2.27.2011

Gov. Walker is right. There is nothing left to negotiate.

I watched Gov. Walker's appearance on Meet the Press this morning, and was impressed with how well he did. The Governor did an excellent job explaining why the changes in collective bargaining need to happen, and it is an explanation that is too often overlooked or ignored in the media. David Gregory seemed confused why Gov. Walker wouldn't accept the concessions on pensions and health care. So did AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka.

Most people in the national media and virtually everyone on the left, seem to think that because the heads of WEAC and AFSCME agreed to the monetary concessions, the debate is over. Our favorite Nobel laureate agrees:
Gov. Scott Walker claims that he needs to pass his bill to deal with the state’s fiscal problems. But his attack on unions has nothing to do with the budget. In fact, those unions have already indicated their willingness to make substantial financial concessions — an offer the governor has rejected.
What’s happening in Wisconsin is, instead, a power grab — an attempt to exploit the fiscal crisis to destroy the last major counterweight to the political power of corporations and the wealthy. And the power grab goes beyond union-busting.
There is a lot more in Krugman's piece to take apart, but I'll save that for later. The point I want to make is that this entire argument is divorced from reality. The leaders of the state public employees unions cannot negotiate for all of their members. They cannot enter into any agreement that would be automatically binding for all their members.

WEAC is composed of 650 local bargaining units in more than 400 school districts. AFT Wisconsin - the other teachers union which includes a lot of other public employees - has dozens of local councils and 17,000 members. AFSCME has more than 66,000 members and more than 600 locals spread across three major councils.

In order for the argument that the left and the unions are making to work, each and every one of the 1,300-plus local units would have to vote to agree to these conditions. Each and every one would have to agree, and even then it would only be for the length of one contract. We have already seen that this is simply not going to happen. Local unions like the one at MATC scrambled to push through a contract that still required no pension contribution and a mere fraction of the cost of health care premiums. Why should we assume that this would be the only one?

State union leaders can say whatever they like, but when contracts come up for negotiation, their local unions can do whatever they please. If we are to get serious about the pay and benefits of public employees, we must take these steps. We cannot, as the Governor has said repeatedly, kick the can down the road.

Our present situation is the cumulative result of failures by Republicans and Democrats alike. In the 1990's Gov. Thompson placated the unions by agreeing to much of the current benefits. Over the past 8 years, Gov. Doyle rewarded his political benefactors by sparing them from the pain of the recession. We can no longer pretend that the crisis is imagined.

Gov. Walker was elected in part because he promised to lead and act boldly to put Wisconsin back on the path to greatness. He has had his stumbles and mistakes, but in the end he has given us a clear choice and a clear path for the future. Do we postpone this conflict yet again, for the sake of compromise, or do we stand firm and make the tough choices that former leaders refused to face?

Batangas

In Batangas, a provincial city a ways outside of Manila, stands what they say is the largest church in Asia: the Taal Cathedral. It has just the right ruin-to-glory ratio to make it really beautiful to me.




2.25.2011

Friday music

Here's a music video from the Besnard Lakes, a band I recently heard again:



I've got their two newest albums of three and I really like them. They make long, solid albums that build to a climax. Even several of their songs have long rises, building up steam as they accelerate--you know what I mean if you watch the first video. I can't exactly put my finger on the sound: indie, but with lots of guitar pedals and slow, high vocals. I never really liked the wha-wha sound until this.

One thing that's refreshing is the imagery the band uses. For example Shearwater usually sticks to nature or birds or the Decemberists drawn on their whacky pirate-ness/obscure history. This band uses espionage.

I remember when their second album came out (four years already!). The cover is distinct--they are the Dark Horse. I remember it was well received out of music that year by critics but it didn't do anything for me so I just forgot about it. It's kind of funny how stuff like that happens.

Musical tastes are like differential equations, at least for me. Finding new music I like opens up additional music that's further away from what I originally liked, yet I find it like it too now. I'm sure that's happened for other people.

2.23.2011

The Plot Thickens

Walker receives a prank call (link to audio) from someone posing as a big, out-of-state sponsor. He didn't say anything career-ending, but it's quite embarrassing. If the prankster wanted to be devastating, this would have been perfect to bring up the power plant deal Walker is trying to push through.

Across the other border of Illinois, 40-some Indiana Democrats left their state a few days ago to deprive the GOP there of a quorum for a similar law to the one in Wisconsin. I see in the news today that they've rendezvoused right here in Urbana. It feels like Illinois is turning into Switzerland. If only we can figure out how to grow some mountains.

I doubt the situation in Wisconsin is going to end anytime soon because everyone is winning. Walker is performing a classic 'insult-up' on the whole body of organized labor, which elevates him from being just some new governor in a mid-level state to a national republican hero who has fought all of organized labor--I wouldn't be surprised if he's got higher executive aspirations. At the same time, the democrats get to fight for stuff they love: labor and education.

10th Amendment on Trial

The opinion in this case will be one to watch for in coming months:

That triggered a response from Justice Anthony Kennedy. "The whole point of separation of powers, the whole point of federalism, is that it inheres to the individual and his or her right to liberty," he said. "If that is infringed by a criminal conviction or in any other way that causes specific injury, why can't it be raised?"

2.21.2011

Radiohead released a new album on Friday

I can't stop playing the King of Limbs.



The first thing I heard playing it for the first time was nothing but perpetually tumbling percussion, the same stuff as in the oil rig explosion scene in There Will Be Blood, which was done by one of the band members.

Like with anything of theirs, it unfurls beautifully as you get into it. Different yet familiar. If anything, understated and minimal. Perhaps it's the recoil after the lush In Rainbows. Maybe this is what was stuck under the glaciers in Kid A's art.

Approaching it as two EPs helps. In the last few years one of the band spoke about how they weren't sure exactly how they'd get music out in the future.

2.20.2011

Fake Doctor's notes and lying and cheating to get your way

My mother is a teacher. My grandmother was a teacher. My sister just graduated from college with her teaching degree. One of my best friends is a teacher at our old high school. I am not kidding when I say that I grew up admiring teachers and still do. In fact, I often am in the position of defending teachers when talking to my fellow conservatives.

The vast majority of teachers in the state are good and put their heart and soul into their classrooms. Were I in the Assembly, I would be offering amendments to improve the bill, which would include expanding the definition of "wages" to include pay schedules, bonuses, overtime and possibly vacation. I think eliminating the cap of CPI on raises is shortsighted or at least poorly defined. I would like to be able to reward good teachers with higher pay, but with the legislation written as is, that would be difficult to do. These would be minor changes that I think would have little fiscal impact and improve the bill greatly. I have a lot of other minor changes I'd like to see too.

But what I saw in Madison yesterday is making such changes impossible and the unions have no one to blame but themselves. If liberals and union members want to know where everything went horribly wrong after this bill passes, it will be this:



I spoke with the older doctor with the beard on Saturday. I was stunned by his arrogance and the fact that he had a line of teachers waiting for excuse notes. Calling in sick when you're not is bad enough. Lying to your employer to go protest sets a bad example for the children you claim to care so much about. The fact that doctors and teachers are openly engaging in fraud is despicable. I know they're giving idiotic statements about "mental anguish" or being "sick and tired" of Scott Walker, but they are not fooling anyone.

The teachers asking for these fake notes are showing themselves to be liars and cheats. They are proving that this has nothing to do with educating children or fighting for some greater good. For them, it is about money and power, nothing else.

And that is a terrible, terrible shame. This tiny minority of Wisconsin teachers are causing serious damage to the image of all teachers and making it nearly impossible to negotiate a compromise. It comes down to this: if you're willing to lie and cheat about something so simple as this, how can the Governor and the legislature trust you?

2.19.2011

Meat and choppers








The night market in Ortigas is tremendously fun: imagine hordes of slightly punchy, hungry night-shift call center workers descending on rows of food tents to get their fill of chopped meat and veggies. It stretches on into the morning, wrapping up around 10 or 11. Yum!

2.18.2011

Only the best

These guys are some of my faves:

2.17.2011

Despite Walker's fumbles, the Unions have gone too far

I have hesitated to comment on the chaos in Madison because things are so incredibly fluid at this point. Initially, I was frustrated by Gov. Walker's mistakes when he rolled out his budget repair bill. The Governor's mention of the National Guard was exceptionally stupid and ill-advised. Gov. Walker seemed unprepared for the backlash that followed. I think the Governor botched the bill at the beginning, but my issues are almost entirely on style, not on substance.

Today, I am disgusted by the actions of the unions and the Democrat Senators. First of all, WEAC has been nothing short of dishonest in their dealings with local school districts and their members. The repair bill does not eliminate anyone's pension; on the contrary, it preserves them by asking teachers to contribute their share - and it is their share, it's just that the taxpayers have been paying it for a very long time. Now, WEAC is encouraging the "sick-outs" and essentially threatening school districts that try to prevent shut downs. The teachers at the capitol are engaging in an illegal strike. They risk their jobs, not just their take-home pay, by doing so.

Then we have the cowards in the Senate. They are acting as spoiled children who run away from home the first time their parents tell them no. They are abdicating their responsibility to the voters and only making matters worse for their side. I have spoken with some capitol staffers who tell me that any sympathy their bosses had for the unions or the Democrats is gone. Simply put, they have gone too far.

And really, this is amazing. Union members at Harley, Mercury Marine, and Kohler have conceded far more than the public employees are being asked. They did so to keep their jobs and ride out the recession. Now, state union leaders are asking their brothers and sisters in the private sector to stand by them as they protest a 50% share of their pension - something most private sector unions no longer have - and a mere 12% of their health insurance.

Yes, stripping the collective bargaining rights is a huge step. It's one that I believe should be in a separate bill, but the simple fact is that the state is broke. We have no alternative. We face a $3.6 billion deficit in the next budget, and when you take into account the stimulus money we used to plug the last budget hole, the figure jumps to $6.6 billion. We need these concessions. The civil service protections of all state employees remain in place. The pension remains in place. We simply ask them to pay their fair share.

And what of the opponents to this bill? What is their alternative? I have not heard a single Democrat propose an alternative to balancing the budget. Is the answer massive tax increases? What should we cut? What should we require of the taxpayers or the public employees? There has been no alternative given.

The choice is clear. Either state employees contribute to their own pensions and health care premiums or 1,600 workers are laid off by June 30 and another 5,000 - 6,000 in the next budget. Are the union leaders really so selfish that they would sacrifice those workers to keep their power?

Based on the protests in Madison, it looks like the answer is "Yes."

Out of control

I haven't commented on the tumult in Wisconsin as of late.

But, man, what a time to be in Madison.

Or Illinois.

Our Lady Star of the Sea






















A Catholic church in the St. Roch neighborhood, seen here during a community meeting on a variety of issues - but mostly crime.

2.16.2011

Visit

Hey, Manny Pacquiao's in town:
Eight-time world champion boxer Manny Pacquiao arrived in Washington on Tuesday morning accompanied by an army of supporters and journalists that would make any lawmaker jealous. Currently on a nationwide press tour to promote his May 7 title bout against "Sugar" Shane Mosely, the welterweight belt-holder and Filipino Congressman's busy agenda included a morning press conference with a beaming Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and an afternoon stop to meet President Obama at the White House.

Hey, I lived there

I can say there's a good reason the sign went up.

2.14.2011

Shackled

“People are starting to come to the conclusion that you’ve got a self-sustaining recovery going on here,” said Thomas Girard who helps manage $133 billion in fixed income at New York Life Investment Management in New York. “When interest rates start to go back up because of the normal business cycle, debt service costs have the potential to just skyrocket. Every day that we don’t address this in a meaningful way it gets more and more dangerous.”

Now that the economy is beginning to right itself, as it likely would have with or without government intervention, the fact that the government did intervene significantly - and did not curtail spending generally or conclude the conflicts in Iraq or Afghanistan definitively - could have some unfortunate consequences.

The problem of dealing with the government's accumulated debt, already an obvious problem, could become an acute crisis in and of itself:

Debt-service costs will climb to 82 percent of the $757 billion shortfall projected for 2016 from about 12 percent in last year’s deficit, according to the budget projections.

The ball and chain we're dragging along may get heavier and heavier.

Ride


in the town of Batangas

2.13.2011

2.09.2011

"Asbestos"

























~ From the art deco auditorium of the 1942 Booker T. Washington High School in New Orleans.

Early benefits of the Tea Party revolution?

It seems the Tea Party leans toward civil liberties:
Democratic Rep. Lacy Clay (Mo.) laughed as he told The Hill, "We're so happy, I'm so happy. I voted against it. They tried to get enough Rs to switch their votes, because the Tea Party voted 'no' also... but it wasn't enough."
The article seems weirdly slanted toward Democratic smugness when the real story is a shift in the Republican position, though.

2.07.2011

Reaping the whirlwind

Cold jetways and snow; a glad dog; thick stew and dark beer warm my soul; thin ice and few shanties; the silent glide of skiers; tacquerias and surprise jazz shows and forgotten glasses; fleeing the Chicago snowstorm to Manila indiepop; post-blizzard Madison, just dug out; "It's an ice shovel, you have to understand the physics"; warm jetways and gentle rain again: a brief trip home, but very satisfying.

2.06.2011

Ice Carving 2011






















Steve S appeared in Kiel, as did I, for the 20th Anniversary edition of the city's ice sculpting competition.

We joined members of the traditional team in front of Lulloff's Hardware on Fremont Street for a perfect day of carving.  Our theme: "Mining for some Green and Gold!"  The resulting sculpture included a pick-axe, spade, mining cart on a track, stalagmites, and some ore.

A good time was had by all.

2.03.2011

Some thoughts on the future in Egypt

There's been plenty of ink spilled on Egypt in the last week, and I've been watching the situation unfold with fascination -- this could very well be another Berlin Wall moment for the world.

But it's still not a guarantee, indeed the situation is far from sure. Mubarak is already positioning himself as a unifying force in Egypt. It is deeply significant that the military has committed itself to not harming the demonstrators, but in the face of growing violence, that stance may change.

Mubarak has here a moment to break the protests that the Soviet Union squandered. Had his position been truly weak, the military would have moved to oust him much more quickly that it currently is. The architecture of the Soviet satellites was so rotted from within by 1989 that it was tremendously more vulnerable to mass protests. Mubarak was still strong enough at the beginning of the demonstrations that he could spend a week coordinating his supporters to counter the demonstrators.

But as violence ratchets up, Mubarak may look like an increasingly good option, at least in the short term. And if he can stay in office even through the end of his term, two possibilities arise: 1.) the opposition will become dispirited, and cracks may grow up between the various parties involved, greatly weakening the opposition's impact on Egyptian politics; and 2.) Mubarak will be able to position one of his more moderate supporters into power with the backing of the military, allowing for essentially business as usual to continue.

Another double-edged sword is the multipolar nature of the opposition. The Muslim Brotherhood is, of course, the most visible member of the coalition, and deserves a few words. Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty put a fine roundup of the organization up at the beginning of the demonstrations; another is supplied by the Council on Foreign Relations. The growing concern is, of course, how it would handle Camp David Accords. Initially, the Brotherhood announced that they would uphold all international commitments, but seems to have softened on the issue, now committing only to put the deal to a popular referendum. The group's intentions remain unclear.

But the Muslim Brotherhood is far from ascendant, and to my understanding only attracts about 30% of the Egyptian population's support. That means that although it will be a factor in the elections, it is not the only group involved, and will be moderated against in a parliamentary system.

The worry is how the groups will work -- will they maintain the coalition cabinet that they've set up to guide the demonstrations and negotiate with the government, or will they splinter and fight for power in the wake of a successful revolution? The organizations seem committed to unity, but as with the Pakistani splintering off from India post-independence, worries about your erstwhile allies' intentions can prove problematic. If the secular forces -- which in many places through the protests have shown support for such groups as Egypt's Coptic Christians -- come to believe that the Brotherhood will work to suppress civil rights, real arguments could boil up. Egypt today is a different bag than Iran in 1979, but statements that preclude foreign governments from working with the Brotherhood could serve to build a wedge between these forces that would allow the Mubarak regime to take back control of the situation and keep itself in power for much longer than it should remain.

For the first time

I begin to wonder a bit about the independence of Wispolitics.com, a source and hub I have long respected.

2.02.2011

Abhorrent

The "public health city" is clearly one of the most unhealthy corners of a free society.  The continuing trend of using anything touching on health as a justification for government control of behavior sickens me.

As a good friend pointed out, the scenario of a city banning all outdoor smoking was considered a far-fetched slippery slope argument just a few years ago during smoking ban debates. 

New York City's action today is all the more pernicious not because there's some fundamental right to smoke, but because the government overreach invades such a low-level arena with such blanket, uncompromising force.  It's petty tyranny run amuck.  The outdoor smoking ban is unnecessary, and it's a regrettable precedent.

An excellent point about Voter ID and legislative restraint

Let's be honest, with the current political makeup in Madison whatever Gov. Walker wants, he is going to get. It would be extremely easy to ram just about everything conservatives have wanted to over the 8 years, but just because it would be easy, doesn't make it a good idea.

Case in point: Voter ID. I'm 100% behind the idea of requiring an ID to vote. The threat isn't necessarily that fraud could alter an election outcome, but rather the fact that it violates one of the basic elements of our democracy. Still, while protecting this basic right, we must also ensure that we are not putting up any unintended or unnecessary obstacles to the voting booth.

One of my favorite professors from UW - David Canon - had an excellent column in the State Journal about this yesterday:
If photo ID is going to be implemented, it needs to be done right. Should the current bill become law, it would be the most restrictive in the country. Some might see this as a plus. But it reflects the fact that we have not learned from the experience of other states that have already implemented voter ID.
In revising the bill, lawmakers should consider three criteria.
First, the intended effect of the law should be to prevent illegal voting, but it should not discourage legitimate voters. Second, it must strike a balance between costs and benefits, achieving the greatest positive effect at the lowest cost to taxpayers. Third, it must withstand legal challenges.
In all three criteria, the proposed law can be improved.
I want to see voter ID pass, but not at the expense of getting it done right. I know some will argue that I'm trying to weaken the bill or that I don't really want it passed, but they're just dead wrong. I urge legislative leaders in Madison to slow down and get this right. Allow more than one form of government ID so long as voters can still verify their address. Following the example of other states, like Indiana, would be an excellent start.