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Columbia Missourian

J. KARL MILLER: Teachers, presidential candidates fight their separate battles

By J. Karl Miller
October 10, 2012 | 6:00 a.m. CDT

During my time on the road these past few weeks — which included a reunion of my Marine Officer's Basic Class of 55 years ago, a visit with old friends and relatives and a tour of the nation's capital — the major news stories were the Chicago teachers' strike, the NFL referee lockout, the Libya/Middle East uprising and the ongoing presidential campaign.

The first two were settled, unfortunately in favor of the striking unions. Chicago's teachers, who are among the highest paid and work the shortest hours of any major school district, were offered a 17 percent pay raise over the next four years (they were originally asking for 30 over two years).  Their response was to strike, citing unfair teacher evaluations and demanding rehires on a basis of seniority rather than one of merit as the primary objections.


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After a week went by, the teachers got most of their demands, the students lost a week of classes and the school district still has a disastrous rate of 79 percent of eighth-graders unable to read proficiently. Who was the winner?

My only comment on the NFL referees' lockout and subsequent settlement is one of amusement over hysteria and histrionics by fans and players alike being blown out of proportion by sports writers, most of whom have never officiated any sport and have little knowledge of the rules. As one who has done it, refereeing football is far from rocket science — the major problem of the replacement officials was one of little experience of working together.

In spite of the hype and fury alleging referee incompetence, NFL attendance remained at 2011 levels, as did hot dog and beer sales. Now that the lockout is over, pro football officiating will be again evaluated by the home crowd, and the referees, being human, will continue to make some bad calls. So, what else is new?

The Libya/Middle East attacks are still under investigation. Accordingly, any conjecture would be premature and possibly unfair. Nevertheless, the administration must answer some tough questions concerning security precautions, intelligence procedure and some obviously blatant misjudgments and misstatements immediately following the attacks.

The current presidential campaign and reported polling data remain an enigma to this columnist. In one corner we have a candidate with a virtually unblemished record of success as a governor, a business leader and president and CEO of the organizing committee for the 2002 Winter Olympics.

In the other corner, we have arguably, the least experienced in executive leadership ever elected to the U.S. presidency since its founding. Proponents and opponents may disagree (and do) as to who is at fault; nevertheless, only the most stubborn of supporters can dredge up any measure of optimism from his leadership of the last four years.

Unemployment has remained at about 8 percent, the national debt has soared from $10 trillion to nearly $16 trillion in less than four years, and the state of the economy has ranged from stagnant to anemic. Admittedly, President Barack Obama inherited a floundering ship — but, in June 2009, the Bush recession was declared over — thus, the economy became the property of the president-elect.

President Obama was swept into office amid strong bipartisan support and an aura of warmth and good feelings. In my opinion, he squandered that considerable political capital along with a veto-proof Congress by opting for unpopular measures such as health care and cap-and-trade legislation in lieu of pursuing job creation.

Consequently, to make a long story short, the president owns a resume rather difficult to champion. Expediently, he has attacked his opponent, Gov. Mitt Romney for not paying enough taxes, for being unduly wealthy, for "hiding" his riches in offshore accounts, for a failure to identify with the middle class and for anything else that obfuscates his thus far uninspired administration.

Accordingly, it is difficult to understand just how and why the president continues to enjoy a lead in most polls. Yes, he was not dealt a particularly winning hand; however, the cards he has chosen have failed to improve it.

By a virtually unanimous decision, the first debate was won handily by Romney as he was well prepared and owns a considerable advantage in economic and business acumen. But, this is the first of three debates — expect the president to rebound in strength; the initial underestimation of Romney won't be repeated. And history has taught one lesson — a good debate won't guarantee a win, but a poor one will cause a loss.

For this stagnant economy to rebound, there must be a creation of jobs. One might view each candidate's relative success in this venue by considering Staples and Solyndra.

J. Karl Miller retired as a colonel in the Marine Corps. He is a Columbia resident and can be reached via email at Questions? Contact Opinion editor Elizabeth Conner.