Obama: Patriotism means union-only

Related story: "Obama's patriotism questioned"

Here then is the transcript of my conversation with Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH): Q: How are you approaching any endorsement decision?

I will not endorse before the Ohio primary. I'm weighing what my state does, that's certainly part of it. Also, my conversations with both Barack and Hillary, and with Governor Sebelius calling for Barack, and with Bill Clinton calling for Hillary, and Dick Durbin – all the people who have called for them, in addition to talking directly with the candidates… [we] talk about trade, talk about a populist, progressive message in Ohio, talk about privatization and anti-privatization, and all the things they need to do around tax and trade policy.

Both of them are obviously significantly better than Bush Republicans, McCain. They're close. I've talked to Barack a lot about his Patriot Corporation Act, which is not trade per se, but it's certainly part of the economic package around globalization. The Patriot Corporation Act has not gotten the attention that I would hope it would. But, basically it says that if you play by the rules, if you pay decent wages, health benefits, pension; do your production here; don't resist unionization on neutral card check, then you will be designated a "Patriot Corporation" and you will get tax advantages and some [preference] on government contracts. Jan Schakowsky first came to me… I co-sponsored and worked on it with her in 2005 or 2006. And Barack has been a sponsor of it in the Senate. Hillary is not on it as of now, but those are the kinds of things I want to see them talk about and do and I am hopeful – and pretty much expect – that they will talk about those issues in Ohio.

Q: Have you had a chance to talk to Sen. Clinton about the Patriot Corporation Act?

Yes, I did some time, back – early, like October or November. I've talked to her since about other things, more specifically, trade. And Barack I've talked to within the last week both on trade and on the Patriot Corporation Act. It does two things, the Patriot Corporation Act and better trade policy: it helps win Ohio and helps them govern in the right way. I think you can really take the country in a very different direction building a progressive message around that kind of economic issue – the Patriot Corporation Act and trade. We won 32 or 33 more counties than John Kerry did mostly in small towns in rural Ohio where they were very responsive to a populist progressive message. One town in particular – this is something that just happened – there's a company called American Standard, they make toilets, plumbing fixtures, you'll see them in near any public restroom anywhere. They're in Tiffin, Ohio, town of 20,000. They've just announced back around 3 months ago, the closing of the plant. It was bought by some investors, they're moving offshore, they're honoring the union contract as far as they have to, which is those who already have their 30 years. If you have less than 30 you're pretty screwed--they give you something, but you can't get to the 30 years because they close the plant. And the company that came in and bought it was Bain Capital, Mitt Romney's firm…. These investors come in, take millions of dollars out of the company, and you know, it's pension and healthcare. And those are going on all over the country. And this is a town of 20,000. I carried that county, Kerry didn't. They had already laid off some people…. It's those kinds of situations that cause small town Ohio to vote for somebody like me regardless of the social issues.

Whenever Hillary says the right thing about trade, the Washington Post just slams her. It's unbelievable. I met with the Post editorial board back in about November or December, and I said, kind of joking with them, "Do you have a full-time person, every time Hillary says anything that you don't like on trade, you like automatically write an editorial within 24 hours?" They kind of laughed and said, "Yeah, we have a full-time person on it." But the newspapers – I got one newspaper endorsement in the state of the big nine papers. It was the only paper that's been a bit more even-handed on trade…. They're gonna get slapped around by the newspapers for this. Particularly Hillary… Hillary's clearly moved way away from the old Clinton [administration] position, but the newspapers want to slap her every time she speaks out about that. Because they think it's all for political reasons. I really don't. I think that both of them genuinely see the problems of globalization. I think they understand that, I don't think their solutions are quite strong enough yet – either of them. But I think they're on the way and they're getting close, and I think we'll see more of that kind of growth as they focus on these kinds of issues in the Midwest now.

Q: So it sounds like you think the candidates are doing a decent job but there's definitely room for improvement?

Yeah, I wish they'd go a little further but they're getting there. And I wish they would emphasize it more. You know, again, they emphasize it, the media will attack them on it, I understand that. Most of the mainstream media, that's what they do. You know, they attacked me, and so what? I won by well into double-digits, in a slightly Republican state, against an incumbent with this message. Granted, it was a good year, and the Republican Party's in trouble, but that was big part of the reason. My numbers compared to Kerry were not a whole lot better in the big Metropolitan counties… but in the small counties I ran ahead of him by 10-15 points. Just looking at that, there has to be a reason, and the reason was a populist economic message.

Q: What are some of the specifics you would like to see them speaking more openly about, being more aggressive about?

They should certainly talk about the Patriot Corporation Act. I think they should strongly speak out against the Columbian Trade Deal. And they should call for a time out – as Hillary has, perhaps Barack has, I haven't heard – call for a time-out on trade agreements. I have a bill I'm about to introduce to set up a Commission – both parties, both Houses – to look back at what we've done in trade, and decide which ones we renegotiate. And work to renegotiate. And what we learn from that, and what we move forward on. I know what I think we should do, but I think we need to build a better consensus in Congress to get there. It's labor and environmental standards, that's a start. It's also stopping the shift of power from governments to corporations. Part of the privatization effort that we have in these trade agreements… we're giving away our sovereignty to corporations in terms of environmental law, food safety law, labor law, allowing these companies to overturn democratically arrived at, democratically determined, health and safety rules and laws. That's where I wish [Barack and Hillary] would go when they start to get more specific.

Q: How much are we able to reopen and renegotiate?

That's unclear. I mean, the first thing we do is stop. But we are such a huge, lucrative market. If you make the analogy to a business. If you have a customer that's 40 percent of your sales you're gonna pay a lot of attention to that customer. We are 35 percent still of China's sales, China's exports, that's the most recent number I've seen…. With Mexico, we're maybe 80, I don't know what percent exactly. But we're important enough to these countries that we can use our market – not to exploit them – but, in fact, to lift their standards up and to lift their standard of living up. And to make those countries more open towards unionization, and more environmentally responsible. And that's what we've never done, of course.


Sweeping Ohio's unionism under the rug

Companies looking to expand or open new facilities don’t just throw darts at a map. It’s an exhaustive process that takes in everything from hard scientific data to preconceived notions and prejudices, said Reid Dulberger of the Youngstown-Warren Regional Chamber. Every year, Area Development magazine puts together a corporate survey of business leaders who are asked to rank the factors they feel are most important when determining where to locate new facilities.

In 2006, the magazine said three of the top five factors are labor costs, highway accessibility and availability of telecommunications. Dulberger said the Youngstown-Warren area gets top marks in those categories. However, Dulberger said, some drawbacks include the Mahoning Valley’s union profile and some statewide issues.

"We have used this survey for years as an index, feedback on what companies are looking for," Dulberger said. "There are some areas where we compare very well, and there are other areas where we don’t do so favorably. We don’t bring those areas up. If it comes up, we tend to sweep it under the rug."


Results from Area Development magazine’s corporate survey:

- Labor costs: 95% of business leaders said it was important or very important when choosing the location of a new facility

- Training programs: 56%

- Low union profile: 78.4%

Labor costs in the Mahoning Valley are one of those areas that the Chamber has to spin creatively, Reid Dulberger said.

Dulberger said the longevity of many skilled workers and the higher skills of some others skews the Mahoning Valley’s overall wage analysis.

"The (federal statistics report used in the survey) captures an overall average, and it presents an unrealistic picture of our area," he said.

For example, the state average salary for a welder is $14.98 per hour; nationally, it’s $14.72 per hour. While the area average for a welder is $14.04 per hour, the starting wage is $11 per hour. Dulberger said there are many examples across many industries in which the average starting wage locally is lower, sometimes by nearly 50 percent, than the state and national averages.

"When you look at that, we’re very attractive," Dulberger said.

While there’s a vast quantity of unskilled labor available here, Dulberger said the area suffers from a lack of skilled labor, like many regions around the country.

"Skilled labor is in short supply all throughout the Midwest and Northeast. For example, if you’re hiring a welder here, you’re hiring that person away from someone else, probably at a premium."

And then there’s the union profile of the Mahoning Valley.

"We don’t bring that up, we don’t discuss it unless we’re asked," Dulberger said. "But we can say that the unions in our area are not how they used to be.

"The unions in our area aren’t like they were years ago — they realize that we’re all in this together. If they don’t cooperate with the business, they’re not going to come and if they do they’re not going to stay. Business can’t exist without labor, and organized labor can’t exist without jobs. Our unions here are attuned to that."

Still, union presence can be an issue to some companies.

"Some site consultants have a Mason-Dixon Line of unions — they won’t even consider steering a client north of where they consider that imaginary line to be. We have been excluded from some searches because of it," Dulberger said.

One such search pitted the area head-to-head in the final competition for a new call center. Competing was a community in Louisiana where there were no unions. The company went with the southern site because there was a possibility that some day, the workers in Ohio might want to unionize.

"Even though none of our call centers we have here are unionized and have never been," Dulberger said.

Infocision is one company that wants to expand its presence in the area. The Akron-based telemarketing company employs 1,200 in Mahoning County — including 500 in Austintown — and is in the abatement process to receive approval for a multimillion-dollar expansion that will double the size of the Austintown facility and add 200 jobs to the local economy. This follows on the heels of the news that the company was expanding its Boardman site as well.

Developers from around the country agree that union membership does have an impact. Alan Wood, of Caldwell County, N.C., where Google announced plans to locate, said there are no unions in his community.

"There is not a union profile here. If there are any union shops I am not aware of them," Wood said.

The union question is one that comes up often in site selection processes, he said. "It is one of the weed-out questions from almost any company. I think it helps (not to have them)," he said.

Dr. John Russo, coordinator of Youngstown State University’s Labor Studies Program and co-director of the Center for Working-Class Studies, rejects the idea that unions strangle economic growth.

"It’s an excuse that apologists use," the professor said. "There’s a pre-existing prejudice against labor unions; people point at them and say, ‘There, that’s the reason there’s no development.’ It’s historically been used, and it’s typical of this area’s conservatism."

The real reason for slow development in an area, he said, has more to do with officials, charged with creating new jobs and business opportunities, who aren’t doing their jobs.

"There are people who blame unions for everything that goes wrong," Russo said. "These are the people who are continuing the myth as a way of providing cover for their own types of failures. If they’re saying that Youngstown is a tough labor market, are they saying the same things about Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Akron?"

Telecommunications / Transportation

- Highway accessibility: 90.9%

- Airport accessibility: 61.4%

- Telecommunications services available: 88.3%

- High speed Internet access: 82.1%

"Highway accessibility is very strong for us," Reid Dulberger of the Regional Chamber said. "We are attractive to many distribution companies. Trucking companies have told us we’re one of the few areas that has overnight service to both Chicago and New York."

That’s why the area is gaining a reputation for being a great market for distribution centers, he said. He pointed to the Macy’s distribution center in North Jackson as an example of success.

Jim Sluzewski, a spokesman for Macy’s Inc., said the location of the distribution center and its access to transportation arteries makes the distribution center on Bailey Road valuable to the retailer.

“It’s central to several major markets,” Sluzewski said. “And it’s along several major transportation corridors. It’s easy to get in, and easy to get out.”

The area also compares favorably for telecommunications services, availability of high speed Internet access and airport access, Dulberger said.

Telemarketing does well in the area because of a comparative lack of accent local residents have when they’re on the phone, Dulberger said.

“It’s important for the person who calls you to speak English,” Brubaker said.

Infocision has been gaining clients, some of them Fortune 500 companies, who have abandoned off-shore call centers for the native speakers of the Midwest.

“You can pay someone a dollar an hour, or you can pay for quality of service,” Brubaker said.

Financial incentives

- Tax exemptions: 86.7%

- Tax rates: 90.8%

- Local incentives: 88.6%

State tax rates in Ohio and incentive packages haven’t kept up with surrounding states, Dulberger said.

"Ohio’s relative position for tax burden is not a black-and-white issue. But taxes are an important issue, and I can say that Ohio is looking a lot better for manufacturing than it did a few years ago," he said.

When presenting to companies, the chamber shows what the tax rates would have been before recent changes, what they would be now and what they will be in the future, he said.

As far as incentives go, the area has not kept up with its neighbors in trying to charm new businesses to its borders, Dulberger said.

"Most of our incentive programs, well, they were created during the Voinovich administration. Many states have more aggressive programs than Ohio does," he said.

It varies from municipality to municipality as well. Youngstown is the most aggressive, and its beginning to be followed by Warren; beyond that, there’s not many proactive, aggressive development programs in place, he said.

Brubaker said it’s because of local and state government officials’ willingness to manipulate the tax code that has allowed the company to remain competitive against overseas employers.

“We have found that while at first blush, this state seems to have a significant tax structure, the state has been willing to think out of the box and work with us,” Brubaker said.

Some of that creativity has included five-year, 35-percent state rebates and 10-year, 60 percent rebates on the county level.

“That has helped us remain competitive and keep our costs low,” he said.


- Cost of land: 79.2%

- Availability of land: 73.3%

- Energy costs: 82.4%

Land and utilities are bountiful in the Mahoning Valley, and land is very inexpensive. But energy costs tend to be a little high, Dulberger said. There are many systems — total bills from First Energy have higher averages, he said. Municipal systems tend to be about 20 percent lower.

"For the most part, most companies aren’t going to use a lot of energy — unless they’re melting metals. That uses huge amounts of electricity. If we have interest from one of those companies, then we start looking for a site in one of the municipal systems," Dulberger said.

According to Ellen Raines, director of public relations at First Energy, Ohio’s rates are competitive and are approved by the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio.

According to a survey prepared by the Edison Electric Institute, Ohio Edison’s commercial customers pay an average of 8.75 cents per kilowatt hour; the national average is 8.94 cents. The lowest cost from Idaho Power Company, which charges business customers an average of 4.74 cents per hour; the most expensive is from the Maui Electric Company, which has a cost of 33.94 cents on average.

Ohio Edison charges industrial customers an average of 5.28 cents per kilowatt hour, below the national average of 5.91 cents. The cheapest is in Wheeling, W.Va., which has a rate of 3.16 cents per hour; the costliest is again in Maui, where industrial customers pay 27.97 cents per kilowatt hour on average.

Each year, the American Public Power Association breaks down the average charge to residential, commercial and industrial customers in each state across the nation, on both public and private systems.

According to the 2007-08 report, Ohio’s rates are slightly above average. To compare, in North Carolina, where Google and other international companies are setting up shop, the average commercial customer pays 6.5 cents per hour on investor-owned systems, and industrial customers are charged 4.9 cents. In Indiana, where Toyota is building a new assembly plant, commercial customers pay 6.6 cents per hour while industrial clients pay 4.3 cents per hour.


Uncertain future for left-wing News Union

In many parts of the world there is concern – even apprehension – about the future of journalism. But probably no-where more so than in the United States. More journalists are being laid off than any time in the past. Last year there were cutbacks at such papers the San Francisco Chronicle, the Seattle Times , the San Jose Mercury News and even the biggest-selling paper of all, USA Today. The cutbacks are now becoming so commonplace they evoke little comment outside the paper’s respective home towns.

And the prospects don't seem to auger well. Shares in many papers, including even the New York Times, have tumbled. Profits have declined noticeably. Advertising which has its ups and downs – has had more downs lately. Adjusted for inflation, ad revenue last year was down more than 20 per cent. Circulation has been sliding about two per cent a year. Papers such as The Los Angeles Times, The Boston Globe, The San Francisco Chronicle, have all lost circulation in the last few years.

A new survey, just out, conducted by the University of Maryland on behalf of the American Newspaper Guild (the US equivalent of the NUJ) and the National Association of Broadcast Employees and Technicians, indicated growing apprehension about the future of the news industry overall. Altogether about 1,300 people were interviewed, including almost 1,000 working journalists., about half of them male, average age about 46..

More than half reported their readership or audience has shrunk more than 60 per cent over the past five years . Asked if they thought the trend might change and perhaps stabilize, about three-quarters replied pessimistically: “It's hard to say it ever will.”

The survey indicated mixed feelings whether blog sites should be counted as journalism. Over 60 percent felt their audience prefers a “professional” brand of news from trained journalists. But many doubted there would be jobs for such journalists in the future. About 43 per cent of the print journalists said they had little confidence they would be working for a newspaper in five years. About 30 per cent were not sure.

Another disturbing aspect of the changes taking place is that accuracy no longer seems to be important as it was. About 94 per cent said that accuracy was important when they started their jobs – but the figure is dropping, The expectation that journalists should “serve the public”, as well as providing “credibility” is also falling, many felt. Making a profit and attracting a big audience is now regarded as more important to many news companies.

Newspaper Guild president Linda Foley, talking to the American Journalism Review, suggested one change has been that reporters no longer return to the newsroom to write their stories. That is missing nowadays, in an age when reporters can file stories without even meeting their co-workers.

About 57 per cent also said they spend one to two work- related hours a day on the Web. “Time online is time not talking to sources” suggested the Guild president.

“At all levels of the industry from board room to mailroom, no one has a really good idea of where this industry is going .”


Publicly-funded labor-activism in Oregon

Since its inception in 1977, the The Labor Education and Research Center (LERC) at the University of Oregon makes the resources and expertise of the higher education system available to workers, unions, policy makers, and community organizations throughout Oregon and the Pacific Northwest. Through teaching, research, technical assistance, and consultation, we fulfill the outreach and public service mission of the University by assisting people and communities throughout Oregon. LERC is also integrally involved in the life of the UO campus and participates in the academic mission of the University through teaching and service activities.

LERC is committed to improving the lives of working Oregonians and enhancing their ability to participate effectively in workplace and community affairs. We believe that the presence of a strong union movement not only provides workers with vital protections but also is essential to maintaining a just and democratic society.

LERC provides a variety of educational programs that teach the basics of union representation, help union leaders and staff to develop strategic analysis and critical thinking skills, and prepare workers to become effective advocates in workplace and community settings. LERC faculty members are available to conduct applied research tailored to the specific needs of unions, policy makers, and community partners. Our technical assistance efforts feature intensive consultation and aim to help organizations achieve tangible results. On campus, LERC is involved in teaching UO students, providing internships, and collaborating with other departments and programs on research and service projects.

Our programs and offerings include:

* Non-credit education and skills training (“Leadership Schools”) throughout the state, culminating in a non-credit certificate in union leadership.

* Conferences on important labor and workplace issues in campus and off-campus settings

* Multi-day residential institutes for union staff and rank-and-file leaders.

* Occupational safety and health training.

* Customized educational programs and classes tailored to the needs of individual unions and community organizations.

* Research on vital issues related to work, employment, and occupational safety and health. * Applied research for union and community partners.

* An internship program that places students with unions and other organizations dealing with work and employment issues.

* Consultation and technical assistance to unions, policy makers, community organizations, and other stakeholders.

Programs and service to labor relations professionals, management, and neutrals on industrial and labor relations.


Unions' tribal Casino War hits speed-bump

The Patrick administration aide accused of sexually assaulting a 15-year-old boy worked for months as the governor’s point man on the legalization of casinos, meeting with high-level executives and lawmakers now reeling from news that he faces criminal charges in Florida.

Carl Stanley McGee’s unpaid leave of absence to deal with the charges leaves the administration without a critical player who was not only a liaison to executives and legislators, but a key public advocate in the roiling debate over expanded gambling. “He was their top person on casinos,” said one official who met with McGee to discuss Gov. Deval Patrick’s legislation recently. “This does not bode well for the administration’s proposal.”

McGee, 38, who was paid $115,000 a year as assistant secretary of policy and planning, was charged last month with violating Florida’s sexual battery laws in an encounter with a 15-year-old boy in the steam room at Gasparilla Inn & Club in Boca Grande.

A police report on the incident accuses McGee of removing his towel in the steam room and performing sex acts on the boy, whose father later contacted authorities about the incident.

McGee, whose lawyer has not returned phone calls, is due to be arraigned in Florida on Monday.

In McGee’s absence, aides to the governor said Patrick has continued to aggressively advocate for his casino proposal.

“The governor has a very able team in place, led by (Economic Development Secretary Dan) O’Connell, that has been effectively making the case for his destination resort casino plan.”

McGee was instrumental in drafting the legislation after several months of meetings with casino executives, union officials, tribal leaders, lawmakers and others. He participated in high-level sit-downs with Las Vegas Sands CEO Sheldon Adelson, officials from Donald Trump casinos, representatives of Suffolk Downs, economic policy leaders and others.

In the days before the alleged incident in Florida, McGee met with lawmakers in the State House to advocate for the plan, which has encountered strong resistance from House Speaker Sal DiMasi and other top lawmakers. McGee, a Harvard Law graduate, also played a major role in crafting Patrick’s $1 billion plan to bolster the life science industry in Massachusetts.

Since McGee’s arrest Dec. 28, Patrick administration officials have continued to build support for the life sciences initiative and the casino bill. The governor this week secured critical support from the AFL-CIO, whose members would benefit from the 20,000 jobs Patrick intends to create by legalizing casinos.


UAW strike v. Volvo unpopular in Virginia

Workers at the Volvo Trucks North America plant in Dublin have entered their second week on strike. Workers at the plant, Volvo’s only North American manufacturer of its heavy-duty trucks, began striking at midnight on Feb. 1 when their contract expired. About 2,600 employees of the plant are part of the United Auto Workers Local 2069.

The union failed to reach an agreement on a new contract throughout negotiations in January. About 95 percent of union workers voted on Jan. 28 to start the strike.


For those of you not familiar with Dublin, VA, the residents of this town do not support this strike.

The average wage at that plant is $20.00 - $35.00 an hour and they have full benefits. It has been rated one of the safest work enviroments in SouthWest Virginia and these people are ungrateful!!!!

We support Volvo!

- Austin of Dublin, VA


Workers most prosper when they are free

In their heyday, Unions accounted for more than one third of all jobs in the American workforce. Today, organized labor plays a much smaller role in our open, competitive economy. Only 12 percent of workers, and seven percent of private employees, belong to unions. Why? Because as economic opportunities have increased American workers have preferred freedom to the regimentation that comes from organized labor.

That's the big picture, but the details matter. The U.S. remains a federal system, so the impact of organized labor varies greatly by state. To measure worker freedom, the Alliance for Worker Freedom recently released the Index of Worker Freedom (IWF).

The Index relies on ten variables which all measure economic liberty. They are (1) right to work laws, (2) minimum wage level, (3) union density, (4) paycheck protection for union members, (5) prevailing wage legislation, (6) defined contribution public employee pensions, (7) collective bargaining rights, (8) public sector unionization levels, (9) entrepreneurial activity, (10) and workers compensation.

Some of those indices deserve fuller explanation. Twenty-two states bar mandatory union membership or dues payment, which helps counteract the coercive aspects of federal labor law, and high minimum wage levels can drive up unemployment for low skilled workers.

Union density matters because, as the Alliance for Worker Freedom's Brian Johnson explains, "Areas of high union density are often prone to forced persuasion, violence toward non-union members, intimidation, as well as numerous political and campaign contributions on behalf of organized labor (often conflicting with members' political views)."

Prevailing wage laws mean government wage-setting for public contracts, which costs taxpayers and limits job creation, hurting lower-skilled workers the most. Public sector bargaining rights for government employees give unions a stranglehold over the monopoly public sector. And defined contribution pensions for public employees allow government to better control costs while providing portable benefits for workers.

NO STATE SCORED a perfect ten but Utah led the way at nine. Colorado, Idaho, Mississippi, and South Carolina followed at eight and an A-. Johnson gave a B+ to Georgia, Indiana, North Dakota, Virginia, and Wyoming, which all scored seven. A number of states, mostly southern or midwestern, came in at six and five, winning a B or B-, respectively.

At the other end of the spectrum, six states scored a perfect zero, earning a F: Connecticut, Hawaii, Minnesota, New York, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island. There were five D's, with the relevant states receiving just one point out of a possible ten: California, Delaware, Illinois, Massachusetts, and New Jersey. Another five states, primarily in the northeast or upper midwest, came in with two points, and ten states ended up with a middling three or four points.

The states at the bottom obviously have much to do to improve their status, as well as the economic environment for their citizens. But even the best states might improve. Utah could look into defined contribution pensions for public workers, for instance.

As one moves down the list the opportunity for improvement obviously increases. Unfortunately, the political obstacles to reform remain significant.

This index matters because it measures more than individual liberty in the abstract. That liberty has practical consequences, including increased prosperity and, interestingly, population growth. Although it is hard to prove causation, there is clear and suspicious correlation between higher IWF rating and increased population. A fair assumption is that business creation and entrepreneurial investment flow to freer states and increased economic opportunity draws workers in its wake.

Labor unions claim to speak for workers, but workers most prosper when they are free. States that respect the right of workers to join unions but limit the ability of those unions to strong arm people into joining are doing the right thing. It's also the smart thing to do.

- Doug Bandow is Vice President of Policy for Citizen Outreach. A former Special Assistant to President Ronald Reagan, he is the author of Leviathan Unchained: Washington's Bipartisan Big Government Consensus (forthcoming from Xulon Press).


Ed bemoans failed seniority-scam power-grab

Newspaper editorials are a little like restaurant or movie reviews. No matter how well they're written, they are inherently preachy. Someone paid to express an opinion tells readers — who are perfectly capable of making up their own minds — what to do. Or at least, what to think.

So if the movie, restaurant or campaign likes what you've said, your words are likely to show up in one of their ads. But the last thing a journalist wants to do is write ad copy for someone else. The only solution is to write as honestly and carefully as possible, and let the chips fall where they may.

So, for example, if you want to see a good movie this weekend, and you're a film buff, there's a good chance you rely on the taste and wisdom of a top critic, like The Times' own Kenneth Turan.

Take a look at Turan's review of the Lebanese film "Caramel," for example. He calls it "sweet but never saccharine, an intimate film that doesn't stint on the desperation and anxiety that go with the search for love." Good stuff, and if you like foreign films, perhaps enough to help you decide whether to take a look for yourself.

He is such a master of his craft that you'd never confuse his review for ad copy. Certainly, promoters will scour his reviews for anything they can use, because there is nothing better than being able to tell would-be moviegoers that Turan, or even the Los Angeles Times, liked the show. But it's hard to imagine an ad that says "The Los Angeles Times calls 'Caramel' 'Sweet but never saccharine'!"

Negative reviews aren't likely to be picked up by promoters either. Carina Chocano called "Fool's Gold" "not so much a movie as it is an experience: an experience akin to spending a couple of hours in one of those theme restaurants that hawk the laid-back beach-bum lifestyle by plying you with drinks that taste like suntan lotion." Perhaps the ad folks could write something that says "The Los Angeles Times calls 'Fool's Gold' 'An experience'!!!! But only if they are desperate.

It would be a cheap, dishonest shot to express righteous indignation over political endorsement editorials being used in campaign ads. Editorial pages are a standard part of the game. In the political world, where YouTube and Flickr have become useful campaign tools, Old Media still plays a big role, although not necessarily in the direct newspaper-to-reader sense. An editorial's value to a campaign is the copy it provides for a mailer, a TV spot or a radio ad.

It's one thing, for example, to say your ballot measure is "thoughtful and creative." Everyone thinks his own measure is "thoughtful and creative." But what if that's the opinion of the Los Angeles Times editorial page? Then — perhaps — the language takes on added significance. In theory, anyway.

Of course, no one ever says they are endorsed by The Times editorial page, or editorial board, which consists of a team of writers and editors completely separate from the newsroom. They say they are endorsed by the Los Angeles Times.

For at least some editorial writers, weekends like the one just before Feb. 5 are a weird mixture of ego boost and revulsion. It's a kick to hear your own words on the radio, followed up by a queasy sense that you were unwittingly drafted by a campaign. There is no right to that queasiness; editorial writers know their words will be used. But it's there nonetheless.

The Times was one of only a handful of newspapers (or rather, editorial pages), and by far the largest, to endorse Proposition 93, the measure to reform term limits. That made our words all the more likely to show up in an ad for the measure, although careful drafting left (I thought) little of use to the campaign.

Not so. The Times endorsement became the cornerstone of one TV ad. Our piece called two of the biggest backers of the measure, Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez (D-Los Angeles) and Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata (D-Oakland) "big babies" for breaking promises and leaving voters with a proposition that wasn't as good as it could have been. The campaign did show a quick shot of the 658-word editorial, but focused on just eight words: "Say no to lobbyist money" and "positive and creative."

Misleading? Not at all. We said all that, and meant it. We endorsed the measure, and wanted it to pass. (It didn't.) We'd read the whole editorial out loud, including the negative parts, if it were up to us. But then, we don't produce campaign ads.

A Times editorial took an even larger role in the Proposition S campaign to rework a Los Angeles telephone tax. So much misinformation about this measure — from both sides — was circulating that we wanted to make clear just what was in it. Our editorial was unusually long — and apparently contained enough good stuff for the Yes-on-S people that they used the whole thing for a mailer. The "good" parts are highlighted: It's a "prudent measure," it "reduces the tax," etc.


News Guild takes dues hit in Minneapolis

The Minneapolis Star Tribune will eliminate 58 positions, or about 3 percent of its staff, and freeze wages for nonunion employees as part of its latest round of job cuts. The company has notified the Newspaper Guild and Graphics Communications International Union that some of the paper's seven employees in its photo-imaging room will be laid off, company spokesman Ben Taylor said Monday. The photo-related layoffs are separate from the 58 job cuts.

About three-fourths of the positions to be cut are in the circulation department. The remaining job cuts will affect the finance, human resources, marketing and operations departments. None affect news or advertising staffs.

The Minneapolis paper last month hired Restructuring Associated Inc., a Washington-based consulting firm, to help deal with "rapidly declining revenue."

In a memo, chairman Chris Harte wrote to employees Monday, "As we are taking these actions, I want be clear that the cuts we are announcing today have nothing to do with the Restructuring Associates project, which is just beginning. The RAI consultants are working with our managers to prepare a presentation on the state of our company, designed to give all our employees a better sense of what we are up against. I realize we are making some far-reaching decisions without everyone fully understanding why we must take these steps."

Staff have recently been subject to several rounds of layoff and buyouts at the paper, which has lost revenue as advertising dollars move online and circulation dwindles.

McClatchy of Sacramento was the former owner of The Star Tribune, selling the newspaper in early 2007.


Stern ousts popular California union leader

Sal Rosselli doesn't think his union, the Service Employees International Union, is all that democratic, and he is making a fuss about it. But he is not your average union-card carrier. As leader of a 150,000-member local in California, and until recently head of the more than 600,000-member SEIU California State Council, Rosselli has wielded quite a bit of union clout.

He also belonged to SEIU's executive committee until last weekend, when he resigned in a blistering letter to union President Andy Stern, accusing him of expanding his powers at members' expense.

Rosselli's gripe is likely to loom large at a gathering in Chicago, starting Tuesday, of officials from 29 SEIU locals who will be discussing strategy for dealing with Catholic health-care facilities.

The feud brought some unease for officials of the 1.5 million-member union, who like to portray the SEIU as leading labor's renewal.

"This kind of criticism from Sal is factually inaccurate and fundamentally untrue," said Dave Regan, head of District 1199, which represents 35,000 SEIU members in Ohio, West Virginia and Kentucky.

Rosselli's basic complaint is that Stern and top SEIU officials have sidestepped local union leaders to make critical decisions and have merged locals without giving members a voice.

"Over the past two years, a stark difference has evolved between SEIU's projected image and its real world practices," he wrote to Stern. "An overly zealous focus on growth, growth at any cost, apparently has eclipsed SEIU's commitment to its members."

Among his complaints, Rosselli pointed to Stern's decision recently to dissolve a council of SEIU locals that had been bargaining with Catholic Healthcare West in California and to replace them with a union consultant.

But Regan replied that Rosselli's own local, United Healthcare West, has benefited from the kind of union-inspired mergers that he now protests. So, too, Regan said the decision to shift to a different bargainer with Catholic Healthcare West reflects the union's search for a new overall strategy.

To Ken Wong, a labor expert at UCLA, such turmoil is expected. Much of the SEIU's growth strategy is based on consolidating locals to gain more power. As a result, union jobs have been cut, and locals have disappeared, Wong explained.

"And whenever you have this much change going on, inevitably there are going to be some disagreements," he said.


Discouraging non-union labor in New York

Developers say they plan to begin building a $700 million "entertainment city" on the former Concord Hotel property by mid to late summer and be open for business by Christmas 2010. The plans, part of an agreement between Concord Associates of White Plains and Empire Resorts Inc., were announced Monday.

The property is on about 1,750 acres some two miles southeast of the village of Monticello, about a 20-minute drive from Ellenville. About 160 acres would be used for new development. Louis Capelli, a managing member of Concord Associates, said "unappealable" permits have been secured for every major phase of the project, including State Environmental Quality Review Act requirements. He said his firm has been working on the project "for about 10 years."

First phase plans call for the demolition of what remains of the old Concord, to be replaced by a 1,500-room luxury hotel with more than 210,000 square feet of convention and casino space. Gambling would be limited to "racino" machines (similar to slot machines) which are now in operation at Monticello and Saratoga raceways.

Developers also have permits in place for up to 150 "five-star" lodge rooms, 3,000 residential units and 200,000 additional square feet of convention space. Housing density would be limited to four units per acre.

A new harness track will be built on the Concord site, to replace the 50-year old track at Monticello. The Monticello facility will remain in operation while the new one is being built.

Monticello Village Manager Raymond Nargizian said the Village Board is "concerned" about the relocation of the harness track and its impact on the village's tax base. "We have a lot of talking to do," he said.

Nargizian said developers were scheduled to meet with the Village Board to update plans on Monday night.

Plans also call for the upgrading of the Concord's two 18-hole championship golf courses - "The Monster" and "The International" - and construction of a new clubhouse.

Capelli is associated with Empire Development, which is attempting to locate an Indian gaming facility at Monticello. Last week, the U.S. Department of the Interior rejected Empire's petition to establish an Indian reservation at the site, which would have allowed all forms of legalized gambling.

David Hanlon, Empire Development's chief executive officer, said his company is suing the Department of the Interior, but didn't expect a resolution until next year under a new administration.

The two projects, located less than two miles apart, are not exclusive, he said, but rather "very compatible."

Capelli said he expects the construction phase of the Concord project will employ upward of 3,000 workers and that when fully built out, the resort will provide jobs for about 3,000 permanent workers. A project labor agreement, which requires payment of prevailing union wages, is in place, Capelli said.

State Sen. John Bonacic, R-Mount Hope, a leading advocate of casino gambling in the Catskills, took a wait-and-see stance on the latest development news.

"There have been numerous plans with respect to the Concord over the years which have not come to fruition," he said in a prepared statement. "This plan sounds positive, but we need to see a shovel in the ground and get a firm understanding of how this affects existing jobs. I look forward to hearing more from project proponents and watching the Concord come back to the greatness it once had."

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver told the Associated Press on Monday the project apparently needs approval only by the state Racing and Wagering Board, not the Legislature, where such major issues can face delays and opposition.

"I think it's an interesting proposal," said Silver, a lower Manhattan Democrat who has a summer home not far from the site. "It may be productive for Sullivan County."

The Concord, one of the crown jewels of the post-World War II Catskills "Borscht Belt," was built in 1937, but fell into decline in the 1970s. Owners declared bankruptcy in March 1997, owing more than $10 million in property taxes and room taxes to the state.

In presenting their redevelopment plans to officials in the Sullivan County town of Thompson in June 2006, the present developers estimated the resort would eventually generate almost $40 million in property taxes and other revenues a year, including $18 million for the Monticello school district.

Capelli said his firm recently completed construction of a $600 million Ritz Carlton hotel development in White Plains. He said negotiations are under way with several hotel chains to operate the new hotel.


Union organizes underpaid gov't-lawyers

Insufficient pay raises and a high turnover rate are prompting county prosecutors and public defenders to form a union, the group's president says. The Tulare (CA) County Board of Supervisors is expected to approve the Government Lawyer's Association of Workers — a legal formality — at today's 1 p.m. board meeting.

If the union is approved, eligible employees would conduct a secret-ballot representation election. The union would need a majority vote to seek a contract with the county. If fewer than half vote for the union, it would be able to represent employees in grievance proceedings but not negotiate contracts, said Eric Martin, employee relations specialist for Tulare County.

About 105 employees are eligible to be in the union, Martin said. They are attorneys in the District Attorney's and Public Defender's offices and in the Child Support Services Department.

The signatures of 37 employees seeking the union were submitted to the board Jan. 8. Attorneys from the child-support and public defender's offices signed the petitions, but there were no signatures from the district attorney's office.

"We didn't submit all the signatures," said Bill Mueting, president of the proposed union. "Just enough to get the registration."

It's not uncommon in county government for attorneys in California to have a representation unit, he said.

Mueting, who has worked for 20 years for the county, said an attorney's union decertified years ago. Since then, he said, the county has failed to keep attorney salaries at a reasonable level.

"People come in with $100,000 in student loans," he said. "They can't pay rent and their loans on their salary."

So-called "cost-of-living" increases aren't keeping up with real costs, he said.

Mueting said there are some county jobs requiring just six months of training that pay better than a starting attorney's position. That encourages people to not pursue higher education, he said. Neither District Attorney Phillip Cline nor Public Defender Michael Sheltzer returned calls seeking comment on the issue.


Teachers union cool to private charity

For two years, a teacher in Washington state has been fighting the Vancouver Education Association (VEA) over her right to send her union dues to charity, as state law allows. Last week, a labor board ruled in favor of teacher Susan Wiggs, but the VEA won’t give up.

“They absolutely don't want a precedent of religious objectors being able to choose their own charity," Wiggs said. The VEA refuses to approve Wiggs’ choice of Shared Hope International, a charity that fights sex trafficking and slavery.

Mike Reitz, an attorney in the fight, said the union’s real objection is to Shared Hope’s president, Linda Smith.

“She was actually a state legislator in Washington state, and she was instrumental in writing and passing a measure that restricts how unions spend member dues," Reitz said.

Reitz, of the Evergreen Freedom Foundation, said the dispute isn’t unique to Washington or to teachers unions.

“It's certainly a tactic on the unions’ part, nationally, to try to give poor information and confuse the issue so they're not losing any of this income that they'd like to put into political activity," he said.


Not enough stimulus for unions

The economic stimulus package that President Bush will sign Wednesday is something of a letdown on K Street. Many advocacy groups saw their priorities for the package severely trimmed, if not shelved altogether.

Labor unions and low-income advocates failed to win an expansion of unemployment insurance or food stamp benefits. Business groups were unable to get traction on favored tax incentives.

“I hope we’re wrong, ... but we’re not optimistic” that the final stimulus will help the economy, since it doesn’t adequately address problems in the housing market, said Jerry Howard, executive vice president and chief executive officer of the National Association of Home Builders. Several provisions championed by the home builders were defeated.

The biggest exception to the disappointment party is veterans and senior citizens groups that helped flatten Republican resistance to expanding the House-passed measure to include rebate checks for low-income seniors and disabled veterans.

“No one thought that we could make changes,” said Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee and one of the chief architects of the Senate stimulus. In particular, he cited “adamant opposition” from the White House, House leaders and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to the delay of adding to the House package as well as to the substance of the proposed rebate expansion.

The president personally and aggressively lobbied senators against supporting the addition, Baucus said.

The senator credited the pressure from seniors groups with winning broad support for the expansion in the Senate, the House and the White House.
And pressure they did.

AARP, the powerful advocacy group for those over 50, fired up its grass-roots and Capitol Hill operations. In one week alone, its members bombarded congressional offices with 215,000 phone calls and e-mails.

The group also took out ads in Capitol Hill publications, proclaiming that millions of its members were watching how their senators would vote on the economic stimulus.

AARP officials made clear that they considered the rebates for seniors and disabled veterans a key vote and that they would report how each lawmaker voted on the issue.

The push for including seniors in the stimulus started with grass-roots outrage among AARP members and their families after the House passed a stimulus package that would have excluded some 20 million seniors who depend primarily on Social Security for retirement income, said AARP spokesman Jim Dau.

“What we’ve been able to do is focus that and amplify it,” he said.

But even AARP didn’t get everything it wanted. For one, the rebates to seniors and disabled vets were scaled down from $500 under the original Senate package to $300 in the final bill the president will sign.

And secondary priorities, including an extension of food stamp benefits and more funds to state low-income heating assistance programs, known as LIHEAP, didn’t survive opposition from Senate Republicans.

The defeat of those provisions and another to extend unemployment insurance benefits by 13 weeks — all part of the package Baucus crafted with Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, the ranking Republican on the Finance Committee — was a big blow to labor unions, who had lobbied hard for them.

“Let’s see, what can you print?” AFL-CIO Legislative Director Bill Samuel said, when asked what he thought of the final stimulus package.

“We’re extremely disappointed that Republicans were able to insist that unemployed workers are on their own to deal with the economic crisis,” he said. “Small and large businesses will get help immediately.”

He placed the bulk of the blame on Senate Republicans, who had more leeway than their House counterparts in standing up to the White House.

State advocates pushing for additional federal assistance for Medicaid and LIHEAP were also left in the cold.

“The states, in reality, are hemorrhaging,” said Anna Burger, secretary-treasurer for the Service Employees International Union, which also sought more money for state social programs and infrastructure projects.

Members of the business community, particularly the home builders, weren’t all that satisfied with the stimulus package, either.

“We uncorked everything we had,” Howard said of his group’s lobbying efforts. It activated its grass-roots network, did member fly-ins and had the CEOs of major corporations lobbying House and Senate members alike.

The home builders are skeptical that traditional fiscal stimulus tools will work, considering that this economic slump differs from past ones, he said.

The home builders bemoaned that the stimulus did not expand the mortgage revenue bond program, even though the White House has repeatedly called on Congress to do so in response to subprime woes.

State and local governments issue the tax-exempt bonds to finance mortgages at below-market rates. The Baucus-Grassley package provided an additional $10 billion authority for the program to be used to refinance subprime loans, make loans to first-time homebuyers and finance multifamily rental housing.

Republicans in the Senate, though, blocked Democrats from adding the provision. And home builders lost out on an industry tax break contained in the original Baucus-Grassley measure.

The home builders also wanted to see the stimulus bill increase the size of loans Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac can purchase for two years, rather than the one year approved by Congress. And the group wanted a long-stalled regulatory overhaul of the pair, though lawmakers did not even attempt to tackle the complex issue as part of the stimulus.

The one-year conforming loan limit hike was actually a hard-fought victory for real estate and mortgage-finance interests, since the White House put up a fight to keep the provision unless it came with a full regulatory revamp. Groups including the Mortgage Bankers Association applauded its passage — while urging lawmakers to take up the broader reform bill soon.

Finally, the home builders and other business groups were disappointed that lawmakers rejected their pitch for extending the net operating loss carry-back period from two to five years. The tax rule allows companies struggling through bad times now to “carry back” their losses to more profitable years. And that sounded particularly good to the home builders, since they expect 2008 housing starts to be about half of those in 2005.

The final stimulus package included just one of five stimulus tax provisions recommended by the National Association of Manufacturers. The popular research and development tax credit, which expired at the end of last year, never gained traction in either the House or the Senate.

Ford Motor Co. and other business players lobbied for additional tax breaks contained in the Senate plan, which included a number of energy-related tax credits.

Still, Dorothy B. Coleman, vice president of tax and domestic economic policy for the NAM, praised the two tax provisions in the final stimulus. One allows small businesses to immediately write off capital expenditures this year; the other allows all firms to write off an additional 50 percent of new investments.

“It’s a pretty short window that they’re available to companies,” she added, noting that both expire at the end of the year. “Companies are going to have to act quickly.”

Many of the stimulus losers vow to keep pressing their economic wish lists on Capitol Hill — and elsewhere. Democrats in both chambers would like to move a second, longer-term economic package that could include infrastructure spending, housing measures, more LIHEAP funding and other provisions.

The service employees union plans to engage its membership to target specific lawmakers — both Republicans and Democrats — in their home districts as they argue for broader economic help for working families.

“We need to turn up the heat, to be perfectly honest,” said SEIU’s Burger, “so that they understand that there is pain going on in the states.”


Collectivizing against capitalism

Millions of children are being raised on prejudice and disinformation. Educated in schools that teach a skewed ideology, they are exposed to a dogma that runs counter to core beliefs shared by many other Western countries. They study from textbooks filled with a doctrine of dissent, which they learn to recite as they prepare to attend many of the better universities in the world. Extracting these children from the jaws of bias could mean the difference between world prosperity and menacing global rifts. And doing so will not be easy. But not because these children are found in the madrasas of Pakistan or the state-controlled schools of Saudi Arabia. They are not. Rather, they live in two of the world’s great democracies — France and Germany.

What a country teaches its young people reflects its bedrock national beliefs. Schools hand down a society’s historical narrative to the next generation. There has been a great deal of debate over the ways in which this historical ideology is passed on — over Japanese textbooks that downplay the Nanjing Massacre, Palestinian textbooks that feature maps without Israel and new Russian guidelines that require teachers to portray Stalinism more favourably. Yet there has been almost no analysis of how countries teach economics, even though the subject is equally crucial in shaping the collective identity that drives foreign and domestic policies.

Just as schools teach a historical narrative, they also pass on “truths” about capitalism, the welfare state and other economic principles that a society considers self-evident. In both France and Germany, for instance, schools have helped ingrain a serious aversion to capitalism. In one 2005 poll, just 36% of French citizens said they supported the free enterprise system, the only one of 22 countries polled that showed minority support for this cornerstone of global commerce. In Germany, meanwhile, support for socialist ideals is running at all-time highs — 47% in 2007 versus 36% in 1991.

It’s tempting to dismiss these attitudes as being little more than punch lines to cocktail party jokes. But their impact is sadly and seriously self-destructive. In Germany, unemployment is finally falling after years at Depression-era levels, thanks in no small part to welfare reforms that in 2005 pressured Germans on the public dole to take up jobs. Yet there is near consensus among Germans that, despite this happy outcome, tinkering with the welfare state went far beyondwhat is permissible. Chancellor Angela Merkel, once heralded as Germany’s own Margaret Thatcher, has all but abandoned her plans to continue free-market reforms. She has instead imposed a new “rich people tax,” has tightened labour-market rules and has promised renewed efforts to “regulate” globalization. Meanwhile, two in three Germans say they support at least some of the voodoo-economic, roll-back-the-reforms platform of a noisy new anti-globalization political party called Die Linke (The Left), founded by former East German communists and Western left-wing populists.

Many of these popular attitudes can be traced to state-mandated curricula in schools. It is there that economic lessons are taught that diverge substantially from the market-based principles on which the Western model is based. The phenomenon may hardly be unique to Europe, but in few places is it more obvious than in France and Germany. A biased view of economics feeds into many of the world’s most vexing problems, from the growth of populism to the global rise of anti-American, anti-capitalist attitudes.

Economics à la carte

“Economic growth imposes a hectic form of life, producing overwork, stress, nervous depression, cardiovascular disease and, according to some, even the development of cancer,” asserts the three-volume Histoire du XXe siècle, a set of texts memorized by countless French high school students as they prepare for entrance exams to Sciences Po and other prestigious French universities. The past 20 years have “doubled wealth, doubled unemployment, poverty and exclusion, whose ill effects constitute the background for a profound social malaise,” the text continues. Because the 21st century begins with “an awareness of the limits to growth and the risks posed to humanity [by economic growth],” any future prosperity “depends on the regulation of capitalism on a planetary scale.” Capitalism itself is described at various points in the text as “brutal,” “savage,” “neoliberal” and “American.” This agitprop was published in 2005, not in 1972.

When French students are not getting this kind of wildly biased commentary on the destruction wreaked by capitalism, they are learning that economic progress is also the root cause of social ills. For example, a one-year high school course on the inner workings of an economy developed by the French Education Ministry called Sciences Economiques et Sociales, spends two-thirds of its time discussing the sociopolitical fallout of economic activity. Chapter and section headings include Social Cleavages and Inequality, Social Mobilization and Conflict, Poverty and Exclusion and Globalization and Regulation. The ministry mandates that students learn “worldwide regulation as a response” to globalization. Only one-third of the course is about companies and markets, and even those bits include extensive sections on unions, government economic policy, the limits of markets and the dangers of growth. The overall message is that economic activity has countless undesirable effects from which citizens must be protected.

No wonder, then, that the French default attitude is to be suspicious of market forces and private entrepreneurship, not to mention any policies that would strengthen them. Start-ups, Histoire du XXe siècle tells its students, are “audacious enterprises” with “ill-defined prospects.” Then it links entrepreneurs with the tech bubble, the Nasdaq crash and mass layoffs across the economy. (Think “creative destruction” without the “creative.”) In one widely used text, a section on technology and innovation does not mention a single entrepreneur or company. Instead, students read a lengthy treatise on whether technological progress destroys jobs. In another textbook, students actually meet a French entrepreneur who invented a new tool to open oysters. But the quirky anecdote is followed by a long-winded debate over the degree to which the modern workplace is organized along the lines imagined by Frederick Taylor, the father of modern scientific management theory. And just in case they missed it in history class, students are reminded that “cultural globalization” leads to violence and armed resistance, ultimately necessitating a new system of global governance.

This is a world apart from what American high school students learn. In the United States, where fewer than half of high school students take an economics course, most classes are based on straightforward, classical economics. In Texas, the state-prescribed curriculum requires that the positive contribution of entrepreneurs to the local economy be taught. The state of New York, meanwhile, has co-ordinated its curriculum with entrepreneurship-promoting youth groups such as Junior Achievement, as well as with economists at the Federal Reserve. Do American schools encourage students to follow in the footsteps of Bill Gates or become ardent fans of globalization? Not really. But they certainly aren’t filling students with negative preconceptions and suspicions about businesses and the people who run them. Nor do they obsess about the negative side effects and dangers of economic activity the way French textbooks do.

French students, on the other hand, do not learn economics so much as a very specific, highly biased discourse about economics. When they graduate, they may not know much about supply and demand, or about the workings of a corporation. Instead, they will likely know inside-out the evils of “la McDonaldisation du monde” and the benefits of a “Tobin tax” on the movement of global capital. This kind of anti-capitalist, anti-globalization discourse isn’t just the product of a few ageing 1968ers writing for Le Monde Diplomatique; it is required learning in today’s French schools.

Learning to love the dole

Germans teach their young people a similar economic narrative, with a slightly different emphasis. The focus is on instilling the corporatist and collectivist traditions of the German system. Although each of Germany’s 16 states sets its own education requirements, nearly all teach through the lens of workplace conflict between employer and employee, the central battle being over wages and work rules. If there’s one unifying characteristic of German textbooks, it’s the tremendous emphasis on group interests, the traditional social-democratic division of the universe into capital and labour, employer and employee, boss and worker. Textbooks teach the minutiae of employer-employee relations, workplace conflict, collective bargaining, unions, strikes and worker protection. Even a cursory look at the country’s textbooks shows that many are written from the perspective of a future employee with a union contract. Bosses and company owners show up in caricatures and illustrations as idle, cigar-smoking plutocrats; sometimes linked to child labour, Internet fraud, cellphone addiction, alcoholism and, of course, undeserved layoffs. The successful, modern entrepreneur is virtually nowhere to be found.

German students will be well-versed in many subjects upon graduation; one topic they will know particularly well is their rights as welfare recipients. One 10th-grade social studies text titled FAKT has a chapter on “What to do against unemployment.” Instead of describing how companies might create jobs, the section explains how those without jobs can organize into self-help groups and join weekly anti-reform protests “in the tradition of the East German Monday demonstrations” (which in 1989 helped topple the communist dictatorship). The not-so-subtle sub-text? Jobs are a right to be demanded from the government. The same chapter also details various welfare programs, explains how employers use the threat of layoffs as a tactic to cut pay and concludes with a long excerpt from the platform of the German Union Federation, including the 30-hour work week, retirement at age 60 and redistribution of the work pie by splitting full-time into part-time jobs. No market alternative is taught. When FAKT presents the reasons for unemployment, it blames computers and robots. In fact, this is a recurring theme in German textbooks — the Internet will turn workers into “anonymous code” and kill off interpersonal communication.

Equally popular in Germany today are student workbooks on globalization. One such workbook includes sections headed The Revival of Manchester Capitalism, The Brazilianization of Europe and The Return of the Dark Ages.” India and China are successful, the book explains, because they have large, state-owned sectors and practice protectionism, while the societies with the freest markets lie in impoverished sub-Saharan Africa. Like many French and German books, this text suggests students learn more by contacting the anti-globalization group Attac, best known for organizing messy protests at the annual G-8 summits.

One might expect Europeans to view the world through a slightly left-of-centre, social-democratic lens. The surprise is the intensity and depth of the anti-market bias being taught in Europe’s schools. Students learn that private companies destroy jobs while government policy creates them. Employers exploit while the state protects. Free markets offer chaos while government regulation brings order. Globalization is destructive, if not catastrophic. Business is a zero-sum game, the source of a litany of modern social problems. Some enterprising teachers and parents may try to teach an alternative view, and some books are less ideological than others. But given the biases inherent in the curricula, this background is unavoidable. It is the context within which most students develop intellectually. And it’s a belief system that must eventually appear to be the truth.

Can Old Europe do new tricks?

This bias has tremendous implications that reach far beyond the domestic political debate in these two countries. These beliefs inform students’ choices in life. Taught that the free market is a dangerous wilderness, twice as many Germans as Americans tell pollsters that you should not start a business if you think it might fail. According to the European Union’s internal polling, just two in five Germans and French would like to be their own boss, compared to three in five Americans. Whereas 8% of Americans say they are currently involved in starting a business, that’s true of only 2% of Germans and 1% of the French. Another 28% of Americans are considering starting a business, compared to just 11% of the French and 18% of Germans. The loss to Europe’s two largest economies in terms of jobs, innovation and economic dynamism is severe.
Attitudes and mind-sets, it is increasingly being shown, are closely related to a country’s economic performance. Edmund Phelps, a Columbia University economist and Nobel laureate, contends that attitudes toward markets, work and risk-taking are significantly more powerful in explaining the variation in countries’ actual economic performance than the traditional factors upon which economists focus, including social spending, tax rates and labour-market regulation. The connection between capitalism and culture, once famously described by Max Weber, also helps explain continental Europe’s poor record in entrepreneurship and innovation. A study by the Massachusetts-based Monitor Group, the Entrepreneurship Benchmarking Index, looks at nine countries and finds a powerful correlation between attitudes about economics and actual corporate performance. The researchers find that attitudes explain 40% of the variation in start-up and company growth rates — by far the strongest correlation of any of the 31 indicators they tested. If countries such as France and Germany hope to boost entrepreneurship, innovation and economic dynamism — as their leaders claim they do — the most effective way to make that happen may be to use education to boost the cultural legitimacy of going into business.

The deep anti-market bias that French and Germans continue to teach challenges the conventional wisdom that it’s just a matter of time, thanks to the pressures of globalization, before much of the world agrees upon a supposedly “Western” model of free-market capitalism. Politicians in democracies cannot long fight the preferences of the majority of their constituents. So this bias will likely continue to circumscribe both European elections and policy outcomes. A likely alternative scenario may be that the changes wrought by globalization will awaken deeply held resentment against capitalism and, in many countries from Europe to Latin America, provide a fertile ground for populists and demagogues, a trend that is already manifesting itself in the sudden rise of many leftist movements today.

Minimal reforms to the welfare state cost former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroder his job in 2005. They have also paralyzed modern German politics. Former communists and disaffected Social Democrats, together with left-wing Greens, have flocked to Germany’s new leftist party, whose politics is a distasteful mix of anti-capitalist demagoguery and right-wing xenophobia. Its platform, polls show, is finding support even among mainstream Germans. A left-leaning majority, within both the parliament and the public at large, makes the world’s third-largest economy vulnerable to destructive policies driven by anti-capitalist resentment and fear of globalization. Similar situations are easily conceivable elsewhere and have already helped bring populists to power in Latin America. Then there is France, where President Nicolas Sarkozy promised to “rupture” with the failed economic policies of the past. He has taken on the country’s public servants and their famously lavish benefits, but many of his policies appear to be driven by what he calls “economic patriotism,” which smacks of old-fashioned industrial protectionism. That’s exactly what French schoolchildren have long learned is the way the world should work.

Both the French and German cases show the limits of trying to run against the grain of deeply held economic ideology. Yet, training the next generation of citizens to be prejudiced against being enterprising and productive is equally foolhardy. Fortunately, such widespread attitudes and the political outcomes they foster aren’t only determined by tradition and history. They are, to a great extent, the product of education. If countries like France and Germany hope to get their nations on a new economic track, they might start paying more attention to what their kids are learning in the classroom.


Gov't-union workers still on strike

No new talks have been scheduled in the week-old long strike between City of Kawartha Lakes and CUPE Local 855's roughly 400 inside and outside workers. Calls from the union to mediator Dayna Firth Friday afternoon revealed that neither side had moved from their original positions, and CUPE national rep Alison Davidson said she is not expecting any new talks between the two sides in the near future. "No talks have been scheduled," she said.

Davidson said Friday's call was a pre-arranged agreement between CUPE Local 855, Kawartha Lakes solicitor John Saunders and mediator Dayna Firth.

"It was a pre-arranged call to check in and see if there was anything on either side that would warrant discussions at the table," Davidson said. "She (Dayna Firth) called John Saunders first, and John Saunders said the final offer is on the table, we are not changing our position, that's all there is for the union.

"Our position back to Dayna Firth after hearing that is that we're still out then," Davidson continued. "We're still out and we're not expecting that talks will be scheduled in the near future."

While frustrations increased last week as southern Ontario was bombarded with heavy snowfall and driving winds, creating icy roads and whiteout conditions, Davidson said the employer is feeling the pressure, not the union.

"I think there is more pressure on the employer's side than on our side," Davidson said. "I think this group is carrying a very successful strike. We've seen nothing but positive motivation; the pressure is not here for us.

"We have lots of money rolling in, and lots of support rolling," she said. "Sure it's cold out there but people are quite resolved in the way they're dealing with it. I think people are just buying more layers at the moment."

On Tuesday, an internal CUPE leadership meeting will be held, and Davidson said the meeting will be a good "morale booster" for the group.

"We have a scheduled CUPE leadership meeting, which is a leadership meeting where various locals provide their support both financially and morally to this group, and that is a good morale booster for this group."

With two visits by CUPE president Sid Ryan in the past four weeks, local members will also be visited Friday by CUPE national president Paul Moist.

"We have our president of CUPE National Paul Moist coming to rally the troops on Friday and a large rally being planned, so he is going to be visiting picket lines and attending the rally," Davidson said. The rally is planned for noon on Friday in Victoria Park.


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