Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Some things we do are weird, wrong, foolish, or just plain dumb

America rose to world prominence because of its unique constitutional structure and allegiance to personal freedom. Over recent decades we have watched as those traditional values that evolved out of that unique national structure have gradually been pushed aside. Over the last ten or so years, that devolution has had its accelerator pedal pushed to the floor.

Where once the goal was for everyone to – as the U.S. Army still says – “Be all you can be,” the value of being really good at something is being replaced with the attitude that every time someone wins at something, like a race or being valedictorian of their class, everyone else is a loser, and by golly here in America, that just ain’t fair. That has morphed into the attitude that every social group – based on gender, race, etc. – must be equally represented in every conceivable area of life.

This “identity politics” has already essentially taken over the humanities and social sciences at the college level, says Heather Mac Donald, Manhattan Institute senior fellow. She now says that identity politics waits in the wings, plotting a similar movement in the STEM fields: science, technology, engineering, and math.

For the identity politicians, it is less important that your doctor, lab researcher, building engineer, IT specialist, etc., is highly qualified and truly capable than if his or her sub-group is properly represented within the given field.

Following this line of reasoning to its illogical conclusion, professional sports are in for dramatic identity improvement.

Currently, the racial breakdown percentages of three major sports are: Major League Baseball: white – 60; Hispanic – 29; black – 8; Asian – 3. The National Football League: black – 66; white – 29; Asian – 2; Hispanic – 1. The National Basketball Association: black - 76; white – 20; Hispanic – 3; Asian – 1.

This racial imbalance where such disparity exists – especially for Asians – must not be allowed to stand. This discrimination is un-American.

But this mania is not about athletic diversity imbalance alone; it is about virtually every area of life, soon to include science, technology, engineering and mathematics. So, when you consult the surgeon who is going to remove a small tumor lodged deep in your brain, how well he or she did in medical classes now is less important than his/her race or gender or other irrelevant factor.

At the rate things are changing in our country, before much longer it may be the case that when you need someone to fill some need, like a doctor, that person will no longer be chosen by you, but will be selected for you based not upon your preference or someone’s capabilities, but upon some identity data the goal of which is to make sure all participants receive the same amount of work.

How many of us truly believe this is beneficial?

Then, there’s the case of Paul Manafort, who worked as then-candidate Donald Trump’s campaign chairman for about seven weeks in 2016. He was targeted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation seeking to find if there was wrongdoing by those in the campaign. Manafort was reported to be cooperating with the investigation.

Early one morning before daylight, and before Manafort’s family had awakened, the FBI conducted an armed raid and broke into his home, no doubt a frightening event for the Manaforts, and seized personal materials.

What was Manafort suspected of having done justifying such a potentially dangerous event?  When people break into a home, someone often gets shot. If the police break in, they could be shot as well as the occupants, who merely defended themselves.

This raid seems an unnecessary activity by law enforcement, breaking into the home of a cooperative witness who likely would have willingly provided the materials they sought, if only they had the courtesy to ask for them. What was so important about Manafort’s involvement in the campaign that warranted a SWAT-type attack on his home?

The answer: Nothing. Manafort has not been accused of any wrongdoing during the campaign, but was indicted for a crime he allegedly committed several years before, unrelated to the campaign. He has been awaiting trial on house arrest.

And now, Manafort has been charged with witness tampering, reportedly after a 90-second phone call with a prospective witness. Mueller petitioned a federal judge to revoke Manafort’s bail posted for the earlier charges, which the judge did, ordering him to jail.

So Manafort, who has not been charged for any supposed wrongdoing in the campaign, has now been ordered to jail, not for being found guilty of any crimes or confessing to a crime, but is now in jail after merely being charged with a new crime.

In America, you are supposed to be innocent until proven guilty. Not anymore, at least if you are Paul Manafort. Onboard a fishing boat as eccentric as the special counsel’s vessel, scalps are a big deal; any scalps. A scalp is a scalp, after all.

Political interests now often take precedence over everything else. And our social and cultural stability are weaker today than at any previous time in decades, and perhaps in our history. The country is indeed at a crisis point.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Congress must fix problems with VA, Social Security

Two groups of Americans that deserve and need the government’s attention are veterans, who have put their lives and their well-being on the line to defend their country, and the retirees who had some of their earnings taken through payroll deductions to provide for their future when they cannot or no longer work to support themselves.

Instead, what exists is a system of health care for veterans that is largely an embarrassing failure, that far too often sees veterans treated like second-class citizens, and a Social Security fund that is running out of money and will be unable to continue paying earned benefits at the current level.

Social Security is a government program whose purpose is to provide monthly income to Americans when they retire, cannot work, or reach a certain age by taxing the earnings of workers that are matched by their employers. Those taxes go into trust funds to provide benefits, and are invested to provide income that builds the trust funds.

The idea was to have a “pay as you go” system funded by workers of all ages and their employers that would produce more income than required to pay the benefits to the relatively few people who were receiving them. Together with the investment income, the system would be able to provide support payments for those collecting their earned rewards well into the future.

We now hear that Social Security taxes no longer produce enough money to cover benefit payments, and for the first time since 1982 the funds will have to be invaded in order to pay recipients their monthly allotment. The ratio of workers to retirees has fallen substantially in recent years, however. In 2000, for each retiree there were four workers. Last year that changed to 2.8 workers per retiree, and it is projected to fall further still, to 2.2 workers per retiree in 2035.

Changing circumstances cause the current level of taxes coming into the system to be insufficient to meet the future demand for payments to retirees. These include lackluster economic growth during the Obama years, inflation that raises the cost of living, as well as an aging population that increases the number of active recipients receiving benefits.

Social Security trustees predict that the fund paying disability benefits will run dry in 2032, and the fund paying retirement benefits will run dry in 2034. At that point, recipients could still receive payments from current tax receipts, but they would receive only 79 percent of the earned benefits they had been receiving.

Relative to the veterans situation, President Donald Trump signed legislation recently that will dramatically expand a program for veterans that lets them seek care from private doctors if they want to bypass the troubled VA system that frequently places them on waiting lists for weeks or months, and is known to sometimes provide less than acceptable care. The Veterans Choice Improvement Act removes barriers that Congress placed on a previous "choice" initiative, eliminating an expiration date that would have shut that program down in August.

Obviously, for those veterans who have substandard experiences from the Veterans Administration’s healthcare program, this will certainly give them an opportunity to get much better care.

This is a wonderful blessing for our deserving veterans, but what about those elderly retirees who had money taken from them and their employers for their future financial security, that now is in jeopardy because of action by the same government who required them to pay into the system?

Allen W. Smith, Ph.D., who spent 30 years as a professor of economics at Eastern Illinois University, quoted some members of Congress in a 2014 column on his Website about government shenanigans that depleted the trust funds. Oklahoma Republican Sen. Tom Coeburn said, on the Senate floor in 2011, “The money’s gone.” And then-House Speaker John Boehner, R-OH, told ABC’s This Week, “It’s not like there’s money in Social Security or Medicare. The government, over the past 30 years, has spent it all.”

So, the money taxed from workers and employers to fund payments to retirees is gone, thanks to our elected representatives in Congress, and the system can only continue paying benefits if payments are substantially reduced, or the government borrows money for that purpose.

That, of course, is not acceptable. Congress must now get off its collective backside and find $2.7 trillion to replace the misappropriated funds and restore Social Security’s financial stability. That will require making some difficult decisions about the funding of government programs.

Government has been off the rails for decades, pouring money into programs that are outside the parameters set forth by the U.S. Constitution.

A familiar Facebook meme says something to the effect of: “How is it that Social Security/Medicare is going broke, but welfare isn’t?”

Even if a welfare system that gives tax money to Americans is constitutional, it’s not okay to give money to those that deliberately aren’t trying to support themselves. Giving money to other countries while our own retired constituents can’t even collect money that they paid into the system is wrong at the highest levels.

This has gone on far too long. Congress needs to fix it.

Tuesday, June 05, 2018

Trump moves to correct weaknesses in federal employment situation

American workers have the option to belong to a labor union if they so choose. A spirited debate exists over the good and bad things that result from union activity, and there are valid arguments on each side.

One area where the bad side of labor unions can be seen is in the poor performance of some federal employees, who are protected from disciplinary action or discharge from employment by their union. This essentially makes it easy for federal workers to behave contrary to the best interests of their employers – the American people – with impunity. The difficulty and length of time required to dismiss a federal employee is the stuff of legend.

“While the original civil service reforms in the late 19th century were meant to increase merit hiring and move away from the politicized ‘spoils system’ of earlier eras,” Jarrett Stepman writes in The Daily Signal, “the current system locks workers into government jobs for life, regardless of merit.”

Such a system is inexcusable for people working at taxpayer expense, and given the size of the federal workforce of nearly 3 million public servants, this has widespread effects. Stepman asserts “unaccountable agencies guided by a permanent class of federal workers have been given free rein in this country.”

One of a basket of deplorable performance examples is Lois Lerner, the former Internal Revenue Service employee who, as director of the Exempt Organizations Unit, allowed her political bias to control how she ran her unit, resulting in the inappropriate over-scrutinizing of tea party and conservative groups applying for tax exempt status, and ridiculously long delays in their approval. 

A probe conducted by the Department of Justice found "substantial evidence of mismanagement, poor judgment and institutional inertia leading to the belief by many tax-exempt applicants that the IRS targeted them based on their political viewpoints,” according to then-Assistant Attorney General Peter Kadzik. “But poor management is not a crime," he concluded, inasmuch saying, “so what,” and allowing Lerner to retire with full benefits and no punishment for her misfeasance. Actually, this story demonstrates two examples of poor performance.

But this is about to change.

President Donald Trump has adjusted rules governing federal employees that will make holding them accountable for misbehaving easier, so federal employment will be more like that of non-government employees. This will enable federal departments and agencies to fire bad employees more quickly and with less red tape. It will also limit the time employees may engage in union organizing while at work.

Predictably, the unions, whose members now have the ability to gum up the wheels of government, oppose these improvements. “This is more than union busting — It’s democracy busting,” said J. David Cox, head of the largest federal employee union, the American Federation of Government Employees.

Unions cite three areas where Trump’s action goes awry:
1. Making it easier to fire bad workers is an attack on democracy
2. Federal employees are ‘nonpartisan’
3. Federal employees acting badly is uncommon

Please recall the description of the civil service system and the non-partisan behavior of Lois Lerner. And, Lerner is not nearly alone in her misbehavior.

Stepman notes that in the 2016 presidential race, the non-partisan federal workforce gave 95 percent of its donations to Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Addressing Trump’s proposed changes, Clinton said: “If [Democrats] can take back one or both houses of Congress in 2018, you will have people you can talk to again.”

No supporter of President Trump, The Washington Post published a story on how “nonpartisan” civil servants colluded with former Obama staffers to thwart the new president’s agenda: “Less than two weeks into Trump’s administration, federal workers are in regular consultation with recently departed Obama-era political appointees about what they can do to push back against the new president’s initiatives.

“Some federal employees have set up social media accounts to anonymously leak word of changes that Trump appointees are trying to make,” The Post reported, and said they used encrypted messaging apps to hide their activities from the administration.

Stepman also reported “many clearly criminal acts go unpunished,” and said that workers who would have been fired in most workplaces only received a slap on the wrist for their behavior. He cites a 2017 NBC News story saying “hundreds of federal employees were caught watching porn for hours a day while on the job, but few paid serious consequences.”

Another instance tells of a post office employee convicted of using cocaine on a lunch break who had her firing reversed by the Merit Systems Protection Board, the internal judicial power in the federal bureaucracy, and wound up with only a 90-day suspension.

Add to all of this the treasonous behavior of some high-level employees in the FBI working against Donald Trump during and after the election.

Such is the nature of employment in the swamp for some number of public servants.

No government employee should be given what too often is a job for life with little or no accountability. American taxpayers deserve nothing less than the best and most efficient government workers possible, and Trump is trying to move in that direction.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Distorting Trump’s MS-13 comments and Israel’s defensive border action

Recognizing that secure borders are essential to a free and safe country, President Donald Trump is insistent on securing our borders, particularly the southern one, and would gladly build a wall to accomplish that necessary goal.

Whether it is because Donald Trump is the one emphasizing securing the border, or whether it is because the Left is soft on illegal immigration is less important than the high degree of foolishness of their position. They couch their position on “feelings” rather than national security and protecting Americans from the expense of supporting people who come here illegally, or from those who are dangerous criminals.

Some of the more recognizable names on the Left, particularly many people elected to Congress, make statements that can easily lead one to believe that they are more concerned with the feelings of those illegals than of their fellow Americans or of their own constituents.

A tripwire of these statements is Trump’s use of the word “animals” to describe members of the violent MS-13 gang and other ultra-violent intruders. And among those objecting to the use of the term is the agenda media, some examples of which follow:

* The Washington Post: "Trump compares illegal immigrants to 'animals'"
* The New York Times: "Trump calls some unauthorized immigrants 'animals' in rant"
* Huffington Post: "Trump refers to immigrants as 'animals.' Again."
* USA Today: "Trump ramps up rhetoric on undocumented immigrants: 'These aren't people. These are animals.'"
* Vox: "Trump on deported immigrants: 'They're not people. They're animals.'"

But, of course, they were all wrong. Were they wrong because they have no idea about how to produce an accurate news story, or because the truth intrudes on their Leftist and anti-Trump agenda?

Unless you can’t understand English or have an agenda, anyone who listened to, watched or read the entire text of the statement knew immediately that Trump was not talking about all illegal aliens or immigrants, but was addressing the vile and repulsive members of the venomous and violent MS-13 gang. The gang, whose motto is “kill, rape and control,” has a left a long trail of violence in its wake.

However, Trump is wrong in using the word “animals” to describe MS-13 members. In doing so he has insulted animals everywhere by comparing them to the lowlife MS-13 creatures.

While the U.S. has problems with people who try and succeed at sneaking into the country, a nation with perhaps the most serious border problems is Israel.

The Jewish nation has accomplished great things in medicine, technology, and agriculture, and operates on democratic principles; it is a bright spot in a troubled world region. Despite this impressive record of accomplishments that benefit the entire world, some of its neighbors want Israel gone. It is surrounded by relatively huge Arab nations, with Egypt, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq and Pakistan either on its border, or not many miles away.

The Palestinians have been conducting protests on the Gaza border for weeks, and they claim that the border protests are peaceful and civilian-led, which was parroted by elements of the western media. But in fact, they have grown more violent over time. The protest earlier this month found participants creating dark smoke to hide their movements toward the border by setting tires on fire, trying to break down the border barriers and starting fires in Israeli territory by flying kites over the border that had canisters of burning gasoline on them.

Having warned the Palestinians not to attempt to cross the border, when the warnings were ignored the Israeli Defense Forces defended their border, resulting in 64 Palestinians being killed and hundreds more wounded. Unfortunately, that included a few women and children. More information on that follows.

This defensive border action received a harsh response from the UN Human Rights Council, whose chief labeled the Israeli response "wholly disproportionate," and called for an international investigation, as well as widespread condemnation from the anti-Israel media.

This is not a surprise, given the non-secret disdain for the Jewish state of many UN members. While the automatic response of Israel-haters everywhere is to blame Israel for the so-called “unconscionable murder of women, children and peaceful Palestinians,” the truth is quite different from that account.

A Hamas terrorist who was captured after he had breached the border told Israeli officials that the violence in the protests was the work of his organization. And an official of Hamas, Salah Bardawil, said, “In the last rounds of confrontations, if 62 people were martyred, 50 of them were Hamas,” members of the Palestinian terrorist organization.

The captured Hamas terrorist also said that the Islamic terrorist organization used women and children as shields, promising them they would be safe if they moved to the front line of the protest.

The Hamas terrorists among the protesters were armed with Molotov cocktails, guns and knives, and hid behind women and children in hopes of being able to break through the border barrier.

The accurate information about the terrorists taking part in this violent Hamas attack is not readily available, due to the bias of the United Nations and media outlets.