Randy Myers's Profile > Messages Posted

Subject: Should Supreme Court Make Union "Dues" Optional?

Forum: Should Supreme Court Make Union "Dues" Optional?
Mark Janus, a child-support specialist for the state of Illinois, doesn’t like paying $45 a month to AFSCME, the union that represents him. So he’s suing. His case—Janus v. AFSCME—is expected to be decided this summer by the U.S. Supreme Court. It will be a controversial decision. Last year, down one member, the court deadlocked 4-4 on a virtually identical case. This year, Neil Gorsuch, the newest justice, will likely break the tie.

Note that Janus is not technically paying union dues. Under existing law, nobody can be forced to join a union or pay its dues. However, where workers are represented by a union, they can be required to pay “fair share” or “agency” fees to help cover the union’s costs for negotiating contracts and representing workers in disputes with employers. The idea: keep people from getting a free ride for what the union provides.

What agency fees don’t cover are costs associated with political activities or organizing employees into a union. Congress has said paying those costs could breach an employee’s constitutional right to free speech by forcing them to fund political activities they may not support.

Janus claims everything a union does is inherently political. If the Supreme Court agrees, workers covered by union contracts everywhere could stop paying agency fees.

Union supporters argue that the organization representing Janus, an arm of the National Right to Work Committee, which is supported by a number of big-name conservative donors, is simply trying to stamp out unions and lower costs for big business—at a time when corporations, thanks to the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, can spend as much as they want politicking. (Unions can too. But if they take in fewer dues or fees, they would find it difficult.)

It’s easy to argue that workers shouldn’t be required to pay for union activities they don’t support. It’s also easy to argue that if people feel that strongly about not supporting unions, they can work somewhere else.

What do you think? Should the Supreme Court side with Janus or his union?

Suggested Reading:

“For the Third Time, Justices Take on Union-Fee Issue: In Plain English,” by Amy Howe

“Janus v. AFSCME: 5 Things to Know,” by Carolyn Phenicie, The 74

Subject: Do Secret Settlements Enable Sexual Predators?

Forum: Do Secret Settlements Enable Sexual Predators?
Like most people, you were probably shocked by the many claims of sexual harassment lodged against public figures last year. You may have been dismayed, too, to learn that their alleged behaviors in some cases stretched back over decades. How could these things have remained hidden for so long?

As it turns out, some of the accused men escaped public scrutiny—and perhaps were then emboldened to prey on more victims—because they entered into financial settlements with their victims--settlementsthat prevented those victims from talking publicly about their experiences.

These non-disclosure agreements, or NDAs, are now highly controversial. Lawmakers in New York, New Jersey and California are considering limiting their use in cases of sexual misconduct. By making it harder for sexual predators to hide their actions, proponents of such laws say they also would make it harder for predators to continue their bad behavior.

Not everybody agrees. Attorney and women’s rights advocate Areva Martin, for example, has argued that NDAs and secret settlements in many ways benefit victims, allowing them to seek justice without going through the potentially painful process of public proceedings and the possibility of being retaliated against, or ostracized by, past or potential employers. She also contends that without the promise of secrecy, accused predators might no longer agree to sometimes pay large sums of money to their victims as part of their settlements—money the victims may need if their complaints result in the loss of their jobs.

Are such personal concerns valid if those secret settlements make it easier for sexual predators to continue to harm other victims? Should NDAs continue to be allowed in settling sexual misconduct cases, or should they be banned?

Suggested reading:

“How Non-Disclosure Agreements Protect Sexual Predators,” by Daniel Hemel, Vox

“How NDAs Help Some Victims Come Forward Against Abuse,” by Areva Martin, Motto

“How Legal Agreements Can Silence Victims of Workplace Sexual Assault,” by Hiba Hafiz, The Atlantic

Subject: Should We Give Money to Panhandlers?

Forum: Should We Give Money to Panhandlers?
You’re walking down the street, on your way to a night out with friends. So you probably have some cash on you. Ahead, a man sits on the sidewalk, cup in hand, asking for money. Should you give him some?

The compassionate argument is that we should, if we’re able. Circumstance alone suggests the panhandler is worse off than we are—financially, maybe emotionally, maybe psychologically. He likely needs what we can offer more than we do.

The skeptic’s arguments are many. We can’t know how the panhandler will spend the money. On food? Or liquor? Shelter? Or drugs? We also can’t know if the panhandler can’t work, or just doesn’t want to work.

Some people worry that giving money to panhandlers encourages the activity—and who wants to walk a gauntlet of panhandlers at every turn? As an article in The Atlantic noted some years ago, “If you travel to a poor city … you’ll find swarms of beggars by touristy locations. If the tourists become more generous, the local beggars don’t get richer, they only multiply.”

To avoid worrying about how money will be spent, or about encouraging more begging, some people give only to shelters and other charitable organizations. But this doesn’t help the poor and homeless whose mental health issues make them wary of seeking out such help. Taking the compassionate side, Pope Francis said earlier this year that we should just give when we meet panhandlers, and not worry about why they are begging or how they will use the money.

What do you think? Assuming we can afford it, is there any reason not to give panhandlers money? Is doing so that much different from other charitable giving? Finally, when confronted by a panhandler, how do you decide whether or not to give?

Suggested reading:

“Should You Give Money to Homeless People,” The Atlantic

“Should I Give Money to Panhandlers,” The Homeless Hub

“Brother, Should You Spare a Dime? How to Handle a Panhandler,” Money magazine

“The Pope on Panhandling: Give Without Worry,” The New York Times

Subject: Is Access to Health Care a Right?

Forum: Is Access to Health Care a Right?
Our long national battle over whether to make health care insurance available to everybody regardless of income continues unabated. It does so, I would argue, primarily because we have not come to an agreement on this fundamental question: Is access to health care a right?

The rest of the developed world has largely reached an answer, in the affirmative. As The Atlantic reports, nearly all industrialized countries provide some sort of universal access to health care, “from Europe to the Asian powerhouses to South America’s southern cone to the Anglophone states of Australia, New Zealand, and Canada. The only developed outliers are a few still-troubled Balkan states, the Soviet-style autocracy of Belarus, and the U.S. of A.., the richest nation in the world.”

The U.S. is a curious laggard among the outliers. Surgeon and writer Atul Gawande recently explored some reasons why in The New Yorker, interviewing, among others, a couple in Ohio whose medical bills had forced them to file for bankruptcy. They struggled for years to climb out of debt. Despite that setback, the husband remains bothered by the idea of government paying for healthcare—and by people who don’t work but receive health care via Medicaid at no cost to them.

That resentment is perhaps understandable in someone who takes pride in paying his own way. Maybe it’s also understandable that some people think not having a right to health insurance is no different than not having a right to other necessities, like food, clothing and shelter. Sure, our government helps those who can’t afford those things, but we don’t universally provide homes, groceries and clothing to everybody.

Ironically, there are plenty of other areas in life where we do provide services for all without complaining about who’s footing the bill. Fire departments don’t check membership rolls or employment status when responding to a fire. Poor people are allowed to drive on the same roads the wealthy drive.

Proponents of universal access to health care believe we should afford the same consideration to people who are sick and need medical attention.

That assumes, of course, that health care really is a right. Is it?

Subject: Terrible Weapons: Who Gets to Decide Who Has Them?

Forum: Terrible Weapons: Who Gets to Decide Who Has Them?
Suppose scientists in a country adversarial to the U.S. develop a weapon that gives that country a significant advantage over potential enemies. Perhaps it’s a missile that can’t be detected by current technology. Or a computer program that can seize control of the Pentagon and every U.S. military base, missile, submarine and aircraft. Whatever the details, let’s just say that if this weapon was used against us, our country would be virtually defenseless.

Now suppose that a few other countries—four—develop similar weaponry. Our scientists, inexplicably, are not able to match them. At this point, the five countries in possession of this technology announce that in order to safeguard the world from its perils, they want everyone else, including us, to agree not to develop it. And if anyone else does try to develop it, those five will try mightily to stop them.

I’m guessing you’d find that a hard pill to swallow.

But that, of course, is exactly what the U.S. and the four other countries that developed nuclear bombs before 1967 have tried to do with nuclear weapons. That effort is at the heart of our latest dispute with North Korea, which never agreed to forego nuclear weapons and has lately stepped up testing of its nuclear bombs and missiles.

My question to you isn’t whether we should try to keep North Korea from developing full nuclear weapon capabilities. The erratic behavior of its leader, Kim Jong-un, is argument enough that a nuclear North Korea threatens world peace.

Rather, my question is why, as a matter of policy, it is fair and right for one country that has a devastating weapon to say it’s okay for them, but not for anybody else. That only they have the moral authority to use it wisely. Or, if you disagree, why isn’t it fair and right?

As you compose your answer, remember the example at the top of this article. Consider that North Korea isn’t the only country whose leader is viewed by many as erratic. Recall that only one country has ever used nuclear weapons in warfare. And consider that the next time a stunning new weapon comes along, we might not be the country that develops it.

Subject: College Athletes: Should We Discourage Transfers?

Forum: College Athletes: Should We Discourage Transfers?
Nick Suriano is one of the best college wrestlers in the country. A four-time undefeated high school state champ in New Jersey, he posted a 17-1 record during his freshman year wrestling at Penn State. Still, he could find himself riding the bench as a sophomore.

Why? Over the summer, Penn State granted Suriano’s request to be released from the Penn State wrestling team so he could transfer to Rutgers. But both schools compete in the Big Ten conference, which like many major conferences requires that scholarship students who transfer to an in-conference school sit out of sports for one year and lose a year of sports eligibility.

Suriano could petition the Big Ten for a waiver from its rule, but it’s unclear whether he’d get it. In the meantime, his case has inflamed passions among college wrestling fans—especially in New Jersey, where many consider it ridiculous that Suriano should be penalized for deciding that he or she would be happier at another school. Others point out that many other student-athletes have been subject to the same transfer rule, and that Suriano shouldn’t receive special treatment. They also note that if he simply wants to wrestle closer to home in New Jersey, he could transfer to a non-Big Ten school like Princeton or Rider.

Let’s look beyond the Suriano case, though, to ask whether these intra-conference transfer rules make sense in the first place. Proponents say schools shouldn’t be forced to face an athlete they’ve helped develop, and that it discourages school-hopping that could get in the way of academics. Opponents counter that scholarship athletes aren’t indentured servants and should have the right to choose their own path—even if that includes changing their mind.

What’s your take? Should scholarship college athletes have the right to transfer whenever and wherever they want, as often as they want, without penalty?

Suggested reading:

“Nick Suriano saga: Rutgers can’t try to have it both ways with transfers,” NJ.com

“This is the time of year when the NCAA transfer rules …,” AP

Subject: Student Loan Debt: Is It Worth It?

Forum: Student Loan Debt: Is It Worth It?
At the end of last year, the value of all the student loans outstanding in the United States totaled $1.31 trillion—nearly three times the sum from just 10 years earlier.

A lot of people are racking up a lot of debt.

Is it worth it?

For a long time, the default answer has been yes. Studies repeatedly show that people who earn a college degree earn substantially more than those who don’t. Recent research at Georgetown University indicates that having a four-year degree rather than a high school diploma translates into nearly $1 million in additional lifetime earnings. That’s far more than the cost for tuition and fees at most private colleges, which at recent prices would average about $130,000 for four years, or the roughly $40,000 a public college would cost the average in-state student.

But those are tuition numbers; they don’t include room and board. They also don’t include the interest piling up on student loans. According to The Wall Street Journal, the average college graduate left school last year with $37,172 in student loan debt. Perhaps scarier, the net worth today of college-educated adults under 40 who borrowed to attend college is less than one-seventh the net worth of those who didn’t borrow.

Indeed, for many borrowers, the burden of repaying student loans has proved heavy. In a survey by Prudential Financial last year of more than 1,300 college graduates, less than half of the borrowers had been able to repay even $1 toward their principal loan balances three years after graduating. Among those still paying on their debt, nearly four in 10 said they were struggling financially, and nearly two-thirds said it was an emotional burden. Only about four in 10 said borrowing had proved worthwhile, and only one in four called college debt “good debt.” That said, more than 90 percent said they still would have gone to college, even if they had had a better understanding of what they were getting into financially.

What about you? If you’re borrowing for college, are you convinced you made the right choice? And if you had to do it over again, would you change where you’re going to school, or how you're paying for it, in hopes of borrowing less?

Suggested Reading:

“Student Loan Debt: Implications on Financial and Emotional Wellness,” Prudential

Subject: Re: The Mileage Reimbursement Dilemma

Forum: The Mileage Reimbursement Dilemma
Remember that Bob decided "the only way to be fair, now and in the future, is to apply the option that makes sense no matter where he might be starting from on the day he leaves for the airport."

By this standard, he should bill for 120 miles. As one of the writers said, if he drove to Florida the day before flying, he shouldn't be billing for the distance from Florida to the airport in Philadelphia. He should thus bill for the distance from his home to the airport: Option B.

Subject: Should news media regularly publish mug shots?

Forum: Should news media regularly publish mug shots?
Suppose you commit a crime. You are arrested. Your mug shot—your arrest photo—is published the next day on the front page of your hometown newspaper. That’s embarrassing, right? Public shaming may not be your biggest problem, but it’s a definite bummer.

Now suppose you didn’t commit that crime but were mistakenly arrested. Now your face in the local paper is adding insult to injury. And even though you’re later acquitted, your mug shot lives on in the minds of everyone who knew you and saw it, and perhaps in one of the many online mug shot databases. (Police photos of celebrities are particularly popular.)

This is all possible because arrest reports, including photographs, are in the public domain in the U.S.—for good reason. Open records are a way for the public to keep tabs on what the police are doing. Under authoritarian regimes, people can be arrested and disappear without a trace.

But making police photos available to the public and permitting their widespread publication are two different matters. Proponents of publication argue the public has a right to see these photos, and that there even can be a safety issue at stake. If one of these “criminals” later escapes police custody, the argument goes, it will be easier for the public to recognize them. This ignores the fact that a photo could simply be released if and when such an escape actually happened.

Opponents of routinely publishing mug shots argue that it can stigmatize people, especially those who commit minor crimes and later have their records expunged, or, more egregiously, people later found not guilty. These photos have the potential to haunt these people—in job searches, in personal affairs—for the rest of their lives.

What do you think? Should newspapers, websites and police departments routinely publish photos of people taken shortly after their arrest? Or should publication be withheld except in cases where there is a clear and compelling public interest at stake? And if you think it’s the latter, what sort of circumstances would warrant publication?

Suggested reading:

“Against Mugshots: Photos of the State’s Latest Catch Don’t Belong in a Free Press”

“What rights do people have to their own mug shots online?”

Subject: The Mileage Reimbursement Dilemma

Forum: The Mileage Reimbursement Dilemma
A freelance photographer—let’s call him Bob—has a small but intriguing dilemma.

Bob has a standing assignment from a wildlife organization to photograph its annual convention on the West Coast. The organization pays for his travel expenses. This includes reimbursing him for use of his personal vehicle to drive from his home in York, Pennsylvania, to whichever airport he uses to fly to the West Coast. He receives reimbursement at the IRS-approved rate of 53.5 cents per mile.

This year, Bob finds the most convenient and reasonably priced flight to the convention out of Philadelphia International Airport, which is 120 miles from his home. In a typical year, he would thus bill his client for 240 miles of driving—120 miles for the drive from his house to the airport, and 120 miles more for the drive back home.

This year, though, Bob and his wife have planned a trip with friends to Baltimore, Maryland, the day before his flight. They decide to spend that night in Baltimore. The next day, Bob drives from his Baltimore hotel to Philadelphia International, a 90-mile trip. His wife rides home with their friends.

Here’s Bob’s dilemma. He wants to know how much he should bill the wildlife organization for use of his vehicle to get to the airport. One option is to bill them for 90 miles—the actual distance he drove to the airport the day of his flight. (Let’s call this Option A.) After all, he was going to be in Baltimore that morning regardless of whether or not he had to travel for his conference. It seems only fair that his client should pay just for his actual travel that day.

The second option is to bill for the 120 miles from his house to the airport. (Let’s call this Option B.) After all, Bob was responsible for making that trip. One could argue that his decision to drive the first 30 miles one day early, as part of a personal trip, should have no bearing on what he bills his client.

After wrestling with the two options, Bob decides that the only way to be fair, now and in the future, is to apply the option that makes sense no matter where he might be starting from on the day he leaves for the airport. By this standard, which option should he choose—A or B—and why? (If you wish, you can use additional examples to illustrate your point.)

This candidate's