Unions and deficits

One of the ridiculous claims from supporters of the Wisconsin Governor’s attempt to strip collective bargaining rights from public workers is that somehow giving state workers this right leads to budget deficits.   If only it were so simple.  I’m not expert on state budgets, but I do know we’ve got a massive budget hole here in NC, and one of the most draconian laws in absolutely forbidding any collective bargaining for state employees.  Anyway, the folks over at the Monkey Cage bring the Political Science (and the data) on the matter:

I do not know of readily available data on public-sector collective bargaining or on public-sector union strength, so I used the percent of employed people who are members of unions (from this BLS report).

Here is the graph, with a non-linear fit line estimated via lowess.


There is not much of a systematic relationship. The fit line bumps and wiggles but is essentially flat. The bivariate correlation is 0.19, with a p-value of 0.21. Based on these measures, states with larger unionized workforces do not have larger budget deficits.

Short version: stop lying.

Health care law upheld by federal judge: news not at 11

So, a federal judge ruled that the Affordable Care Act is Constitutional.  I had to dig down the Post and Times websites to find the article on it.  It probably won’t merit more than a 3o second mention on evening newscasts.  That is understable to a degree, it’s certainly much bigger news when major federal laws are held Unconstitutional.  Yet, as Ezra Klein points out, the cumulative effect of reporting on the issue is sure to lead to significant misunderstanding among the American public:

I’m not alleging bias here: A judge upholding the status quo is not as newsworthy as a judge radically altering it. But the reality is that the public is seeing a lot of coverage of the rulings against the Affordable Care Act and almost no coverage of the rulings — which are substantially more numerous, particularly if you include the many cases that have been thrown out of court — in the law’s favor. That’s quite a gift to the opponents of the legislation. A typical consumer of news probably does not realize that the balance of the courts, at this point, have ruled the law constitutional.

What also won’t be reported, is how much smarter and persuasive this ruling is than the two striking it down.  Jon Cohn gives a nice run-down.  First, the judge eviscerates the economic activity/inactivity distinction:

As to the argument, put forward by the plaintiffs, that the mandate is unconstitutional because it purports to regulate “inactivity,” she dismisses that argument as “semantics.”

this Court finds the distinction, which Plaintiffs rely on heavily, to be of little significance. It is pure semantics to argue that an individual who makes a choice to forgo health insurance is not “acting,” especially given the serious economic and health-related consequences to every individual of that choice. Making a choice is an affirmative action, whether one decides to do something or not do something. They are two sides of the same coin. To pretend otherwise is to ignore reality.

I think she does an even better job of going after the “if health care is Constitutional, the government can make you buy broccoli non-sense”

If the government can make you pay for health care, the critics say, then why can’t it make you buy broccoli? Or a GM car? Or anything else?

This second aspect of the health care market distinguishes the ACA from Plaintiffs’ hypothetical scenario in which Congress enacts a law requiring individuals to purchase automobiles in an attempt to regulate the transportation market. Even assuming that all individuals require transportation in the same sense that all individuals require medical services, automobile manufacturers are not required by law to give cars to people who show up at their door in need of transportation but without the money to pay for it. Similarly, food and lodging are basic necessities, but the Court is not aware of any law requiring restaurants or hotels to provide either free of charge.

It should be emphasized that this distinction is not merely a useful limiting principle on Congress’s Commerce Clause power. Rather, it is a basic, relevant fact about the operation of the health care market which is critical to understanding the ACA’s efforts to reform the health care system. The requirement placed upon medical providers by federal law to care for the sick and injured without recompense is part of the cost-shifting problem that Congress sought to redress by enacting the ACA. When a supplier is obligated by law to produce goods or services for free, there is bound to be a substantial effect on market prices if consumers’ behavior results in that obligation’s frequent invocation.

Doesn’t to take a law degree to know that that’s good legal reasoning and puts the opinions of Hudson and Vinson to shame. Of course, you’re not actually going to hear about that in any mainstream news articles.  Maybe we can get Sarah Palin to tweet about it.

Redhead’s lament

Who knew all my boys were at risk for “ginger abuse.”  Well, according to the latest “What would you do” on ABC, this is a problem for them to be worried about (never seemed to affect me as a kid).  Anyway:

Throughout the years, “What Would You Do?” has explored a multitude of situations involving intolerance and bigotry, including obesity, age, and gender issues. But have you ever heard of “ginger abuse?”

Ginger abuse is a form of bullying directed at people with red hair. It may be a relatively unknown type of harassment to many, but according to one young “What Would You Do?” viewer, it’s an obstacle he faces on a daily basis.

Here’s my abuse-free gingers (and darn, if I didn’t have to go back over a year to find a decent picture with all three boys in it):

Charts of the Day

Oh, my, this is awesome.  Not everything, but most of what’s wrong with America in 8 handy charts.  I’ve pasted my favorites:

Aevrage Household income before taxes.

Average Income by Family, distributed by income group.

What’s really destroying America

Randomly found this on-line.  I’d take issue with the obligatory bipartisanship, but otherwise, pretty damn good:

What is really destroying America?

Republican Bizarro World

So, I was just reading that John Thune has decided not to run for president.  I’m pleased, as despite knowing very little about the guy, he struck me as among the more formidable challengers– no more crazy than your typical Republican elite, just very standard issue conservative, and a photo from central casting:

Anyway, what struck me about Chris Cilliza’s wrap-up was this bit:

And Thune’s voting record in the Senate — particularly his 2008 vote in support of the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) — may well have been the primary stumbling block in his consideration of a presidential bid.

The idea that voting for TARP should disqualify you among the Republican primary electorate truly speaks volumes about how completely out of touch with reality said Republican primary electorate is.   Congress passing TARP (signed by President Bush) quite evidently saved us from a genuine economic freefall at the time.  Not voting for TARP was extremely irresponsible.  Further evidence of the Republican Bizarro World.

State Secrets

So, the government was apparently bamboozled out of $20 million on computer technology to catch terrorists, but the technology was essentially a hoax.  What to do when you’re the government officials and you want to avoid embarrassment and accountability?  Why invoke “state secrets” privilege of course.  Pretty disgusting story.  From the Times:

WASHINGTON — For eight years, government officials turned to Dennis Montgomery, a California computer programmer, for eye-popping technology that he said could catch terrorists. Now, federal officials want nothing to do with him and are going to extraordinary lengths to ensure that his dealings with Washington stay secret.

The Justice Department, which in the last few months has gotten protective orders from two federal judges keeping details of the technology out of court, says it is guarding state secrets that would threaten national security if disclosed. But others involved in the case say that what the government is trying to avoid is public embarrassment over evidence that Mr. Montgomery bamboozled federal officials.

A onetime biomedical technician with a penchant for gambling, Mr. Montgomery is at the center of a tale that features terrorism scares, secret White House briefings, backing from prominent Republicans, backdoor deal-making and fantastic-sounding computer technology.

Interviews with more than two dozen current and former officials and business associates and a review of documents show that Mr. Montgomery and his associates received more than $20 million in government contracts by claiming that software he had developed could help stop Al Qaeda’s next attack on the United States. But the technology appears to have been a hoax, and a series of government agencies, including the Central Intelligence Agency and the Air Force, repeatedly missed the warning signs, the records and interviews show.

What’s so crazy about State Secrets is that there’s not even any judicial oversight.  I.e., the government just gets to claim it, without even proving there really are state secrets at stake to a single judge.  How does this happen in a democracy?  Well, it does start with one of the worst Supreme Court decisions ever– United States v. Reynolds (not to be confused with Reynolds v. US– a Mormon polygamy case).  In this case, Air Force widows sued to learn the truth after their pilot husbands were killed in an accident.  The Air Force claimed State Secrets.  Not until many years later was it learned that the “secrets” were all about covering up the totally non-secret mistakes that led to the accident.  And yet, this is the basis for the troublesome doctrine.  There was a great story about it on This American Life a few years ago.  Listen.

Scent of a woman

You’ve probably heard the oft-reported scientific finding that men find women more attractive when they are ovulating (purely on a sub-conscious, pheremonal level).  Turns out, there’s a fairly interesting twist on this.  From Science Times:

Each of the young men thought she was simply a fellow student at Florida State University participating in the experiment, which ostensibly consisted of her and the man assembling a puzzle of Lego blocks. But the real experiment came later, when each man rated her attractiveness. Previous research had shown that a woman at the fertile stage of her menstrual cycle seems more attractive, and that same effect was observed here — but only when this woman was rated by a man who wasn’t already involved with someone else.

The other guys, the ones in romantic relationships, rated her as significantly less attractive when she was at the peak stage of fertility, presumably because at some level they sensed she then posed the greatest threat to their long-term relationships. To avoid being enticed to stray, they apparently told themselves she wasn’t all that hot anyway.

Pretty interesting.  And, in two totally unrelated facts: 1) my wife reads this blog (at least the non-political stuff); and 2) Of course I never find any other women attractive, regardless of the ovulatory status.

It’s the revenue, stupid

So, I’ve been grading midterms from my Distance Ed Public Policy class and the first question is about the deficit.  For starters, definitely shows the problem of teaching a Distance Ed class in such a dynamic discipline as Political Science.  The students watch streaming lectures that were recorded when I taught the class in Spring 2009.  The basic facts I explained about the deficit then are still very much on point.  Alas, the political discussion as of today has gone in an entirely unexpected direction.  Clearly, a lot of my students are more influenced the the hyperbolic political rhetoric on the deficit today than on my more sober and realistic explanation of things from two years ago.  Also, reflecting the changing political dialog– in most semesters a good number of students, including many Republicans,  advocate more taxes to address the deficit, but this time around that’s much less common.

Additionally, all the deficit talk is about spending, spending, spending, when the truth of the matter is that, for the most part,  our huge deficits are due to massively declining federal revenue from the shrinking and then painfully slow economic growth.  Obviously (as the likes of Krugman and my favorite bloggers have repeatedly pointed out), then, the key is to really do all we can to get the economy growing.  Cutting public TV/Radio budgets and planned parenthood isn’t exactly going to do that.   If this was a “real” class, I could make that point to my students fairly clearly during class sessions.  Alas, when most of their interactions with me are via lectures from two years ago supplemented by the occasional email link and discussion forum post, it’s pretty hard to do this.

Public Opinion in persepctive

From the Onion:

Same Americans Who Made Taylor Swift Popular Polled On Constitutionality Of Health Care Reform

FEBRUARY 21, 2011 | ISSUE 47•08

WASHINGTON—Americans, a group of people directly responsible for the popularity of country-pop singer Taylor Swift, were asked by an independent research group Wednesday to share their thoughts on the constitutional implications of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. “They can’t force me to get insurance,” survey taker Carrie Hunstley, a woman who will purchase almost any magazine with an image of Swift on the cover and is intimately aware of the fact that the musician briefly dated Jake Gyllenhaal last year, said of the massive federal statute. “We need to protect the Constitution.” The survey also asked U.S. citizens, 1 in 15 of whom tuned in to watch the episode of CSI during which Taylor Swift made her primetime TV acting debut, for their perspectives on the nation’s fiscal policy.


All you really need to know about Wisconsin

Wisconsin Republicans are, with great political savvy, taking advantage of a short-term budget crunch to push through a long-term ideological agenda.  Hooray for Wisconsin’s public employees for standing up to it.  As to the gross cynicism of what’s really up in Wisconsin, I would argue there’s really just one thing you need to understand.  Drum:

Steven Taylor notes that Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s union busting efforts are aimed only at some public sector unions, not all of them. This prompts a question aimed at Walker’s allies:

If it is a fundamental principle that public sector employees ought not to have the right to collective bargaining, why are the police, firefighters and state troopers of Wisconsin not part of the package? Why does Governor Walker and his allies believe that those workers ought to be able to retain their collective bargaining rights?

….However, I would go beyond that and not ask why Walker is doing what Walker is doing, but rather ask why we have not seen (or, at least, I have not seen) his ideological allies calling for him to include police, firefighters and state troopers in the bill? If there is a fundamental philosophical issue here concerning public sector unions, what is the possible rationale for any exceptions?

I dunno. Any conservatives want to take a crack at this?

Yet so see any such crack.  That’s too much mental gymnastics for even the most committed conservative.

How the Tea party is winning

Terrific column from EJ Dionne– read the whole thing.  But, since you’re here, I’ll summarize:

Take five steps back and consider the nature of the political conversation in our nation’s capital. You would never know that it’s taking place at a moment when unemployment is still at 9 percent, when wages for so many people are stagnating at best and when the United States faces unprecedented challenges to its economic dominance.

No, Washington is acting as if the only real problem the United States confronts is the budget deficit; the only test of leadership is whether the president is willing to make big cuts in programs that protect the elderly; and the largest threat to our prosperity comes from public employees.

Take five more steps back and you realize how successful the Tea Party has been. No matter how much liberals may poke fun at them, Tea Party partisans can claim victory in fundamentally altering the country’s dialogue.

Consider all of the problems taking a back seat to the deficit in Washington and the media. You haven’t heard much lately on how Wall Street shenanigans tanked the economy in the first place – and in the process made a small number of people very rich. Yet any discussion of the problems caused by concentrated wealth (a vital mainstream issue in the America of Andrew Jackson and both Roosevelts) is confined to the academic or left-wing sidelines.

One thing political scientists can state with some confidence is that winning in politics is often about who controls the agenda.  In this case, the Tea Party’s (faux) budget-cutting fanaticism has come to dominate the political agenda.  It’s working.  When politics is being played on your turf, you’re winning.  So, why is this?  I suspect that, at least to a degree, its that Democratic elites are so incredibly cowardly on these issues.  The truth is, if Democratic Senators, etc., give ground on the issue, you’re not going to get the meaningful push-back from the press.  Only if prominent Democratic elites (unfortunately, bloggers don’t count) respond forcefully to this non-sense will the press call it like it is.  Of course, also, there are long-term structural concerns with our deficit, but Democrats need to be strong and forthright in saying that 1) more revenue is part of the solution and 2) draconian cuts in a small portion of the overall budget are not a meaningful fix.


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