Thursday, January 4, 2007

Ranting about unions, free markets and such

I may have mentioned previously that I consider myself a Libertarian, who has voted for far more Democrats than anything else. It irks me very much when I hear someone discuss ideas like the "free market" or "capitalism" as though the Republican Party advocates for those ideas.I just may make this a series of diaries, but for now, I'm just going to cover one misconception: unions.

Anytime anyone implies that a union is, in any sense, anti-free market, the best way to respond is with confusion and befuddlement. Why? Because unions are excellent examples of a free market at work.In a free market, individuals are free to conduct their own transactions. They can band together as individuals and obligate themselves to a group, or they can doggedly pursue their own individual self-interest. In an effective free market, each individual will always pursue his or her self interest - sometimes, one's interest is served by participating in a group, and sometimes not. In either case, it is up to each individual to make this determination.A union is nothing more than a group of individuals who voluntarily form an association that seeks to exploit their collective market position to increase their bargaining power to further their own self interest at the expense of everyone else in the market. This is not substantially different than a corporation or trade association.

Workers jostling for the betterment of their own situations is an integral and necessary part of a free market. Without that, inefficiency will creep into the system - if employers can get away with paying labor less, they will (indeed, in a free market, employers are required to pay their employees as little as possible). And if consumers can get away with buying labor's products more cheaply, they will (indeed, should, and should do so more unapologetically).

Are unions effective at bettering the conditions of their members? Well, in a free market, that's not relevant (but yes, anyway). Do unions exclude non-members? Of course. Does that inhibit free trade? Of course not - unions are an association of workers who naturally benefit more by excluding others, just like corporations benefit more by excluding competitors from their markets. It is no more anti-free market than exclusive cell phone contracts, or corporate synergy (such as NBC promoting Time's Person of the Year because both are owned by the same corporation). Do unions advocate for a less free market? Yes, of course. So do corporations and consumers. In a free market, each person seeks to minimize individual risk and maximize individual gain - free markets maximize individual risk and minimize individual gain. It is only natural for all parties to better their own individual situation, even if it is better for everyone in the long run to keep the market free.

Does the state intervene to lessen the bargaining power of unions? Absolutely. If you don't believe me, start acting like a corporation in your workplace. Take everything that's not bolted down - why defecate on your own time, for example, when it's in your best interest to get paid for it on work time? Why pay your bills on your own time when your employer pays for an Internet connection? Is this stealing? Debateably, yes. Is it stealing when your cell phone company accidentally overcharges you, and then pays you back only that exact amount, without interest or opportunity cost? Is it stealing when a corporation decides to lower the standards of quality in manufacturing so that the same price buys less, without informing the consumer? Are these different than "stealing time" from your employer? No - the difference is that our taxpayer dollars enforce corporate interests, while labor has no such assistance.

Does a "free market" benefit corporations? Not a real free market, but certainly the kind of thing described in NAFTA (as an example) does. But that's not a free market, for reasons that I won't explain in this diary (this is about unions, I'll discuss "free trade" agreements and other stuff later). So, what's the conclusion:

1: Don't let the Republicans (or the Libertarian Party, for that matter) claim the term "free market". Free markets do not now and have never existed, probably never will, and none of the major parties advocate for them. Given the improbability of free markets occurring in my lifetime, I'll take the party that distorts the market for labor over capital (that's not really any party right now, but I have more faith in the Democrats for the future).

2: Unions are an example of a free market at work. People banding together to achieve their own interests is the definition of a free market.

3: Unions do exclude people from employment. This is because it's in the best interests of union members to do so. There is nothing wrong with this - it maximizes the value of labor in a particular segment, which strengthens the entire economic system, so the people excluded from the one union can more easily find a way to maximize their value in a different segment. This is an example of a free market at work.

4: Any corporation in which the executives make tens or hundreds of millions while relying on sweatshop labor is not utilizing a free market, almost by definition. If the sweatshop labor is capable of producing this much value, the labor (in a free market) will capitalize on this wealth. The fact that they have not done so is proof that the free market is not functioning (I'll go over the reasons why in another diary, but just to throw some ideas out there: copyright and patent law, a colonialist legacy of concentrated land ownership, transportation subsidies).

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Commissioners, Minority Leaders, 2008 and 2010

There's some political stuff going on, and I'm going to cover what I've learned.

County Commissioner Board

The second issue is the County Commissioner president debate. The five member board now has three Republicans and two Democrats. The rules say that the top vote-getter of the majority party gets the president spot. The top vote-getter out of all five is Democrat Jan Gardner, and most of the committee supports changing the rule so that she can be president of the committee; her supporters include the current president, Republican David Gray. Her only opposition on the board is Republican Charles Jenkins, but the county Republican Chairman, Dino Flores, is trying to ensure that Gardner does not get the top spot.

Here's a crucial quote from Joe Volz of the FNP:
The commissioners' election last month, however, had very little to do with
Republicans versus Democrats. It broke down to this overriding issue: How is
the county going to grow -- haphazardly, at the whim of the developers, or in
an orderly way?

Dino says. "The voters overwhelmingly rejected growth versus no growth." But,
he argues, that no one can say that Republicans who pushed the lever for Jan
did so because they wanted her to be board president.
How do I feel? Well, changing the rules midstream to benefit one party doesn't really sit well to me. On the other hand, the top vote-getter regardless of party clearly has a mandate in at least one sense. But on the other other hand, it makes sense for the board president to be the same party as the majority, because otherwise the majority can vote against the leadership, and nothing will get done.

But in the end, if two out of three board Republicans support the Democrat, and I,
generally speaking, support Democrats over Republicans, then I'm going to have to
support Gardner for this position. Not that anyone cares who I support, but still...

Republican Minority Leadership

The second is the Brinkley/Mooney/Harris minority leader debacle (needs a good name... Wingnutgate? Looniegate? Douchegate?), wherein local Republican state senator Alex Mooney has backed the minority leadership campaign of Andy Harris of Baltimore County, apparently a close personal friend of Mooney's. How is that controversial? Well, the person ostensibly next in line for that position is David Brinkley, also a local State Senator. So, Mooney's opposition to Brinkley harms Frederick County because Mr. Harris will presumably work more for Baltimore County (his home district, and a more politically important one) than Frederick.

Do I think this is important? Not really. Minority leader is not a huge position, after all, so I'm not sure that Brinkley could really do much for Frederick County anyway. He's not even an entirely FredCo Senator... IIRC, he's mostly Carroll County, with just a little sliver of FredCo - admittedly, it happens to be my sliver, but still. And to think he was unopposed...

I'd also like to point out this gem:
In a recent vote to elect the GOP Senate leader, Mr. Mooney cast a proxy vote while
on vacation in the U.S. Virgin Islands. That vote created a seven-to-seven deadlock
that will require another vote, probably this week or next, among the Senate's 14 GOP members.
It might be considered rude to point out that he couldn't even organize his gridlock-making vacation schedule around the job that pays for trips to the Virgin Islands.

2008 open House race? Governor Steele? Senator Ehlrich?

Aah, but wait, there's more! While Mooney has been casting his decision in terms of friendship, there's also a political angle. It's been widely assumed that Roscoe Bartlett, Maryland's most conservative Republican Representative (though that's not saying much) and batty old fart extraordinaire, will retire... eventually. The scuttlebutt has been 2008, though he put the kibosh on that scuttlebutt a few days ago - a lot can change in two years, and he is old, so I don't put much stock in that, and he'll be 80, IIRC. If Roscoe retires, the likely Republican candidates for his seat include Mooney, Brinkley and Roscoe's son. By cutting off Brinkley's chances at statewide party leadership, Mooney is helping himself as well (not to mention having a great time in the Virgin Islands, no doubt). Every time any political commentator of any sort remarks on the potential for Bartlett to retire, said commentator is required, apparently by state law, to note that the Republican primary will be vicious.

While I was googling along, I stumbled across some stuff on Free Republic. What are the Freepers Freeping about these days? Freepingly, Michael Steele, former Lieutenant-Governor and former Senatorial candidate is interested in becoming a future former Gubernatorial candidate. Yes, that's right. The man who couldn't beat Ben Cardin, who has the charisma and panache of a sea monkey, is interested in challenging Martin O'Malley in 2010. The Freepers look at Steele running mates and see John White as a possibility, a good one IMO, though the other two suggestions are also intriguing: Wayne Curry, the PG County exec who scandalously endorsed Steele, and Mr. Alex Mooney himself, assuming he doesn't succeed Roscoe Bartlett in 08.

Freepiciously, Robert Ehlrich is being courted by both Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani. The Freepers commenting want a Guiliani/Ehlrich campaign, which I thought was funny - would the Repubs really put a New York crossdressing liberal with the hoity-toiter bluestater Ehlrich?). Anyway, the really interesting point is that Ehlrich is considering a Senate run in 2010, when brillo-headed maven Barbara Mikulski will be up for reelection, and will be a ripe old 74. The Freepers suggested Democratic possibilities include Dutch Ruppersburger, Chris Van Hollen (I like Chris Van Hollen a lot), Anthony Brown, Elijah Cummings and Albert Wynn (Wynn? Are they out of their Freeping minds? He'll be damn lucky to not get primaried into the unemployment line come 08).

Saturday, December 9, 2006

Greetings from Mid-Maryland! Horny Marines, Rapping Jews and an Army of Yuppies!

Welcome to Rockin' Catoctin, the first local blog covering Frederick County and environs. That's Frederick County, Maryland, for any of you from the county of similar name south of the border... God, I hate you folks! You were always off school and getting my hopes up!. I'd hear "The following schools are closed today due to inclement weather: Carroll County, Fairfax County, Frederick County..." OMFG! Shit yeah! No school! "Virginia, Howard County, Montgomery County". And so off I'd trudge to school, muttering "fucking Winchester!".

Anyway... I'm claiming that this is the first Frederick County blog. I don't know if that's true or not, but I'm going to say it anyway. Someone will correct me if I'm wrong, and/or start a turf war that we can fight to a choreographed dance sequence with a pretty little samba melody and a jazzy beat. That could be sexy...

This blog will cover everything from local culture and history to Frederick city and county politics, plust that rascal Roscoe Bartlett. For those of you that don't know, Roscoe is some dude from Kentucky that's frightened of peak oil, educating people with Oriental-sounding names and soldiers masturbating. He would just be a local curiosity to point and stare at, except that he's also the Representative to the United States House of Representatives for the Sixth District of Maryland (The Fightin' Sixth!). I'll be covering his various shenanigans, and I'll go ahead and start now with his bizarre obsession with hot Marine manmeat jacking hard military cocks - the Military Honor and Decency Act of 1996, which would prohibit Playboy, Penthouse and presumably MTV and Herbal Essences commercials, along with other "sexually explicit material", from being distributed on military bases. So, I'll not be mentioning Roscoe without also mentioning his frankly bizarre interest in military masturbation (seriously, get help Roscoe!). In case anyone's interested, his cosponsors were Christopher Smith of New Jersey and Robert Dornan of California, whose districts are also presumably flooded with military manjuice. (I know there are female soldiers. I've no doubt their excited clitori are as terrifying in person as they are in my imagination).

The second-most embarassing thing about Frederick County is the Frederick News-Post. Our local paper covers everything of little relevance, but occasionally also manages to print some asinine editorial. For example, today their webpage is covering some churches in Point of Rocks (which is a very nice town indeed). These churches are a "testament to a spiritual element in a community that was once known for its bars and murders", and were built by 1911 (a bit late with the scoop there, FNP!). For those of you that don't know, the Frederick News-Post is trying to make it seem hip to refer to the newspaper as "FNP". This initialism stands for "Fucking Nut-Punched", and it refers to how I feel everytime I see that obnoxious commercial where the whitest Jew in the Fightin' Sixth raps about buying a TV he found in the FNP. If I ever see him, I might ram his head through said TV's picture tube.

I might also cover local trends and scuttlebutt (I hope the word "scuttlebutt" doesn't get any of our friends at Fort Detrick horny, as it might upset Roscoe). I'm not really plugged in to the elite of Frederick County - ha! I know there's no elite here. They all live in Carroll County, where the blacks and Orientals are less uppity. But anyway, I do know some things, like the politics of determining which city employees get one of the city's 10 parking spaces. I work in downtown Frederick, which means every day I get to go right past the Carroll Creek Project, which looks very nice. That's not sarcastic. It's unfortunate that they're also putting in umpteen million condos -- apparently we're not going to bother with the whole "urbanization-urban decay-urban renewal-gentrification" thing... We'll just go straight from dipshit town to gentrified suckfest. T-minus a few months till the yuppies come marching home, and Frederick becomes "West Bethesda".

So, that's all I'm going to cover for right now. Welcome again to Rockin' Catoctin, the local Frederick County blog. Stay classy, Fredneck!