Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Common sense is desperately needed
in public sector employment

Making the rounds through email a few months ago was something called the “Profound Paragraph,” attributed to the late Dr. Adrian Rogers, who was a Southern Baptist minister and president of the Southern Baptist Convention. The Profound Paragraph was part of a sermon Dr. Rogers delivered in 1984.

It is comprised of five statements: “You cannot legislate the poor into prosperity by legislating the wealthy out of prosperity. What one person receives without working for, another person must work for without receiving. The government cannot give to anybody anything that the government does not first take from somebody else. When half of the people get the idea that they do not have to work because the other half is going to take care of them, and when the other half gets the idea that it does no good to work because somebody else is going to get what they work for, that my dear friend is the beginning of the end of any nation. You cannot multiply wealth by dividing it.”

So simple; so logical. Unfortunately, we have not just failed to observe these truisms, we have strayed so far from them that we are approaching the beginning of the end of America, as Dr. Rogers describes it in the fourth statement.

We are to the point where nearly half of US workers – 47 percent – paid no federal income tax in 2009 according to the Tax Policy Center. The National Taxpayers Union reports that the top 50 percent of taxpayers paid more than 97 percent of federal income taxes in 2008.

In 2009 there were 37.2 million food stamp recipients, 4.1 million on welfare and 9.1 million receiving unemployment support. In 2010 Medicare rolls had 47.3 million people, and 58 million were on Medicaid.

When you add up all those numbers you come up with 155.7 million, a number that likely overstates how many people actually receive some sort of federal assistance, because some people receive more than one type of assistance. Still, that total is 50.2 percent of the 310.2 million people living in the U.S. last year, and that gives us some idea of how close we are to Dr. Rogers’ scenario.

His Profound Paragraph is a common sense refutation of the idea of redistributing wealth to make everyone more financially equal, and evidence shows convincingly that he is correct; it doesn’t work. But that doesn’t stop the redistributionist statists from trying to defy reality, and that causes enormous problems.

Paraphrasing George Bernard Shaw, politicians who take from Peter to pay Paul can always count on the support of Paul. Taking from one group to give to another is the main ingredient in contemporary politics, and that is what’s behind the situation in several states, notably Wisconsin, where over the years greedy politicians traded their state’s future economic security for votes in the next election by giving favors to their constituents, in this case public sector workers who belong to unions.

And now when the bills for this traitorous behavior have put the state near insolvency, public employees have taken to the streets in protest of the governor’s efforts to restore fiscal responsibility.

Wisconsin’s public employees have a sweetheart deal where they pay nothing toward their own pensions and only six percent of their health insurance premiums, a much better deal than most private sector employees have. Gov. Scott Walker advocates limiting public workers’ collective bargaining to wages only, have them pay 5.8 percent of their pension costs, and 12 percent of their health insurance premiums, still a pretty good deal, compared to private sector employees.

Municipal, county, state and federal government workers should not work for slave wages or in bad conditions, of course, but that is not the case. The employees in Wisconsin and in the federal government have better pay and benefits on average than many or most of the people they serve, the ones whose taxes pay their salaries. If fairness is the issue, what’s fair about that? Why should taxpayers fund all or most of the health insurance and pension plans of public employees?

Public employee benefits and work rules are the issue here, not their pay. Gov. Walker believes that in order to protect taxpayers from the rising costs of one-sided union contracts, work rules and benefits would have to be approved by voters. What a concept: Public employee’s fringe benefits would have to be approved by their bosses!

The truth is that in the federal government and many state governments public employees quite often have superior circumstances to their private sector counterparts, and because of the incestuous relationship between vote-seeking politicians and self-serving union leaders, public employee unions crossed the border between acquiring fair wages, benefits and work conditions for their members, and began seeking excessive and costly conditions that are economically destructive and indefensible. That has to end.

Whether or not public employees have a right to collective bargaining is a good subject for discussion, but even if they have such a right, it has been abused, and when you abuse either a right or a privilege, you are apt to lose it.

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Friday, February 18, 2011

Obama has a good jump shot,
but he should have played football

President Barack Obama is generally considered to be a good basketball player, but he might have chosen football, instead, because in the two years as our president he has shown us that he is a world class punter.

After being sworn in the American people were suffering from high unemployment and expecting government to focus on how to help businesses create jobs, he punted on that one, preferring to focus on health care reform, instead.

He energetically advocated for dramatic changes to the health care delivery system and the health insurance industry, but Mr. Obama punted on that one, too, and turned over the responsibility for drafting the legislation to Congress, with disastrous results.

When the 111th Congress failed to pass a budget last year, he again punted, and instead of cajoling the Congress into doing its Constitutional duty, he sat on his hands.

Now the president has punted on his duty to formulate a sensible and responsible federal budget, submitting something that, considering the dire fiscal circumstances we are in, is not a serious effort, and submitting it a week late, to boot.

Facing yet another breech of the legal barrier for the national debt because of continued irresponsible spending levels; a $14 trillion national debt, made larger by deficits of $1.4 trillion in 2009, $1.3 trillion in 2010, and another $1.65 trillion dollar deficit this fiscal year; and after saying that we need to be more fiscally responsible, the president submitted a fiscal 2012 budget of $3.7 trillion with yet another $1.5 trillion deficit to add to the national debt, a budget that spends 40 percent more than the country takes in.

This is what passes for responsible leadership? A budget that is larger than the total debt accumulated by the federal government from 1789 to January 20, 2009? This move was so bad that even The Washington Post panned it.

Mr. Obama repeatedly talked about “winning the future” during the State of the Union speech, but he has already given up on “winning” the future. Instead, he plans to “buy” it, with dollars borrowed from China or whatever country may still be interested in funding our profligacy.

But you heard that the Obama's budget reduces the deficit by $1.1 trillion over 10 years, you say, and that sounds responsible, sort of. True, that there’s still a deficit remaining after that reduction, and it’s also true that it doesn’t address the deficits in future years. But, hey, it’s a start. Sort of.

Even if the plan would reduce the deficit as advertised, it is not nearly aggressive enough. But, alas, this feature is just smoke and mirrors. Mr. Obama is not actually reducing the 2012 deficit by $1.1 trillion; he’s just going to borrow $1.1 trillion less than he would have under earlier projections.

To Mr. Obama, the budget process is a game. What he hopes will happen is that in the absence of a responsible budget proposal from him that attempts to get spending under control, the Republicans will propose spending cuts in an effort to get the nation’s fiscal house in order, and then he and the Democrats can demagogue Republican efforts at fiscal responsibility and use to their advantage to paint Republicans as mean and nasty and don’t care about the people.

When it’s fourth and long, a good punter is a real asset. But when your country is facing financial disaster, punting doesn’t cut it, especially when it’s only second down.

Not only did Mr. Obama fail to make an honest effort to submit a budget that addresses his country’s enormous fiscal problems by reducing spending significantly, but he keeps talking about spending more on some things, like education, which would see a $13 billion increase in spending from the 2010 budget.

He also wants to bring high-speed rail access to 80 percent of Americans within 25 years, and sets aside $148 billion for research and development, including $32 billion for biomedical research, and doubles the amount spent on research on energy efficiency.

To paraphrase Strother Martin’s character the Captain in “Cool Hand Luke,” "What we've got here is...failure of leadership."

The United States has not had a void of competence in the White House this serious since much further back than Jimmy Carter.

BHO – Barack Hoover Obama – is on track to go down as our worst leader.

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Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Yet another feel-good concept is revealed
to be a really goofy idea

Over the last several decades the nations of Europe were not good role models for self-reliance and good judgment, embracing crazy ideas that led some to financial catastrophe and caused serious problems for others. Today, however, we see that at least on one subject the Europeans finally have seen the light and the error of their ways.

Last Thursday French President Nicolas Sarkozy declared that multiculturalism had failed. And he is not alone; other European leaders like British Prime Minister David Cameron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Spanish ex-premier Jose Maria Aznar also say that multicultural policies have not successfully integrated immigrants into their countries. And in the land down under, Australia's ex-prime minister John Howard reached the same conclusion.

Many of us, perhaps most, knew multiculturalism was a foolish, politically correct effort doomed to failure. But like other politically correct ideas, it sounded good, and that was reason enough to give it a try. As predicted, it failed miserably in practice for all the reasons we expected.

"My answer is clearly ‘yes, it is a failure,’" Mr.Sarkozy said. "Of course we must all respect differences … [but if] you come to France, you accept to melt into a single community, which is the national community, and if you do not want to accept that, you cannot be welcome in France," he said.

"We have been too concerned about the identity of the person who was arriving and not enough about the identity of the country that was receiving him," he declared.

Prime Minister David Cameron says that "under the doctrine of state multiculturalism, we have encouraged different cultures to live separate lives, apart from each other and the mainstream. … We’ve even tolerated these segregated communities behaving in ways that run completely counter to our values,” he said.

Chancellor Angela Merkel said last October that attempts to build a multicultural society in Germany have "utterly failed," saying the so-called "multikulti" concept – where people would "live side-by-side" happily – has failed, and immigrants need to try harder to integrate - including learning to speak German.

"I am a passionate believer in multiracialism,” former Australian Prime Minister John Howard said. “I believe that societies are enriched if they draw, as my country has done, from all parts of the world on a non-discriminatory basis and contribute, as the United States has done, to the building of a great society," he said. "But when a nation draws people from other parts of the world, it draws them because of the magnetism of its own culture and its own way of life."

What these leaders witnessed is that rather than becoming good French, English, German, Spanish or Australian citizens the immigrants ignored the cultural traditions and ways of life in the country to which they immigrated in favor of those of the country they left, or of their own personal or religious ideas. Which begs the question: Why go to another country if you like the way you’ve been living where you are, or if the way you want to live is not a good fit in the new country?

The major problem for European countries, which have cultures hundreds or thousands of years old, is the immigration of Muslim populations. Europeans like things as they are, thank you, and see no reason to have new-comers demand that they change what they are comfortable with and what has been proven to work, or to cast off the national culture in favor of something different.

And that makes perfect sense. Consider this on a more personal level: allowing an immigrant family to take up residence in your home. Who would allow such a family to tell their hosts what food to eat, what furniture they should have, what religion to choose, or pressure them to live in a way that is markedly different from what they are accustomed to and what works well for them?

As Muslim populations have moved into Europe and Australia, they have not assimilated into the existing culture, creating the current crisis. Some nations have witnessed radical Muslim activities.

Although Muslim integration problems are just now arising in the US, the more serious and immediate problem for us is the illegal alien influx from south of the border, and like the European problem, it is of our own making. Our crisis was created by the federal government’s disregard for border security and a sappy, feel-good mentality that illegal aliens should gain citizenship without going through the proper process.

Ultimately, successful integration of legal immigrants comes down to the attitude of the immigrant toward integration. We have room for good people from anywhere who want to come here through the legal process and become an American by assimilating into our culture.

There is no room for people who want to come here and demand that Americans adjust to their very different cultural ideals, or come in illegally and expect to be accommodated.

As Europe and Australia have learned, a national culture cannot survive irrational and reckless practices. The United States must get its house in order while there is still time.

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Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Going Rogue, Part V:
Now the EPA is crying over spilled milk

Just when you think it can’t get worse, it does. The Environmental Protection Agency has been the bane of business for years, imposing burdensome regulations in its over-zealous effort to clean up America’s air and water, whether they’re really that dirty or not.

In our last look at this bureaucratic nightmare it was going to regulate dust, believing there was still too much particulate matter in the air, having already addressed the issue of “soot,” which is particulate matter than isn’t dust, and is actually harmful in large amounts.

But dust doesn’t result from burning coal or oil, or even burning wood; it results when the wind blows over bare, dry soil.

Having run out of real environmental boogey men to attack (can we still say “attack” without being accused of inciting violence?) the EPA is now worried about spilled milk.

No, this is not an April fool’s joke; as absurd as it sounds, it is absolutely true that the EPA is worried about spilled milk.

You see, milk contains oil, and oil is almost as big a threat to our survival as coal. This oil is a non-petroleum oil commonly known as “animal fat,” and the EPA is having a cow over the possibility that a large milk spill poses a serious threat to health, and that possibility has driven the EPA to the brink of insanity, which, come to think of it, is more a chip shot than a drive.

The agency thus believes that farmers and milk producers must be held to the same regulations as those for oil drillers and the Exxon Valdez that produce real oil spills. The agency plans to require them to file “emergency management” plans, and build “containment facilities” to hold back what would otherwise be a torrent of spilled milk, and explain how they will train the “first responders” who will clean up the spilled milk. (It isn’t true that the EPA is training a humongous army of cats as first responders.)

But seriously, folks, this is no lapping, er, uh, laughing matter. If some careless farmer or milk producer spilled 1,000 gallons of milk, the surrounding country-side would be awash in as much as 40 gallons of animal fat, and you can imagine the environmental cataclysm that would result if the EPA did not require emergency management plans, containment facilities and first responders to deal with the spilled milk.

Would anyone like to hazard a guess at how much this is going to increase the price of milk and everything that has milk as an ingredient? Obviously, the EPA hasn’t thought about that, and probably doesn’t care.

Clearly, the EPA is out of control.

Four years after Arch Coal went through a rigorous and expensive process to obtain a surface mining permit from the Army Corps of Engineers, the EPA retracted the permit based upon “new water quality standards.” The decision, only the second of its kind in history, cost 220 miners their jobs, and Arch Coal has lost $250 million in future investment. The National Mining Association said the new standards could put at risk the jobs of many of the 27,000 people employed at surface coal mines in Appalachian states. An additional 79 Appalachian coal mine permit applications are now the subject of EPA scrutiny.

Where water quality is concerned, the EPA is again over-reaching. It has set 500 microSiemens (µS) per centimeter as the threshold for water purity; water with greater than 500 µS is contaminated, according to the EPA. But Evian bottled water has 558 µS; Perrier has 712; apple juice has 1,919; and Gatorade has 2,580. By EPA standards, these products are not safe to drink.

So the EPA wants to regulate dust and spilled milk, but it also regulates carbon dioxide, a gas exhaled by humans and animals that many people believe enables trees and vegetables to live. So breathing is also a target (Oops! Make that, “focus.”) of the EPA. Today's higher concentrations of CO2 are the "unambiguous result of human emissions,” the EPA proclaims. Perhaps we should all just go live in caves, or better yet, just die, so the planet can be saved.

However, rumor has it that the EPA has realized that the vast majority of so-called greenhouse gases that supposedly cause global warming – or global cooling, or climate change, or whatever they are calling it now – does not come from selfish Americans burning too many fossil fuels and breathing too much, but from other countries like China and India, and from natural sources, like volcanoes. A double-super-secret source inside the EPA leaked the news that in order to save the planet the agency will shortly ban volcanoes, India and China, the latter of which will certainly help our national debt situation.

Watching the EPA lately is sort of like watching a guy walking and reading a newspaper run into a telephone pole; you want to laugh at his stupidity. But we can’t really laugh at this stuff because it has dire implications for our survival.

Like the crazy uncle living in the attic, Americans are just going to have to ignore the EPA’s goofiness and go on with life.

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Tuesday, February 01, 2011

The State of the Union:
President Obama hasn’t learned anything

For a long, long time the State of the Union address has been anything but a mechanism for communicating useful information about the state of the nation to the Congress, but despite the overwhelmingly political atmosphere that dominates this annual spectacle, President Barack Obama was able to send an important message.

The president noted in his address that America does “big things,” and who could argue with that? “America is the nation that built the transcontinental railroad, brought electricity to rural communities, constructed the Interstate Highway System,” he said.

“We’re a nation that says, ‘I might not have a lot of money, but I have this great idea for a new company.’ … From the earliest days of our founding, America has been the story of ordinary people who dare to dream. That’s how we win the future,” and “the first step in winning the future is encouraging American innovation. None of us can predict with certainty what the next big industry will be or where the new jobs will come from. Thirty years ago, we couldn’t know that something called the Internet would lead to an economic revolution.”

He continued: “What we can do – what America does better than anyone else – is spark the creativity and imagination of our people. We’re the nation that put cars in driveways and computers in offices; the nation of Edison and the Wright brothers; of Google and Facebook. In America, innovation doesn’t just change our lives. It is how we make our living.”

That’s all true; America is all of those things. But what followed clearly sent the message that Barack Obama does not understand how the country he was elected to lead was able to achieve such great things.

He believes that the government should “invest” your tax money in research, and that doing so will produce results that research funded by private sources will not, or cannot produce; that without government funded research the “correct” things will not happen.

Now, it is true that government funding was involved in significant advances and discoveries. But is it true that these things would not have been developed without “government investment?” Is the president suggesting that the same innovative energy that caused Edison to produce the best incandescent light bulb exists only because the government invests in research? Well, not in Edison’s case, nor in the case of thousands of other research triumphs.

“Our free enterprise system is what drives innovation,” he correctly noted. “But because it’s not always profitable for companies to invest in basic research, throughout our history, our government has provided cutting-edge scientists and inventors with the support that they need,” and he proceeded to suggest that without government funding the Internet, NASA’s man on the moon project, computer chips and GPS would not exist today.

But the president is mistaken.

The government has not funded scientific research “throughout our history,” and the idea that government must fund scientific research is a big myth, according to Terence Kealey, professor of clinical biochemistry at the University of Cambridge, England, and author of The Economic Laws of Scientific Research, in an article for the Cato Institute in 1997. “The argument is that private companies will not fund science, especially pure science, for fear that their competitors will ‘capture’ the fruits of that investment. Yet, in practice, companies fund pure science very generously,” Professor Kealey wrote. “The more a firm invested in basic science, the more its productivity grew,” he said, citing research conducted by University of Pennsylvania economist Edwin Mansfield.

He went on to explain that “if a company is sited in a country that has low taxes, it simply invests its own money; if it lies in a country with high taxes, it lobbies its government to fund its R&D,” concluding that high taxation interferes in the normal economics of funding scientific research, and that “government funding displaces private research money.”

When government directly funds research, those projects and areas preferred by government receive funding. But government should not determine what or who gets funding; that isn’t what made America great. The funding of science should be economically, not politically, determined.

What Mr. Obama calls “investment” is just “government spending,” and even if its purpose is good and valuable, it is still “government spending.” Our government has amassed a $14 trillion national debt and a budget deficit this year of $1.4 trillion. That is the problem we have to solve, and more spending is obviously not the solution to that problem.

“We need to take responsibility for our deficit and reform our government,” the president declared. But his plan does not reduce the budget deficit; it merely substitutes some deficit spending with other deficit spending.

The fact is that government didn’t build America. The American people built this great nation through a mostly-free-market capitalist system.

In Mr. Obama’s narrow view, the only way to solve any problem is with a government solution. Government has an important role to play, but that role isn’t to make all our decisions for us; it is to assure the individual liberty and the market freedoms that built the nation.

Statists like Barack Obama seem incapable of understanding that.

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