Ethics Carnage in Wisconsin: The Ethics Grades So Far

The battleground

The story to date: Wisconsin’s Republican Gov. Scott Walker announced a budget-repair measure to address  looming budget deficits (in a state with a balanced budget mandate in its constitution) by requiring state employees to contribute a larger proportion of their pensions and health care plans, and  restricting their long-standing  collective bargaining rights. Wisconsin’s deficit is projected at $30 million for the remainder of the 2011, with a shortfall of $1.5 billion projected for next year. In response to Walker’s announcement and the near certainty of his plan being passed by the Republican dominated state legislature, 14 Democratic legislators fled the state to prevent a quorum and block a vote, teachers left their classes to protest in Madison, where they were joined by thousands of pro-union protesters, many of whom were organized and bused in by Organizing for America, a White House operated political group.

Let’s try to separate the ethics wheat from the chaff—amazingly, there is actually some wheat–and get an early line on the heroes, dunces, villains, and the rest as the Wisconsin budget battle threatens to become a full-fledged Ethics Train Wreck.

Gov. Scott Walker: His plan may be wise, radical, right or wrong, and where you stand on that depends on your political orientation. It is certainly not per se unethical. Nor is the criticism of public unions trumped up lies, though it may be exaggerated. Public unions did not cause the economic problems of the states or the nation, as some Republican talking points would have you think. But the public unions-Democratic Party relationship does create a conflict of interest in which the unions give large amounts of money to elect Democratic legislators, who them reciprocate by enacting generous salary and benefit terms for union members. It is also true that collective bargaining with the public unions does make bringing state and local budgets into austerity in difficult times more difficult. Walker’s plans for the unions may be excessive, but they are not unreasonable or outrageous.

He has, however, as politician are wont to do, uttered some misleading statements in support of his plan. He intentionally muddled the difference between civil service rights and union bargaining privileges, representing a proposed major change as a minor one. He also played the scare game, falsely claiming that the alternative to making public union members pay more would be taking 200,000 Wisconsin children off Medicaid, which is simply not true: the law prohibits this. His plan also plays favorites, something that is especially unfair with a proposal this tough: it exempts the police and fire-fighter unions. Why? Well, they are popular with the public, but the main reason is that they supported his campaign.

Ethics Grade: C Walker is acting like a leader and taking political risks to solve a real problem. He wins ethics points for courage, but loses some for not being entirely forthright with the public. In taking on the public unions now, he is engaging in Rahm Emmanuel’s favorite ploy of not letting a good crisis go to waste: he, like many Republicans and conservatives, believes that public unions need to have less power. That’s neither ethical or unethical. It’s politics. I think his grade is the toughest call;  I originally had him a bit higher. Walker is showing responsibility, diligence, accountability, courage, integrity and trustworthiness (in that he is doing exactly what his supporters want and expected when they voted for him), but loses ethics points for some deficits in fairness, honesty, candor and empathy.

The Runaway Democratic State Senators: As President Obama kept telling the Republicans, elections have consequences. Democrats lost the legislature, and that means that the public made a choice. The conduct of the fugitive legislators isn’t democratic, it isn’t fair politics, it isn’t anything more than an abdication of duty and disrespect for the democratic political process. Breaking the rules to avoid losing is known as cheating.

Ethics Grade: F

The Madison Demonstrators. Many commentators have pointed out, accurately, that some of the Madison anti-Walker demonstrators are waving exactly the kind of hateful, uncivil signs (“Death to Tyrants,”  “Hosni Walker,” “Hitler Outlawed Unions, Too,” “Walker puts the dic in dictator,” and others) that critics of the Tea Party pointed to as proof that its rallies were proof of bad motives and bad character. As with the Tea Party signs, however, it is unfair to attribute the worst qualities of elements of a group to the group as a whole—not that Democrats and the media were very faithful to the principle. The chief problem with the demonstrations is that its fervor and size is the sort that ought to be in support of something less self-serving and more noble than objecting to a reduction of benefits at a time when so many other Americans just want to find a job. They have been described by journalists on the Right and the Left as a tantrum, in its uncomfortable similarity to last year’s protests by Greeks over their bankrupt government cutting benefits like government-paid holiday bonuses, or the French riots over that nation’s financially-strapped government raising the retirement age from 60 to 62. Still, Wisconsin isn’t as bad off as Greece, and the public unions’ benefits are far from being as cushy as France’s retirement age.

Ethics Grade: C It’s not Greece, but it’s not the March on Washington, either. The public unions have been excessively demonized and used in conservative rhetoric as a scapegoat for financial problems not of their making. Protests are a democratic staple, but the indignation is out of proportion to the perceived offense.

President Obama. I have already posted on his ill-considered remarks on what is a state matter. He also bears responsibility for the activities of Organizing for America, which is actively stoking the demonstrations in Wisconsin. I am searching history to find another example—besides Richard Nixon, hardly a role model—of a U.S. President who mobilized efforts to influence legislative disputes that did not involve the U.S. Congress.

Ethics Grade: C-

The Teachers.“On Thursday and Friday, we are asking Wisconsinites to come to Madison,” the president of the Wisconsin Education Association Council announced on Wednesday. Then she claimed—cynically,disingenuously—that she wasn’t calling for the union’s 98,000 teachers to walk off their jobs. Coincidentally, Wisconsin teachers did walk out of their classes after that statement, abandoning their students and their duties. They are forbidden by law from striking, so the action was a “sick-out,’ with thousands of teachers claiming to be ill when they were not. In addition to this dishonesty (we will see what the response is the next time a student is disciplined for emulating Ferris Bueller), many of the teachers used young students in their protests, having them hold up signs and otherwise using them as props.

Ethics Grade: D The teachers appeal to their dedication to the students, but their dedication appears to be dispensable when money is on the line. They are supposed to be role models, but they blatantly lied to avoid taking responsibility for an illegal job action. Using children as cheap and involuntary political props is dehumanizing and unethical.

Doctors: Proving that dishonest professional conduct is contagious, some supportive doctors were moving among the public workers Friday, handing out sick notes to support the lie that teachers and others were employing to avoid accountability for walking off the job.

“I asked this doctor what he was doing and he told me they were handing out excuses to people who were feeling sick due to emotional, mental or financial distress,” one demonstrator told reporters. “They never performed an exam–he asked me how I was feeling today and I said I’m from California and I’m not used to the cold, so he handed me a note.”

Copies of the fake notes were obtained by the press. They read:

Feb 19, 2011

Patient’s name______
Date of birth ____/_____/_____

To Whom it May Concern:

This is confirm I have seen and evaluated the above named patient. Please excuse from work/school due to a medical condition from

____/____/____ through

Please contact me at badgerdoctors@gmail.com if additional information is needed. Thank you.

Sincerely,

Physician  Signature:

Ethics Grade: F

NBC Anchor Brian Williams. Williams began his Friday newscast with this:

“Good evening. From the Mideast to the American Midwest tonight, people are rising up. Citizens uprisings are changing the world. As we’ve witnessed from Tunisia to Egypt and now tonight from Libya to Bahrain, where today there was a violent crackdown and our reporters and cameras were there when shots were fired. But tonight we’re going to begin in Wisconsin. The state capitol has been taken over by the people.”

Williams’ attempt to draw an  equivalency between a popular uprising against a 30 year dictator in Egypt and a union protest against the budget proposals of a duly elected state governor is either biased, dishonest, or incompetent.

Ethics Grade: D+ The plus is giving him the benefit of the doubt, assuming sloppiness rather than dishonesty.

MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow and Ed Schultz.  Never again should a claim by anyone connected with MSNBC that Fox News is a blatant conservative propaganda machine be greeted with anything but derision, as this episode has exposed that network’s talking heads as shameless progressive shills willing to feed its audience outright falsehoods, either out of a refusal to check sources that provided comforting spin on the facts, or desire to deceive.

Maddow began her show Thursday by announcing, “Despite what you may have heard about Wisconsin’s finances, Wisconsin is on track to have a budget surplus this year.” This was false. The reliably liberal-tilting fact-checking site, PolitiFact stated,

“There is fierce debate over the approach Walker took to address the short-term budget deficit. But there should be no debate on whether or not there is a shortfall. While not historically large, the shortfall in the current budget needed to be addressed in some fashion. Walker’s tax cuts will boost the size of the projected deficit in the next budget, but they’re not part of this problem and did not create it. We rate Maddow’s take False.”

Maddow, so far, has not retracted her statement, corrected it, or apologized for it, as her misinformation continued to emulate Mark Twain’s description of a lie, running wild through the blogosphere while the truth tries to catch up to it.

Schultz, as he usually is, was more outrageous than Maddow. His false claim:

“People who earn $30,000, $40,000, $50,000 a year might have a 20 percent of their income just disappear overnight. Ten thousand bucks isn’t really going to hurt anybody on Wall Street, but it will absolutely devastate middle class families in the state of Wisconsin.”

Where does that shocking 20% figure come from? Schultz apparently made it up. Again from Politifact:
“Here’s what our sources said:

  • Carla Vigue, spokeswoman for the state Department of Administration: The higher contributions would amount to, on average, a 9.4 percent cut in take-home pay.
  • Joe Wineke, former administrator of the state Division of Compensation and Labor Relations and former chairman of the state Democratic Party: The impact on most workers would be 6.8 percent to 11 percent of their salary.
  • Walker spokesman Cullen Werwie: Detailed estimates are being prepared, but the cost to the average worker would be about 8 percent of their wages.
  • University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire Chancellor Brian Levin-Stankevich: In a memo, he said a UW-Eau Claire employee who earns $40,000 per year would pay an annual pension contribution of $2,320, up from $80; and an annual health insurance premium for family coverage of $2,820, up from $1,068. That’s a total of $3,992 per year, or 10 percent of that employee’s salary.”
PolitiFact’s “Truth-o-Meter” rated Schultz’s statement as false, and he couldn’t or wouldn’t provide the site with any support for it.
Ethics Grade: F. This conduct isn’t fair or honest journalism, and it isn’t responsible or competent commentary. It is a naked ideological misrepresentation of the facts, designed to create public support for Maddow and Schultz’s political positions through deception. Maddow, who MSNBC sometimes uses as a news correspondent, deserves special condemnation, because unlike Schultz, she has earned some measure of credibility with her audience, who she betrayed here.
The Washington Post’s Charles Lane, the Post’s Ezra Klein, and Time’s Joe Klein. Openly progressive or liberal commentators all, these three came through with the gold standard of political commentary by, in the case of Lane and Joe Klein, sharply criticizing their own side in a controversy, and in the case of Ezra Klein, the most aggressively progressive of the three, refusing to perpetrate misinformation even when it helps his cause.
Ezra Klein posted a column on the Post’s website making the case, still going strong and a key union talking point, that Gov. Walker’s own tax cuts created the 2011 deficit that he now seeks union concessions to cure. Then, as responsible and ethical  journalists  do when they discover that they were wrong, he corrected it:
“Update: I’ve been persuaded that the surplus-to-deficit picture is more complicated than I initially understood. The budget report is working with two time periods simultaneously: 2010-2011, and then 2011-13. The $130 million deficit now projected for 2011 isn’t the fault of the tax breaks passed during Walker’s special session, though his special session created about $120 million in deficit spending between 2011 and 2013…”
Lane, who is fast emerging as the Post’s house truth-teller, wrote an editorial yesterday which was remarkable, as he lambasted fellow Democrats for hypocrisy…
“…President Obama, in a moving eulogy for the fallen, called on all Americans to “pause for a moment and make sure that we are talking with each other in a way that heals, not a way that wounds.” Yet today in Wisconsin, anger and vilification are once again the order of the day — and the incivility emanates from the progressive end of the spectrum, including, no doubt, many of the same people who blamed right-wing vitriol for creating a climate of violence in Arizona. Union-backed demonstrators, furious at Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s plans for reining in public-sector unions, equate him with Hosni Mubarak and Adolf Hitler, in disgusting mimickry of some Tea Party members’ inflammatory linkage between Obama and the evil dictators of history. “Meanwhile, progressive voices in the media fanned the flames, spreading misinformation and outright falsehoods with a zest that would make Glenn Beck blush: Gov. Walker wants to crush unions with the National Guard; he manufactured a budget crisis to justify his attack on unions; he proposed cutting union workers’ pay 20 percent. Neutral sources have debunked it all, but as far as I know only Ezra Klein among these tribunes of truth has seen fit to correct the record.

“And, of course, thousands of teachers have abandoned their classrooms to join a boisterous crowd intimidating and obstructing the elected state legislature in Madison — in scenes reminiscent of the Tea Party’s mobbing of Democrats on Capitol Hill during the health-care debate. This is hypocrisy on an epic scale. I can’t think of a more overwhelming refutation of the claim that incivility is the unique province of the American right — as opposed to what it really is and always has been: a two-way street with both right and left lanes. No wonder so many Americans in the broad center of the political spectrum are turned off by both parties and their sanctimonious “bases”…

…Perhaps most disappointing of all is that the president himself, rather than living up to the words he spoke so eloquently in Tuscon, has chosen to fuel the fury on the Great Lakes. He labeled Walker’s legislation “an assault on unions,” while the White House political operation bused in more demonstrators to join those waving Walker = Hitler placards. These are the words and deeds of a partisan politician, not a national leader.”

Wham! Pow! Kaboom! When your supporters write pieces like this, some hard self-evaluation is in order. Now here is Joe Klein:
“Revolutions everywhere–in the middle east, in the middle west. But there is a difference: in the middle east, the protesters are marching for democracy; in the middle west, they’re protesting against it. I mean, Isn’t it, well, a bit ironic that the protesters in Madison, blocking the state senate chamber, are chanting “Freedom, Democracy, Union” while trying to prevent a vote? Isn’t it ironic that the Democratic Senators have fled the democratic process? Isn’t it interesting that some of those who–rightly–protest the assorted Republican efforts to stymie majority rule in the U.S. Senate are celebrating the Democratic efforts to stymie the same in  the Wisconsin Senate?“An election was held in Wisconsin last November. The Republicans won. In a democracy, there are consequences to elections and no one, not even the public employees unions, are exempt from that. There are no guarantees that labor contracts, including contracts governing the most basic rights of unions, can’t be renegotiated, or terminated for that matter. We hold elections to decide those basic parameters. And it seems to me that Governor Scott Walker’s basic requests are modest ones–asking public employees to contribute more to their pension and health care plans, though still far less than most private sector employees do. He is also trying to limit the unions’ abilities to negotiate work rules–and this is crucial when it comes to the more efficient operation of government in a difficult time… Public employees unions are an interesting hybrid. Industrial unions are organized against the might and greed of ownership. Public employees unions are organized against the might and greed—of the public? Despite their questionable provenance, public unions can serve an important social justice role, guaranteeing that a great many underpaid workers–school bus drivers, janitors, home health care workers–won’t be too severely underpaid. That role will be kept intact in Wisconsin. In any given negotiation, I’m rooting for the union to win the highest base rates of pay possible…and for management to win the least restrictive work rules and guidelines governing how much truly creative public employees can be paid….”

Ethics Grade: A
These grades are undoubtedly mid-term only; this story has a long way to go. Some may go up and some may go down, and other players will emerge. We will see.

13 Comments

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13 responses to “Ethics Carnage in Wisconsin: The Ethics Grades So Far

  1. I think you’re being a little easy on Walker (PolitiFact rated two of his statements and called one “false” and one “pants on fire,” after all). I give him a D.

    And the PF verdict on Maddow basically said that she didn’t read the fine print of a government document which does indeed appear at first glance to suggest a budget surplus. (You may note that I suggested the possibility of an exaggerated crisis in an earlier comment; my own most recent blog piece accepts PolitiFact’s findings.) So there’s a reasonable chance that this was a lack of diligence rather than an outright lie. At the very least, such claims were making the rounds well before Maddow first made them. She may, then, be guilty of uncritically accepting a story as true because it fits with her political point of view, but that’s a lesser failing than an active intent to deceive. I’m also not sure that she’s been on the air since PolitiFact released their report, so there remains hope for a retraction/apology/clarification. For me, another D. Schultz can keep his F.

    Finally, I don’t find PolitiFact “reliably liberal-tilting.” I generally consider their analysis about as non-partisan as one is likely to find, and their ultimate decisions (“true,” “mostly true,” etc.) tend to be a little more forgiving of the right than the left, if anything. But that’s nationally; they are ultimately tied to the editorial staff of a particular newspaper in a particular state, in this case the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. I don’t know about their political stance, but the only conclusion of theirs on this issue that I disagree with at all is that, based on their reporting and analysis, I’d have called a Club for Growth ad “false,” and they went with “barely true.”

    Otherwise, I’m with you.

  2. I don’t understand what determines whether Politifact calls an untruth “false” or “pants on fire.” They have a rep for being a little more vigilant on Republicans than Democrats—the paper is reliably Democratic. It is less objective than FactCheck, which hasn’t weighed in on this.

    PolitiFact lost me with its naming Republican rhetoric referring to the health care reform act as a government take-over of heath care “the lie of the year.” That’s a Democratic talking point claim if I ever saw one. Calling a massive reorganization involving literally thousands of regulations, billions of dollars and items like the individual mandate may not, in fact, be a literal take-over, but referring to it as one is certainly not “the lie of the year.” I don’t think an objective site could ever conclude such a thing.

    • For PolitiFact, “false” means simply that the statement wasn’t true. This could be an exaggeration of an otherwise accurate assessment, a statement based on misinformation received from a usually credible source, etc. “Pants on Fire” is a statement that is either a conscious lie or one so absurd that any reasonably informed person, especially the speaker, ought to know better. Thus, Maddow’s assertion, though apparently incorrect, was deemed less outrageous than Walker’s claim that “civil service protections” would “remain fully intact” under his bill, a statement he clearly knew to be false when he said it. In other words, Maddow may have known she was saying something untrue; Walker could not possibly have believed otherwise, given the fact that it was his proposal.

      PolitiFact’s “Lie of the Year” is apparently chosen in large part by a vote of their readers: kind of a dumb idea if your entire reputation is built on objectivity. And their readership is predominantly liberal. We can, of course, take this information in either of two ways. Perhaps PolitiFact self-selects its readers through its liberal bias, or perhaps liberals are more interested in objectivity than their conservative counterparts are. (Cue the oft-quoted “Truth has a liberal bias.”)

      For what it’s worth, I voted in their reader poll, and I voted for the eventual winner. “A government takeover of healthcare” would be a single-payer system, which (sadly, from my perspective, which includes first-hand experience with such a program) was never even on the table. Even the public option was negotiated away in exchange for no apparent concessions from the GOP and no Republican votes. To call the ultimate bill an intrusion into healthcare is fact. To call it a bureaucratic monstrosity is reasonable opinion. To call it a “government takeover” is, yes, a lie, and a big one.

      • My problem with the PolitiFact scale here is that the curve is wrong. Journalists are trusted to be truth-tellers; politicians are presumed to be shading. For a broadcast journalist to sate as fact something without proper substantiation is arguably worse the political deceit—or certainly as unethical

        • But surely no one is going to believe that Maddow or Schultz are objective, any more than Limbaugh or Beck are. I do expect them to get their facts right, but after that, I expect analysis and even opinion. Moreover, while I see your point in pragmatic terms, I don’t see a problem with PolitiFact’s distinction between untruths and lies, especially in moral/ethical terms. Lying is worse than exaggeration. Intentional exaggeration is worse than honest mistakes. Mistakes are still “false.”

          I’m not going to try to argue the law with a lawyer, but would I not be correct in the following:

          Let’s say I, as an eye-witness, identify the perpetrator of the crime as John Smith. If it turns out that it wasn’t John, but his identical twin, James, whom I didn’t even know existed, who was the actual culprit, my identification would still be incorrect (false), and I’d owe John an apology, but no DA in the country would seek perjury charges against me. On the other hand, if I knew it was James all along and still accused John (pants on fire), I should be liable. Yes?

          • Right.

            I think confirmation bias works overtime with Rachel…Ed, I’m not so sure. I think he’s a culture warrior, and would say anything to further his ideological agenda. I just saw a video of him in Madison, yelling to the crowd about “standing up for police and firefighters.” He has to know that they were exempted, right? And if he doesn’t, why is he employed?

            Both, especially Maddow, who MSNBC puts out as a reporter on occasion, have a professional duty to attempt due diligence before misleading the public. And I know smart people who DO think they are unbiased–just right.

            • I just watched Maddow’s recent “Debunction Junction” segment, in which she claims not to have said what she obviously did say. I concede the point. She screwed up big-time on this one. F.

              I intend to write more about this, but it may not happen–busiest week of the year ahead…

  3. I think that Obama is getting grade inflation here. Obama was elected to lead all Americans, not just unions.
    While Walker’s position and comments may be imperfect, and Obama is certainly within his rights to disagree, it is his duty to all Americans to at least take the other side into account. Presidents who are entirely partisan are poor presidents, and in this instance, a C- is unfairly high.
    Combine that with his pronouncement to Republicans after he was elected that "Elections have consequences, and I won," and in my view, you have an ethics train wreck.  This is as two-faced and unfair as it is possible to be, and dispatching his political organization to inject an even more partisan impact into the problem and the best grade I could give him is a D-.

    • It is arguably grade inflation, Glenn. When I saw the video of Obama’s remarks, he sounded more reasonable and less assertive than the print version conveyed…and I admit it, my admiration of and fascination with the office itself and anyone willing to tackle such an impossible job creates a powerful pull on my willingness to give the benefit of the doubt. The DNC-White House meddling in Wisconsin politics is outrageous, but I also factored in political realities: the Democrats know that if they lose the unions,they are toast in 2012. D may be right.

  4. Elizabeth

    This is going to be a rant, and I know it. But there’s so much interconnectivness here that I can’t help but digress.

    The lying and politicizing on both sides in Wisconsin (key players, the media, national leadership) are making me ill. American Unions served a vital purpose at the turn of the century and for several decades thereafter, when workers really needed protection from robber baron employers. Since then, American Unions have effectively ruined our steel industry, our shoe making industry, our electronics industry, our clothing industry and, pretty much, our automobile production industry. NAFTA only made this worse. In the cases of the electronics and automobile industries, Japanese corporations engaged openly in obvious collusion (willing to give up profits for 20 YEARS to grab the foothold they wanted), which is felonious in the United States. What did we do about it? Nothing. After all, Japan was our “bulwark” against the Communist Chinese. (We just won’t discuss here the “industrial explosion” in a “changing China” where most of the products we buy are produced by slave labor).

    And we continue allow Japan to place such high import tariffs on American cars that no average Japanese can buy them. We can’t even sell rice to Japan. This is NOT what I consider to be FREE TRADE. Who’s going to develop the intestinal fortitude to deal with this? No leader thus far… But let’s just wring our hands over the “trade deficit” while doing NOTHING to equalize it!

    (The fact that some free trade agreements might actually help our budget deficit is rarely mentioned. It’s income and outgo, right? Income to the US shouldn’t mean just taxes that citizens pay. There a lot of multinational money-making opportunities that we just ignore — for political reasons.)

    The same is true of unions in 2011. Today, I think most unions are defunct. Certainly local Teachers Unions should be, since they have the NEA to go to bat for them at every turn, have the ear of every president (for funding reasons), and we continue to either WAREHOUSE or REFUSE TO FIRE teachers who have proven to be incompetent, sadistic, or otherwise unable to effectively teach. In New York, at least, this is the case, where hundreds of teachers sit and knit or read every day — at full salary — because though they are not deemed fit for the classroom the UNION won’t allow them to be fired.

    How and why did the concept of Union become protection of the incompetent? How afraid are they of a real, hard look at teachers’ qualifications and accomplishments? More states (especially Virginia) are afraid to do this too. (And I just can’t help myself, unions (from the AFL to teachers) have been proven over and over again to be dishonest, engaged in outright lies or deceit, while all the while their leadership is lining its own pockets with union dues, and sending inordinately huge amounts of money to political campaigns, etc. Witness the plethora of indictments against DC Teachers Union heads who actually went to jail for embezzling millions from those “working people” they were supposed to faithfully represent.

    Why aren’t the members concerned? Because, like Vladmimir Putin, they think they have a “job for life.” Big caveat to union members: they’ll turn on you eventually (when the justice department makes them or when it’s convenient for them to do so) and then what will you have? Jimmy Hoffa didn’t provide much support from his watery grave…

    It’s time for a hard look at where the money goes — statewide and nationally. Why would Obama suggest such severe cuts in some areas and simultaneously ADD to the budget of WETA and NPR? Might that just be political? And if this is the case, why should we trust any other “adjustment?”

    I disagree with Donna Brazille and all of her ilk who continuously refer to the “working man” as someone special, who needs special assistance. Do your history, Ms. Brazille: “working man” used to refer to unskilled labor. Now, suddenly, the “working man” is every member of a union, everyone who lives on paltry salaries of $100,000 a year (this, by the way, being the median salary of the “average” Federal employee, while stage hands on Broadway make, through their Unions, upwards of $250,000 a year. Ah, yes, the poor “working man.” ) My husband and I own our own corporation, we are highly educated people, and WE ARE WORKING PEOPLE. Seven days a week. Because some years we meet with more success than others doesn’t necessarily (or temporarily) take us out of the “working man” category. It’s all semantics: unless one lives on a trust fund (a la Bertie Wooster — P.G. Wodehouse, great comic from Edwardian England) or is of the Bernie Madoff ilk, he/she is in fact a “working person.”

    Is the woman who works 85 hours a week as general counsel for her manufacturing firm not WORKING? Does her salary dictate whether she can be classified, in the Brazille “system,” as a “working woman” or not? She doesn’t work less; indeed, she works much harder, and for much longer hours. She also is divorced, and has two kids in college. Ms. Brazille, your definition seems to denote only those who work for something less than a pre-determined amount, whether or not they work with their hands instead of their heads. You’re wrong. And I assume you make a good $300,000 a year as a columnist/speaker, right? Does that mean you’re not a “working woman?” I think you would disagree. So if your continue on your tirade you’ve effectively put yourself right out of the “working woman” category — by your own definition — and you should be careful how you talk about it.

    PS We all know that nationwide the public school systems in in a shambles. And for the most part you can thank the teachers’ unions for that. (Though teachers blame parents, video games, and all manner of “stuff” for their failure, c.f. earlier Marshall posts on schools putting more emphasis on hair color than achievement..) We are supposed to be a republic and democracy, while the great percentage of our national leadership continues to emanate from the private school and the Ivy League system. We continue to be an oligarchy. What did the Founders have in mind?? Well, just maybe… but then one must consider them men of their times…

  5. Pingback: Fire the Wisconsin schoolteachers who lie to their employers and harm the children they are supposed to teach « Ethics Bob

  6. Pat

    No one need be a member of the union of concerned scientists to figure out the problem of collectivism in government. If Congress (or the Union) together decided to vote themselves $1,000,000 salaries per year (or exhoribant pensions for life), they could do it. That is the problem of collectivism and it is the problem of democracy – that can defeat the purpose of the freedom of elections. Ordinary taxpayers can be defeated by their own democracy in that regard, and it is no better than having a dictator under tyranny.
    The function of having free elections is to avoid that tyranny, i.e., by electing persons to office temporarily, not to be saddled with them for life (which is what congressional pensions produce). By most ethical standards, it would be congressional embezzlement by the nature of the authority to grant itself those pensions. The same would be true if Congress worked in conjunction with government employees to help them get reelected in order to perpetuate elective office for incumbents so that it can be effectively, for life.

    Both methods defeat the purpose of freedom of elections that is built into the congressional constitutional scheme that separates the elective office from the appointed and the government employee. Government pensions meant for government employees alone has been unethically and grossly inflated and granted to Congress and appointees in a blatant self service reward that defeats the purpose of having elections. Terms limits is the only method that can control that abuse of power.

    If government unions demands are too high, they may also need term limits to prevent arbitrary tapping into the proceeds of the taxpayer’s treasury, and thereby limiting what can be paid, and what can be taxed for.

    Public finance can defeat the purpose of democracy without such protections, and it is a necessary feature of all democracies to prevent the power of authority to abuse the power of the people, or there will be only wage slavery by government taxation.

    By tradition before government exploitation, government pensions were granted only to government employees – distinct from those elected – because they were employees. Elected persons are only temporary employees, and meant to be only temporary employees, and therefore not entitled to pensions. But that tradition has been grossly abused by self serving elected employees to become privileged as elected and privileged as employees where it was designed to be one “or” the other, not one “and” the other.

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