners.
    • “If you make under $250,000, you will not see your taxes increase by a single dime. Not your income taxes, not your payroll taxes, not your capital gains taxes. Nothing.”
    • Dramatically simplify tax filings so that millions of Americans will be able to do their taxes in less than five minutes.
    • Give American businesses a $3,000 tax credit for every job they create in the U.S.
    • Eliminate capital gains taxes for small business and startup companies.
    • Eliminate income taxes for seniors making under $50,000.
    • Expand the child and dependent care tax credit.
    • Expand the earned income tax credit.
    • Create a universal mortgage credit.
    • Create a small business health tax credit.
    • Provide a $500 “make work pay” tax credit to small businesses.
    • Provide a $1,000 emergency energy rebate to families.
    Energy
    • Spend $15 billion a year on renewable sources of energy.
    • Eliminate oil imports from the Middle East in 10 years.
    • Increase fuel economy standards by 4% a year.
    • Weatherize 1 million homes annually.
    • Ensure that 10% of our electricity comes from renewable sources by 2012.
    Environment
    • Create 5 million green jobs.
    • Implement a cap-and-trade program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
    • Get 1 million plug-in hybrids on the road by 2015.
    Labor
    • Sign a fair pay restoration act, which would overturn the Supreme Court’s pay discrimination ruling.
    • Sign into law an employee free choice act — aka card check — to make it easier for unions to organize.
    • Make employers offer seven paid sick days per year.
    • Increase the minimum wage to $9.50 an hour by 2009.
    National security
    • Remove troops from Iraq by the summer of 2010.
    • Cut spending on unproven missile defense systems.
    • No more homeless veterans.
    • Stop spending $10 billion a month in Iraq.
    • Finish the fight against Osama bin Laden and the al-Qaida terrorists.
    Social Security
    • Work in a “bipartisan way to preserve Social Security for future generations.”
    • Impose a Social Security payroll tax on incomes above $250,000.
    • Match 50% of retirement savings up to $1,000 for families earning less than $75,000.
    Education
    • Demand higher standards and more accountability from our teachers.
    Spending
    • Go through the budget, line by line, ending programs we don’t need and making the ones we do need work better and cost less.
    • Slash earmarks.
    Health care
    • Lower health care costs for the typical family by $2,500 a year.
    • Let the uninsured get the same kind of health insurance that members of Congress get.
    • Stop insurance companies from discriminating against those who are sick and need care the most.
    • Spend $10 billion over five years on health care information technology.

    Tone

    Have you ever noticed that liberals and leftists can say whatever they wish about us, but we can never respond in kind without being attacked as “confrontational” or “radical”?

    I agree in principle that we should hold ourselves to high standards of civility, but why are we always told to “moderate” our tone when our opponents are never counseled to do the same?

    Improving Education, Part V

    I stated in the last post that charter schools are the targets of a lot of undeserved hostility. One reason for this can be summed up in two words: teachers unions.

    Now, before I continue, allow me to emulate Governor Christie here and stress that I don’t have a problem with teachers. Many of them are extremely good at what they do and have entered the profession for the right reasons. Quite a few of my fondest childhood memories, in fact, feature public school teachers in prominent roles. It’s a fair bet, for example, that I would not have survived high school if not for my computer math/AP Statistics teacher, who persisted in encouraging me even when I felt down and unmotivated.

    I also don’t dispute that teachers have a right to form professional organizations and negotiate collective bargaining agreements through those organizations.

    This is a right shared by all workers, and I have no intention of arguing that this right should be ignored.

    Still, the leaders of today’s NEA and AFT (and their local affiliates) are some of the most selfish and despicable people currently active in education politics.

    I realize these are strong words. But consider two things teachers unions have recently done:

    First, let’s go back to Governor Christie of New Jersey. When Christie entered office, he faced a serious state budget shortfall that had to be resolved. He approached this problem by making cuts across the board – and this included asking the teachers of New Jersey both to accept a one year pay freeze and to contribute a tiny percentage of their salary towards their health benefits. The teachers union screamed bloody murder. How dare Governor Christie ask teachers to make some sacrifices? Sure, the economy is in the tank. Sure, many people in the private sector have had to go without their annual raises (though I used to get a $1/hr raise on a yearly basis, I myself have been paid at the same hourly rate for the past few years not because my boss doesn’t want to reward my merit but because he can’t). But teachers shouldn’t have to give up the perks they enjoyed while this nation was prosperous. Asking them to do so, hollered the union, will destroy education in the state of New Jersey. One union official even went so far as to send out an email in which she prayed for Governor Christie’s death. Now, Governor Christie has shown himself to be a scrappy and irascible guy, but he would never do the same.

    Second, let’s consider the Washington DC school district, a district in which a vanishingly small percentage of eighth graders can read and write at grade level. When Adrian Fenty took the mayor’s seat, he appointed Michelle Rhee his school chancellor. Now, Rhee is an aggressive reformer. During her term as chancellor, she has pushed hard to get rid of incompetent teachers and reward the good ones. Clearly, the AFT couldn’t allow that. Instead, what they did was funnel $1 million into the campaign of Fenty’s opponent, Vincent Gray, enabling Gray to defeat Fenty in the recent election. So much for reforming the public education system in Washington DC.

    As Albert Shanker, former president of the AFT, once said:

    “When schoolchildren start paying dues, that’s when I’ll start representing the interests of schoolchildren.”

    Back to the charter school issue: Shanker at least used to support the concept — up until he realized that charter school leaders wanted to keep their schools out of union hands. At that point, the AFT and other teachers unions took on the mission of crushing or co-opting these non-unionized upstarts.

    Other reforms the teachers unions oppose:

    Merit pay for teachers.
    School choice.
    Higher pay for good math and science teachers, who are difficult to find.
    Any rigorous means to monitor teacher performance.

    Teachers unions also make it extremely difficult to fire a teacher who is dangerously incompetent if that teacher has been granted tenure (a process that takes as little as three years). Often, teachers who have received bad reports are simply shuffled to another school, something union opponents term “the dance of the lemons.” Either that, or these teachers are kept in “rubber rooms” where the state pays them their full salary to sit around and play cards. This is ridiculous! Firing a bad teacher should not be this difficult, but the unions have demanded due process rules so Byzantine that often, administrators simply give up. The termination rate for tenured teachers is minuscule as a result – less than 1% in many cases.

    And teachers unions often waste their members’ money on pet leftist projects that have nothing to do with education. Some of the things teachers unions have supported include:

    ACORN.
    Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
    The National Council of La Raza.
    People for the American Way.
    Americans for Democratic Action.
    The Sierra Club.

    The rank and file members of the NEA and AFT resemble the general population of the U.S. – in other words, they’re split down the middle when it comes to their political leanings. According to the NEA’s own reports, only 45% of public school teachers are Democrats. Why, then, should they be forced, through their union dues, to pay for leftist causes they may not even support? In every state in which teachers have been given the option to opt out of paying for the political causes of their union leaders, the teachers did in overwhelming numbers.

    Unfortunately, I’m not sure there’s anything that we who are not members of these unions can personally do to change this state of affairs beyond supporting Right to Work legislation. I think the change will really have to come from within the teachers unions themselves. The ordinary teachers union member needs to get educated and fight tooth and nail against his or her leaders’ shenanigans. Only then can we really diminish the power of these anti-child professional politicians.