The Fiction of Business’ ‘Secret Ballot’ Argument

Joe Mathews
Connecting California Columnist and Editor, Zócalo Public Square, Fellow at the Center for Social Cohesion at Arizona State University and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (UC Press, 2010)

It’s still early in 2009, but my award for the most disingenuous p.r. campaign of the year goes to the national, business-backed effort to fight the labor-backed Employee Free Choice Act. The campaign has a deceptively simple message: preserve the “secret ballot” in union elections.

I’m for all secret ballots. Ideally, union elections would be conducted via secret ballots just like an election for governor or mayor; voters would make their decisions freely and fairly and no one knows how they voted. The problem is this: we don’t have anything like secret ballots in union elections. And the business leaders of the effort to discredit EFCA know this.

The truth about union elections is much more complicated. There are two ways that workplaces go union. The first, now favored by labor, is “card check.” In these cases, workers sign cards saying they want to join a union. When workers have a majority, employers agree to recognize the union. Oftentimes, card check recognition comes after months or even years of pressure and/or negotiations between the union, workers and employers. There can be hard feelings, but the process also can be a cooperative one. Security guards in Los Angeles office buildings were recently organized this way.

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California’s Financial History: “Broke, Busted and Disgusted.”

David S. White
Principal of the Law Firm of David S. White & Associates, West Los Angeles, specializing in litigation, arbitration and mediation of real-estate-related disputes and litigation since 1977; www.dswlawyers.com

As we await California’s impending financial collapse, you might think that booms and busts are new here. They’re not. In fact, California (and U.S.) history is chock full of booms and busts, going all the way back to the early days of our statehood. Since 1854, the whole of the U.S. has encountered no fewer than 32 cycles of expansions and contractions, averaging some 17 months of contraction and 38 months of expansion, as tracked by the NBER (National Bureau of Economic Research). From 1945-2007, the NBER has identified 11 separate recessions; averaging 10 months in duration (peak to trough).

The Gold Rush, starting in 1849, saw many ships simply abandoned in Yerba Buena harbor – what would soon be San Francisco – as everybody on board lit out for the gold fields, leaving nobody to sail the ships back to from whence they came. Some of the ships were filled in right in place, becoming buildings or foundations of buildings – every now and then, we hear of construction sites uncovering parts of long forgotten, old buried ships – San Francisco has a lot of filled land that was water back in the 1850’s. The Gold Rush itself went from boom to bust very quickly, leaving ravaged, barren countryside at the diggings and, it is often repeated, that significantly more people made serious money selling equipment to the gold digging Forty-Niners than by actually digging gold.

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Congratulations President Barack Obama

Joel Fox
Editor and Co-Publisher of Fox and Hounds Daily

The new president took the oath of office this morning promising a "New Era of Responsibility." Within that responsibility he included government saying that the question is not whether government is too big or too small but whether it works. If it works he intends to move forward, if the answer is no, he said, programs will end. This view of government is one that should be pursued at all levels and one that has frustrated many who have tried. I wish our new president good luck in pursuing the goal of government accountability.

The president also spoke of the building block of our country the "risk takers, doers, and maker of things" who create our prosperity. He praised the faith and determination of the American people and the individuals who must take up responsibility for themselves and the nation. This emphasis on the individual is a good sign. For it is these individuals who make up the risk takers and doers he praised.

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A Southern California Test of Obama Promises

Joe Mathews
Connecting California Columnist and Editor, Zócalo Public Square, Fellow at the Center for Social Cohesion at Arizona State University and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (UC Press, 2010)

The president elect has promised change, we all know that. He’s promised to get beyond old disputes and divides. And he’s pledged to rebuild the country’s infrastructure and stimulate the economy. That all sounds great, but I’ll believe these promises when I see them. And there’s a perfect place for Southern Californians to test whether Obama means any of this.

It’s called the 710- aka the Long Beach Freeway.

For a half-century, the 710 has been unfinished. It was supposed to go all the way from the Port of Long Beach up to Pasadena, where it would connect to the 210 Freeway, allowing drivers and truckers to skirt downtown LA on their way northwest (to the San Fernando Valley, Santa Clarita, the Antelope Valley or even the Central Valley). But the highway stops 6 miles short of the 210 in Pasadena, dumping drivers onto the surface streets of Alhambra. Why? The power of one very well organized special interest: the residents and city fathers of South Pasadena.

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What Budget Crisis?

Jon Coupal
President of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association

Humans have been around for tens of thousands of years. And yet, as recently as a thousand years ago, there was a broad consensus — even among the most highly educated — that the world was flat. The problem with "consensus" is that it becomes groupthink. If an idea has no challengers, it becomes difficult to disprove and those who speak against the established orthodoxy are always marginalized.

There seems to be a consensus in California that we have a "Budget Crisis." But if "crisis" is defined as a situation where impending disaster is a probable outcome — think Cuban Missile Crisis – then the notion that California is in the midst of crisis needs to be challenged.

In support of the crisis mentality for California’s predicament is the contention that California is "going to run out of money" by February. This is inaccurate for two reasons. First, even with significant reductions in tax revenues to the state and local governments, California remains a tax producing behemoth. Because of its $1.6 trillion economy, California will generate tens of billions of dollars more than next-ranked Texas.

The distinct nature of California’s economy reveals the second inaccuracy. It is not California that is running out of money, it is California government that, more accurately, has a cash flow problem. And government is going to run out of money only if one assumes a continuation of the rate of spending based on previous years. But why should we be forced to make this assumption?

It is not a "crisis" if you are merely driving down the freeway. It is a crisis if you fail to slow down when you get to your exit.  Reducing government expenditures when revenues decrease should be as natural as slowing down a car when approaching an off ramp — and we can do it without invoking the "C" word.

You want a real crisis? Talk to the folks at Circuit City and Mervyns. Except for inventory liquidations, there is no more revenue coming in the door. Could those corporations and thousands of other small and large businesses going through bankruptcy have avoided this fate with a ten or fifteen percent reduction in revenue? Probably.

Although the vast majority of Californians have indeed been convinced that government is in the midst of a budget crisis, our political leaders have another problem on their hands: Not everyone cares. As recently reported in the Sacramento Bee, citizens are more concerned with their own issues than with the threat of a government shutdown. It is not that they want failure, it is simply that they don’t see a direct impact on them.

For that reason, and motivated to ensure that the voting public will resign itself to a tax increase, our political leadership has taken steps in an effort to engage — or frighten — the public. Sure, if asked, the taxpaying public would prefer that California governments’ books be balanced, but the majority of citizens do not rely directly on government for their livelihoods.

The first scare tactic — and one targeted specifically at the productive segment of our population — is the threat to pay tax refunds with IOUs. But is this really necessary? We have our doubts.

It turns out that there exist in the vaults of governments billions of dollars of unused funds. Whether it is redevelopment money, excess revenue from the tobacco tax or millionaires’ tax, the account balances of dozens of funds under the control of the state do not reflect the level of poverty we are being told.

What is sorely needed now is a healthy dose of skepticism about the threats now being issued by our State Controller, State Treasurer and Director of Finance. Just one question illustrates this concern.  We have been told that, without a resolution of the budget deficit,
California would be shut out of the bond market. If that is true, then how did California just recently manage to sell almost $350 million in Department of Water Resource Bonds? Obviously, someone still recognizes that debt issuances by California are a worthy investment.

All this is not to say everything is coming up roses in the Golden State. To the contrary, government’s rampant overspending continues and we indeed have a cash flow problem. But let’s not accept without critical analysis a "cure" for a problem that now appears to be significantly overstated.

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On the Eve of This Historic Inauguration

Fox&Hounds Special Correspondent

It is the night before the big inauguration, the night before one of the most anticipated transitions of Presidential administrations in recent history (regardless of what box is checked on your voter card). Amidst the madness, excitement and confusion that is this inauguration, I have had the hottest seats in town all night – the hotel lobby.

Whether it was seeing an infamous national political commentator sipping Merlot and talking to a Mid-Western Representative in the hotel bar by Union Station or overhearing a celebrity in a hotel lobby by Judiciary Square talking about how he donated money for the first time in a hotel lobby by Judiciary Square, the after-parties in the lobbies across Washington, D.C. have proven to be the place to be seen and heard.

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The Obama Presidential Connection: Lincoln and FDR, Yes, but Jefferson, too

Joel Fox
Editor and Co-Publisher of Fox and Hounds Daily

Barack Obama has made it clear that he admires Abraham Lincoln. He followed the same train route into Washington Lincoln used for his first inaugural; he plans to take the oath of office on Lincoln’s bible; he has read Lincoln biographies and writings searching for guidance on leadership.

Franklin Roosevelt is another president identified by Obama’s transition team as a president to study. FDR took office in 1933 in the midst of a horrendous economy much like Obama faces today.

However, a third president who should share the spotlight during Obama’s historic inauguration is Thomas Jefferson. In fact, Jefferson’s first inaugural address mirrored the goal Obama established as a core value of his presidential run – to overcome harsh political dissension and bring the country together.

Following one of the more bitter campaigns in American presidential history, Jefferson attempted with his inaugural address to bridge the political schism in the country. Jefferson famously said, “But every difference of opinion is not a difference of principle. We have called by different names brethren of the same principle. We are all Republicans, we are all Federalists.”

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What If California Could File Bankruptcy?

David S. White
Principal of the Law Firm of David S. White & Associates, West Los Angeles, specializing in litigation, arbitration and mediation of real-estate-related disputes and litigation since 1977; www.dswlawyers.com

Just think: if California could seek the protection of the Bankruptcy Court, let’s assume that states can actually do this for a moment, a Bankruptcy Judge could then oversee the knawing, energy-sapping, Gordian Knot of a $42Billion deficit, crushing contractual and pension obligations, and the imminent lack of financing opportunities facing this state as our credit rating plummets. What could a Bankruptcy Judge do that our Legislature and Governor cannot?

For one thing, if California could file a Petition in Bankruptcy under Chapter 9, Title 11 of the United States Code, a chapter of the United States Bankruptcy Code available only to “municipalities,” it might rescue our state from financial oblivion when we have simply run out of options to restructure our debts. That is the essence of why our federal Constitution provides for Bankruptcy as a remedy in the first place – to give the Debtor another chance.

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Odds & Ends – January 19, 2009

Chandra Sharma
Political Communications, Redistricting and New Media Strategist

Some odds and ends from the past week:

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Civil War

Joel Fox
Editor and Co-Publisher of Fox and Hounds Daily

Is California in a “civil war”? In his state of the state speech, the governor said, “I think you would agree that in recent years California’s legislature has been engaged in civil war.”

Have the two sides gone to war over their ideologies? Dictionary.com defines “civil war” as a war between political factions or regions within the same country. How can you not argue that we are witnessing a war between political factions, as long as we define war in this instance as intractable rhetorical battles sans bloodshed?

Yet, the term troubles me. It conjures up images of America’s Civil War and the battlefields I have visited where blood soaked the ground and seeped into America’s soul. Differences were settled not by diplomacy but by battle. Perhaps, with the issue of slavery that was inevitable.

But, is war necessary over budget issues? Diplomacy has been found wanting in the budget debate, as well. It has been tried. There have been countless meetings over the three special sessions called by the governor to settle the budget crisis. No “negotiated” settlement has come about as yet.

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