ICYMI: “Angry Twitter”, Men: The Weaker Sex, and Labor Pulls Min Wage Support

Some stories from the weekend include a look at how Twitter has changed the dynamics of public shaming, the decreasing job prospects for low-skilled men in wealthier countries, and LA labor’s flip flop on minimum wage legislation.

The Shaming Spiral” (Christine Rosen/Commentary Magazine)

Pull Quote: ““With social media, we’ve created a stage for constant artificial high drama,” Ronson argues. “Every day a new person emerges as a magnificent hero or a sickening villain.” The simplicity and instantaneity of the medium, its great strength, also contributes to its lack of nuance. Everyone becomes a bit Manichean on Twitter. “Angry Twitter” might have other consequences too: Earlier this year, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania found that “expressions of negative emotions such as anger, stress, and fatigue in a county’s tweets were associated with higher heart-disease risk.””


The Weaker Sex” (Social Change/The Economist)

PQ: “Yet there is plenty of cause for concern. Men cluster at the bottom as well as the top. They are far more likely than women to be jailed, estranged from their children, or to kill themselves. They earn fewer university degrees than women. Boys in the developed world are 50% more likely to flunk basic maths, reading and science entirely.”


L.A. labor leaders seek minimum wage exemption for firms with union workers” (Peter Jamison, Zahniser, Reyes/Los Angeles Times)

PQ: “But Rusty Hicks, who heads the county Federation of Labor and helps lead the Raise the Wage coalition, said Tuesday night that companies with workers represented by unions should have leeway to negotiate a wage below that mandated by the law.

“With a collective bargaining agreement, a business owner and the employees negotiate an agreement that works for them both. The agreement allows each party to prioritize what is important to them,” Hicks said in a statement. “This provision gives the parties the option, the freedom, to negotiate that agreement. And that is a good thing.””



The Alinsky Way of Governing (Wall Street Journal)

Arizona Rep. Raul Grijalva, the ranking Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee, recently caused a stir by sending letters to seven university presidents seeking background information on scientists and professors who had given congressional testimony that failed to endorse what is the conventional wisdom in some quarters regarding climate change. One of the targets was Steven Hayward, a colleague of mine at Pepperdine’s School of Public Policy.

Though the congressman lacked legal authority to demand information, his aggressive plan, which came to light in late February, should not be a surprise at a time when power holders from the White House on down are employing similar means against perceived enemies.

Mr. Grijalva left a clue about how he operates in 2013 when the magazine In These Times asked about his legislative strategy. “I’m a Saul Alinsky guy,” he said, referring to the community organizer and activist who died in 1972, “that’s where I learned this stuff.”

What sort of stuff? Mr. Grijalva sent his letters not to the professors but to university presidents, without (at least in the case of Mr. Hayward) the professors’ knowledge. Mr. Hayward was not even employed by Pepperdine at the time of his congressional testimony in 2011.

But targeting institutions and their leaders is pure Alinsky; so are the scare tactics. Mr. Grijalva’s staff sent letters asking for information about the professors, with a March 16 due date—asking, for instance, if they had accepted funding from oil companies—using official congressional letterhead, and followed up with calls from Mr. Grijalva’s congressional office. This is a page from Alinsky’s book, in both senses of the word: “Power is not only what you have but what the enemy thinks you have,” reads one tip in his 1971 “Rules for Radicals.”

Yet adopting Alinsky’s tactics may not in this case fit with Alinsky’s philosophy. This is Alinsky with a twist. Despite myriad philosophical inconsistencies, “Rules for Radicals” is meant to empower the weaker against the stronger. Alinsky writes: “The Prince was written by Machiavelli for the Haves on how to hold power. Rules for Radicals is written for the Have-Nots on how to take it away.”

In a similar vein, the political philosopher Jean Bethke Elshtain supported Alinsky’s work in getting disengaged communities—typically in lower socio-economic strata—to assume the difficult responsibilities of citizenship. As a way of challenging “big government,” even conservatives such as former House Majority Leader Dick Armey have recommended Alinsky’s tactics (minus his professed hatred of capitalism, etc.).

But what happens when Machiavelli’s Prince reads and employs “Rules for Radicals”? In 2009 President Obama’s friend and adviser Valerie Jarrett was asked on CNN about media bias, particularly at Fox News, and she responded: “What the administration has said very clearly is that we’re going to speak truth to power.” I remember thinking: “Wait a minute, you’re the White House. You are the power.”

In that sense President Obama’s election was both the climax of Alinsky’s vision and an existential crisis for that vision. Alinsky promoted the few tactics available to the downtrodden: irreverence, ridicule and deception. “Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it,” he wrote. So the rise to power of the world’s most famous community organizer raises a question: Should Alinskyite tactics be employed by those in power, or should they be reserved for those without?

Mr. Grijalva’s campaign against seven academics serves as a cautionary tale of what can happen when power adopts these strategies to suppress opposition. The congressman’s office arranged additional pressure by notifying national and local media that these professors were under “investigation.” On the day the letters went out, the Washington Post blared: “House Dems: Did Big Oil seek to sway scientists in climate debate?”

After receiving a call from a Grijalva staffer, our local Malibu Times obliged with the front-page headline, “Pepperdine Professor Investigated by Congressman.” The online Delaware News Journal, the hometown newspaper for David Legates at the University of Delaware, wrote: “UD’s David Legates caught in climate change controversy.” Alabama’s Huntsville Times had a piece under the headline: “Arizona congressman asking questions about outside funding for UAH climate expert John Christy.”

To their credit, several editorial boards came to the defense of the professors. The Arizona Republic, the home-state newspaper of Mr. Grijalva and targeted Arizona State University professor Robert Balling, wrote that Mr. Grijalva’s campaign “fits the classic definition of a witch hunt.” Rep. Grijalva on March 2 acknowledged to National Journal that some of the information he demanded from the universities was “overreach” but defended his demand for information about funding sources.

How did it come to this? The inability of politicians to confront another’s argument, much less to attempt to persuade the other side, has become standard operating procedure. Now this toxic approach is extending to the broader world of policy—including scientific research. Instead of evaluating the quality of the research, opponents make heavy-handed insinuations about who funds it—as though that matters if the science is sound. And now just about every climate scientist employed by an American university knows that Washington is watching.

More broadly, what has happened is that a generation of American politicians who came of age during Saul Alinsky’s lifetime has moved into positions of institutional power that he so often derided as “the enemy.” They are showing an inability to leave behind Alinsky’s tactics that were intended for the weak against the strong. Civil discourse and academic freedom suffer while the “Prince” becomes more powerful.

(Piece originally posted on APR 18th in The Wall Street Journal)

ICYMI: How the West Was Regulated, Do Conservatives Have Issues with Police Unions?

Three items you may have missed from the last few days…first up is a study on the heavy federal regulations of the Western US; a look at Baltimore and how many of America’s cities are very segregated (though not many in California); and finally, a look at conservatives’ political problems when it comes to public sector unions that happen to represent cops.


The Regulated West” (Lexington Column/The Economist)

Pull Quote: “That so many of these rules are set by the federal government makes them all the more bothersome. In Moab, a town in Utah with an equal smattering of conservationists and Jeep-driving adventurers, this comes into focus. On April 28th Phil Lyman, an accountant from nearby Blanding, is due in court on criminal charges of conspiring against the United States for driving an all-terrain vehicle in the wrong place. Mr Lyman organised a protest drive against the federal Bureau of Land Management last year. Rose Chilcoat of Great Old Broads for Wilderness, a group of mostly female conservationists, says the riders dynamited bits of rock to make their path easier and tore up interesting archaeological sites. Mr Lyman disagrees. “It has been a road for all of recorded history,” he says. “It’s the road my great-grandfather took when he founded Blanding.”


The Most Diverse Cities Are Often The Most Segregated” (Nate Silver/fivethirtyeight)

PQ: “Chicago deserves its reputation as a segregated city. But it is also an extremely diverse city. And the difference between those terms — which are often misused and misunderstood — says a lot about how millions of American city dwellers live. It is all too common to live in a city with a wide variety of ethnic and racial groups — including Chicago, New York, and Baltimore — and yet remain isolated from those groups in a racially homogenous neighborhood.”


Our Police Union Problem” (Ross Douthat/New York Times)

PQ: “These points add up to a strong argument that the rise of public sector unions represents a decadent phase in the history of the welfare state, a case study in the warping influence of self-dealing and interest-group politics.

But as we’ve been reminded by the agony of Baltimore, this argument also applies to a unionized public work force that conservatives are often loath to criticize: the police.”

ICYMI: Building Trust in Gov’t While Seeing New Reasons to Distrust It, More…

From the last week, stories on how we can restore trust in government even as we see more reasons to distrust it. One way to begin trusting it may be to get more smart people working to solve our omnipresent public sector technology challenges. Or maybe it’s possible that we can become – as David Brooks hopes – more trusting people.

America’s 21st Century Challenge” (Eric Pianin & Rob Garver/Fiscal Times)

Pull Quote: “While both the Bush and Obama administrations can rightly claim some administrative and governmental reforms, the first two years of President Obama’s final term have revealed just how much work remains. The country has been forced to endure an embarrassing parade of federal contracting, procurement and management misdeeds:

  • Billions of dollars of waste, fraud and improper spending, especially at the Pentagon and the Department of Homeland Security—two agencies with two of the largest budgets.
  • Renegade operations within the Internal Revenue Service to target Tea Party and other politically active groups.
  • Outrageous management practices at Veterans Affairs Department medical centers, including forcing patients to wait weeks or even months for an appointment that cost some vets their lives.
  • Poor overall monitoring of the performance of government workers and contractors.
  • An appalling lack of competent in-house technological and IT savvy that could have saved the Obama administration from its humiliating on-line rollout of the Affordable Care Act in October 2013.
  • And to top it off, let’s not forget the astonishing lapses of the Secret Service in protecting President Obama and the First Family, which could have resulted in a national disaster – more than once.

While not all of this can be laid at Obama’s doorstep, it remains his job to fix it.”


Mikey Dickerson to SXSW: Why We Need You in Government” (Mikey Dickerson /Medium)

PQ: We looked around and found some really surprising things. One was that there was no monitoring of the production system. For those of you that run large distributed systems, you will understand that this is as if you are driving a bus with the windshield covered. Second was that there were hundreds of people and dozens of companies involved, but nobody in charge. Third was that there was no particular urgency about the situation. As I would come to understand, nobody was acting like there was anything out of the ordinary because there was nothing out of the ordinary.

The whole system had worked as normal and produced the expected result, which was a web site that was overpriced by hundreds of millions of dollars and did not work, at all.”


Living the High Life After Congress” (Michael Winship/Huffington Post)

PQ: This is what ex-members of Congress and their staffs do nowadays. Rarely do they follow the example of ancient Rome’s Cincinnatus and go back to the farm — or take that teaching job at the local university or join a hometown law practice. They stay in DC to reap the bountiful harvest that comes from Capitol Hill experience and good old fashioned cronyism.

As a result of November’s midterm elections and retirements, at the beginning of the year nearly 50 members of the House and a dozen senators got the old heave-ho but competition for their services within the Beltway was, as The National Law Journal reported, “hot.”


The Moral Bucket List” (David Brooks/New York Times)

PQ: “It occurred to me that there were two sets of virtues, the résumé virtues and the eulogy virtues. The résumé virtues are the skills you bring to the marketplace. The eulogy virtues are the ones that are talked about at your funeral — whether you were kind, brave, honest or faithful. Were you capable of deep love?

We all know that the eulogy virtues are more important than the résumé ones. But our culture and our educational systems spend more time teaching the skills and strategies you need for career success than the qualities you need to radiate that sort of inner light. Many of us are clearer on how to build an external career than on how to build inner character.”