Monday, December 5, 2011

Biopsy of a Free-Lance Writer’s Attack on Teachers

Recently, I received an email about someone who had attempted to satirically criticize a few questions that I had about progressive tax reform as a solution to the state’s budget deficits, but his attempt at mockery turned into an ad hominem attack on Illinois teachers. For your perusal, here is a few of Mr. BZ's Deceptive and Uneducated Manipulative Bull (BZDUMB).

To begin, consider one of Mr. BZDUMB’s introductory statements: “Why for example should WI have only one teacher with a salary over $100,000 when in 2010 IL had 6,855 teachers with salaries over $100,000?…”

There are over 171,000 active teachers in Illinois (Teachers Retirement System). Even if Mr. BZDUMB is correct about 6,855 teachers that have salaries over $100,000, besides committing the fallacy of composition (to reason that the properties or minority of individuals are necessarily the properties of the whole which they constitute – in other words, four percent of a population is not representative of the whole), what has he established except for his conspicuously-deep prejudice against teachers who have earned a constitutionally-promised pension that they have consistently contributed to throughout their careers and was under-funded by the State of Illinois in the amount of nearly $15 billion (TRS)?

Let’s consider his next statements: “…Tax credits for jobs continues [sic] to be the Hail Mary pass of progressive economic thinking. Like Obama and Geithner, Brown has no experience in the business world and obviously has no idea why businessmen hire new employees. They hire because business is expanding not because they might get a small tax credit. So what would happen if this type of law were passed would be [sic] tax credits going to employers who were going to hire anyway. In other words a complete waste of taxpayer dollars [sic]. This is another in a long line of progressive ad verecundiam fallacies i.e. ‘appeal to improper authority.’ Examples of these fallacious arguments would be asking [sic] Mike Ditka to explain the Theory of Relativity or asking Einstein to predict the Super Bowl winner or asking Obama/Geithner/Brown to devise effective business tax policy…”

Indeed, companies hire because they want to increase their profits and meet their customers’ demands. (Mr. BZDUMB must have had a lemonade stand as a child). But does Mr. BZDUMB fully understand the ad verecundiam fallacy and assume, for instance, that his readers will not recognize a claim that employs a ludicrous faulty analogy to make a point? It is ironical that he refers to ad verecundiam, (the fallacy of substantive distraction through various appeals to pedantic words and phrases, detail and specificity, references, quotations, length, or mathematical symbols), when he uses no creditable references or any appeal to ethos in his disagreement. Moreover, his comments about “the Hail Mary pass of progressive economic thinking” announce his unwillingness to examine questions and evidence fairly.

Now examine his following statements: “…Mr. Brown’s position represents that of a large group of entitled political elitists, usually public employees, who think all solutions lead to tax increases and/or targeted Progressive tax credits which is the same thing. In spite of Solyandra [sic] he wants more tax money for ineffective and unworkable green projects; in spite of $6.8 billion in new taxes in IL he wants more taxes on the ‘rich’ and new sales taxes on services; without any experience in business matters he wants tax credits for hiring even though it is useless as a job creating function.”

Besides Mr. BZDUMB’s attempt to conjure a “now I got ‘em” emotional response from his conservative tea-party comrades through use of such terms as “elitist” and “progressive,” he simplifies a set of circumstances and prefers an erroneous response to a complicated issue. He presents an irrelevant allusion to Solyndra that establishes another of his disconnected generalizations. Mr. BZDUMB failed to note that the questions I had asked explored a broader-based taxation system that would provide a decrease in taxes for low-income and many middle-income families. Let us imagine for a moment how much money would be available for services for ninety-nine percent of the state’s population if the top one percent of the populace paid its “fair share,” and corporations paid their “full taxes” to the state. Moreover, “[a state that does not tax services, such as Illinois], probably could increase [its] sales tax revenue by more than one-third if [it] taxed services purchased by households comprehensively” (the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, July 2009).

Ponder these next claims: “…pension sustainability is eating the budget alive… note that the $6.8 billion tax increase implemented last year will just cover the pension obligation next year. Then also notice that in 2015 when the supposedly 'temporary' tax increase expires [sic] the pension obligation jumps to $7.9 billion. The $6.8 billion for next year represents about 20% of the General Fund Revenue. That’s 20% of the budget to pay for pensions for 5% of Illinois workers…,” [and] “…how big are those (taxpayer) pension liabilities? At the end of 2010 they were $135 billion according [sic] the state actuaries but perhaps as much as $270 billion by critics. And those numbers do not include taxpayer liabilities of $17 billion for Pension Obligation Bonds and perhaps another $40 billion for retiree health care. Notice that all of these liabilities, somewhere in the range of $200 to $325 billion, are TAXPAYER liabilities and not employee/retiree liabilities. That is the problem…”

Mr. BZDUMB subscribes to the Chicago Tribune and, though the unfunded liabilities of the pension systems remain in perpetuity, what he also fails to acknowledge is that they grew exponentially because of the state’s deliberate and inconsistent funding methods, the state’s unreliable accounting methods, and the state’s deceitful “backroom deals” that were to be funded with future monies (they occurred without teachers’ knowledge or approval). Furthermore, what he conveniently fails to remember is that the scapegoating of public employees began when greed and corruption, particularly flagrant in the financial sector, ignited the Great Recession. This, of course, came after eight years of inordinate military spending for two costly wars, deregulation and unprecedented tax cuts for the wealthy by the federal government. This tsunami of debt contributed to every state’s budget deficits.

Mr. BZDUMB fails to admit that Wall Street bankers and hedge fund thieves created the crisis; he does not comment upon the fact that deregulation, derivatives and two costly wars have contributed to state deficits. In addition, he says nothing about the state’s underfunding of the pension systems and its resultant benefits reaped by Illinois taxpayers for several decades because he prefers the fallacy of begging the question (assuming as true what has yet to be proved) and to arouse fear (a fallacy of argument ad metum), resentment (a fallacy of argument ad odium) and ignorance instead. We have heard the often skewed allegation that “it’s unfair for the ninety-five percent to pay for the pensions of the five percent” when, in fact, according to TRS, for the past 20 years, approximately seventy-five percent of the teachers’ pension system has been funded by long-term investments, teachers’ contributions, and the State (from FY 1991-FY 2010, excluding FY 2004 pension obligation bond proceeds). Two-thirds of the state’s contributions are for the debt service or interest that the State of Illinois owes because of delinquent payments to the teachers’ pension system.

Reflect upon his concluding remarks: “…we should implement taxes on all IL public pensions and restore the $456 million in cuts to student transportation, Dept. of Aging, mental health and disabilities, Public Health, Children and Family Services and the homeless. In fact taxing and suspending the COLA only on teachers with pensions over $100,000 would provide enough funds to restore the $17 million in cuts to the Department of Aging and the $6 million in cuts to the Department of Children and Family Services…

“What the rest of us want is fewer Mr. Brown’s in public ‘service’; lower salaries for the fewer Mr. Brown’s that remain; lesser pensions and health care cost for the fewer Mr. Brown’s that remain; more work (hrs. /day, days per year) from the Mr. Brown’s that remain: fewer public functions (regulations) for the fewer Mr. Brown’s to perform/monitor/watch.”

Ah! Now we finally discover his real intentions for writing his squabble. Mr. BZDUMB’s “zavist” (a fallacy of argument ad invidiam or, in this case, an extreme envy of a teacher’s pension) obscures any objective attempt to respond to the salient questions that I had presented for serious discussion regarding pension and tax reform in Illinois. Perhaps he had a few traumatic experiences in his formative years (Was he bullied by his classmates or a teacher in grade school?). Though it is difficult to assume whether he ever went to college based upon his attempt at writing, he is indubitably “without any experience” in logic, ethics, and legality.

What Mr. BZDUMB fails to understand (because of his provincial ideas and partiality) is that pension reform is an educational issue and that an essential goal for any state when considering pension reform is to attract and retain the finest possible teacher candidates available through salaries that are commensurate with their education and experience (just like remunerations for college-educated employees in the private sector). Unfortunately, many school districts in Illinois are dependent upon an antiquated and inequitable system of property taxes for most of their schools’ revenue; thus, injustices abound. What’s more, pension reform is a political and financial issue that will affect hundreds of thousands of people; it must be evaluated not only for affordability, but for fairness, sustainability and constitutionality.

We can assume that Mr. BZDUMB does not believe that pension reform should concur with the State and U.S. Constitutions and, therefore, be defended. We can also assume that he watches Fox News (which ironically pointed out at one time that the bankers’ “bonuses” should be honored notwithstanding of the taxpayers’ bailout because “they were contractual agreements” and “that we have to attract the brightest” among them with future guarantees). Of course, if anyone were to default on a contractual promise to Mr. BZDUMB, we could perhaps imagine an improved and deductive response from him.

Like the Civic Committee's Illinois Is Broke and its spawns, Mr. BZDUMB offers his readers a fallacy of non sequitur (the conclusion is not necessitated by the premises); he finds it self-serving to confound the facts of the matter and to shift the blame on teachers for the resultant economic debacle occurring in Illinois. He does not consider the fact that claims are most effective when supported by evidence that is sufficient, accurate, and relevant, and that arguments are not substantiated when they are buoyed by deleterious and fallacious reasoning, tabloid thinking, questionable statistics, inapt allusions, and appeals to intolerance and prejudice. Insightful questioning is meant to stimulate an authentic debate; Mr. BZDUMB’s fallacious and condescending quips (many of which I did not bother to address) are designed to terminate further analysis and synthesis of a crucial and complex argument.

-Glen Brown

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for responding so logically and eloquently to BZDUMB. It's a rare gem to stumble upon such a gem.