I met this business man who started selling American electronics and software into Russia at the earliest stages of their new market economy, around 1993-1994 timeframe. This was around the time that Boris Yeltsin was the President and Russians were already well on the transition path away from Soviet rule and into a more oligarchic power structure.
We were on a plane together heading to Moscow for a trade show and he shared with me several stories about the importance of understanding the "Russian mentality" and their jaded views regarding social and economic class. We were sitting in economy class together when he leaned over to share what he considered a special nugget of wisdom:
"You have to understand that Russians are not like Americans”, he said.
“Not at all. These Russians sitting back here with us in economy class.... they're not looking up at the first and business class passengers and thinking to themselves, Man, what do I have to do, how do I apply myself, what knowledge, work and effort do I have to put forth to get to sit up there in First Class too? No. You want to know what they're really thinking? They're thinking, "What do I have to do to make sure those f***ing assholes sitting up there in First Class are brought back to sit right next to me here in cattle class?"
I don't relay this story to disrespect Russians in any way whatsoever. I have Russian friends who have laughed at this story too. The truth is we Americans are very much like those Russian passengers in economy class back in 1993. The widening gap between the have’s and have not's in the United States of America is unsustainable and sadly it’s only getting worse. Besides, no one likes to see state and government employees living high on the hog while others are jobless for months, getting foreclosed on, taxed and fee'd into oblivion by the very governments charged to serve them. Oh, and let’s not forget the national and global embarrassment that is California’s K-12 academic performance.
As pissed off as I may personally be about the overvaluation of the California housing market and the slow crash and burn of housing prices right here in Orange County, and about the massive California state budget crisis, ridiculous state employee salaries, pension programs, and the incorrigible practice of "double-dipping", I can't help but think that we're missing something here.
Whenever people get so pissed off about what they believe others have, or have done, or got away with, particularly in government employment and government-related institutions, I start to wonder whether that collective outrage isn't being misdirected somewhat.
In the case of California, I think it is misdirected. This article by Saree Makdisi of the Sacramento Bee reminds me not pile all of my fury on the irresponsible leaders in Sacramento, the CTA and NOCUT. Oh, they deserve it. But there are asswipes on Wall Street and in Washington well deserving of our contempt also.
I live in California. I don't want to be taxed any more than I already am today. At the same time I would say that I’m ok with paying taxes, as long as the services being provided to me are satisfactory or good. With respect to education, I personally want California teachers to make as much money as possible in their profession. That's right. The sky should be the limit on California teacher compensation as far as I'm concerned. No caps whatsoever. Attractive pensions too? Sure, within reason, yeah, why the hell not? But in exchange for such a policy to attract the very best with appealing compensation packages, funded by community employment and income tax dollars, California should be allowed to fire the asses of poor performing teachers without any cushy severance packages.
I'm not interested in their BAs or MBAs. So what! Nobody cares about that. I care about the numbers: science and math test scores, API results, graduation rates, college admission rates, and overall academic achievement in all phases. The notion that teachers cannot be fairly assessed is unfounded. It's not fair to taxpayers, nor is it fair to those teachers who are royally kicking ass out there in K-12 education and especially special education.
Anyway, when I tune into the radio program of John and Ken on KFI 640 AM here in Southern California (Orange County) and listen to their ridicule of the California teachers unions and other state employee unions, I totally get it. I understand and identify with this anger. I think their investigation and commentary are coming a little too late to help anybody (where the fuck is America's investigative journalism anyway?) and they’ve tried to over simply a very complex situation which can be simply explained by greed and lack of oversight. Regardless, all of this puffed up objection and indignation would have serviced listeners better BEFORE such sweetheart salary and pension deals were even put to paper, let alone signed.
"Can California tax payers stop we being so damn stupid?" The answer is probably not.
It’s difficult to imagine the levels of incompetence required to screw things up this badly. California is the highest taxed and fee'd state in the union and the worst state imaginable to open up a new business. And the state appears to be one of the only places on the planet where government financial scandals the magnitude of the Bell Community can take place. Nobody is paying any attention to what state and municipal lawmakers, school boards, and county and state union PACs have been up to. This is how your K-12 education system arrives in the toilet, ranked 48th in the land right ahead of Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi. Yet, despite that kind of substandard performance – one that would normally result in immediate and mass firings for replacements in the private sector - California teachers actually have the balls to request the extension of tax increases so that they don't lose their jobs and that their class sizes don't balloon up any further. Make no mistake about it, teachers in southern California, and in Saddleback School District as one example, are extremely well paid already. The numbers suggest that a tiny little bit austerity for teachers and school administrators is now in order. And it isn't going to hurt or destroy California children either. Sure, California K-12 students might be getting the same or worse deal as their counterparts in Louisiana as a result of these budget cuts, but that’s no reason to waste more taxpayer dollars with demonstrations and complaints. In the private sector, if you fail to perform, you hit the bricks. Start performing first.
While the disgust is washing over us every day about these budget developments, for some reason we’ve decided to turn a blind eye to the real cause of this disaster. The truth is that over the last 24 to 30 months Americans have already forgotten what happened in the financial sector and the policies and decisions that fleeced all of our wallets for $13 trillion dollars, or $42,000 per man, woman and child in the country. No questions were asked. No referendum vote. No nothing.
Where’s the national outrage for what occurred then?
If only John and Ken at KFI and investigative journalists of America would expend as much effort to put the Federal Reserve leadership (past and present), State Congressman and the President's "head on a stick" about that 2008-2009 fleecing of the American taxpayer.