Saturday, February 26, 2011

I have a serious question

If the right of collective bargaining for public employees is so critical to our principles of human dignity and the democratic process that it justifies an emergency email from the Congregational Advocacy & Witness Director asking us to sign a petition from Interfaith Worker Justice and to participate in a strategy call with labor leaders; if it's a basic human right enshrined not only in our principles, but in the United Nations Universal Human Rights Declaration and in the first amendment to the Constitution, then why are we holding our General Assembly in North Carolina, one of only five states in the nation to outlaw collective bargaining by public employees? Why did we hold the 2005 GA in Texas, one of the other five? If "Standing On The Side Of Love" means fighting for the right of public sector employees to use collective bargaining, then why are we rewarding states that outlaw it?

We're famous for our rigid stands on human rights. We boycotted Arizona just because they didn't make MLK's birthday a holiday. We spent last summer furiously blogging about Arizona again, holding special conference call meetings to vote on cancelling our GA there because of 1070. We're also famous for the way we vet venues- every last detail must be accessible, recyclable, fair traded, capped and traded, sustainable, renewable, local, and prevailing waged- how did we let a basic human right slip through the cracks?

Don't tell me that this is a new situation; it's not. In 2005, Indiana revoked collective bargaining for the public sector- indeed, Indiana was the inspiration for Wisconsin's actions, as we managed to turn red ink to black despite the horrible recession. (although Gov Walker seems not to notice that in Indiana we also had some tax increases) There was no outpouring of outrage by UU ministers and bloggers then- had anyone cared, we might have had emergency "Move the GA from anti-union Texas" meetings that year, and we certainly wouldn't have selected another anti-union state for this GA had there been an uproar. But there wasn't. So why do we suddenly care about public sector unions now when we never did before? What's changed between the selection of an anti-union state for our GA and now?

Could it be that we choose our issues by wetting our finger and holding it in the air? There is a lot more press and public uproar over Wisconsin than there was over Indiana; it's a lot more fun signing petitions that someone might actually read, and having conference calls with real activists instead of the same voices you heard at GA. Could it be that this time the DNC is involved? They were in no position to exploit the situation in Indiana in 2005, but they're having a field day in Milwaukee. I've noticed over the years that our actions and concerns track the DNC's pretty closely- remember our rather fluid positions on the filibuster? Could it be that we've taken so much flak for being elitist that we're suddenly desperate to prove solidarity with the middle class?

Don't like these theories? What's your explanation?

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Umm, Hey, can we discuss this...

...before we go making the SEIU the UUA's seventh source? I just got an email from Susan Leslie, UUA Congregational Advocacy & Witness Director, asking me to "Please join UUA President Rev. Peter Morales and sign on to IWJ's Open Letter from Faith Leaders: Stop Attacks on Public Sector Workers and Unions." Coming as it did after such UU blog posts as One possible litmus test for UU Culture, Collective bargaining is a human right, An open letter to religious leaders in support of collective bargaining, Drops of water turn a mill, singly none..., and a number of others I've lost my notes on, I'm afraid it's already become one of those creeds we deny having, but I'm going to speak anyway.

Public employee unions are a different kettle of fish than ordinary unions. This is a truth that not a single one of the writers mentioned above seems to grasp. I'm going to quote a letter from President Franklin Delano Roosevelt to Luther C. Steward, President of the National Federation of Federal Employees: "...Organization on their part to present their views on such matters is both natural and logical, but meticulous attention should be paid to the special relationships and obligations of public servants to the public itself and to the Government.
All Government employees should realize that the process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the public service. It has its distinct and insurmountable limitations when applied to public personnel management. The very nature and purposes of Government make it impossible for administrative officials to represent fully or to bind the employer in mutual discussions with Government employee organizations. The employer is the whole people, who speak by means of laws enacted by their representatives in Congress. Accordingly, administrative officials and employees alike are governed and guided, and in many instances restricted, by laws which establish policies, procedures, or rules in personnel matters.
Particularly, I want to emphasize my conviction that militant tactics have no place in the functions of any organization of Government employees. Upon employees in the Federal service rests the obligation to serve the whole people, whose interests and welfare require orderliness and continuity in the conduct of Government activities. This obligation is paramount. Since their own services have to do with the functioning of the Government, a strike of public employees manifests nothing less than an intent on their part to prevent or obstruct the operations of Government until their demands are satisfied. Such action, looking toward the paralysis of Government by those who have sworn to support it, is unthinkable and intolerable."
(full text available from The American Presidency Project)
To put it into my own words, there are two very big differences between private industry unions and public employee unions. The first is that the private union is trying to get a piece of the profits for the workers who had a big part in creating them. That's only fair- go for it. But governments do not generate profits! Public employee unions are not negotiating for a piece of the profits, they are negotiating for a tax increase.

Another difference is that while the ordinary union is speaking for people who have no other way of making their corporate bosses listen to them, public employees do have a voice: it's called democracy. The public employees' boss isn't C. Montgomery Burns, it's we the people. But it's just too much work to go to town hall meetings, write letters to Congressmen and the editors, or actually vote I guess.

Let's not forget that we're not talking about minimum wage flunkies here, either. Much has been said about the middle class in these posts, but from where I sit a lot of those public employees look like millionaires. How can I say such a silly thing? Benefits- particularly healthcare and most particularly retirement. Read The Millionaire Cop Next Door from Forbes. The short version is this: "City officials have said that in Carlsbad, the average firefighter or police officer typically retires at age 55 and has 28 years of service. Using the 3 percent salary calculation, that person would receive an annual city pension of $76,440.
That does not include health benefits, which might push real retirement compensation close to $100,000 a year."
Let's ignore the health benefits for the moment, and just take the pension- round it to $80K. How much would you have to have in a private retirement fund to get $80K a year? "Investment pros like my friend Barry Glassman say 4% is a reasonable return today. That’s a pitiful yield, isn’t it? It is sure to disappoint the scores of millions of baby boomers who will soon enter retirement with nothing more than their desiccated 401(k)s, down 30% on average from 30 months ago, and a bit of Social Security.
Based on this small but unfortunately realistic 4% return, an $80,000 annual pension payout implies a rather large pot of money behind it–$2 million, to be precise.
That’s a lot. One might guess that a $2 million stash would be in the 95th percentile for the 77 million baby boomers who will soon face retirement."

Do you have two million dollars in your retirement account? Knowing many of my readers, I'm guessing not. Now ask yourself how much you'd have to earn to save, over and above living expenses, two million dollars in only 28 years? And this completely ignores the security factor in government jobs- four of the last five jobs I lost were because the company went out of business; relatively few American government bodies go out of business. Now tell me again about how the public employee unions are representing the downtrodden middle class...

One last beef I have with Susan's email: she repeats an untruth: "This is not about balanced budgets; it is about power... If there is not enough money for them, it is because the contracted funds have been taken by conservative officials and given to wealthy people and corporations instead of to the people who have earned them." It was understandable a week ago when Rachel Maddow said this; she was fulminating off her own misreading of the budget numbers. But since then several nonpartisan organizations have refuted this; PolitiFact's refutation has been repeated and referenced widely. To be repeating that canard now is highly irresponsible, and makes it look like our UUA spokespeople get their facts from the Daily KOS.

UPDATE: Knowing that not everyone reads comments, I wanted to add this from comments:
But my primary point, the raison d'etre for this post, is that there is plenty of room for disagreement and need for debate on this issue- I don't want it declared a basic tenent of our religion until such debate has taken place. I don't want Boston taking a position on my behalf without such a debate. I don't want clergy out there declaring that support for the unions in Wisconsin is an extension of our faith, an inseperable part of our principles, until we have had that debate. That would be irony indeed- basing a political position upon our democratic principle without a democratic debate and vote!

What apps does it have?

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Is it really green?

I remember when stores first started saying, "Paper or plastic?"- I had the following conversation more than once:
"I guess you don't care about the Earth."
"Actually, if not reused and recycled properly, paper bags are worse for the planet than plastic."
"That's not true! What do you know about it, anyway?"
"I work in the industry."
"Well, the Vice President says using paper bags is one of the things we can do to save the planet. Who knows more about it, you or Al Gore?"
According to the Daily Mail, I did know more about it than Al Gore- paper bags need to be reused three times to fall below the environmental impact level of plastic bags- and that's assuming you didn't reuse the plastic bag. And that's simply not possible, because the paper handles come off of an third of them between the store and the car- I've learned to stoop and waddle when using paper bags, so that when they rip or the straps fail they'll only have a inch to fall, and hopefully the groceries won't break open.

Then came the cloth bags, with things like "I heart the Earth" on them- now there's a reusable bag that's definitely an improvement over the plastic! Or maybe not... "As a greater amount of energy goes into making a cloth carrier than a polythene one, a cotton bag has to be used 131 times before it has the same environmental impact than its plastic counterpart. And if a plastic bag is re-used as a bin liner, a cotton bag has to be used 173 times - nearly every day of the year - before its ecological impact is as low as a plastic bag on a host of factors including greenhouse gas emissions over its lifetime." I don't know how they got "nearly every day of the year", but if you normally shop once a week, you'd have to use the same cloth bag for three and a half years just to break even with the plastic bag. And that doesn't count the environmental impact of the vivid plastisol designs silkscreened on them- you don't want to know the impact of those chemicals!

Then there's those damn Compact Flourescent bulbs. I've written about them before, here and here, but here's a simpler way to think about it: you've heard the environmentalists' slogan, "Think globally, buy locally"? Well, no CFLs are made locally- all CFLs are imported, all of them.

I know what I'm about to say can be applied to a whole lot of things, but... why can't we think things through before committing so much to them?

Monday, February 21, 2011

Media coverage of the Tea Party has a liberal bias

Who says so? Rush Limbaugh? Fox? How about MSNBC?

UPDATE: First, watch this video of Chris Matthews:

As Politifact reported, the unions were split on their support of candidates. Then-candidate Walker got the endorsement of two police and fire unions with a combined total membership of 2,275; his opponent received the endorsement of police and fire unions with a combined membership of 14,000- more than six times as many. And anyone even loosely following the story knew that even before PolitiFact ran it; I read it last week. So for Chris to ask the question he did, phrased the way he did, when he did, I see only two possible explanations: either he just reads activists' faxes without fact checking or vetting them, or he is knowingly attempting to deceive. I'm not sure which is worse.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Joe Republican

That's the title of a Facebook essay by Jeff Parker that I just saw, attention being drawn by Desmond Ravenstone. In this essay, Joe Republican goes through a normal day, and we see how his life is made better by things Republicans opposed. (We'll set aside for the moment that the very concept of the essay- Republicans believe all government is bad- is a straw man; after all, the reason there is a Republican party is because they believe there is a place for government- otherwise, they'd be anarchists.)

It starts off with his pills and his breakfast- "Joe's bacon is safe to eat because some girly-man liberal fought for laws to regulate the meat packing industry." Hmmm, what girly-man liberal would that be? The Food and Drug Administration was created by Republican President Theodore Roosevelt, the "Rough Rider", "Big Stick" girly-man.

In the second paragraph, "Joe dresses, walks outside and takes a deep breath. The air he breathes is clean because some environmentalist wacko liberal fought for the laws to stop industries from polluting our air." Ok, let's see; what wacko liberal was it who proposed and signed into law the Environmental Protection Agency? That would be Richard Millhouse Nixon. He goes on to talk about the subways, but I can't comment on that- like 90% of all Americans, I don't live anywhere near a subway. I do pay for them, but I don't get to use them.

He then talks about Joe's job. "If Joe is hurt on the job or becomes unemployed, he'll get a worker compensation or unemployment check because some stupid liberal didn't think he should lose his home because of his temporary misfortune." Well, it's hard to talk about liberal or conservative, Republican or Democrat here, because these things are administered at the state level, and individual states have different political histories. But there are some federal guidelines written by the Department of Labor. And what stupid liberal took the bureau of labor out of the back offices of the Interior Department and made it a cabinet level department in its own right? That would be Republican President Taft.

Then Joe has to pay his Fannie Mae mortgage... gee, I wonder if that's one of the subprime mortgages that destroyed the housing industry, and made for the half a trillion dollar bailout? I'm afraid Jeff's got me there, that is a Democratic project.

He then plans to visit his father, in a car that's safe because of government regulations... Is he referring to regulations of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the office that regulates industry for the safety of both the workers and their customers- created by that bleeding-heart liberal Richard Nixon? His father lives in an old house- "The house didn't have electricity until some big-government liberal stuck his nose where it didn't belong and demanded rural electrification." I wonder if he's referring to the Tennessee Valley Authority, the government corporation that brought electricity to the vast center of America, the portion hardest hit by the depression... you know, the creation of Republican Senator George W. Norris of Nebraska.

On the way home, of course, Joe listens to talk radio- "The radio host keeps saying that liberals are bad and conservatives are good. He doesn't mention that the beloved Republicans have fought against every protection and benefit Joe enjoys throughout his day." Perhaps he doesn't mention it because it isn't true.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Breaking news: Mubarak has resigned

Al Jazeera English Live is reporting that Mubarak has resigned, military in command.

Monday, February 07, 2011

"Family Feud" shows us

that families have changed over the years...

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Hope springs eternal

This aphorism was proven once again today by our enormous tomcat, Garfunkle. (I've written about him before)

Now, Indianapolis is in the middle of a winter storm emergency. We're not as bad off as Chicago, but we are in the National-Guard-taking-EMTs-on-runs-because-the-ambulance-got-stuck phase. Evidently Garfunkle didn't believe what the morning TV said, because he went to the front door and asked to be let out. When the door was opened, however, he recoiled in horror and ran the other direction. That other direction was to the back door to see if it was frozen there, too. When the back of the house was seen to be the final circle of Hell, too, he turned and walked away... to the basement door, which he started scratching at to be opened.

Garfunkle is convinced that one of the doors around here must be the door into summer.

Maybe that's why we get along so well.