The tyranny of unity

Jonah Goldberg:

I just caught my friend and colleague David French on MSNBC defending Karen Pence and the Christian school she’s going to teach at. I love listening to David defend Christian teachings in the MSM because he manages to be simultaneously unapologetic about his apologetics and wholly decent and un-scolding in the process.

Anyway, one of the points David made is right in my wheelhouse: He wants there to be as much freedom as possible for different schools and other institutions to teach their faith. If you’ve read or listened to me rant about federalism and civil society you know how dorkily passionate I am about this topic.

And that put me in mind to a question I got from an academic from a religious school last weekend when I was speaking at a conference for AEI’s Values and Capitalism program. After my usual rant about federalism and the importance of civil society, this guy asked me what’s wrong with First Things editor Rusty Reno’s calls for rethinking the Founding and the Enlightenment in pursuit of some new kind of Catholic-informed, New Deal-style project of national solidarity.

And that reminded me that Rusty has returned, like a dog to his vomit, to his attacks on me. If you recall, Rusty wrote a dumb review of my book a while back which began with the declaration: “Jonah Goldberg exemplifies the decadence and dysfunction of today’s public discourse.” For reasons I explained here, I thought this was impressively stupid, revealing the decadence and dysfunction in Reno’s Rusty-thinking.

In his latest effort, he puts the decadence and dysfunction on display yet again. But he also says some interesting things, and if you’ll forgive the self-congratulatory tone, they’re interesting because they track an argument I make at great length in my book. He argues that elites haven’t held up their end with regard to the rest of America. This is not a new argument, of course. It can be traced from Joseph Schumpeter to James Burnham to Irving Kristol and Christopher Lasch to Charles Murray in his prophetic Coming Apart.

As I discussed here last week in the context of Tucker Carlson’s jeremiad, I have no problem criticizing elites, but I think people are focusing mostly on the wrong elites.

My disagreement with Reno — aside from all the snide nonsense and bad faith — is the same problem I have with all of these arguments for centralizing power in Washington to “bring the country together” or some similar treacle.

Which brings me back to David French’s comments and Reno’s little project.

There’s an old joke about how the best form of government is the “good Czar.” The problem is that if you create a system dependent on the wisdom of a good Czar, you leave society defenseless against the rise to power of a bad Czar.

This insight, perhaps more than any other, is at the heart of the American political system envisioned by the founders. If men were angels, we wouldn’t need government, and if you could guarantee that every Czar is an angel, you wouldn’t need democracy, checks and balances, or divided government of any kind, either.

National solidarity is awesome when it’s on your terms. It’s only when people you don’t like get to define what constitutes national solidarity — which is synonymous with some notion of “national purpose” — that its proponents suddenly realize the problems. Then, when the people who say that “there’s no such thing as someone else’s child” or think that the Knights of Columbus is an ersatz hate group come into power, they’re suddenly like Colonel Nicholson in The Bridge Over the River Kwai asking, “My God, what have I done?”

The founders were acutely aware of this, which is why they opposed an established church like the Church of England. They saw how minority faiths had been persecuted in the name of national solidarity. The exhaustion after the religious wars of Europe minted the right to be wrong in the eyes of the majority or the state. In other words, they championed pluralism. As Ben Sasse writes in Them, we should all see ourselves as members of minorities.

Madison encouraged everyone to conceive of themselves as creedal minorities.

Assume that if you believe anything important or hold anything dear, it will not always align with majority opinion. Wise republicans (small-“r” republicans) — by which he meant all citizens of this new experiment in liberty, who had just observed a century-plus of religious war in Europe — should be aiming to preserve space for peaceful argument and thoughtful dissent. Government isn’t in the business of setting down ultimate truths. It doesn’t decide who’s saved and who’s damned. Government is merely a tool to preserve order, to preserve space for free minds to wrestle with the big questions. Government is not the center of life but the framework that enables rich lives to be lived in the true centers of freedom and love: houses and communities.

Reread George Washington’s letter to the Hebrew Congregation at Newport:

It is now no more that toleration is spoken of as if it were the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights, for, happily, the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.

The founders, especially James Madison, understood that the kind of national solidarity Reno desires and Rousseau celebrated is not scalable for a large, diverse, ultimately continent-spanning nation — at least not while preserving liberty. Even Rousseau thought his (largely totalitarian) conception of the General Will could not work on a polity larger than his beloved Geneva.

The way to prevent tyrannical invasions into the liberties of others was to divide power, not just between the three branches of government, but between the central government and the states and smaller jurisdictions. Each state has divided government, as do most cities and even towns and counties. And it’s not just state power. Institutions, starting with organized religion, must be given substantial immunity to interference by the state – at any level.

Divide power and then divide it again and again, and you prevent factions from grabbing power and imposing their will on the whole. As Madison writes in Federalist No. 51: “Extend the sphere and you take in a greater variety of parties and interests; you make it less probable that a majority of the whole will have a common motive to invade the rights of other citizens; or if such a common motive exists, it will be more difficult for all who feel it to discover their own strength and to act in unison with each other.”

Delaware’s John Dickinson put it well at the Constitutional Convention: “Let our government be like that of the solar system. Let the general government be like the sun and the states the planets, repelled yet attracted, and the whole moving regularly and harmoniously in their several orbits.”

This idea, which evolved organically and slowly out of English culture, became a philosophical program (See Hume’s Idea of a Perfect Commonwealth) and ultimately a “new political science.”

But don’t tell that to Reno. He ridiculously thinks he’s caught me in a great contradiction by celebrating Hayekian trial and error while heaping scorn on the “Bold persistent experimentation” of the New Deal. He writes:

But wait a minute. By Goldberg’s account, we’ve gotten to the Miracle by trial and error. It’s taken thousands of generations of experimentation. Thus, the Miracle, too, has been arrived at by “the very definition of the authoritarian method.” In other words, the liberal miracle is in the upshot of a crypto-fascist approach. This explains why Suicide of the West is full of denunciations of those who disagree with Goldberg. That’s what ideological authoritarians do. They don’t argue with reason and decency. They pillory, ridicule, and smear.

This is preposterous. The New Dealers wanted to crush the normal divisions of power (and had considerable success). Planners like Rex Tugwell thought they were smarter than the market and could set the prices for everything from Washington. They believed individuals could have enough knowledge to plan other peoples’ lives better than they could.

You know who else believed that? Fighting Bob La Follette and his progressives.

That’s not bottom-up-trial and error from the little platoons of society (nor is it Catholic subsidiarity). It’s what Hayek called the Road to Serfdom. A previous editor of First Things, the late great Father Neuhaus, recognized this. As he and Peter Berger wrote, policymakers had to recognize and respect the role of intermediating institutions to advance e pluribus unum. “unum is not to be achieved at the expense of the plures. . . .the national purpose indicated by the unum is precisely to sustain the plures.”

It’s fine if Reno likes the New Deal — progressives of all parties tend to. And it’s certainly true that the New Deal borrowed influences from Catholic social thought, particularly from folks like Father John Ryan (and for a time Father Coughlin). But this is mind-bogglingly dumb, dishonest, or ignorant (or maybe all three).

The philosophical pragmatism of the technocratic progressives was the exact opposite of what I talk about in my book, and if he can’t see that, no wonder he gets so much else wrong.

But here’s the point. If you want to knock out what remaining safeguards there are against another New Deal, green or otherwise, you should ask yourself: Who will run it? And what will that mean for the things you hold dear? And how long will it be run by the good Czars you like?

After all, Obama wanted a new New Deal. How did his administration treat Catholics? How would it treat the schools David French is talking about? I understand that Rusty thinks he’s very persuasive, but count me skeptical that his new corporatist (in the real meaning of the word) New Deal  — or whatever he would call the tangible result of his gaseous wish casting — would have a particularly Catholic flavor or would treat Christian schools, charities, adoption agencies, or the Knights of Columbus as full partners in the project.

And even if this ridiculous pipe dream were to come to be, how corrupting would it be of those institutions in the long run? The very thing that has corrupted the elites Rusty denounces would in all likelihood corrupt the new elites too. How faithful is Catholicism in China today? How much witness did the Russian Orthodox Church bear in the old Soviet Union? Hell, give some religious “leaders” a taste of good radio ratings or a sweet land deal and a little fame these days and you can see how far they stray. Imagine what compromises they might make for the greater good and for the cause of national solidarity when they had real power. Power and status are more seductive than 30 pieces of silver.

Rusty bleats a lot about “Conservatism Inc.” as if it were a particularly clever or novel epithet. But oddly he also thinks he’s using it correctly. Here I am invoking the central arguments made by conservative thinkers from the founding until 2016 — including, for most of its history, his own magazine. I am defending the vision of the founders, the insights of Edmund Burke, Adam Smith, Friedrich Hayek, William F. Buckley, and the causes of religious and economic liberty which have made this country one of the most glorious accomplishments in all of human history, and he’s whining about how I’m being mean to the New Deal, which put an immigrant in jail for charging too little for pressing a suit and tried to erase religious practices that did not align with its central planning.

That’s not Conservatism Inc. That’s conservatism. American conservatism.

Conservatism Inc. these days is the lusting for the power, relevance, and fame we see all around us, and I guess Rusty wants his slice.

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Karma, media ownership edition

USA Today is owned by Gannett, which means USA Today is reporting on its owners and its would-be owners:

In a cost-cutting move last year, The Denver Post relocated from the city’s downtown, where the newspaper had been based for more than a century, to quarters in its printing plant in a neighboring county. Reporters and editors found that their new workplace had the feng shui of a run-down casino, with no windows to let in sunlight and a constant ambient hissing from the presses.

But they hoped the move represented an end to the bloodletting that had occurred at the newspaper since hedge fund Alden Global Capital took over in 2010, said Larry Ryckman, then a senior news editor. Layoffs and turnover had left only about 100 journalists in the newsroom, a third of its staff during the paper’s heyday.

That hope was dashed a couple of months after moving offices, when it was announced 30 more positions would be cut. It was then that Ryckman came to believe that the firings would only end when the newspaper closed for good: “We were under attack by our own owners.”

What would follow was a newspaper mutiny, including editorials slamming its own ownership, allegations of censorship and mass resignations.

Most any journalist who has worked at a newspaper in the last couple of decades has come to expect layoffs and other cuts as the new reality of the industry, including at Gannett Co., USA TODAY’s owner. As audience has shifted to digital products, including online news, the unrelenting trend has ravaged profits from print circulation and advertising. Increasing digital subscriptions have not easily offset print’s legacy profit sources.

But journalists and industry insiders familiar with Alden regard its methods of acquisition and management of distressed newspaper properties as a particularly ominous force in the industry in which staffs are decimated and properties sold off for investment elsewhere at the expense of a newspaper’s prospects for long-term survival.

If Alden’s latest plans come to fruition, it will be bringing its ownership style to a newspaper near virtually every American. MNG Enterprises, which also operates as Digital First Media and is owned by the hedge fund Alden, has launched a hostile takeover bid for Gannett, the nation’s largest newspaper publisher by paid circulation. With a national newspaper in USA TODAY and 109 local brands in cities around the country, Gannett would make for a unique – and landscape-shifting – acquisition for MNG.

In a note to clients on Monday, analysts Douglas Arthur and Craig Huber described Alden’s reputation for “strip-mining” newspapers it purchases “until the very last iota of cash flow has been squeezed from it.”

Ken Doctor, an analyst who writes about the media business on his website, Newsonomics.com, said the hedge fund is alone among owners of struggling media properties in that it doesn’t reinvest in its journalism or harbor any long-term survival strategy for the newspapers it owns. Doctor said that MNG purchasing Gannett “would signal a local newspaper capitulation to the inevitability of further decline toward closure at some point.”

But in a letter sent Monday, MNG derided Gannett, of which it says it already owns a 7.5 percent stake, for a “series of value-destroying decisions made by an unfocused leadership team” and cast itself as a guardian angel for the industry. “We save newspapers and position them for a strong and profitable future so they can weather the secular decline,” MNG declared.

Gannett has said it is reviewing the proposal. Some analysts have said they believe MNG’s offer, of $1.4 billion, is too low. Gannett declined to comment on what impact the potential sale might have on the company’s journalism.

In interviews with roughly a dozen journalists who experienced Alden’s takeover in Denver, a dire picture emerges of what happens when the hedge fund comes for the newspaper in your town. They described crippling personnel cuts, corporate meddling and a stewardship that results in a newspaper being hollowed out to a shell of what it once was.

A spokesperson for MNG, Paul Caminiti, did not respond to specific questions for this article but issued a statement crediting the company’s “successful track record” enabling it “to run newspapers profitably and sustainably so that they can continue to serve their local communities.”

Alden’s Digital First owns about 200 publications, including The Mercury News in San Jose, California, the Los Angeles Daily News and the Boston Herald. Perhaps nowhere has its ownership been as contentious as in Denver, a city with a storied history of once-thriving newspapers.

The Denver Post, first published in 1892, had waged a decades-long war with the Rocky Mountain News. In 2007, each newspaper employed more than 200 journalists, according to Kevin Vaughan, a former reporter at both papers. But shrinking profits gave close quarters to the feud when the rival newspapers were forced to move into the same office building, and ended it altogether in 2009, when the Rocky shut down for good.

In 2010, when Alden acquired the Post’s bankrupt parent company, the newspaper’s journalists were expecting the kind of cuts that have become commonplace in the industry – but not the carnage that ensued, Ryckman said.

Chuck Plunkett, then The Post’s editorial page editor, described a “yearly grind” in which layoffs followed even the best journalistic results, such as when he said roughly twenty staffers were cut after The Post won its ninth Pulitzer Prize in 2013 for coverage of the Aurora movie theater massacre.

That’s a familiar pattern for the company, according to Kat Anderson, an administrative officer at the Pacific Media Workers Guild, a union representing journalists at several San Francisco area newspapers. She said that MNG also laid off about twenty staffers at the East Bay Times in the wake of the Oakland-area newspaper’s Pulitzer win for its coverage of the “Ghost Ship” warehouse fire.

Dana Coffield, whose decade-long tenure at The Post until 2018 included a stint as its second-in-command editor, said the ongoing cuts crippled the newspaper. “If you lose a pint of blood you don’t notice it, but if you lose 6 of your 8 pints you’re going to feel it,” Coffield said. “That’s how it felt at the end – like not knowing if you could stand up and keep going.”

Making the layoffs more troubling to those weathering them are revelations that the company apparently was earning ample profits but reinvesting them in non-journalistic enterprises with questionable results.

Doctor, the analyst, has obtained financials showing that Digital First earned a $160 million profit in 2017. The privately held company has disputed the figure while not releasing detailed financial information. On Monday, the company boasted of a profitability margin exceeding 16 percent in 2018.

In a contentious meeting with staffers at The Post’s office last June, MNG Chairman Joe Fuchs described a strategy of “survivability and consistency,” which included making “Warren Buffett-style investments in some other things.”

In the recorded meeting, Fuchs allowed that at least one of those investments, into the struggling Fred’s pharmacy chain, was “not very successful.” The $158 million investment is now worth roughly $20 million.

Alden has made a variety of investments in other publicly-traded companies unrelated to media and communications, federal regulatory filings show. The hedge fund made a quick profit by selling most of its stake in furniture store Pier 1 Imports in January 2017, before the company’s stock plummeted. Alden’s other investments have included holdings in Mechel PAO, a Russian mining giant that has been criticized for pollution, and a Brazilian state-run energy company, the filings show.

Ryckman said removing hard-fought profits from local journalism for such investments drove home his belief that “we were working for the bad guys. And none of us got in this business to work for the bad guys.”

The trouble in Denver reached a boil over last spring, when journalists in The Post’s opinion section responded to the continuing layoffs with a bold statement: a full page of columns blasting Alden as “vulture capitalists” and calling for new ownership to save the newspaper. Editorial page editor Plunkett said he was forced to resign soon thereafter.

Then-senior news editor Ryckman said he was effectively barred from assigning reporters to cover the backlash against the newspaper’s own ownership. When he insisted on writing an article about Plunkett’s resignation, Ryckman said, editor-in-chief Lee Ann Colacioppo only allowed the story to be published only after removing explicit references to Alden Global Capital. Colacioppo did not respond to a phone message seeking an interview for this story.

Ryckman said it was “the first time in my career I was told to take facts out of a story for no reason having to do with journalism.” He resigned the next day.

Post chairman and former owner Dean Singleton also quit, saying of Alden: “They’ve killed a great newspaper.”

Journalists from The Post traveled to Manhattan to protest outside of Alden’s offices last May. “They didn’t speak to us – they never do,” said current Post reporter Elizabeth Hernandez. “They don’t care about journalism. That’s very clear.”

Several editors and reporters who left the newspaper, including Coffield and Ryckman, have started a grassroots rival publication called The Colorado Sun.

Plunkett described the current state of The Denver Post now as “a shell of a newspaper” full of content repurposed from other sources. Ryckman called the loss of local reporting “not just bad news for journalists” but also “for communities. It’s bad news for democracy.”

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, despite facing a raft of critical articles in The Post last year concerning a series of sexually suggestive text messages he sent to a member of his security detail, said he has considered government intervention to save publications like The Post from being gutted.

“It’s an essential part of our democracy and vital to those who value sound reporting for these mainstream publications to survive,” Hancock said.

Ryckman said: “It makes me sad to contemplate what’s going to happen to Gannett papers coast-to-coast if this sale goes through. … They’ve put these newspapers into a death spiral.”

Former Denver Post reporter Brian Eason, in describing corporate entities like MNG, said that he believed newspapers aren’t just “dying from natural causes. Greed is killing them.”

The irony here is that most of what this story accuses Gannett’s would-be buyer of is what Gannett has done in the past. When was the last time Green Bay-area readers read the Green Bay News–Chronicle? Gannett succeeded in buying and then closing the News–Chronicle in 2005, the culmination, if you want to call it that, of two decades to kill off the News–Chronicle, as chronicled in Richard McCord’s The Chain Gang, and by the News–Chronicle itself:

The Green Bay News-Chronicle is printing one more obituary today – its own.

The News-Chronicle, dead at 32, survived by its sister and stepsister newspapers. Remains on view in a red coin box near you – at least for 24 hours. Private burial in the bottom of a birdcage someplace.

Such, of course, is the fate of all newspapers; it’s a disposable medium. That, to those who work in them, is part of their charm. We may write something that is remembered, but there’s always a deadline the next day. We may botch something royally, but like a baseball player making an error, we have a chance to do something memorable the next day to make people forget it.

There’s always the next issue. Until today.

Volume 33, No. 175 marks the end of the line for a newspaper that was formed in strife and never seemed to lose that background. It was never the newspaper it could have been, but it was more than it had any right to be.

The biggest victims of Gannett have been readers of and advertisers in Gannett’s Oshkosh, Fond du Lac, Sheboygan and Manitowoc newspapers, which are essentially one not-very-good newspaper.

Don’t believe me? Facebook Friend Brian Fraley posted five Sunday front pages:

Gannett last year closed its Appleton printing plant and prints all 10 newspapers not named the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in West Milwaukee. That may seem like inside baseball to you, but consider what WLUK-TV reported:

“Starting (Monday), our print deadlines will be moved up,” wrote Robert Zizzo, Press-Gazette editor. “That means we won’t be printing next-day results of UW-Green Bay, St. Norbert, Badgers, Brewers and Bucks games. Those results, as well as those of the leagues they play in, will be in the following day’s newspaper. Same with lottery numbers.”

Both Zizzo and Ed Berthiaume, news director for The Post-Crescent, emphasize the shift to digital products and away from the paper itself.

“Yes, we still publish print newspapers, but that is one piece of what we do, and the print edition is no longer a vehicle for breaking news. Maybe it never was. The bulk of our readers are now accessing our content on their phones, tablets or desktops long before the newspaper rolls off the presses,” Berthiaume wrote.

The move comes as the Gannett papers continue to see declines in circulation.

According to the Alliance for Audited Media, for the period ending on Dec. 31, 2017, the Press-Gazette’s daily circulation was 34,105, down from 52,993 on Sept. 30, 2007. In the same roughly 10-year period, Sunday circulation fell from 78,094 to 45,853.

The numbers are similar in Appleton. Daily circulation fell from 50,639 to 30,817. Sunday circulation fell from 64,989 to 37,614, according to Alliance figures.

“I’m not naïve enough to believe that these changes will be popular with our print-only readers. It will be painful for those of you who can’t or won’t activate the digital access that comes with your print subscription,” Zizzo wrote. “Believe me, if we could continue to give you the newspaper of 20 years ago, while still serving our growing digital audience, we would.”

“It’s a new reality for the print edition. We are going to do everything in our control to keep the print edition of The Post-Crescent alive, informative and entertaining. But reversing the hands of time is not an option,” Berthiaume said.

Journal Sentinel readers don’t appear enamored of the changes Gannett has imposed on them since the print side of the late Journal Communications was purchased by Gannett. And now Gannett appears to be in fear of having done to Gannett what Gannett has done to itself.

Our rolling lesson about big government

In a recent appearance on Fox Business Channel Dan Mitchell saw five lessons from the ongoing federal government “shutdown”:

The first lesson is that much of what the government does is irrelevant to America.

I pointed out that ordinary Americans don’t notice or care that departments such as Housing and Urban Development are closed because there’s no net value generated by such bureaucracies.

And polling data supports my assertion.

The second lesson is that some parts of government should be shut down permanently.

If people don’t care or notice that a department is temporarily closed, they probably won’t care or notice if it is permanently closed.

I think that message applies to bureaucracies that are affected by the current shutdown (such as HUD and Transportation) as well as to some of the bureaucracies that are unaffected (Education, Energy, Agriculture, etc).

The third lesson is that temporary shutdowns are not a money-saving exercise.

A shutdown does not alter the amount of entitlement spending and it does not change annually appropriated spending. And since bureaucrats always get back pay for their involuntary vacations, there aren’t any savings there, either.

Some argue (see here and here) that a shutdown gives the executive branch unilateral authority to save money. I actually hope that’s true, but I have very little reason to think the Trump Administration is interested in fiscal rectitude.

The fourth lesson is that a busy and productive Congress is a dangerous Congress.

I included the brief blurb by Senator Tillis prior to my interview because I don’t want a “productive” Congress.

I’m not being nihilistic. Instead, I’m making the simple point that America’s Founders had the right idea in creating a factionalism-based system that enables gridlock.

Last but not least, the fifth lesson is that bureaucrats should have less power over economic activity.

I mentioned that there wouldn’t be any threat of disrupted air travel if all airports got to use a privatized version of TSA.

But that’s just one small example. Tim Carney’s column in the Washington Examiner is a must-read on the issue of pointless bureaucratic impediments to commerce.

…the government shutdown is another lesson… Before now, if an out of state brewery issued a new seasonal, you could simply purchase it across state lines thanks to…Form 5100.31 approvals… Of course, if you’re a particularly skeptical type, you may have a question… Why in the world should a brewer need federal approval on new beer labels? Once we ask that question, a thousand analogous questions come to mind. And in the asking, we expose the trick in so many stories about the crucial work of our expansive federal government. The trick is that the government’s work is often made necessary only by needless federal meddling in the first place. …when some reporter tries to tell you to be grateful that the federal government is opening a gate for you, ask them why the wall is there in the first place.

Amen.

This is what I was trying to get across in the interview about business decisions being stymied until some bureaucrats signs off.

Speaking of “some bureaucrat,” Ryan McMaken adds:

Whether it’s CNBC, or The New York Times, or NPR, the mainstream media is clearly committed to using the current partial government shutdown to portray federal workers as beleaguered victims of the American political system.

But, in all cases I’ve encountered, these reports neglect to mention that on average, civilian federal workers make 17 percent more than similar workers in the private sector, according to a 2017-2018 report by the Congressional Budget Office. That’s total compensation, so we’re including both wages and benefits.

Considering that a year is 52 weeks long, an average federal worker would need to be completely without any income for nearly 9 weeks in order to just be reduced to equal standing with a similar private-sector worker. (17 percent of 52 weeks is 8.84 weeks.)

graph1.PNG

Source: Congressional Budget Office.

As of this writing, the current shutdown has only lasted three weeks, which means all those furloughed workers profiled in national news stories are likely still coming out ahead of their private-sector colleagues. Moreover, given that both Trump and Congress have committed to pay furloughed workers back pay, it’s a safe bet that federal workers will continue to enjoy a healthy advantage over private-sector workers when it comes to compensation.

Health benefits for most federal workers will also continue without interruption through the shutdown, as noted by NPR.

The Federal-Pay Advantage Is Larger for Lower-Income Employees

The disparity between private-sector work and federal jobs is largest at the lower end of the education scale.

According to the CBO’s report:

Federal civilian workers with no more than a high school education earned 34 percent more, on average, than similar workers in the private sector.

That’s just wages. They get far more in terms of benefits like healthcare and vacation time:

Average benefits were 93 percent higher for federal employees with no more than a high school education than for their private-sector counterparts.

The benefits for workers with a bachelors degree are 52 percent higher for federal workers than for their private-sector counterparts. Wages for federal workers in this group, however, are only five percent higher.

Only when we look at federal workers with PhDs and other advanced degrees, do we find some federal workers who actually make less than similar workers in the private sector. Wages among highly-educated federal employees were 24 percent less than in the private sector, according to the report. Benefits remained “about the same.”

So, most federal employees — especially the ones with less education — have a long way to go before facing the economic realities that private-sector employees — i.e., the net taxpayers — face on a daily basis.

Crowding Out Private Employment

Not content with manufacturing sympathy for federal workers, however, news organizations have also pointed to a decline in spending by federal employees as damaging to the economy.

A typical passage is one like this one from a CNBC article:

If the government shutdown lasts another two weeks, the total cost to the U.S. economy would exceed the price of building the proposed border wall.

Without federal spending, we’re told, GDP will suffer:

We estimated that this shutdown could shave approximately $1.2 billion off real GDP in the quarter for each week that part of the government is closed.

That might sound like a big number (to some people unfamiliar with federal finances), but it’s helpful to keep in mind that federal workers make up only 1.5 percent of the federal workforce. And not all of those are furloughed.

Moreover, since furloughed workers can eventually expect back pay, any bust in GDP right now will be followed by a boom in spending once the back pay is received.

The real cost to the private sector is in the form of industries that are paralyzed as a result of understaffed federal regulatory agencies. (As mentioned in this article about craft beer.) When the private sector isn’t allowed to function without regular certification and inspection from federal agents, that means shutdowns prevent the private sector from functioning. This, of course, isn’t an argument for more government spending. It’s an argument against a vast federal regulatory apparatus that can’t be counted on to perform the bare minimum of tasks it has promised to perform.

All of this is just a good reminder that these jobs should never have been federal jobs in the first place.  After all, many of these positions are already by definition “non-essential,” and from the national parks to the airports to the FBI, the federal workers are doing jobs that could easily be taken over by state and local authorities, or by the private sector.

Were that the case, no nationwide, system-wide shutdown all of countless nationwide agencies would be of any noticeable impact. The system would become less fragile, more flexible, more diverse, and less costly.

Also, many of the workers who now rely on federal paychecks would already be working in the private sector had the federal government not crowded these jobs out of the marketplace to begin with. Every time the federal government inserts itself as a monopolist regulator or service provider, federal agencies suck resources (in terms of both capital and human resources) out of the private sector. That means fewer new hires in the private sector, and it means lower wages for the employees left in the private sector who must foot the bills for federal agencies and employees. It also means higher prices for the private sector as government agencies bid up prices on everything from steel to petroleum.

Ultimately, all of the problems we’re being told about as a result of the government shutdown are problems caused by a federal government itself, which has inserted itself into every nearly every corner of daily life nationwide.

Presty the DJ for Jan. 19

The number one single today in 1959:

The number one British single today in 1967:

Today in 1971, selections from the Beatles’ White Album were played in the courtroom at the Sharon Tate murder trial to answer the question of whether any songs could have inspired Charles Manson and his “family” to commit murder.

Manson was sentenced to death, but his sentence was commuted to life imprisonment when the U.S. Supreme Court outlawed the death penalty.

Continue reading “Presty the DJ for Jan. 19”

What Sunday means

Sage Rosenfels was a backup quarterback for the Minnesota Vikings when Brett Favre played in the 2009 NFC championship in New Orleans, about which Packer fans probably remember …

The game was a media dream. The New Orleans Saints, less than five years after Hurricane Katrina devastated the city and region (including the Superdome, where the game was being played) were hosting the Brett Favre-led Minnesota Vikings. Both teams’ fans had been waiting decades for a Super Bowl berth; the Saints had never made it there in their then-43-year history, and the Vikings hadn’t been to the big game in more than 30 years. Favre grew up a Saints fan and lives less than an hour from New Orleans. The storylines were endless. Driving through downtown the day before the game, it was impossible not to feel the growing anticipation. The streets were crowded with Saints and Vikings fans, both groups celebrating what their teams had done already that season while also getting amped for the epic showdown to come the next day.

After our evening meetings, I popped an Ambien to ensure I’d get some solid sleep. I generally have no trouble sleeping before a game, and I usually never wake up before 7 a.m. on game day. On this day, though, I was wide awake at 4 a.m., my mind racing. The Saints’ defense didn’t have the best talent in the league, but they did have a great scheme, especially on third down. They brought a lot of really difficult blitzes and coverages that almost every team struggled with that season, and the confusion they created forced a lot of sacks and turnovers. Still, they had some weaknesses. During our film study sessions, we felt we had figured out a method to their madness, and by Friday we thought that unless they changed their scheme, we had an answer for whatever they were going to throw at us. People don’t realize how much this thought process can grind on a player. Add to that the anticipation of a 40-second play clock and 75,000 screaming fans with a Super Bowl invitation on the line, and itʼs easy to see why I woke up at 4 a.m.

On game day, as our bus made the short trip over to the Superdome, the streets were filled with Saints tailgaters and fans. The makeshift marching bands, colorful dangling beads, hurricane-sized drinks and people dancing in the streets made it feel like Mardi Gras in January. The late 6 p.m. kickoff only allowed for more time for partying and celebrating. I scanned the bus and noticed some of my teammates looking out their windows, with a variety of reactions to the scene on the streets. Most of them had serious, business-like looks on their faces, while others smiled at the hilarity before them. To the right of me, an offensive assistant was reviewing the gameplan with the wristbands that we were to use during the game, which, for the first time that season, had every offensive play in numbered order. These wristbands were created with the expectation of unprecedented crowd noise. The trainers also had custom earplugs made for every player and coach. They were specially designed by Starkey, a Minneapolis company that specializes in hearing aids and earpieces. Would they give us an edge? Time would tell.

In most regards, getting ready for this game was like most other games that year, but the locker room was noticeably more quiet and focused. During the season, even in big games, the guys had been fairly loose as they got dressed and taped. I can recall Brett holding court at his locker many times, telling hilarious stories of old coaches and players. His stories seemed to keep the players relaxed. But Brett had been subdued during the stretch run and was noticeably anxious about this game.

In the locker room, Brett was talking to me about a blitz he was really concerned about. He felt it may give our protection scheme some trouble. He asked offensive linemen Steve Hutchinson and John Sullivan about the same blitz, and we all reassured him we had the problem solved.

Brett thinks about football differently from most players and coaches, and it took me most of the first half of the season to understand how. At times I felt like I was an interpreter between Brett and our offensive coordinator, Darrell Bevell, despite them having worked together for almost a decade.

Football is based on the precision of the 11 guys on the field. Teams practice to perfect their footwork, timing, depth of routes, angles of blocking, reads and audible systems. It is understood that the team that has better athletes, plays with more passion and focus and executes the gameplan best usually wins. But Brett’s mind goes beyond strict execution of how plays are drawn up and techniques are designed. He realizes that slight movements by the quarterback, more than any other position on offense, can have a huge effect on the defense. Instead of going through his natural reads to find the open receiver, he sometimes gets them open by pump-faking, angling his shoulders and using his eyes to move the defense. He goes by feel and creates to get what he wants, instead of doing everything by the book and getting what the defense will give him. Most coaches cringe at what he does because it isn’t very coachable, but there’s almost always a rhyme and reason with Brett.

As we went out for warmups, the atmosphere was as I expected. We could feel the anticipation on the field and in the stands. I glanced over to our bench and saw our owner, Zygi Wilf, with a huge smile on his face. He understood how special the opportunity was for his team. As I watched the fans file into the Superdome, I could tell they were ready to unleash once the game started. I also knew that communication for our offense was going to be extremely difficult, especially for the linemen who were going to make a lot of calls to pick up the Saints’ exotic blitzes. After the game, Brett told me that on every play he had to yell at the top of his lungs in the huddle, and then scream the cadence at the line.

Everyone had a sense the game would come down to the wire. And it lived up to that, reminding me of a classic heavyweight fight that went back and forth. Every play felt like a fourth down. Brett was playing unbelievably well while taking lots of shots, legal and illegal. He kept our team together, moving the offense up and down the field while making very few mistakes. Still, the raw physical brutality was unprecedented in anything I had seen in my nine-year career. There had been rumors during the week that the Saintsʼ plan was to take Brett out of the game, and the hits started to wear on him mentally and physically. By the fourth quarter he had a badly swollen left wrist, a deep scratch on his forehead, ribs that were in pain whenever he took a breath and a badly sprained ankle which could easily have been broken.

Even though we moved the ball, we continued to turn it over at crucial times. We fumbled twice inside the red zone and Brett threw a pick when we were in field goal range. We also fumbled inside our own 10-yard-line, which set up a Saints touchdown. Despite all of this, the guys never seemed fazed or worried. There were mistakes, but the feeling I was getting was that as long as we stayed within a touchdown we were going to win. Well, with the score tied and a little over two minutes left, we got the ball deep in our territory.

As Brett limped out to the field, I thought those final minutes were going to be the most important moments of the season. We converted a key third down, and then Brett threw one of his best passes of the year on a seam route to Sidney Rice.  After that play, which brought us near the 50, it got crazy on our sideline. Everyone could taste how close we were to winning the game and going to the Super Bowl. After Sidney’s catch, I heard coaches yell “Clock! Clock! Clock!” to indicate that we should spike the ball to stop the clock, then heard Bevell relay that to Brett on the field. We had timeouts left and still a minute and a half to go, so, not wanting to waste a down, I ran up to Bevell and told him we should run a play. As everyone was lined up to spike the ball, Bevell relayed to Brett to run “Mayday,” a basic handoff to the tailback. Brett did, and with the defense exhausted and confused, we picked up another first down and were in field goal range. We took our time and ran two more safe running plays that gained very little, calling timeout with 19 seconds left. Everyone, players and coaches, was wiped.

The third-down call was to run a simple pass play that was great against blitzes. Usually, this play involves a fullback, and I’m sure we had a couple of similar plays in the gameplan that involved a fullback. But for this one, we went without the lead blocker, instead hoping for man-to-man coverage and for Bernard Berrian to be open in the flat. Coaches and players were scrambling to get on the same page. Every offensive coach was making sure his guys were going to do their job correctly. Meanwhile, the special teams coach was one step ahead, getting the field-goal team ready.

The only problem was that a couple guys heard the play call and thought it was in a personnel grouping that involved the fullback. When the players huddled on the field, one last play from a game-winning field goal try to go to the Super Bowl, we ended up having 12 men on the field. We noticed it from the sideline, but there was nothing that could be done. Ryan Longwell was one of the best kickers in the league, but he was not known for his strong leg. The penalty moved us from the 33 back to the 38, pushing the field-goal attempt just outside of Longwellʼs range, making it important to pick up some yards on the play after the penalty.

Still, we called the same play as before the penalty, hoping to get a blitz. Jonathan Vilma, their defensive leader, recognized the formation and audibled to the best possible defense. As you may remember, Brett rolled out to the edge and had a chance to run, but he saw Sidney Rice flash open and decided to try to fire it in to him instead. It was intercepted by Tracy Porter and nearly returned for a touchdown. The game was going to overtime.

Brett later told me he couldn’t get anything on the ball, thanks to a combination of exhaustion and his busted-up ankle.

I sat on the Gatorade coolers on our sideline, and Brett limped over to sit next to me. I didn’t know what to say to him; I could feel the weight of the world on his shoulders. I could tell he felt the interception cost us the game and season. I could also sense that he envisioned the story of that year—at 40 years old, he was having his best season—was going to be summed up by that one play. A play that never really should have happened in the first place. He had played almost flawless football, fighting like it was life or death to him, and this is the way it was going to end. We sat there for a few moments in silence.

The referees and team captains went out for the coin toss to start overtime, and I got up to see who won possession. Brett didn’t even bother. He didn’t have the energy, and I think he was still in shock from the interception. After the Saints won the toss, I walked back over and sat next to him. He turned to me and said “I choked.” I paused for a second and said, “Brett, you are the most amazing football player I’ve ever seen. It has been an unreal experience to watch you play this year.” I can’t really describe the look he gave me, but I can tell those words meant something to him.

We never got the ball in overtime. There were about five plays that could have gone either way; two challenges and two pass interference calls that were questionable. As the Saints lined up for what was the game-winning field goal, I still felt confident we were going to win. But we didn’t.

I walked across the field to congratulate my friend Drew Brees after the game. I was happy for him and all he had done in New Orleans. I then walked to the end zone and took a knee, watching the celebration, the confetti falling and players from both teams sobbing. The place was pandemonium, but our locker room was completely quiet when I walked in. Guys were pissed, crying, shocked. Heads hung in disbelief. Tarvaris Jackson, the other quarterback, and I sat in silence. Brett slowly took off his shoulder pads next to me, in tears. I tried to imagine what was going through his head. Front office personnel were making their way around the locker room, consoling players and shaking hands. Mr. Wilf shook every players’ hand, thanking them sincerely. Person after person walked up to Brett, his eyes still red, and told him how much of a warrior he was in that game.

Presty the DJ for Jan. 18

The number one single today in 1960 was written by a one-hit wonder and sung by a different one-hit wonder:

The number 45 45 today in 1964 was this group’s first, but not last:

Today in 1974, members of Free, Mott the Hoople and King Crimson formed Bad Company:

Continue reading “Presty the DJ for Jan. 18”

A red-flag-law red flag

Dan O’Donnell:

There is perhaps no more significant power of government than its power to imprison individual citizens and deprive them of their personal property, and thus there should be no power more closely scrutinized.

It’s fitting, then, that a new proposal to seize property is termed a “red flag law” since it raises so many red flags.

Wisconsin’s new Attorney General Josh Kaul proposed such legislation in his inaugural address, calling for the passage of a bill “that will allow law enforcement or family members to go before a judge and ensure that someone who is a threat to themselves or others is temporarily disarmed.”

Governor Evers signaled support for this, as did Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, who cautioned that while he is “open to the idea,” he is concerned about “the scope being too broad.”

That may be an understatement.

Red flag laws, which have been passed in six states—most recently in Florida last year—pose substantial risks to both Fourth and Fifth Amendment rights (to say nothing of Second Amendment rights), as they allow for the confiscation of firearms without the protection of due process as it has been traditionally understood.

The Fourth Amendment provides that “the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause.”

Probable cause generally exists only when “there is a reasonable basis that a crime may have been committed (for an arrest) or when evidence of the crime is present in the place to be searched (for a search).”

Under a red flag law, however, a family member may request that a judge confiscate an individual’s firearm based on the mere suspicion that he is mentally unfit to own one. Even if there is no evidence that a crime has been committed or is even likely to be committed, the judge can order guns seized.

Even more troublingly, the subject of the seizure might not have an opportunity to defend himself or even know of the allegations against him until law enforcement officers show up at his door to confiscate his weapons.

This Kafkaesque nightmare isn’t just an overwrought hypothetical; it’s actually happening.

Just two months after Florida passed a red flag law in the wake of the Parkland shooting, Broward County Sheriff’s Department bailiff Frank Joseph Pinter was accused of making threatening remarks to a colleague that allegedly included “all you rats should be exterminated.”

Six months earlier, The Orlando Sun-Sentinel reported, Pinter was spotted leaning over a courthouse atrium and pretending to shoot at people below him. Another bailiff accused Pinter of saying to him, “I’m going to exterminate you.”

In May, the Sheriff’s Department had had enough from what it deemed to be a dangerous employee and sought what is known as a “risk protection order” under Florida’s new law. Without granting Pinter an opportunity to defend himself or explain his conduct in court, a judge determined that “there is reasonable cause to believe the respondent poses a significant danger of causing personal injury to himself or others in the near future” and ordered his guns to be confiscated.

That afternoon, deputies took all of Pinter’s guns, ammunition, and even his concealed carry permit. He had no idea that there had been a judgement against him (or even that an action had been filed against him) until his guns were being confiscated.

Needless to say, this is antithetical to constitutional protections against what is rather obviously an unreasonable seizure. Pinter may well have been mentally disturbed, but there was no probable cause that he had committed a crime that would warrant government repossession of his personal property.

That he was not offered a chance to defend himself against the allegations against him compounds the issue by presenting a rather clear violation of Pinter’s Fifth Amendment right to protection against deprivation “of…property, without due process of law.”

When the only standard for seizure of property is a vague determination of risk to self or others based on evidence presented only by those who are seeking to seize property, what chance does the individual possibly have of keeping said property?

And what chance does he have if he doesn’t know an adjudicative proceeding against him is taking place?

Under Florida’s red flag law, Pinter was finally afforded the opportunity to challenge the seizure of his weapons several weeks after they had been seized. Only then—weeks after punitive action was taken against him—was he allowed to defend himself against the allegations that led to that punitive action.

Now Wisconsin’s Attorney General and Governor are proposing a nearly identical law, apparently unbothered by the radical infringements on individual civil liberties. The stated end—ostensibly lowering gun deaths—is a noble one, but even it cannot justify such unconstitutional means.

Quite simply, the power of government to seize property—even potentially dangerous property like firearms—is too significant to leave citizens—even potentially unstable ones—unprotected.