Although Sonny made the case for busting up teachers’ unions, the very same issue of the Weekly Standard describes one industry in which unions were a great force for social justice: Major League Baseball. [subscription only]
In 1965, players earned an average of $14,000. Today, the average is $3 million. What happened?
There is no doubt, however, that before their union was formed, players were little more than chattel. Team owners colluded to sign every player to a contract containing the so-called reserve clause that bound him to a single team until it chose to release or trade him. Years of turmoil produced the current system—too complex to summarize here—that allows players with a certain seniority to become “free agents” and shop their talents around. Hence the multiyear multimillion-dollar contracts.
Service is its own reward, a but an $800,000 salary isn’t bad either, especially if you’re the city manager for Bell, California. The LA Times reports:
A local official in California earning close to $800,000 a year as the manager of a city with nearly a quarter of its population in poverty has quit following a public uproar, the mayor said on Friday…
[Robert] Rizzo’s $787,637 salary was nearly twice that of U.S. President Barack Obama, a considerable expense for a city of 37,000 people operating its own food bank for impoverished residents.
Both the attorney general’s office and Calpers, the California public pension system, are investigating the situation.
Calpers has an interest in the compensation Bell provided because of the pension payments it must make.
Rizzo could amass pension payments of more than $30 million in retirement if he lives until age 83, according to an analysis by the California Foundation for Fiscal Responsibility, a group calling for an overhaul of the state’s public pension system.
We still miss Sonny here at CF, but he does have a great article in the new Weekly Standard, about how liberal filmmakers have turned against teachers unions. You heard me right. Davis Guggenheim, the director of An Inconvenient Truth, has a new documentary out, entitled Waiting for “Superman”:
Guggenheim and the reformers he interviews come back to the troubling aspects of teacher tenure. Like its cousin in higher education, tenure is a guarantee of employment for life. Unlike in higher education, however, tenure is handed out to virtually every public school teacher after a short wait, typically two to three years. When layoffs occur, school districts are forced to operate on a “last hired, first fired” basis instead of deciding who to keep based on merit. The one-two combo of tenure and seniority has made it almost impossible to fire poor teachers.
Consider Chicago. Only 28.5 percent of Chicago Public School students met or exceeded expectations on the composite Prairie State Achievement Examination in the 11th grade. In science and math, those numbers were even more dismal; a mere 23.7 and 26.9 percent, respectively, met or exceeded the standards expected of them. But the teachers responsible for these outcomes are virtually untouchable. According to Newsweek, the percentage of Chicago teachers dismissed for poor performance between 2005 and 2008 was 0.1 percent. In a district where only one in four students is proficient in math and science, how is it possible that less than one in one thousand teachers is worthy of dismissal?
Why have liberal filmmakers — and liberals more broadly — started to turn against unions? I don’t have a great answer, but I think that at least some credit should go to Teach for America, the government program that places top college graduates in rural and inner-city public schools to teach for two or three years. I have several friends who did the program in Washington, DC. They see the problems there first hand, so they don’t fall back on the teachers unions’ old saw that the only problem is not enough money.
Conservatives and liberals just can’t help but see Mad Men differently: the former with apprehension, the latter with anticipation. The show inspires a certain self-satisfaction in the type of viewers who would observe each instance of sexism, racism, and general prejudice as just more foundation for an interpretation many critics have arrived at: “The show explains why the ’60s had to happen.” Rod Dreher says, “For unreflective liberals, Mad Men is only temporarily tragic. It has a happy ending. Deliverance from all this sexism and repression and cigarette smoke draws nigh.”
Jonah Goldberg refuses to concede.
Mad Men is too self-indulgent, too pleased with itself, too quick to get audiences to look for inside jokes, winks, nods, and allusions…Each character is a type. The show works because we haven’t seen many of these types portrayed so well, but their job too often is to represent a Very Important Trend or stand-in for Something Important that is Lost (for good or ill).
I disagree. Mad Men’s saving grace is that the characters remain essentially human, instead of degenerating into stereotypes. Yes, the show has its politics. Initially, I was concerned they would overwhelm it. But they don’t.
Not surprisingly, Jonah and others at NRO are hesitant to endorse the liberal narrative that presents the 1960s as a liberation from the racism, sexism and homophobia of what came before it. For good reason, conservatives remind us of what was lost and what went wrong in the 1960s — two themes that are basically missing from Mad Men.
Yet I think it is worth dwelling for a moment on just how powerful the liberal narrative of liberation really is. In the 1950s, prevailing attitudes towards race, gender and sexuality were appalling by today’s standards. And their impact is personal. Both my mother and my wife have are professional women whose accomplishments would’ve been impossible a half century ago. And I benefit directly from their success, both materially and intellectually.
Furthermore, the challenge to the indefensible standards of the 1950s came primarily from the left, while opposition came primarily from the right. (For the moment, I’ll ignore the question of where Southern Democrats belonged on the political spectrum.) On a gut level, I think it’s hard for today’s conservatives to accept (or at least to admit in print) that liberalism was right about something this big and this important, while conservatives were wrong.
Conservatism values continuity and tradition, which makes it very hard to accept that conservatives of a previous generation were so compromised. In contrast, liberals can always argue that the flaws of their forbears were simply imperfections that would give way to progress. Sure, the Founding Fathers had slaves. And the abolitionists were profoundly sexist and often racist. And the New Dealers were sexist and homophobic. But these were all flaws that would eventually be washed away by the great tide of progress.
So is Mad Men the best show on television, now that The Sopranos and The Wire have passed into the great beyond? Jonah makes the case for Breaking Bad, and so does Ross Douthat. I’d say that both are superb. Yet my inner historian has been seduced by Mad Men’s lush recreation of a Lost Era in American history. I give Mad Men the nod.
Liz Cheney and Arianna Huffington recently clashed about the propriety of Halliburton’s operations in Iraq. (ICYMI, Cheney’s father was the CEO of Halliburton until he became Vice President of the United States.) Huffington said Halliburton “defrauded the US government…[of] hundreds of millions of dollars in Iraq.” Then this:
Cheney: “Arianna, it is absolutely not true. It is absolutely not true.”
Huffington: “Okay, I’m so glad PolitiFact is going to be checking this. I’m so glad.”
Cheney: “Good, good.”
How could Politifact resist an invitation like that? Their conclusion: Huffington’s remarks were Half True.
It’s a complicated story, so I really recommend reading the entire Politifact report. Here are the key points: In the previous decade, Halliburton, through its subsidy KBR, received $31 billion in military contract. Government auditors have found that $553 million in payments to KBR (around 3% of the total) should be disallowed. But there is no indication that these charges resulted from bad intentions. Politifact concludes:
In evaluating Huffington’s statement, we’re most bothered by her use of the word “defrauded.” Some of the overbilling in Iraq appears to have been done from haste or inefficiency, or even in a desire to please military officials in the field without regard for cost. Whether the waste in contracting constitutes fraud is still being examined.
“It’s a lot money being spent in a region of the world where we don’t have a lot of infrastructure for accounting for how the money is being spent. It will take years before we fully determine how we spent the money,” said Todd Harrison, a senior fellow for defense budget studies at the nonpartisan Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.
Interestingly, just three months ago, the Department of Justice filed an actual lawsuit against KBR accusing them of actual fraud, although KBR responds that the US government was actually in breach of contract. Even so, I’d say that Politifact is being fairly generous to Ms. Huffington, since I doubt she specifically had the April lawsuit in mind.
Of course, Huffington sees things very differently. Rather than being grateful for the fact check she requested, she is now bashing Politifact for its timid conclusions:
The “fact check” turned into a model of how to avoid the truth.
This is a favorite trick of those in positions of power: using ambiguity and complexity as a sort of chemical dispersant on the truth. Dilute it enough and it becomes unrecognizable.
This isn’t to lump PolitiFact in with Liz Cheney, but its attempt to bend over backwards to find the comfort of the middle ground is part of the problem it was presumably formed to combat.
What makes this particularly troubling is that PolitiFact’s “fact check” was well-researched and well-sourced. The truthiness part was that PolitiFact’s facts clearly supported a conclusion different than the one its editors came to.
Let me close with a personal note. I spent four months working for the US military in Iraq, where I depended on KBR’s services everyday. The capabilities they provide are both impressive and indispensable. There is no excuse for waste, but any judgment of their waste should entail a comparison to the efficiency of other parties — including the Pentagon — who found it equally hard to be a model of efficiency in the midst of a warzone.
Last week, Bill Kristol called for Michael Steele to resign after the RNC Chairman denounced the conflict in Afghanistan as “a war of Obama’s choosing.”
Now Ann Coulter is returning the favor, defending Steele on the grounds that Afghanistan really is Obama’s war. Needless to say, this argument involves a fair amount of revisionist history (even though Coulter accuses her critics of revisionism). For example:
Yes, Bush invaded Afghanistan soon after Sept. 11. Within the first few months we had toppled the Taliban, killed or captured hundreds of al-Qaida fighters and arranged for democratic elections, resulting in an American-friendly government.
Then Bush declared success and turned his attention to Iraq, leaving minimal troops behind in Afghanistan to prevent Osama bin Laden from regrouping, swat down al-Qaida fighters and gather intelligence.
Having some vague concept of America’s national interest – unlike liberals – the Bush administration could see that a country of illiterate peasants living in caves ruled by “warlords” was not a primo target for “nation-building.”
Yet when conditions in Afghanistan began to get worse during Bush’s second term, he gradually but continually increased our commitment to the war. Bush was no more willing than Obama to accept a Taliban resurgence.
Although there’s plenty more to dispute in Coulter’s column, that is one quagmire I prefer to avoid.
Matthew Rothschild, editor of The Progressive, explains that he isn’t unpatriotic, he’s anti-patriotic! In Why I don’t celebrate July 4th, Rothschild explains,
My heart does not beat faster at the strains of the Star Spangled Banner, much less at the sight of F-16s flying overhead to kick off the show.
You see, I don’t believe in patriotism.
You can call me unpatriotic if you’d like, but really I’m anti-patriotic.
I’ve been studying fascism lately, and there is one inescapable fact about it:
Nationalism is the egg that hatches fascism.
And patriotism is but the father of nationalism.
Patriotism is not something to play with. It’s highly toxic. When ingested, it corrodes the rational faculties.
It gulls people into believing their leaders.
It masks those who benefit most from state policy.
And it destroys the ability of people to get together, within the United States and across boundaries, to take on those with the most power: the multinational corporation.
By all indications, Matthew Rothschild is a real person and these are his real opinions. Admittedly, they seem more like some conspiratorial caricature dreamed up by a cabal of right-wing talk-show hosts.
On a related note, Gallup reports that more and more Americans describe themselves as “extremely patriotic”.
The increase in the overall percentage of Americans calling themselves “extremely patriotic” is driven largely by seniors, Republicans, and conservatives — all of whom are significantly more likely to say so than they were in 2005.
Even worse, from Mr. Rothschild’s perspective, 60% of liberals describe themselves as “very” or “extremely” patriotic, while 14% say they’re “not especially patriotic”.
Regrettably, Gallup doesn’t report how many describe themselves as “anti-patriotic”.
Lee Smith examines the life and death of Sayyid Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah, the Lebanese cleric often described as the inspiration for Hezbollah. But it’s a little more complicated than that:
During the ’90s, Fadlallah had a falling out with Hezbollah and Iran. The sticking point was the concept of Velyat-e Faqih, or guardianship of the jurist, which held that the supreme religious and political authority for Hezbollah was Iran’s Supreme Leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Pride played an issue for Fadlallah, who was a true scholar—a marja al-taqlid, or source of emulation—for millions of Shiites around the world. Khamenei was a mid-level cleric whose stature rested on his ability to maneuver among allies and adversaries in Tehran.
While Fadlallah railed against the Iranians, Hezbollah started buying off Fadlallah’s Lebanese followers and instructed them to follow Khamenei. Lebanon’s 2006 war with Israel brought destruction to the Shiite community as well as Fadlallah personally, whose compound and institutions were bombed.
Hoping to show a unified Shiite front, Iran and Hezbollah’s General Secretary Hassan Nasrallah rebuilt Fadlallah’s empire with $12 million in reconstruction funds. His death, however, revealed the shallow nature of the alliance. Hezbollah’s official statement upon Fadlallah’s passing paid him honor as a defender of the resistance against the Zionist entity and a great Islamic scholar, but did not acknowledge his status as marja. Nasrallah himself could not help but launch a final dig when in his own speech after Fadlallah’s death he described Mr. Khamenei as “at the forefront of our greatest marja’s.”
Hezbollah is already scrambling to co-opt Fadlallah’s legacy. According to sources in the Lebanese Shiite community, it’s seeking control of an estimated $2 billion worth of the late scholar’s business enterprises, including hospitals, schools, orphanages and restaurants. Yet Iran and Hezbollah cannot conceal that they and Fadlallah were on different sides of an issue—Iranian influence in Lebanon—that is of great strategic importance to the future of the region.
In a strange postscript to Fadlallah’s death, CNN fired its senior editor for Middle East Affairs after she announced that she was “sad” about the passing of Fadlallah, for whom she had great “respect”. The editor, Octavia Nasr, later explained that she understood Fadlallah support for terrorism, but admired his progressive stands on women’s issues, such as his opposition to honor killings.
I just ran across David Brooks’ column from last week, in which Brooks comes perilously close blaming journalists for McChrystal’s fall:
Over the course of 50 years, what had once been considered the least important part of government became the most important. These days, the inner soap opera is the most discussed and the most fraught arena of political life.
And into this world walks Gen. Stanley McChrystal…
McChrystal, like everyone else, kvetched. And having apparently missed the last 50 years of cultural history, he did so on the record, in front of a reporter. And this reporter, being a product of the culture of exposure, made the kvetching the center of his magazine profile.
By putting the kvetching in the magazine, the reporter essentially took run-of-the-mill complaining and turned it into a direct challenge to presidential authority. He took a successful general and made it impossible for President Obama to retain him…
Another scalp is on the wall. Government officials will erect even higher walls between themselves and the outside world. The honest and freewheeling will continue to flee public life, and the cautious and calculating will remain.
Yes, McChrystal “missed the last 50 years of cultural history.” But in Brooksian theology, that is actually sort of a noble thing.
It is misleading to make excuses for McChrystal as a man out of time. Every general knows that personal criticism of the President is beyond the pale. Suggesting that the President may have been intimidated by senior military officers is clearly unacceptable. And this is not a secret to any one at the Pentagon.
It is actually an excellent thing that we have such high standards for our generals — and that we enforce them. That is what protects the military from partisan politics and ensures civilian control.
You are, I know, a patriot. So I ask you to consider, over this July 4 weekend, doing an act of service for the country you love: Resign as chairman of the Republican party…
There are, of course, those who think we should pull out of Afghanistan, and they’re certainly entitled to make their case. But one of them shouldn’t be the chairman of the Republican party.
Seriously, how could Steele ever have said,
This was a war of Obama’s choosing. This was not something that the United States had actively prosecuted or wanted to engage in.
That is simply mind-boggling. It’s far beyond Hillary Clinton’s imagined adventure in Bosnia, where she landed under fire at the Sarajevo airport. I admit that was strange. But anyone who remembers 9/11 knows that Steele’s statement is bizarre. The GOP should cut its losses, and fast.
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