Latest Reactionary Jive on Janus

Illinois state worker Mark Janus was not a member of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees but the powerful AFSCME had been grabbing $550 a year from Janus’ paycheck and, he contended, using it to support political candidates and causes with which he disagreed. Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that AFSCME couldn’t do that anymore, a huge victory for workers and taxpayers alike. Reaction was swift from government unions, lawyers, and at least one federal judge. For their part, politicians now seek to deploy a new trick.

As Fox News reports, Oregon House Bill 2643 by Rep. Paul Holvey, Eugene Democrat, would create “a slush fund from which state and local government would pay the equivalent of each employee’s monthly dues directly to the union.” Instead of a salary of $50,000, from which $1,000 in agency fees would be deducted, the state revises the salary $49,000 and diverts the remaining $1,000 directly to the union. This obviously disregards the intent of the high court in Janus and “envisions an impossibly unworkable arrangement in which the government represents both labor and management in collective bargaining negotiations.” For taxpayers, whose money is in play, this should prove educational.

Why President Trump Should Give Up on the Wall, and Why He Won’t

The lengthy partial government shutdown is now over after President Trump agreed to a temporary extension of government funding as he continues negotiations to try to include money in the budget for “the wall.” Politically, the president’s best move at this point would be to give up on trying to get budgetary funding for the wall, and say that while he wants it and most Americans want it (he should say most Americans want it, even if it is not true), he needs the cooperation of Congress to get it funded, and the Democrats in the House are preventing that from happening.

A statement like this reaffirms his desire to build the wall and lets his base know that the Democrats are responsible for preventing this from happening. That will boost his support from his base in the upcoming election and will encourage his base to turn out and elect Republicans to Congress. Turnout will increase within his base, who will want to vote Republican, but he won’t lose support anywhere else. He might even gain support from those few who are undecided if they view his withdrawal from this fight as a sign of reasonableness. He can tell his base he will pick up this issue again in two years when the Republicans gain control of the House, and also tell his base it is up to them to make that happen.

Green Book Wins by Embracing Individual Human Dignity

One of the big winners during movie awards season this year appears to be Green Book, a compelling historical drama about race in America. The movie, however, rises above jingoistic answers to America’s race problems and takes time to ponder layered questions of individuality, identity, and class. As a result, Green Book joins the ranks of several other notable films that explore America’s complicated history with race, including Hidden Figures, Moonlight, Detroit, Marshall, and Loving, just to name a few.

The movie takes its name from The Negro Motorist Green Book, a booklet that provided listings of motels and restaurants that would cater to traveling African Americans during segregation. Rooted in a true story, Frank “Tony Lip” Vallelonga (Viggo Mortensen, Lord of the Rings trilogy, Captain Fantastic, A Dangerous Method) is a street smart Brooklyn native working as a bouncer at the famed Copacabana nightclub in New York City in the early 1960s. He is a devoted family man to his wife Delores (Linda Cardellini, The Avengers: Age of Ultron, Mad Men, Bloodline) and two sons. He’s also a racist, a fact established early. In early scenes, he throws away drinking glasses used by two African American men repairing his kitchen and engages in prejudiced banter with his Brooklyn friends while speaking Italian.

Charter Schools Strike Out

Teachers in the massive Los Angeles Unified School District are on strike, and union teachers at three south Los Angeles charter schools recently walked off the job. This is a bad sign for the charter school movement, which in California started as an establishment response to school choice.

The 1993 Proposition 174 provided vouchers for families to pay for tuition at the school of their choice, other than local government schools. Republican governor Pete Wilson opposed the measure, which went down to defeat. The push for school choice did not go away, and the education establishment came up with the charter school concept. In return for meeting the goals of their charter, these schools received government funding and some freedom from regulation. Charter schools were free to hire the teachers of their choice, which drew opposition from teacher unions, a major obstacle to education reform on all fronts. Teacher unions set out to co-opt the charter movement, and the striking union teachers at charter schools in California and Illinois confirms the union victory. With few exceptions, charter schools are part of the government monopoly on education, a collective farm of mediocrity and failure.

Since Proposition 174, no measure for parental choice in education has appeared on any California ballot. The Obama administration not only opposed school choice but took pains to curtail the DC Opportunity Scholarship program, popular among low-income families. The current federal administration has made no effort to promote educational choice at the national level.

There are no academic or legal arguments against school choice, only political arguments. Parents, students, and taxpayers can expect little improvement in academic achievement until every family enjoys full school choice as a matter of basic civil rights.

America’s Reduced Regulatory Burden

Something amazing happened in 2018. For the first time on record, the estimated cost for Americans to comply with federal regulations will go down instead of up.

That’s the word from Dan Bosch and Dan Goldbeck of the American Action Forum, who found that for the first time since the AAF began tracking their cost in time and money back in 2005, Americans will see a net savings of $7.8 billion in having to comply with newly issued federal regulations.

The chart below shows how that compares with every previous year for which the AAF has compiled data.

Changes in Cost of Regulatory Burden by Year

On the downside, Bosch and Goldbeck also found that complying with the 324 regulations that were finalized in 2018 will collectively burden Americans with a net increase of 9.9 million hours of time to complete new paperwork.

Free-Market Ideology?

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, newly minted New York Democrat, is touting a “Green New Deal,” that would eliminate nearly all fossil fuels by 2030, jack up marginal tax rates to 70 percent, and guarantee a basic income. The plan enjoys support from at least 40 members of the House and some likely presidential candidates, but as it turns out, not much about this deal is new.

Justin Haskins of Fox News finds similarities with the “Leap Manifesto” touted by an axis of socialists and environmentalists in Canada. These include Naomi Klein, author of This Changes Everything: Capitalism Versus Climate, The Shock Factor: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism and other books. Klein is also a contributing editor at The Nation, where she wrote in 2011 that “arriving at these new systems is going to require shredding the free-market ideology that has dominated the global economy for more than three decades.” In 2014 she told the New Statesman, “I do view free-market ideology as essentially a cover story for greed. I don’t think it’s an ideology that should be taken entirely seriously.” And so on, but there’s a problem here.

A Mexican Crash Course on Free Markets

The president of Mexico, Andrés Manuel López Obrador—known as AMLO—has entered a crash course on the ravages of populism and statism.

To finance the increase of redistributive programs without damaging public finances, AMLO was determined to combat the theft of gasoline. Taxes on gasoline are a key source of revenue for him; his government anticipated an increase in fuel-related income to partially finance his social altruism. Therefore, it was necessary to end the “huachicoleo,” as they call the theft of hydrocarbons, worth about US $10 million dollars per day. He went on to shut some key pipelines that distribute the fuel and replaced them with tanker trucks protected by the military. The result? General chaos in various states, including the most productive, with endless lines at gas stations forming because of shortages, mounting difficulties for retailers to acquire products, and a decline in economic activity.

This is where AMLO’s crash course in free markets comes in. PEMEX, the state-owned oil company that monopolized all energy in Mexico until the limited reform that opened the sector to private capital a few years ago under various restrictions, does not have tanker trucks to cover more than ten percent of the demand. Why? You guessed it, PEMEX is a disaster because it has been a state monopoly for decades: massively indebted, decapitalized, bureaucratic and disconnected from reality, it has no incentives, resources or vision to respond to the market, that is, to the daily life of the people.

Many Different “Problems,” Identical “Solution” in Every Case
  • Terrible working conditions
  • Lots of poor people
  • Industrial and financial instability
  • Economic depressions that won’t self-correct
  • Inadequate supplies of “affordable” housing
  • Widening economic inequality
  • Racial and ethnic discrimination
  • “Market failures” of many kinds
  • Environmental degradation
  • Threatened or disappearing species of animals and plants
  • Global cooling
  • Global warming
  • Climate change

These are among the many problems that people have perceived as plaguing economically advanced societies during the past century or so. They differ greatly and involve different causes, mechanisms, and consequences.

Yet in every case the solution has been widely seen as the same: vastly enlarging the power of government. It’s almost enough to make a skeptic wonder whether each perceived or proclaimed problem has been intended from the start to serve as a pretext for a government power grab—especially when one appreciates that somehow the problems that enhanced government power is supposed to solve never get solved to the satisfaction of those who sought the power, but only cry out in their view for even greater augmentation of government power.

Should California Lower the Bar?

Last year the pass rate for California’s bar exam, by some accounts the nation’s toughest, was 40.7 percent. Law school deans are now pressuring the state Supreme Court, which sets the standard for the exam, to lower the passing score.

“Should state adopt lower passing score for the bar exam? Current one may harm students of color,” runs the headline on a January 7 Sacramento Bee piece by Sawsan Morrar. The current bar exam “is too limiting for all applicants but especially harms minority graduates,” argues Morrar, who is not a lawyer. She cites unidentified “newly released data,” that if California adopted the national average score, “the number of African-American law graduates passing the exam would have doubled” and “nearly 24 percent more Latino law graduates would pass the exam.” So whoever compiled this data knows the results beforehand.

UCLA law school dean Jennifer Mnookin told Morrar, “More clients insist on having diverse lawyering teams,” so this is all about “diversity.” UC Davis law school dean Kevin Johnson worries that “we may be screening out a disproportionate number of minorities.” In diversity dogma, all groups are supposed to achieve in proportion to their percentage of the population, In reality, because of personal differences, effort, and choice, statistical disparities between people and groups are the rule, not the exception.

California’s public universities once rejected highly qualified applicants, most notably Asians, in favor of other minorities with lower academic scores. In 1996, voters halted that discrimination with Proposition 209, the California Civil Rights Initiative, which forbids racial and ethnic preferences in state education, employment and contracting. In a state where that law prevails, it makes little sense to dumb down the bar exam on the grounds that it “harms” some groups. It doesn’t, and the assumption that some groups need a weaker test in order to pass deserves a failing grade. So does the notion that the current exam is “too limiting for all applicants.” The 59.3 percent who pass might not think so.

Instead of dumbing down the bar exam, state law schools might assess the way they ground students in the law and prepare them for the exam. And no law forbids strenuous study and preparation on the part of law school grads.

Trump’s Wars After Mattis

Despite President Trump’s generally bad policy and potentially authoritarian behaviors outside democratic norms, it took his order withdrawing U.S. forces from Syria and his plan to halve the number of American troops in Afghanistan to really rile the Washington establishment, especially Republicans. This program prompted Gen. Stanley McChrystal (Ret.) and incoming Senator Mitt Romney (R-UT) to swing into action to denounce Trump. Trump’s foreign policy seems to have played a prominent role in triggering Romney to write in a recent op-ed in the Washington Post, which began: “The Trump presidency made a deep descent in December. The departures of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly, the appointment of senior persons of lesser experience, the abandonment of allies who fought beside us, and the president’s thoughtless claim that America has long been a ‘sucker’ in world affairs all defined his presidency down.”

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