I am getting ready to sit down for the BCS Mythical National Title game, and I am not in the greatest of moods.
First of all, I have – shall we say – a lack of regard for the “university” known as Louisiana State. I really want them to lose, but that does not mean I want Alabama to win. Is it okay to cheer for none of the above?
Also, it has been a long time since I managed to put up a blog post, and that annoys me. I hope it also annoys you because that means I am doing something right when I actually do post.
So rather than continue to let the blog languish, I decided I would share with you some links that I have found interesting over the last few days. I hope you enjoy.
Europe is in a tough spot
Daniel Hannan writes in the Telegraph about how Europe, despite major efforts from relatively strong countries and the European Central Bank, is still circling the drain. This is ultimately a structural problem, and not a cyclical one:
Had Greece kept the drachma, it would never have got into its present mess: the markets would have stepped in and imposed a corrective years ago. It was the ludicrous idea that Greek and German debt were interchangeable that fuelled the artificial boom, and so made inevitable the ensuing slump. Yet, even now, Lucas Papademos, the Eurocrat who heads the
Brussels-imposed juntanational government in Athens, tells his subjects: ‘We must continue our efforts with decisiveness, to stay in the euro, to make sure we do not waste the sacrifices and do not turn the crisis into an uncontrolled and disastrous bankruptcy.’ Disastrous bankruptcy, eh, Lucas? As opposed to what you have now, you mean?
In case Mr. Hannan has not convinced you, I also found this Walter Russell Mead piece interesting. He emphasizes again that this is a structural problem. To a certain extent, Europe was simply set up to fail. Read on:
European elites tried to construct a glittering cosmopolitan tower without grounding their structure in the mud and the mire of real people, real culture and real life. They designed a technocratic government for a population that fears and distrusts technocrats. They build a German style financial order for cultures who hate Germany. They thought that if they ignored the resulting problems and resentment resolutely enough for long enough, the problems would all go away.
Sic semper tyrannis, loosely translated for my purposes to “thus always to top-down centralizing governments.”
Using the courts against trial lawyers
Who among us has not received an email or letter about a class-action settlement pertaining to something we have been tangentially involved in and yet not bothered enough even think of suing? Who among us has not been faced with the choice of either depositing a check for $0.18 or seeing their portion of the settlement proceeds go to some “charity” that really only benefits the trial lawyers?
The Los Angeles Times is reporting that Heather Peters is doing something about it. Ms. Peters bought a Honda that did not get the gas mileage that Honda claimed it would. She was justifiably dissatisfied, but she was even more dissatisfied about the treatment she got as compared to the trial lawyers handling the class action.
The trial lawyers’ cut was $8.5 million. Ms. Peters’ cut? $100.
This is all too common, and thanks to the lobbying efforts of the trial bar and a largely compliant ABA, the class action system in this country is broken into tiny pieces. What else to do but take Honda to small claims court?
On Jan. 3 she’ll take her case to Small Claims Court in Torrance, where California law prohibits Honda from bringing an attorney. She’s asking for the maximum of $10,000 to compensate her for spending much more on gasoline than expected. Honda said the Civic would get about 50 miles per gallon, but because of technical problems the car gets closer to 30 mpg.
What’s more, Peters is using urging Honda owners across the country to do the same. Peters’ DontSettleWithHonda.org website and a DontSettleWithHonda Twitter account include a link to state-by-state instructions for filing these lawsuits, which have low fees and minimal paperwork.
In a lawsuit like this, which is very typical of consumer class actions, a $10,000 maximum is no barrier (and it is certainly preferable to $100). California, however, is not representative of all states’ approaches to small claims court, also called conciliation court. Minnesota, for example, allows representation by licensed counsel. However, it remains an open question whether Honda would expend the funds to defend against a lawsuit capped at $10k.
A surprising dose of reality for California high-speed rail
Although many of us have known and insisted all along that high speed rail is an expensive and unrealistic government boondoggle, it is rare that a state-funded and state-mandated panel would say so. The Los Angeles Times reports that that is exactly what is happening in California.
In a scathing critique that could further jeopardize political support for California’s proposed $98.5-billion bullet train, a key independent review panel is recommending that state officials postpone borrowing billions of dollars to start building the first section of track this year.
…[I]n a report Tuesday, a panel of experts created by state law to help safeguard the public’s interest raised serious doubts about almost every aspect of the project and concluded that the current plan “is not financially feasible.”
Almost every aspect of the project is not financially feasible. Is it any wonder then, that its major backers are public unions, state and local politicians, and UC Berkeley? It reads like a most wanted poster for spending apologists.
If you want more information about this crazy train, check out Reason Magazine’s coverage. It has been very comprehensive since at least 2008.
The Herald-Tribune follows up on the corruption of the Florida law enforcement disciplinary system. By pointing this out, I don’t mean to impugn all police officers, but it is absolutely true that there are too many who are corrupt, brutal, lawbreaking, and absolutely impossible to fire:
The majority of the state’s 83,000 law enforcement officers perform their jobs with honor and distinction, but state records show that every year hundreds commit what are known as “moral character violations.”
These are not minor infractions, like showing up late to work or disrespecting a supervisor. Moral character violations often involve drugs, violence, theft, forcible sex or other crimes.
Forcible sex? Look, I know that public-sector unions [ostensibly] have the workers’ interests in mind, but aren’t our public servants themselves supposed to put the public first? Am I wrong to believe that there is an overriding public interest, and that maybe constantly reinstating officers after they rape people is a bad idea?
For example, former officers Timothy Simmons and Wyatt Henderson caused trouble in multiple agencies, but kept finding work as lawmen after misconduct cases that included falsifying reports and fondling a young girl. Like Currie, both lost their badges only after they were sent to prison. Simmons is incarcerated for rape and Henderson for a violent assault.
Well, at least you can fire them once they are in prison.
By the way, the full article is well worth reading.
Postal carriers as terrorism fighters? It is official. There are no longer any common-sense limits on the “war” on terror. You see, this is what happens when you let an act of terrorism change your entire social structure.
The point of terrorism is disruption, and I have said before on this blog and elsewhere that police militarization, travel restrictions, global warmongering, and especially the damn TSA are the tangible, direct results of how we have allowed terrorism to affect us. If that is not disruption I am not sure what is. And if that is not evidence that the terrorists won this round, I am not sure what possibly could be.
As if the TSA was not macabre enough, however, now we have the Postal Service getting into the act. Yep, letter carriers are the first line of defense against the statistically insignificant threat of terrorism. And not just in New York and Washington – no, letter carriers will be the first responders to all of the horrific terrorist attacks that we can expect in Benton, Kansas. (Their population has doubled in the last fifty years; look it up!)
Let’s not be silly. Let’s see this for what it really is – a cynical attempt by a bunch of inept government workers to get more funding, more make-work jobs, a greater sense of urgency, and ultimately more power. They saw how well everything worked out for the now-unionizing TSA, and figured they wanted a piece of the taxpayer pie.
I will monitor this story if it develops beyond the point of being absolutely, fundamentally ridiculous. You can save your letter writing campaigns for now.
But remember, the fact that an idea is ridiculous has never stopped the government from implementing it before.
There is some qualified good news coming out of Wisconsin today. In a divided Supreme Court decision, Wisconsin justices upheld the public sector union restrictions that were a common-sense approach to not only saving billions of dollars but also removing institutionalized corruption.
The qualification is that, now that the law has passed into effect, it can be challenged on grounds other than procedural, and we should fully expect a “flood” of lawsuits. There is also the very real possibility that the law will be rewritten in the next election cycle or two, when the character of the legislature changes. Of course, these are problems endemic to the democratic process as a whole.
Nevertheless, this is a victory, if only a limited one. And while we are on the topic of public sector unions, and the corrupt legal structure of unionization as a whole (see the links for my previous thoughts), I thought I would point out a truly wonderful article on another union brouhaha involving Boeing, since it gives a crystal-clear insight into the mindset of union thugs.
According to an NPR article called “Labor Agency Challenges Boeing Factory Location,” the National Labor Relations Board has accused Boeing of breaking federal law in deciding to locate a factory in right-to-work South Carolina and not in forced-union Washington. In another illustration of how ridiculously corrupt the entire structure of labor law is, the NLRB is preempting a completely rational business decision on the part of a private company, solely to benefit union members.
According to the law, companies are not allowed to “retaliate” against unions for work stoppages by relocating their business. “Retaliation” is a fuzzy concept, and the basis for the union case rests on a statement by a Boeing executive named Jim Albaugh, who noted that “[Boeing] can’t afford to have work stoppages every three years.” Talk about your “duh” statements.
Let’s try to sort this out. Boeing, acknowledging that when its overpaid workers don’t show up to work, the company won’t make money, has decided to move its factory. By acknowledging what everyone already knew, the unions have announced that “retaliation” (read: “smart business”) has taken place, and the government lapdogs at the NLRB have jumped to their defense. Their ultimate goal is to keep the work in Washington, presumably for the benefit of Washington workers. Note that absolutely no thought is given to those people who want to work in South Carolina. Poor bastards don’t have a union to help them suckle at the government teat.
Note also that no thought is given to Boeing. Assuming that it is correct that businesses will lose money when its workers are paid too much and don’t show up (not much of a stretch), Boeing is mired in a government-enforced downward spiral to bankruptcy. Ultimately, if forced to continue to lose money by the bureaucrats at the NLRB, everyone at Boeing – union thugs included – will be out of a job. And that pretty much sums up national labor law.
Consider this quote:
Tom Wroblewski, president of the Seattle-area machinists union, says this case isn’t about where Boeing builds its factories. “This is all about breaking the law,” he says.
And then consider what would have happened had Jim Albaugh not commented to the Seattle Times about the blindingly obvious fact that work stoppages were a source of concern. Since this retaliation case is based on Boeing executives like Albaugh making comments that never transgressed the painfully apparent, what would have happened had they just shut up? How would the unionistas have proven retaliation?
And if it is also true, as the union thug said, that the case is “all about breaking the law,” then where does justice come into play? Perhaps it is true that Boeing is “retaliating” under a definition of retaliation that only makes sense if you work for the NLRB. Is it not also obvious that this “retaliation” falls under the rubric of “common sense”? If it is true that the company cannot survive the work stoppages, how is it at all fair to the company, its employees, its subcontractors, its customers, and yes, even its union workforce, that the company be forced to circle the drain until it can no longer survive?
But remember, when it comes to federal labor law, concepts like “making sense,” “being fair,” and “thinking things through” have no place in the discussion. It’s “all about breaking the law.” The fact that the law is corrupt beyond repair does not enter the discussion.
In a previous post, entitled A Word From Wisconsin, and My Fundamental Problem With Unions, I attempted to make the point that public sector unions and private sector unions were really no different.
Yes, public sector unions occupy both sides of the bargaining table. Yes, public sector unions’ “agreements” with their employers are nothing more than a giveaway of political spoils. Yes, striking against the public interest is unjustified. But the basic brand of corruption remains the same: unions cannot exist in their current form without government intervention on their behalf. The argument about public sector vs. private sector unions takes place at the far margins of an unjust legal framework.
I suppose it is important to note that I have no philosophical problem with unionism in a free market, but we emphatically do not have a free market.
Instead, the government has its thumb on the union side of the scale, and in return unions of all stripes have become nothing more than political action committees for their most generous benefactors. In a free market for labor this would be impossible; neither a corporation nor a union would be able to act with the force of law, as the government does when it artificially props up unionism.
And so we see that a recent development in Wisonsin has proven my point, despite attempts by unionistas to portray it as just one more reason why unions are necessary. It seems that, under federal labor law, the U.S. government can withhold $46.6 million of transportation funds if Wisconsin removes provisions in its laws designed to coddle unions.
The Huffington Post (I know, I know) reports the story:
Budget referees and transportation officials in Wisconsin have informed Gov. Scott Walker (R) that if he were to pass his controversial anti-union legislation into law, he could be forfeiting tens of millions of dollars in federal funds for transportation.
Under an obscure provision of federal labor law, states risk losing federal funds should they eliminate “collective bargaining rights” that existed at the time when federal assistance was first granted.
But wait, there’s more! And it is scintillating:
The provision, known as “protective arrangements” or “Section 13C arrangements,” is meant as a means of cushioning union (and even some non-union**) members who, while working on local projects, are affected by federal grants.
**(Note that the “non-union” workers referenced above come under union rules, including Project Labor Agreements and Prevailing Wage regulations, and so are no different than their officially-union counterparts.)
What’s that you say? You’re surprised that the law has manipulated in such a way as to explicitly favor unions, even as against the public interest of an entire state? Perhaps you have not been paying attention. Hence, my fundamental problem with unions.
Then again, if I were a Wisconsin voter, I would view the loss of $47 million in transportation funds as a fair trade for removing the threat of billions of dollars in inflated public union wages, ridiculous health care demands, and chronically underfunded pension costs. Imagine how many potholes you could fill if you didn’t have to pay the salary of the Undersecretary to the Assistant Chief of Staff Pro-Tem to the Adjunct Chairperson of the Department of Education’s Blue-Ribbon Panel on Minority Affairs.
Scott Walker is certainly making a name for himself over in Wisconsin. The new governor previously dazzled with a plan to rein in the
Democratic political machine public sector unions, and now he has proposed an “explosive” new plan to cut spending. Wherein “explosive” is defined as a cut of only 9% out of a single category. Talk about your shifting goalposts.
The problem is, Scott Walker has proposed cutting money from education. $900 million to be exact, which sure sounds like a lot, until you realize that it represents only a small fraction of total spending, and that total spending is far too high anyway. But predictably, the calls for “Cut Spending Now!” have turned into “Anything But That!” A plan to cut a piddling 9% off of a single category in a state that expects budget deficits of $3.6 billion in the coming years is anything but explosive. Unless it’s a sacred cow being slaughtered, I suppose.
Then again, it is worth noting how little effect education spending has had over the years. In this almost-famous Cato Institute graph, we see that ridiculously massive growth in federal education spending has translated to stagnation and regression in student performance. Granted, this is federal, and not state, spending, and education is an issue properly left to the states. But it would be foolish to think that these data are wholly inapplicable based on who is writing the check. Observe:
It appears as though our country’s public education strategy is “throw enough shit at the wall and some of it will stick.” Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like anything is sticking. If you dig deeper, you soon find out how the public education system is being used as a jobs program for the politically favored, with layer upon layer of useless administration drawing crazy salaries and unearned pensions. (Is it any wonder it’s all unionized?)
In the end, I am not sure if this is one more power play by Scott Walker to dismantle the “New Tammany Hall” that is the organized public sector, but I do not care. It is a move that makes fiscal sense, educational sense, and moral sense.
By now, all of my readers are likely to be apprised of the situation in Wisconsin, vis-a-vis public sector unions. If not, the brief story is that new governor Scott Walker and the newly Republican state congress are attempting to pass a law outlawing collective bargaining rights for certain public sector workers, except over limited wage increases. Naturally, this has led to much hissing, spitting, and general venomousness.
Because when I want a raise at work, the first thing I do is march on the Capitol…
Everyone knows that we are out of money. Wisconsin is trying to plug a $3+ billion budget shortfall. And everyone knows that the public sector unions are a huge part of the problem. They are institutionalized corruption. First, they collect dues from their members, then they funnel those dues to politicians, then once said politicians are elected, they receive overly generous and completely unsustainable benefits packages, leading to more dues collected, and so on.
That’s why teachers’ union members cannot be fired, even if they have sex with children; that’s also why police union members cannot be fired, even when they drive drunk and beat their wives; that’s also why so-called public safety officers have run up seven-figure legal bills defending civil suits over their abuse of citizens – with no consequences.
But really, it’s all about a “living wage.” Yeah…that’s the ticket. (And for no good reason, the Wisconsin bill excludes the police!)
Much has been made about the nature of public sector unions, as opposed to their private sector brethren, but I don’t see it. Yes, I understand how electing the people you are going to “negotiate” with for your next pay raise is the very definition of a conflict of interest, but that obscures the fundamental problem. In my opinion, there is very little difference.
The reason why I find so little difference between public sector and private sector unions is because neither one operates outside the aegis of the government. Sure, one group gets their overinflated paychecks signed by the state comptroller, and the other group gets their overinflated paychecks signed by a corporate officer, but both groups’ paychecks got overinflated in the same way.
The union labor movement, public and private, has been amazingly thorough in ensconcing themselves in the highest levels of the power elite. And that is exactly why unions are not viable without specific governmental intervention. For example, a majority of states still don’t have right-to-work laws, and thus they allow unions to force membership on anyone unfortunate enough to get a job in a union shop, whether they want to join or not. In this context, it is simply silly to assume that private sector unions are any different than public sector unions. After all, the coercion carries the force of law whether you work for the state or not.
Is there any doubt that Detroit would be better off without such labor laws choking off the auto industry’s competitiveness? Of course there is no doubt – but the private sector unions have Michigan’s government in a stranglehold, and they are not about to loosen up. Neither is this some David vs. Goliath fight. For all the talk about the Chamber of Commerce’s influence on the 2010 elections, the labor movement would prefer you not to know that, when it comes to spending on government lobbying and electioneering, unions are the “big dog,” and it doesn’t matter whether they are public or private.
And the labor movement doesn’t just influence elections – the people they elect often pass laws perpetuating the union’s influence far beyond election day. And they have been hard at work increasing the labor movement’s scope, to the point of absurdity. For example, did you know that in the highly publicized “labor” battle between
millionaires and billionaires NFL players and team owners, federal labor law forced the taxpayers to pick up the bill for this mediation, simply because these overprivileged millionaires belonged to a union? I can think of better uses for my tax dollars, thank you.
Did you know that the government can label a company a “sweatshop” for being non-union and thus prevent it from working on county projects? And to give you an indication of the fairness of the process involved, consider this gem of a quote from your friendly local legislator:
“(Union organizers) would not be sitting there if something wasn’t going on,” Councilman James R. Ellenbogen, D-Banksville, said in announcing his support to an audience filled with union activists and company employees. “This is not a court of law, but I’m a working guy and I believe what they say.”
So slander is totally fine, just as long as you’re ”a working guy”? You can call one of the few remaining steel companies in the United States a sweatshop simply because “something’s got to be going on”? And then you have the temerity to wonder why there aren’t any sizeable steel companies in the United States anymore?
Of course, none of this changes the overarching principle. It does not matter whether your union represents government workers or not. Your union exists because of the government. Remove the intervention and you’ve removed the problem.
Then again, that is not an acceptable solution to the labor movement – they like their special privileges, thank you very much. But it would be far more fair to those who are currently on the outside looking in.
I happen to be reading a comprehensive American history at the moment (Conceived in Liberty, by Murray Rothbard), and because of my personal heritage, I was drawn to the history of Dutch rule in North America, specifically in what we now call the “middle colonies” of New York, New Jersey, and Delaware. New York, formerly New Amsterdam, was foremost among them.
Dutch-American history is generally not taught, in favor of Anglo-American history, and with good reason. New Amsterdam, Fort Orange, Fort Good Hope, Breukelen (Brooklyn), New Amstel, and other Dutch settlements were short-lived and poorly-run, and as Americans we owe far more of our national character to our British ancestors.
However, this does not mean we cannot learn anything from our Dutch forebears. Contrary to the liberality that we normally associate with Holland, and which liberality was totally accurate to describe the “Republicans” of 17th century north Holland (now The Netherlands), the North American colonies under Dutch control were settled mainly by elements of the rigid, theocratic “Orange Party,” centered in the southern provinces (now Belgium), and allied closely with the Calvinist church. As a result, these settlements were anything but free. It is my contention that this ensured their quick demise.
So why was it that the Dutch settlements were so relatively thinly populated, as compared to English settlements in Massachusetts Bay, Plymouth, and Virginia? Frankly, it was high-handed autocratic rule - a kleptocracy. Beginning with Peter Minuit, followed by Willem Kiefft, and culminating in the governorship of Peter Stuyvesant, Dutch rule was immediately and obviously contrary to the interests of the Dutch settlers.
Thus, although it is taught that the Dutch colonies were “conquered” by the English sometime around the second Anglo-Dutch War (1664 or so), it turns out that the Dutch were never conquered at all. They preferred to accept English rule in return for treaty promises of freedom of religion, retention of prior property rights, freedom of trade, freedom of immigration, freedom from conscription, and a guarantee against billeting of soldiers in their homes. New Amsterdam, over the strenuous objections of kleptocrat Peter Stuyvesant, simply surrendered.
So what does this have to do with us? Well, for one, it gives us some indication of how to build an unhealthy, vulnerable society, against which the populace will be inclined to revolt. After the removal of former governor Kiefft due to citizen objections to his high-handedness, Stuyvesant was installed and proceeded to do more of the same. However, and I’m quoting Rothbard here:
…Stuyvesant elaborated a sophisticated refinement. After enmeshing the economy in a network of restrictions and prohibitions, Stuyvesant in return for heavy fees sold exemptions from these regulations. In short, Stuyvesant saw that the key to walth for a government ruler is to create the opportunity for monopoly privilege (for example, by outlawing and regulating productive activities) and then to sell these privileges for what the traffic can bear.”
Sound like anything familiar? How about unions, especially those in the public sector? President Obama got labor union support for PPACA, bought and paid for through exemptions for unions – for example, the Cadillac tax. Bush and Obama both wooed the labor vote (and perhaps more importantly, the labor money) by basically handing over GM to the unions, despite well-established precedent of creditor priority. And every state that does not have a right to work law “outlaws and regulates productive activities” by forcing union labor on the populace. Federal laws require the use of union labor, to the detriment of those willing to do the work without special privilege.
In any case, the evidence supports the idea that the modern union is absolutely not a vehicle for moderating disputes between powerful corporations and their workers. It is merely a vehicle for extraction of political privilege.
Of course, I will not go so far as to accuse our politicians of graft (Stuyvesant was forcibly retired, but he managed to amass a vast fortune that kept him comfortable until his death), but the basic point is less wealth than it is power. Our political parties, both Democrat and Republican, have long understood – as did Peter Stuyvesant – that the best way to create an artificial constituency is to place restrictions on everyone, and then grant freedom to the chosen. In this way, the chosen will always support you, and the restricted will always look for ways of becoming one of the chosen.
(Note to those who have been wondering why I haven’t posted in a while. I’m not giving up; I’ve just been very busy. Keep checking back!)