Updated on 02.23.11

Reader Mailbag: Winter Recedes

Trent Hamm

What’s inside? Here are the questions answered in today’s reader mailbag, boiled down to five word summaries. Click on the number to jump straight down to the question.
1. Refinancing questions
2. Selling stuff
3. Market price for old collectibles
4. Paying off low interest cards
5. 53, single, and moving forward
6. On Wisconsin
7. Wedding registry questions
8. Parenting blogs
9. Trimming possessions
10. Short games

Over the last several days, winter has receded here in Iowa enough that I’ve been able to play outside with my kids for more than a few minutes without frozen cheeks. The best part is that after a winter spent almost entirely indoors, the fresh air is an amazingly powerful sleeping medicine. When you spend several hours outside in a single day after many weeks spent largely inside, you sleep like a rock.

As do the children, thankfully.

Q1: Refinancing questions
I’ve seen you post a couple of times recently about refinancing. The latest used 5% as a rule of thumb for being a good time to refinance. My question though, is whether or not one should do that if one has already refinanced recently. It seems from when we refinanced in 2009 (6.5% down to 5%), there was a time frame that would have to pass before the savings in interest caught up to the fees one had to pay for the refinance. What would you suggest in such a situation? How long should one wait after the first refinance before refinancing yet again? I do realize, of course, that it depends on the fees involved in each mortgage, but I was wondering on a more basic level.

Also, How does refinancing work if your home has decreased significantly in value? A recent check on Zillow (the only gauge I have on current value) shows a loss of about $30k (not accounting any upgrades/remodel work).
– Linda

I think it’s always a good idea to refinance if you can save money over the long run in comparison to your current mortgage after costs are accounted for. In other words, ignore the first refinance and calculate things based on your current mortgage and what you’d like to refinance to. If that refinance puts you money ahead, go for it. The savings from your first finance will carry forward right into the second one.

When you refinance, lenders will often want to reassess your home, as you’re essentially getting a new mortgage. If your home assesses at a much lower value, you might not be eligible for a refinance. For example, if the decrease in value of your home puts you underwater, a lender may not want to lend you money at that low rate with your devalued home as collateral.

I don’t necessarily trust Zillow for housing values, though. The realities of home sales within half a mile of me shows that they’re often way off base. I watched houses in my area sell at a good 20% above what Zillow was estimating within the last year.

Q2: Selling stuff
I’ve often read on your blog (and others) that you’ve sold stuff in order to make money to pay off debts, etc. What do you do when the stuff you have is not “current” or was used when you purchased it? How do you decide on pricing and/or method of sales?

The reason for the question – My husband and I try to live frugally but since he is a self-employed business man (sole proprietor) we haven’t had “spare” cash. I work a full time job but that income barely covers our health insurance premiums plus withholdings and extra Federal withholding to cover his self-employment tax at the end of the year. A few items we’ve purchased have been new but we bought them as investments and for repeated and necessary use. Most things we’ve purchased from used business sales, garage sales, consignment shops and the like. With the economy we’ve recently had several clients walk away from bills in the thousands of dollars. We no longer have any savings or “capital” and are not able to meet our bills and other financial obligations. We are re-evaluating all our spending and tightening wherever possible but were already on a shoestring.
– Peggy

What I usually do is I do my best to get an accurate market price for the item. I use tools like eBay and other online resale shops to determine what sort of price you might be able to realistically get for such an item.

If that doesn’t help but you’re still sure that an item has some significant value, I’d stop at a local consignment shop and discuss the matter with them. They’re often very good at helping people price certain items for sale.

You’ve got to understand, though, that your item is only worth what someone else is willing to pay for it. No more, no less. The real question is whether you’re willing to sell it for a low price. Many people overvalue the possessions that they currently have and, as a result, sit on items with little or no value, absorbing the costs of storing and maintaining those items. That’s a mistake – don’t let yourself fall into that trap if you’re looking at items you truly no longer want.

Q3: Market price for old collectibles
I really enjoy reading your emails and like the way you reinforce a lot of the ideas that I also believe in. Today, you mentioned that you sold off a vintage baseball card collection and a large collection of other trading cards. I have a good friend who is age 61 and has a similar collection that he gathered from the time he was a young child and since. He is having a difficult time trying to begin to sell it because he is afraid that, if he goes to a store, he will be taken to the cleaners. We have never sold anything on Ebay before, so it is a scary proposition to use Ebay for the first time. Can you please tell us how to go about getting a market price and unloading this valuable collection? Thank you very much for your response.

– Judy

He’s right in that he’ll probably be taken to the cleaners if he walks into a baseball card shop with a vintage collection and no grasp on what the collection is worth. My guess is that, based on his age, he has a lot of cards from the late 1950s and 1960s, which have actually retained their value quite well. Cards made after about 1970 haven’t retained their value nearly as well, unfortunately.

My first step would be to pull out individual cards from this collection that likely have some additional value. I would start by pulling out any and all cards that depict members of the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame. Take those cards, identify what year they are (take the last year of statistics on the back of the card and add a year) and who the manufacturer was, and search for those terms on eBay. So, for example, search for 1961 Topps Roger Maris, if you happen to have that card.

If you find any cards that seem to be worth more than $50, I would have them professionally graded and sealed using a service like PSA. This will greatly help you with maximizing the value of what you get from those cards. After this, I would attempt to sell them on eBay. For cards less than $50, I would probably attempt to sell them in lots on eBay.

Q4: Paying off low interest cards
I’m a US Army officer who is currently sitting on two credit cards that could be paid off. I say ‘could’ instead of ‘should’ because both of them only have a 6% APR interest rate on them. This comes from the SCRA, or Servicemembers Civil Relief Act. Any additional charges on my cards have been paid off the month I make them. My question is this…I’ve also got a military loan, currently at $11,000 owed, at a 2% rate. Between the two credit cards, which have $3,000 and $1500 on them respectively…which of the two would be better to pay off first? I know the higher interest rate is the 6%, but the amount there is so negligible to pay off each month that I easily pay off a bit more without stressing out over anything.

– Steve

If you’re choosing between two debts with the same interest rate, I would always pay off the one with the smaller balance first.

The reason for that is cash flow. The smaller balance card will be paid off much faster than the higher balance card. When the card is paid off, you’ll have more money in your checking account each month. Of course, you can apply that extra money to a larger payment against your other debts, but you also have the freedom to make other moves with it, such as handling personal emergencies.

With all else being equal, maximizing your cash flow by minimizing the number of monthly payments as soon as possible is the best option.

Q5: 53, single, and moving forward
I’m not in a crisis situation but I don’t know what I should be doing financially. I am a single 53 year old woman with no children. I work at a job I really like and make not quite $40,000 a year. I have very little debt and not more than about $700 in savings. The one thing I have going for me is that I have approximately $204,000 from a long ago insurance settlement. The money is with a broker I trust and has bounced back from the previous year’s financial losses.

So I’m in fairly good shape (I think).

But I feel like I need to be concentrating on something. I’ve been living in a condo for the past years and owe approximately $80,000 on it. My take home pay is approximately $2400 a month. I try not to dip into my insurance settlement so I should be able to live on what I bring home, which I do. But I would like to know what else I could be doing. I have not contributed to an IRA in years, so should I put some money there? Concentrate on paying down my mortgage? Save more?

Also, due to some health concerns I would not be surprised if I am not able to work past age 60 or so. I usually have about $4000 a year in various medical bills. I have not been very good with my money and I know it’s a little late in life to be asking these questions – but I just have to ask – what should I be doing with any spare money I might be able to save?
– Carol

Without that settlement, you would be in very bad shape. Given that you have the settlement, though, you’re not doing too terribly, and you made a very wise decision to not touch the balance.

When you state that you will be unable to work past age sixty, my big question would be whether or not you would be able to draw disability wages at that point. In other words, when you are unable to work, are you going to be able to draw some income due to the work you’ve already done in your life? Is there a pension? Are you going to be able to do any type of work when you reach this point, or is it just your current job?

My suggestion to you would be to create a roadmap with as much detail as you can into the future. What will you need per year, assuming (say) 5% inflation per year? When will you likely have to stop working? What will you be able to draw for income at that point? What’s your realistic life expectancy?

Once you have that, look at your extra money now and your (possible) shortfall in the future. At that point, I’d either call my broker and look for a way to add to that settlement or resume IRA contributions.

Q6: On Wisconsin
I’ve got to ask: how do you feel about the protests in Wisconsin? It certainly does have personal finance implications!

– Ron

In my opinion, the Wisconsin protests are happening because liberals and conservatives only talk to and listen to their vocal, extreme bases and don’t listen to or talk to each other. Because of that, there can be no negotiation and no compromise, lest one side or the other appear weak and a “sellout.”

Are the protesters well within their rights to protest? Absolutely. Are the legislators well within their rights to do whatever they can to push a vote forward? Absolutely. Could they find a reasonable compromise if they sat down at a table together and actually hashed things out? Absolutely. Will they actually do this? Absolutely not.

I understand why both sides are taking the stance that they do. The governor and legislators are striving to minimize costs over the long run for the state, and the way to do that is to eliminate the ability of their workforce to fight for wage increases. If they can’t collectively bargain, they can’t make large demands. On the other hand, the protesters absolutely should fight for the deal they have right now – why shouldn’t they? Wouldn’t you be bothered if your wages, benefits, and employee rights were cut?

I think there’s a point in the middle both sides can live with, but there’s too much politically at stake here for both sides to do the sensible thing.

Q7: Wedding registry questions
My fiance and I are getting married in October in Florida where we live. We will have family and friends coming in from Massachusetts, Michigan, and Washington state. We are in our early thirties and currently live together in a house I own. Because of this, we have most everything we need for our home. I was wondering what kind of gifts should we register for that we will get the most use from? I don’t want to ask for cash because I think that’s tacky. There are a few things I know I want to register for: extra sheets and towels, dinnerware and flatware, and some decorative pieces. My fiance doesn’t need any more tools he says. I was thinking abour registering at JC Penney and Target. That way, there will be a range of options. I’ve thought about registering for things that will add value to the house. We would like to buy a larger one after we have a child. I’m not sure what things that would be, though. Financially, we are good. We both work full time, contribute to our retirement accounts, and have an emergency fund.

– Evelyn

I understand your challenge. We had a similar issue before our own wedding, where family members were clamoring for items on a gift registry but we were unsure what to put on there.

I would suggest a couple of general themes. One, look for high-quality versions of items you use all the time. If you’re starting to cook at home a lot, for example, and are relying on a mediocre knife or two, request knives. If you use a blender a lot but are frustrated by the one you have, request one of those.

Two, request items that might replace the ones you currently have. For example, when we were about to get married, we were still using hand-me-down plates. While these plates were functional, they were also a bit brittle, so we asked for a set. We didn’t need to use them for a year or two, but when we needed them, they were right on hand.

If you stick to good versions of items you already use and replacements for items you know will wear out in the near future, you’ll be selecting good things.

Q8: Parenting blogs
I’m very excited to say that my wife and I are expecting our first child in June. Since your blog has been so helpful with helping sort out my financial life in so many ways, including giving me detail I wouldn’t have thought to ask for myself, broadening my horizons on other topics (sometimes only marginally financially related. Don’t think me a forum troll. I greatly enjoy those articles as well, as needled as they may sometimes be in the comments regarding their relationship to your primary topic. :-D ), delving into both the practical and the theoretical while remaining personal on all fronts…I digress. Look man, I need something like your stuff to tell me what I’m supposed to do with a kid! I have no idea! I’ve read “What to Expect” and several others recommended by the Dr and a few friends, but they’re almost all…well, they seem like troubleshooting books, and not much to do with experiences. They’re almost purely medical, if you know what I mean. Do you have any suggestions like thesimpledollar.com etc that could help me ease the tension as a waiting dad-to-be?

– Ron

Parenting blogs are a subgenre that I’m pretty familiar with – I once wrote one in late 2005 and early 2006 before some extremely creepy people convinced me to stop because of their disturbing comments about my infant that I had posted a few pictures of. (I’m now FAR more careful about what I post with regards to my kids.)

What I learned during those days – and since then, as I’m still a reader of many of those blogs – is that most of them strive to entertain, period. They’re trying to tell cute or funny stories about life as a parent, not to offer useful advice or thoughts to parents.

There are a few reasons for this, I think. The big one is that there is no one consistent set of principles for parenting as there is for personal finance. The core personal finance principles are constant. For parenting, it’s not so much, so if you try to write about tactics, you’re going to end up with many threads being combative.

The one standout blog that I’ve ever read that focuses on parental tactics is Parent Hacks, which has been churning out great content along those lines for years.

Q9: Trimming possessions
I have been struggling the last few months about all the “things” that I own and whether or not I should start selling or donating them. I feel like I want to simplify my life, but I don’t know where or how to start, or even if I have the courage. I feel attached to my computer, smartphone, television, the internet, email, my house, and other objects and I want to be set free. My wife and I are in decent financial shape, although we are at risk for losing %10-15 of our take home pay due to budget cuts, and possibly even losing our jobs. This has prompted me to move forward and ask your advice on any resources that you may have run across.

– Jeff

I’m not entirely clear on what you’re looking for. There are a lot of different degrees of doing what you’re trying to do, from just decluttering a bit to selling your home and living in an RV or a tent.

I think your thought process in these regards isn’t really complete yet, so I would suggest three books for you to read.

The first one is Your Money or Your Life by Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin. It’s just a brilliant book that really helps a person to figure out the true relationship between money and how they want to live their life.

The second one is Voluntary Simplicity by Duane Elgin. It discusses how a modern person can actively make the choice to simplify their life by removing possessions and commitments in a sensible and reasonable way.

The final book is The Power of Less by Leo Babauta, which gives yet another strong perspective on minimalization from a modern perspective.

I believe these three books – which you can probably find at your local library – will guide you to the answers you’re looking for.

Q10: Short games
I looked at some of the board and card games you’ve listed and some of them seem really long. What suggestions do you have for shorter games?

– Megan

I often compare games to either movies or television shows. Some games are like movies – they are lengthy, epic experiences. I’ve played many games that I love that take three or four hours. On the other hand, some games are television shows – short bursts of great entertainment. I’m pretty sure Megan is looking for the latter ones.

So, what games are really fun (and also deep enough to warrant repeat play) that can be played in less than thirty minutes? Here are five quick picks.

7 Wonders is a card game where players are attempting to build the best civilization by selecting sets of cards. Dominion is another card game where players are assembling their own deck of cards from a shared pool. Space Alert is a rapid-fire board game that simulates space combat. Dixit is a game where players tell very brief descriptions or stories about intriguing art pieces. Forbidden Island is a cooperative game where players are attempting to escape a sinking island.

Better yet, just get an ordinary deck of playing cards and play one of the many great games people can play with playing cards.

Got any questions? Email them to me or leave them in the comments and I’ll attempt to answer them in a future mailbag (which, by way of full disclosure, may also get re-posted on other websites that pick up my blog). However, I do receive hundreds of questions per week, so I may not necessarily be able to answer yours.

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  1. Interested Reader says:

    @Answer 6 – the government does not have the right to sell out the working class to the rich. Which is what Gov Walker is doing — there was a budget surplus and he wasted it on tax cuts and incentives to the rich.

    Also it’s not just about collective bargining rights, although that’s taken center stage, there are problems with what the Gov wants to do with Medicaid/Medicare in his state.

    The biggest problem is that there is a huge disparity in wealth distribution in this country. America has the worst income disparity of any industrialized nation. If you check out Yahoo news today there’s a nice graphic explaining it in bright easy to read colors.

  2. Wes says:

    @6: I like Trent’s answer. Everyone has a right to protest, and the legislators have a right to either listen to them or ignore them. Ultimately, they are held accountable to the voters, and they will probably make whatever decision they think will most likely get them re-elected. Personally, while I think people have a right to unionize and make collective demands, I don’t think they have a right to force employers/the state/society to concede to those demands. If the Wisconsin unions lose this “right,” they’ve actually only lost a legislatively protected bargaining advantage over the taxpayers and voters.

    @7: If you have everything you need and want cash but don’t want to ask for it, register at Bed Bath and Beyond. They let you return items from your registry for cold hard cash. If there isn’t a BBB in your area, or you don’t like their style, I’m sure there are other stores with similar policies if you look for them.

    @10: I second Dominion. It’s nice and quick, and there are enough combinations of decks to make each game unique. When I play with my family, we usually play two or three rounds and a time.

  3. Johanna says:

    I agree with those who make the case that the situation in Wisconsin is not about the budget. In addition to what IR said, the unions offered to take salary and benefit cuts, and Walker turned them down.

    Rather, he’s interested in crushing the unions themselves because of the influence that the unions have in the political process – an influence that favors middle- and working-class people, and therefore generally favors Democrats.

  4. Jessica says:

    @2- Can’t you take those non-payers to small claims court?

  5. Courtney20 says:

    @ 7: Registering for items you’re only going to return seems tacky and deceitful to me. There’s no reason you can’t tell people (if they ask) “We have everything we need for our home, but we’d really appreciate a contribution to (honeymoon, savings goal, charity, etc) instead.” The etiquette foul people usually run into is in putting that on the invitation. Registry info (or a statement that you would prefer money instead of a registry) should only be conveyed orally and only when asked!

    Most people will want to give you gifts. Most of those people would be happy to oblige if you don’t want More Stuff. Don’t deceive your guests by setting up a sham registry.

  6. Josh says:

    @3: Judy, make sure you have several hundred dollars worth of baseball cards before you have them graded. PSA is the best, but you have to buy a membership that costs a couple hundred dollars in order to use their grading services.

    @6: Public employee benefits are ridiculous. Right now, Wisconsin teachers are basically getting a free pension along with their dirt cheap healthcare and infinite job security. Liberals can recognize that FDR did not believe public employees should unionize.

    “It is impossible to bargain collectively with the government.” -George Meany, former President of the AFL-CIO

  7. Stephanie says:

    @Josh (#6)–I am a teacher and I hate it when people insinuate that teachers have it easy with our “free pension, dirt cheap healthcare and infinite job security.” Nothing could be furher from the truth–I couldn’t even afford to cover my husband under my health insurance. I’ve never worked harder for minimal pay. teacher consantly have district and state officials breathing down their necks focused solely on test scores–people who haven’t been in the classroom for years (or never at all) make decisions about your child’s educational future and then look to blame the teachers when things do not improve. Teachers are increasingly held accountable even though they have less and less control over what happens in the classroom. Unless you’ve worked as a teacher you have no idea how stressful it really is and you have no right to judge. Without teachers where would you be now? It’s one of the most important careers in the world and very often one of the least respected in the U.S.–why is that?

  8. Jane says:

    Q1: If you already refinanced in 2009, have you already made up the closing costs yet? Maybe I’m missing something, but I don’t understand how refinancing all the time ends up saving you money in the long run. We constantly get letters from Chase asking us to refinance, but I keep on running the numbers and I can’t find a way to make it pay off. This is especially true if you factor in the hassle of refinancing. In my mind, it only makes sense, if you are jumping a huge amount in percentage and you are refinancing from an ARM to a 30 yr. or a 30 yr to a 15 yr., or something similar.

    How is refinancing any better than taking the money you would pay in closing costs and pre-paying your mortgage?

    As far as parenting blogs, I love the New York Times Motherlode. The posts are interesting, the comments usually even better. I also like Ask Moxie. This site will especially be helpful if you are unfortunate enough to have a terrible sleeper like I did.

  9. Johanna says:

    @Josh: Stephanie beat me to it, but: Teachers’ benefits, such as they are, supplement salaries that are nowhere near enough to compensate them for the exhausting and important work they do. Anyone who argues that the problem with our public schools is that we pay our teachers TOO MUCH is, in my view, not worth taking seriously.

    I’m not a teacher, but my mother was.

  10. Josh says:


    Are you from Wisconsin? If not, then your benefits are probably different. Either way, how much money do you contribute to your pension compared to what it will pay you in retirement? Healthcare? Are you tenured? I didn’t say you have it easy, but if you’re not going to argue with my 3 points, I’ll assume they’re correct. You get much better benefits than private sector employees and you have much better job security.

    That said, I have a lot of respect for teachers. I agree that it’s an important profession and that there are arbitrary metrics being applied in order to evaluate student performance. I’m not judging the job, just the benefits. I would love for idiotic bureaucrats to play less of a role, parents to play more of a role, and good teachers to be rewarded monetarily and with the freedom to do their jobs properly. Wouldn’t you?

  11. Amy says:

    #7 – Instead of asking for cash as cash why not set up a honeymoon fund that people can donate to. It is not stuff and it is directly related to starting your life together as a married couple. Good Luck!

  12. Adam P says:

    Unions are a tricky subject to me.

    In the public sector, I truly believe here in Canada, the unions have gone WAY past their wonderful initial purpose of protecting worker’s rights and safety and ensuring living wages. That initial goal was truly needed and a very worthy cause.


    I’m not sure about Wisconsin, but in Canada (I live in Toronto) we have unions that have “collectively bargained” ridiculous benefits for their members that go way beyond what they should. Stuff like “bankable sick days” that are paid out upon retirement/leaving in cash? The city is bankrupt, and the unions had a garbage strike 2 years ago that was disgusting so that they could keep these banked sick days.

    You show me ONE private employer who can bank their sick days then get them paid out in cash when they leave the company? Ugh!

    Here’s another example, the sales tax in Ontario was a provincially collected tax, but was recently harmonized with the federal sales tax to help businesses. The federal government did not let anyone go, but kept all the provincial workers in their jobs, they just collect the combined/harmonized tax instead of the provincial tax. Fair? Yes, except the union had some sort of arrangement that called the switch a “layoff” and they all got massive severance pay even though they DID NOT LOSE THEIR JOBS and it cost the bankrupt province about $60 million for the switch.

    Things like THAT are wrong. The unions in the public sector pushed way beyond their honourable initial goals and into the ridiculously unfair.

    The result? Toronto elected a mayor recently who hates unions and vowed to privatize as much as possible. You can only push too far, especially when the voting public is in a recession and watching their tax money fund these ridiculous public workers who strike to keep perks that are unheard of.

    Unions should keep working wages decent. I like having a middle class who makes decent money for hard work. And the private sector bankers/wall street are ridiculous sometimes, but they aren’t just handed public taxed money (until the bailouts, ugh). To sum up:

    Unions reap what they sow.

  13. Josh says:

    And by the way, my wife teaches at a private school in which she earns a fraction of a public school teacher’s salary and ZERO benefits. She teaches multiple curricula to her students depending on their abilities in each individual subject. She has 6 year olds that read at a 4th grade level, and she pushes them as much as the rest of the class.

  14. Interested Reader says:

    How many times does it have to be said – state employees get better benefits to compensate for LOWER WAGES.

    It’s not that hard to figure out – in order to attract good employees the state has to do something to compete with the fact that they can’t pay the same as private sector.

    I have a relative that lives in Florida (another state where workers are under attack) she lost her private sector job to lay offs. Then she was out of work for a year and got a state job making less money than before AND a benefits package that was worse than her private sector job. But it was a job so she took it. Last time I talked to her she said they were having to buy their own paper clips, pens, and staples because of a tighter budget. Florida has had a wage freeze for state workers for the past 6 years with no sign in sight of raises coming back. And the looming budget cuts means more lay offs are a head.

    How is that better than private sector?

  15. Interested Reader says:

    Trent honestly I can’t beleve you posted that question. You claim you don’t like to talk about politics in your blog and then mention one of the most heated current topics.

  16. valleycat1 says:

    OK, I posted a comment with a URL in it & it’s in moderation probably forever. Regarding Wisconsin, David Brooks at The New York Times wrote an interesting column dated 2/22/2011, which includes an informative discussion of the difference between private and public unions. Go to the newspaper web site; his column is headed Make Everybody Hurt & can be found through the site’s columnist search.

    Also, Wisconsin’s fight is only for a select few public unionized groups, not ALL public unions. Why are they coming down on just a few groups?

    And I agree with Jane #8 re Q1.

  17. Johanna says:

    @valleycat1: The unions that are exempt from the union-busting are the very ones that supported Walker’s bid for governor. Now, that’s not necessarily *why* they’re exempt, but it’s an interesting coincidence.

  18. valleycat1 says:

    Q4 – Even at 6%, you might want to check the disclosure statement from the CCs that tells you how long it will take you to pay those off making the minimum payments vs a fixed amount, & how much $ you’ll pay in interest over that extended period of time. Since few investments these days pay 6%, you’re still losing money even though that’s an enviable rate on a CC.

    And I’d pay off first whichever of the 2 cards bothers you most. It might be informative if you compare the payoff data between the 2.

  19. BJD says:

    @ 14 – At least in Wisconsin public school teachers do not get Lower Wages — they get paid much more than most private school teachers

    The issue in Wisconsin is about the budget – but its not about only this year’s budget. The change/reduction of collective bargaining will have a long term impact to improve the Wisconsin budget.

    And to Interested Reader’s first point *wasted it on tax cuts and incentives to the rich.* That is wrong. The tax cuts are for businesses that expand or move their businesses to Wisconsin — again a long term improvement to the Wisconsin budget to have more companies paying taxes, employing our citizens.

  20. BJD says:

    @17 Johanna — you’re telling a half truth there. There are a number of unions that are exempt because they are considered critical to safety of Wisconsinites – mainly the Fire, Police, State Troopers, etc. And you the other half truth is that these groups all supported Walker in his bid for governor. The truth is that most of these groups across the state did not support him; but the larger ones in Milwaukee did — but their support was more a show of not supporting the Democratic candidate, the Mayor of Milwaukee, whom these groups worked for.

  21. Tamara says:

    I read the article on Yahoo Interested Reader mentions in comment #1. Slate ran a whole series on income disparity a couple months back and the thing that really sticks out in my mind is the ‘how Americans think it should be’ graph. The figures on that graph are pretty much in alignment with the wealth distribution in Sweden. Odd, because Swedes have high taxes and socialized medicine and all those other bugbears but they manage to have the best quality of life on Earth.

    Interested Reader (again! :) ) I live in Florida and I am /scared/ of our new governor. He’s of the ‘privatize everything’ mindset, privatize the schools, privatize the prisons, on and on and on. He’s a crook who stole billions from Medicaid, took the 5th 75 times in his deposition and STILL got elected (just barely). Scary.

  22. Stephanie says:

    @Josh (#13)–Just for your information…differentiated instruction based on a student’s individual level is expected of all teachers. I have fourth graders who read on a first grade level as well as fourth graders who read at a middle school level—each student needs to be pushed and challenged according to their own level. This needs to be documented with individual lesson plans and assignments as well as with notes about the student’s previous, current and (hopfully) future level in each subject. That’s why lesson plans for one activity can take hours to do. I’m sure your wife is a wonderful teacher, but she is just doing what is expected of all teachers…it’s only a part of why teaching is so stressful. And as a PS–I don’t get planning time throughout the day to complete these lesson plans. I have to do them on my “own” time after I leave school. Imagine how well that goes over with my husband and daughter.

  23. Johanna says:

    @BJD: Well, I did say “that not necessarily why they’re exempt.” But your explanation for why they’re exempt doesn’t make much sense either. I’ve also heard it argued (in the context of TSA employees) that workers who are critical to public safety must *not* be allowed to form unions, because if they did, they could hold their critical services hostage in order to get higher pay and benefits than they “deserve.”

  24. Stephanie says:

    @BJD (#20)–what are the specific numbers for the impact on the Wisconsin budget? How much money will the elimination of collective bargaining save the state in a year? Five years? Ten years?

  25. valleycat1 says:

    #16 Interested Reader – That was my first thought too, but I’m beginning to think Trent’s using controversial reader questions & maybe even some of his more off-the-cuff unresearched comments to generate more reader comments, which makes his site more attractive to advertisers – though I hope they are aware that many of the multiple comments are made by the same few people when we get into a meta-argument!

  26. CNM says:

    To add to the wedding registry question, there are some places that will actually give you cash when you return items that were purchased from your registry. Bed Bath and Beyond did this for us. It was convenient because, when we only got 1 or 2 items from a set of 15 for example, we could easily return the incomplete sets and we were handed cold hard cash! It was great.

  27. I live in Wisconsin and your review of what’s happening is…inadequate. I know you can’t write about every detail of what’s going on but this bill has zero to do with balancing a budget and everything to do with busting unions to destroy the Democratic Party in this state.

    When Walker took office, there wasn’t a budget crisis. He created it, just like he created it when he worked in Milwaukee…it’s a repeat of history. He handed out tax breaks to the wealthy as soon as he got into office and had no way of paying for them. Now he’s using the “crisis” that he created as justification for busting the unions.

    This isn’t about a budget, it’s the game of politics. Even Fox News had a report that this isn’t about balancing a budget. That says a lot when Fox News turns their back on one of their own.

  28. BJD says:

    @ 23 Jonanna – I agree the explanation of why some groups are excluded is not a solid reason. I was pointing out the statement that they were except because they supported Walker in his bid for governor was inaccurate.

    @ all TSD readers — I’m actually not defending the proposed bill in Wisconsin. There are a lot of things wrong with it and its been rushed thru (albeit the rush is due to some restructuring of debt deadlines that free up more than hundred million dollars for other services). Overall there is more good than bad for Wisconsinites in passing this bill. To me it is disappointing that our Democratic state senators left the state instead of working to change the minds of 3 Republican state senators (if 3 republicans voted no, the bill would not pass). I wish our state senators would have stayed, discussed, and I honestly think they could have changed some minds (or better yet maybe even changed the bill to improve it) . Now the lines have been drawn across party lines and no one is willing to work together to form a better Wisconsin.

    I live in Wisconsin and have been following this very closely. I have lived in many midwest states – Minn, OH, Ill, MI, Indiana, and Wisconsin. I grew up in Wisconsin and choose to move back here because it really is a great state to me. I love Wisconsin and hate the amount of misinformation and half truths I see being repeated in the national news and on the internet.

    I do have pride that the protesters and supporters really have kept things civil. I pray that continues.

  29. One problem I have about this whole idea of “convincing” Republicans to vote “no” is that they are not listening. A group of people had a meeting with our Senator, Sheila Harsdorf (District 10) in Madison last week. They drove the 4 hours to see her and when they arrived, there “wasn’t a record” of their meeting. She refuses to talk to her constituents, either via email, letter, telephone or in person. She’s been invited to numerous community events to discuss this issue and has not come to a single one. This is not what democracy is about.

    My city passed a resolution to send a letter to Governor Walker and our Senators which says that the city does not agree with this bill. I’m not sure why ANY city would agree with this bill. Small business owners are going to be impacted by it when state workers don’t have as much discretionary income to spend. Wisconsin already has problems trying to keep our Mainstreets vibrant…how’s this going to help anyone?

    Medicare/Medicaid are on the chopping block, so how’s that going to help the elderly?

    This bill discriminates against homosexuals:

    “Except with respect to sexual orientation, the contractor further agrees to take affirmative action to ensure equal employment opportunities.” Section 32, line 8-9

    It’s a totally ridiculous bill and what’s happening in Wisconsin is disgusting. I’ll say it again, this isn’t democracy.

  30. Gal @ Equally Happy says:

    @Q6 Great answer Trent. I wish more people thought like this.

    @Q7 My fiance and I are in a similar boat. We’re both in our 30’s and make a good salary. We don’t really need much. What we’ve decided to do is create a honeymoon fund website. The donations are completely anonymized so people don’t have to gift if they don’t want to (and we made it clear that no one should feel like they have to). If they do, then great, we add a bit to our honeymoon budget. Another idea I’ve seen is to set up a similar fund which contributes to the charity of your choice.

    @Q10 Dominion, which Trent recommended, is a great choice. Look up Lemarkian Poker online. It’s a fast game which you need only a deck of cards for.

  31. Ginger says:

    My issue with #6 is that the union has agreed to everything but loosing their collective bargaining rights, the governor refuses to compromise on anything. His plan is to bust the unions, that is it. You cannot bargain/compromise with someone who is unwilling to.

  32. Yankeegal says:

    Isn’t this the platform that Gov.Walker ran on and won election on? This is what the majority wanted or at least those who turned out to elect him it seems.

  33. Tiffany says:

    @Q7: Try something like Honeyfund! It lets you ask for things for your honeymoon for people who don’t mind doing that. My friend and her fiance are going to Italy for their honeymoon, so they have things where you can gift them a lunch or dinner or whatever while they’re there. So if you were going to go to say, Disney, you could register for admission, lunch at a certain place, etc.

  34. “Isn’t this the platform that Gov.Walker ran on and won election on? This is what the majority wanted or at least those who turned out to elect him it seems.”


  35. Patty says:

    Q 5 needs to have more than $700 in savings as an emergency fund. If her medical concerns are so high, her medical costs are ~4K a year and her mortgage is still over two times her salary she needs to have a solid emergency fund and a plan for worst case scenarios.

  36. Brenda W. says:

    #3 … before selling any baseball cards on eBay, why don’t you try it first with something that isn’t as important to you to get the “feel” of eBay and get comfortable with the process. Maybe used small kitchen appliance you no longer need. Or, scour some yard sales for sellable items and give it a try with that first.

    I got quite comfortable after the first few tries, and no doubt you’ll have the same experience.

  37. MARIA says:

    #10and #13 Josh:
    Amen, Amen, Amen bother..It’s not an increase in a teachers salary that will increase the quality of education in America. It hasn’t worked in the past and it won’t work in the future!

  38. @MARIA: This isn’t about teacher’s salaries.

  39. Interested Reader says:

    @Tamara – I never understood Gov Scott’s appeal – except he had a lot of money to spend. I didn’t get the angle of him being this great business man – either the company he founded defrauded Medicaid and he knew and is a crook OR the company defrauded Medicaid and as CEO he had no idea what his own company was doing and he’s incompent. Either way not someone I’d want workign for me much less running a state.

    Before yesterday I could almost believe Gov Walker would be willing to compromise and talk to the Dems who walked out. But then I heard the recording/read teh transcript between him and a “Koch” brother and I don’t trust Walker. He talked about tricking the Dems to have them come back so he coudl get the quorum and then voting without their knowledge.

  40. Diane says:

    Sigh. Knew it was only so long before politics invaded this place…

  41. MARIA says:

    It should be!

  42. Why? Have you been paying attention to what’s happening in Wisconsin? Do you honestly think that teachers are overpaid for the work they do? Can you afford to pay for a privatized school system?

    I suppose you also think firefighters, police officers, the garbage man and all of the other public sector employees are overpaid as well? Or is it just teachers?

    I’ll never understand why people don’t hold teachers in high regards. These are the people who dedicate their lives to teaching the children of this country. I guess some people just don’t place a high value on education…and that’s why the United States is having it’s a$s handed to it by other countries.

  43. …and BTW, teachers have already agreed to pay cuts on top of the pay cuts they’ve taken over the past 5 years here in Wisconsin (and our students are still at the top of the nation when it comes to SAT scores.)

    This entire issue is about union workers (NOT JUST TEACHERS!!!) being allowed to keep collective bargaining rights. If you think unions are just big bullies, then forfeit your vacation, sick pay, medical leave and all of the other things that unions have fought for that have transfered over into the private sector.

  44. Jane says:

    Ditto Diane. I’m very passionate about politics, but I don’t come to this blog to read about Wisconsin. I’m still hoping people will get back to discussing any question other than the Wisconsin one, but I guess it’s not going to happen.

  45. Kathy F says:

    Regarding using Ebay to sell stuff. If you are new at this, register on Ebay. If you are registered, you can do advanced searches on items to sell what they really sell for (not just what people are asking). Be sure to check the search term “completed auctions.” Without registering, you only look at auctions in progress and asking prices and minimium bids. I research any itmes I am thinking about selling so I can price my items competitively. You can see which items got no bids. You can see which got the highest. You can check out where the minimum bid started out.

    If you sell using the auction listing vs fixed price, you need to determine what is the minimum amount you would sell for to start the bidding. If you set the bid too high, then people will see if they can do better at auction with a competitor. You can also see if anyone on Ebay is even selling what you have and how many to determine rarity.

    If you have not bought or sold on Ebay before, you may need to buy things first to build up customer feedback so people know they can trust you. Like someone else said, sell some other less valuable stuff to get experience and learn how the auction process works as a seller.

    There are also people who already sell on Ebay and know all the ins and outs and are willing to do it for you, but of course, they will take a cut. I think the Ebay site has a link to find those type of sellers in your location. But it may be worth it to you if you don’t have a lot of time to learn. Selling on Ebay does takes a lot of time too.

    You can save money by using a free image hosting site instead of paying Ebay for every image you post. I use Photobucket.

  46. MARIA says:

    #22 Stephanie said– “PS–I don’t get planning time throughout the day to complete these lesson plans. I have to do them on my “own” time after I leave school…”
    This is a perfect example of good public school teachers being over worked and stressed out because idiotic bureaucrats will not wake up. They feel like they will be neglecting the children in their care if you can’t do all the is expected of them during working hours and take way to much work home.
    This is what I refer to when I say no amount of increase in salary will fix the problem…they will still be over worked, over stressed, under appreciated and working for idiotic bureaucrats. A pay increase doesn’t make the quality of education any better.Even highly paid teachers who are over worked and over stressed are much less effective at educating our children.
    Teaching has never been a high paying career and never will.
    However, our public school teachers (and children) deserve to be in a much better environment. The system/work environment has to be fixed not the salaries raised.
    PS – Stephanie,if you truly do not have time to do lesson plans during school hours, stop taking them home..They can’t fire you for refusing to do charity work ( unless it is in your teachers union contract)

  47. jim says:

    comment #2 from Wes said:
    “Personally, while I think people have a right to unionize and make collective demands, I don’t think they have a right to force employers/the state/society to concede to those demands. If the Wisconsin unions lose this “right,” they’ve actually only lost a legislatively protected bargaining advantage over the taxpayers and voters.”

    Unions do not have the ability or “right” to “force” their employers (public or private) to agree to their demands. Union contracts are negotiated between the union and the employer. If the employer doesn’t like the terms then they can decline the contract and could go as far as locking out the employees.

  48. Wes says:

    Jim, if you misunderstood my point, then change “concede” to “make concessions.” Unions may not have the legal right to force employers to agree 100% to their demands, but legislatively protected collective bargaining rights do ensure that employers at least come to compromises with unions, even if that means driving up salaries and benifits beyond their actual market value.

    I believe freedom of speech and association give people the right to unionize, but they do not give unions the right to be listined to. That is a right created by legislation, and it can be taken away through the political process as easily as it was given.

  49. jim says:


    “legislatively protected collective bargaining rights do ensure that employers at least come to compromises with unions”

    How so? Is there something in the law that mandates that employers compromise with the unions? Or are you just talking about how the employers generally decide they’d rather agree to contracts then face a strike? Are you using the word “force” as hyperbole rather than meaning theres an actual legal requirement?

    My understanding is that the legal protection basically protects the right of a union to exist. Without the ability to negotiate contracts then how would a union persist??

    Maybe I am missing something. Its possible theres something in the Wisconsin public laws about their public unions that I don’t know about that forces the government to do what public unions want. If there is then please let me know what the law is.

  50. Tracy says:

    “In my opinion, the Wisconsin protests are happening because liberals and conservatives only talk to and listen to their vocal, extreme bases and don’t listen to or talk to each other. Because of that, there can be no negotiation and no compromise, lest one side or the other appear weak and a “sellout.””

    Your opinion is already demonstrably false, in that the unions have already tried to compromise and agreed to everything in the existing changes EXCEPT the ability to renegotiate in the future.

    A more realistic assessment is that Walker is refusing to negotiate or compromise.

  51. S01 says:

    On the games, we tend to stick with super light and quick games for our after work evening of gaming on a friday, manly as everyone is tired after a week of work. Here are some of the ones we play regular (we have the additional odd requirement of normally having 6+ players):
    Loot – Customs rules used
    Citadels – longest game we play (60-90mins)

    Rarer Usage;
    Grave robbers from outerspace (and others in the series)
    Fluxx (Or Zombie Fluxx)
    Magic TG group deck (draw from the same library)
    Munchkin (reg/star/ et al)
    Wings of War (although this has fallen out favor)

  52. Wes says:


    To clear things up, I’ll go ahead and state that my comments are about unions in general. I do not know much about Wisconsin politics. I was simply responding to Trent’s general observations about unions and how they are involved in politics.

    That said, under the National Labor Relations Act, an employer cannot refuse to engage in collective bargaining negotiations with a union. It also had various other regulations of labor management. The subsequent Labor-Management Relations Act loosened some of these requirements, and gave states the ability to have some discretion in labor laws.

    So, in general, an employer cannot unilaterally reject all negotiation attempts by a union. The employer must engage in negotiations and come to an agreement with the union representatives. Thus, employers are required by law to come to some sort of compromise (which includes concessions) with the union whether they would like to or not.

    I would not say my use of the word “force,” in this context, is hyperbolic. Anytime someone is required to do something by law, there is a latent element of force.

    Even without this legislative protection, unions can still exist. The situation you mention actually occurred quite often before the passage of these labor laws for the exact reason you mention: management thought it best to voluntarily negotiate with the unions.

    Again, this stuff applies to unions in general, and I do not know the specifics about Wisconsin’s union laws. I never suggested it did. I simply used the context of this discussion to make a general statement about unions, and how one does not have a “right” to be negotiated with outside of one created by statute. A law protecting a union’s right to simply exist would be unnecessary, since the freedoms of association and free speech are protected by the Constitution.

  53. jim says:

    “The employer must engage in negotiations and come to an agreement with the union representatives”

    The employer is not required to come to an agreement.

    This is the key think I think we disagree on. The laws require the employers to recognize unions and negotiate with them. It does not require the employers to actually come to an agreement with what the union wants.

    So the law says the employer has to recognize the union and negotiate with them. Negotiation can include saying “no” then locking out the union workers and hiring all new replacement non-union workers. Legally. You only have to look to professional sports for examples of this happening.

    By the way the NLRA does not cover government employees (except the post office).

  54. valleycat1 says:

    Q5 – I agree with the other commenter who said you need to get more savings in an emergency fund, as I assume from your Q that the settlement $ is invested somewhere less liquid. Also look in to disability insurance and/or long term care- it’s my understanding it’s less expensive to by in before age 55 or so, and it sounds as if you expect to possibly need it down the road. Trent’s right that if you don’t expect a pension or disability payments, you need more in retirement & 7 years isn’t very long to get that in place.

  55. valleycat1 says:

    Q8 – Do you have friends or relatives with children? Is your wife as freaked out as you are? Talk with parents in your community – at family gatherings, at church, at work, in any other groups you might be part of. There are usually parenting classes available – check with the office of education, local school district, your doctor or hospital for contact info. If you have friends/family with children, spend some mixed-generation time with them. Observe families when you’re out & about. Lastly, I’d say to relax a little – your ‘dad’ skills will evolve from basic new infant care (feeding, hygiene, & cuddling) as the baby grows & develops, so you don’t have to figure it all out at once.

  56. David says:

    An homage to Ambrose Bierce:

    There was an old man from Majorca
    Who had an affair with a porker.
    His children had bristles,
    Ate acorns and thistles,
    And voted for Governor Walker.

  57. valleycat1 says:

    Q7 – some people think gift registries of any kind are just as tacky as requesting cash. It has always seemed to me that if you’re inviting people who know you to the wedding, they are already aware of your situation & in your specific case, might be more inclined to give $ if you don’t have a registry.

    But, the advantage of a registry is being more likely to get something you’ll enjoy & use, rather than leaving the selection solely to the guests. And being able to return items or exchange them on the back end.

  58. Wes says:

    Jim, I never said the NLRA covered government employees. Let me reiterate: my comments are about unions in general.

    And I don’t think you are right about employers being able to fire union employees and rehire whoever they want. You are right to say they can “chose” not to negotiate, but they cannot hire non-union members once their employees are unionized. The choice between negotiating with the union and shutting down shop is no choice at all.

    Jim, if you don’t think collective bargaining laws require employers to do anything, what do you think the laws are for? What does a requirement to recognize and negotiate with a union mean if you can completely ignore them and shut them out?

    I can’t speak to sports unions, and I’m not going to take the time to research that issue. But I think we can both agree that professional sports unions are probably not the best proxy for unions as a whole.

  59. Wes says:

    Is this what you are looking for, Jim?

    111.06 What are unfair labor practices…

    (d) To refuse to bargain collectively with the representative of a majority of the employer’s employees in any collective bargaining unit with respect to representation or terms and conditions of employment…

    Wis. Stat. § 111.06

  60. jim says:

    I think we just disageree on whether or not the law “forces” the employer to agree to a contract. They are never mandated or forced to agree. They do have to negotiate, but as I say they can say no and they can lockout employees and hire replacements. I guess if you don’t consider that an option then OK. But from the other perspective what option does the union have other than striking? Are they then forced to negotiate with the employer equally? Its 2 parties agreeing on a contract they can either agree or one party can balk and either strike or lock out.

    Otherwise I don’t think we disagree on unions. The laws do give unions rights and do require employers to recognize them and negotiate with them.

    We may be arguing this point without need at this point. Honestly I don’t think either of us appears to be an expert on union laws. ;)

  61. Wes says:

    Fair enough, Jim.

  62. Kate E. says:

    Q7 — Why don’t you ask people to donate to one of your favorite charities instead of getting you a gift? It sounds like you are in a good financial situation and that you already have everything you need. You could help others in need and still enjoy your big day.

  63. kristine says:


    Having a lesson plan is a necessity, unless you want chaos in the classroom. The teacher motto is “Failing to Plan is Planing to Fail.”

    It is, I kid you not, EASIER to donate 1-2 hours every evening and 3 to 4 on weekends, than to have class after class of 25 kids growing impatient and grabbing onto distracting tangentials if you “wing it”. Or the student demotivation that comes with a long time gap in returning graded work. Not to mention that test subjects will have collapsing scores without lots of planning to cover all the possible question areas in the days alloted.

    It requires planning to keep the kids engaged. No way around it.

  64. kristine says:

    Everyone who is currently excited that today is Friday, should realize the origin of that joy. In 1886, 7 union members died fighting for the 5 day work week and the 8 hour work day. And while I’m not as strong a ‘unionist’ as you may think, there are consequences of having them go away all together. WE NEED TO KNOW OUR HISTORY.

    Irrespective of political party…
    The “weekend” was a crazy liberal idea.
    Ending child labor, when working class children worked 12 hours a day, was a crazy liberal idea.
    The Boston tea Party was a crazy liberal idea.
    The abolition of slavery was a crazy liberal idea.
    Giving anyone other than white male real estate owners the right to vote was a crazy liberal idea.

    “Liberal” ideas have come form both sides of the aisle, and are generally humane in nature.

    And the situation in Wisconsin has nothing to do with overpaid unions. The “crisis” was manufactured, and virtually non-existent before recent huge tax cuts to the highest brackets. The guys that bankrolled this Wisconsin governor are going to get to buy the states utilities for pennies on the dollar. It’s those same people that don’t want the unions in their way. THIS IS NOT ABOUT BALANCING THE BUDGET. This is an attempt to create an Oligarchy.

  65. deRuiter says:

    Carol, You have an insurance settlement of over $204,000 and you have not contributed to your retirement account in years? Girl, you’re wasting valuable time! Take $10,000 from the settlement brokerage account, (sell the stock which is up the most) and RUN, DON’T WALK, to a discount brokerage and fully fund a ROTH IRA for 2010 and 2011!!! Are you dealing with a full service broker? Of course he’s not going to tell you this. You are WASTING your insurance settlement. Every year you work, put $5,000 in your ROTH IRA with a discount broker and that money is shielded from the greedy clutches of the tax man forever. If you are in love with what your regular broker has bought you, buy the same stocks in your ROTH, yourself, for $9.99 at T D Ameritrade. (I find they give better service and execute purchases faster than Fidelity which is also good and charges less at $7.99 per trade. The better service at TD Ameritrade is worth the extra $2. per trade to me.) Voila, you have sheltered $5,000. (if you’re under 55) or $6,000 (if you’re 55 or older.) PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE, Carol, get the 2010 ROTH IRA funded fully before April 15, 2011. Your insurance settlement money is being taxed on every profit you take. You can stay with that broker, but move the $5,000./ year into a self directed ROTH IRA at a discount brokerage, and buy the same stocks your regular broker does if you like his work. You can learn from your regular broker, without having to pay his usurous commissions and fees in your ROTH IRA at the discount broker.

  66. Interested Reader says:

    @Maria, it’s not like teachers get paid hourly , they get paid salary. Close to a decade ago there ewas a big fight with teachers and the school board because teachers had 1 class period for planning and then taught classes the rest of the day. The school board wanted to take away that 1 hour so teachers would teach every period. The school board won and there went the teacher planning time. There is no time during the day for them to do any planning it all has to be done after school hours. So teachers can stay at school and do it or go home and do the work.

    Not to mention 1 hour a day isn’t enough time to do lesson plans and grade papers. Even if every teacher just gave T/F tests with 100+ studentts per teacher that’s a lot of work. But most teachers don’t give T/F tests, they give tests with essay questions or in the case of English teachers students have to write papers , etc.

    @64 Not to mention lunch breaks, vacation time, sick leave, and oh yeah – not being locked in the building you work to make sure you don’t leave. (people should look up the triangle shirtwaist factory fire).

  67. Diane says:

    #7 Stephanie. If I were a teacher, I’d proofread my reply very carefully…
    A common theme in frugal blog land is moving to a country with a lower COLA. Perhaps this would be the perfect solution for you.

  68. kristine says:


    Nitpicking spelling on a casual blog response (not even a post), and “love it or leave it” statements do not an argument make. They do not even make a point, except to highlight unsavory bitterness, an attempt to be utterly dismissive of opinions that do not mirror your own, and a willingness to abandon constructive dialog. Sad, really.

    If you want to live in a country that is similarly intolerant of oposing opinions, perhaps the middle east would be the perfect solution for you.

  69. kristine says:

    Oh, and please enjoy my typo.

  70. Joan says:


    My problem with the union/teacher fight is that the teachers were carrying banners/signs that compared Walker with all kinds of dictators. I sure do not want that kind of stuff taught to my child. I want mature individuals teaching who can be truthful, not screaming individuals carrying hateful signs. The same can be said for the lawmakers who cowardly fled the state. Maybe Walker should have kept them there after midnight on a holiday, so they could feel more at home voting like their counterparts in Washington. Why can’t the teachers pay more for their benefits, my insurance payments went up and I also had to pay income tax on some of my insurance benefits. As for teaching, if they were so good at their job, why is there so much homework? Doesn’t all that homework mean that the parent is doing the teachers job. I homeschooled and I know that you don’t need to have so much homework if you do the job right. My child went to school for 6th grade and he had homework that took as much time as we had spent each day with homeschooling. As a 6th grader he had some great teachers and two who couldn’t or wouldn’t teach. We went back to homeschooling the next year. He is now in high school and has won rewards. He still has great teachers and two who can’t or won’t teach. Both teachers in subjects that he really likes.

  71. Wes says:

    Kristine, you have a particularly interesting, albeit whitewashed and biased, view of American history and the history of unions.

    How was the Boston Tea Party, a protest of taxation and oppressive government, a crazy liberal idea? I’d say that aligns closest to libertarianism. But if you want to compare that piece of history to the two current political parties, it is certainly more aligned with the Republican mentality than with that of the Democrats.

    And do you really think liberal ideas are generally humane in nature? Are you aware of the racist roots of the progressive labor movement? In the 1930’s, almost all unions forbid blacks from becoming members. The National Industrial Recovery Act, a union victory, gave unions exclusive collective bargaining representation, effectively banning black workers in unionized trades. This was not an unfortunate accident of history, but the intended outcome the unions wanted. Black workers would work for much less than whites, which really irked whites and their racist unions.

    A recent blog post on Reason completes the history lesson: “Two years later the Supreme Court unanimously struck down the National Industrial Recovery Act, but collective bargaining promptly reemerged via section 9 of 1935’s National Labor Relations Act (also known as the Wagner Act, after its sponsor, Democratic New York Sen. Robert Wagner). That law originally contained a clause forbidding union discrimination against blacks, but the clause was dropped at the insistence of the American Federation of Labor—which then enjoyed state-sanctioned monopoly powers and continued its long tradition of excluding and mistreating black workers until the passage of federal civil rights laws in the 1960s. So much for organized labor’s role in securing “progressive change.””

    You can site history all you want, Kristine, but don’t cherry-pick your facts. Unions, like every other interest group, are not concerned with benefitting society as a whole, but simply want to benefit those people in their own group at the expense of everyone else.
    And one last thing: how do the current events lead you to believe that anyone is trying to have unions “go away altogether”?

  72. jim says:

    #66 Interested Reader said:
    “not being locked in the building you work to make sure you don’t leave.”

    Unless you work at Walmart where that might still happen.

  73. jim says:

    Wes, “Unions, like every other interest group, are not concerned with benefitting society as a whole, but simply want to benefit those people in their own group at the expense of everyone else.”

    Yes and no. Unions do want to benefit themselves. Not at the expense of “everyone” else. Its at the expense of their employer.

    Would you like a raise at work? You probably would. Does that mean you want to harm everyone else in society or that your raise explicitly hurts everyone? No.

  74. jim says:

    Joan #70 said : “As for teaching, if they were so good at their job, why is there so much homework? Doesn’t all that homework mean that the parent is doing the teachers job.”

    Yeah. Why should a parent ever have to do anything to contribute to the education of their own children!!! /sarcasm

  75. Wes says:

    Jim, the expense to employers is not contained. It is passed on to consumers and, in the case of Wisconsin, taxpayers.

    Yes, I would like a raise at work. However, I would like to earn that raise according to my own merits, and because my employer would rather give me a raise than see me leave for another company, not because an interest group lobbied the legislature to give me and my coworkers bargaining rights to coerce my employer into giving me a raise.

  76. Tracy says:


    Kristine is clearly using liberal in the sense of reform/progress/breaking with tradition. All of the examples she gave fit that model and she even said ‘regardless of which political party’ – your counter-examples are all examples rooted in orthodox thinking based on political party and are NOT liberal ideas using the same definition.

    And the fact that Walker wants to eliminate collective bargaining and take away the ability for unions to perform the function for which they were *designed* – even after the unions agreed to all of the other issues on the table – makes it clear that yes, he wants to do away with the unions – or at least, what they can accomplish, if not their actual name.

  77. Tracy says:

    @75 Wes

    You do realize that members of the unions actually *pay taxes* on their salaries, don’t you? And buy goods and services with the money that they earn?

  78. kristine says:

    Thanks Tracy, you beat me to the “liberal” response! I am using the broader definition, not the current narrow political meaning. And yes, I do think that eliminating collective bargaining is pretty much eliminating unions as we know them. The only alternative to mistreatment then becomes chaotic uprisings. I prefer unions. Safer and more civil.

    Wes- I was in fact, ignorant of the racist roots you mention- thank you for pointing them out. With past family roots in Levittown- I am similarly surprised that most people are unaware that “the birthplace of suburbia” was restricted at the outset as well, even to black vets, and anyone “non-caucasian”, including the Jewish. Disgraceful. Thank goodness that, and the redlining convictions of the 70s, have remedied things somewhat legally, if not de facto. I like to think that most unions have progressed well beyond that as well, as much of society has.

    But by that logic, you might say that the US, at the outset, was tainted as well, in regards of the rights of women. But we all move on, thank goodness!

  79. Kim says:

    To the person with the question about registering for your wedding – have you looked into sites like honeyfund? There are websites where you can register for your honeymoon, choosing specific activities (ie: tours, museum tickets, etc) that you want to do, or generic things like rental cars or taxi money, and then people can elect to give you those “items”! I’ve had a couple friends do this recently; it’s a great idea for people who already have much of what they need. :) Congrats!

  80. kristine says:


    I agree that the political hyperbole of comparing people to dictators entices no one to constructive dialog. Sound bites are at best attention grabbing- at worst- polarizing and counter-productive.

    Joan, comparing homeschooling to public schooling is apples and oranges. If a classroom teacher had 1-5 engaged students, then the results would be phenomenal! You also have the authority of parent, whereas many kids are taught a contempt for outside authority. I have been told by more than one student, who refused to pick up trash they threw on the floor, that they pay my salary to pick up that trash. (That in a Newsweek top 100 school, that churns out ivy leaguers.) But with 25-30 in a class, of varying attention spans, abilities, and behavior, the teacher must average out, or hit the lowest common denominator of understanding, while maintain the discipline of a large group of kids pushing the envelope. At the same time, we must maintain a sense of humor, understanding, nurturing, and goodwill, toward children for whom you will only be a memory, and never family.

    But regardless of all that, the tests remain the same, and to cover all the ground, homework both compensates and reinforces classroom work. And in college, 90% of the work is done outside the classroom.

  81. jim says:

    Wes, Sounds like you are saying that YOUR raises are legitimate and only based on your merits and good for society and full of rainbows but UNION raises are unwarranted and only based on government coercion and are harmful to society and kicking puppies.

  82. Wes says:

    Jim, if you want to engage in a civil debate, then please do not twist my words or resort to sarcasm. You asked me if I wanted a raise at work, and my answer told you under what circumstances I would like that raise. I said nothing about how I actually earn my raises or how I’m so much better than people in unions. I did convey, however, a normative belief that raises earned based on individual merit, as opposed to raises given out of coercion from interest groups who have captured the political process, are better for the overall social welfare. If you disagree with that, fine, but please try to articulate your response in a more respectable manner.

    Tracey and Kristine, I now see how Kristine’s use of the word “liberal” may have been invoking a broader sense of the word. I maintain my points, though. As the racist roots of progressive labor show, not all things bearing the banner of “liberalism” are actually “humane in nature.” And even if you believe that most are, you cannot assume that this labor movement is also a humane pursuit.

    Tracy, I don’t exactly see the relevance of your comment about teachers paying taxes and buying stuff, so I have no response.

    As to Tracey’s and Kristene’s belief that collective bargaining rights are essential for the existence of unions, I would ask you to consider the fact that unions existed effectively well before the legislative enforcement of collective bargaining rights. They are not required, and the unions in Wisconsin will likely remain active in labor negotiations and the political process if they are taken away. Sure, it’s nice to have the government require employers to negotiate with you, but employers have a long history of voluntarily negotiating with labor unions before the age of government coercion.

    I’m beginning to repeat some of the points I made earlier, and some (though certainly not all) of the comments I’m receiving are either unconstructive or semantic disputes. It has been a pleasure, but I’m done now, and Jim, Tracy, Kristine, et al can have the final word.

  83. People who still think the issue in Wisconsin is about salary and benefits clearly have not been paying attention.

  84. Mary says:

    Concerning Wisconsin, a small correction to Trent’s comment — the union members are NOT actually protesting FOR THE CURRENT DEAL, they have stated THEY ARE WILLING TO MAKE ALL ECONOMIC CONCESSIONS the governor wants, but not willing to give up collective bargaining. A telling difference.

  85. ChrisD says:

    Re US compared to Sweden, See the Sprit Level by Wilkinson and Pickett. ‘Why Equality is Better for Everyone’ (i.e. even the rich people). I.e if you only compare white people in the US with everyone in Sweden (also mostly white) then the Swedish people are better off. The idea is rich people set the ‘high status’ bar at an unreachable point so that makes everyone else ‘lower status’ and we are hardwired to care about our status and be less healthy when we are low status. Obviously my comments are a great simplification and I encourage you to read further.

    The idea that all progress should ONLY come to individuals who work hard is kind of strange to me and this is why in the US you have 10 days holiday and work 2 months more in a year than Swedish people. Obviously this is also a simplified comment and I’m not saying layabouts should get good wages. But if it is a law that everyone has 3 weeks holiday, then everyone has the same deal and companies are equally ‘handicapped’ so the there is no competitive disadvantage.

    Re Q8 parenting blogs. I would recommend the books, ‘How not to F*&k them up’ by Jamie Oliver and’ How to talk so kids will listen and listen so kids will talk’. See also ‘5 Ways to Avoid Your Terrible Parents’ Mistakes’ on Cracked. Also, when your kids are older, maybe ‘Free range kids’.

  86. christine a says:

    I think ‘How not to F*&k them up’ is by Oliver James (psychologist) not Jamie Oliver (chef)

  87. jim says:

    Wes, claims “unions existed effectively well before the legislative enforcement of collective bargaining rights.” Would that be back in the days of the PUllman strike or during the Ludlow massacre? I think that ‘existing effectively well’ has a higher standard than being massacred only sometimes. You seem to have a selective memory of history. I don’t know if you believe that nonsense or if you’re purposefully bending history cause you have an agenda.

  88. Nicole says:

    I see exactly why you don’t discuss politics. So…why did you do it this time?

  89. Stephanie says:

    @Nicole I think Trent did it to increase traffic on his site and make it appear more worthy to advertisers. political debates are always guaranteed to get people fired up enough to leave a lot of comments. It’s the only reason that I can think of that would make any sense…

  90. SwingCheese says:

    Q8: Valleycat (#55) is correct – you will grow into being a dad. And it will come at a pace with which you’re comfortable :)

    Joan: I never gave homework in order for the parents to “teach” their children the content. In fact, of all the students I have had, I’ve never come across a parent who had the knowledge or ability to “teach” their children my content area. The truth is that I taught and reviewed the concepts in class, and homework was always used for practicing the concept. I also always allowed time to work on the homework in class, so that the students could ask me for help and clarification. And there was a huge difference in ability between those students who worked on the concepts in class and at home, and those who did not. Homework is a tool, just one of many, that I used in the classroom, and I very much resent your comments, which imply that I somehow used homework to get out of doing my job.

  91. Wes says:

    I know I said I was done with this discussion, but there is an article today at Slate entitled “Why do workers need a law allowing collective bargaining? Can’t they just do it?” that is very much on point with the “discussion” jim and I were having. Particularly, the article points out that unions have existed and negotiated for better working conditions since the mid 1800s, decades before collective bargaining rights were protected by law. I know most people have probably quit checking this post, but I figured it was an interesting read anyway. Enjoy.

  92. maria says:

    Teachers pay varies from position as to whether it is salary or hourly…exempt or non-exempt.
    Either way if a teacher is paid salary- exempt you can bet it is in their contract EXACTLY how many days/ hours they are required to work… and it does not included work at home.

  93. Interested Reader says:

    Maria what you say doesn’t change the fact that teachers do not have enough time during school hours to do all the work they need which means they still do work after hours.

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