Commentary Magazine


Topic: unions

When Conservative School Reforms Work

Conservative education reformers are at several distinct disadvantages: union control of public education, the government’s broad power to protect its market dominance, restrictions on leveling the playing field between public and parochial schools, etc. Yet sometimes favored conservative policies succeed despite the institutional road blocks, and other times those road blocks inspire creative alternatives. Readers of today’s New York Times will find important examples of both.

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Conservative education reformers are at several distinct disadvantages: union control of public education, the government’s broad power to protect its market dominance, restrictions on leveling the playing field between public and parochial schools, etc. Yet sometimes favored conservative policies succeed despite the institutional road blocks, and other times those road blocks inspire creative alternatives. Readers of today’s New York Times will find important examples of both.

The first is a very long, but quite worthwhile feature on Eva Moskowitz’s New York charter-school phenomenon, the Success Academy schools. But conservatives should pay special attention to it because it’s not just about the concept of choice; it actually addresses a great weakness of conservative education reform as well.

Reformers on the right correctly note the unfairness and immoral nature of the current government-mandated segregation in the public-school system. They are also correct when they say that while school choice does tend to improve test scores in many cases, the case for school choice rests on more than just grades. Conservatives are dedicated proponents of equality of opportunity, and school choice, thanks to liberal policies, is one area where such equality is close to nonexistent.

But a crucial component of reform, and arguably the most challenging, is to change the actual classroom educational experience. The Times gives us a glimpse at one way Success tackles this issue:

In a rare look inside the network, including visits to several schools and interviews with dozens of current and former employees, The New York Times chronicled a system driven by the relentless pursuit of better results, one that can be exhilarating for teachers and students who keep up with its demands and agonizing for those who do not.

Rules are explicit and expectations precise. Students must sit with hands clasped and eyes following the speaker; reading passages must be neatly annotated with a main idea.

Incentives are offered, such as candy for good behavior, and Nerf guns and basketballs for high scores on practice tests. For those deemed not trying hard enough, there is “effort academy,” which is part detention, part study hall.

For teachers, who are not unionized and usually just out of college, 11-hour days are the norm, and each one is under constant monitoring, by principals who make frequent visits, and by databases that record quiz scores. Teachers who do well can expect quick promotions, with some becoming principals while still in their 20s. Teachers who struggle can expect coaching or, if that does not help, possible demotion.

Accountability for students and teachers–what a novel idea! And it gets results:

Though it serves primarily poor, mostly black and Hispanic students, Success is a testing dynamo, outscoring schools in many wealthy suburbs, let alone their urban counterparts. In New York City last year, 29 percent of public school students passed the state reading tests, and 35 percent passed the math tests. At Success schools, the corresponding percentages were 64 and 94 percent.

For disadvantaged students, throwing money at them isn’t what helps them succeed. Moskowitz may be a “self-proclaimed liberal,” but at this rate she may one day have a seat next to Milton Friedman in the conservative pantheon.

The Success Academy schools combine school choice with real classroom reform. And the schools live up to their name.

The other story in today’s Times about education is easier to miss because it’s less controversial. But it could have a meaningful impact if it catches on.

Some of the right’s frustration with race-based admissions is not only that they think college admissions should be colorblind but also that the left’s definition of “diversity” is entirely skin-deep. If you want to help struggling inner-city students, conservatives argue, wouldn’t you do better to base affirmative action policies around socioeconomic factors instead of skin color?

The political obstacles to such reform are obvious. So instead of waiting for government to take the lead, the market is moving in. Here’s the Times:

Top colleges have many reasons to avoid enrolling a lot of low-income students.

The students need financial aid, which can strain a university’s budget. Although many of the students have stellar grades, they often have somewhat lower SAT scores than affluent students, which can hurt a university’s ranking. Low-income students also tend to lack the campus sway of other groups, like athletes or children of alumni, in lobbying for admission slots.

In an effort to push back against these incentives — even just a little — a foundation in Northern Virginia on Tuesday is announcing a new no-strings-attached $1 million prize. It will be awarded each year to a college that excels in enrolling and graduating low-income high achievers. The inaugural winner of the money — from the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, which also runs a large scholarship program — is Vassar College.

This strikes me as a very good idea, even if its effects will be marginal for now. And its focus not just on enrolling but on “graduating low-income high achievers” is important as well. One weakness of affirmative action, as proponents of the “mismatch” theory argue, is that enrolling students should not be treated as a stand-in for educating them, and in many cases bringing in students through affirmative action does them more harm than good.

Yet even if you don’t believe the mismatch theory, the genius of the Jack Kent Cooke program is that it doesn’t reallocate public resources. No one would object to incentivizing low-income students’ college graduation.

“Rather than spend the money to enroll lower-income students,” the Times’s David Leonhardt writes, “many colleges have instead built student bodies that are diverse in many other ways — geography, religion, ethnicity — but still overwhelmingly affluent.”

Indeed. The best of the American education system is too often off-limits to those who can’t afford it, and the government-inflated loan bubble, liberal opposition to school choice, and an admissions process that judges students on the color of their skin won’t change that. Conservatives are not the only ones advancing conservative education reforms, in yet another sign that the tide might be turning in favor of the disadvantaged students so ill-served by the existing educational order.

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Obama’s Other Turf War: Free Trade

Republicans frustrated by President Obama’s persistent efforts to avoid congressional input and oversight–for example, in the nuclear talks with Iran–have at times lamented that congressional Democrats don’t seem to want to defend their turf alongside them. But now it turns out that’s generally been the case because Democratic congressional leaders simply agree with Obama or trust him enough to cut a deal. Not so with free trade. And now Democrats are elbowing their way into trade negotiations at the president’s expense.

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Republicans frustrated by President Obama’s persistent efforts to avoid congressional input and oversight–for example, in the nuclear talks with Iran–have at times lamented that congressional Democrats don’t seem to want to defend their turf alongside them. But now it turns out that’s generally been the case because Democratic congressional leaders simply agree with Obama or trust him enough to cut a deal. Not so with free trade. And now Democrats are elbowing their way into trade negotiations at the president’s expense.

The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent details the efforts that labor groups are expending in trying to shape the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a multinational trade deal that has been brewing for years and that the Obama administration continues to negotiate. What the president wants is “fast-track” authority, which would mean Obama could negotiate the deal itself and Congress would get an up-or-down vote on it, no amendments. But much like Republicans (and some Democrats) on the Iran deal, Democrats (and some Republicans) don’t trust Obama on trade.

And AFL-CIO leader Richard Trumka is pushing Congress to adopt a rather creative way to get around fast-track authority:

But Trumka and other critics of the process are pushing for additional built-in accountability mechanisms. Among them would be a provision that would allow Congress to revoke this fast-track authority by a simple-majority vote, once the details of the trade deal are known. This would allow Congress to, in effect, press the administration to renegotiate a better deal if it falls short. The administration would surely argue that this risks scuttling the whole process. But such a move, the AFL-CIO maintains, would essentially reinforce Congressional oversight over the process and also place some accountability for it on Congress, rather than allowing Members to throw up their hands and say, “well, we only have the power to vote on the final bill now, so let’s approve it; it’s better than nothing.”

Trumka claims that a failure to pursue such changes would amount to Congressional abdication of responsibility. “The Constitution vests power over international trade with the Congress,” Trumka says in his letter to Senators. “Congress should not abandon its Constitutional authority by allowing the executive branch to disregard its objectives and hide its activities but still be awarded with preferential and expedited treatment.”

Trumka’s point about congressional oversight is well taken. But not only is his solution unrealistic; it appears to be nothing but a poison pill to scuttle trade talks.

The reason a president asks for “fast-track” authority (also known as Trade Promotion Authority) is because it can coax trade partners to the table–and get them to stay there. Trade deals are complex agreements, and foreign governments aren’t always willing to negotiate with the roster of the U.S. Congress in addition to the president’s team. Fast-track authority is a way to get around the thorniest possible sticking points, such as union and environmental concerns. And Congress still gets a vote.

Trumka’s idea of getting Congress to enact a rule enabling them to retroactively revoke fast-track authority once the deal is finalized is worse than opening the negotiations to Congress, as far as foreign governments are concerned. It means all their work could be undone because Congress doesn’t like the final terms, but congressional input won’t be part of the equation along the way, so they’ll all be flying blind.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but no negotiator worth his salt would ever agree to a deal with an American president under these circumstances, especially not when fast-track authority is still a possibility. Trumka’s idea is too clever by half. It would wreck the process.

Is that the intent? Perhaps. And Democratic opposition to trade is particularly challenging for a Democratic president (just as Republican opposition would be for a Republican president) because the party out of power tends to view trade with more skepticism than they do when their party controls the White House. As Gallup notes, a majority in the U.S. still see trade as an opportunity to grow the U.S. economy vs. a threat from foreign imports. But party affiliation tends to sway:

From 2001 to 2011, spanning the entire presidency of George W. Bush and the first two years of Obama’s presidency, the percentage of Republicans seeing foreign trade as an opportunity was higher than that of Democrats — in several cases, by double-digit margins. In 2012 and 2013, Democrats grew sharply more positive about trade, even as Republican views languished in the 40% to low 50% range. Opinion among the two party groups converged in 2014, but this year, Republicans’ optimism about foreign trade is flat at 51%, while Democrats’ has increased slightly, to 61%.

The good news for Obama, then, is that there is public support on the Democratic side for free trade. The bad news is they’re the ones digging in their heels against letting him negotiate a deal.

Those numbers tell us something else: Trumka is making a tough bet here. If a Republican wins in 2016, it’ll likely mean the Senate stays red too. With a Republican president, expect Republican support for free trade to increase again. (It’s still a majority, remember, so it’ll likely go even higher.) Does Trumka think he can stop a deal then? Maybe Obama’s his best chance to get a labor-friendly agreement.

The other issue here is that it’s not just the GOP that objects to Obama’s intent to go around Congress; the level of outrage just depends on the issue. Between Obama’s executive actions on immigration, his pending treaty with Iran, and the massive trade deal, among others, there does not appear to be any element of Obama’s second-term agenda he believes he needs Congress for. Even Democrats were bound to object once his quest for uncontested rule made their interest groups sufficiently uncomfortable.

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Biden’s “Blackshirts?” In Wisconsin, They Work for the Unions.

You don’t need to read the polls to know that Democrats are worried about Scott Walker. In recent days, the Obama administration has been concentrating their fire on the governor of Wisconsin with the sort of fervor that is usually reserved for their chief congressional tormentors. Walker signed a right-to-work bill passed by the Wisconsin legislature and both President Obama and Vice President Biden denounced him and the law. But the attention given this event wasn’t primarily motivated by Walker’s current status as a frontrunner for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination. The Wisconsin law scares the Democrats because it’s yet another blow to the ability of the unions to coerce workers into providing them with the funds to pay for their political campaigns. That’s why their rhetoric against Walker and the law was so extreme. Yet when Biden claimed Republicans were seeking to use “blackshirts” to break unions, that line might better have been applied to his own side in the argument.

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You don’t need to read the polls to know that Democrats are worried about Scott Walker. In recent days, the Obama administration has been concentrating their fire on the governor of Wisconsin with the sort of fervor that is usually reserved for their chief congressional tormentors. Walker signed a right-to-work bill passed by the Wisconsin legislature and both President Obama and Vice President Biden denounced him and the law. But the attention given this event wasn’t primarily motivated by Walker’s current status as a frontrunner for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination. The Wisconsin law scares the Democrats because it’s yet another blow to the ability of the unions to coerce workers into providing them with the funds to pay for their political campaigns. That’s why their rhetoric against Walker and the law was so extreme. Yet when Biden claimed Republicans were seeking to use “blackshirts” to break unions, that line might better have been applied to his own side in the argument.

The Democrats’ line of attack against Walker is that he is doing the bidding of big business and seeking to oppress workers. But the debate over right-to-work laws isn’t about protecting the freedom to organize a union; it’s about safeguarding workers against coercion exercised by those who claim to speak in their name. And nowhere is that more true than in Wisconsin.

The essence of the fight about right-to-work legislation is that in states without these provisions unions exercise power disproportionate to their actual membership because they are able to tax non-members to fund their activities. They defend this practice by saying that when unions negotiate contracts with employers, all those who work there benefit from the results. But the problem is that labor unions have a broader agenda than collective bargaining. They also provide political and economic muscle for their Democratic Party allies.

In doing so they divert large sums deducted from the pay of both their members and non-members for use in partisan political battles that have everything to do with the clout of union bosses and little to do with the rights of workers or even their political preferences. When union members are forced to pay for political action they disagree with, that is bad enough. When non-members are similarly fleeced, that is an outrage that needs to be corrected.

Unions have protected this financial goldmine with the help of Democrats who know that what they are doing is feathering their own nests, not defending the needy or the downtrodden. Unions remain the largest source of funds for Democrat Party campaigns. Rather than Obama and Biden seeking to help workers or middle-class taxpayers, by attacking right-to-work legislation they are merely seeking to ensure a steady flow of union money to their party.

For Biden to summon up the image of “blackshirts” attacking workers is reprehensible on a number of levels. Associating Republicans and the governor of Wisconsin with Italian fascists or Nazi SS thugs is a vile slur and represents more proof that liberal complaints about Tea Partiers undermining political civility are pure hypocrisy. But it is particularly ironic for Biden to use that offensive term with respect to Wisconsin and Scott Walker.

Democrats may think Americans have short memories but it’s not so easy to forget the spectacle of union thugs and their Democratic allies attempting to shut down the state legislature in Madison in 2011 in order to prevent it from adopting laws they opposed. While Democrats regularly bloviate about Republicans doing the bidding of the Koch brothers, in Wisconsin, Democrats went all out not to do the bidding of their union funders even if it meant preventing the legislature from operating. In a government shutdown move that somehow did not provoke the same hysteria from the liberal media that GOP efforts in Washington have generated, Democrats didn’t merely try to defeat a measure that the Republican majority had successfully campaigned on, they actually tried to stop it from meeting with mob actions and legislators fleeing the state.

Other union “activists” threatened Republican members of the legislature as well as Walker and his family in a style of politics that may not have been as bloody as the work of the historical blackshirts but was still frightening. Though they failed, union thugs put a chill in democratic discourse that did little to inspire confidence in Wisconsin Democrats who went on to fail in both 2012 and 2014 to oust Walker.

For all of their talk about helping workers, Wisconsin proves that Democrats are barking up the wrong tree when they seek to demonize Walker to please their union friends. Democrats do tend to succeed when they can strike a populist tone, but modern unions are often the antithesis of the traditional image of struggling workers banding together to fight the bosses. The real freedom battle in the workplace today is the one between the union bosses and workers being pressured to pay for political payoffs to Democrats. And the more attention Obama and Biden draw to this, with or without the vice president’s absurd hyperbole, the better it will be for Walker.

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Scott Walker: the GOP’s Elizabeth Warren?

You knew that Ted Cruz had made his mark on national politics when Elizabeth Warren started earning the moniker “the Democrats’ Ted Cruz.” Now Warren herself might be returning the favor. The Republicans have a national candidate whose defining political moment bears striking resemblance to Warren’s meteoric political rise. Despite the manifold differences in style and substance, there’s a case to be made that when Democrats set out to topple Scott Walker mid-term and failed, they did for Walker what Republicans did for Warren by blocking her initial attempt to run her own federal bureaucracy: they created a star.

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You knew that Ted Cruz had made his mark on national politics when Elizabeth Warren started earning the moniker “the Democrats’ Ted Cruz.” Now Warren herself might be returning the favor. The Republicans have a national candidate whose defining political moment bears striking resemblance to Warren’s meteoric political rise. Despite the manifold differences in style and substance, there’s a case to be made that when Democrats set out to topple Scott Walker mid-term and failed, they did for Walker what Republicans did for Warren by blocking her initial attempt to run her own federal bureaucracy: they created a star.

That’s one takeaway from yesterday’s fascinating Washington Post story on how in Walker’s attempt to fend off the left’s recall, he built the foundations of a national network of donors and connections. The story rings true for anyone with close knowledge of conservative politics. The attempt to recall Walker showed the national GOP that Walker had struck a chord in his reforms, and that for those reforms to have any positive reverberations outside Wisconsin, Republicans would have to hold Madison and solidify their gains.

It also showed conservatives a rabid side of the public unions. Death threats were received not just by Walker and his family but by donors to and supporters of his campaign as well. Conservatives won their battles through democratic politics; the left responded with antidemocratic stunts and even violence. It proved, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that Walker was in the right, and that public unions had to be reined in. A Walker loss would have been a win for thuggish brute force over democratic debate.

Liberals were right, in other words, that there was much at stake. They were just on the wrong side of the issue. And when the recall became a national battle, both large donors and small donors rallied to Walker’s side. Here’s the Post:

Since surviving the recall attempt, Walker has assiduously maintained his relationships with an expanding roster of top party fundraisers and financiers, courting them with regular phone calls, chummy visits and invitations to his inauguration last month.

“The recall provided him with a really interesting opportunity, because he made so many connections nationally with so many donors,” said Chart Westcott, a Dallas-based hedge fund executive, who introduced Walker at the breakfast fundraiser held last month at his parents’ home in Indian Wells. “He already has this base of people who have given him six figures in the past. Not a lot of the other candidates have a national network like that.”

In all, Walker raised almost $83 million for his three statewide races in the past four years — an eye-popping sum for a governor of a modest-size Midwestern state. Of the nearly 300,000 people who gave to his campaigns, three out of four donated $75 or less, according to people familiar with the figures.

“He has a mammoth small-donor list,” rivaled only by libertarian-leaning Sen. Rand Paul (Ky.), said Ron Weiser, a former finance chairman of the Republican National Committee.

He has the big-donor network to rival longtime national establishment figures and the small-donor network like the one that fuels the Paul family’s supporters. It’s a tremendous advantage, especially over other Midwestern politicians, and it gives Walker a head start on many of his opponents.

But while many will (rightly) focus on the advantage of having large donors in your corner, the small-donor network is just as important. It shows the extent to which Walker became a grassroots hero on the right. It built a persona, not just a fundraising apparatus.

This is where the comparison to Warren comes in. Warren was supposed to lead the Obama administration’s Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, a bureaucratic watchdog agency hatched in 2010 and launched in 2011. Republicans blocked her appointment in opposition to the agency. But it didn’t prevent the agency from being formed (and working first without a director, then only with an unconstitutionally appointed apparatchik at the helm).

It also left Warren with an unfulfilled desire for power. So she ran for Senate in Massachusetts and beat Scott Brown, who had gone into the election with high approval ratings. Thus the GOP handed the Democrats virtually the only candidate they had who could have beaten Brown in that particular election. (They probably would have gotten the seat back at some point in the future, but for the time being it helped Republicans to have an unlikely “extra” Senate seat in the age of Obama, when they needed all the help they could get.)

Republicans, in crucial ways, created Elizabeth Warren–or at least the phenomenon that is Elizabeth Warren, in which legions of devoted liberals are trying to draft Warren to run for president. Democrats may have done something similar here with Walker.

It’s obviously a long way out from the 2016 election, and Walker will face a strong primary field of which he is not even the frontrunner. But the national sensation that is Scott Walker owes much to the governor’s successful attempt to overcome the left’s campaign to destroy him by recalling him. They tried to kill the king, and what didn’t kill him made him stronger.

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Scott Walker Rejects Your Premise

The conventional wisdom after Republicans lost two presidential elections to Barack Obama was that the GOP needed to concede the premise of certain Democratic talking points. Suddenly immigration reform became urgent enough for a prospective GOP candidate to lead the effort in the Senate. And even more suddenly, talk of inequality has emerged in conservative circles. But what if the conventional wisdom is wrong? What if, instead, Scott Walker is right?

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The conventional wisdom after Republicans lost two presidential elections to Barack Obama was that the GOP needed to concede the premise of certain Democratic talking points. Suddenly immigration reform became urgent enough for a prospective GOP candidate to lead the effort in the Senate. And even more suddenly, talk of inequality has emerged in conservative circles. But what if the conventional wisdom is wrong? What if, instead, Scott Walker is right?

The Wisconsin governor is enjoying a bit of a boomlet right now, as Peter Beinart notes in a sharp piece on Walker’s unapologetic conservatism. And he’s earned it. He won three statewide elections in four years, and did so with national media attention and the concerted lunatic tactics of public unions (death threats, violence, compulsive Hitler comparisons) aimed at him and his supporters. He won comfortably and with a smile on his face. Walker never lost his composure and never stooped to the level of his fanatical liberal opponents.

None of this is news. What’s changed is that Walker has, in the last week, gone national. His speech at the Iowa Freedom Summit earned rave reviews, and was followed with what appears to be the first pro-Walker presidential ad. And everyone seems to have noticed what Walker’s opponents in Wisconsin have learned the hard way, repeatedly: he’s a formidable politician. This should worry his GOP rivals not only because of Walker’s win streak, but also because Walker is doing something many of them aren’t: he’s setting the terms of the debate instead of following the terms the Democrats have set.

A good example of how this plays out concerns Mitt Romney, who had been flirting with another presidential run. Romney was hurt by his infamous “47 percent” remark in which he appeared to write off voters he considered contentedly dependent on government. It became a catchphrase for the Republicans’ so-called empathy gap.

Before deciding to pass on running again, Romney had been trying to undo the lingering damage of the Monopoly Man reputation by expressing his concern for the poor. He was rewarded for stepping into this rhetorical bear trap with a giddy President Obama in full class warrior mode, as Politico notes:

“Even though their policies haven’t quite caught up yet, their rhetoric is starting to sound pretty Democratic,” Obama said of the Republicans during a House Democratic retreat. “We have a former presidential candidate on the other side and [who is] suddenly deeply concerned about poverty. That’s great, let’s go. Let’s do something about it.”

Even when trash talking, the president is not exactly a wordsmith. But the point, clumsy and juvenile though it is, shines through: whatever your policies, to simply care about poor people makes you sound “pretty Democratic,” as the intellectually cloistered president sees it.

This helps Democrats because even if Republicans come around to demonstrating the empathy they supposedly lack, it sends the message that the Democrats were right. Walker rejects the premise.

Beinart explains how the media missed this story until now:

Walker’s rise illustrates the pitfalls of media coverage of the GOP race. Not many national reporters live within the conservative media ecosystem. They therefore largely assume that in order to win over the non-white, female, millennial and working class voters who rejected John McCain and Mitt Romney, Republican presidential candidates must break from conservative orthodoxy, if not substantively, then at least rhetorically. Journalists are also drawn to storylines about change. Thus, when potential GOP candidates show signs of ideological deviation, the press perks up. After 2012, Marco Rubio garnered enormous media attention for his efforts at immigration reform. Rand Paul’s transgressions—whether on foreign policy, civil liberties or race—make headlines almost every week. In covering the launch of his new Super PAC, journalists made much of Jeb Bush’s discussion of income inequality and his fluent Spanish. Most recently, reporters have lavished attention on Mitt Romney’s new focus on the poor.

The lesson, as I interpret it, is that the press and the Democrats speak the same language. That’s not surprising; the mainstream press, especially during national elections, functions as a messaging office for the Democrats. Because of this, they just assume that in order to be a serious presidential candidate you have to be like them, like the Democrats.

Walker doesn’t agree. And he’s been extraordinarily successful of late by not agreeing.

Part of the media’s terrible coverage of national politics is the reliance on the personal: it matters to them who is saying it more than what is said. Romney got tagged as uncaring because he’s rich. But the classic conservative policies don’t reek of plutocracy when coming from the new crop of Republican stars, many of whom came from modest beginnings or are the children of immigrants, or both. Walker doesn’t even have a college degree, which itself is incomprehensible to modern Democrats, who are elitist and credentialist and genuinely don’t know what life is like in much of the country.

And neither does the media. Which is how someone like Walker could be so successful and still blindside the national press, who would struggle to find Wisconsin on a map. And it’s why Walker is a threat to other high-profile Republicans who have accepted the Democratic/media framing of the issues in order to make a national pitch. Only one of them can be right.

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More to Scott Walker Than Battling Unions

Earlier this week, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker was sworn in for a second term and to no one’s surprise, some of his most vociferous critics, such as the editors at the New York Times, seem to be disappointed. That’s not just because liberals and Democrats have expended enormous resources trying to end his political career both in a failed recall effort and his recent successful reelection campaign. What really bothered them about his triumphant second inaugural in Madison is that he seems to lack interest in another knockdown drag-out battle with unions such as the nasty dustups that highlighted his first years in office. While being sworn in for a second term, Walker pointedly did not express support for plans to enact right-to-work legislation that would further erode the power of the unions. That’s not what opponents who would like to continue their vendetta against him were anticipating and even some members of the Republican majority in the state legislature weren’t happy about it either. But Walker’s decision to try and stay out of that fight shows that he has a wider agenda than just that one issue. It also is a clear indication, as if one were needed, that he is very interested in running for president in 2016.

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Earlier this week, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker was sworn in for a second term and to no one’s surprise, some of his most vociferous critics, such as the editors at the New York Times, seem to be disappointed. That’s not just because liberals and Democrats have expended enormous resources trying to end his political career both in a failed recall effort and his recent successful reelection campaign. What really bothered them about his triumphant second inaugural in Madison is that he seems to lack interest in another knockdown drag-out battle with unions such as the nasty dustups that highlighted his first years in office. While being sworn in for a second term, Walker pointedly did not express support for plans to enact right-to-work legislation that would further erode the power of the unions. That’s not what opponents who would like to continue their vendetta against him were anticipating and even some members of the Republican majority in the state legislature weren’t happy about it either. But Walker’s decision to try and stay out of that fight shows that he has a wider agenda than just that one issue. It also is a clear indication, as if one were needed, that he is very interested in running for president in 2016.

Walker has supported right-to-work legislation in the past but though the majority leader of the State Senate says he plans to present such a bill, the governor obviously wants no part of that tussle. But Wisconsin voters not only gave Walker a third victory in four years. They also increased the Republican majorities in both houses of the state legislature. That’s encouraged the Senate majority leader to push for a bill that would end the ability of unions to force even those who are opposed to them to contribute to their coffers and he may have the votes to do just that.

But Walker seems to feel that unlike his efforts to prevent unions from bankrupting the state in his first term, this is a war of choice that both he and Wisconsin can live without. Instead, he wants to dedicate this next year to proving that he is a commonsense executive who is more interested in getting things done to improve the lives of the voters than in engaging in ideological battles.

That’s a smart strategy for any governor intent on building on his past victories in a second term. But it is also a good idea for someone with his eyes on the White House. Though the battles he fought with union thugs who sought to silence and intimidate their opponents forever endeared Walker to the conservative base of the GOP, he knows that another such bloody fight would be more of a distraction than a feather in his cap. Indeed, his inaugural speech seemed to indicate his 2016 strategy in which he would tout the contrast between the needless strife and gridlock in Washington and his effective style of governing.

Instead of locking horns with a union movement that he has already hamstrung with limits on collective bargaining that make it difficult for them to hold a cash-starved state hostage in negotiations for new state worker contracts, Walker prefers to concentrate his efforts on job creation. That’s something that would not only help Wisconsin but would do a great deal to burnish Walker’s image as a potential president. His emphasis on controlling taxes and spending also highlights his qualifications for fixing Washington’s budget mess with the same strong conservative medicine he has given Wisconsin.

Can his strategy work?

It’s far from clear that the state’s Democrats or Republicans are particularly interested in cooperating with Walker’s plans. Democrats will look to sabotage and demonize a national GOP star as they have always done. Meanwhile conservatives in the legislature think they’d be foolish not to use their victories to enact all of their agenda. But even some Democrats appear to think that Walker’s influence over his state party is sufficient to allow him to stop anything that might serve as a distraction or a burden to his plans.

With Jeb Bush seemingly already the victor of the hidden establishment primary and a host of other candidates thinking about getting into the race, Walker has a difficult task ahead of if he hopes to win the GOP nomination next year. But just as he has managed to retain the affection of Tea Partiers and social conservatives while also endearing himself to many in the party establishment, Walker seems to be counting on his ability to thread the needle and make himself acceptable to all branches of his party. But as he has shown throughout his time as governor, those who underestimate him are in for a shock.

There was always more to Walker than the union-basher stereotype that his opponents love to hate. It remains to be seen if he can mount a credible campaign for president or if he will hold up as well on the national stage as he has on that of his state. But by carefully steering his administration away from fights that won’t enhance his electoral appeal, Walker is signaling that he is a very serious candidate for president.

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The NEA’s Racial Profiling Curriculum

Given the volatility and sensitivity of “racial profiling” these days, heightened by recent developments in Ferguson, New York, and Cleveland and by brand new law-enforcement “guidelines” from the Justice Department, one could be tempted to thank the National Education Association for its recent effort, in league with a bunch of other organizations, to develop curricular materials by which schools and teachers can instruct their students on this issue.

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Given the volatility and sensitivity of “racial profiling” these days, heightened by recent developments in Ferguson, New York, and Cleveland and by brand new law-enforcement “guidelines” from the Justice Department, one could be tempted to thank the National Education Association for its recent effort, in league with a bunch of other organizations, to develop curricular materials by which schools and teachers can instruct their students on this issue.

One should, however, resist that temptation. It turns out that, once again, the NEA and its fellow travelers are presenting a one-sided, propagandistic view of an exceptionally complicated issue that elicits strong, conflicting views among adults; that carries competing values and subtleties beyond the ken of most school kids; and that probably doesn’t belong in the K–12 curriculum at all.

My mind immediately rolled back almost three decades, to the days when the Cold War was very much with us, when nuclear weapons were a passionate concern, when unilateral disarmament was earnestly propounded by some mostly well-meaning but deeply misguided Americans—and when the NEA plunged into the fray with appalling curricular guidance for U.S. schools.

Here’s part of what the late Joseph Adelson and I wrote in COMMENTARY magazine in April 1985:

[T]he much-publicized contribution of the National Education Association (NEA), to give but one example, looks blandly past any differences between the superpowers. Its one-page “fact sheet” on the USSR simply summarizes population, land area, and military resources. The geopolitical situation of the Soviet Union is captured in an extraordinary sentence: “The Soviet Union is bordered by many countries, including some unfriendly countries and others that are part of the Warsaw Pact, which includes countries that are friendly to the Soviet Union.” The beleaguered Soviets are tacitly compared to the United States, which is bordered (we are told) only by “friendly countries.” The youngster is thus plainly led to conclude that the Russians have rather more reason to be fearful than the Americans and that the relationship between Washington and Ottawa is indistinguishable from the ties between Moscow and “friendly” Warsaw or Kabul.

As one might expect, the student is told nothing by the NEA “fact sheet” about the two political systems—nothing about the Gulag or the KGB, nothing about internal passports or the control of emigration, nothing about Poland or Afghanistan…. Although it is an axiom of today’s educational ethos that on any remotely controversial topic, such as deviant sexuality, schools are to maintain a pose of exquisite neutrality, these curricula openly encourage children to engage in political action. In one instance it is recommended that letters be sent to elected officials and local newspapers; in another, teachers are urged to influence parents “by sharing what we as teachers have discovered about peace and peacemaking.” A New York City unit concludes with an “action collage” of bumper stickers, antiwar headlines, “peace walks,” and disarmament rallies. Another recommends seven separate projects, one of which is to write to Congressmen about nuclear-power plants in the community.

To sum up: nuclear curricula, presumably designed to ease a child’s anxiety, in fact introduce him to fears he has probably not entertained, and exacerbate any that he has. The child is provided with false or misleading political information which makes national policy seem capricious or malevolent or irrational. He is on the one hand taught the virtues of helplessness, on the other recruited to the propaganda purposes of the teacher.

In the years since, the NEA has developed curricular materials across an astonishing mishmash of topics, including just about every holiday and special-focus week or month that you never heard of. (Not only Black History Month, but also National Popcorn Month. Not just St. Patrick’s Day, Mother’s Day, and Earth Day, but also Groundhog Day and Brain Awareness Week.) Check out the website. Some of it’s worth having, and most of it’s harmless. But, as with the arms race of the 1980s, so with racial profiling: When they stray into hot-button adult controversies, let the user beware. And let those who worry about educators brainwashing their pupils beware, too.

How does today’s foray into racial profiling resemble the anti-nuclear curriculum of the 1980s? Consider, for example, this item, written by the Institute for Humane Education and excerpted from one of just three links supplied by the NEA to those who teach grades 3–5:

Human rights are inextricably connected to environmental and cultural issues. For example, the decline in potable water – due to causes such as intensive agricultural systems, pollution, corporate ownership of water rights, and global climate change – is an environmental, cultural, and a human rights issue. Rapid economic globalization – representing a cultural and political shift over the past half century – is resulting in increased slave and child labor. Some religions perpetuate human rights atrocities (e.g., female genital mutilation), making a cultural issue – religious freedom – a social justice issue as well.

Humans are oppressed by the same systems that exploit animals and the environment. Humane education gives us a lens to more clearly see the interconnectedness of these issues….

Balanced? Devoid of its own versions of “profiling”? Such issues arise every time schools are called upon to address a complicated contemporary issue that divides grownups and every time the materials offered to teachers are the work of single-cause organizations: When this topic reaches the fourth-grade classroom, are students going to get accurate, balanced information or the strong policy and political preferences of those who teach them (or who prepare materials that they foist upon teachers, the better to shape the minds of children in directions that the authors favor)?

How could there be any question of “balance,” you ask, when racial-profiling is the issue? Well, consider recent testimony by the Fraternal Order of Police noting that, in the Unabomber case, the FBI’s Behavioral Science Unit deduced from available evidence that the likely suspect was a “white male” and observed, moreover, that “generally speaking, serial killers are much more likely to be white males than any other race or gender and investigations into serial killings generally begin with this presumption.”

Or see Heather Mac Donald’s revealing piece citing the Drug Enforcement Administration’s own data on which nationalities are most likely to engage in high-volume drug trafficking. Should police officers monitoring airfields and highways pretend they don’t know this?

Consider, too, not just the Byzantine complexity of the Justice Department’s new “guidance for federal law enforcement agencies,” but also the fact that those guarding U.S. borders against the entry of possible terrorists are specifically exempted from most of that guidance. Why? Because eight-year-olds from Iceland, elderly tourists from Ireland, and nuns from Brazil are extremely unlikely to be involved with terrorist plots against the United States, just as folks from other places and backgrounds are more likely to be so involved. It’s a mighty good thing for our safety that someone was able to persuade Messrs. Holder and Obama to allow for such exceptions. (My apologies to any surviving Byzantines for the impolitic profiling implicit in the first sentence of this paragraph.)

How many fifth graders are going to grasp all this? Why should they be expected to? But if you leave out the complexity, you end up with oversimplification, naiveté, and political correctness.

The other big question to be raised about the NEA’s latest dive into troubled waters: why this topic and not others? What (speaking of terrorists) about a “terrorism curriculum”? I can’t find one on the NEA website—though there’s plenty on “climate change.” What about an anti-Semitism curriculum? I can’t find that, either, though there’s plenty on immigration reform. Who makes these decisions, and based on what? How are teachers and schools supposed to sort through it?

And where does it end? How many contemporary issues of the sort that worry adults should be visited upon school children? At what ages and in which classes and instead of what? Because surely something must be omitted from the regular curriculum to make room for racial-profiling education, just as with lessons about the perils and risks of smoking, AIDS, obesity, drug abuse—and climate change and immigration reform, not to mention popcorn month. Do we skip phonics lessons? Two-digit multiplication? The Declaration of Independence? Isn’t it possible that a close reading of To Kill a Mockingbird might impart messages about racism, tolerance, kindness, and courage within a first-rate English language arts curriculum—instead of turning to one-sided didactic materials from single-issue organizations? Including, alas, America’s largest organization to whose members we entrust the education of our children and grandchildren.

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Big Labor’s Big Bluff

For interest groups seeking to be courted by political campaigns, there are two avenues to attract the necessary attention from the candidates. The first is to be valuable enough, and more valuable than their competitors, in the service of getting a politician elected. The second is to be convincingly courted by both sides, or to be courting both sides themselves.

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For interest groups seeking to be courted by political campaigns, there are two avenues to attract the necessary attention from the candidates. The first is to be valuable enough, and more valuable than their competitors, in the service of getting a politician elected. The second is to be convincingly courted by both sides, or to be courting both sides themselves.

Plenty of interest groups hedge their bets and court both sides: business, finance, gun-rights groups, etc. But what happens to an interest group that no one believes is on the fence, and which is also highly unlikely to sit out an election? Such is the fate of the unions, if a Politico story on the unofficial campaign of the unofficial Democratic Party frontrunner is right. The subheadline claims that “Union leaders vow they won’t be taken for granted in 2016.”

In fact, they will. Politico reports:

Frustrated by President Barack Obama and wary of Hillary Clinton’s perceived closeness to Wall Street, several leading figures in organized labor are resisting falling in line early behind the former secretary of state as the inevitable Democratic presidential nominee.

Top officials at AFL-CIO are pressing its affiliates to hold off on an endorsement and make the eventual nominee earn their support and spell out a clear agenda. The strategy is designed to maximize labor’s strength after years of waning clout and ensure a focus on strengthening the middle class, but it could provide an opening for a candidate running to Clinton’s left to make a play for union support.

“We do have a process in place, which says before anybody endorses, we’ll talk to the candidates,” AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said in an interview. That could postpone an endorsement until the second half of 2015, he said.

“The big question we want to know is, ‘What’s the agenda?’” added Trumka. “We don’t want to hear that people have a message about correcting the economy — we want to know that they have an agenda for correcting the economy. If we get the same economic [plan] no matter who the president is, you get the same results.”

Let me explain to Trumka how this will play out. His organization will endorse Hillary for the Democratic presidential nomination, and the AFL-CIO will pull out all the stops to help get her elected in the general. Trumka can stomp his feet all he wants, but the only extra attention he’ll get is from his downstairs neighbor.

The unions are not going anywhere, and here’s why. They have become a liberal interest group, and nobody believes they’ll even cast a glance across the aisle. In the primaries, it will make no sense to back a challenger to Hillary because they almost surely won’t win, and the Clintons are infamously petty and vindictive. Death, taxes, and Clintonian grudges are the three sure things in this world. They will retaliate. If Trumka thinks he’s getting a cold reception now, just wait until he tests the Clintons’ patience and their memories.

And no one believes for a moment Trumka’s up for grabs in the general. He could argue, however, that the unions are about more than just money and endorsements. They are a key get-out-the-vote ally, and they can magnify turnout, which has been the key for Democrats in general elections. Trumka can, theoretically, threaten to hold back these efforts, since the midterm election disasters of recent years have shown the Democrats just how important presidential-year turnout is for them.

This won’t happen either. Two of the GOP contenders who would be strongest in a general election are candidates for whom the unions have developed a deranged level of hatred: Scott Walker and Chris Christie. One of the most important unions in Trumka’s organization is currently the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. Think they would sit this one out?

And Christie and Walker aren’t the only high-profile candidates with anti-public-union credibility. Bobby Jindal sure looks to be running for president this time around. And those three–Christie, Walker, and Jindal–represent the anti-public-union zeitgeist of the modern Republican Party. One is from New Jersey, one Wisconsin, the other Louisiana. Reining in public unions is not a regional fixation and it is not a fringe position in the GOP. If someone besides those three is to get the Republican nomination, in all likelihood they will press to demonstrate their bona fides on this issue along the way as well.

Trumka will view the upcoming presidential election–especially if Walker is the nominee–as nothing less than a battle for the unions’ very survival. He will say so, and he will use intemperate language in the process. He will emit a blinding rage, and give the impression that he is experiencing some sort of extended meltdown. What he will not do is withhold his support from the Clinton machine, nor will he convincingly pretend to.

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Scott Walker’s Political Courage

As Jonathan very correctly observes, Scott Walker’s public-sector union reforms, which he got enacted over extraordinary opposition, scare unions, Democrats, and possible GOP opponents alike should he decide to run for the Republican nomination in 2016. Unions face a massive loss of funds (and therefore political power) if his reforms spread to other states. The Democratic Party faces a loss of those union funds, which go overwhelmingly to that party. And the contenders for the presidency in both parties face the fact that Scott Walker, who comes across in both private and public as a nice, low-key, everyone’s-favorite-uncle sort of guy—a veritable unObama when it comes to self-regard and ego—has proved himself a political mensch of the first order. That could be a very potent combination in 2016.

Scott Walker felt he had to fight the public-service unions, instead of kicking the problem down the road as most politicians are wont to do. That he did so, and succeeded, it seems to me, adds to his political potency in an era when a considerable majority of the people think the political establishment has been avoiding taking on the tough but necessary political jobs—tax reform, legal reform, entitlement reforms, etc.—for purely self-interested reasons, endangering long-term prosperity in the process. The right track/wrong track polling stands at a dismal 30 percent/62 percent and hasn’t been in positive territory for a very long time.

Governor Walker took on reform of public-sector unions not because the crisis would come in his governorship, but because he knew it would otherwise come.

The basic problem here is that the public sector should never have been allowed to unionize on the Wagner Act model that governs private-sector unions, for the private sector and the public sector are two very different economic beasts. FDR—hardly anti-union—adamantly opposed public-sector unionization. The reasons are three.

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As Jonathan very correctly observes, Scott Walker’s public-sector union reforms, which he got enacted over extraordinary opposition, scare unions, Democrats, and possible GOP opponents alike should he decide to run for the Republican nomination in 2016. Unions face a massive loss of funds (and therefore political power) if his reforms spread to other states. The Democratic Party faces a loss of those union funds, which go overwhelmingly to that party. And the contenders for the presidency in both parties face the fact that Scott Walker, who comes across in both private and public as a nice, low-key, everyone’s-favorite-uncle sort of guy—a veritable unObama when it comes to self-regard and ego—has proved himself a political mensch of the first order. That could be a very potent combination in 2016.

Scott Walker felt he had to fight the public-service unions, instead of kicking the problem down the road as most politicians are wont to do. That he did so, and succeeded, it seems to me, adds to his political potency in an era when a considerable majority of the people think the political establishment has been avoiding taking on the tough but necessary political jobs—tax reform, legal reform, entitlement reforms, etc.—for purely self-interested reasons, endangering long-term prosperity in the process. The right track/wrong track polling stands at a dismal 30 percent/62 percent and hasn’t been in positive territory for a very long time.

Governor Walker took on reform of public-sector unions not because the crisis would come in his governorship, but because he knew it would otherwise come.

The basic problem here is that the public sector should never have been allowed to unionize on the Wagner Act model that governs private-sector unions, for the private sector and the public sector are two very different economic beasts. FDR—hardly anti-union—adamantly opposed public-sector unionization. The reasons are three.

1) When a profit-seeking corporation sits down to negotiate with its unions, the two sides are basically negotiating over how to divide the profits that capital and labor, working together, create. Both sides know that if they push too hard it can kill the goose that lays the golden eggs of profit. If capital drives too hard a bargain, it will have a sullen labor force and will lose the best workers to the competition. If labor drives too hard a bargain, management will have to raise prices and business will be lost to the competition. They often get the balance wrong, but market signals will tell them that and be a factor in the next negotiation.

But in the public sector, there is no competition, and therefore no market signals. And they are not creating wealth, they are spending other people’s money (i.e. the taxpayers’). As Milton Friedman explained, no one spends other people’s money as carefully as they spend their own. Management here has effectively no skin in the game, so why fight hard to keep down labor costs? It’s better to ensure labor peace.

2) But even worse, while in the private sector neither side has any say in who sits across the table, in the public sector the unions can powerfully influence whom they negotiate with. They use union dues to contribute to campaigns to get union-friendly politicians elected. Those politicians then give the unions a better deal, providing the unions with more money, which is recycled into campaigns and a vicious circle is established.

3) Politicians are always short-sighted. They care about tomorrow’s headline and next year’s election, not a future when they will no longer be in office. In a public-sector labor negotiation, both sides of the table are populated by politicians (union leaders are elected after all, and, like all politicians, need to bring home the bacon). So the long-term consequences of any deal are ignored. After all, they’ll be someone else’s problem. By loading most of the increased costs into future entitlements instead of current wages, they also escape current scrutiny by the press.

The result over fifty years (ironically, it was Wisconsin Governor Gaylord Nelson who signed the first bill to allow the first public-service unions, in 1959) is a public sector that is paid more in wages than their private-sector counterparts and enjoys benefits that private sector workers can only dream of, such as free health benefits and generous defined-benefit retirement plans for which public-sector workers pay nothing. If public-sector workers in Wisconsin are now taking home less than they did before reform, that is largely because they are now contributing to their health and retirement plans, just like their private-sector counterparts have to do.

So it’s not simply “anti-unionism,” as unions and Democrats contend, it’s redressing a grossly unfair situation that should never have been allowed to develop in the first place and that was quickly spiraling out of control. How many Detroits can this country take? Three smaller cities in California have also declared bankruptcy because of unsupportable obligations to public-sector workers. Many more across the country are on the brink.

So someone had to be St. George and slay this dragon despite the personal political risks in taking on so formidable an opponent. Scott Walker had the necessary courage. That will stand him in very good stead in the next few years.

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Walker Scares Unions and GOP 2016 Rivals

This past week Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker was the target of a massive assault by the liberal media that sought to inflate a minor story about his administration as Milwaukee county executive into a scandal that could eliminate him as a 2016 presidential contender. The effort fell flat as the issues involved were insignificant and there was no link between the governor and any wrongdoing. Even a fishing expedition into 27,000 pages of emails revealed nothing more damning than an internal debate about whether a former thong model was a suitable candidate for a job. Liberals may have had a brief moment of elation when they thought this would remove Walker from the 2016 picture as effectively as Bridgegate turned Chris Christie’s presidential hopes to ashes. But Democrats would do well to ignore this distraction and instead take a deep dive into a story published today in the New York Times that centers on the real reason why the Wisconsin governor is so important: fiscal reform.

Though the slant of Steven Greenhouse’s lengthy feature is not so much Walker’s record but an attempt to engender sympathy for the unions he defeated in a 2011 legislative showdown, the governor still emerges as the hero of the saga. Wisconsin’s public-sector unions are telling their colleagues around the nation to worry about other states emulating Walker’s efforts to change the balance of power between labor and government. They’re right. Though Walker paid a high price in terms of vilification and a recall effort that failed to drive him from office, the results of his reforms are now apparent. As the Times reports, Wisconsin’s municipalities and school districts have saved more than $2 billion in the last two years. The nation confronts a future in which the costs of public-sector salaries and benefits could push a host of cities off the same fiscal cliff that landed Detroit in bankruptcy and civil ruin. Though the unions that lost their power to raid the public treasury will never forgive Walker, his courage in standing up to them and achieving results provides a compelling story that could very well inspire a run to the White House.

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This past week Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker was the target of a massive assault by the liberal media that sought to inflate a minor story about his administration as Milwaukee county executive into a scandal that could eliminate him as a 2016 presidential contender. The effort fell flat as the issues involved were insignificant and there was no link between the governor and any wrongdoing. Even a fishing expedition into 27,000 pages of emails revealed nothing more damning than an internal debate about whether a former thong model was a suitable candidate for a job. Liberals may have had a brief moment of elation when they thought this would remove Walker from the 2016 picture as effectively as Bridgegate turned Chris Christie’s presidential hopes to ashes. But Democrats would do well to ignore this distraction and instead take a deep dive into a story published today in the New York Times that centers on the real reason why the Wisconsin governor is so important: fiscal reform.

Though the slant of Steven Greenhouse’s lengthy feature is not so much Walker’s record but an attempt to engender sympathy for the unions he defeated in a 2011 legislative showdown, the governor still emerges as the hero of the saga. Wisconsin’s public-sector unions are telling their colleagues around the nation to worry about other states emulating Walker’s efforts to change the balance of power between labor and government. They’re right. Though Walker paid a high price in terms of vilification and a recall effort that failed to drive him from office, the results of his reforms are now apparent. As the Times reports, Wisconsin’s municipalities and school districts have saved more than $2 billion in the last two years. The nation confronts a future in which the costs of public-sector salaries and benefits could push a host of cities off the same fiscal cliff that landed Detroit in bankruptcy and civil ruin. Though the unions that lost their power to raid the public treasury will never forgive Walker, his courage in standing up to them and achieving results provides a compelling story that could very well inspire a run to the White House.

Not everyone in Wisconsin is happy about what happened there in 2011, when Walker pushed through his reform agenda despite the spectacle of union thugs and left-wing activists that descended on the state capitol in Madison in an effort to shut down the rule of law in the state. As Greenhouse writes, the unions that took for granted their right to run roughshod over state and municipal officials bitterly regret their defeat. They took for granted their right to demand and get pay and benefits that most of the taxpayers paying the bill couldn’t dream about. As Walker learned when he was Milwaukee’s county executive, the name of the game was union power. Budget shortfalls were mere details to leaders who would rather see workers laid off and services to the citizens curtailed than make concessions to balance the budget. If those unions are now demoralized, their regret is that they no longer have the whip hand over the government. Walker’s rollback of union power enabled the those elected by the people to function without the sort of union blackmail that make it impossible for mayors and governors around the country to stand up to threats of strikes and political payback.

Just as important, the changes brought about by Walker forces public sector unions to go back to their original purpose: serving their members rather than playing political power brokers. The provisions that force them to recertify compels the unions to demonstrate to their members that they are there to help them rather than to act as the storm troops of the Democratic Party. This accountability dethrones them as the tyrants of the workplace as well as of the public square.

While other Republicans (including Christie) shared his views about reform, it was only Walker who dared to directly take on public sector unions and their political allies. In 2011, the conventional wisdom was that he was a rash politician who tried to do too much and would fail. But where others made incremental gains at best, by carrying out his campaign promises Walker showed both his party and the nation that it was possible to tell the truth about the fiscal peril, do something about it and live to tell the tale.

Just as they did in 2012 when liberals made Walker’s recall a national priority, the left is once again hoping to end the governor’s career by defeating him for reelection this fall. But if he is favored to win in November it is not just because voters remember the irresponsible efforts of unions and Democrats to thwart reform or because Walker is a likeable and able politician. Rather, it is because he has demonstrated the kind of political courage that is very rare in our system today and produced results. While he is still a relative novice on the national stage and could well falter long before 2016, that is a record that should scare potential Republican presidential rivals as much as it does the unions and the Democrats.

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The UAW’s Waterloo

The United Auto Workers Union suffered a devastating defeat on Friday, when its attempt to organize the workers at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga failed on a vote of 712-626 (53-47 percent). The company had agreed not to resist the organizing effort and gave the union access to the plant and its workers. If the union couldn’t win an election under those conditions, it is a powerful sign of how weak, indeed toxic, unions have become in recent years. If the UAW couldn’t win this election, it seems doubtful it can win any election.

To be sure, unions have always been weak in the South where all the states in the old Confederacy have right-to-work laws in place. That, of course, is precisely the reason why most plants built by foreign automobile manufacturers in this country in recent years have been built there. (Low taxes and mild winters are two other powerful reasons, of course.)

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The United Auto Workers Union suffered a devastating defeat on Friday, when its attempt to organize the workers at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga failed on a vote of 712-626 (53-47 percent). The company had agreed not to resist the organizing effort and gave the union access to the plant and its workers. If the union couldn’t win an election under those conditions, it is a powerful sign of how weak, indeed toxic, unions have become in recent years. If the UAW couldn’t win this election, it seems doubtful it can win any election.

To be sure, unions have always been weak in the South where all the states in the old Confederacy have right-to-work laws in place. That, of course, is precisely the reason why most plants built by foreign automobile manufacturers in this country in recent years have been built there. (Low taxes and mild winters are two other powerful reasons, of course.)

But they have become increasingly weak everywhere. In the early 1950s union membership in the private sector peaked at about 35 percent of the work force. Today it is about 6 percent. Manufacturing, the heart and soul of the union movement, has become much more efficient, and therefore less labor-intensive. And much of the unskilled and semi-skilled jobs, such as in garment manufacturing, have moved offshore. The UAW membership peaked at 1.5 million in the 1970s. Today it is 338,000.

Only in the public sector, which should never have been made subject to collective bargaining under the Wagner and Taft-Hartley Acts, is union membership increasing. And right-to-work laws are spreading. In 2012 both Indiana and even Michigan—the home of the UAW—became right-to-work states.

But as the American economy has undergone profound change in the last sixty years, labor law has not kept pace. The Wagner Act dates to 1935 and the Taft-Hartley Act to 1947. Like the unions themselves they are dinosaurs. So why do the unions continue to have such a large place in American politics while they have an ever-shrinking place in the American economy? The answer, of course, is the “mother’s milk of politics,” money. Unions are the single biggest source of funds for Democratic causes and candidates.

According to Opensecrets.org, of the top ten political donors in the last 25 years, six are unions. And they all overwhelmingly donated to Democratic causes and candidates. The UAW, for instance, has donated $41.7 million over the last 25 years. That’s well over twice what the infamous Koch brothers have donated, mostly to Republican causes. (The Koch brothers actually gave 8 percent of their money to Democratic causes and candidates.)

Of the UAW’s donations, 71 percent went to Democrats and zero percent went to Republicans. The other 29 percent went to organizations not formally affiliated with either party but it’s a safe bet they are left-leaning. Unions can also mobilize large numbers of “volunteers” for phone banks and get-out-the-vote efforts.

Thus, unions have such a disproportionate influence over the Democratic Party for the simplest of reasons: they buy it. How much longer that will continue is a good question. There is no reason to think that the long-term decline in the private sector will not continue. And in places where union dues are no longer collected by governments (such as in Wisconsin), public sector union members have been leaving in droves. Obviously, they don’t think they have been getting value for their money. That is also a trend that is likely to spread.

The days of the union movement, it seems, are numbered. But it’s not likely to go quietly.

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Obama’s Inequality Prescription: Cronyism, Generational Theft, and Massive Debt

President Obama’s speech yesterday on inequality was a combination of the cynicism and panic that have governed his actions lately. Panic, because the speech was an obvious populist pep rally to distract from the massive economic disruptions his failing and flailing policies–at the moment, chiefly ObamaCare–are causing. And cynicism, because his opinion of his audience is low enough that he thinks the transparent ploy will work on them.

The pointlessness of the speech was clear when he said this:

Now, you’ll be pleased to know this is not a State of the Union Address.  (Laughter.)  And many of the ideas that can make the biggest difference in expanding opportunity I’ve presented before.  But let me offer a few key principles, just a roadmap that I believe should guide us in both our legislative agenda and our administrative efforts.

He’s giving them fair warning that he’s got nothing new to offer and his prescriptions will mostly consist of sloganeering–another chapter, in other words, of the bumper-sticker presidency. And that is indeed what followed. But there was also a noteworthy element to the speech: after five years of running the country, the president has developed no creative ideas and shown no willingness to think outside the conventional liberal box, even when those ideas are clearly failing.

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President Obama’s speech yesterday on inequality was a combination of the cynicism and panic that have governed his actions lately. Panic, because the speech was an obvious populist pep rally to distract from the massive economic disruptions his failing and flailing policies–at the moment, chiefly ObamaCare–are causing. And cynicism, because his opinion of his audience is low enough that he thinks the transparent ploy will work on them.

The pointlessness of the speech was clear when he said this:

Now, you’ll be pleased to know this is not a State of the Union Address.  (Laughter.)  And many of the ideas that can make the biggest difference in expanding opportunity I’ve presented before.  But let me offer a few key principles, just a roadmap that I believe should guide us in both our legislative agenda and our administrative efforts.

He’s giving them fair warning that he’s got nothing new to offer and his prescriptions will mostly consist of sloganeering–another chapter, in other words, of the bumper-sticker presidency. And that is indeed what followed. But there was also a noteworthy element to the speech: after five years of running the country, the president has developed no creative ideas and shown no willingness to think outside the conventional liberal box, even when those ideas are clearly failing.

For example, the president noted the importance of education, which is true, and then said this: “We know it’s harder to find a job today without some higher education, so we’ve helped more students go to college with grants and loans that go farther than before.” What the federal government’s loan program has done, as we know, is raise tuition prices even more and further inflate a bubble that puts the economy in more danger:

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke dismissed these concerns by saying that most of the money in the student-loan sector is federal money, which just means taxpayers – rather than lending institutions – will take the initial hit. But the board of governors makes a salient point as student loan debt soars to $1 trillion and exceeds the nation’s level of credit-card debt.

“The bankers said student lending shares features of the housing crisis including ‘significant growth of subsidized lending in pursuit of a social good,’ in this case higher education instead of expanded home ownership,” according to that Bloomberg report. “The lending has put upward pressure on tuition, just as the mortgage lending boom led to rising home prices, they said, calling both examples of a ‘lack of underwriting discipline.’”

For my entire life, I’ve heard policy makers insist that there is insufficient funding for education and that getting a college degree is the pathway to a better life. But as the bankers noted, the sea of student-loan money artificially boosts the cost of tuition, which creates a new cycle of indebtedness by students. Higher tuition makes “pay-as-you-go” a less-likely option.

The president also returned to a recent hobbyhorse, the minimum wage. Here, he unintentionally hurts two of his main targets of relief, students and workers, in one shot. Obama said:

And as we empower our young people for future success, the third part of this middle-class economics is empowering our workers.  It’s time to ensure our collective bargaining laws function as they’re supposed to — (applause) — so unions have a level playing field to organize for a better deal for workers and better wages for the middle class. …

And even though we’re bringing manufacturing jobs back to America, we’re creating more good-paying jobs in education and health care and business services; we know that we’re going to have a greater and greater portion of our people in the service sector.  And we know that there are airport workers, and fast-food workers, and nurse assistants, and retail salespeople who work their tails off and are still living at or barely above poverty.  (Applause.)  And that’s why it’s well past the time to raise a minimum wage that in real terms right now is below where it was when Harry Truman was in office.

But empowering union members isn’t the same as empowering workers. In many cases, it’s the opposite. Raising the minimum wage prices certain workers out of some industries, further cementing employed union workers’ job security at the expense of those on the lower rungs of the workforce. In other words, the president will reduce employment to reward his campaign allies. This is cronyism dressed up as moral governance, and it’s both shameful and par for the course for elected Democrats.

And it gets worse. Unions whose workers don’t make minimum wage support the president’s minimum wage hike for another reason. As Richard Berman explained in the Wall Street Journal when Obama last floated a push for a minimum wage hike: “The labor contracts that we examined used a variety of methods to trigger the increases. The two most popular formulas were setting baseline union wages as a percentage above the state or federal minimum wage or mandating a flat wage premium above the minimum wage.”

So hiking the minimum wage can automatically reward Obama’s union allies in a number of ways. And of course empowering unions, especially through some of the prevailing collective bargaining frameworks, can also harm students. State-negotiated union education contracts aim for a degree of wage and benefit parity, which can be affordable (though often still unnecessary) for some school districts but plainly outrageous for others. The wages and benefits can’t be cut when budgets fail, so students lose out on books, computers, after-school activities, tutors–anything that doesn’t impact the unions but quite obviously detracts from the students.

Cronyism, generational theft, and massive debt are what the president has to offer on the economic front. He should be glad the speech flew under the radar.

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Fast Food Protests Divorced From Reality

If you were in the mood for a fast-food meal yesterday or today in several parts of the country, you were in for a surprise: loud protests outside the doors of some major chain restaurants. Several chains in metropolitan areas were affected by protests demanding higher wages at establishments like McDonald’s and Burger King. A local free daily newspaper in New York City, amNewYork, interviewed one of the workers leading the charge:

“When you have a family and work in the fast food industry, you just have to forget about it,” said Greg Reynoso, 27, a former Dominos Pizza employee who now organizes his peers.

The question that comes to mind first is this: Who said anyone could or should support an entire family on the salary of a fast-food employee? Has anyone ever reasonably made that promise? 

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If you were in the mood for a fast-food meal yesterday or today in several parts of the country, you were in for a surprise: loud protests outside the doors of some major chain restaurants. Several chains in metropolitan areas were affected by protests demanding higher wages at establishments like McDonald’s and Burger King. A local free daily newspaper in New York City, amNewYork, interviewed one of the workers leading the charge:

“When you have a family and work in the fast food industry, you just have to forget about it,” said Greg Reynoso, 27, a former Dominos Pizza employee who now organizes his peers.

The question that comes to mind first is this: Who said anyone could or should support an entire family on the salary of a fast-food employee? Has anyone ever reasonably made that promise? 

Traditionally, one envisions a fast food employee as a teenager working their first job. The marketing strategy of these chains is that they are an inexpensive quick stop for lower and middle-income Americans to feed themselves and their families. Menu options are made affordable in many ways, not least of which is by keeping labor costs at a minimum. Any added costs, including labor, would then be passed down to the customer via increased prices, making these cheap meals unaffordable to those who need to watch every dime and dollar. If restaurants are unable to attract customers with their new, higher, price points the jobs of those striking as well as those who are not would disappear. 

The group behind the latest protests, Fast Food Forward, calling for the minimum wage increase from $7.25 an hour to the laughable amount of $15 an hour in New York City, are no strangers to organized protest. The director of Fast Food Forward, Jonathan Westin, also runs New York Communities for Change (NYCC), the renamed and reorganized descendent of the now defunct ACORN, which was disgraced and brought down by an expose that made the activist James O’Keefe famous. In late 2011 NYCC was rocked by a Fox News report linking the group with paid protesters at Occupy Wall Street. At the time Fox News reported:

“They reminded us that we can get fired, sued, arrested for talking to the press,” the source said. “Then they went through the article point-by-point and said that the allegation that we pay people to protest isn’t true.”

 “‘That’s the story that we’re sticking to,’” Westin said, according to the source.

The source said staffers at the meeting contested Westin’s denial:

“It was pretty funny. Jonathan told staff they don’t pay for protesters, but the people in the meeting  who work there objected and said, ‘Wait, you pay us to go to the protests every day?’ Then Jonathan said  ‘No, but that’s your job,’ and staffers were like, ‘Yeah, our job is to protest,’ and Westin said, ‘No your job is to fight for economic and social justice. We just send you to protest.’

“Staff said, ‘Yes, you pay us to carry signs.’ Then Jonathan says, ‘That’s your job.’ It went on like that back and forth for a while.”

Late last year and in April of this year the same kind of protests were held by Fast Food Forward, even sporting the exact same signs, with overt references to unionization in addition to $15/hour wages. In last year’s protest the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) was involved and in this year’s protests, their Facebook page has posted several times about the protests as well as lending their public support.

Is this a grassroots effort sweeping through the kitchens of fast-food restaurants across New York City and nationwide? Despite the full-page treatment in newspapers and stories on cable news to a movement with a large number of petition signatures and loud protests, it doesn’t appear to be. If it was, perhaps we would have heard about fast-food chains shutting down due to understaffing yesterday. Instead, we were treated to images of dozens of familiar prefabricated placards outside restaurants, carried through the city by a group linked to paying protesters in the recent past.

What’s in it for the groups organizing and perhaps even paying for these protests? If even a fraction of these restaurants were able to unionize, the payout for SEIU would be enormous. How would the workers who are supposedly leading this movement fare? Many of these employees, who were already facing reduced hours thanks to the union-supported ObamaCare, would likely see at least part of any raise going toward union dues. Restaurants, already operating on tight profit margins, would be forced to either close or raise prices in order to make up for increased labor costs, making meals unaffordable for many.

If restaurants were forced to close under the increased weight not only of increased labor costs, but also new ObamaCare regulation requirements, employees wouldn’t be asking for raises, they’d be asking for any job at all. Employees and other individuals in their income bracket would not only be left unemployed, but also without inexpensive meal options for their families. With all of this in mind one has to wonder: Who are these protest groups really advocating for? 

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How Big Government Erodes Quality of Life

Homeowners who undertake construction or improvement projects on their property have noticed the proliferation of municipal regulations forbidding the removal of dirt from the property without a permit. That is, you must pay the town for the privilege of throwing away dirt–if the town engineer lets you, that is. Some towns have even formed official Soil Boards (I wish I were making that up) to oversee this process, because once you begin wasting taxpayer money as if it were, well, dirt, it can apparently become quite addictive.

When I was a reporter in New Jersey, residents of one of the towns in my coverage area began discovering this soil scheme, and at the same time the town announced it was cutting back on garbage pickup due to budget constraints. Residents quickly figured out the scam: they were not only having to do work that the township was supposed to do, but the residents were actually paying the township in order to do so. The decrease in garbage pickup wouldn’t have been so terrible but for another brilliant town rule: as in many municipalities, residents could only deposit their garbage in township-provided trash cans, and the town refused to provide additional trash cans to make up for the extra days between pickups. The government’s policies ensured that much of the town was covered by rotting garbage or unwanted dirt.

This a fairly common example of what happens when local governments overspend in times of plenty and find themselves cash-strapped after the boom. You can only raise property taxes so high–though New Jersey is perpetually testing that hypothesis. The Tax Foundation reports that “Coming in with the highest per capita collection rate is New Jersey.” But the point is that even as property and other taxes go up, the government’s balance sheet affects more than just taxes. Elected officials’ inability to budget responsibly results in numerous erosions of the quality of life of everyone except the government’s favored interest groups, to whom it has given all the money it was supposed to save or spend on you.

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Homeowners who undertake construction or improvement projects on their property have noticed the proliferation of municipal regulations forbidding the removal of dirt from the property without a permit. That is, you must pay the town for the privilege of throwing away dirt–if the town engineer lets you, that is. Some towns have even formed official Soil Boards (I wish I were making that up) to oversee this process, because once you begin wasting taxpayer money as if it were, well, dirt, it can apparently become quite addictive.

When I was a reporter in New Jersey, residents of one of the towns in my coverage area began discovering this soil scheme, and at the same time the town announced it was cutting back on garbage pickup due to budget constraints. Residents quickly figured out the scam: they were not only having to do work that the township was supposed to do, but the residents were actually paying the township in order to do so. The decrease in garbage pickup wouldn’t have been so terrible but for another brilliant town rule: as in many municipalities, residents could only deposit their garbage in township-provided trash cans, and the town refused to provide additional trash cans to make up for the extra days between pickups. The government’s policies ensured that much of the town was covered by rotting garbage or unwanted dirt.

This a fairly common example of what happens when local governments overspend in times of plenty and find themselves cash-strapped after the boom. You can only raise property taxes so high–though New Jersey is perpetually testing that hypothesis. The Tax Foundation reports that “Coming in with the highest per capita collection rate is New Jersey.” But the point is that even as property and other taxes go up, the government’s balance sheet affects more than just taxes. Elected officials’ inability to budget responsibly results in numerous erosions of the quality of life of everyone except the government’s favored interest groups, to whom it has given all the money it was supposed to save or spend on you.

In addition to the Tax Foundation’s findings, the story of big government’s failures was brought to mind by the Manhattan Institute’s Steven Malanga, who has a column today about the growth in unfunded state pension liabilities and what that is doing to the business climate–and thus the future job market–in some states. Malanga notes that courts have often sided with government employees who argue that the generous benefits formula put in place during a far different economic climate and for different workers cannot be undone, amended, or disturbed even for current and future workers.

“That’s a prescription for higher taxes, fewer services and eventual insolvency,” Malanga writes. He continues:

Large businesses that operate in multiple locations see this playing out as a new aggressiveness on the part of states. Every few years Chief Financial Officer magazine asks executives at large companies to rate the states in terms of how aggressively they pursue higher tax collections. In the last study, completed in 2011, executives told the magazine that, as one finance exec wrote: “The states are in a pure money-grab mode and don’t care about policy, the law, or fairness.” Not surprisingly, four of the five worst-rated states in that study-California, New York, Illinois and New Jersey-all have mountains of debt of one form or another.

Some state governments have switched from merely trying to collect taxes on in-state business to extending their tax arm as far as possible. That means firms with a single telecommuter in a state are being dunned for corporate income tax claims, as are firms with no physical presence in a state other than a website hosted on local server.

“We are seriously going to consider whether we allow employees to travel to or participate in events” in New York, one CEO recently told Chief Executive magazine. New York has the second highest per capita debt load among the states, according to a report by its comptroller, as well as one of the highest tax burdens in the nation. So it’s not surprising that the CEO explained his strategy by noting, “We can’t afford for NY to become a tax nexus for us just because our employees participate in a conference in NY or the like.”

Indebted states must eventually become money-grabbing states, if they aren’t already. Businesses that haven’t learned that lesson yet will learn it the hard way.

Malanga’s column explains that businesses are starting to understand all that goes into their decisions on where to locate their headquarters–and even, as the above quote demonstrates, which cities and states their employees travel to on business. The states dominated by big government liberalism run amok will be highly attractive to public sector workers but few others.

And that, in turn, risks perpetuating this vicious cycle by damaging the economy that would otherwise feed the government beast. The remaining taxpayers will see their taxes go up. These days that will be accompanied by cutting essential services because the contracts and pension plans can’t be touched (much like the similar predicament I’ve discussed in which New Jersey’s public school students lost out on computers, tutoring, newer books, and sports programs because the teachers union contracts couldn’t be adjusted to meet costs).

It also, once again, proves the importance of responsible budgeting in all economic climates and the foolishness of putting off possible reforms until it’s too late. The rise of conservative governors even in blue states is perhaps a hopeful sign that message is getting through.

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The Twilight of the Unions

Unions had a really lousy year in 2012. Governor Scott Walker was retained in office despite an all-out union effort to have him recalled. Indiana and Michigan (!) became right-to-work states.

And now the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports in its annual survey that union membership fell by 400,000 last year, despite an increase of 2.4 million in the total number of jobs. Today, only 11.3 percent of the labor force is unionized, the least since 1916, when the rate was 11.2 percent. But that understates the decline because in 1916 only private-sector workers were unionized. Today, just 6.6 percent of the private workforce is unionized. In 1953, about one-third of American workers were union members. It was 25 percent as recently as the 1980s.

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Unions had a really lousy year in 2012. Governor Scott Walker was retained in office despite an all-out union effort to have him recalled. Indiana and Michigan (!) became right-to-work states.

And now the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports in its annual survey that union membership fell by 400,000 last year, despite an increase of 2.4 million in the total number of jobs. Today, only 11.3 percent of the labor force is unionized, the least since 1916, when the rate was 11.2 percent. But that understates the decline because in 1916 only private-sector workers were unionized. Today, just 6.6 percent of the private workforce is unionized. In 1953, about one-third of American workers were union members. It was 25 percent as recently as the 1980s.

Perhaps the most interesting statistic in the BLS report is union membership broken down by age. Of workers 55-64 years of age, 14.9 percent are union members. For those 16-24, a mere 4.2 percent are unionized. That, to put it mildly, does not bode well for the future of the union movement.

The basic reason for this now-60-year-long decline, of course, is that unions are economic dinosaurs. They arose in the late 19th century at the same time as unprecedentedly large industrial and transportation corporations came into being. The corporations had enormous economic and political power and the unorganized workers had virtually none. Unions helped to redress the balance.

With the Wagner Act of 1935, which put the power of the federal government behind the union movement, the golden age of unions began. It didn’t last long. Greatly increased educational opportunities after World War II and the digital revolution that began around 1970 have eroded the number of workers who need unions to bargain for them and the number of jobs available to unskilled and semi-skilled workers.

But the laws governing corporate-union relations had their last major overhaul in 1947 with the Taft-Hartley Act in a completely different economic universe. The unions’ power with the Democratic Party (they are the No. 1 funder of the party and its candidates) has prevented any modernization, giving them disproportionate political clout. But even that is fading. The unions were unable to get “card check,” which would have ended secret elections in union organizing drives, through Congress when the Democrats had a lock on both houses of Congress in the first two years of the Obama administration.

So while unions, like dinosaurs, are still very powerful, like dinosaurs, they are going extinct.

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Will Liberals Meet Reality on the NYC School Bus Strike?

In the New York Post last week, John wrote an excellent piece on the latest union-taxpayer showdown in New York City–the school bus driver strike that began earlier this month. This battle, like many across the country for oversized compensation for unionized workers that outpaces a municipality’s ability to pay, could shape the financial future of New York City for years to come. In the Post John explained, 

You should watch this one closely, whether you have kids who’ve been kicked off a bus or not, because it’s a sneak preview of what is likely to be coming over the next decade in municipalities across the country.

These workers aren’t city employees. They work for private companies. The city’s contracts with those companies are up in June. The city plans to bid out the work.

It has to. You want it to. Trust me: Under the terms of the current contracts, providing this bus service costs — I hope you’re sitting down before you read this next clause — $7,000 a year per passenger.

That’s seven grand per kid.

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In the New York Post last week, John wrote an excellent piece on the latest union-taxpayer showdown in New York City–the school bus driver strike that began earlier this month. This battle, like many across the country for oversized compensation for unionized workers that outpaces a municipality’s ability to pay, could shape the financial future of New York City for years to come. In the Post John explained, 

You should watch this one closely, whether you have kids who’ve been kicked off a bus or not, because it’s a sneak preview of what is likely to be coming over the next decade in municipalities across the country.

These workers aren’t city employees. They work for private companies. The city’s contracts with those companies are up in June. The city plans to bid out the work.

It has to. You want it to. Trust me: Under the terms of the current contracts, providing this bus service costs — I hope you’re sitting down before you read this next clause — $7,000 a year per passenger.

That’s seven grand per kid.

Predictably, the unions have spent a considerable amount of time, effort and money trying to convince parents that their children would be safest in the hands of unionized drivers. The New York Post reported on the statistics regarding bus accidents with supposedly safer unionized drivers yesterday: 

Buses with public-school contracts were involved in more than 1,700 accidents in which the driver was at fault in each of the past five years for which numbers are available, according to statistics compiled by the city’s Department of Education.

The incidents range from minor fender-benders to collisions that resulted in 912 injuries in 2011, the latest year for which stats are available.

A year earlier, there were 1,792 accidents resulting in two deaths and 1,796 injuries.

Despite this bloody record, the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1181 claims its crippling bus strike is being waged in the best interests of its student passengers — because only its members can do the job safely.

While thousands of New York City parents have been inconvenienced, the strike has hit the city’s disabled students the hardest. The New York Daily News reported on the heartbreaking reality for students who rely on school transportation to provide them with physical therapy and social interaction. The strike has left these vulnerable students homebound indefinitely, setting back progress they may have been making not only educationally, but also physically and emotionally. 

The former head of the MTA (the city’s transportation authority), Joe Lhota, recently announced his bid for mayor as a Republican, immediately shaking up the field of contenders. On Fox 5 New York this week Lhota commented on the strike,

These are private sector bus drivers who want to be treated as civil servants. That’s a very, very slippery slope that we’d go down. This is a contract arrangement between a private company… and these bus drivers. These bus drivers aren’t like transit authority workers, they are private sector workers, but they want the same benefits… The mayor is absolutely correct. The courts have held that what the union is asking for is illegal. You should not negotiate when something is illegal. 

The perceived mayoral front-runner, Christine Quinn, refuses to get involved in the debate, despite Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s hard line with the strikers. If the dispute outlasts Bloomberg’s administration (ending in November), which it may, its future under a new mayor is still very much up in the air. Candidates’ stances on the strike could play an outsized role in the race for parents and grandparents inconvenienced for the remaining months of the school year. 

While the strike is a local issue for residents of New York, it is yet another example of how unions across the country, despite claims regarding their competency and dedication, are interested in their own bottom lines and little else. For New Yorkers famous for their extremely liberal voting records, this could be a very rude awakening about the reality of union conflicts across the country.

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Labor Unions, Violence, and America’s Political Religion

When he was only 28 years old, Abraham Lincoln delivered an address before the Young Men’s Lyceum of Springfield, Illinois.

The speech included Lincoln’s plea to avoid what he called the “mobocratic spirit.” He warned about an “ill-omen amongst us”–which he identified as, among other things, the “growing disposition to substitute the wild and furious passion, in lieu of the sober judgment of Courts.” 

In fact, the Young Men’s Lyceum speech deals in large part with the issue of passion vs. reason. Lincoln, like the Founders, had a deep insight into human nature, acknowledging that “jealousy, envy, and avarice” are “incident to our nature.” The basest principles of our nature, he said, “were either made to lie dormant, or to become the active agents in the advancement of the noblest of cause — that of establishing and maintaining civil and religious liberty” (meaning they were directed exclusively against the British nation). But at the end of his speech, Lincoln issues this warning:

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When he was only 28 years old, Abraham Lincoln delivered an address before the Young Men’s Lyceum of Springfield, Illinois.

The speech included Lincoln’s plea to avoid what he called the “mobocratic spirit.” He warned about an “ill-omen amongst us”–which he identified as, among other things, the “growing disposition to substitute the wild and furious passion, in lieu of the sober judgment of Courts.” 

In fact, the Young Men’s Lyceum speech deals in large part with the issue of passion vs. reason. Lincoln, like the Founders, had a deep insight into human nature, acknowledging that “jealousy, envy, and avarice” are “incident to our nature.” The basest principles of our nature, he said, “were either made to lie dormant, or to become the active agents in the advancement of the noblest of cause — that of establishing and maintaining civil and religious liberty” (meaning they were directed exclusively against the British nation). But at the end of his speech, Lincoln issues this warning:

Passion has helped us; but can do so no more. It will in future be our enemy. Reason, cold, calculating, unimpassioned reason, must furnish all the materials for our future support and defence. Let those materials be moulded into general intelligence, sound morality and, in particular, a reverence for the constitution and laws. This must become America’s “political religion.”

Which brings us to Michigan, where Governor Rick Snyder signed a law declaring that workers will no longer be required to pay union fees as a condition of employment.

National Review offers a summary of the reaction to the new Michigan law: “Democratic legislator Douglas Geiss declared on the floor of the state house: ‘There will be blood. There will be repercussions.’ And indeed there were: Knife-wielding partisans brought down a tent on representatives from the conservative group Americans for Prosperity — women and children among them — and roughed up bystanders. Fox News contributor Steven Crowder was beaten by the same mob, punched repeatedly in the face.” In addition, Teamsters president Jimmy Hoffa declared there would be a “civil war” in Michigan. (A video of some of this can be seen here, courtesy of HotAir.com. And on the left, it’s being said that “getting hit in the face is a hazard of inserting yourself in the middle of an argument between billionaire-funded know-nothing ideologues and people whose livelihoods and stability are being threatened by the insatiable greed of the super-rich and the blind extremism of their wooden-headed political allies.”) 

Conservative commentators have pointed out that Michigan is merely the most recent link in a chain of events, from the response to Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s decision to end collective bargaining rights for public sector unions (where Walker was often compared to Hitler, Mubarak, and Mussolini) to the Occupy Wall Street protests (which were characterized by sexual assault, arson, and vandalism, among other things).

My point isn’t that what’s happening today is anything like the scale of what Lincoln was referring to (which included murders committed by pro-slavery mobs). But the confrontations and rage, the acts of intimidation and violence we’ve seen in places from Lansing to Zuccotti Park and several other cities are troubling enough.

We all know passions can be inflamed in political disputes. What’s crucial is to respect the rights of others even when we disagree with them. Those who don’t–those who substitute wild and furious passion for cold, calculating, unimpassioned reason–are engaged in something destructive.

We are nowhere close to a pre-civil war situation. We’re even a long distance removed from the violent protests of the late 1960s and early 1970s. But our divisions are deep enough. And when differences in policies lead to screaming matches, shoving matches, provocations and fist fights, it’s not a sign of civic health. (Liberals might be somewhat more attuned to this point if the actions we’re seeing at union rallies had happened at Tea Party gatherings.)

A “mobocratic spirit” is at odds with America’s political religion. And it would be nice, and perhaps even helpful, if the president reminded his supporters and allies of that from time to time.

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McGovern’s Futile Warning on Unions

The extent to which George McGovern, who died in late October, was identified with American liberalism itself can be seen in headlines of his various obituaries. CNN’s headline called him an “unabashed liberal voice”; PBS went with “Liberal Icon”; the New York Times chose “Prairie Liberal” (though the online edition dropped the word “prairie”); and the Nation called him a “Touchstone of Liberalism.” The Nation obit, written by John Nichols, proclaimed McGovern, the 1972 Democratic presidential nominee, “the most progressive nominee ever selected by the Democratic Party.”

McGovern, then, possessed unimpeachable liberal credentials. Yet four years before McGovern passed, the liberal blog site Firedoglake was ready to send him packing, and used the occasion to call McGovern perhaps the nastiest insult in the liberal lexicon: “Wal-Mart Lover.” What could have prompted such spite? McGovern, though a committed liberal through and through, was concerned about the growing and coercive power of unions. He felt the need to speak out against the Democrats’ proposed anti-choice legislation, card-check. McGovern chastised his party for its extremism in the Wall Street Journal:

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The extent to which George McGovern, who died in late October, was identified with American liberalism itself can be seen in headlines of his various obituaries. CNN’s headline called him an “unabashed liberal voice”; PBS went with “Liberal Icon”; the New York Times chose “Prairie Liberal” (though the online edition dropped the word “prairie”); and the Nation called him a “Touchstone of Liberalism.” The Nation obit, written by John Nichols, proclaimed McGovern, the 1972 Democratic presidential nominee, “the most progressive nominee ever selected by the Democratic Party.”

McGovern, then, possessed unimpeachable liberal credentials. Yet four years before McGovern passed, the liberal blog site Firedoglake was ready to send him packing, and used the occasion to call McGovern perhaps the nastiest insult in the liberal lexicon: “Wal-Mart Lover.” What could have prompted such spite? McGovern, though a committed liberal through and through, was concerned about the growing and coercive power of unions. He felt the need to speak out against the Democrats’ proposed anti-choice legislation, card-check. McGovern chastised his party for its extremism in the Wall Street Journal:

The key provision of EFCA is a change in the mechanism by which unions are formed and recognized. Instead of a private election with a secret ballot overseen by an impartial federal board, union organizers would simply need to gather signatures from more than 50% of the employees in a workplace or bargaining unit, a system known as “card-check.” There are many documented cases where workers have been pressured, harassed, tricked and intimidated into signing cards that have led to mandatory payment of dues.

Under EFCA, workers could lose the freedom to express their will in private, the right to make a decision without anyone peering over their shoulder, free from fear of reprisal.

Anyone who doubts that such “reprisals” were and are a serious danger might have been convinced by what they saw yesterday in Michigan, where Governor Rick Snyder signed right-to-work legislation, which allows people to work without forced unionization as a condition of their employment, into law. Earlier in the day, the Democratic contingent in the state legislature promised violence if the bill went through. The bill did, and Democratic violence and death threats from unions and their Democratic allies emerged immediately. Union leader Jimmy Hoffa then went on CNN and promised more “war.”

It is a testament to the disappearance of moderate Democrats that George McGovern was concerned enough about the party’s growing anti-Democratic extremism to speak out. That aforementioned blog post at Firedoglake made it explicitly clear that “McGovern is the one who is out of step.” Union coercion, according to the left, is mainstream; moderation was long gone.

This has long been a challenge for modern liberalism: how to keep the violence that is always brimming just below the surface of leftist protest movements from getting out of control. But in order to do that successfully, the Democratic Party must have leaders who, like McGovern, are willing to take a stand against it. You’ll search in vain for such leaders today; the White House wouldn’t condemn either the threats of violence or the actual violence yesterday. Perhaps they didn’t want to draw attention to President Obama’s appearance at a pro-union rally the day before.

Democratic leaders might want to admit–even if just to themselves–that McGovern was right. McGovern might have recognized recent events as the natural outgrowth of the unchecked extremism of a Democratic Party too liberal for its “liberal icon.”

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Leftists Claim AFP Tore Down its Own Tent in Michigan

This is why it’s absurd when people bemoan the insularity of the conservative media, as if this is a phenomenon found exclusively on the right. The left-wing blog world comes up with insane theories all the time, and the latest one–that the Americans for Prosperity tent was not ripped down by union thugs in Michigan, but actually by AFP supporters–is a classic:

Yet this overwhelming evidence has not stopped the Lansing Truthers from claiming this all is a Koch conspiracy.  Here are Hamsher’s updates to her original post, noting that one of Firedoglake’s own bloggers was spreading the conspiracy theory:

Update: Marcy Wheeler reports that “witnesses say the Americans for Prosperity people were trying to provoke union members to violence, and witnesses reportedly saw AFP people loosening the ropes on the tents so they would come down.”

Update II: Chris Savage from Eclectablog says that Americans for Prosperity tore down their own tent, and promises video soon:

Ed Schultz of MSNBC is on board helping spread the conspiracy.

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This is why it’s absurd when people bemoan the insularity of the conservative media, as if this is a phenomenon found exclusively on the right. The left-wing blog world comes up with insane theories all the time, and the latest one–that the Americans for Prosperity tent was not ripped down by union thugs in Michigan, but actually by AFP supporters–is a classic:

Yet this overwhelming evidence has not stopped the Lansing Truthers from claiming this all is a Koch conspiracy.  Here are Hamsher’s updates to her original post, noting that one of Firedoglake’s own bloggers was spreading the conspiracy theory:

Update: Marcy Wheeler reports that “witnesses say the Americans for Prosperity people were trying to provoke union members to violence, and witnesses reportedly saw AFP people loosening the ropes on the tents so they would come down.”

Update II: Chris Savage from Eclectablog says that Americans for Prosperity tore down their own tent, and promises video soon:

Ed Schultz of MSNBC is on board helping spread the conspiracy.

One left-wing blogger (h/t NiceDeb) wrote that he “knew right away [the tent collapse] was likely a false flag.” Why? Because the labor movement is known for being so peace-loving and polite?

What’s most infuriating about this is that the violence in Michigan is real. It’s on video. And yet it’s not going to get a fraction of the media attention that mere speculations about Tea Party violence received in 2010. There aren’t going to be any Time magazine covers depicting union “rage,” or news specials about the rise of left-wing extremism. Media bias isn’t just about what they do report, it’s about what they don’t report. And unfortunately, it’s hard to imagine this will get the attention it deserves.

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Attacks on Conservatives in Michigan Union Battle Escalate

Yesterday I discussed the devolution of union protests in Michigan into violence. Soon after that post, the “reported” violence against a conservative activist was confirmed when Steven Crowder posted video of the exchanges on YouTube. The video shows Crowder being punched by a man wearing union paraphernalia and–unfortunately for a man who likely wanted to remain anonymous–a satin jacket with his name embroidered on the front. Popular radio host Dana Loesch offered a reward for the identities of the men responsible for the attack on Crowder as well as the men responsible for cutting down the tent belonging to Americans for Prosperity, who were on the scene to applaud the right-to-work legislation’s passage.  

The video that Crowder posted shows multiple altercations with union members and supporters and every punch appears to be thrown while Crowder wasn’t looking. Death threats were screamed after one attack and in one clip, Crowder is pulled by the collar from behind and punched before escaping the grasp of his attacker. While union supporters claim that the video is edited and that the attacks were provoked, Crowder has promised that longer and unedited footage will appear on the Sean Hannity show tonight and tweeted yesterday, “Even if you hate me, nothing I could have done warranted being suckerpunched and threatened with murder.”

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Yesterday I discussed the devolution of union protests in Michigan into violence. Soon after that post, the “reported” violence against a conservative activist was confirmed when Steven Crowder posted video of the exchanges on YouTube. The video shows Crowder being punched by a man wearing union paraphernalia and–unfortunately for a man who likely wanted to remain anonymous–a satin jacket with his name embroidered on the front. Popular radio host Dana Loesch offered a reward for the identities of the men responsible for the attack on Crowder as well as the men responsible for cutting down the tent belonging to Americans for Prosperity, who were on the scene to applaud the right-to-work legislation’s passage.  

The video that Crowder posted shows multiple altercations with union members and supporters and every punch appears to be thrown while Crowder wasn’t looking. Death threats were screamed after one attack and in one clip, Crowder is pulled by the collar from behind and punched before escaping the grasp of his attacker. While union supporters claim that the video is edited and that the attacks were provoked, Crowder has promised that longer and unedited footage will appear on the Sean Hannity show tonight and tweeted yesterday, “Even if you hate me, nothing I could have done warranted being suckerpunched and threatened with murder.”

Predictably, the mainstream media has been silent on the attacks on Crowder and the AFP tent, barely discussing the protests that crippled Lansing yesterday that were attended by so many of the state’s teachers that two entire school districts were forced to close, sending parents into a frenzy to find childcare. At Fox News, the Media Research Center’s Dan Gainor writes:

ABC, CBS and NBC covered the protests but only ABC made mention of police having to deal with protesters. None of them mentioned the attack on Crowder or showed the videos of that attack and the thugs tearing down a tent with people in it, both widely available on the Internet hours before the evening news show broadcast. No network quoted Teamsters head Jimmy Hoffa predicting “civil war” between lawmakers and union members.

NBC anchor Brian Williams referred to it all meekly as “a boisterous day in the state capital.”

The contemptible liberal website Gawker even asked, “Do We Really Have to Condemn the Union Protestor Who Punched Fox News Comedian Steven Crowder?” (Spoiler: The answer was no.) 

On Twitter and Fox News last night, Crowder challenged his attackers to a MMA-sanctioned fight, where the proceeds of the winner would go to the cause of their choice. This is where he loses me. The attacks on Crowder and AFP were serious and indicate an increased comfort with violence from supposed “peace-loving” progressives who believe “the ends justify the means.” As conservatives, a group still licking our wounds after defeat in November, it behooves us to be above the violent tactics of the left; we should be trying this case not in a wrestling ring, but in the court of public opinion, or quite literally in court. Great efforts have been made to identify those responsible, and that information should be handed over to the proper authorities.

Conservatives can’t in good conscience and with a straight face decry progressive violence while advocating violence as a solution to this dispute. While an MMA battle might be good for one comedian’s career prospects, it likely would turn conservative complaints against union and progressive violence into a laughingstock, and reinforce the left’s claim that conservatives went looking for a (literal) fight. Given the escalating nature of violent and destructive behavior from the left in the last year, that should be the story conservatives are talking about today. 

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