Twilight of the Public Sector Union: Letters to the Editor Edition

Two letters to the editor in Friday’s WSJ underline the tone-deaf postures of public union leadership. The first comes from United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew, a bona fide thug who proclaims proudly his desire to “punch you in the face and push you in the dirt” should you attempt to “take what is mine.” He writes:

Eva Moskowitz must have been staring in the mirror when she wrote her latest screed about the “big lie” about charter vs public schools (“The Myth of Charter-School ‘Cherry Picking,'” op-ed, Feb.9). Even as others in the charter sector are beginning to acknowledge that differences in student demographics and attrition are a real problem in comparing charter to district schools, she and her organization have refused to admit that many charters don’t educate children with the same challenges as do public schools.

Let’s look at one among many examples—Success Academy 3 in Harlem. It shares a building with a local public school, but her charter has half as many English-language learners, fewer than a third as many special-education students and no “high-needs” students in the special-ed category versus 12% in the public school.

She also confuses student mobility with student attrition. Most schools in poor neighborhoods have high student turnover. But while public schools—and some charters—fill empty seats, Ms. Moskowitz’s schools don’t. According to state records, more than half the students in one Success Academy class left before graduation.

While Ms. Moskowitz cites a recent report from the city’s Independent Budget Office about student attrition in charters, she neglects to mention an earlier IBO report that found that it is the less successful students who tend to leave New York City charters. And as Princess Lyles and Dan Clark note “Keeping Precious Charter-School Seats Filled,” op-ed, Feb. 3), failure to fill these seats allows a school to maintain “the illusion of success,” as the percentage of proficient students rises.

So when Ms. Moskowitz and her allies claim that charters educate the same kinds of children as do the public schools, who is telling the truth?

I have a question for Mr Mulgrew. Why did this happen last March and again in November after Mayor Deblasio made noise about shuttering charters in New York City? The rallies in Albany showed that thousands upon thousands of lower-income, inner city New Yorkers view charters as vital to their children’s chances in life; education being the clear conduit to success. The same impulse to provide your child the best education possible is alive and growing stronger across the country.  For all the criticism levied against charters by teachers unions, demand among inner city parents has skyrocketed. Mulgrew’s argument is essentially that because public schools in New York are overburdened with students – many with special needs – then any boasting from the charters about their higher performing students is deceptive because it doesn not account for the disparities in classroom makeup, which is essentially an argument for demanding that everyone be equally miserable. Because equality! The standard teacher union lament that there is never enough money (despite soaring per capita spending on students nationally) is a self-serving rhetorical device that couches the true aim of higher taxpayer-funded pensions and benefits for the dues payers in language about “the children.” If you care about the children then you cannot fly into Hulk-smash rage mode when confronted with data showing charters’ exemplary results compared to the staid monopoly that is public education. The answer is not to take opportunities away from those lucky enough to win charter lotteries, but to expand access so that a greater number of eager-to-learn kids can also win the lottery.

Eva Moskowitz has long been a champion of the charter movement and is a true hero for the cause of school choice and education opportunities for the disadvantaged. For her efforts to improve the plight of those without the luxury to “vote with their feet” and move to better school districts, Moskowitz has become the subject of intense hate and ire for the union left. They hate her because she is unabashed about taking on the unions head-on and because she has largely succeeded in this endeavor. The result is an angry cadre of progressives like Mulgrew and DeBlasio who see the threat to their political power should school choice continue to pick up momentum. And when corrupt relationships between unions and politicians are exposed and blamed for the abysmal performance of union public schools, those being exposed become shrill and defiant, which is how you get a thuggish union head like Mulgrew opening his piece calling Moskowitz a liar and going on to offer this bit of enlightened sophistication: “So I stand here in support for [Common Core] for one simple reason. If someone takes something from me, I’m going to grab it right back out of their cold, twisted, sick hand, and say it is mine.”

Below the Mulgrew letter we find an even more ridiculous and infuriating letter, this time from Colleen Kelley, National President of the National Treasury Employees Union. Titled “IRS Employees Have Cooperated” she writes:

Your Feb. 7 editorial “End of the IRS Investigation?” urges against any pay increase for IRS employees until there is “a full accounting of who ordered the harassment of President Obama’s critics.” The editorial also takes some gratuitous and inaccurate shots at the National Treasury Employees Union, which represents rank-and-file nonsupervisory employees at the IRS and 30 other federal agencies. These employees aren’t in a position to order anybody to do anything. During the IRS investigation led by Rep. Darrell Issa, numerous NTEU members provided voluntary, non-subpoenaed sworn statements. Two NTEU members voluntarily testified before the House Oversight Committee for several hours in a public hearing facing a bank of TV cameras and reporters. At the end, they were praised by then-Chairman Issa, current-chairman Jason Chaffetz, Rep. Mark Meadows, Rep. Mike Turner and others for their bravery, honesty and professionalism. Since then, they and the other front-line employees represented by NTEU have seen their workloads dramatically increase because Congress is “punishing” the IRS by slashing its budget. Their pay, like the pay of all federal workers, has been stagnant. They did the right thing. Like other federal employees who work hard every day, they deserve a fair pay raise.” (emphasis mine)

Fairness! Give America a raise! Where have we heard these cliches before? I don’t even know where to begin with this silliness. Are we supposed to be impressed that certain IRS employees “provided voluntary, non-subpoenaed sworn statements” during Darrell Issa’s investigation when we know that there remain legions of emails and records and even testimony from a certain someone (let’s just say it’s not Lois Lane) still at large? The idea that federal bureaucrats have been busting their humps and have been subject to “punishment” from the mean Republicans on Issa’s committee and therefore deserve a raise is more than a little audacious. I don’t believe you could find one person in a random sample of people on the street who would argue that IRS employees need a raise at this moment, unless that street is in Washington. Even if you’re a partisan progressive who thinks slogans such as “phony scandal!” are legitimate substitutes for argument, you still probably don’t think the IRS should be asking for a raise right now, given the broad perception that it is a rogue agency operating with politics as its prism. The sheer hubris of the head of a federal employee union asking for more money after seeing the chief agency she represents have more than a few of its dubious practices exposed is stark.

If there is one truth that exists plainly in the open for all to see, it is that federal employees are overpaid. And not just overpaid but overprotected. It has become cliche to note that federal bureaucrats are far more likely to die before they ever face the prospect of being terminated. This doesn’t makes it any less true. Politicians who think of themselves as noble public servants are better able to justify rank extortion of their constituents than are politicians who cast a jaundiced eye at the very idea of a federal workforce. Further, bureaucracies are overwhelmingly staffed by people on the left who look upon the private sector with suspicion or disdain (or worse). When the lens through which you observe society is clouded by envy and bitterness toward the “rich” and you believe that they only got where they are through theft or inheritance, it stands to reason you might feel justified padding your salaries and benefits by bilking the taxpayers if it is a way to “level the playing field” or establish a more “equitable” condition where inequality magically disappears.

These union leaders are only distinguishable by their disparate tones and by the fact that only one seems to relish the idea of inflicting violence on anyone who comes for “what is mine.” But both are products of the same warped worldview that says it is perfectly moral and in fact laudable to erect the biggest public sector possible. Public employee unions are relics of the same bygone philosophy that continues to fuel activist journalism: the idea of government as an intrinsic good offering comfort to the afflicted and affliction to the comfortable. They obsess over the distribution of wealth and conclude that the unequal distribution is by malign intent rather than the natural product of millions of self-interested individuals fulfilling their wants in a free society. If you think you’re on the receiving end of a deep conspiracy by the evil rich and you possess the power to use threats of coercion to ameliorate the situation, you’re going to do so and without remorse. After all, you’re the poor blighted underdog bureaucrat faced up against the powerful corporation, so efforts to remove capital from the villains and give it to yourself are clearly blessed by the angels. This is the ethos that drives teachers union leadership to shout bloody murder any time their corrupt money train is threatened, and likewise causes IRS and White House officials to countenance a comprehensive initiative to suppress the speech of your ideological enemies who, rather than having different political views are considered instead to be motivated by nothing more than reactionary animus.

Public employee unions can’t go the way of the Dodo fast enough.

 

Remedial Civics

This is one of those “wait, that can’t be true … but then again that is obviously true” stories: “Only 36% of Americans can name the three branches of government.”

If you have any appreciation for the destruction to our education system wrought by progressivism, particularly by the exlusively-progressive plague of public sector unionism, then you are not likely to be very surprised by this headline. Likewise, if you are sentient and in possession of basic senses, you also are not surprised to learn that a great majority of your fellow citizens are utterly clueless about basic civics. The age of reality television and selfies has clearly seen the chaff of society overshadow the wheat. No future historian will confuse the early period of the 21st century with the Age of Enlightenment.

But… 36%???

One would think that by merely existing in an age of ubiquitous information, on-demand content and 24 hour news and internet, at least half the national population would be able to absorb through data osmosis the basic foundations of our republic. With all the inescapable political banter soaring through the ether, surely even the most checked-out or apathetic citizen must know that there exist simple delineations between the President, the Congress and the Supreme Court? This headline would be staggering if it said 50%, but 36%? Almost two-thirds of Americans really have no clue how our government works. I wonder who that benefits, and I wonder if said beneficiaries have incentives to keep it this way.

Woodrow Wilson urged Americans to reject the Founding Fathers and the Constitution in order to bring about a “renewed” America because the left can only thrive with an electorate which holds no first principles. A citizenry that abandons interest in its natural rights and the separation of powers meant to protect those rights is an aimless and rootless citizenry always chasing “progress” down whichever road the winds are blowing. For Wilson and the progressives, strict separation of powers with clearly demarcated responsibilities therein just would not do. These eminent geniuses had it all figured out, and something as trivial as checks and balances was not going to stand in their way. But in 1912, Americans tended to revere notions of natural rights and constitutional liberty, so the cause of disavowing them of their quaint ideals fell to the ultimate elitist, a Princeton President and all-around narcissist, Captain Woodrow. Wilson running against the Founders and Constitution was merely the first step in a long campaign to undermine the values of our republic. The seed of the idea of an omniscient executive had been planted, waiting for Roosevelt to come along and water the shit out of it, which he surely did, starting in 1932.

Since Marxist ideology burst on the scene in the 19th century, leftwing regimes have understood that the path to control of the citizenry is information. The more informed the population, the less likely it is that your socialist utopia is going to fool them into compliance. The 20th century incarnations of Marxism, whether through Hitler’s Nazism or Stalin’s Communism understood this and were thoroughly ruthless in their censorship, propaganda and disinformation outfits. They also correctly identified the fundamental antagonist to the socialist enterprise, capital, and thus set out to shut down stock exchanges whenever they acquired territory. How it is that so many erstwhile sophisticates of the millennial generation find it trendy to wax nostalgic over collectivism and express vague platitudes as to the inherent virtues of socialism will forever escape me when the requisite qualities of any socialist operation typically consist of harsh censorship and restrictions on capital generation. But in order to make the connection between the abysmal failures of socialism – in theory and in practice – and a culture of repression and censorship, you must be educated on actual history and economics. Which brings us back to the issue at hand: education.

If the population is educated and informed, especially regarding the specifics of our constitution and of our history, then it is likely to be a proud and patriotic population. But if the population withers intellectually and ceases to be educated in such matters as remedial civics, then the project of our republic suddenly appears vulnerable. If the citizenry gradually shifts from participatory and engaged to apathetic and indifferent, and in doing so becomes less educated and less concerned with the genetic coding of our complicated federalist system, how easy it would be to take advantage. And that is what the progressives have done.

Whether or not they set out to import the Bismarckian model of education from Germany as a Trojan Horse for bureaucratizing and centralizing our country, the progressives have definitely capitalized on the opportunity and used the national public education monopoly to attain power and to keep the citizenry placid and immobile. The power comes from the pernicious and corrupt relationship between teachers’ unions and Democratic politicians, who court lavish campaign contributions from the union bosses in return for preferential treatment in collective bargaining sessions. They effect to keep the public stagnant by treating public education primarily as a jobs program for adults rather than as an education program for students. National curricula are designed and overseen by a cadre of leftwing academics at the DOE and the College Board. Each and every attempt at reforming the public education cartel is met with furious and unhinged behavior by the unions and the progressive left, which is thankfully becoming more transparent to the parents of low-income and minority students, who see the unions and the leftists standing squarely in the way of their children’s opportunities for advancement, all in the name of protecting cushy pensions and work benefits.

The left views informed people who are passionate about our founding ideals with suspicion and contempt. The excess vitriol spewed at the Tea Party by progressives was so intense and unhinged precisely because the Tea Party stands above all else for the Constitution. The Constitution is sacred because it is so wary of concentrated power. The most emphasis during all the convention debates and through all the Federalist and Anti-Federalist papers centered around the separation of powers. Our Founders were well-read philosophes who agreed comprehensively on one thing: they did not want a king. And so all the energy of the debate focused on how to establish a republic that balanced and separated powers hitherto reserved for a king?

Woodrow Wilson announced that for the modern left, a king is exactly what is desired. Thus the need to undermine the nature of our founding by gradually eroding reverence for it. The left needs a dumb society if they are to be in charge. It needs useful idiots. When only 36% of Americans can identify the Executive, Legislative and Judicial branches of our government, I’d say that the left is winning.