• Public Sector Contract Negotiations Should Be Transparent

    Ronen Tivony/NurPhoto via ZUMA

    I am generally pro-union, but then again, I’m also pro-taxpayer, which puts me in a bit of a difficult position when it comes to public-employee unions. The fundamental problem is simple: most unions bargain with a management group that’s entirely independent. They duke it out, and eventually come to an agreement that probably gives workers a decent deal and probably doesn’t bankrupt the company.

    But it’s different in the public sector, where “management” consists of elected officials who often rely on the unions for campaign donations and doorbell ringing. There isn’t really a clean separation between workers and management.

    There are various ways to improve this state of affairs, and one of them is to make negotiations more transparent. Bob Wickers and Sam Coleman are a couple of conservatives who belong to an anti-public-sector-union organization, but they still make a good point in the LA Times today:

    Even though taxpayers will have to fund whatever agreement is ultimately reached, the public knows virtually nothing about the proceedings….Transparency in negotiations involving public employee unions is prohibited by law in California, which means voters never know how public officials are performing one of their most important jobs.

    It doesn’t have to be this way….There was a time in California when transparency wasn’t barred by statute, however, and a number of cities adopted so-called COIN laws, which stands for Civic Openness in Negotiations. In 2012, Costa Mesa was the first to adopt such a law, and Orange County, Beverly Hills, Fountain Valley, Fullerton, Pacific Palisades and Rancho Palos Verdes soon followed. This newspaper editorialized in favor of Los Angeles adopting its own transparency law after witnessing politicians signing off on city employee pay raises and other benefits “with little public vetting of the contracts or debate over the costs and long-term budget impact.”

    But it wasn’t to be. Seeing COIN as a growing threat to their ability to negotiate favorable contracts, government unions pressured their friends in Sacramento to shut it down. In 2015, the California Legislature passed, and the governor signed into law, a bill by then-Sen. Tony Mendoza that barred municipalities from adopting COIN laws.

    In private-sector negotiations, perhaps the public has no right to know what the two sides are haggling over. But in public-sector negotiations, where taxpayers are ultimately paying for the final contract, it sure seems like they do. It would undoubtedly create a mess as the noise machines cranked up to misrepresent every paragraph, clause, and sentence in the proposals, but we live with that kind of mess all the time. On the bright side, both sides would also be a little embarrassed to be caught making ridiculous demands, so those would fade away and perhaps contracts could be negotiated a little faster.

    I’m not a transparency purist. Sometimes things get done better when everyone has a chance to privately suggest compromises that their own supporters would hate. But transparency in a case like this is a good idea. If I’m going to support one side or the other in, say, the LA Teachers strike, I’d sure like to know for sure what both sides are asking for and offering.

  • Quote of the Day: Hey, Maybe There Was a Bit of Light Collusion After All

    Mikhail Klimentyev/Zuma

    Rudy Giuliani, who seems like he’s been eating serious quantities of lead chips lately, got into a fight on CNN last night:

    Rudolph W. Giuliani claimed Wednesday night that he “never said there was no collusion” between President Trump’s campaign and Russia leading up to the 2016 presidential election….“I said the president of the United States,” he protested, arguing that he had only ever said Trump himself was not connected to any Russian meddling in the 2016 election. “There is not a single bit of evidence the president of the United States committed the only crime you can commit here, conspired with the Russians to hack the DNC.”

    ….“I represent only President Trump not the Trump campaign,” he said in a statement. “There was no collusion by President Trump in any way, shape or form. Likewise, I have no knowledge of any collusion by any of the thousands of people who worked on the campaign.”

    By chance, Giuliani implicitly supported my longtime point of view: that pretty much everyone on the Trump campaign except Trump himself colluded with the Russians. I figure that Trump has a sort of animal cunning that warns him precisely how far he can go in these things, and he never quite steps over that line. In the end, he might throw everyone else under the bus, up to and including his own family, but he himself will stay in the clear.

    But I hope I’m wrong.

  • Are California Schools the Worst in the Nation?

    Bob Somerby is wondering if it’s really true that California schools used to be the nation’s best and then, after Prop 13 passed in 1978, quickly plummeted to become the nation’s worst. Objectively, that’s all but impossible to measure since we don’t have much in the way of testing statistics to look at before 1978. What we do have are some overall statistics on how schools are managed. For example, here are three key metrics from 1970-2015:

    Generally speaking, California got worse compared to the national average on all three metrics between 1970 and 1995. Teacher salaries continued to get worse through 2015, but per-pupil spending and student-teacher ratio stayed flat.

    So what did that do to test scores? Between 1970 and 1995, who knows? Between 1995 and 2015 they went up significantly, but so did test scores for the whole country. We need to set the bar a little higher and take a look at California test scores compared to the national average:

    What does this tell us? Not a lot, since we’d really like to see how California compared to the national average in 1970, before Prop 13 was passed. However, it does tell us something: over the past 20 years, pretty much every ethnic group in both reading and math has made progress compared to the national average. What’s more, California’s test scores in 2017 ranged from about 98 percent to 101 percent of the national average. That’s not going to win any awards, but it hardly suggests that California schools have collapsed into a dystopian hellscape. Roughly speaking, there’s the usual mix of good ones and bad ones, and overall they’re about average.

  • Lunchtime Photo

    When I went up to the LA Arboretum last month, I had to leave the park at 5 o’clock and then come back later to get into the evening show. Since I needed to test out my monopod anyway, so I decided to kill some time by heading over to Caltech and taking a look at my old tromping grounds.

    This is a picture of the Olive Walk, so named for obvious reasons. Student housing lines both sides. The “old” houses (built in 1931) are on the left: Ricketts in the foreground and Fleming farther down, just past the red Fleming cannon. Blacker is behind Ricketts and Dabney is behind Fleming. On the right are the “new” houses (built in 1960): Lloyd on the right and Page farther down. Ruddock, my house while I was there, is behind the camera adjoining Lloyd.

    The scare quotes around “new” and “old” are there because several even newer student residences have been built in the 40 years since I left. I’m not really sure how they’re all referred to these days.

    In the far background, dead center, is the Millikan Library. The letters LL are hung from the top in lights, and I have no idea what they mean. If anyone can enlighten me, I’d appreciate it.

    UPDATE: The letters stand for Lloyd House. All I had to do was go to Wikipedia: “Every year since 1994, Lloydies have climbed onto the top of Millikan Library to construct the Lloyd Christmas Tree, a monumental structure of numerous Christmas lights strung together to resemble a 10-story Christmas tree topped with a 12-feet-tall “L.” During the big wind storm of 2013, the L broke apart into pieces, so the Lloydies rebuilt the “L”, but replaced it instead with a double “L” that is now 16-feet-tall.”

    December 9, 2018 — Pasadena, California
  • No-Confidence Vote Against Theresa May Fails

    As expected, the no-confidence motion against Theresa May failed, so there will be no snap election in Britain and no chance of the Labour Party taking control. Brexit has failed, but May is still in control.

    The EU says May has to make the next move, and presumably she will make some kind of request to put off the March 29 deadline for Brexit. Unless she botches this request completely, I imagine the EU will accept it. The EU bureaucracy loves nothing more than kicking the can down the road in hopes that something miraculous will happen. And who knows? Maybe it will. In the meantime, we’re likely to have several extra months of time to panic.

  • An Immodest Proposal for a Border Wall

    I had a dream last night about how to solve our government shutdown. Donald Trump wants a wall. Democrats want more housing. Robert Moses, the master builder of New York City, once had an idea that could combine these two things, but he never got it built. With a few minor changes to represent advancing technology, I think we could dig up the old plans and repurpose them. Behold:

    You see where I’m going with this, don’t you? Donald Trump builds buildings, not walls, so this is ideal for him: 2,000 miles of mid-rises and high-rises that form the border with Mexico. The building complex becomes a walkable city all by itself, and the hyperloop means you’re never more than a few minutes from a port-of-entry and the city surrounding it. The south-facing windows, of course, would be bulletproof, and the bottom 30 feet would be steel fencing.

    I figure it would cost $20-30 billion tops, and it could be finished in time for the 2020 election. So what do you think? Let’s hear your honest opinions.

  • The Beast Lives

    What day is it? Friday? No? Are you sure? I want it to be Friday.

    Fine. Wednesday it is. Then here’s a question for the hive mind: what’s the maximum dose of Advil for a headache? I’m thinking 20 or 30 pills. Does that sound too low? I can take more if you think I should.

    BY THE WAY: You have my cats to thank for even this miserable little bit of blogging. It took them a couple dozen tries, but I finally gave in to Hilbert’s sad eyes and piteous meow and dragged my ass downstairs to feed them.

  • Who’s Afraid of Gillette?

    Today Gillette pre-released their Super Bowl ad in hopes that it would go viral and get everyone talking. Fine. They win. Here it is. It’s better to just watch it than it is for me to try to describe it:

    It’s a minute and a half long, so it’s hardly going to be a nuanced recap of thousands of years of patriarchal subjugation of women. Still, considering that it’s a TV commercial and all, it seems like their heart is in the right place, doesn’t it?

    Well, plenty of men aren’t happy with it. No surprise there. But apparently some women aren’t happy about it either, even though it conveys an explicitly feminist message. Why? Well, at the risk of pissing off some friends, I have to make a confession here: The ism writers at Vox (sexism, racism, ageism, etc.) are always on hand to describe and explain these things. And they always defend the most extreme woke view. Nevertheless, I read most of their wokeness articles anyway, sometimes because they’re good but other times because I’m curious to find out what excuse they’ll use this time to defend the most extravagantly excessive view out there. For the Gillette ad, here it is:

    Men who are angry about a commercial and calling for a boycott of a razor company in the comments of a YouTube post are also writing things like, “Gillette is desperately deleting critical comments for fear that people will know about what men are saying about this radical feminist advert.”

    These arguments make no sense whatsoever. Still, this ad is a misfire, in that it is a blatant attempt to make money off a painful and ongoing collective action that has not even an indirect relationship to face razors. Is it likely that there were people at Gillette with good intentions and people at Grey who wanted to help realize them? Absolutely! However, it is inherently nonsensical to use feminism to sell men’s grooming products, or any products, as feminism is a political movement bent on dismantling current structures of power, which likely includes multibillion-dollar corporations like Procter & Gamble.

    Really? The reason this commercial is bad is because feminism is dedicated to destroying all large corporations, and it’s therefore inherently nonsensical for large corporations to promote feminist views in their advertising? This wouldn’t pass muster in a freshman women’s studies course. How does it make it past an editor? It persuades no one except those who are already part of the drum circle. Everyone else either skips it entirely or just guffaws when they read it.

    I’m not just nitpicking a single piece, either. It doesn’t matter if the subject is liberalism, conservatism, guns, abortion, feminism, racism, climate change, or anything else. We all have to be willing to call out the nonsense on our own side when we hear it. We can’t just automatically go along with the most extreme voices out of fear that we’ll no longer be considered part of the movement if we suggest that maybe someone has gone a wee bit too far.

    Anyway: this is just a commercial. Sure, it uses consciousness raising in service of making money. So what? If corporate chieftans are willing to bet that promoting feminism is good for the bottom line, all the better for feminism. How else are you going to reach a hundred million men in prime time, after all?

    And at the risk of mansplaining something that not all women might get, these ads can serve a valuable purpose by showing off role models that can be copied. There are lots of men who don’t want to stand by when their friends do something obnoxious, but they aren’t sure how to intervene. You don’t want to be a scold or a prig, after all. But a commercial like this provides opportunities to subtly show off ways to intervene without endangering friendships or making a bigger deal out of something than it deserves. If it’s done well—and you can decide for yourself if Gillette does it well—it’s a genuinely worthwhile exercise.

    I imagine much of the response to this will be the usual tedious twaddle about trying to erase someone, or shut someone up, or whatever. We should ignore that stuff too. It’s just the usual Twitter cretinism, and nobody with a working mind should pay any attention to follow-the-leader tsunamis of insults on Twitter. What I wrote here is just a point of view, and anyone who disagrees can say so.

  • Brexit Goes Down in Flames With 10 Weeks Left Until Doomsday

    OK, I'll admit that Theresa May doesn't look too great after losing the Brexit vote. But she's holding up better than I would.House Of Commons/PA Wire via ZUMA

    If a cold comes on really fast, that means it will go away really fast too. Right? Someone please tell me that’s right, because I sure feel like crap right now.

    But I’m sure I don’t feel nearly as bad as Theresa May, whose Brexit plan just went to down to defeat by a vote of 432-202. Holy cow. That’s completely humiliating. I even sort of feel sorry for her. It’s not like Brexit was her idea in the first place, after all.

    So what’s next? Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the Labour Party, has called for a vote of no-confidence, which will happen tomorrow. However, as unpopular as May is among her fellow Conservatives, I’m guessing that holding a snap election that might turn over the government to Labour is even more unpopular. So she’ll stay prime minister, with ten weeks to go until the March 29 deadline when Britain crashes out of the EU one way or the other.

    There are basically three options now:

    • In the space of ten weeks, May manages to negotiate a slightly different Brexit agreement with the EU. There won’t be any big changes, just enough face-saving minor details to justify a second vote. Since a firing squad concentrates the mind wonderfully, May schedules a vote for March 28 and manages to win a majority just because everyone is scared pissless by then.
    • Somehow—and I won’t pretend to know how—Parliament is given the opportunity to vote to scrap Brexit altogether and stay in the EU.
    • Nothing happens, and on March 29 Britain leaves the EU with no deal in place.

    I haven’t a clue which of these is most likely, or if there’s a fourth option I haven’t thought of. But it sure reminds me of those serial cliffhanger votes over Greece back during the financial crisis. Somehow it always seemed like doomsday was just minutes away, but somehow it was always put off. The big difference here, I think, is that March 29 is truly a concrete date. There’s no kicking the can further down the road. Either everyone gets scared enough to do something non-insane, or else the lunatics manage to keep things so chaotic that Britain saws off its own arm to escape from the EU with no deal in place.

    Tick tick tick.

    UPDATE: To my surprise, it turns out there is a fourth option:

    • Extend the deadline so that May has more time to work out a deal.

    According to the Guardian:

    The country’s 29 March deadline for exiting the EU is now regarded by Brussels as highly unlikely to be met given the domestic opposition facing the prime minister and it is expecting a request from London to extend article 50 in the coming weeks. A special leaders’ summit to push back Brexit day is expected to be convened by the European council president, Donald Tusk, once a UK request is received. EU officials said the length of the prolongation of the negotiating period allowed under article 50 would be determined based on the reason put forward by May for the delay.

    How about that?

  • Lunchtime Photo

    Here it is: the final installment of Overexposed LA.™ This is the old LA Times building, taken in June just before the paper’s staff cleared out for good. The building was sold to a Canadian developer back in 2016, and ever since then the Times had been leasing it back until it could find a new home. This summer, the paper’s new owner, Patrick Soon-Shiong, finally moved the newsroom to a building he owns in El Segundo.

    And in related news: today, with the acquiesence (if not actual approval) of my doctor, I have stopped taking the Evil Dex. My counts are quite low these days, and I think there’s a good chance they’ll stay low using the Darzalex as a monotherapy. And if they don’t, there are other alternatives to try. Or I could start up the dex again. But I hope I don’t have to. The fatigue and other side effects of the dex got worse and worse over the course of eight months, and by January it had finally gotten to the point where I never had even a day’s rest from it. I took it on Monday, and by Sunday I was only barely recovering before it was time to start all over. The Darzalex is pretty mild on its own, so hopefully in a month or so I’ll have the dex fully flushed from my system and I’ll start to feel normal again.

    That means Overexposed LA™ is really and truly over. Even if I had some bright ideas for further pictures, I won’t be staying up all night anymore to take them. Maybe I’ll even lose some weight, too, since increased appetite is one of the dex side effects. We’ll see.

    June 29, 2018 — Los Angeles, California