Don’t do a thing and it will get better

One of our problems as humans is a bias for action. We want to do something. But there are times when doing nothing is just fine.

Here’s an interesting take on the deficit. If congress and the president do nothing at all, the deficit goes down by about 75%.

Read it here

And now I’ll leave the deficit alone for a while.

It’s not about the deficit

A lot of the news for the past several weeks has been about the deficit. There is a certain hysteria that we now have a huge deficit and nothing, including jobs, is more important than cutting the deficit.

The concern is driven by the Republicans, and especially by the Tea Party caucus. It’s fair to ask where they were when the deficit leaped up during the Bush 41 administration, or why policy issues like Planned Parenthood are more important than deficit reduction.The clear answer is that they don’t care about the deficit. What they care about is eliminating programs they don’t like, including health care reform and social security. Health care reform, to take an example, actually reduces the deficit. The Ryan budget increases the deficit, largely by repealing health care reform.

Reducing taxes increases the deficit. We know that from what is now 30 years experience with tax cuts. But the Ryan plan cuts taxes yet again, to levels not seen since 1929. Now that was a good year.

The point here is that we shouldn’t get sucked into a debate about the deficit with people who don’t care about it, but are merely posturing as a way of cutting the programs they don’t like. We’ve known this since the Reagan administration when Grover Norquist set out the agenda, which was to cut taxes until government got so small it could be drowned in a bathtub.

It’s not about the deficit. It’s about cutting important programs that protect the poor and middle class while cutting taxes for the wealthy. That’s what the GOP and Tea Party want to do.

Don’t get sucked into the wrong debate. Let’s instead talk about jobs, education, infrastructure, research and development. Those grow the economy and, with growth and increased tax revenue, the deficit takes care of itself.

Zombie administration

There’s an excellent new book out on zombie economics. The thesis is that long discredited economic ideas (such as that the market will solve all problems) never seem to die. They keep resurfacing, with politicians and media types assuming that these ideas actually work. We know after 30 years of experience that they don’t.

But it’s not just in economics that bad ideas won’t die. I talked today with an education administration prof, who reminded me the same phenomenon happens in administration. There are business schools, some of high repute, like Harvard, that have decided, once again, that a good manager can manage anything, even a school. Now I thought we learned, back in the 80s, that this notion didn’t work. Huge conglomerates were formed and dissolved (think ITT, among others) on the reasoning that management didn’t need to understand the specifics of each business. They could manage anything. Think also of the damage to the auto companies that came about when financial managers (Roger Moore comes to mind) ran the show. They knew nothing about manufacturing or product development. But they know finance. And nearly destroyed the companies.

So now we get the b-schools taking on education. It’s a zombie idea. We know it doesn’t work. The management people have to understand the business they manage. When they don’t, things break. Seriously.

Let bad ideas die.

union boss

It appears that the tired old phrase “union boss” is back with a vengeance. Politicians, even some journalists, seem to think that elected union officers are somehow bosses.

I just want to observe that, having been an elected union officer in the past, “boss” is hardly the first term that comes to mind. I couldn’t really boss anyone around. We weren’t paid. And we could be (and were) voted out regularly.

I have to admit there were times when it might have been of some benefit to be a boss. But, no, the vast majority of elected union officers are not bosses, in any sense.

Muslims guard Egyptian churches

This hasn’t been reported nearly enough. Coptic Christmas Eve services (Jan. 7) were peaceful as thousands of Egyptian Muslims guarded Christian churches, in protest of the bombings of Coptic churches on New Year’s Eve.

Teachers’ unions as reformers

A good post from Richard Kahlenberg at The American Prospect:

http://www.prospect.org/cs/articles?article=its_not_the_teachers_unions

“Contrary to conventional wisdom on the right — and now the left — unions have actually been at the forefront of education-reform efforts.”

More about teachers

Yesterday I posted a thought about the movie, Waiting for Superman.

I didn’t say enough. There’s an analogy that might help see where I am on teachers.

You may remember that in the 80s and 90s, criticism of American auto makers was high because of poor quality. The entire focus of quality then was on assembly line workers. The media was full of criticism of auto workers who were pictured as lazy and caring nothing about the quality of what they were building. The result was such things as Quality Circles and Employee Involvement, which attempted to fix quality by focusing on the front line people. No one asked how auto workers could build a good car if the design and engineering weren’t of high quality.

That concern with the whole system came later, when the shortcomings of focusing on the assembly line became obvious. Each of the Big 3 engaged in redesigning the product development process.

The similarity to today’s criticism of schools is compelling. Again, we’re blaming the front-line worker, in this case, teachers. We know that when you’re trying to fix a system, you have to look at the whole system. For education, the system includes teachers and administration, but also the community and family. Without addressing poverty and early childhood education, many children are is systems that leave them without the knowledge and skills they need.

Waiting for Superman

I haven’t seen the movie Waiting for Superman yet, and I’m not sure I will. I think the review from The Nation makes good sense about charter schools and teacher unions.

(Full disclosure: I am a union teacher and a strong supporter of public schools.)

More than that, there is much evidence that charter schools are no better than public schools. One of the most effective school reformers is Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers.

Stuffed Pizza

We tried the stuffed pizza from the King Arthur Flour site. Great! Collette and I have some differences over pizza: She prefers simple pizzas, cheese and nothing else. I like pizzas with a lot of toppings. So there was some concern over the stuffed pizza. It has cheese, of course, plus sausage and spinach.

Not to worry. We both loved it.

Stuffed Pizza

Stuffed Pizza

It’s a two crust pizza, with sausage, mozzarella and spinach in the middle. Cover the top crust with tomato sauce and grated parmesan cheese.

Stuffed pizza

Stuffed pizza

The recipe is at http://www.kingarthurflour.com/recipes/stuffed-pizza-recipe

Let me know how yours turns out, or better, post your comments on the King Arthur blog.

Introducing Stephen Ministry


(Article written for St. John’s Episcopal Church, Royal Oak, MI, newsletter, News & Views.)

Stephen Ministry is coming to St. John’s.

Stephen Ministry is a way to extend pastoral care to people who need someone who is willing to listen and support them. Stephen Ministers complete 50 hours of training and then serve as lay care givers in a supervised, confidential ministry. Care receivers may be struggling with illness, aging, family issues, death of a loved one, or other problems. Stephen Ministers are not counselors, but caring listeners. They do not cure, they care.

At St. John’s we are adopting Stephen Ministry as a way of extending pastoral care beyond the clergy. We have ministries that do some of this already, with Mending Hearts and the Looking for Work group, for example. Stephen Ministry cannot replace these wonderful groups, but it can provide pastoral care individually where that is needed.

Stephen Ministries have been in operation for over 30 years, in thousands of churches of every denomination.  I just returned from a week of training as a Stephen Leader. Kathy Stricker will be going to the training in April. The 150+ lay and ordained people I trained with represent over 30 church bodies. One of the impressions I carried away from the training is the focus on providing a distinctly Christian ministry to hurting people. Those of us gathered last week might agree on very little of our theology, worship, music, or many other aspects of our faith. We never discussed those things. Yet we could meet, learn, pray and share together, united in our common desire to bring Christ’s love to others and see the face of Christ in those who are in need.

I think this is a great program that will be of great benefit to St. John’s and its people. You’ll be hearing more about it in the next several months.