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And, for Jack Lessenberry; the thoughts of another Jack (Shafer) at
Link, Eric:
Eric, if you've got a specific issue with anything I've written, by all means let us know about it. Or you can blog about it at your website, Personally, I'd sort of like to attach my name to this, because I stand by eevry word of it. But in the current climate, lots of people in the private sector have reason to fear the wrath of union intimidation. Take, for instance, Jim Parrett, the "Field Rep." for Council 24 of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees in southeast Wisconsin. Who just sent a letter to scores of small regional businesses in that area, informing them that they'd be the target of union boycotts if they failed to put up workers' rights signs in their windows. Neutrality, it seems, was not enough. The AFSCME threat was going to business owners who hadn't even taken a public stand one way or another about the Wisconsin Budget Repair Bill. So, yeah. Maybe Jack was right after all. There might really be an issue of speech-chilling intimidation going on. Just not the sort of intimidation he was talking about.
Jack, if you read the same TPM webpage that I did, you might have come across an angry comment from an opponent of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker. It read something like, "Somebody should FOIA all of Governor Walker's email! And then, they should FOIA the email from these people who are FOIAing the professors!" The comment was hysterical, for two reasons about which the author seemed clueless. The first bit of cluelessness is that Governor Walker has been FOIA'ed. The Isthmus, an alt/liberal weekly tabloid in Madison (much like the Detroit Metro Times, which features columnist Jack Lessenberry, who is far less restrined than Political Analyst Jack Lessenberry) long ago did a FOIA seeking all of Governor Walker's emails concerning the Budget Repair Bill. And then, the Isthmus and the Wisconsin Press Association sued Governor Walker, to make that FOIA stick. So, yeah, the union-left knows a thing or two about FOIAs for e-mails. The second bit of hilarity is the notion that anyone could or should FOIA private email. (Like, say, the suggestion for a FOIA of email at the Mackinac Center.) You can't FOIA private communications. Nobody should be able to FOIA non-public documents. And that is assuredly not what is happening in this case. There is a code of conduct for how professors and other university staff are supposed to use their .edu accounts. Politicking is not one of the permitted uses. This is not a restraint on free speech. This is not a witch hunt. This is not any sort of unfairness. Universities do get FOIA requests. The University of Michigan has a very nice, very capable FOIA officer, whose job it is to respond to FOIA requests and to help University staff cooperate with those requests. Even a liberal-minded newspaper like the Detroit Free Press is, on a more or less weekly basis, peppering the University of Michigan with FOIA requests. My last foray in this regard was checking on the FOIAs submitted by the Free Press with regard to its own witch hunt against former Head Football Coach Rich Rodriguez and all of his staff. The breathtaking reach of those FOIAs make this request look like small potatoes by comparison. if you think that the Free Press wanted documents including emails, you'd be correct. Now, if indeed there were University staff members using their .edu mail accounts to do personal politicking; well, they know (or they should know) that was wrong. But even though it was wrong, I don't think anybody supposes that the Mackinac Center wishes to get in the business of disciplining college faculties. More likely, Mackinac wants to make a political point, about a very public, very important political debate. A point that is of concern to all citizens who may be interested in the Wisconsin-Michigan-Ohio debate over public sector labor relations. (A debate that is so important, it will likely take place in California, New York and perhaps half of all the other states.) It is a debate in which many in academia have deliberately inserted themselves. And if Jack Lessenberry will permit me a personal comment; I have in the past exchanged a few emails with him. Without exception as far as I know, I have used my private .aol email account, and I have always used his private .aol email account. And that is just as it should be. As Jack Lessenberry rightly notes it should be. Jack Lessenberry is correct that someon like him, who has by all accounts operated properly with respect to .edu email, has absolutely no concern with a request like this one. As to any claim that the Mackinac Center is now engaging in any sort of illegal or unethical or threatening conduct with the current FOIA; that is baloney. Coming from the left wing that has made frequent use of FOIAs whenever it suited the left (see, Governor Walker's FOIA), it is especially hypocritical baloney.
William J. McGurn writes the "Main Street" column for the Wall Street Journal and is a Vice President for News Corp. He is a frequent visitor to Michigan; this is his latest in a series of observations on our state:
It is always thrilling and a little bit dizzying, when I can say, "Jack Lessenberry is right, and his complaining listners/readers are wrong." And so it is here; Jack is right, and "mvymvy" is wrong. Michigan could easily be considered a "flyover" state by the national media. But Michigan is an important electoral state every four years, because, like Ohio and Wisconsin, we are purplish states with considerable numbers of electoral votes. Presidential candidates want, and need our votes. If we had simply a national general election, Presidential candidates would hardly waste their time coming here at all. The camapigns would be much more nationalized pure-media campaigns. More dependent than ever on money for national media campaigns. No thanks. No thanks for Michigan, and no thanks for me. There is an essential lie in the National Popular Vote Bill as well. In order to really change the Electoral College, it would, or should, be necessary to pass a Constitutional Amendment. But the supporters of the National Popular Vote Act haven't got that kind of support. And so instead they have opted for this weird "cast-your-electoral-votes-for-the-popular-vote-winner" scheme. When the proponents of a law have to resort to that kind of trickery, you know that there is something wrong with it.
The simple fact is that the pathway of greatest concern (it is admittedly not the only pathway of concern) between the greater Mississippi river system and the Great Lakes is the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal. That canal is operated as a federal property, under the direct control of the USEPA, the US Coast Guard, and the Army Corps of Engineers. And all three of those federal executive branch agencies are under the direct control of the President of the Untied States. President Barack Obama it is, at this time. I cannot imagine, if the current occupant of the White House were named George W. Bush, that Mr. Lessenberry would not be personalizing this battle. It is actually laughable, that in a half-dozen Detroit Free Press editorials on this topic, it is nearly impossible to find the name "Obama" mentioned anywhere. And speaking of fish, any mention of the U. S. Supreme Court in this regard is a red herring. The legal case seeking an injuction to close the Chaicago canal, filed by all of the Republican attorneys general in the surrounding Great Lakes states with help from none of the Democrat administrations in any of those states, is still pending. There was an early attempt, at a long-shot legal strategy to reopen a 100 year-old supervisory decision, in order to get a fast federal court ruling to close the Chicago canal. It didn't work, and the U.S. Supreme Court denied request for injunctive relief, but not for lack of effort on the part of the Great Lakes Republicans. The U.S. Supreme Court merely said that it didn't have any basis to rule without a full hearing and/or a trial in the federal District Court. And oh by the way, the Department of Justice and the U.S. Solicitor General's office under President Obama's direction did not weigh in on the side of Lakes preservation; the Obama Administration actively argued against closing the Chicago canal. In any event, it is really roundabout Constitutionalism, to be looking to the Supreme Court to tell the Executive branch how best to operate the Coast Guard and the Army Corps of Engineers. President Obama could close the canal, like yesterday, if he so chose. He possesses that Executive power, far more clearly than he possessed the dubious power to suspend all deep water oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico after the Deepwater Horizon accident. Unlike the deepwater drilling sites, the Chicago Sanitary & Ship Canal is actually under President Obama's direct supervision and control. He could close the canal with a stroke of his pen, and the only plausible reason to understand why he hasn't so far is to look at the local political influence-peddling in Chicago. And let it not go unsaid; the President's homey, Illinois Senator Dick Durbin, is also playing this situation like the political master he is. Durbin solemnly talks about what a serious problem this is, and how there is an urgent need -- a need, that is, to fund an expensive, long-term federal study of the problem. (Mr. Lessenberry mentions the study.) Thereby taking the heat off of a fellow Democrat and President from the South Side of Chicago, and allowing the shipping operators to buy more time for business as usual. All the while, creating some more federal patronage "study" jobs in Durbin's home state.
I don't disagree with Jack Lessenberry's post today; I'd hope that he likewise would not disagree with the following: One other thing that Governor Snyder has in common with Governor Walker in Wisconsin, is that time, such as it is, may be on their side. That is to say, the budgetary difficulties faced by Michigan and Wisconsin are not going away soon. In Wisconsin, county and local governments will soon be facing a fiscal squeeze like they have never known before. And they'll be grateful for the union-negotiation 'equipment' that Govenor Walker has given them, to deal with expensive collective bargaining agreements. And in Michigan, the tax on defined pensions will in time be seen as a budgetary essential, putting Michigan in line with other states, without having raised marginal rates on any portion of the taxpaying public. They talk about recalling the Wisconsin Senate Republicans, but even if that strategy worked, and if (a very large IF) they somehow managed to overturn the state senate majority, there won't be any reversal of the just-passed Budget Repair Bill; for the simple reason that the current Wisconsin Assembly and the Governor won't change. Both being necessary to change the status quo. Elections do have consequences.
Well, James, it might be relevant information. When we hear stories about school districts that have cut music, curtailed bus service, ended special education, etc., we tend to think, "Wow, that district has cut to the bone!" Without ever considering that the things that haven't been touched in those budgets are teacher salaries, benefits and/or pensions. More and more, in school districts across the state, budget-concsious superintendents and school boards are slashing away at the only things that they can, (things like buses, sports, music, as mentinoed above); leaving alone the things that are untouchable under Michigan's pro-union collective bargaining laws. So that is why I asked a simple question. Because I think the answer, in most cases, is slightly astonishing. Just as "entitlement spending" is the massive unaddressed part of the federal budget, "union contracts" are the massive unaddressed part of school budgets.
Jack; a question for Superintendent Simeck -- What percentage of his budget goes to teacher salaries, pensions and benefits?
Jack Lessenberry and I might disagree on politics and yet agree, on matters of taste, that Lady Gaga is silly, and that the Detroit Symphony Orchestra is serious. Sadly for both Jack and me, Lady Gaga is wildly popular, raking in millions, and the undoubtedly superior DSO is floundering. And so it goes in the world of "popular appeal." Glenn Beck is not a serious political figure, and it would be an equal mistake by those on the right (who might make him a false hero) and those on the left (who might make him a convenient punching bag) to give him more attention than he deserves. But he is popular. When it comes to politics, Glenn Beck is Lady Gaga. Jack Lessenberry, for his part, could have chosen a more thoughtful philosophical opponent. As Glenn Beck was comparing Detroit to post-nuclear Hiroshima, Holman Jenkins of the Wall Street Journal (a former journalism fellow at the University of Michigan) was writing this about Detroit and its most visible union, the UAW: "The UAW finale has begun. It's the beginning of the end for the union, except as administrator of its membership's retiree health-care benefits (which increasingly looks like a bone thrown the union by the Big Three to give labor honchos a reason for living). "Let us put away our Woody Guthrie records. Detroit's 'turnaround' has come not because everyone got a warm feeling and pulled together as a team. Accurately stating matters, the New York Times recently noted that the homegrown industry's 'cost structure has been reduced substantially, first through worker buyouts and plant closings and then by eliminating debt during its bankruptcy.' "This has the virtue of getting the chronology right. The big labor concessions all came before a government-sponsored bankruptcy that reorganized GM and Chrysler in 2009. In each case, the union gave ground because it knew the one way to outrun its all-important political support in Washington would be to drive the Big Three into Chapter 11. "Bankruptcy came to GM and Chrysler anyway in the financial crisis, followed by a taxpayer bailout. Mr. King [UAW President Steve King] knows, in the current political atmosphere, he can't go back to playing his monopoly card to extract anticompetitive terms from the Big Three." That's Holman Jankins in the Wall Street Journal this week. Multiply this description times Michigan's largest industrial base, and then times the State of Michigan government, and then times every major governmental and commercial interest in the City of Detroit, and you end up with a better description our region than Glenn Beck's sensational and factually loose "Hiroshima." But is it really so different? And there's more. Governor Rick Snyder is now trying to cobble together a grand financial package to make sound the state's budget. Right now, he is fighting for a tax package that includes increased taxes on pensions, so that he can can pay the state's obligations to unionized state workers. It must leave some senior, high-wage UAW workers scratching their heads. Do they stand in solidarity with their public employee union-brethren? Even though they -- and their corporate employers -- are part of the taxpaying body that must pay those state workers? A cynic might observe, that a smart UAW retiree would get out of Michigan, retire to Florida, where they make no cars, and where they don't have a state income tax. And wonder why every business that can do so, wouldn't follow.
Jack, even you must know how perverse it is, to suggest this: "All this makes me fear that the real winner of the midterm elections may turn out to have been the Asian carp, which, if it gets established in the Great Lakes, could effectively destroy the fishing industry." How did the "midterm elections" affect the looming problem of the Asian Carp? After all, it was a band of Republican state Attorneys General, led by Michigan's Mike Cox, who tried their best, with an admittedly longshot lawsuit, to close the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal to the advancing carp. The Canal, and its system of locks, is jointly operated by three federal executive-branch agencies: the U.S. Coast Guard, the Army Corps of Engineers, and the EPA. For the individual states to force those agencies to do anything against their will is legally complicated and time-consuming. But there is one man who, with little more than a stroke of his pen, has the jurisdiction and the power to close those locks. That man is the President of the United States, Barack Obama. Obama could have and sholuld have done something about the Asian Carp advance before now. Only he can explain why he hasn't. All that he has done so far is to throw tax dollars at a study, and to otherwise kick the can down the canal, er, road. It is the Obama Administration, and not any elected Republican at the state or federal level, that has done everything in its power fight for the continued open operation of the canal. Indeed, perhaps the best and surest way to halt the progress of the Asian Carp through the City of Chicago, would be to get ourselves a new President in the next general election. One who might not have quite so many of his own cronies in Chicago city politics. It is remarkable indeed, that Obama had no hesitation to exceed his legal authority and halt all oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico last summer. (A federal court corrected the President on that misstep.) Meanwhile, he's been unable to exert the authority that he really is vested with, as the Chief Exectuive in charge of the relevant agencies, to close the Asian Carp pathway to the Great Lakes in Chicago; the pathway that is owned and operated by those agencies.
Jack Lessenberry asks a fair question. And yes it is one of those great mysteries, why an outfielder makes so much more than a neurosurgeon, or the entire string section of the DSO, or President of the United States. Magglio Ordonez is a lifetime .300 hitter; perhaps Babe Ruth was right when he was asked about his contract with the Yankees, that paid him more than the President. "I had a better year," the Babe replied. I agree with Jack Lessenberry; it is awkward to wonder why the DSO can't attract more support from a few millionaires. Perhaps it is because they can't name health care benefits or pension fund payments after big donors. But I also wonder this; it used to be, that WUOM broadcast real classical music, along with great jazz, for much of its programming day. Now, the model for an increasing number of public radio stations and networks like Michigan radio is 24-hour newstalk, much of it supplied by NPR, PRI, APM and the BBC. Newstalk with a not-so-vaguely leftish tilt to it. I really wonder whether we need more newstalk on the radio, or more classical music. I had thought that the purpose of public radio was to supply an alternative what commercial media did not, in the public interest. As I see it, the real public need is fine arts and cultural programming. To inspire more people to think about classical music, to buy tickets and to go see their DSO perform live. Not to oppose Rush Limbaugh, or to serve as a radio version of MSNBC or the New Yorker.
Dear Jack, Yes, it is all a bit embarassing; the level of public punditry about major-college football coaching, and the level of public ignorance about our state legislature. You're right about all of that. But the University of Michigan's Head Football Coach is paid by the self-sustaining Michigan Athletic Department. There are zero tax dollars/general fund monies involved. No one's tax dollars pay for the Stadium, or the football coaching staff. Football money flows the other way; paying for non-revenue sports, and supplying full-paid tuition, including out-of-state tuition, et cetera, for all scholarship athletes. Anyway, you probably knew that, but it made your column sound better to gloss over that fact. Here's the thing, Jack. People are indeed fascinated by college football, which is a brutally competitive enterprise. But which catapaults University prestige into a major money-maker for metropolitan Ann Arbor. I thought that was the sort of thing you liked. The model, as it were, for leveraging one of Michigan's universities into revenue streams, social and economic activity, local interest, national prestige, etc. And there's this, most of all, Jack. There is a journalism meta-story in the saga of Rich Rodriguez. That meta-story is the outrageous, disgraceful way that local journalists -- and particularly three writers for the Detroit Free Press -- manipulated the Rodriguez story. Three writers -- Michael Rosenberg, Mark Snyder and Drew Sharp -- who all graduated from the University of Michigan. Now that one's a real story. I'd propose a symposium, somewhere on the University of Michigan campus; to explore, as a case study in journalism ethics, the work of the Free Press with respect to former coach Rodriguez. There are some excellent local panel-member candidates: John U. Bacon; Brian Cook of; Frank Beckmann of WJR; Gene Meyers, Managing Sports Editor of the Free Press; Rosenberg and Snyder. And Jack Lessenberry. If you'd like a lawyer to do the "prosecution" part of such a symposium, I'd volunteer. Charles Brown Michigan '80 Michigan State University College of Law '84
A couple of quick points in response to Mr. Lessenberry. First, nobody is buying cars now. That's a problem, not just for GM, but also for Toyota, VW, Nissan, Hyundai and BMW. A GM electric car like the Volt isn't much of an answer to anything this year, since even Priuses aren't selling. It would be nice if GM could act like a normal, sensible business in response to a steep and sudden decline in demand, and lay off production workers. But the stranglehold of the UAW prevents GM from doing that in a cost-effective manner. It would also be nice if Congress thought about doing the things that might make GM profitable sooner, without throwing billions in government money at the old business model. Congress could repeal the idiotic CAFE standards that punish GM, favor Toyota, and which are ignored by BMW. The only real ingredient necessary to do those things would be the will to go against entrenched Democratic Party interests in Congress.
If smoking bans are so popular, so sensible, and so easy to accomplish, then why don't we see all bars and restaurants electively undertaking their own total non-smoking policies? They could do that, on their own. Many have. Without need of a law that restricts the rights of people who want to go to a bar where smoking is allowed, at an establishment where the bar-owner wants the business of those patrons. Jack Lessenberry posits two societal problems with smoking that he'd like to address, via a total public smoking ban: First, he observes that we all pay for a larger national health care bill thanks to the dangers of smoking. Okay -- does anyone recall a Lessenberry suggestion that we attack the privacy of sexual relations between homosexual men or urban prostitutes in order to reduce the contribution of AIDS to the national health care bill? I didn't think so. If we cared only about health care costs, and nothing about freedom, we could outlaw sky diving, motorcycle riding, and perhaps Popeye's Fried Chicken. The second of Jack Lessenberry's posited social issues is the notion that some non-smokers found themselves being 'forced' by economic conditions to work in proximity to second-hand smoke. Hmmm. That's a very interesting notion, when taken to its illogical conclusion. Let's see if Jack will support worker freedom when the abominably-titled "Employee Free Choice Act" comes up for a vote later this year. (That's the national card-check legislation that says that with a minimal amount of union organizing support, a union can be certified without a secret ballot of the workers. Instead of a secret ballot, workers can check off a card that identifies them as a union supporter. That "identification" is thereby known to the very large union "organizers" in the parking lot, driving very dark vehicles.) Is Jack going to protect the liberties of those workers? The labor market is just as tight for them. But instead of the freakishly small group of statistical outliers whom Jack thinks are being forced to work in smoky bars and restaurants, the "Employee Free Choice Act" ("EFCA" - it should gag you every time you say those words together) will impact millions of American workers almost immediately. So how about it Jack? Shall we get government in on the forcible prevention of any spread of the AIDS virus through sexual transmission? And shall we make a stand to protect workers by killing the EFCA? Fortunately, we don't need an answer from Mr. Lessenberry, insofar as he has already given us a glimpse of his more serious motivation for supporting a smoking ban. It is a cultural prejudice. What he wants is punishment, for people like the "arrogant young stockbrokers" he derides above. My guess is that Jack Lessenberry has forgotten that we know an arrogant young lawyer, a smoker, who may well have exposed his two grade-school daughters to second-hand smoke at one time or another. His name: Barack Obama. We can be assured that the luantics really are running the asylum of Michigan politics when a total public smoking ban is proposed almost simulataneiously with a state law legalizing "medical marijuana." Is there no adult supervision to be found anywhere in Michigan?
Two noteworthy Arab-Americans who should figure more prominently in Michigan's public affairs but do not are Spence Abraham and Judge Henry Saad. Senator Abraham was inexplicably beaten by Debbie Stabenow in what was surely one of the worst decisions by the Michigan electorate in the last couple of decades. Judge Henry Saad of the Michigan Court of Appeals, an experienced, thoughtful, articulate and respected judge, has been twice nominated to Federal judgeships by both Presidents Bush, 41 and 43. He was both times foiled by Democratic partisanship in the U.S. Senate, including a vicious back-room blackballing by Carl Levin. You said it, Jack. The Democrats would love to see more Arab-Americans in public life, as long as they are Democrats. Republicans need not apply.