Why have a lot of little posts, when you can have one really big one?

I’ve been coming across so much interesting stuff this morning that I’m going to do another flotsam and jetsam post.

One of the things we’ve long known is that the Left lies about statistics.  Examples of this are “1 in 4 women have been sexually assaulted” canard and the “women earn 76 cents for every dollar men earn” lie which is (a) factually inaccurate and (b) misleading because it ignores the fact that women’s commitment to their children means many of them voluntarily take a different career track.  (The only place this is factually true, I think, is the Obama White House, where he definitely pays women less.)  Tom Elia therefore suggests that, before blindly accepting Texas Democrats’ charge that the proposed abortion law would close all but 5 of Texas’s 42 abortion clinics (because of the requirement that the clinic be within 30 miles of a hospital), we might want to check whether this is actually true.

Before you get your knickers in a twist about the revelation that the EU has been colluding with the US to hand over European data to the NSA program, remember that the source is a virulent anti-American, antisemitic truther.  This may explain why The Guardian, after touting the story, then pulled it.  Having said that, it’s not hard to believe Edward Epstein’s theory that this was never a whistleblower case but was, instead, a carefully thought out plan of espionage.

You’re my readers, so I know all of you are already aware that we’re on the verge of the 150th anniversary of Gettysburg.  Nevertheless, I thought I’d still mention it, along with the fact that at least some Americans are aware of how significant that battle was.  World War I saw bigger battles, with more deaths (Ypres, the Somme, etc.), but I’m not sure that any Civil War ever saw such ferocious days as the Civil War did at Antietam or Gettysburg, or any of the other sites where Americans clashed against each other.  I believe it’s very useful to remind some people (and I’m not naming names) that America is the only country in the world that has ever shed so much blood to fight slavery.

Just a moment to mourn Andrew Pochter, the idealistic American Jewish kid who went to Egypt to help raise up the poor Arabs and died in a welter of blood during an anti-Morsi protest.

I think things in Egypt are about to get much worseTwenty-two million Egyptians signed a petition demanding Morsi’s ouster.  Do they really think the Muslim Brotherhood is going to walk away?  If Egypt does fall into a Civil War, it will make what’s happening in Syria look like a Sunday school picnic.

Naive people think a mosque is just a House of Worship.  While it is definitely a House of Worship, it’s also something more:  a symbol of conquest.  That’s why it has to be higher than the surrounding buildings.  And that’s why, in Germany, the air is being filled with the amplified sounds of the muezzin calling the faithful to prayer five times a day.

Charlie Martin, one of my favorite PJ Media writers, is at it again, writing smart stuff, this time about climate change and a really important question:  is there any evidence that humans matter?

And while we’re on the subject of climate, Robert Zubrin explains in simple terms why Obama’s recently announced climate plans will impoverish America.  With Obama focusing on climate change (despite more and more data that the entire theory is wrong), even as the economy stagnates, national secrets go walking, and the Middle East is aflame, my first thought was that he was like Nero fiddling while Rome burns.  Reading Zubrin’s analysis though of the devastating Obama’s plans will bring to the economy, the better analogy would be Nero pouring accelerant on the flames licking at Rome.  If you doubt that, check out Obama’s recent appointees, all of whom have drunk full of the climate change Kool-Aid.

Republicans are saying that this time, really, for good and for true, their eyes are open.  That whole Gang of Eight thing made them realize that the Democrats are not their friends in Congress and they promise, never, never, never again to ever again, really ever, let the Democrats play them like that.  How dumb do Republicans think we are?  Republicans are Charlie Brown, Democrats are Lucy, and Americans are a poor, kicked-around, deflated football.

A New Jersey teachers union leader said that the rich send their children to public school so that they don’t have to have contact with the poor.  I know of at least one case where this is true.  Back in 1971, busing came to San Francisco.  I was bussed from one middle class school near my home to another slightly less middle class school far from my home.  It made friendships difficult (none of my friends were near), and there were a few more black kids, but otherwise it was no big deal.  My friend, however, was bussed from her middle class school to a school in Bayview-Hunter’s Point, one of the worst slums in San Francisco.  She could beaten up every day for the first two weeks of school.  Her parents, fortunately, had the money to pull her out of the public school system and they put her in Brandeis.  So yes, they didn’t want her to have contact with the poor — because the poor wanted to have a bit too much contact with her.

If you’re wondering what’s going on in Turkey, Claire Berlinsky will explain it to you.

This is an Open Thread, so please feel free to add to it.

The herd immunity theory of unions

Immunization

When we think of herd immunity, we think of vaccinations.  Fewer parents are vaccinating their children nowadays because of their fears about negative reactions to vaccinations (including the now-debunked theory about vaccinations causing autism).  Those parents skipping vaccination point triumphantly to the fact that, despite their children’s vaccination-free status, there hasn’t been a huge upsurge in measles, mumps, rubella, polio, chickenpox, or any of the other diseases that can now be prevented with a shot or nasal mist.

What these parents fail to realize is that the diseases haven’t stopped simply because they’re rare; instead, they’re rare because other children are getting vaccinated.  Because there are a sufficient number of immunized children within a given population, these former childhood scourges cannot the necessary foothold to become endemic or epidemic.  It’s this perfect balance — where just enough kids are vaccinated to defeat a disease’s onslaught — that we call herd immunity.  This balance is also very tenuous.  If the number of vaccinated children drops below the magic herd immunity point, dangerous diseases come back in a hurry.

Accepting the unions’ premise that unionization is a good thing, one can apply the same argument.  The opposite of right-to-work laws is mandatory unionization.  That means that, if you want to work in a specific industry, whether as an electrician or a teacher, you must join the union.  The theory behind this is that unions are so good at ensuring that workers are well treated, that all workers benefit and all workers should therefore contribute to the union.  It wouldn’t be fair for some workers to pay dues, and then for all workers to benefit.

Just as with vaccinations, however, a lot of workers lately have been complaining about the side effects from the unions’ role in their industries.  These side effects include economic demands so parasitical that they kill the host and the unions’ habit of going far beyond their initial mandate, so that union members find their funds supporting political ideologies that are antithetical to their own beliefs.  In right-to-work states, these people are allowed to opt out.

The union screeches are because they believe that it is unfair for non-union members, in effect, to benefit from herd immunity.  They don’t have to suffer from the downside of unionization (i.e., paying dues), but they get the upside benefits (i.e., better employment conditions).

The thing is that unions are not vaccinations and working conditions are not diseases that can become epidemic or even pandemic.  Instead, there is a marketplace balance:  if too many people don’t join the union, breaking part the herd immunity, the marketplace will shift.  In that case, rather than inevitably getting worse as happens when a toxic disease breaks out, things might actually get better or they might get worse, or they might just get different.

Tradeoffs are not the same as a polio pandemic.  As Charles Krauthammer points out, union states have higher wages and lower employment; right-to-work states have lower wages and higher employment.  In other words, both systems have benefits and both have failings.  The employees ought to be able to determine which system they prefer at a given workplace.

Having the government impose mandatory union membership perverts the marketplace and prevents workers from making choices about the system that works best for them.  Certainly, given union threats and hysteria, one suspects that the unions are worried that they won’t be able to compete in a free market.  With increasing worker mobility and communication skills, we don’t have the stagnant local employment market that allowed 19th and early 20th century employers to abuse a trapped labor market.

Union thug hitting Steve Crowder

Both mandatory unions and mandatory professional organizations are antithetical to Constitutional Free Speech *UPDATED*

California Bar Seal

The State Bar of California, which I have to pay into in order to practice law in the State of California, long-ago abandoned its core responsibility of ensuring that people who hold themselves out as lawyers to California citizens are at least minimally qualified.  As with all these mandatory organizations, it’s turned into a political advocacy group and, again in sync with all these mandatory organizations, it advocates Left. That is, it forces me to pay money if I want to have a livelihood in my chosen profession, and spends that money on heavily politicized issues such as abortion.  (It hews so far Left that, even when I was a Democrat, I was offended by many of the political stands it took with my money.)

The State Bar isn’t the only professional organization that leans Left.  The American Bar Association is heavily political too in a Leftist kind of way. The difference between the ABA and the State Bar, though, is that the form is a voluntary organization. I was therefore able to cancel my membership when I realized that my money was being used to support political causes that were unrelated to law and with which I disagreed.  Sadly, I can’t opt out of the State Bar — not if I want to be a practicing lawyer, that is.

Looked at this way, I have the same lack of rights as union members who don’t live in in right-to-work states. Here’s the deal: if unions and bar associations limited themselves to their original function, which was to ensure that union workers have good conditions or that lawyers have reasonable qualifications, union dues and mandated bar memberships would be less of an issue. Unions and Bar associations, however, have drifted far afield from these core responsibilities.  They’ve branched out since the 1970s or so to become political action groups taking far Left stands on just about everything.

When states mandate that workers must join unions or that professionals must join professional associations, the state is effectively coercing citizens into funding speech with which they may disagree. Looked at this way, mandatory participation in activist unions and professional associations is a profound perversion of the First Amendment right to free speech. Free speech doesn’t just include the right to speak freely, it also includes the right to refrain from participating in speech with which one doesn’t agree.

All of this popped into my mind when I received an email from the president of the State Bar of California (emphasis mine):

Begging

By now, you should have already received your State Bar of California fee statement. Statements were sent out on Nov. 30, and many of you may be taking steps now to send your payments before the Feb. 1, 2013 deadline. If you have not yet received your statement, it may be helpful to know that you can sign in to My State Bar Profile to calculate and pay your 2013 fees.

As the president of the State Bar, I would like to take this moment to enlist your help with an important opportunity that you have through your annual dues.

As attorneys, other people’s problems challenge us to do our very best. We straighten out transactions gone awry. We resolve property and commercial disputes. We counsel our clients through criminal proceedings and personal difficulties and help with innumerable other problems that ordinary people have every day.

But there is a new challenge. Sadly, our economy has experienced an almost unprecedented downturn with interest rates at historic lows. It is the Interest on Lawyers’ Trust Account (IOLTA)* revenue that pays for civil legal assistance for indigent people statewide; and it is barely a quarter of what it was in 2008. There is no cushion left as we struggle to close the justice gap – the gap between the legal needs of the poor and the legal help we can provide for them. This is an unprecedented crisis for those we are charged with protecting.

But there is a powerful step each of us can take in seeking a solution to the justice gap. Your tax-deductible donation to the Justice Gap Fund (a component of the statewide Campaign for Justice) will expand access to justice for the millions of Californians with nowhere else to turn. The Justice Gap Fund is the only statewide vehicle to restore critical funding to nearly 100 legal nonprofits that serve our biggest cities as well as the most isolated rural communities.

A gift made at line 10 of your annual dues statement, or online anytime at www.CAforJustice.org, will make a real difference.

Please join me in the Campaign for Justice. Make a life-changing gift to the Justice Gap Fund – it will make a real difference to those who most need our help.

I have to say that my heart strings remain un-tugged.  The Leftist policies of coercive organizations such as the California Bar Association helped lead to a long, deep economic collapse and painfully drawn-out recession.  The Bar, with its speech amplified by coerced dues, managed to out-shout someone like me, who would have had more money if the Bar hadn’t taken it away.  If I could have been left to my own political speech, I might then have been more amenable to contributing to a fund that helps poor people entangled in the political system.  Because the fund is owned and managed by the same group of people who contributed to this mess, however, I’ll hang onto my money until I find more worthy charities.

UPDATE:  You have to check out Michael Ramirez’s perfect editorial cartoon, because it distills to a single picture the whole free speech (or non-free speech) argument I made above.

It’s not the teachers, it’s the unions

For the most part, teachers across America are hard-working, committed, good people.  A teacher raised me.  My Dad was willing to work for a pittance because he had a genuine calling to teach.

Nowadays, teachers ostensibly get paid much more money than my Dad did, but at what cost?  As this video shows, the money isn’t really going to the teachers.  It’s going to the unions and the politicians, i.e., the employees’ representatives and the employers’ representatives, two groups that should create balance by pulling against each other put that, instead, suck up wealth by working in tandem against the taxpayers:

Does the Wisconsin vote matter?

The American Future Fund put together a very funny video that shows Progressives before and after the Wisconsin election.  Before, defeat meant an imminent apocalypse; after, defeat meant . . . nothing:

You can’t blame the Progressives for their differing before and after statements. With the November 2012 election coming up, one could argue that circumstances forced them to take both positions.

But we here at the Bookworm Room aren’t Progressives, and we’re not trying to induce people to vote one way or another.  Perhaps, then, we can come to a consensus about the implications of Walker’s victory in Wisconsin.

I’m too lazy right now to hunt up links, so I’m going to make factual statements that I’m 99% certain are accurate.  You can accept them as true, or you can call me on my errors.  This also isn’t a carefully framed essay.  Instead, I’m just throwing out ideas.

1.  Here’s a fact I know for certain, because I was there when it happened: I heard a pro-Obama liberal say, “Oh, my God!  This is a disaster.”  When I asked why, she said, “Because I wanted Obama to win in November, and this means he won’t.”  The media and White House may be spinning, but at least one (wo)man on the street thinks that the Wisconsin election, rather than being an anomaly, is a harbinger of things to come.

2.  Many have commented on the disparity between exit polls and votes.  I’m not ready to draw a conclusion from those discrepancies.  Roger Simon suggests a Bradley effect, one that sees political ideology, not racial views, as the opinion people are trying to hide during face-to-face interviews.  If he’s right, the polls in this election season just became meaningless, and all bets are off for November.  DQ, however, had a good point, which is that, until we know how many absentee ballots were cast in Wisconsin, we can’t know how anomalous the poll results really were.  Here in Marin, for example, up to 60% of voters do so by absentee ballot.  With only 40% of voters showing up at the polling places, and the pollsters only catching a small fraction of those, there’s going to be a wide margin for error in any hypothetical exit polling.

3.  Some man-on-the-street interviews saw people saying, “I just don’t like the recall idea.”  Maybe that’s true.  Or maybe people are lying about their motives for voting conservative in order to hide their resurgent conservative identity.  In any event, a couple of interviews does not a statistical sample make.  What’s of some significance is the fact that Scott Walker is the only governor to survive a recall vote.  In other words, in other places and other elections, people weren’t so squeamish about kicking out a governor who was fighting a recall.

4.  Money matters — and I’m not talking about money spent on elections.  Scott Walker, in the short time available to him as governor, shifted the Wisconsin balance sheet away from a huge, even catastrophic deficit.  People who are not ideologues will vote for someone who is manifestly preserving their way of life, even if they’re voting outside of their normal party identification.

5.  The unions are in serious trouble.  It’s not just that they lost.  It’s that, when workers in Walker’s Wisconsin were given a choice to walk away from the unions, they did so — causing a 2/3 drop in union rolls.  This means that the unions are serving only the politicians and the union leaders.  The rank and file might have been getting good benefits, but they realized that good benefits are meaningless in a broke nation.  They opted for social stability, rather than being forced to turn over their money to a union that didn’t serve them well and that didn’t serve their community well.

6.  This is deeply damaging for Barack Obama.  Oh, I know that Wisconsin is just one state.  There might have been all sorts of unique Wisconsin factors at work here that, practically speaking, have no relationship to Obama and to the nation as a whole.  But this was a big Democrat push.  The unions, which are synonymous with Democrats, put their all into this.  The protests against Walker were tied closely to the Occupy movement which is, in turn, tied closely to the Democrats.  The two candidates took positions that perfectly represented the dividing lines of political thought in this country, with Walker being the principled, budget-cutting conservative, and Barrett promising the same old big-spending, pro-union Democrat governance that saw Wisconsin slowly go broke in the first place.  When the Democrat side lost, you could practically see the stench start rising from the corpse.  That stench is going to stick to Democrats nationwide and, naturally, it’s going to stick hardest to the top Democrat.  It’s not the nail in the Obama re-election coffin, but it’s certain equal to a handful of nails, and joins other painful moments, ranging from big failures, such as the dismal job reports, worldwide economic collapse, and the scary despotism of the Arab Spring that Obama helped usher in, to small failures, such as the dog wars, the mommy wars, the bullying wars, etc.  Obama is looking like a very weak horse indeed, and in unstable times, that’s the last person the voters want shepherding their nation.

A matched set on Leftism’s theoretical virtues

Whoopi Goldberg got some airplay on conservative sites the other day for pointing out something I’d already learned by the time I was 13 — Leftism is great in theory, but it doesn’t work so well in the real world.

To that “duh” moment (although I doubt it will convert her from worshiping at the Leftist altar), I offer another bit of hard evidence, in the form of the “healthy” lunch program that the L.A. Unified School District has implemented to huzzahs from the feds. It turns out that making “healthy” food for 650,000 kids a day, while it looks great on paper, doesn’t work in the real world:

For many students, L.A. Unified’s trailblazing introduction of healthful school lunches has been a flop. Earlier this year, the district got rid of chocolate and strawberry milk, chicken nuggets, corn dogs, nachos and other food high in fat, sugar and sodium. Instead, district chefs concocted such healthful alternatives as vegetarian curries and tamales, quinoa salads and pad Thai noodles.

There’s just one problem: Many of the meals are being rejected en masse. Participation in the school lunch program has dropped by thousands of students. Principals report massive waste, with unopened milk cartons and uneaten entrees being thrown away. Students are ditching lunch, and some say they’re suffering from headaches, stomach pains and even anemia. At many campuses, an underground market for chips, candy, fast-food burgers and other taboo fare is thriving.

[snip]

The new menus are in line with the federal government’s updated dietary guidelines, which recommend, for instance, that fruits and vegetables make up half the plate. L.A. Unified has virtually eliminated canned and frozen fruits and vegetables, boosting spending on fresh produce from $2 million in 2006 to $20 million in 2010.

For months before introducing the new fare, the district held community taste tests and collected 300,000 comments — 75% of which were positive, Binkle said.

But Barrett said the debut was a “disaster.” Participation plunged by more than 13%, he said. About two-fifths of the loss was tied to 99 schools that temporarily resumed requiring lunch tickets; typically, a drop-off is expected when this occurs. In the last month or so, the overall program has begun to recover; participation is down by about 5% or 6%, Barrett said.

Michelle Malkin, naturally, eviscerates this government boondoggle, which turns out to have little to do with children’s health, and lots to do with feeding the unions:

There’s nothing wrong with encouraging our children to eat healthier, of course. There’s nothing wrong with well-run, locally based and parent-driven efforts. But as I’ve noted before, the federal foodie cops care much less about students’ waistlines than they do about boosting government and public union payrolls.

In a little-noticed announcement several months ago, Obama health officials declared their intention to use school lunch applications to boost government health care rolls. Never mind the privacy concerns of parents.

Big Government programs “for the children” are never about the children. If they were, you wouldn’t see Chicago public school officials banning students from bringing home-packed meals made by their own parents. In April, The Chicago Tribune reported that “unless they have a medical excuse, they must eat the food served in the cafeteria.” The bottom line? Banning homemade lunches means a fatter payday for the school and its food provider.

Remember: The unwritten mantra driving Mrs. Obama’s federal school lunch meddling and expansion is: “Cede the children, feed the state.” And the biggest beneficiaries of her efforts over the past three years have been her husband’s deep-pocketed pals at the Service Employees International Union. There are 400,000 workers who prepare and serve lunch to American schoolchildren. SEIU represents tens of thousands of those workers and is trying to unionize many more at all costs.

In L.A., the district’s cafeteria fund is $20 million in the hole thanks to political finagling by SEIU Local 99. The union’s left-wing allies on the school board and in the mayor’s office pressured the district to adopt reckless fiscal policies awarding gold-plated health benefits to part-time cafeteria workers in the name of “social justice.” As one school board member who opposed the budget-busting entitlements said: “Everyone in this country deserves health benefits. But it was a very expensive proposal. And it wasn’t done at the bargaining table, which is where health benefits are usually negotiated. And no one had any idea where the money was going to come from.”

I’m going to throw in one more thing here:  Do you think it’s a little peculiar that, when they shift to healthy food, the menu suddenly gets foreign?  I have nothing against food from other countries.  While I’m not a fan of Latin American food, I love foreign foods, especially Asian foods.  But the subliminal message I get from the menu isn’t just that food from other nations is yummy and that we should all broaden our palettes so that we get more pleasure from dining.  Instead, the wholesale abandonment of an American menu seems to me to say that all American food is unhealthy, which is just one more bad thing America has done to the world.

Question for you:  Is my last statement a sign that I’m one step away from wearing a tinfoil hat or am I correctly recognizing yet another slap at who and what we are in America?

Californians: Do not get sick between Thursday and Saturday, because the unions are on the move

I’m surprised that there’s so little news about an upcoming nurses’ strike in Northern and Central California.  This story should be a big deal, in large part because the nurses who are going on strike in thirty-four Northern and Central California hospitals actually have no complaint.  Instead, they’re putting thousands of patients at risk because their union wants to show its sympathy to another union (emphasis mine):

Thousands of registered nurses plan to walk off the job at 34 hospitals in northern and central California on Thursday in one of the largest such labor actions here in years.

Up to 23,000 nurses could be involved in strikes at Children’s Hospital Oakland and the large Sutter Health and Kaiser Permanente systems, union leaders said.

[snip]

Kaiser nurses signed a contract earlier this year, but they plan a sympathy strike Thursday to support members of the National Union of Healthcare Workers, who will walk off the job at Kaiser facilities in a separate contract dispute.

Here in Marin County, there are three hospitals:  Kaiser in San Rafael, Sutter in Novato, and Marin General, which broke with Sutter a year or two back.  For up to three days, starting Thursday morning, there will be only one fully functional hospital in Marin, a county with more than 250,000 residents (emphasis mine):

Workers at all of the North Bay Kaiser facilities will be striking, but consolidated picket lines will be held in Santa Rosa, San Rafael and Vallejo, NUHW spokesman Leighton Woodhouse said. The strike would include about 220 workers across the North Bay, at facilities in Marin, Sonoma, Napa and Solano counties.

The California Nurses Association, with some 17,000 registered nurses at Kaiser facilities, will join the union as part of a sympathy strike, according to NUHW, which will amount to the largest strike in Kaiser’s history. Workers will walk off the job for one-, two- and three-day durations from September 21 to 23.

What’s just as bad is the way in which the hospitals, which cannot take the risk of patients dying because of the strike, will have to cope with the nursing deficit.  Kaiser, for example, is flying in strike-breakers, at a cost of $9,000 or so per strike-breaker.  The deal with these fly-in nurses is that they insist upon receiving a five-day contract, even though this strike is projected to last only one to three days.  While it would be impossible for Kaiser to have a replacement for each of the approximately 17,000 nurses on strike, the money Kaiser will be forced to pay out for this sympathy strike is outrageous.

Things are even more complicated than simply finding replacement nurses at incredible expense.  Most of the hospitals involved now have very complicated computer systems that are custom designed for each hospital chain.  These computer systems control everything:  nurse’s notes, doctor’s notes, pharmacy, lab tests, treatments, billing — you name it, it’s all computerized.  What these means is that hospitals are no longer fungible.  In the old days, a chart was a chart, and that was true whether you were in a hospital in Schenectady or San Francisco.  Nowadays, though, nurses have to understand computer systems that are unique to a given hospital.  That nurse who’s been flown in from out-of-state doesn’t know Kaiser’s or Sutter’s computer system.  For those nurses, it’s like having to fly a 747 when you’ve only flown a Piper before.

And again, let me remind you that the nurses aren’t walking off the job to improve their own working situation.  This is all about union solidarity.  So, my advice to you, if you live in the San Francisco Bay Area and the northern parts of Central California is to play it safe starting Thursday.  Even if your hospital isn’t one of the ones dealing with a strike, it might be feeling awfully overwhelmed.  If you were thinking of doing some DIY work with power tools, hold off a few days.  If you were planning on sending your kids to a park with lots of monkey bars, send them out to play on the lawn instead, or maybe just plunk them in front of the television.  For the latter part of this coming week, you can’t be too safe.

Isn’t it time you got yourself a copy of The Bookworm Turns : A Secret Conservative in Liberal Land, available for $2.99 through Amazon, Smashwords or iBook.

What happens when government (state or federal) is pathologically hostile to business

This post tells the story of a case on which I worked.  It’s a true story.

Picture this: It’s 2001.  You live in California and you own a small business that consists of you and maybe three to five at-will employees.  Your profits are decent.

One morning, Jane, one of your employees, announces that she’s quitting, effective immediately, and stalks out.  You know — or think you know — your California law, which requires that, when an employee quits, you have her payment ready within three days of her departure.  (That would be Calif. Lab. Code § 202.) You therefore immediately prepare Jane’s final paycheck, covering the two hours she worked before she quit.

One day goes by, but no Jane.  Two days, but still no Jane.  On the third day, you actually drive over to her last known address to drop off the check, only to discover it’s a vacant apartment.  You head back to the office, check still in hand.  Jane didn’t ask that you mail the check to her, nor do you have a current address, so for the time being, you just hold on to it.

On the fifth day after quitting, Jane shows up, grabs the paycheck, and again disappears.  You breath a sigh of relief, thinking you’re finally done with Jane.  If only you knew, the story is just beginning….

A month goes by, and you suddenly get a notice from the California Labor Commissioner telling you that Jane is claiming that you violated California law.  Your crime?  You did not get Jane’s final paycheck to her within three days of her quitting.  Since you had the paycheck ready immediately, and her failure to receive it was solely the result of her own unavailability, you laugh at this charge, thinking you’ve got a slam dunk case.

You show up on the assigned day to argue your case before the Labor Commissioner.  The Labor Commissioner announces that the three day rule means the employee must have the money in hand by the end of the third day — regardless of either your efforts to pay her or her lack of effort to receive the money.  To punish you, the Labor Commissioner imposes statutory sanctions (or “waiting time penalties”) against you, and insists that you pay Jane an amount 27 times greater than the wages she was actually owed.

Shocked by the unfairness of it all, you hire an attorney, who tells you that you’re right — you complied with your statutory duty, and the Labor Commissioner erred.  The attorney tells you that this is indeed a slam dunk case, and that you should appeal it, which means filing an original action in Superior Court.  Sounds good to you….

The case goes to trial.  Jane is represented by the Labor Commissioner, so this is a freebie for her — the people of the State of California, through their tax dollars, are paying Jane’s attorneys fees.  The judge appears confused by the issues and eventually announces what he believes is a Solomonic ruling.  He holds that, despite the statute’s clear language — Calif. Labor Code §  202 explicitly imposes on the employer only the burden of having payment ready, not the burden of ensuring that the employee receives payment — you should have gotten the payment directly to Jane.  However (and this is where the Solomon part comes in) the judge will halve the sanctions award against you.

While miffed at the fact that you couldn’t get the judge to agree with you entirely, you still leave the Court with a light heart — after all, you got the original award against you cut by 50%, which must be viewed as a clear victory.  Au contraire, my innocent California employer.

In 2001 — when these events took place — the attorneys fee statute governing appeals from Labor Commissioner awards imposed attorney fees and costs against a party who appeared before the Court and was “unsuccessful in the appeal.”  (That was Calif. Lab. Code § 98.2(c), repealed.)  However, as of 2001, two California decisions had held that this facially-neutral language didn’t really mean what it said.

Instead, said the two cases, what that facially neutral language really meant was that, if an employee appealed a Labor Commissioner award and bettered his position by even a penny, he was deemed successful on the appeal, so that the employer would have to pay the employee’s (or, really, the tax funded Labor Commissioner’s) attorneys fees.  The contrary, however, was not true.  If an employer appealed a Labor Commissioner award and bettered his position by 99.9999%, but not by 100%, he was deemed unsuccessful.  He therefore still got to pay the employee’s (or, rather, the Labor Commissioner’s) attorney fees.

What this meant for Jane’s employer was that, even though she managed to better her position on appeal by 50% — she still lost!  She still got to pay the Labor Commissioner’s attorneys fees at fair market value.

The situation in 2001 was therefore as follows:  No rational employer could take the risk of an appeal from a Labor Commissioner award, since there was a huge chance that the employer, whether entirely or even partially correct, would still end up with a judgment requiring him to pay something, even a nominal something, to the employee.  (Judges hate giving employees nothing.) If that happened on appeal, the employer will be responsible for the oh-so-costly attorneys fees, fees that were usually far in excess of the underlying wage dispute.

And when you stop and think about it, this perverted reading of a facially neutral statute was a green light to the Labor Commissioner to do some nasty stuff.  Begin with the fact that Labor Commissioner employees are generally unsympathetic to employers.  This non-intuitive, twisted, backwards reading of a facially neutral statute gave these employees an incentive to ratchet up sanctions against employers to ridiculous amounts, because the Labor Commissioner employees knew that the employer couldn’t afford an appeal.  Even if the employer prevailed on the appeal by lowering the sanction to a more reasonable amount, the employer would still be impossibly burdened by the Labor Commissioner’s attorneys fees.

Keep in mind, too, that these attorneys fees were a complete windfall for the Labor Commissioner, since Commission attorneys are automatically paid by the State of California for their efforts.  And last I heard, when they receive attorneys fees from some hapless employer, the Labor Commissioners offices are not refunding the taxpaying citizens in that amount.

Bad as the above-described situation sounds, it actually got worse after 2001.  There was a brief, shining moment in 2002/2003 when the California Supreme Court, in a burst of profound rationality, said that courts couldn’t take a facially neutral attorneys fee statute, and read it to impose disproportionate burdens on employers.  (That moment of common sense was brought to you by Smith v. Rae-Venter Law Group (2002) 29 Cal. 4th 345.)  That was too good to last, of course.

Here’s the “got worse” part:  In 2003, the California legislature announced its explicit intention to overturn Smith v. Rae-Venter.  The current version of the fee shifting statute now gouges the employer in no uncertain terms: “If the party seeking review by filing an appeal to the superior court is unsuccessful in the appeal, the court shall determine the costs and reasonable attorney’s fees incurred by the other parties to the appeal, and assess that amount as a cost upon the party filing the appeal. An employee is successful if the court awards an amount greater than zero.”  (See Calif. Lab. Code §  98.2(c).)

There is now no possibility of another Smith v. Rae-Venter decision helping hapless employers.  The Legislature has declare in no uncertain terms that the employer can avoid paying the employee’s attorneys fees (read, “the Labor Commissioner’s fees”) only if the employer walks out of Court owing the employee nothing — and obtaining that outcome, especially in liberal courts in the Bay Area or L.A., is a pretty big risk for any small employer to take.  This means that employers simply have to swallow the cost when a greedy employee manages to get the ear of a Labor Commissioner who believes it’s fine to impose disproportionate sanctions against a hapless employer, so as as that sanction will benefit a “downtrodden” employee.

Why does this sad story matter?  It matters because this little bit of social engineering — unknown to most people — is driving business out of California.  I personally know of at least two businesses that have just packed up and moved to other states precisely to avoid these kind of hidden costs.  Those oh-so-clever judges misinterpreting the law before 2002, and the “compassionate” Legislature enacting unfair laws in 2003, all think their good intentions say it all.  They truly believe they’re insulating poor, downtrodden employees from the risk of attorneys fees.

What they’re not thinking about, though, is the fact that these employees will be even more downtrodden when businesses keep pulling out of California, leaving the State without enough jobs — and the government without enough taxpayers to run itself.

There’s a reason I’m telling this story today:  it’s because the problem I’ve described above is not limited to the state level.  The National Labor Relations Board has held that Boeing cannot build a plant in South Carolina:

In a stunning move well beyond the scope of their legal mandate, the Obama Administration appointee controlled National Labor Relations Board is suing Boeing Corporation for, get this, building a second production line for their new Dreamliner passenger plane in South Carolina rather than in Washington state.

[snip]

South Carolina is a right to work state whose voters this past November overwhelmingly amended their state’s constitution to ensure that a worker has the right to vote on whether they want to be represented by a labor union. The workers at the Boeing plant in South Carolina have also taken the bold step of booting out the union that represented them, effectively ending the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers stranglehold on Boeing production.

Now, Obama’s NLRB is attacking Boeing’s job creation in South Carolina as “union retaliation” directly related to a 2008 labor strike which crippled Boeing’s production in Washington state.

Now that those state governments that are in thrall to unions and labor have made it virtually impossible to do business in State A, the federal government is upping the ante by making it illegal for a business to move to State B.  I’ll reiterate here what I often say:  The Left may call them corporate fat cats or “rich people,” but I call them employers.  When you make it impossible for them to do business, they’re going to leave.  And if you make it impossible to leave, they’re going to die on the vine, leaving both State A and State B without jobs.

Cross-posted at Right Wing News

The Bookworm Turns : A Secret Conservative in Liberal Land,
available in e-format for $4.99 at Amazon or Smashwords.

Teachers are, apparently, above reproach

A classic Seinfeld episode concerned George Costanza’s decision (at Kramer’s urging) to park in a handicapped zone.  This being George, things went drastically wrong.  What I remember from the episode, though, isn’t the cascading sequence of disasters; instead; it’s the opprobrium heaped upon George for parking in the blue.  His parking decision wasn’t treated as a misdemeanor, an illegal act, an inconvenience, or an act of selfishness.  It was treated as a moral wrong.  It was the equivalent of spitting on the altar.

That episode keeps cycling through my head, because the other day I too committed a moral crime.  I criticized teachers.  Yup.  One of my facebook friends fulminated about the fact that his daughter’s American history teacher was a vast reservoir of misinformation.  I agreed:  “Some teachers are really dreadful.”  That was my spitting on the altar moment.  I was told that I was condescending; I was told that teachers shouldn’t be scapegoated all the time; I was told that parents have a responsibility too; I was told that teaching is a noble profession; and I was told that there are bad lawyers out there, so I have no right to criticize teachers.

None of this personal invective altered two truths:  my friend was venting about an actual bad teacher, and I stated, perfectly correctly, that some teachers are really dreadful.  I heaped more coal on the fire by noting these two truths and by adding that, in a free market, one can criticize bad lawyers, getting rid of them, and leaving the field open for good lawyers to bloom and prosper.

Somehow, in the last few years, teachers have become above criticism.  This is separate from the fact that the pact between teacher’s unions and governments means that they can’t be fired.  In a logical universe, this pact, which cements bad teachers in place, would increase the rumble of criticism against teachers.  But at precisely the same time that tenured teachers became permanent fixtures, no matter their incompetence, Leftist societal morality also said “you cannot criticize teachers.”  This was not a coincidence.  It’s the only way to protect the public schools from perpetual parental outrage.

The funny thing is that, at bottom, I truly respect teachers.  Or more accurately, I respect good teachers.  Teacher is a challenging j0b, although it can be a rewarding one.  (The same is true for most other jobs, when done well.)  Teaching is not an overwhelmingly profitable job, but it can provide a decent lower to middle class lifestyle.  (The same is true for most other jobs, when done well.)  Teaching requires a certain amount of training and education.  (The same is true for myriad other jobs.)  You get my point — teaching is a job.  It requires training and hard work.  Some days are boring, some fulfilling.  The income is okay, although you’ll never get rich.

But only teachers, if they put in the time, cannot get fired and, apparently, only teachers cannot get criticized.  Theirs is a job like everyone else’s — only different.

If I was a good teacher — and there are so many good teachers out there — I’d be hacked off at this situation.  Permanent employment is nice, but the accompanying degradation of ones professional is less nice.  The fact that one is not allowed to say evil of teachers doesn’t mean one isn’t thinking evil.  Moreover, the fact that people cannot criticize teachers (or, as I’ve discovered as a parent, oust the bad ones from the classroom), means that the teaching profession is denied the opportunity to cull out deadwood and correct mistakes.  Teachers are like a garden run wild, with the healthy plants dying as the weeds and poison ivy take over.

As an honest black person  in Britain said, this type of “positive discrimination” is as damaging as the old kind of negative discrimination once was.  It tarnishes the brand, whether the brand is race, color, creed, sexual orientation, or teaching certificate.

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.)

Wisconsin Liberal Disconnects

Today, several schools in Wisconsin announced that they would be closed so that their teachers could attend protests in the state capital, Madison, against GOP Gov. Walker’s proposals to take away collective bargaining rights from public sector unions. Wisconsin, like neighboring Illinois, is going broke. The behavior of the Wisconsin public school teachers pretty much underscores why Gov. Walker is right.

http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/breaking/chibrknews-protests-mount-as-wis-lawmakers-consider-antiunion-bill-20110217,0,5403222.story

We have several friends and relatives in Wisconsin who come from solid blue-color union backgrounds. Some have already retired on handsome benefit packages (one was able to retire with full retirement benefits at age-49), albeit from the private sector. Following their Facebook comments, we learn that they are in full uproar, encouraging each other to go to Madison to lend their support to the protests.

The funny thing is, these are the same individuals who have been complaining to us that they are thinking of moving out of Wisconsin because the cost of living and taxes are too high.

I suspect that this type of cluelessness is pretty common among Liberals in general.

So, in trying to patiently explain our (national) debt crisis to Liberals (I know, I know…for too many of them, math is hard, so KISS), I propose trying to lead them to the following exchange, based on conversations that I have had:

Liberal: “Our country should not have any trouble affording [insert Liberal pet project du jour]. We are the richest country in the world” (a line repeated to me ad nauseum)

Conservative: “Is someone with an annual income of $150,000 rich?”

(national GDP of roughly $15 trillion)

Liberal: “yes”

Conservative: “Is someone with an annual income of $150,000 that already owes $1,300,000 and $15,000 in new credit card debt rich”?

(Government debt obligations of $130 trillion plus $1.5 trillion in annual debt)

Liberal: ??

Conservative: “This is where we are as a country today!” (national + state debt plus entitlements, in trillions).

Does anyone have any better ideas on how to get this simple idea across to Liberals….that we are flat broke?

Are we witnessing the beginning of the end for the SEIU and other unions? *UPDATED*

There are some things that seem immutable, right until a collapse that, in 20/20 hindsight, seemed inevitable.  Just think of the Iranian Revolution, the Fall of the Berlin wall and . . . the SEIU?

For some time, the Service Employees International Union has appeared to be a permanent fixture on the political and economic scene.  With a friend in the White House, friends in Congress, and aggressive purple-shirted adherents fanned out all over the nation, how could one believe that it was anything but a locust plague lasting in perpetuity.  It had POWER.

But a funny thing is happening.  While the SEIU may have POWER, it isn’t doing it’s actual job, which is to represent workers.  Otherwise, how to explain the fact that government workers in Marin County, one of the bluest of blue spots in America, are dumping the SEIU (emphasis mine):

County of Marin public employees dissatisfied with representation by Service Employees International Union Local 1021 have petitioned to replace it with their own locally controlled union, the Marin Association of Public Employees.SEIU represents more than 1,500 of the county of Marin’s total 2,100 employees. The Marin Association of Public Employees represented county workers and the employees of a number of other local municipalities and public agencies for years before joining SEIU, which has 2.2 million members, in 1983.

In January, a petition requesting the decertification of SEIU was submitted to the county. Maya Gladstern, a systems support analyst with the county who is helping to coordinate the campaign for the association, said at least 30 percent of county workers have signed the petition, the minimum required for decertification.

“It’s a way of giving the employees of Marin more and better representation,” Gladstern said.

[snip]

Gladstern said most of the complaints about SEIU stem from the union’s decision, three years ago, to merge many of its smaller local unions in California into four large locals.

“So we lost our small local,” Gladstern said. She said the union lost its permanent office, its executive director, three union representatives and an administrative aide.

“We went from having a local office where we could meet in private to meeting in the county cafeteria,” Gladstern said.

Gladstern said the union’s strike fund, which amounted to about $80,000 to $100,000, has been absorbed by SEIU, and the Marin employees are likely to see an increase in their union dues from 1.2 percent of their salary to 1.75 percent.

(Read more about the SEIU in Marin here.)

Of this last, emphasized, paragraph, my friend Steve Schippert has this to say:

Where I come from, that’s called stolen. Small union shop decides to roll on with the big boys, who can surely twist more arms and harder to get the workers more. When the Big Dogs end up taking from the workers (their offices, their local leadership and staff in order to do what all statist union leaders seek – central control), said workers decide that the Big Dogs were predators. And realize that they took their strike funds “for the better service to the whole” of course, and won’t be giving the money back.

Because, you see, it’s not about the workers. It’s about the Union and the top of its food chain. If it were about the workers, the strike funds garnered from those who paid into it would stay with those from whom it was extracted.

But it ain’t about them. Is it?

Any questions?

In many ways, you can change the names and nouns and this describes quite presciently what the beloved Health Care process will be like. There just won’t be any “petitioning” to replace the new Big Dog bosses.

When asked why I don’t teach in a public school and take summers off, my answer is a principled and monetarily costly, “I do not do unions.” I will die broke, in debt and hungry first. All on my own.

Marin’s county workers aren’t alone when it comes to feeling disaffected by the union’s loyalty to them.  With the recession, one of the things that is becoming patently clear to American workers is that unions really only have one constituency:  union management.  For both workers and employers, unions are simply an economic drain.  Certainly the numbers point to growing disgust with the whole institution:

Unions are losing the public-relations battle. A survey released Tuesday by the Pew Research Center found that public approval of labor unions has declined significantly during the last three years.

Positive attitudes toward unions have fallen in most demographic groups. Forty-one percent of those surveyed say they have a favorable view of labor unions, while nearly the same amount has an unfavorable view at 42 percent. The results are a 17-percent decline from the last poll taken in January 2007, when a majority of people (58 percent) had a good view of unions while 31 percent thought otherwise. (The findings reinforce a 2009 Gallup poll that said only 48 percent of Americans approve of labor unions—an all-time low since 1936.)

I certainly see that disaffection in my community and, for most people, it revolves around a single source:  schools.  All the lovely, liberal people where I live are discovering that the teacher’s union has a profound effect on their children’s education.  And somehow, liberalism flies out the door when one’s own children are the sacrificial lambs at the altar of liberal ideology.

I’m seeing that play out very clearly with one of the teachers at my son’s school.  This person is a cancer, loathed equally by parents and students.  The teacher is lazy, inept, vicious, erratic, and just about everything else you can think of that makes a teacher hateful and ineffective.  I’ve complained repeatedly to the administration and been told in carefully coded language that there is absolutely nothing that can be done about this teacher.  Thanks to union contracts, unless this teacher murders a student or praises Republicans, it’s a lifetime sinecure.  (And of course, one of the teacher’s sins is to advocate illegal immigration, but that’s okay….)

What’s fascinating is that, when I “innocently” ask those parents who rail about the teacher why the teacher is still there, I get a two word answer:  “The union.”  They understand that there is an institution standing there between their child and a quality education and, damn, if they don’t resent it.  They’ll still speak lovingly of unions in meat-packing plants in Arkansas, but they’re getting pretty sick of what’s going on in the school district in their own back yard.

I’m not unaware of the fact that unions have their place — perhaps only in history, but it’s still a place.  At the turn of the last century, the employers’ ability to exploit their workers was an overwhelmingly negative force, and one that needed to be countered.  But we’re not living in 1890 or 1910.  Instead we’re living in 2010 and unions, rather than defending illiterate, helpless employees against grasping employers, are themselves a corrupt and grasping group, destroying industries, rendering government bloated and ineffective (except where it’s dangerously intrusive and overwhelming), and generally acting as a significant drag on a moribund economy.

UPDATE:  Shortly after I wrote the above, I learned that Obama has appointed SEIU head Andy Stern to his debt panel.  While it is a reminder of how closely tied our president is to a corrupt organization, it doesn’t change my point.  Even if the head has a crown, can the entity survive if the body is dying off?  My post describes a dying body.  Yes, SEIU can damage America for some time to come, but I think its heyday is over.

The Kennedy Democrats and the rise of the public unions

Here’s a beautiful matched set:

The first part of the set is Daniel Henninger’s truly brilliant article about the way in which President Kennedy’s 1962 executive order allowing federal workers to unionize “transformed the Democratic Party into a public-sector dependency.”  Henninger thinks this dependency broke down yesterday in Massachusetts.

The second part of the set is the Supreme Court’s decision to break the back of McCain-Feingold, prompting this petulant outburst from President Obama:

“With its ruling today, the Supreme Court has given a green light to a new stampede of special interest money in our politics,” Obama said.

“This ruling gives the special interests and their lobbyists even more power in Washington — while undermining the influence of average Americans who make small contributions to support their preferred candidates.”

Illegal immigrants, gay rights, gun safety, and other stuff *UPDATED*

This is a portmanteau post, filled with interesting things I read today, some of which come in neatly matched sets.

Opening today’s San Francisco Moronicle, the first thing I saw was that an illegal teen’s arrest is causing a stir in San Francisco’s halls of power.  You see, San Francisco is a sanctuary city, and its official policy is to refuse to allow police to notify the federal government when arrestees prove to be illegal immigrants.  As has happened before, one of those nice legal illegal immigrants is, in fact, a cold-blooded murderer.  This particular 15 year old is accused of having held the two victims in place so that his compadres c0uld execute them.  The hoo-ha is happening because someone in City government, disgusted by the legal travesty that encourages people like this to make themselves free of our cities and our country, reported the kid to the INS, which is now on the case.  The liberals in the City ask “How dare a San Francisco employee help enforce federal immigration law?” My question, of course, is a little different:  “Why doesn’t the fed withdraw every single penny of funding from sanctuary cities?”  After all, I was raised to believe that he who pays the piper calls the tune.

As you’re thinking about the above travesty of law and justice (and the two dead kids executed in San Francisco), take a few minutes to read this American Thinker article about California’s self-immolation, a Democratic autodestruct sequence driven, in part, by the state’s embrace of illegal immigrants.  Illegal immigrants place a huge economic burden on California’s already over-taxed individuals and businesses.

The next Moronicle article that drew my eye was about the ongoing Prop. 8 trial taking place in San Francisco.  As you recall, Prop. 8 reflected the will of California voters, who wanted to affirm that marriage is between a man and a woman.  Prop. 8′s opponents are trying to prove that voters had impure thoughts when they cast their ballots, making the entire proposition an illegal exercise of unconstitutional prejudice.  Prop. 8 backers are arguing that you can support traditional marriage (as President Obama has claimed to do), without harboring bad thoughts about the GLBT community.

As you think about the ramifications of that lawsuit, I’d like to introduce you to Chai R. Feldblum, who is President Obama’s nominee to the EEOC.  She has a law professor at Georgetown, who really thinks that people’s brains should be purged of evil thoughts, especially evil religious thoughts:

Chai Feldblum, the Georgetown University law professor nominated by President Obama to serve on the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, has written that society should “not tolerate” any “private beliefs,” including religious beliefs, that may negatively affect homosexual “equality.”

[snip]

“Just as we do not tolerate private racial beliefs that adversely affect African-Americans in the commercial arena, even if such beliefs are based on religious views, we should similarly not tolerate private beliefs about sexual orientation and gender identity that adversely affect LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender] people,” the Georgetown law professor argued.

Feldblum’s admittedly “radical” view is based on what she sees as a “zero-sum game” between religious freedom and the homosexual agenda, where “a gain for one side necessarily entails a corresponding loss for the other side.”

“For those who believe that a homosexual or bisexual orientation is not morally neutral, and that an individual who acts on his or her homosexual orientation is acting in a sinful or harmful manner (to himself or herself and to others), it is problematic when the government passes a law that gives such individuals equal access to all societal institutions,” Feldblum wrote.

“Conversely, for those who believe that any sexual orientation, including a homosexual or bisexual orientation, is morally neutral, and that an individual who acts on his or her homosexual or bisexual orientation acts in an honest and good manner, it is problematic when the government fails to pass laws providing equality to such individuals.”

Feldblum argues that in order for “gay rights” to triumph in this “zero-sum game,” the constitutional rights of all Americans should be placed on a “spectrum” so they can be balanced against legitimate government duties.

All beliefs should be equal, regardless of their source, Feldblum says. “A belief derived from a religious faith should be accorded no more weight—and no less weight—than a belief derived from a non-religious source.” According to Feldman, the source of a person’s belief – be it God, spiritual energy, or the five senses – “has no relevance.”

[snip]

Feldblum does recognize that elements of the homosexual agenda may infringe on Americans’ religious liberties. However, Feldblum argues that society should “come down on the side” of homosexual equality at the expense of religious liberty. Because the conflict between the two is “irreconcilable,” religious liberty — which she also calls “belief liberty” — must be placed second to the “identity liberty” of homosexuals.

“And, in making the decision in this zero sum game, I am convinced society should come down on the side of protecting the liberty of LGBT people,” she wrote.

I don’t think Harry Truman would have understood or appreciated Feldblum’s effort to quash religious freedom in the U.S.  He was someone who was able to separate his acts from his prejudices in all the right ways.  As I like to tell my children, he was a racist who integrated the American military; and an anti-Semite who helped create the State of Israel.

I believe all people should be treated equally under the law.  I do not believe, though, that this means that religions should be wiped out, or that Americans should be subject to the thought-police so that their impure ideology is brought in line with the identity politics of the left.  I believe most Americans are capable of being Harry Truman:  that is, they can recognize that their own personal prejudices against a lifestyle, a skin color or a religion, cannot be elevated to legal doctrine.  One of my problems with Islamists is that they’re no Harry Trumans.  They want to do away with the rule of law and, instead, substitute their 6th Century desert theocratic code.

Moving on, at this weekend’s soccer games, the other moms and I were speaking about a gal who is quite possibly the worst teacher in middle school.  She’s a lousy teacher, which is bad enough, but one can layer over that the fact that she is vindictive, mean-spirited and lazy.  Everyone I know has vociferously complained about her to the school administration.  And yet there is is.  She’s too young to have tenure, so I asked, rhetorically, why don’t they just fire her?  One mom’s answer told everything we need to know:  “The union makes it impossible to fire people.”

At least one union leader, at least, is trying to make it so that the American Federation of Teachers is less of a tyrannical dictatorship holding children as hostage, and more of an institution aimed at helping to educate children.  I don’t think Randi Weingarten is going to turn unions around, nor will she much change my opinion of unions.  Historically, I think unions were necessary and important.  In certain low-wage, low-skill, low-education fields (meat packing springs to mind), I still think they’re potentially useful.  Overall, though, I have a deep dislike for unions that goes back to my dad’s years as a member of the various teachers’ unions controlling California public schools.  The unions did minimal work helping to raise my Dad’s wage (he earned $21,000 annually in 1987, the year he retired), but were excellent at (1) kick-backs to administrators, who got great wages; (2) beginning what became the profound devaluation in the quality of California’s education; and (3) making sure that bad, insane and malevolent teachers were impossible fire.

Other unionized businesses are just as bad.  Hospital worker unions make a certain amount of sense.  The 24 hour a day nature of a hospital makes it easy to abuse nurses and other care givers.  However, when I was a young college student who got a summer job in the virology lab (an interesting time, since AIDS was first appearing on the radar as a series of bizarre diseases in gay men), I took over for a secretary who was leaving on maternity leave.  Although a secretary, she was unionized too, which explained why, despite disposing of old sandwiches in her file cabinet, and being incapable of getting her researcher bosses to the medical publishers (a primary part of her job description), she could not be fired.  This was not for want of trying.  It was simply that the unions had made it impossible to fire people like her.  They’d also made it impossible to fire people like the nurse I had many years later who, the first night after I’d had major abdominal surgery, refused to give me any painkillers and isolated me from any other caregivers.  Apparently I had said something that offended her.  Sadly, this was not her first time playing this kind of sadistic game.  But there she was, thanks to the unions.

On a more cheerful note, guns don’t kill people, guns rescue people from sinking cars.

And lastly, Steve Schippert highly recommends today’s Daily Briefing at Threats Watch, so I do too.

UPDATE:  Please visit A Conservative Lesbian for a thoughtful take on the nexus between religious belief and gay rights.  No knee jerk liberalism here; instead, a good analysis about religious freedom and minority rights.

What in the world does this have to do with teachers?

One of my main bases for hostility to teacher’s unions is that increasingly have nothing to do with their original goal, which was ensuring a living wage and decent working conditions for teachers.  (Not that they were always that effective at serving their original union mandate.  My father was a teacher and he did belong to a union.  In terms of his needs, what it should have done was given him a living wage, which it did not.  For most of my childhood, we were just above the poverty line on his salary.)  In the old days, they mostly focused on wage and workplace issues, although they periodically slid into policy issues such as ebonics (which, unsurprisingly the unions supported despite, or maybe because of, the fact that ebonics education ensures   that blacks never leave the ghetto).

These small forays in policy, which used to be a subset of the teachers unions’ function, have now become overriding goals. The perfect example of this is the NEA’s wholehearted, almost obsesssive commitment to same-sex marriage.  Whether you support same-sex marriage or not, you have to task yourself — what in the world does this have to do with teachers’ salaries and workplace conditions?

I dislike strongly that my classroom teachers are being indoctrinated by an organization the purports to serve them in maintaining livable working conditions.  I’d have exactly the same response if the NEA obsessively opposed same-sex marriage.  This is not an issue that should be on the table for the teachers unions and, to the extent it is and to the extent it guides what goes on in classrooms, I bitterly resent it.

A good deal all around

I frequently read that the White House is dancing the to the various unions’ tunes because, as the saying goes, you “dance with them what brung you.”  In other words, it was union money that helped (in a large way) to pay for Obama’s victory, and now the White House is returning the favor.  The unions, having paid for his election, are dictating the agenda.

I don’t actually think that’s true.  I think the unions subsized the Obama bid for the White House, not because it expected a quid pro quo, but because it knew that, as inevitably as salmon swim upstream to spam, so too would Obama follow the union agenda.  That is, Obama wasn’t bought, despite being paid for.

Why do I say this?  Because Obama knows that even if he alienates the unions, he doesn’t have to worry about their money going elsewhere.  If Obama decided that his popularity amongst the American masses required him to give the unions a completely cold shoulder, the Democrats and Obama would still be the only game in town for the unions.  I mean, honestly, do you think that the unions are going to start funding the Republicans?

In other words, for Obama, it’s a wonderful one way street.  He can get money from the unions, but do whatever the hell he wants, because the unions have no one else to turn to.  As I said, though, it’s not all bad for the unions, either, because Obama’s core agenda is the same as theirs.  Even if they take a few hits from him, they’ll continue to be friends bearing financial gifts.

Paying teachers not to teach is a long-standing union required tradition

Unlike many people, I was not shocked to learn that the LA Unified School District is paying teachers not to teach, although the $10 million price tag strikes me as just a tad unreasonable.  In the early 1970s, one of my teachers was a scary guy (not to mention a bad teacher).  Because of his union ensured tenure, though, the school repeated overlooked his little slip-ups:  sexually suggestive remarks to girls, antisemitic remarks to Jews, hostile remarks to just about everyone.  The school couldn’t overlook it, though, when he tried to attack a student, and then threw a movie projector out a (closed) window.

Some might call that last one a firing offense — but it wasn’t.  Instead, he was put on fully paid leave.  I left the school about 1.5 years after his leave began and he was still getting paid to stay home.  Nice non-work if you can get it.

A teeny crack in the wall

This morning Mr. Bookworm offered me something:  “Hey!  You want to blog about something Obama’s doing that I don’t like?”

I was curious.  “What?”

“This Employee Free Choice Act.  What’s up with that?”

“That’s been around for a while,” I said.  “It’s one of the platforms on which Obama ran.”

He asked, “What do you mean?  I’ve never heard of it.”  I forebore to point out that this might be an indictment about the NY Times, NPR and The New Yorker, which are Mr. Bookworm’s only news sources.

“Anyway,” I said, “it’s kind of old news.  Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi and Obama promised to enact it as one of their first pieces of legislation.”

Another why question:  “Why would they do that?  This is a piece of crap?”

“They’re doing it because it’s payback time to the union bosses.”

A blank look:  “What do you mean?  This is a piece of crap legislation.”

I explain:  “This isn’t about the legislation’s merits.  This is payback.  The union bosses deliver the vote; the politicians deliver an Orwellian act that’s aimed at turning every workplace into a union shop.”

The last plaintive words I heard drifting down the hall as I headed off to work were, “But I don’t understand….”

It saddens me a great deal that a bright person caught in the NY Times web managed to vote for someone when he had no idea what that someone was promising to do.  It also saddens me a great deal that a bright person is so naive that he can’t understand that a dangerous and crappy piece of legislation is on the table as part of political dirty dealing.  On the other hand, I’m pleased to see a little crack in the wall.  That, at least, might lead to bigger and better things.

The Unions and GM

I’m ambivalent about unions.  When they first arose as a real market force at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries, I believe they were a necessary counterbalance to industries that (a) had unlimited power in the employment market place and (b) that abused that power something awful.

I started turning against unions in the 1970s, when I witnessed the unutterable garbage pouring out of the California’s teachers union (of which my dad was a member).  The union did little to improve teacher’s wages (believe me, very little), but got it’s sticky, uninformed, politicized fingers in every aspect of public education, to education’s great detriment.

Nowadays, we still have unions, but we don’t have the situation that prevailed in the 19th and early 20th centuries.  We have a fairly educated American workforce, we have vast bodies of legislation protecting the worker, we have the free flow of information, we have a mobility unimaginable a century ago (meaning workers have an easier time following jobs), and we’re struggling to compete in something equally unimaginable a century ago:  a world economy.

Also, unions, which used to protect blue collar workers from true abuse (dangerous working conditions, unsustainable wages, the abuses of factory towns, etc.), now exist at greatest strength in the government sector, a thought I find discomfiting, since both feed at the public trough, free of market forces.

With those thoughts in mind, I offer you an interesting press release that came in today’s email:

Center for Union Facts
For Immediate Release
November 11, 2008

Union Job Rules, Unreasonable Demands Big Factor in GM Downfall
GM’s Concessions to Unions Have Put the Company’s Long-Term Viability in Question

Washington D.C.- General Motors Corporation (GM) is driving its way toward bankruptcy or a government funded bailout, thanks in large part to restrictive work rules placed on the organization by the United Auto Workers (UAW). Last night, General Motors chief executive, Rick Wagoner said the company would need a federal aid package before Barack Obama takes office in mid-January.

GM has said that they will need an $11-14 billion cash injection in order to continue conducting business. Without that bailout, GM said Friday that it might halt production as soon as the middle of next year. Deutsche Bank Group, one of the world’s leading financial service providers, downgraded General Motors yesterday morning, targeting their stock value for $0.

Much of this turmoil stems from restrictive UAW job rules that prevent GM from having the flexibility to be competitive in the global marketplace, particularly during an economic downturn. One of the most egregious examples is the union job bank, which continues to pay workers whose jobs fell victim to technological progress or plant restructurings even though they aren’t actually working. The job bank, established in the mid-1980s, requires GM to pay displaced workers nearly their entire salary plus benefits and pension.

UAW also bullied GM into gold-plated health care benefits that are unsustainable. For each car GM makes, more money is spent for health insurance than on steel for its construction. Workers gained the right to smoke while on the assembly line, and some pay $0 deductable on doctor’s visits.

“The United Auto Workers have bled General Motors dry, leaving the company in a tattered state, and the union members extremely vulnerable,” said Richard Berman, Executive Director for the Center for Union Facts. “Job banks that pay workers to do nothing and other harmful union rules are at the heart of GM’s imminent bankruptcy. It will be truly unfortunate if union demands over many years result in another bankruptcy or bailout.”

“This should come as a lesson to government officials considering passing the Employee Free Choice Act, which would put more power and control into the hands of union chiefs who bankrupted one of America’s signature corporations.”