Friday, February 18, 2011

Renegotiation Isn't Another Word for Dictation

Andrew Sullivan exposes his ignorance:
Like the NYT, the WaPo and many other news sources, the Dish has focused on the horrors in Bahrain, the looming confrontation in Iran, riots in Libya, and the sudden earthquake in the Middle East, not a newly elected governor trying to curtail government spending, especially on healthcare for public sector unions. Readers are very irate. Well, we make choices here. But we're of no party or clique, which may be why I'm not that galvanized by a partisan mudfight. But, no, I don't see it as outrageous that a freshly elected GOP governor and legislature want to renegotiate some deals with public sector unions, and I see no reason why the president should intervene. Joe Klein makes a lot of sense here:
Anyone who thinks Joe Klein makes sense isn't paying attention. Sullivan focuses on events far away because, you know, folks demanding that alleged democracies behave democratically is so much more exciting than folks demanding that an alleged democracy behave democratically if there is no chance of invading them.

There is no "renegotiation" going on. Walker presented a bill with no debate stripping unions of the various rights necessary to behave like unions.  His inability to get the facts of the matter straight in country where he speaks the language and thinks he's competent to weigh in on all manner of matters really calls into question his ability to understand countries so far away.

Furthermore, as a good Catholic, Sullivan ought to be front and center demanding that the state live up to the standards set by Popes Benedict and John Paul for dealing with union

Dutch Cycling

 In today's Wisconsin State Journal on page A8 in the sidebar there was a four line report on a cyclist in Green Bay who was killed by a motorist, who has yet to be discovered.  In the Netherlands, you get this sort of response to reckless driving that killed no one. Guesses on what happens to the Green Bay guy or gal?

Neoliberalism Hates People

Word on the street is that 
its looking as if Tuesday’s budget speech will announce the de facto privatization UW Madison, so that’ll be fun too.
This is just an insanely bad idea.  It ranks up there with the insanely bad ideas that take up the rest of the bill that any decent centrist, like Obama, who of necessity ought condemn the blatant assault on unions, even as you promote unnecessary austerity measures. Unless, of coures, you're Matthew Ygelsias and have no idea what's going on in Wisconsin. Concluding his post about the events here, he writes that
[w]hen conservatopia arrives and kids all go to for-profit schools where they’re taught by non-unionized teachers, the school operators’ trade association will have all the same sometimes problematic incentives that the National Education Association has today. Heck, it’ll probably even be called the National Education Association. But instead of being a “union” that promotes high levels of education spending in sometimes inefficient ways plus egalitarian social policies, it’ll be a “business association” that promotes high levels of education spending in sometimes inefficient ways plus regressive social policies.
I realized that as a long-time foe of teachers' unions, it's tough for Yglesias to see the series of insanely bad ideas pouring out of the Koch foundation's Scott Walker, but it's all workers, from the janitorial staff to the mail room to the doctors and nurses prison guards bus drivers and so forth. Relatedly, unions aren't responsible for inefficient spending; they don't adopt books and new technologies or fall for the expensive scams of vouchers and charter schools.  The inefficient spending is the work of hacks who think they can end a "crisis" in education by importing the Olive Garden model, firing a lot of teachers, or some other load of bullocks.

In the same post, he "argues" that
[b]ut the political system has a strong tendency toward equilibrium. Democrats will keep getting enough money to stay in business and will keep winning approximately half the elections. It’s just that in post-union America, rich businessmen will be the only viable sources of political funding. So to an even greater extent than is the case today, politics will take the form of “culture war” battles or “sector versus sector” fights (pharmaceutical companies’ support for the Affordable Care Act is probably the shape of things to come) over rents in which the fundamental interests of rich businessmen qua rich businessmen are off the table.
He doesn't read anyone to his left so he is probably unaware that this version of political life, in which the state becomes the business manager of the property holder - as some classical economist once put it, is precisely the criticism leveled by everyone to his left. Having worked so hard to undermine teachers' unions and unions more generally, Ygleasias can take a victory lap and this latest victory over people.

Unions Yes:

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Mr. State Trooper

Walker is, I think, in increasing amounts of hot water; he should, right now, be glad the Democratic senators fled the state. Why?, you ask. This statement from the Executive Board President of the Wisconsin Law Enforcement Association in which, among other things, she
If all the unions understand that this event is one more of the countless assaults on labor and stick together, Walker will have to back down, won't he?

First Farce and Then Tragedy

Years ago, Monty Python had a bit in which John Cleese dressed as a man who worked in the City suggested that England "tax all foreigners living abroad." It was highlarryious. Recently, Donald Trump insisted that we tax all foreigners living abroad, it's tragic. He can't even get the order of things right.

Scott Walker is Worse Than I Thought

It seems that Democratic senators have fled to stop or at least delay Walker's union busting. It also appears that Walker's pro-business anti-human policies created the fiscal crisis that necessitates his destruction of the unions. For a summary of this argument see here and here with the full report here (pdf).

It seems that state workers in Wisconsin aren't over paid relative to privately employed workers, except for those with little or no education.


Recently we had a "debate" about allowing the Bush-era temporary tax decreases to expire. Conservatives and others insisted that you cannot raise taxes, especially on the rich, in a recession because of jobs. Right now as we speak Conservative Gov. Walker here in Wisconsin is planing of taking a chunk of money from the approximately 300k public employees and, as a fillip, destroying their unions.  How is it, I wonder, that taking a big chunk of money from folks who own homes, buy cars, consume groceries, and, in general, see to it that consumer goods get consumed and, one assumes, play an important role in keeping the economy going is okay but raising their taxes isn't.  It's almost like the whole argument is full of baloney and what the Conservatives really want to do is, you know, reward rich people and shove the rest of us into increased poverty.

God and Unions: Let No Man Set Asunder

God, it seems, is objectively pro-Socialism, if you believe Catholic Archbishop Jerome Listecki, who, following Popes Benedict and John Paul
 issued a statement calling for Wisconsin legislators to abide by a "moral obligation" to fully consider the "legitimate rights" of public employees

It's Not All About the Benjamins

Paul Ryan, and nearly everyone else, is under a misapprehension or is being willfully ignorant of the causes of the current union activism here in Wisconsin. The anger isn't because Walker wants to reduce workers income, it's because he has decided to destroy workers' ability to negotiated, organize, and generally engage in collective action to improve their economic, political, and social lives.

What's interesting is that "sane" conservatives, like the Wisconsin State Journal, are now realizing that Walker isn't what they expected. It 's not just that he has decided to deal with the unions unreasonably but also his tendency toward cronyism which they find worrying.  I would like to point out, however, that the WSJ is reaping exactly what they sowed.The current crop of Reagan epigones are only fulfilling the the Gipper's vision of an American morning. It's just that Reagan vision included the recreation of the 19th century.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

More Errors of Fact

Jay Nordlinger asks:
Are members of public-employee unions willing to give a little?
His answer is clearly no. Why? Because they have protested against the repeal of  their right to bargain and not beg.  It's called political action.  More or as importantly prior to the last minuet senate rejection of the Doyle contracts
Unions had then agreed to concessions totaling $100 million.
It's a question of workers' right to organize and bargain not greedy greed heads greedily greed heading.

How Wrong Can One Man Be?

Recently, Andrew Sullivan made fun of Bill O'Reilly for, it seems, insisting on the eternal mystery of God's creation. In response to a reader's suggestion that if Sullivan is, as he claims, a "man of faith" Sullivan believes the same nonsense as O'Reilly. Sullivan, never one to avoid being wrong, argued
I do not believe that God "put the moon there". That kind of specificity, when science can easily explain how all this occurred, is not orthodox Christianity. If O'Reilly meant that there is a profound mystery about our existence and consciousness in the universe(s) that we inhabit, and that that mystery cannot be explained by science alone, I'm with him. It's just so depressing to see Christianity represented by someone who sounds like your uncle after too many drinks at Christmas.
The Bible is very clear on who created the heavens and the earth, hint it was God. There nay some dispute between your different orthodoxies, as there is necessarily more than one, about the 6 days as metaphor or fact but there is no dispute about God the creator. Sullivan is a Catholic and the orthodox Catholic position is that God the heavens and the earth.  You can judge for your self, by reading the Catechism on creation, but as I understand the orthodox Catholic position on this issue God both created the world, the laws that govern it, and granted humanity the reason necessary to understand those laws as a means of further revering God's greatness and goodness.

Or to quote:
279 "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth."116 Holy Scripture begins with these solemn words. The profession of faith takes them up when it confesses that God the Father almighty is "Creator of heaven and earth" (Apostles' Creed), "of all that is, seen and unseen" (Nicene Creed). We shall speak first of the Creator, then of creation and finally of the fall into sin from which Jesus Christ, the Son of God, came to raise us up again. 
Skip down a bit and:
283 The question about the origins of the world and of man has been the object of many scientific studies which have splendidly enriched our knowledge of the age and dimensions of the cosmos, the development of life-forms and the appearance of man. These discoveries invite us to even greater admiration for the greatness of the Creator, prompting us to give him thanks for all his works and for the understanding and wisdom he gives to scholars and researchers. With Solomon they can say: "It is he who gave me unerring knowledge of what exists, to know the structure of the world and the activity of the elements. . . for wisdom, the fashioner of all things, taught me."121
Which leads to the important point that:

284 The great interest accorded to these studies is strongly stimulated by a question of another order, which goes beyond the proper domain of the natural sciences. It is not only a question of knowing when and how the universe arose physically, or when man appeared, but rather of discovering the meaning of such an origin: is the universe governed by chance, blind fate, anonymous necessity, or by a transcendent, intelligent and good Being called "God"? And if the world does come from God's wisdom and goodness, why is there evil? Where does it come from? Who is responsible for it? Is there any liberation from it?

Two Points

David Brooks makes some up a bunch of people and concludes that the reason there is so little economic growth, which isn't true, is that
[d]uring these years, commencement speakers have urged students to seek meaning and not money. Many people, it turns out, were listening.
That's right the millions un- and underemployed are seeking millions while the fewer and richer whose riches are derived from greater productivity, which is another way of saying fewer workers working harder abetted by robots, are the result of a post-materialist society not an insane system of wealth distribution.

What's the solution? It ain't fairy tales about low hanging fruit, that's for sure.

video via

Here in Wisconsin: Scott Walker Math Genius

On some Fox show or another, Scott Walker dismissed the thousands of protesters in Madison and elsewhere because Wisconsin is a state of “about 5.5 million people.” There you have it. Until such time as all 5.5. million Wisconsonians show up at Walker's door and ask him to do or not do something, he promises to sit quietly and await the next election.


Although the police union continues to think its members are special, the Madison Firefighters' Union is supporting the resistance to Walker's union busting, yeah them.

The Art of the Possible

Paul Krugman on politicians' failure to enact sensible policies because they are politically "unfeasible":
If politics rules out all effective responses, there will be no effective responses.
Megan McArdle looks at the same issue and concludes that
at some level, there's no point in spending a lot of time designing policies which can't be enacted in any conceivable democratic polity.  Especially if advocating those policies make it hard to advocate things that might work--either because the advocacy takes time away from thinking about feasible solutions, or because you alienate the people you are trying to influence.
It makes no sense, she suggests, to think about or advocate for sensible policies when you could be thinking about and advocating for politically feasible policies whether or not they work. Because, one assumes, it's better to something ineffective or wrong then to spend time trying to convince people to do some effective or correct.

Or put another way:
Bart: You make me sick, Homer. You're the one who told me I could do
anything if I just put my mind to it!
Homer: Well, now that you're a little bit older, I can tell you that's
a crock! No matter how good you are at something, there's always
about a million people better than you.
Bart:  Gotcha.  Can't win, don't try.

Honesty the Best Policy

President Obama's spokesmodel said:
“If the president is presented with a bill that undermines critical priorities or national security through funding levels or restrictions, contains earmarks or curtails the drivers of long-term economic growth and job creation while continuing to burden future generations with deficits, the president will veto the bill.”
 Andrew Sullivan read it to mean that
Obama just said that even the Republicans' small cuts in defense would "undermine ... national security."
I take this an a nearly perfect example of intellectual dishonesty. Not only didn't the president say anything like that, he might, for all anyone knows, be referring to Boehner's refusal to let an unwanted project die as it does anything.  It's the sort of carefully moderated banality you'd expect from any politician. It certainly doesn't mean anything like what Sullivan's interpretation bolstered by a truncated quotation suggests.

It would be nice if folks would make some sort of rudimentary attempt at getting the facts right

Border Wars

Border's is filing Chapter 11 and, according to this, will be closing some 30% of its least productive stores.  One of them is the Border's on University Ave in Madison WI.  Never once have I been in there when it didn't give every appearance of being busy, which is to say filled with customers buying books, magazines, and related etc; if they can't make it there; they can't make it anywhere, which is a depressing thought.


I mentioned earlier that the idea of a Progressive/Conservative alliance to destroy teachers' unions wasn't really a Progressive/Conservative alliance but rather a Neoliberal conviction that unions have to go.  Over to the NRO, Jay Nordlinger makes this clear. He writes
Teachers used to be something like a holy caste, practically the most honorable among us. I come from a family of teachers. Everyone thought of it as a noble calling. Teachers earned too little, but that was remedied, over time.
Notice the passive voice. It wasn't, so he would have you believe, the concerted union action that led to improved wages rather it "remedied" itself over time.

He continues:
Then everything went screwy. Teachers were not just well paid. (“Best part-time job in America,” Lee Iacocca once quipped, to the howls of many.) They were some of the most petulant, greediest, nastiest unionists around.
The nerve of workers using their collective agency to improve their wages and, one assumes,  to interfere in the political process in a way that benefits them.  They ought, it seems, to have waited for remedies. After a silly letter from someone in Madison Wisconsin who makes the mistake of assuming that the teachers' union here is a barrier to decent education, Nordlinger makes clear why no sensible Progressive, or really anyone, would ally with those seeking to destroy unions:
I remember something a friend told me — a friend who, 15 years ago, was fighting for school choice. When the teacher-union lawyers entered the courtroom, “I could practically smell the sulphur coming off them.”
 I always thought that the phrase demonizing your enemies was meant more or less metaphorically.

Honesty Not the Best Policy

Matthew Yglesias argues, if you want to call it that
Indeed, I would say it’s the very fact that a lot of people can lose jobs do to perfectly fair international competition that actually makes the case for financial assistance. If the problem was malfeasance of some kind, the right solution would be to halt the malfeasance. The main issue is that in a technologically and socially dynamic world, fair competition leads to people suffering economic hits through no fault of their own. This is one of several reasons why it’s important to have public services and a social safety net. Even people who do everything right—acquire skills, work hard, etc.—can be subject to large and unpredictable negative shocks to their value as a worker.
By fair competition he means what now?  Artificially low wages through denial of labor organization, lax or no environmental regulation? This is Walker's preferred method of job creation.  He can, he thinks, lure business here from elsewhere by destroying unions, lowering taxes, ignoring environmental concerns, and, generally, returning Wisconsin to the 19th century.

Somebody made the point once that the more horrific your desired end the more likely you will use obfuscatory language to mask the horror. In plain language, Yglesias means that if you let profit maximization rule the roost people get screwed out of jobs because somewhere someone is willing to participate in a race to the bottom.  However we can't, he suggests, do anything about the underlying problem because
Halting all the possible sources of these shocks would be disastrous to economic growth.
What does this mean? If we create a system that distributes the benefits more equitably the economy will cease "growing," where growing is a placeholder for fewer people getting ever more money while more people work for company script. That's growth we can believe in.
But refusing to acknowledge the reality and pervasiveness of this kind of misfortunate treats people unfairly and pushes political activity in the direction of rent-seeking.
I ask what does this mean?

Here in Wisconsin

The other day, Dana Goldstein made the argument that the current Conservative/Progressive alliance on school reform will collapse in a couple of years once it becomes clear to Progressives that Conservative really only want to destroy teaching unions. Over the course of the last few days, Walker has shown exactly how Conservatives intend on treating all unions, anyone who has been paying attention to the Neoliberal war on workers, unions, and the environment, sold as a dedication to the free market, already understood what was going on.  The "left" wing of the Neoliberal movement thought, it seems to me, that it was being serious and all grown-up when it joined the chorus of the right wing of the Neoliberal movement when they agreed that the "crisis" in education required the destruction or, at least, the diminution of unions' political strength. What they were in fact doing was creating an  intellectual justification for Walker's nonsense.  So thanks for that.

Welcome to the 19th Century

Glenn Beck is right about one thing, there is, in fact, a war of Progressives and Neoliberals in this country.  The right wing of the Neoliberal camp wants to turn the clock back to the glory days of pre-TR America where life was nasty, brutish, and short but at least only the most colorful of crooks got the cash.  As evidence, in the great state of Missouri, on Jane Cunningham (R) want to pass a law that
modifies the child labor laws. It eliminates the prohibition on employment of children under age fourteen. Restrictions on the number of hours and restrictions on when a child may work during the day are also removed. It also repeals the requirement that a child ages fourteen or fifteen obtain a work certificate or work permit in order to be employed. Children under sixteen will also be allowed to work in any capacity in a motel, resort or hotel where sleeping accommodations are furnished. >It also removes the authority of the director of the Division of Labor Standards to inspect employers who employ children and to require them to keep certain records for children they employ. It also repeals the presumption that the presence of a child in a workplace is evidence of employment.
The damn kids today with all their fingers and an education have it too damn soft, why her great great grandmother died in the Triangle fire when she was only 10. What are these people thinking?

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Here in Wisconsin

Thousands are currently at the Capital protesting Walker's decision to destroy unions and screw workers. Unlike the police and fire unions, we learned today that
[f]ive former and two current Packer players are standing behind state union employees.
The seven NFL Players Association members have signed a letter supporting the AFL-CIO's efforts against Gov. Scott Walkers' budget plan to end collective bargaining rights for nearly all public employees.
Their statement says Wisconsin has a "long standing tradition of allowing public sector workers to have a voice on the job," a practice that "has worked for the state since the 1930s."
Signing the statement are Brady Poppinga and Jason Spitz along with former Packers Curtis Fuller, Chris Jacke, Charles Jordan, Bob Long and Steve Okoniewski.
True champions, it would seem.No National Guard call up as of yet.

Looking For Work

Paul Krugman posted a chart that shows slightly more than 4 unemployed workers per job opening.  The thing is that employed people apply for those jobs as well; it's true lots of people with jobs want different jobs. So unless there is some mechanism that stops the employed from competing with the unemployed for these jobs the statistic is misleading tending toward useless.

Monday, February 14, 2011

I Was Worried

I was worried that the current administration was in the process of getting the budget very wrong indeed when I read that Andrew Sullivan is back to blogging. I rushed to his site to see what pearls of wisdom he had and found this:
To all those under 30 who worked so hard to get this man elected, know this: he just screwed you over. He thinks you're fools. Either the US will go into default because of Obama's cowardice, or you will be paying far far more for far far less because this president has no courage when it counts. He let you down. On the critical issue of America's fiscal crisis, he represents no hope and no change. Just the same old Washington politics he once promised to end.
And was immediately reassured. Sullivan has been wrong about every important issue about which he has ever written anything, to say nothing of being consistently wrong when undertakes to discuss political process. So to modify Runyun's old saw about betting on the fastest and the strongest as a guide for pundits, it might not be the case that Sullivan is wrong this time but that's the way to bet.

Here in Wisconsin

Last week Gov. Walker declared war on public unions except for police and fire. One hoped that the fire and police unions would recognize that they would be next and, consequently, they would condemn Walker's decision. Instead, these unions seem to think that they are truly special. I suggest that they look at the history of police and fire unions and recognize that they are more likely than not next.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

NT Times Review of Books

Can you really call a book in which someone's "father recounts his 3-year-old son's encounter with Jesus and the angels during an emergency appendectomy" nonfiction? To say nothing, except this non-cryptic allusion, of a book in which a "geopolitical forecaster who wrote "The Next Hundred Years" details the enormous transition he expects over the coming 10" or "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother." On my count 7 of the 15 on the "combined" list fall in either the gray area of memoir or the fairly obvious fiction of, you know, meeting Jesus and "the" angels, which sounds like a fairly crappy Christian rock band.

Don't Eat Right Before Bed

Posted because some of you, and you know who you are, don't watch enough cool videos