May I suggest a different way to phrase those headlines?

At about 4:30 PST, two headlines just came down the pike, following the Wisconsin Senate votes:

Wisconsin anti-union measure must pass Assembly before it can go to Gov. Walker for signature

More on Wisconsin anti-union vote: No Democratic senators were present – AP

I’d like to rephrase them:

Wisconsin pro-taxpayer measure must pass Assembly before it can go to Gov. Walker for signature

More on Wisconsin pro-taxpayer vote:  No Democratic senators were present — AP

Once again, the liberals are framing the debate, aren’t they?

The problem with public sector collective bargaining

The core problem, which this video illustrates, is that the government forces public sector employees to pay dues to public sector unions, that then use those dues to buy elections, to place into power politicians who raise taxes to pay ever higher government salaries and pensions.  This has nothing to do with fairness, and everything to do with an inherently corrupt system that sees Democratic politicians and union leaders use other people’s money to maintain their power bases:

Paul Krugman: a lazy ideologue

Paul Krugman has a bully pulpit in the New York Times.  Its numbers may be declining under Pinch’s overlordship, but it still remains “the paper of record” to a lot of people with their hands in or near the power trough.  Paul Krugman’s readers respect him because (a) he holds their elitist Left outlook and (b) he has Nobel Prize.  The latter assures them that he is a reliable source.

The problem for Krugman’s readers is that they’ve missed out on one essential feature of Krugman’s writing and analysis — he is profoundly lazy.  Comfortably encased in his ideology, he trolls the internet for facts that support his argument, without ever bothering to determine whether those facts are honest, credible or valid.  Worse, he has completely abandoned his own analytical abilities, and makes no effort to determine whether the facts he cites are relevant to his argument.  Conservative commentators have repeatedly caught him making outrageous misstatements that arise because of his appalling laziness.

The latest to catch him is Iowahawk, who has abandoned scathing humor for straightforward reporting.  This is a really important one, because it shows that Krugman’s wrongness is 180 degrees.  He gets things exactly bass ackward, and is using his bully pulpit to spread gross untruths about public sector unions and collective bargaining.

The New York Times again strains for moral equivalence

We all learned in school about the Triangle factory fire in New York back in 1911.  The fire started and too many women died in significant part because of horrible working conditions the factory owners were able to impose on economically trapped women.  The fire was a PR disaster for management in America, and a huge aid to the development of private sector unions.  Since the 100th anniversary is drawing near, both PBS and HBO have shows lined up about the event.  The New York Times TV reviewer is excited, because he seems to hope that these shows will help boost sympathy to union protesters in Wisconsin and, now, other states too:

As demonstrations in support of Wisconsin’s public-employee unions proliferate, PBS can pat itself on the back for scheduling the documentary “Triangle Fire” on Monday night — more than three weeks before the 100th anniversary of the New York garment-factory blaze it details, which figures so strongly in the imagination of the American labor movement.

I wonder if the reviewer ever wakes up at 3 a.m. and thinks, “What the hell kind of crap am I peddling?”  Because, really, is there any equivalence between these two scenarios?

Scenario A:  Immigrant women labor under appalling conditions (60-80 hours a week), starvation wages, no job security whatsoever, and factory conditions so dangerous that, ultimately, 146 die in a single day, having leaped from windows to escape encroaching flames and locked doors.

Scenario B:  College graduates work a seven month year for the government and, once they’ve received lifetime job security, earn a total compensation package in excess of the average non-government worker in their community.  Further, these graduates are forced by law to pay money to a union that, in turn, hands that money over to a political party that, in turn, sets the wages for the union members, who then are forced by law to pay part of those wages to a union that, in turn . . . well, you get the corrupt cycle I’m describing here.

I hope that Americans are wiser than New York Times television reviewers and realize that, while we want our teachers to have living wages and safe working conditions, both for their own benefit and for the good of our children, the scam that’s currently in place with public sector unions is grotesque, unsustainable, and totally unrelated to the tug of war that occurs between labor and management in the private sector.

What’s really going on in Wisconsin

It’s a good video:

Here’s the real point:  If you want to work for government (which can be a very honorable or practical or neutral thing to do), you are forced to pay union dues.  You know, when you pay those dues that they will be used to fund the Democrats.  This is true whether or not you, personally, want to fund the Democrats.

Once elected, the Democrats shower benefits on the public sector unions, since that ensures that the unions will then shower money right back on the Democrats.  What’s important to remember is that these elected Democrats are your employees, just as the public sector workers are.  Nevertheless, you, the tax payer, have been cut out of the loop.  Instead, there’s an endlessly cycling mutually beneficial relationship going on between unions and benefits, that you’re paying for.  I think it’s called taxation without representation.  (Hmm….  Where have I heard that expression before?)

James Taranto on Wisconsin

Taranto is always good.  Sometimes, though, he’s great.  That’s the case for his column today, which discusses (a) the difference between public and private sector unions and (b) the difference between Tea Party and union protests.  He’s not saying anything you haven’t heard before or figured out for yourself; it’s just that he says it so well.

Regressives

Roger Simon, among others, has noted that the demonstrations in Madison demonstrate how old-fashioned the modern Left is, something that’s true despite the Left’s attempt to re-brand itself with the name “Progressive.”  It therefore seemed appropriate for me to run again an article I wrote for American Thinker back in September 2007.  My section on the unions (“Look for the union label”) seems prescient now.

***

Regressives

Language is anything but static, something for which we must be grateful. It’s the dynamism of the English language that, at the high end, gives us Chaucer, Shakespeare, Pope, Dickens, and at the low end, gives us the liveliness of slang and dialect.

One of the interesting things about English’s constant, beneficial mutations is the fact that some terms which start off as merely descriptive begin to degrade in meaning, eventually ending as insults. For example, the now archaic word “beldam” started off as a grand old lady and ended up meaning a miserable hag. “Spinster” originally described a woman who spins, but came to mean a desiccated, narrow minded old virgin. Another word that ended with a completely degrade meaning was “bedlam,” which describes a completely insane situation, but that had its genesis in Christ’s natal town of Bethlehem.

And then there’s the word “liberal.” It comes from the Latin “liber,” meaning free, so the word “liberal” originally referred to one committed to freedom. Over time, however — indeed, in our lifetime — it came to mean one thing: someone who could not win an election. Clearly, it was time for a change.

Liberals, after some bold attempts to reclaim the title for themselves (and they’ve got the bumper stickers to prove it), decided to jettison the term entirely and come up with a new word to describe themselves. They are now “Progressives.” The word “progressive” means to advocate beneficial change and progress, and that’s certainly what Progressives would have the American people believe they offer.

By giving themselves this label, however, the Progressives have proven yet again that there’s no delusion quite as powerful as self-delusion. The fact is that, if you pick apart each of the Progressives’ stands on any major issue of the day, you’ll see that either they have staked out positions that were either proven false or ineffective decades ago, or they’re still fighting battles that were long ago won, making their efforts redundant (yet still, somehow, harmful to the modern political process).

One, two, three, four, No way will we win this war

The most visible example of the Progressives’ tendency to live in the past is their compulsive urge to view the Iraq War as if it was a movie sequel entitled The Vietnam War, Part II. This was apparent within minutes of the War’s inception, when Progressives (both in and out of the media) were already labeling it a quagmire. They looked for and found their My Lai massacre when the Abu Ghraib scandal and the Haditha affair came to light.

Showing admirable tenacity, the Progressives have clung to these few 1960s/1970s lodestones despite some pesky details that run counter to their Vietnam narrative. For one thing, there was the fact that, in the months leading up to the War, Saddam Hussein worked hard to convince UN inspectors that he had WMDs. If this was true (and they’re in Syria or elsewhere right now), he invited the War on himself and his long suffering people.

If it was Saddam issuing propaganda aimed at aggrandizing his stature amongst the rogue nations of the world, no one can be blamed for bombing his nuclear Potemkin Village. Certainly he’d actually built that faux village on a solid foundation, since few could doubt that someone who would gleefully use poison gas to massacre his own people would hesitate to use it against foreign enemies, given the chance.

Another problem for the Regressives… er, Progressives… is the nature of Saddam’s Iraq itself. Vietnam had the bad luck to be caught between opposing Communist forces, with Vietnam the battered football in the middle. Iraq was quite a different kettle of fish. In a region that distinguishes itself as the land of repressive regimes, Saddam stood out as a star. In addition to the Halabja massacre (see above), Saddam brutally tortured and murdered his own people, committed ecoterrorism to drive out disfavored ethnic groups, gave free reign to his sadistic sons with the hope that they’d eventually rule Iraq, invaded neighboring sovereign nations, and is believed to have murdered around 200,000 of his own people. Under Hussein, Iraq was not an unwitting international football kicked around in the Cold War, it was a time bomb waiting to explode.

None of these icky little facts deter the Progressives. For them, it’s always 1974 all over again and they urge us on to the one lesson they learned from the Vietnam War: the U.S. should turn tail and run. Sadly for Iraqis and Americans, the Progressives are careful to freeze their historic memories to fix on that (to them) wonderful moment when people raced to the rooftops of buildings, desperate to board the last U.S. helicopters. Memory carefully stops before it reaches the reeducation camps in North Vietnam or the Killing Fields of Cambodia. For Progressives, useful as the past is to define their current-day agenda, some history lessons are better left unlearned.

‘I believe it is peace in our time.”

When it comes to terrorists, Progressives show a true sense of retro style, turning the Way Back machine to the 1930s, with Neville Chamberlain as their role model. For those who are not conversant with Chamberlain’s dealings with Hitler, they are instructive.

Immediately upon assuming power in 1933, Hitler began to use violence and intimidation within Germany in order to achieve his political and social goals. To the extent that he went after Communists, many in Europe and, especially, in Britain, were not unsympathetic to his goals, even if they deplored his tactics. They were less sympathetic to, but perfectly willing to ignore, his attacks on Jews, gays, clergyman, gypsies, and the mentally and physically handicapped. These were, after all, internal affairs and (I’m sure this was said with the inevitable shrug), “what can one do?”

Europe’s ability to look the other way changed in 1938 when Hitler, feeling limited by turning his aggression on his own people, began turning his energies outward. In March 1938, after having already procured the assassination of an Austrian Chancellor, Hitler invaded Austria in what became known as the Anschluss. (And it’s no credit to Austria that large numbers of its citizens were delighted with this turn of events.) Although this was a complete violation of all international law, and was clearly an act of war, Chamberlain’s government sat passively by.

Then, in September 1938, when Hitler began to rumble about the Sudetenland, which Germany had lost to Czechoslovakia after World War I, Chamberlain went to Berlin to meet with Hitler. Hitler quickly got the measure of the man and offered Chamberlain an either/or solution to the Sudetenland issue: Either Britain assist Germany’s plans to annex the Sudetenland or Hitler would invade Czechoslovakia and take it back himself. Overawed by Hitler’s reasoning, Neville Chamberlain quickly agreed to the “either” part of that plan and executed the Munich Agreement. Proud of his negotiating skills, which gave Hitler the power and geographical range instantly to overrun Czechoslovakia, Chamberlain returned to England and boasted to the British people that

“this is the second time in our history that there has come back from Germany to Downing Street peace with honor. I believe it is peace in our time.”

The 1930s peace crowd took those words seriously. Despite Hitler’s increasingly aggressive acts throughout the 1930s, both inside and outside Germany, and despite Hitler’s clearly expressed threats to take over Europe and destroy all whom he deemed inferior, Chamberlain and the peace party that support him were “shocked, shocked” when Hitler, appropriately viewing the Munich Agreement as a carte blanche from supine European leaders, first invaded Czechoslovakia, then Poland, and then tried to take on the world.

Chamberlain’s incredible naiveté in believing that it was possible to have peace with a tyrant bound and determined to control and kill anyone who affected his power meant that, within seven years of the Munich Agreement, through genocide, the ordinary and tragic casualties of war, and battle deaths, as many as 72 million people are estimated to have died. One can only conclude that Chamberlain got “peace with honor” confused with the Roman idea, which was to “make a desert and call it peace.”

If the above narrative sounds uncomfortably familiar, it should, and I’m not just saying this because you probably studied World War II in school (or, at least, you did if you’re over 30). The so-called Progressives are closely mimicking Chamberlain’s behavior. They’re thrilled with Bin Laden’s reasoning, especially since he sounds uncannily like their own Progressive leaders. They want us to do everything that Bin Laden and his minions advise: withdraw from Iraq, jettison Israel, and remove any Western presence from Saudi Arabia (except, of course, for the petrodollars).

The Progressive’s antiquated appeasement standards are even better displayed with Ahmadinejad’s visit to New York. Let me remind you here that Ahmadinejad may have been part of the 1979 hostage crisis, that he’s repeatedly threatened to destroy Israel entirely, and that he’s determined to become a nuclear power, which poses a threat to all Western interests. But who cares? Bully boys are always treated well by appeasers. This time, not only were the Progressive appeasers excited to give him a forum at the once prestigious Columbia University in New York, they’ve gave him airtime on American TV courtesy of 60 Minutes.

And just to put the whole matter of the Progressives’ fawning over Ahmadinejad in its proper retro perspective, in 1933 Columbia happily offered the red carpet to a high ranking Nazi official. One could argue that, in 1933, it wasn’t quite so obvious how terrible the Nazis were to become, but Columbia President Lee Bollinger has killed that argument already. He announced that he would have invited Hitler to speak too. Keep in mind that even Chamberlain didn’t invite Hitler to London.

We’re having a baby, my baby and me.

One of the most retrograde areas in Progressive thought concerns abortion rights — and I think you’ll agree with me whether you are pro-Choice or pro-Life.

A couple of years ago, I found myself at the abortion rights webpage for the National Organization of Women. What struck me right away was how dated the organization’s position was regarding abortion. At that time, to make its point about the need for legalized abortions, it led with photographs of four women who died from abortions. Following the link, I was led to the story of seven women who died from botched abortions. The years of death were 1929, 1929, 1940, 1950, 1967, 1977 and 1988. The dates are significant, since only the last two occurred after abortion became legal.

The death in 1977 was blamed on the fact that the dead woman was denied public funding for her abortion; the death in 1988 was blamed on a young woman afraid to seek parental consent for a legal abortion. Thus, with the exception of the 1977 and 1988 abortions, all the highlighted deaths occurred in times when birth control options were nil to limited, and when the stigma of pregnancy for unmarried women was extraordinarily high. The 1988 abortion was also a “stigma” abortion, since the girl was afraid to tell her parents.

There is no doubt that, if you are pro-Choice, either whole heartedly or in a lukewarm kind of way, there are, in 2007, still arguments to make in favor of abortion — rape, incest, a high risk pregnancy, a woman’s right to control her body, etc. The old reasons, however, just don’t apply anymore. Aside from the easy availability of myriad forms of birth control, nowadays the average accidental pregnancy may well be difficult or inconvenient, but it is no longer social death. Women are not turned out at night into snow storms, women do not become community pariahs, women are not forever tainted because of having an “illegitimate” pregnancy and, despite NOW’s focus on teen abortions and parental consent, it’s the rare news story that concerns a teen dying of a back alley abortion in those states requiring parental consent. It may certainly be embarrassing for a woman to admit to a pregnancy, but it is no longer the end of life on earth as women know it. Certainly the abortion debate would be more honest, if less emotional, if the “Progressives” were to debate abortion in the here and now, instead of in the then and gone.

We Shall Overcome

Perhaps ashamed that during both major Civil Rights battles (the Civil War and the Civil Rights Movements), Democrats allied themselves against African Americans, modern Progressives not only proclaim themselves the defenders of Civil Rights in America, but they also continue to wage the battle against racism as if it’s still Selma, 1964. In the Progressive world, racial oppression is an omnipresent aspect in the fabric of American life, with every white American (who isn’t Progressive, of course) a slavering racist anxious to degrade and dehumanize blacks.

To Progressives, something like the Jena 6 is a beautiful thing, because it proves their point — America is a racist nation, and they can board their protest busses and bravely take a seat at the segregated lunch counters of their fantasies. What they seem incapable of realizing is that even government conduct as suspect as that in the Jena 6 case reveals how far America has come since the actual Civil Rights movement. I’m probably not the first to notice that Jena 6 is a cause celebre, not because it’s happening all over America, or even all over the South, but because it’s anomalous.

White America is not routinely scapegoating black America. Indeed, the most recent racially motivated scapegoating saw a white Southern politician attempt to destroy the lives of several white defendants in an effort to curry favor with the local black community. (That would be the alleged Duke rape, for those of you scratching your heads over my allusion.) It’s also worth pointing out that the Jena 6 case is not the traditional “whites are bad, blacks are scapegoated” scenario, but seems to be an uglier and broader slice of race warfare amongst the young’uns, with each side enthusiastically threatening and otherwise terrorizing its opponent.

There is no doubt that there are still Americans who are racists, and it behooves each and every American to target that racism where it lies. But we make a grave mistake if we (for “we” read “Progressives”) pretend that the institutional racism of the Jim Crow South is still a looming factor in the lives of African-Americans. That kind of historical yearning means that, every three years or so, when something bad happens to African-Americans (and I don’t deny that bad things happen), Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton can race over to relive their own glory days in the early 1960s, all the while obscuring the fact that we live in a much less racially charged world. This kind of 1960s theater in the 21st Century does two terrible things: it continuously inflames the African American sense of grievance, something both psychologically and practically damaging; and it helps grow two dangerous emotions in white Americans when it comes to race: ennui and resentment.

Look for the union label

Unions were a necessity in the early days of the industrial revolution. Workers were so spectacularly abused in those days (in part because they had limited mobility when it came to looking for greener employment pastures) that only by united action were they able to shift the employer/employee dynamic away from mind-bogglingly brutalizing practices. (See, for example, the successful 1888 strike that forced the British government to legislate against the horror of phossy jaw, a phosphorous based cancer that afflicted 19th and 20th century workers in match factories.) Unionization is still useful today in highly dangerous industries where the risks of employment go beyond the economic and into life and death scenarios – and this is especially true in the chemical industry, where the employer has information the employee lacks and has the ability to control environmental safety which, again, is something the individual employee cannot do.

Having said that, most unions today are not useful at all, but are redundant victims of their own success. Thanks to decades of union action, the federal government and all the States have wage and hour laws, labor commissions (most of which are usually very hostile to the employer), occupational safety and health laws, mandatory retirement plans, minimum wage laws, etc. All of these, of course, were worker protections that unions fought for and won.

The problem is that, once you’ve done what you came for, what’s left? Well, for a lot of unions, aside from a huge effort negotiating salaries for the union bosses and a de minimus effort doing the same for union members, what’s left is a bullying style that tries to infringe on management prerogatives by dictating how the business should be run. The most obvious example of that trend can be found in the teacher’s unions, which routinely try to control both the broader political process and the classroom curriculum, all the while pressuring their employer (that would be you, through your agent, the government), to continue employing them without regard to performance standards.

Despite all this, for the Progressives, unions are the only things that stand between American workers and the 19th Century factory system of 12 hours, at salaries equal to mere pennies, in horrible unsafe conditions. It’s as if the social and political changes affecting employees during the last 100 years never happened. Instead, only by emphasizing working conditions that, in most cases, no longer exist, can Progressives keep alive an institution that serves their larger political agenda (often with a complete disregard for the rank and file’s beliefs), but that has an increasingly small effect on any given union’s original purpose.

Bill and Hillary Clinton, when running in 1992, were fond of repeating the old saying that insanity is defined by doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting a different outcome. They were prescient (and I’m not just talking about Hillary’s recycled healthcare plan). No matter how they label themselves, the Progressives are anything but: on every issue that affects Americans, they have staked their politics and theories that are antiquated, ineffective or redundant. And if that’s not crazy, I don’t know what is.

Cross-posted at Right Wing News

Obama wears the purple

In Roman times, purple was the Emperor’s color.  Today, it’s the color of the man who dreamed of being America’s Leftist king:

Is anybody else as creeped out by that video as I am?

And another question, which has nothing to do with unions — Do you get the feeling that Obama is hiding under the table as events in Libya unfold?

Hat tip:  American Thinker

A reminder to let Wisconsin Republicans known you’ve got their backs

If you haven’t already sent emails expressing support to Wisconsin Gov. Walker and the Republican Senators, you must.  Here are the email addresses:

govgeneral@wisconsin.gov
Sen.Ellis@legis.wisconsin.gov
Sen.Darling@legis.wisconsin.gov
Sen.Cowles@legis.wisconsin.gov
Sen.Fitzgerald@legis.wisconsin.gov
Sen.Galloway@legis.wisconsin.gov
Sen.Grothman@legis.wisconsin.gov
Sen.Harsdorf@legis.wisconsin.gov
Sen.Hopper@legis.wisconsin.gov
Sen.Kapanke@legis.wisconsin.gov
Sen.Kedzie@legis.wisconsin.gov
Sen.Lasee@legis.wisconsin.gov
Sen.Lazich@legis.wisconsin.gov
Sen.Leibham@legis.wisconsin.gov
Sen.Moulton@legis.wisconsin.gov
Sen.Olsen@legis.wisconsin.gov
Sen.Schultz@legis.wisconsin.gov
Sen.Vukmir@legis.wisconsin.gov
Sen.Wanggaard@legis.wisconsin.gov
Sen.Zipperer@legis.wisconsin.gov

Wisconsin has become the first battle in the true war between the taxpayers and the unions. The Governor and the Senators are at the front line of fighting, and they need to know that their efforts matter, and that they matter far beyond Wisconsin’s own borders.

More thoughts on Wisconsin

The average Wisconsin teacher has a better total compensation package than the average Wisconsin taxpayer.  After the proposed legislation goes through, the average Wisconsin teacher will still have a better total compensation package than the average Wisconsin taxpayer.  If this was 1789, events in Madison would be the equivalent of the French aristocrats taking to the streets, attired in satins, silks and jewels, and armed with pitchforks and pikes, to stridently demand even more from France’s starved and overworked peasantry.

Let’s get serious, though.  The issue, of course, isn’t compensation.  The average teacher who is taking to the street thinks it is, but the organizers, including Obama, the organizer-in-chief, know what the uproar is really about, and that is a Republican effort to diminish the power of public sector unions.

Currently, unions — all unions, whether public sector or private sector — get to speak to politicians on behalf of their membership, speech that is effected through contributions to politicians who are most likely to pass legislation favorable to union goals.  When it comes to the private sector, I don’t have a problem with that.  Corporations can and should be able to do that do.  If legislation affects a group or entity, it should have a political voice.  The same holds true with private sector unions.

When it comes to public sector unions, especially the teachers’ unions, things are different.  With regard to teachers’ unions, the unions don’t limit their efforts to wages, benefits and working conditions.  Instead, they are deeply involved with politicizing the classrooms to ensure that they raise generations of young people who understand the world through a Leftist filter.  And with regard to all public sector unions, the union dues aren’t intended to affect legislation.  Instead, they’re essentially being used to bribe the people who write the checks and pay the pensions.

One of the things Wisconsin Republicans want to do is decrease the amount of dues available to public sector unions, money that those unions have traditionally used to buy elections.  They’re doing this by proposing a law stating that non-union members in the public sector are not required to pay union dues as a condition of employment.   (I’m not sure whether this law would also apply to private sector unions but, for the reasons discussed below, it should.)

Currently, in a unionized business, employees are forced to pay union dues, whether or not they agree with union goals.  The reasoning behind this, if I remember my Labor Law class correctly, is that it would be unfair for non-union employees to benefit from the wage and working concessions wrung out of the employer by union members who did pay dues.

How much better it would be to apply the marketplace to union membership.  Assuming a perfect union, one that exists only to ensure decent wages and working conditions, if enough people belong to the union, yes, everyone benefits, including the “freeloaders.”  In vaccination terms, the latter are getting the benefit of herd immunity.

What invariably happens when the going is good is that more and more people conclude that the status quo is good regardless of their active participation.  Parents stop immunizing their children; and employees back off from the unions.

In the disease world, herd immunity vanishes and unvaccinated people fall ill.  Seeing the consequences of their actions, people start immunizing again, and the diseases back off.  In the union world, employers gain the upper hand, and workers realize that it was a mistake not to pay their dues.  Employees start paying their dues again, the union’s power returns, and the balance of power between employer and employee swings back to the center.

Forcing union membership creates a situation in which the union leadership is beholden to nothing and nobody.  No matter what the leadership does, no matter the bad deals it strikes or, in the case of the teachers’ unions, the horrid things it does to the classrooms, it keeps going and going and going.  Union leadership is like a demented, perverse, evil Energizer Bunny.  Our students are held hostage in the classroom, and we are held hostage in the legislature — in significant part because these state supported unions buy elections to ensure politicians who will maintain this twisted status quo.

I often say I hate unions.  Thinking about it, though, what I hate is a political system that has given unions unlimited power, freeing them from marketplace constraints.  They are the perfect illustration of Lord Acton’s dictum that “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

Cross-posted at Right Wing News

Thoughts about the Wisconsin teachers’ union *UPDATED*

As I understand it, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, faced with a $3.6 billion biennial budget deficit (for the years 2011-2013), had the choice of raising taxes in his financially beleaguered state or firing up to 6,000 state employees.  He chose a third route, proposing that Wisconsin’s public sector employees start carrying a small portion of their pension and benefit load.  The Heritage Foundation summarizes Walker’s proposal as follows:

Walker’s proposal would limit collective bargaining power and reform public employee benefit plans. For the first time, state employees would be responsible for making a 5.8 percent contribution into their pension plans and pick up the tab for 12 percent of their health care benefits. As it currently stands, Wisconsin taxpayers bear 100 percent of the costs.

Even with this change to the status quo, the employees are still better off than the average Wisconsin employee.  First, as noted, taxpayers are currently paying all of those costs.  Second, even under the proposed change, the public sector employees would still be paying a significantly lower percentage of these costs than are paid by similarly situated private employees.

Keep in mind, too, that the average teacher in a Wisconsin city Milwaukee including benefits — has a salary a total compensation in excess of $100,000:

This salary annual compensation package is one half the average sale price ($200,000) for a home in Madison, Wisconsin.  The average salary in Wisconsin overall is less than $60,000.  To summarize, Wisconsin teachers, who are state employees receiving their income from taxpayers, get higher pay and better benefits than many of their taxpayer employers.

Aside from the money issues, Gov. Walker proposes trimming union wings a bit, so that the unions lose some of their coercive power over their own members:

Walker’s budget removes the special privileges that give government unions their outsize influence. His plan allows workers to quit their union without losing their job. He requires unions to demonstrate their support through an annual secret-ballot vote. He also ends the unfair taxpayer subsidy to union fundraising: The state and local government would stop collecting union dues with their payroll systems.

In a dreadful economy, in a state with a huge debt load, you’d think that the public sector employees would be sanguine about the proposal.  After all, they get to keep their jobs, they get to keep their benefits, and they still have salaries and benefits that exceed those given to their taxpayer employees.  In addition, the unions that they are currently to which they are currently forced to belong would have to be run more fairly.

If you were looking for reasoned thought from unions, however, you’d be looking a long, long time.  The unions and their Democrat consigliores have gone absolutely ballistic.  The Democrat politicians have gone into hiding and the teachers have gone on the march.

With regard to the teacher protests, you’ve already heard about the illegal strike; the ill-informed and indoctrinated students dragged into the fray; the vile signs likening Walker to Hitler or Hussein or Mubarak, or placing gun sights on Walker’s face’ and the filth these protesters left in their wake.  What I’m more interested in is why the teachers?  Other public sector employees are also subject to these budget proposals, but it’s the teachers who are leading the way.

Part of the answer, of course, lies with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.  In a state in which the teachers’ union has been likened to the fourth branch of government, it was he who first made Americans aware of the way in which teacher’s unions, more than any other single employee group, are putting a pinch on state government coffers.  Suddenly, teachers aren’t the sweet-faced little ladies teaching Johnny and Janie to read.  Instead, they’re well-paid cogs benefiting from the union’s depredations.

Christie is always careful, in his speeches, to distinguish individual teachers from the unions themselves, and he’s right to do so.  It is the unions that are rapacious.  The teachers benefit, of course, from the union demands.  They’d be absolute idiots to say “No, I don’t want the salary you’re handing me; no, I don’t want the benefits that are coming my way; and, please, forget about that tenure that makes sure I’ll have a job forever.”  Each individual teacher knows that if he should decide unilaterally to be honorable and turn down the salary and benefits headed his way, it would change nothing.  The situation would continue the same, but he’d be poor.

The problem for teachers is that, having taken these benefits, they’re stuck with the consequences.  They’re stuck with the fact that, because of tenure, too many incompetent teachers occupying America’s classrooms, bringing the whole profession into disrepute.  And they’re stuck with the fact that the unions have stuck their collective bargaining noses in the curriculum, teaching information and values that offend their taxpayer employers.  And they’re stuck with the fact that ordinary taxpayers (and teachers are taxpayers too, but their numbers are small compared to the rest of America’s taxpayers), think that it’s obscene for someone to get paid twice their own salary, with much better benefits, for seven months work.

Oh, yeah!  Did I forget to mention that?  Most people work about eleven months of the year, with approximately one month off for official holidays and vacation.  Teachers, however, work on average seven months of the year, except that they make more money than those eleven-month workers do.

How did we get to this point with teachers?  I certainly remember a time when it wasn’t this way.  From about 1966 until 1987, my father was a public school teacher in a San Francisco Bay Area school district.  Those were not the glory days.  Our family lived only slightly above the poverty level.  We made ends meet only because, in addition to his teaching job, my father taught summer school and gave private lessons.  Eleven months a year, my father worked five to six days a week.  He left the house at 7:00 every day to teach school and returned home at around 10:30, after his private lessons ended.

The only good thing about my father’s job was the benefits.  He didn’t get life insurance, and he got a minuscule pension (about $5,000/year when he retired), but he got great medical and dental.  The dental was especially good:  if we had our teeth cleaned and checked twice a year, the insurance company would pay for all major dental procedures.  My parents, though, had to dig into their own pockets to get our crooked teeth straightened.

The whole situation stank.  There was a reason, though, for teachers’ lousy compensation.  Before women’s lib, the bulk of teacher’s were women.  Before women’s lib, you could therefore pay these female teachers a very low salary.  The thinking was that women who taught were wives and mothers who were bringing in a little extra.  They didn’t need a top salary because theirs was the second salary in a household.  (My mother, a draftswoman, was told precisely this back in 1958, when she learned that the man sitting at the table next to her, with the same training and job description, received twice her salary.)  That this wasn’t always the case — that the women was sometimes the primary or sole breadwinner — didn’t prevent it from being true often enough for the system to work fairly well in an era before women started realizing that the job itself, not their marital status, should determine the salary.

Incidentally, women’s lib also changed the caliber of teacher we see in today’s classroom.  In a pre-liberated era, one of the only jobs for bright, college-educated women, was teaching.  Classrooms therefore got a lot of teachers who would, by today’s standards, be considered over-educated.

I don’t say this to denigrate today’s teachers.  I know that most of them (and most are still female, although there are a fair number of men), are qualified for their jobs.  But the fact is that many of them don’t come from the top third of their own graduating classes.  When it comes to women, many in the top third now go to the cachet jobs:  doctors, lawyers, architects, investment bankers, etc.  This means that the current crop of teachers, with obvious and many exceptions, lacks the breadth of knowledge and education that characterized pre-women’s lib teachers.  What all this means is that we pay more now for teachers than we did a generation ago, but we get less educational bang for the buck.

The kind of starvation wages my father was paid were offensive.  Also, people realized that their children are in the teacher’s hands.  If they don’t get decent teachers, they don’t end up with decently educated children.  Ironically, it was the Leftists who argued most stridently what is an obvious free market principle:  if you don’t pay good salaries, you don’t get good workers.  Salaries for teachers had to go up.  It’s just that, as the unions gained more and more power, salaries went up disproportionately to the service being offered.  This fact wasn’t obvious during the flush times, but it sure is obvious now.

Worse, no matter how good the teachers, at precisely the same time that the unions were getting more demanding, people were noticing that their children were getting less educated.  Some of it, as I pointed out, was due to the change in educational level of those teaching.  Some, however, was due to the increased politicization of the classroom.  Educational colleges because less concerned with the Three Rs and infinitely more concerned with indoctrinating students.  Reading, writing and ‘rithmetic got swept away in ebonics, climate change, multiculturalism, identity politics, self-actualization and self-realization.  A six hour day just didn’t give enough time for everything, and academics suffered.

But no matter what, teachers’ unions clung to that moral high gr0und:  “It’s for the children!  Give us more money and, even though we won’t change the way in which we operate, we promise that we’ll produce a better product.”  After twenty plus years of being fooled, the taxpayers are finally wising up.

It’s this moral high ground, though, that sees the teachers in the forefront of the battle against Governor Walker.  No one is going to be sympathetic if the tax collections or auditors or motor vehicle employees rise up to fight the cuts.  It’s the teachers who have put themselves on the high moral pedestal, and it’s they who are falling furthest and fastest, although I don’t think they’ve quite realized either their speed or trajectory just yet.

The last thing I’ll say here, speaking directly to Gov. Walker and the Wisconsin Democrats, is a Margaret Thatcher quotation:  “This [is] no time to go wobbly.”  This is one of those turning points in a war.  It’s the public sector’s Gettysburg or Midway or Battle of the Bulge:  whoever wins this battle, wins the war.

Cross-posted at Right Wing News

[Updated to add video with $100,000 compensation info.]

UPDATE:  Larry Kudlow gives some useful information that helps put all the numbers in context:

Wisconsin parents should go on strike against the teachers’ union. A friend e-mailed me to say that the graduation rate in Milwaukee public schools is 46 percent. The graduation rate for African-Americans in Milwaukee public schools is 34 percent. Shouldn’t somebody be protesting that?

Governor Walker is facing a $3.6 billion budget deficit, and he wants state workers to pay one-half of their pension costs and 12.6 percent of their health benefits. Currently, most state employees pay nothing for their pensions and virtually nothing for their health insurance. That’s an outrage.

Nationwide, state and local government unions have a 45 percent total-compensation advantage over their private-sector counterpart. With high-pay compensation and virtually no benefits co-pay, the politically arrogant unions are bankrupting America — which by some estimates is suffering from $3 trillion in unfunded liabilities.

Ace nails the bottom line on allowing public sector unions

The point of a union is that it has political heft.  One of the ways in which we demonstrate political heft in this country is money.  Unions (just like corporations) can donate money directly to candidates and parties.  The result, as Ace pithily says, is “nothing but legal corruption: they are currently permitted to bribe the government officials signing their contracts.”

As you watch the anarchy in Wisconsin, which sees infuriated teachers, ignorant students in tow, storming the capitol, while Democrats hide in order to prevent a fair vote, keep Ace’s point in mind.  (By “fair vote,” I mean of course that, in a representative democracy, on some issues, the party that won the majority wins the legislative votes too — unless the sore losers cheat.)