Unions Protect Their Members; They Aren’t Public Service Organizations

International Brotherhood of Police OfficersLast week, I posted a quote from Matt Bruenig, Don’t Blame Unions for Police Brutality. I didn’t realize that calling for an end of police unions was becoming a thing. Last weekend, Ross Douthat wrote, Our Police Union Problem. I will admit, I’ve never been that keen on police unions, simply because I haven’t been that keen on the police. But I nevertheless support police unions because I support workers and their rights to organize. Of course, Douthat is a complete nitwit when it comes to the issue.

He started his article with the usual litany for why public sector unions are bad. For example, “[T]he government’s money is not its own, so negotiations between politicians and their employees (who are also often their political supporters) amount to a division of spoils rather than a sharing of profits.” His unstated assumption here is that taxation is theft. That’s a position that one can take, but almost no one actually buys it. He also noted that unions drive up the costs of services. But who is to say what the value of the services is? We could use slave labor for our policing. That would certainly drive the price of services down. But would that be just? Why is the compensation derived at through collective bargaining too high, while a divide-and-conquer approach is correct?

Just to show that there are no limits to his nonsense, he finished off, “Finally, union lobbying power can bias public-policy decisions toward the interests of state employees.” But private sector companies lobby the government over public policy decisions with the intent of advantaging themselves. How is this different? Douthat doesn’t say because it is just a given that workers are bad and businesses are good.

Finally, Douthat got to his main point: police unions. He made some kind of weird comparison between police and teacher unions. And then he concluded that police unions are always standing in the way of making positive changes in public policy. For example, police unions have been against the use of body cameras. I take his point, but this is not the problem of police unions. They are not the all powerful entities of conservative imagination. And the main way that they have power is through their alignment with conservative politics where laws are passed to disempower public sector unions with special carve-outs for the police.

The big problem here is that people don’t understand the purpose of unions. They exist to protect their members. They are not NGOs or other groups looking out for the public good. Cesar Chavez was given a lot of heat at one time about the UFW being against immigration. People seemed to think that it was his job to be looking out for the interests all Latinos or something. That wasn’t true. His job was to get the best working conditions for his union’s members. The same is true for teachers. And for the police.

Unions are a counterbalance to the power of those who employ them. No one ever questions but that Walmart should be making money. No one complains that it isn’t out in the world trying to get its customers to eat right and exercise. But unions are expected to do this. Or rather, people like Ross Douthat pretend that this is what unions should do. It’s a way of vilifying unions by pretending that they have a charter to make the world a better place.

I accept that police unions — any unions — can be a problem in making positive changes. But that doesn’t make them bad. And regardless, the problems we see with policing throughout the United States are not due to police unions. If the governments who oversee them want to make changes, they can make the changes. Policing did not become militarized because of police unions. Abusive officers do not flourish in departments because of police unions. The lack of widespread use of body cameras is not because of police unions. The government has great resources to make changes, and people like Ross Douthat want to avoid the real question by blaming police unions. It’s a step up from blaming police brutality on single motherhood. But not much of a step.

Murder, Military, and the Chain of Command

Mathew L GolsteynYou may have heard the story of US Army Major Mathew L Golsteyn, whose application to go to the CIA ended in an investigation of his committing war crimes in Afghanistan. Well, this week, Ryan Devereaux and Jeremy Scahill at The Intercept published, Documents: Green Beret Who Sought Job At CIA Confessed To Murder. When it was originally reported, The Washington Post only said that, “Mathew L Golsteyn was investigated by the Army Criminal Investigation Command for an undisclosed violation of the US military’s rules of engagement in 2010 that resulted in the death of a known enemy fighter and bombmaker in Helmand province, Afghanistan, according to the officials.” That puts a rather nice gloss on it.

It turns out that Golsteyn had told the CIA that he had captured and murdered this man, “Golsteyn stated that he knew it was illegal but was not remorseful as he had solid intelligence…” Judge, jury, and executioner. According to him, he buried the body, but then want back a couple of days later with two friends and burned the body. The army punished him as much as they could, but they couldn’t court martial him because they had no corroborating evidence. That in itself is interesting, because scores of Americans have been sent to their deaths based only on confessions — or supposed confessions. I’m glad the army works this way; I wish our civilian criminal justice system were so fair.

What is most interesting about all this is that Golsteyn might be lying. He might have been saying this just to impress his future employers. And I find that quite troubling. It shows that a lot of our men in uniform are psychopaths. What’s more, this kind of behavior shows a complete lack of respect for the military chain of command. Supposedly, Golsteyn alone knew that this man was a bomb maker and he alone went out and did something about it. According to the Army, the man was a noncombatant. Thus, Golsteyn is either a murderer or just a guy who wants to be thought of as a murderer.

Of course, now Golsteyn has become something of a cause célèbre on the right. Basically, he had some medals taken away, and now the army seems keen on getting rid of him. Law of war expert, Geoffrey Corn, noted, “It’s a career ending administrative sanction for an officer. The stripping of the medals is peripheral. The real thing is once he gets this reprimand in his official file, then somebody’s going to say we should process him to be separated from the military—in other words, fire him.” It doesn’t much matter whether he was telling the truth or not; he’s made the Army look bad.

It’s interesting to see the conservatives flock to Golsteyn’s defense, because it shows that they don’t really support the military and the troops. Their notions of the military come from Rambo. But individuals don’t win wars; armies win wars. What the Army is doing to Golsteyn is the maximum that it can given the information that they have. Golsteyn claimed that “his actions protected the safety of his fellow teammates.” That might have been true in the short term. But in the long term, it hurts the military mission in Afghanistan. But in the mind of conservatives, we just need a small group of Golsteyns to go in there and kick ass. This is the same kind of thinking that we can bomb our way to victory. Yes, we can kill everyone. But that isn’t what we are trying to do in Afghanistan.

Jeb Bush Has Three Ideas for Not Fixing Baltimore

Jeb BushEd Kilgore made a good point: if you want to know what the Republican response to the problems in Baltimore are, look at Jeb Bush. After all, he is the most “moderate” of the 2016 presidential candidates. So we are going to get the most reasonable ideas from him. So it is worth while to take a look at his little OpEd, Jeb Bush’s War on Poverty Revamp. It starts off with the obligatory “it sure is sad that a young man was murdered by the police.” But then, he goes immediately after the city government, “Those who permitted this to happen must be held accountable because public safety is the first responsibility for those who lead our cities.” He’s not referring to what happened to Freddie Gray; he’s referring to the burning of the CVS. Apparently, that’s the real story.

Bush is not at all interested in revamping the war on poverty. He’s interested in slapping at Democrats and liberal policy. In a bit of unintended comedy, he wrote that “voices on the left tick off tired explanations.” And then he went on to provide three incredibly tired and useless ideas of his own. Idea number one: “If our government leaders want to attack poverty, they should first acknowledge that an effective anti-poverty program is a strong family, led by two parents.” What insight!

Apparently, no Republican can talk about poverty without talking about the two parent household. There is a correlation here. Two parent households do have higher standards of living. But it simply isn’t true that making people stay in dysfunctional marriages is good for the kids. But conservatives love this idea because it allows them to blame the poor for their problems. It’s like David Brooks’ continued lectures to the poor that if they’d only act like middle class people, they too would succeed.

But the bigger reason why Bush wants to “strengthen” the family is because it doesn’t require that the government do anything. The biggest social change that I’ve seen in my lifetime has been the shift to two earner households. When I was a kid, pretty much all the the mothers were at home. That added a great deal of social cohesion. Families could survive and even thrive on a single paycheck. But is Bush in favor of that? Of course not! He’s on the leading edge of taking money away from the poorer classes and giving it to the rich.

His second idea is just as unimpressive and tired: education. If only we provide better education, then everyone will get good jobs. I’m not keen on the whole “education as job training” idiocy. But regardless, we now see millions of young people who did get good educations, including college degrees, who can’t find good work. Why? Because the jobs just aren’t there. Again, this is because we have an unfair economic system that takes from the poor and gives to the rich. And who is to blame for the fact schools are failing? Teachers’ unions of course!

But even worse is that Bush just lies about the situation in Baltimore. He claims that on average, $15,000 is spent per child on their education. The problem is that this includes all schools — including charter schools. Public schools get just over $5,000 per year per student.[1] And as I harp on all the time, students in rich areas get more money spent on them than children in poor areas. Is Bush willing to do anything about that? Fat chance.

And Bush’s third idea for fixing Baltimore is probably the worst: “encourage people in the toughest neighborhoods to start up businesses.” And how will they do that? Well, as Mitt Romney instructed, they should just get a loan from their parents. Bush seriously suggests that it is regulation that is stopping people from starting businesses in “tough” neighborhoods. He’s just clueless.

As we all know, Bush is moderate only in the sense that he doesn’t foam at the mouth. His solutions to Baltimore are exactly the same as we will hear from the rest of the Republicans running for president. If you strip away the very minor policies that are implied, they are just about blaming the victims: you aren’t staying married; you aren’t staying in school; you aren’t starting businesses. If Republicans were honest, they would just say that they have no ideas for how to make things better in places like Baltimore and they are okay with treating the people there as though they didn’t matter.

See also: Media Determined to Make Jeb Bush a Moderate.

[1] Since there seems to be some confusion about Baltimore school funding, here is the quote from Think Progress:

Baltimore’s school funding gets shared with charters; traditional public schools will get just $5,336 per student next year. Average amounts also obscure the fact that school districts usually spend more on wealthy students and white students than on poor and black ones.

Morning Music: Codeine

The White Birch - CodeineBack in the early 1990s, when I was absolutely crazy for American Music Club, there was another band that was doing very similar work, Codeine, which I totally missed. It’s probably because AMC is from San Francisco and Codeine was a New York City band. Also, AMC has a sense of humor about its despair that is mostly missing from Codeine. Still, that band is totally amazing.

Sadly, Codeine broke up in 1994 and never really got back together. So there isn’t much in the way of live performances of them on line. They did briefly get back together in 2012. And the following video is from that tour. It is one of those shaky camera phones videos, but the sound isn’t too bad. They are performing “Tom” off their third and final album, The White Birch. Even better, their entire first album, Frigid Stars, is available on YouTube. Check it out!

Anniversary Post: Watergate Hearings

Richard NixonOn this day in 1974, the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee started formal hearings on the impeachment of President Nixon. When I think back on Watergate, I see a great defeat for democracy in America. The issue isn’t Nixon. Presidents do all kinds of illegal things and about the only thing that stops them from getting thrown out of office is that they have political support. What’s more, I think Nixon would have survived the whole thing if there hadn’t been the tapes. Since then, I’m sure that worse things have been done. But the way our media is, unless there is a smoking gun, it is treated as though nothing has happened. As it is, after everything that clearly indicates that Chris Christie is the most corrupt of politicians, he is set to announce a run for president.

But the reason Watergate was so bad is that it caused Democrats to turn against ideology and toward anti-corruption. Of course, all that meant was that they supported status quo while the Republicans pushed hard to the right. Meanwhile the Democrats pushed efforts to make the government more transparent. But as you may have noticed, the government is less transparent than ever. So even on that front, they failed. But it really did set up the environment in which neoliberalism could take over the Democratic Party. So when it came to economic policy, Americans are offered the “choice” of conservative policy competently administered or conservative policy incompetently administered. Gee, ain’t democracy grand. It reminds me of the democracy that existed in the Soviet Union.

So that’s what Watergate brought us: less choice in politics. I still look back and find it strange that three consecutive Republican administrations could be shown to be corrupt, and yet the American voter keeps on giving them power. And then you can add to that the George W Bush administration that got appointed by a partisan Supreme Court and then went on to be both corrupt and incompetent. Yet the American people, in their wisdom will certainly make Scott Walker the next president if everything lines up the right way. And then, when he signs a federal “right to work” law, everyone will be shocked — Shocked! — that he would do exactly what he had campaigned on.

Nixon may have run a crime syndicate out of the White House. But as we’ve seen, there are much worse things that the president can do. And if the American electorate is clueless enough to elected another Republican, we will see more of them.

Happy anniversary to the House of Representatives standing up for something while they allowed the country to go to hell over the next forty years.