The Pasadena Unified School District board has repeatedly stressed the need to invest in education.

Fortunately, they stopped talking and did their jobs, laying off 139 employees, including 87 teachers. These budget cuts won’t be the last by any means.

The California State Teacher Retirment System (CalSTRS) has a $100 billion unfunded teachers’ pension liability. CalSTRS, like its counterpart the California Public Employee Retirement System (CalPERS), has tried to hide the true cost of pensions by cooking its books and underreporting the real costs.

Students may feel outraged about the cuts at their crumbling schools, but they should use the experience as a learning opportunity. If they thought that governments can’t go out of business or default on their debts, obligations and pension promises, they are learning that yes, they sure can. Almost every state in the union has a budget that is underwater. The cause is not President Trump or billionaires. The cause is greed and dishonesty and lawmakers who don’t understand Accounting 101.

Expect the situation to worsen. Unlike the federal government, states and cities and school districts can’t print money. They have to balance their budgets with actual cash in the bank.    



Walls don’t work

Americans don’t build border walls, Mr. President. We tear them down!

The Berlin Wall stood for 28 years, a hated symbol of repressive political cruelty in service of an onerous economic ideology. President Ronald Reagan made history in 1987 when he stood at the Brandenburg Gate in what was then West Berlin and called out to the Eastern Bloc, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” Two years later America achieved one of its biggest foreign policy wins of the 20th century when the Berlin Wall came down at last, the Cold War ended, and the Iron Curtain across Europe was dismantled.

Another 29 years have passed since the world watched gleeful German civilians take hammers and chisels to that hated border wall. Today the world watches as another Republican president tries to coerce a reluctant nation into building an Iron Curtain-style border wall on American soil. Trump wants guard towers, snipers, electronic surveillance and barbed wire just like the Berlin Wall! Reagan spins in his grave while Putin laughs.

This proposed wall is not a crucial piece of any serious national security plan. It began as one of candidate Donald Trump’s many lightly made hucksterish promises in a political campaign we have since confirmed he only undertook as a publicity stunt. It drew laughter and applause, so daily he embellished and repeated the line about building a “big, beautiful wall” to keep out hordes of imaginary “bad hombres.” The most popular part of this campaign shtick was always the punchline about making Mexico pay for the wall. He kept saying it even after Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto met with him in person and told him emphatically that Mexico would never pay for the wall.

The Republican candidate was aghast when he squeaked out a narrow Electoral College win and accidentally became our 45th president! Trapped by his own words, President Trump now had to pretend that all his casually conceived and endlessly repeated campaign applause lines were actually serious and thoughtful policy positions. And his supporters now expected him to implement them.

Our beleaguered new president couldn’t coerce Mexico into buying him a “big, beautiful“ Iron Curtain-style border wall like he promised. So now he’s trying to coerce American taxpayers into buying it for him. As if this bait-and-switch were at all the same thing.

The president pursues his wall obsessively, but he doesn’t seem to care much about any details of its design, location or actual costs. Would a Berlin Wall on America’s southern border actually be the most cost-effective solution to any pressing real-world homeland security problem? He doesn’t ask. This disconnect suggests that even the president doesn’t really believe his proposed wall would be more than a symbolic solution to an imaginary problem.

I don’t want to pay tens of billions of dollars for such a misguided project. Don’t even get me started about the environmental impacts and political damage.

But worse than wasting our money, building an Iron Curtain-style border wall in America would squander our nation’s hard-earned national purpose. Two generations of Americans spent half the 20th century resolutely holding the line with NATO allies against the implacable Warsaw Pact nations — fighting, dying and facing down the terrifying threat of nuclear annihilation — before Gorbachev’s reforms and political activism in Eastern Europe finally provided history’s answer to Reagan’s speech at the Berlin Wall. If we take a page from the reviled playbook of our authoritarian Cold War enemies and build a New Berlin Wall on our own border, then we heap disrespect on the brave Americans who fought those fights. And we mock the deeply held American values we all fought for. If we buy that wall for this vainglorious president, knowing that it’s really just a sham, then we scarcely deserve to call ourselves Americans any more.

Call your elected representatives with a message for the White House: Not one dime for Iron Curtain-style border walls in America, Mr. President. Maybe you missed the memo while you were golfing: Americans don’t build border walls, we tear them down! We stand by our values and we honor our history. Get with the program, sir.