Moral Relativism Strikes Again

April 14, 2013

The nation has been justly horrified at the news out of Albany New York concerning a social studies assignment in which high school students were asked to write an essay justifying Nazi treatment of Jews. The teacher was suspended, which was the right thing to do, but the district announced they will hold diversity workshops to help students get over whatever trauma they suffered.

Given that one-third of the students refused to participate in the assignment, it’s good to know that not all students thought this was a useful academic enterprise. The adults, however, in suggesting the need for workshops forcusing on diversity and tolerance, are missing entirely the source of the problem.

This exercise and other similar examples that have been reported in other states reflect the fact that the teacher in question took to the extreme a core tenet of 21st century social science which says anything is permissible as long as it is done in support of politically correct positions. This is a fundamental violation of almost every ethical and religious doctrine, but unfortunately it has become a foundation of modern political behavior.

Taken to the extreme, diversity has come to mean that all viewpoints are equal. I wouldn’t be surprised if the ACLU defended the teacher’s right to conduct such an exercise.

A critical definciency in 21st century social science and its political counterpart is the lack of belief in evil. If there’s no such thing as evil––just winners and losers––then all things are permissible in the pursuit of one’s goals. That means thinking like Nazis or Islamic Jihadists can be a legitimate learning experience.

A fundamental principle of ethics and religion is there are boundaries one may not cross in one’s personal or public life. To most of us that starts with the Ten Commandments. Of course, the Ten Commandments may not be taught in public school. Instead teachers praise leaders for whom the end justify the means and teach that one shouldn’t let one’s religious or personal beliefs interfere with what’s “good” for society. Example? Those who argue you’re intolerant if you don’t support gay marriage or amnesty for illegal immigrants.

Instead of focusing on diversity, the Albany schools might ask students to puzzle out what kind of thinking allowed Adam Lanza to enter the elementary school he attended with the goal of killing children he did not know? That could have led to a discussion of whether it’s possible for either mental health professionals or government agents to determine who is likely to resort to violence, which is what much of gun control legislation purports to accomplish. That in turn could have led to a discussion of individual responsibility and whether a society where anything goes will long endure.


School Safety and the Meaning of Comprehensive

January 31, 2013

Protecting Children in Schools

The State Legislature has been trying to address the problem ex-service people are having finding work. There is a way to provide useful and needed work to ex-service men and women. Employ them as school security personnel.

The tragedy at Newtown made it very clear that current safety measures are inadequate. The buildings themselves need to be made more secure including systems that speed-up police response times. It took 20 minutes for the police to respond in Newtown. If they’d arrived sooner, there would be less focus today on the number of bullets allowable in a gun magazine.

Having security personnel in schools would also serve as a deterrent to those who would behave badly––parents irate about students’ grades or a teacher’s approach to a subject, fired teachers wanting to chew out an administrator, or a mentally ill person capable of inflicting bodily harm on children or teachers.

Adding trained security personnel would counter balance the fear now felt by millions of school children who were exposed to the Newtown story. They would see that their country cares enough about them to protect them.

In my opinion these security personnel should not wear uniforms and their weaponry should not be prominently displayed, for to do so only adds to children’s fear level. It’s enough that they know that person is there to protect them. Monies should be taken from the TSA program, which was a huge over-response to the problem and needs to be down-scaled, and if not enough former military personnel are available to work in schools, hire ex-TSA monitors.

Political Dictionary: The Meaning of Comprehensive

You may think you know the meaning of comprehensive, but if you apply the standard meaning to the political realm, you’re going to miss what’s really going on.

When a politician calls for a comprehensive approach to a problem, such as health care or immigration, here’s what s/he is saying to the members of the other party. “I’m going to hold up a needed change, which I happen to agree with, as a bargaining chip because your constituents want it more than mine.”

Too abstract? Let’s take an example from the current discussion of immigration reform. The business community would like to be able to hire more skilled workers than they are able to find domestically. They would like to offer unfilled job openings to non-US citizens, but the quotas are too small to meet the need. Making that change, which has nothing to do with ILLEGAL immigration, has been held up and tied to a comprehensive solution. Why? Applying our understanding of the meaning of “comprehensive,” it must be that the Republicans want it more than the Democrats and the Democrats won’t deal with it by itself because they think they can use it as a bargaining chip to get something they want.

Hence, whenever you hear anyone in Washington call for a comprehensive approach to an issue, you can bet your last dollar that legislation with bi-partisan support is being held up in hopes that it can be used to get someone to support legislation favored by only one party.


Who Needs Predictions: I’ve Got the Facts

January 3, 2013

Instead of predictions for 2013, I’m here to give you the facts (and nothing but the facts).

1. Further restrictions on the sale of certain types of firearms will pass both the NYC Council and NYS Legislature in 2013. They will not reduce the number of people who die in NYC subways which currently averages one a week––some as a result of people with mental health issues either jumping in front of trains or pushing someone else off the platform.
2. New Yorker taxpayers will not be told how much federal Sandy relief aid will come out of their pockets. Gov. Cuomo will not inform the public that every dollar in federal relief will be borrowed money that taxpayers will have to pay back in higher federal taxes for decades.
3. The 2013 State Budget will be balanced as the law requires, but Gov. Cuomo and the NYS Legislature will use budgeting tricks, mirrors and slight of hand to accomplish it.
4. More than one locality will file for bankruptcy in 2013.
5. Voters will reject as many school district consolidation votes as they pass, refusing to see the writing on the wall––that it costs more to run two separate small school districts than one combined district and results in inferior instruction to boot.
6. More Democrats will join the Independent Democratic Conference in the NYS Senate when they realize membership gives them more power.
7. At least one daily newspaper will switch to a bi-weekly or weekly publication schedule.
8. Hillary Clinton announce that she will not be a candidate for the Presidency in 2016.
9. The Buffalo Bills will not make the playoffs in 2013.
10. The Empire Page will find a new owner in 2013 and Peter Pollak will retire (once again) to write more novels.


Poll Question on School Drop-Out Age

January 29, 2012

In the State of the Union address Pres. Obama suggested states raise the school drop out age to 18. This week the Empire Page Poll Question of the Week asks you whether you agree with the President on this issue.

Pension Reform

Last week we asked people to grade Gov. Cuomo on his pension reform plan. That question drew the largest participation in any poll question ever offered on the Empire Page — nearly 5,000 people voted. The results? 84% gave the governor a failing grade of F; 5% an A, 3% a B and 8% a C.

We thank everyone who participated in that poll and urge them to vote this week as well.


From Occupy Wall Street to Occupy My Employer

January 11, 2012

If the “99%” can feel justified in taking property away from the “1%” on the grounds of fairness, then why can’t workers take a bigger share of a company’s revenue on the same basis? That’s the logic behind a campaign launched by CWA 1199 against Cablevision. Why do Cablevision’s employees need a union according to 1199? Because a former company COO earned more than twice as much as his employees.

Fairness as a determinant of a person’s pay level is also behind the drive to raise New York State’s minimum wage and behind living wage legislation on the agenda in New York City and elsewhere.

The fairness doctrine is predicated on the notion that one’s pay should be more a matter of want than one’s contribution to the enterprise in which one is employed.

Hence, performance as a basis for rewards of pay and status should be downgraded because that criteria undermines the opportunity for those who do not perform well to get their fair share.

Further the ability of the enterprise to pay — whether public or private — should not be considered when it comes to compensation of the work force. Such considerations undermine the ability of those who are unproducitve to gain their fair share.

Let’s be clear that fairness is a subjective value. In the past fairness was balanced against the need of the enterprise to be successful and survive (either make a profit or do the job with available resources). Today, there’s an underlying assumption that no company or government entity is paying its workers a fair wage. Rather, they are hoarding their resources and giving them to the 1%.

A company that pays its workers above the value of the contribution they add to the product or service will not long remain in business. The history of the American car industry is about that very issue. By giving in to union wage and benefit demands, GM, Ford and Chrysler had to charge so much for their cars that they opened the door to foreign manufacturers which were able to sell a superior product at a lower price even when the cost of shipping foreign made cars to the US was taken into account.

The history of the public sector over the past 40 years parallels that of the automobile industry. Elected officials gave in to union demands without consideration of the ability of taxpayers to foot the bill, often by ignoring the future pension obligations they were agreeing to. That lack of political courage has harmed both public sector employees and the general public, as it contributed to the belief that public sector employees are overpaid and underworked relative to private sector workers.

Let’s not waste our time debating whether fairness as a basis of compensation is socialistic or communistic. Labels are not important. What’s important is to recognize the long-term implications of undermining ambition and achievement.

Taken to its logical conclusion doing well in school and working hard in order to obtain a job that gives one decision-making authority and pays well should be discouraged. Why? Those values place the successful individual above the norm and undermine the ability of those who are below average to get their fair share.

Like pay, school grades should not be given out on the basis of performance but rather on the basis of want. Minority and handicapped students have a greater want of good grades since many come from low-income households and enter school with “unfair” disadvantages. Since they will not need to learn skills or work-world values in order to get a fair wage why require that they master subjects or compete with other students!

Grades, jobs and compensation should not be based on merit or performance but rather want — the measure of fairness.

Since the majority in any country skew to the average, the tendency of democractic societies is to elect officials who are in favor of policies that focus on results rather than contribution, on rewards rather than worth, on outcomes rather than effort.

The question we must ask ourselves is will that kind of society be able to compete against those that reward success based on enterprise, competition and equal opportunity and that provide a model for young people justifying effort and ambition? We only need to read the daily accounts of the problems facing Europe to gain a hint of the answer.

If that’s where this country is headed, is such an outcome the kind of fairness we owe future generations?


School Mergers Work

November 12, 2011

Need evidence that merging school districts can be done with benefit to the taxpayers and students? Read today’s story in the Auburn Citizen “Union Springs, Port Byron merger working“.

To stay on top of school mergers, local government sharing, local elections and all the local government news around NYS, subscribe to the Empire Page. The cost is less than a quarter a day.

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Education Merger Cold Feet

November 11, 2011

School district officials — elected and appointed — who have cold feet about considering merging with neighboring districts might consider the discussion taking place in Maryland. The State Legislature is considering merging the University of Maryland with the University of Baltimore. The reasons are the same ones that should propel school districts mergers in New York state — the ability to offer students more choices, cost savings by eliminating inefficient use of capital equipment — from buses to copy machines, better use of personnel and the ability to devote resources to education which are now wasted on administration. The points of resistance are also the same — people who have a vested personal interest in their fiefdoms don’t want change. They try to rally others around the myth of their unique identity, claiming individuals will be lost in the larger institution. That could happen of course if the new administration isn’t conscious of the need to maintain open communications channels for all participants, but the time to recognize that consolidation is not just a good thing, but a necessary thing, is now.