People sometimes look at the sometimes-pathological political process in the United States and then look at rapid economic growth in the People’s Republic of China and conclude that somehow in an authoritarian country you don’t have politics or special interests. But it’s not true, politics happens everywhere—China, America, North Korea, anyplace. The recent events in Egypt have brought forth a lot of stories that illustrate the point well, including today’s Anthony Shadid article on a town built by patronage.
In Wisconsin, the new Republican governor, Scott Walker, wants to strip state employees of their collective-bargaining rights because: “We’re broke. We’ve been broke in this state for years.” Wisconsin’s Democratic state senators went into hiding to deprive the Republican majority of the quorum they need to pass Walker’s agenda. The Senate majority leader, Scott Fitzgerald — who happens to be the brother of the Assembly speaker, Jeff Fitzgerald — believes the governor is absolutely right about the need for draconian measures to cut spending in this crisis. So he’s been sending state troopers out to look for the missing Democrats. The troopers are under the direction of the new chief of the state patrol, Stephen Fitzgerald. He is the 68-year-old father of Jeff and Scott and was appointed to the $105,678 post this month by Governor Walker. Perhaps the speaker’s/majority leader’s father was a super choice, and the fact that he was suddenly at liberty after having recently lost an election for county sheriff was simply a coincidence that allowed the governor to recruit the best possible person for the job. You’d still think that if things are so dire in Wisconsin, the Fitzgerald clan would want to set a better austerity example.
A helpful reminder that patronage is the practical alternative to bureaucratic civil service rules. Though to be fair, Charlie Peters memorably made the case for the spoils system over 20 years ago in The Washington Monthly.
…because Steve Stoute took out a full-page ad in the New York Times asking “Who is Arcade Fire????”
Who Is Arcade Fire Tumblr
(Yes, I read the Sunday New York Times dead-tree edition. And yes, I read Sunday Styles. After the front page, before Week In Review.)
x-posted at Joshua Malbin.
Nearly a week ago, Bahraini pro-democracy demonstrators held their “day of rage” as thousands of protesters flooded the nation’s capital, Manama. The demonstrators were almost immediately attacked by the Arab monarchy’s internal security forces, and were again attacked during a funeral procession for one of the slain demonstrators. Despite professions from King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa that he did not condone of the violence, the government once again moved in with tanks and riot police on Thursday, attacking sleeping demonstrators and killing several people and wounding hundreds of others.
Following the attacks, the main opposition party in the country’s largely symbolic parliament withdrew and calls for the resignation of the regime have grown. In what was perhaps a sign of the government’s weakness, Bahraini tanks and security forces departed from the center of the protests yesterday, as demonstrations continue to grow.
After Thursday’s bloody attack on demonstrators, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) — who chairs the pivotal Appropriations Committee Subcommittee on the Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs — put out a statement explaining that he has asked the State Department to review U.S. military aid to Bahrain, noting that U.S. law prohibits aid to military or security units that engage in human rights abuses:
“To a watching world, the vicious and orchestrated attacks on civilian protestors and journalists in Bahrain, Libya, Iran and elsewhere in the region are repugnant. They deserve condemnation by other governments and official actions that are appropriate to these deplorable offenses against commonly held principles.
“U.S. law prohibits aid to foreign security forces that violate human rights, and there is evidence to apply the law today in Bahrain. I have asked the State Department to consider the application of our law and I urge a prompt decision. Attacks on civilians calling for political reform and on the press are assaults on the human rights and dignity of all people.”
The law that Leahy is referring to is actually one that he himself authored. Known as the “Leahy Amendment,” the law was first enacted in 1997 and has since been used to deny military aid to Colombian military units that have been found to have abused human rights and attack civilians. If Leahy’s law were to be utilized in this case, it could lead to freezing the $20 million in military aid that Bahrain receives annually.
It is important to note that the Leahy Amendment can be a powerful tool that is already on the books to rein in abuses not only in Bahrain but in other major beneficiaries of U.S. aid — like Yemen — who are also responding to demonstrations with violence during what is being called the “Jasmine Revolution.”
In the wake of yet another study comparing private sector and public sector compensation, I continue to think the question of is a bit ill-posed. You need some kind of concept of an alternative. Carmelo Anthony is “overpaid” in the sense that other players making identical salaries are clearly superior, to wit LeBron James. But viewed in another light, James and Anthony are both underpaid relative to what they could command on an open market unconstrained by salary caps and the details of the collective bargaining agreement. Yet on the third hand, James at least has already shown some willingness to forego salary in pursuit of playing alongside Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh. Or maybe he’s just savvy about the tax implications of playing in Florida. Alternatively, there’s a “just price” account by which star athletes are systematically overpaid since the work of a mere entertainer is often thought to lack social value.
What does this have to do with the public sector? Think about your community. Or, rather, I’ll think about my community. It seems to me that if we cut MPDC officers’ compensation by ten percent, that this would end up having a deleterious impact on the crime situation. So I don’t think the cops are overpaid. By contrast, though I have absolutely no idea what the eight manicure licensing enforcement officers employed by the state of Kentucky are paid, I’m certain that it’s too much. What bad consequences will flow from cutting their pay? Nothing. But the issue here isn’t “overpaid” manicure inspectors, it’s that Kentucky doesn’t need to be employing these people at all.
At the federal level, it’s now cliché to deplore talk of cutting spending by cutting “waste and abuse.” The recent focus on public sector pay largely strikes me as a revival of the same trope. In either case the name of the game is to persuade people that lower taxes are compatible with an identical level of government services. We’ll have all the same people do all the same stuff but just pay them less! I don’t buy it. Of course if you cut teacher salaries across the board they don’t just all quit and leave to be replaced by worse people. But what happens at the margin is that the best people leave, to be replaced by worse ones. There are (big) problems with teacher compensation schemes in the United States, but that doesn’t solve any of them.
Powerless ‘Power Player’? Wallace Omits GOP’s Plan To Gut Holly Petraeus’s Work For Military Families
On today’s Fox News Sunday, host Chris Wallace heralded Holly Petraeus — Gen. David Petraeus’s wife — as his “Power Player of the Week.” Mrs. Petraeus is the new head of the Office of Servicemembers Affairs “which aims to strengthen and support military families financially as part of the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau” (CFPB.) Created by the Wall Street reform law last year, CFPB will give Petraeus a vehicle to “enforce the laws” and “write new rules” in order “to ensure that federal and state agencies coordinate their activities to improve consumer protection measures for military families.” Touting Mrs. Petraeus’s ability “to help military families” through the new bureau, Wallace instructed “military famlies and all the rest of us” to use the CFBP to “register complaints” about fraud:
WALLACE: As part of new financial regulation reform, she’s setting up the office of servicemember affairs to protect military consumers…Petraues says on military bases, there are a lot of young people with guaranteed paychecks on their own for the first time.
PETRAUES: So you add those factors together and it makes them kind of easy pickings for somebody who is looking to rip them off.[...]
WALLACE: Now, as part of the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, she’ll be able to help military families.
PETRAUES: It’ll give me the power to enforce the laws that are on the books, and also to write rules. [...] I had a young CB who had heard me speak come up and tell me — i had been talking about a scam, a secret shopper scam — he said “you just saved us $3,000 dollars.” A moment like that makes you feel it’s all worthwhile.
WALLACE: Military families and all the rest of us can visit a new government website at consumerfinance.gov to register complaints against financial companies.
In his praise of this “Power Player,” Wallace breezed by the other powerful players dedicated to gutting Petraeus’s work on behalf of military families — Republicans. Not one House Republican voted to create the CFPB and now, they want to cut funding for the CFPB “nearly in half” in the new budget. Just last week, Rep. Randy Neugebauer (R-TX) introduced legislation in the House Financial Services Committee to “hamstring, or defund” CFPB, a goal House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) confirms is a GOP priority. Neugebauer expects the GOP-led House to pass his bill “if and when the proper vehicle arrives.”
The fact that such an effort would undermine help to military families and veterans won’t matter to a party already predisposed to fail in helping the troops. After all, it took considerable outrage from military families for Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) to finally relent on her draconian cuts to veterans’ benefits. The GOP plan to gut Petraeus’s efforts to help military families, thus, comes as no surprise. The fact that Wallace failed to mention it, however, does.
Chris Hayes tweeted yesterday “Hard at moments of maximum polarization to retain an open mind and not demonize ideological foes. It’s Power we stand against, not people.”
It’s a nice sentiment. But I think it also reflects a widespread tendency in political dialogue to underrate the idea that actual mistakes and bad ideas are a source of political problems. It gets easy to think that the broad public’s ignorance is irremediable and the elites on “the other side” are either hopelessly corrupt or else hopelessly stupid. But if I think about myself, I think I’m constantly improving my own understanding of politics and policy. Does that mean I was hopelessly corrupt or hopelessly stupid 18 months ago? I don’t think I was. So why should anyone else be any different? It’s always possible to improve my own understanding and so I hope other people’s understanding can and will be improved too. Meanwhile, sixty years ago most adults hadn’t finished high school while even today a large share of adults can’t read which is going to be a large barrier to both the formation and the expression of sound political ideas. But these are remediable problems, just as I could (and should! and will!) obtain actual information about what Swedish labor unions do instead of speculating as I do in the post below this one.
Wisconsin Democratic state senators who fled the state to block Gov. Scott Walker’s (R) union busting said today they have “no plans to return to the state until Walker could reach a reasonable negotiation with state employees.” Republican politicians and conservative commentators have lambasted the state senators all week for their supposed “dereliction of duty.” But those in the Party of Lincoln should look to the 16th president before they criticize the Wisconsin Democrats.
Indeed, 170 years before the Wisconsin Democrats fled Madison to deny a quorum, then-state Rep. Abraham Lincoln was fleeing the capitol in Springfield, IL — via a window, no less — to do the same in an attempt to save the State Bank of Illinois:
[Democrats] agreed to allow [the bank] to suspend its obligation to exchange its paper money for specie, but only for the remainder of the legislative session.
That’s when Lincoln determined to keep the legislature in session in order to buy precious time for the bank to find a way to survive, and that’s how he jumped into the national limelight on December 5, 1840. On that date, the Democrats proposed an early adjournment, knowing this would bring a speedy end to the State Bank. The Whigs tried to counter by leaving the capitol building before the vote, but the doors were locked. That’s when Lincoln made his move. He headed for the second story, opened a window and jumped to the ground!
Lincoln’s efforts failed, sadly, and “the bank was killed.” But as the Wall Street Journal pointed out yesterday, “The tactic of quorum avoidance by simply leaving dates back at least to the days when the U.S. Constitution was being debated”:
Legislators tried to stymie passage [of the Constitution] in Pennsylvania and Massachusetts that way, and some in Pennsylvania had to be dragged out of a tavern to vote. The Constitution passed.
There have been at least four occasions of blocking a quorum in Wisconsin’s legislature alone. … And one representative in 1951, Rep. Ruth Doyle, had to be retrieved from the women’s bathroom for a vote on a resolution for the legislature to hear Gen. Douglas MacArthur speak.
Indeed, the tactic has been used in the U.S. Senate on occasion as well. More recently, the tactic garnered national headlines in 2003 when Texas Democrats fled to New Mexico to block a GOP redistricting effort. Eliot Shapleigh, one of the “Texas Eleven” is now advising the Wisconsin Democrats. “Stay close. When one gets picked off, the game’s over,” Shapleigh told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel yesterday.
Ezra Klein’s weekend question: “Almost forgot! Have you or anyone close to you belonged to a union? How did that change your impressions of organized labor in general?”
I’m generally speaking an out-of-touch pointy headed elite, but as it happens throughout my life my father has been a union member. Specifically, he’s in the Writers’ Guild of America a small (but important in its sector) AFL-CIO affiliated union. He’s even been an official in the union.
The main thing I’d say I learned from that is about how difficult it is to maintain unionization gains in the context of a union-hostile environment. In television there’s been a big move away from using unionized writers and unionized actors in favor of shows oriented around non-unionized “real people” as the performers and non-unionized “editors” and “producers” to create the storyline. The distinctions here are metaphysically questionable but they hold up legally, and the US policy environment makes them very difficult to fight. The way to organize “reality” TV, it seems to me, would be through secondary strikes. But that’s illegal. The studios are, however, allowed to execute what amounts to secondary strikes in reverse in replace union-made scripted shows with with non-union “reality” ones. This not only directly weakens the land of labor in collective bargaining, but it sets up a dilemma. The capital of TV studios naturally flows to the most profitable sectors of television. So insofar as labor succeeds in extracting a larger share of the surplus in scripted programming, that merely accelerates the shift to non-scripted programming. Alternatively, labor can seek to slow the shift to the non-scripted sector by reducing its demands for workers to get a larger share of the surplus. Either way, the prognosis is bad unless it’s actually feasible to unionize the non-union sector which under the Taft-Hartley legal regime it isn’t.
This is structurally the same problem faced by the United Auto Workers vis-à-vis factories in “right to work” states. I think the classic postwar American dynamic of an economy with a large minority of the workforce unionized is fundamentally unstable. In the long-run the two equilibria are toward a non-union economy or else toward the Nordic model where virtually everyone is in a union. In the latter case, I think the unions become organizations of a more political character than anything else. In theory, Swedish labor unions could use their dominant labor market position to increase workers’ compensation by making Swedish firms less profitable than non-Swedish ones, but that would be bad for everyone. What you get instead is a kind of Mirror Universe version of the Chamber of Commerce, a politically powerful institution interested in maximizing the income growth of the median Swede rather than the median Swedish CEO.
Denier-bots live! Why are online comments’ sections over-run by the anti-science, pro-pollution crowd?
I’ve been reposting the ThinkProgress expos© on the head-exploding tactics of Chamber of Commerce hacks (henchmen?), like Aaron Barr who heads the private security firm HB Gary Federal (see “Chamber lobbyists solicited firm to investigate opponents’ families, children“). Daily Kos has a stunning post on HB Gary’s tactics that I reprint in below, since it involves:
creating an army of sockpuppets, with sophisticated “persona management” software that allows a small team of only a few people to appear to be many, while keeping the personas from accidentally cross-contaminating each other.
Many readers have joked that some of the comments at ClimateProgress seem to come from pre-programmed ‘denier-bots’. Others have noted how the same arguments and phrasings keep cropping up in the comments’ section of the many unmoderated news sites on the web.
The extreme anti-government, pro-pollution crowd has a highly targeted effort to control the debate, even online (see “Digg this: Conservative efforts to manipulate the public discussion extend to social media“). It is, of course, possible all those comments are from separate individuals, none of whom are paid by corporate polluters or conservative billionaires. It is also possible we never landed on the moon….