Friday, October 29, 2010

Get Out the Vote?

It's that time again. News commentators, politicians and others are urging people to get out and vote. After the election many will bemoan a low voter turnout. They claim it is a civic duty to vote. In that they miss the mark – badly. They seem to think that just getting people to vote is somehow good. Clearly that is not the case and low voter turnout is more of a symptom of a problem than it is a problem itself.

The real problem is apathy. Too many don't bother to vote because they haven't bothered to learn about the candidates and issues. The “don't care” crowd does cause bad statistics on voter turnout but those statistics are harmless. In fact I would claim that those who fail to inform themselves have a civic duty not to vote. We don't need apathetic and uninformed voters. We need voters who have studied the issues, thought carefully about them and who then vote as wisely as they are able.

Consider what happens when an informed and wise voter goes to the polls. He will know not only what the candidates promise but the cost of those promises if fulfilled. He will know the record of the incumbent. He will have thought carefully about who is likely to be good for the state or country, not just who promises the most goodies. While there will always be some unknowns he will reduce that problem to the best of his ability. It will be difficult for a demagogue to fool him because he looks below the surface.

Now consider the apathetic voter at the polls. How will he vote? He cannot vote wisely because he lacks the knowledge required to do so. That means he will vote on the basis of name familiarity, charisma, looks or other irrelevant factors. His vote will dilute the votes of wiser voters. He is easy prey for the demagogue because he never looks below the surface or the promises. In fact he is likely to fall for the most impossible claims. He is the demagogue's best friend – to the detriment of himself and other citizens.

Everybody should study the issues and candidates. We should be at least as careful as a company is about hiring employees. We are hiring employees who have a great deal of power over our lives.

No, we should not urge people to vote just to get them out to vote. Instead we should urge them to inform themselves and to think carefully about the issues. In fact we should urge the apathetic and uninformed to avoid voting. "If you don't care enough to inform yourself and to think, do us all a favor and stay home on election day."

Saturday, October 23, 2010

The Devil at My Doorstep, Book Review

Book Review, The Devil at My Doorstep, by David A. Bego, 185pp, David Bego, 2009

This book is Mr. Bego's account of his battle with the SEIU (Service Employees International Union). The battle had lasted over three years when the book was written with Mr. Bego's Executive Management Services (EMS) winning though the SEIU continues to fight.

This is a worthwhile book, one every voter should read since our congress is considering passing the poorly named EFCA (Employee Free Choice Act). That proposed law would be better called the Employee Slavery Act since it would deprive workers of the right to a secret election if a union wants to organize them. Mr. Bego describes how the SEIU lied, threatened him, his customers, and his employees in order to force them into that union. He also describes many of the bad features of the EFCA as well as how and why he fought for the rights of his employees.

Unfortunately Bego could have used a good editor. The book has all too many problems that should have been fixed. For example he describes a concept that “alluded” some of the people he was talking to. Of course he meant that it eluded them. Mr. Bego is also a bit heavy on tooting his own horn. However it is well worth wading through the problems in the book to get the information. I congratulate him for telling a story that badly needed to be told, even apparently publishing it himself.

The story starts when the SEIU decided to organize cleaning firms in Mr. Bego's area. They had no intention of giving workers any choice but instead demanded that those companies sign “neutrality” agreements. That meant that the company would not be allowed to present its side to the employees but that if over half the workers signed cards asking for it, all employees would become union members. They then proceeded to put pressure on employees to sign, including both veiled and direct threats.

The SEIU also promised to get workers a big raise though other companies whose workers were in that union were actually paying less than were EMS employees. Mr. Bego claims that this was a consistent pattern with that union, make big promises but then not deliver once they had the union dues.

That union also filed a great number of false accusations against EMU, showed up at employee’s homes and committed other acts that threatened harm or interfered with people’s lives.

To be clear, the author claims not to be anti-union. In fact in the first part of the book he points out that unions have done good things in many cases. He is, however, against the kind of heavy-handed tactics the SEIU is known for. He is also against the EFCA. In that he is justified.

In spite of its problems this book is what I would consider a must read. Many in congress are pushing the EFCA which would deny employees the right to a secret election. The effect would be to allow union pressure and in many cases the employer would not even have the opportunity to present his side.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Being Offended

In Grand Junction, Colorado a billboard showing images of President Obama in an unfavorable light was taken down after the owner apparently received threats of violence. Now to be clear about it, I think that billboard was over the top. It did nothing to advance reasonable dialogue and in fact probably aided those who support the president. Though I oppose Obama I think it was counterproductive. However that is not the real issue here. The issue is freedom of speech vs. what some people seem to perceive as a right not to be offended. In fact one opponent of the billboard said, "If it offends people, you do have a certain obligation to take it down...”

Even a little thought should show the fallacy of such a criterion. It implies that people have the right not to be offended. That makes the issue one of how people react rather than of the actions taken by the alleged offender. It gives the “offended” person complete control over what is not allowed. I could say that they way you comb your hair offends me so you better change that. Or I could claim to be offended by the color of your car. I may be offended by advertising for politicians I don't like. Note that those complaints are based on my reaction, not on anything the “guilty” party has done.

Imagine a world in which guilt is based not on the actions of the accused but on how people react to those actions. How might you manage your life so as to avoid trouble in such a world? You cannot, no matter what you do someone may claim it offends him. Even worse, you cannot know how they will react before you take the action. There will always be someone who can claim to be offended. That has the effect of an ex post facto law. You might do something you consider quite reasonable such as planting a vegetable garden. You might even ask your neighbors what they think of the idea and they might agree before you plant it. Then when it starts to grow a neighbor decides he really doesn't like the sight of corn and you should have planted flowers. He is offended and you are guilty of causing offense, even though you could not know beforehand he that would be offended.

In fact, taken to the extreme this could create the equivalent of a bill of attainder. Someone may decide that he doesn't like you and is offended by the sight of you. He is offended by your person, not your actions. You are guilty based on who you are, not on what you do.

This gets even worse. If you are accused of offending someone how can you defend yourself? There is no external evidence available. If the accuser claims you stole his grocery money the courts will ask for evidence. However what if you are accused of offending him what evidence might be considered? I could claim that you offend me and who is to say if I am telling the truth or lying? I might just be trying to get back at you or to gain some advantage for myself.

People have a right to their feelings and if they feel offended that is also their right. However they should not use that feeling to accuse others or as cause for legal action. They may complain about what someone did or said but their feelings are their own, unverifiable and not useable as a basis for action by anyone else.

There is yet more to this however. Some people seem to be professionally offended. They make a career out of it, either by constant complaining to get what they want or sometimes even by making money from being offended. Jesse Jackson is one that I suspect falls in this category. If there is even a chance a black person has been discriminated against he likes to show up to offer his advice and stir up demonstrators. He seems to do that based on the assumption that racism is involved, ignoring other possible causes for the perceived offense.

For example Jackson (and many others) was professionally offended in 2006 when three Duke Lacrosse players were accused of raping a black woman. He jumped in with complaints about spoiled white boys abusing minorities. I don't know how much his Rainbow/PUSH coalition collected by fund raising as a result but in that case his being offended was the result of a rush to judgment. It turned out that the accused were not guilty. Two of them had solid alibis and the “victim's” story had more holes than a chunk of Swiss cheese. Worse, as an indication of how professionally offended some people were, the taxi driver who provided the alibi was excoriated for telling the truth – and he was a black man. Jackson and others were offended before learning the facts. The result was a suspension of the entire team, heightened racial tension, and several young men having their reputations sullied, all without factual justification. Had the “offended” simply waited for the facts that could have been prevented.

Of course not everybody who is professionally offended gets money for it, at least not directly. Some only get sympathy, others get preferential treatment in hiring, school admission etc. That leads to discrimination, extra costs and other problems for society.

We should look at facts, evidence, and sound logic. And we should never base action only on someone being offended. In fact we should ignore the professionally offended until such time as they present evidence of bad action by their accused offenders.

Monday, October 4, 2010

The Race Card

My favorite football team, the BYU Cougars, just fired Jaime Hill. Mr. Hill had coached the defensive backfield, then was promoted to defensive coordinator. He had that job for a couple of years before being fired. Now he happened to be a black man at a mostly white university so I'm sure you can guess what some people are saying. To Hill's credit he has not played the race card, at least as far as I know. However others have, accusing BYU of picking on the minority coordinator.

In thus playing the race card those accusers ignore a few facts. First, BYU is off to a 1-4 start, its worst in many years and the defense has given up way too many points. Then there are the comments from former BYU defensive players. According to them, Hill was a great position coach before being promoted to coordinator. However he seemed out of his depth in the coordinator position. This seems to be a manifestation of the Peter Principle, he was apparently promoted to a job he could not do well. His play calling was suspect at best. Worse, his volatile personality drove several players to quit the team and others nearly left. He simply was not a good fit for that particular job.

I'm sure Mr. Hill will get another job soon and I wish him well there (unless he's coaching against BYU). However the reports I've seen lead me to believe that it was wise to dismiss him from the BYU program. I doubt the color of his skin had anything to do with that dismissal. In sports, coaches who don't get good results are fired regularly.

Hill’s firing is only one manifestation of the tendency of many in the media and elsewhere to play the race card. Any time someone from a minority group or a woman is fired, some people assume that it was because of race or sex. The examples are myriad. Van Jones left the Obama administration after his communist background and blaming of Bush for the 9-11 attacks came to light. However Jones is black and many assume he was targeted for his skin color. Even more common is the tendency to call anyone who opposes Obama's programs racist. It is common for Obama supporters to overlook the fact that some people just don't like his czars, his profligate spending, his increasing of government power, etc.

There are many reasons people oppose Obama. While some do not like his skin color, there are many more who don't like his politics. Playing the race card may score political points but it is simply wrong unless there is actual evidence of racism.

Illegal aliens are another issue often creating false accusations of racism. Surely there are some who want to keep out specific races. However there are many others who want border control because of the number of gang members and drug dealers entering the country illegally, or because of the jobs illegal aliens take away from citizens. Opposition to illegal aliens is not automatically racist.

How effective is playing the race card in politics? Unquestionably it does get people riled up. However it is not at all clear that it changes votes. The people who get riled up probably already oppose the alleged racist. Meanwhile the supporters of that target will also get energized. And I think voters are getting wiser in this regard. The undecideds seem to be becoming skeptical about the race card. It has been overused and is wearing thin. The leftist news media and others still swallow it but they are becoming isolated in that regard. That is a positive sign.

I hope we can all continue to regard accusations of racism with skepticism. While racism does exist so do false accusations of racism. We must ask for solid evidence and look to see if there are other explanations for events that may appear racist.