Tuesday, May 31, 2016

The Transportation Security Administration is failing the public

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has been in the news a lot lately, and not because of the number of terrorists that it has caught trying to board domestic and international flights originating in the U.S.

The most flagrant set of problems occurred primarily at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, where waits of up to three hours to get through the security check occurred, and the more serious situation where travelers had to spend the night in the O’Hare terminal on cots furnished by the airport because the long wait caused them to miss their flights. It is estimated that as many as 4,000 travelers have missed flights at O’Hare since February due to slow security checks. These are a painful testimony to just how badly the security check problems have become.

Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) predicts a long, hot summer, blaming the TSA’s inept bureaucracy for being unable to provide an efficient security check process at American airports. CAGW blames the TSA directly, rather than other things, like budget cuts or a smaller workforce, which are offered up as excuses.

“This blame shifting simply does not stand up to scrutiny for TSA, whose fiscal year (FY) 2016 budget of $7.3 billion is one billion dollars and 16 percent higher than in FY 2007,” CAGW notes.  “TSA’s full-time workforce rose by 4.3 percent over the last decade, even as air travel at major airports decreased. To date, 22 airports have dropped TSA and switched to more cost-effective, flexible, and efficient private alternatives.  The massive lines of outraged passengers have caused airports in Atlanta, New York, and Seattle to announce they would like to privatize security as well.”

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson has said that passengers must accept the new reality of “increased wait times as you travel,” but assured air travelers that TSA would be asking airports for help with “nonsecurity” activities, speeding the process. And he said that the number of carry-ons "has a lot to do with the wait time." Airlines have begun charging for extra bags being checked through, which encourages passengers to carry more bags with them into the passenger cabin, slowing the security check process.

These problems will likely increase as air travel picks up in the summer tourist season.

Underscoring CAGW’s accusation of incompetence is this from the New York Daily News: “The Transportation Security Administration assistant administrator who received $90,000 bonuses despite failed security tests at U.S. airports has been replaced, a government agency said Monday.” Kelly Hoggan, who testified before Congress about multiple TSA problems earlier this month, has been reassigned within the TSA.

Last week The Daily Signal proposed three steps to improve the TSA’s performance:

1. Expand the Screening Partnership Program - The Screening Partnership Program’s ability to take advantage of private security companies is one way the TSA can meet high passenger demand without sacrificing security.

2. Enlarge and Strengthen TSA PreCheck - TSA PreCheck is a trusted traveler program that allows members to expedite the security process after going through a background check and vetting process. The program allows TSA to move its resources towards a more risk-based approach by focusing less time on low-risk travelers.

3. Ensure Airport Screening is Subject to Risk Assessments and Red Team Tests - Waiting in TSA lines is partially alleviated because the TSA is supposedly providing extra security. That’s why it’s important to continue assessing the effectiveness of the TSA’s security measures. Red Teams, or undercover agents are one way to test that TSA security measures are working. In the meantime, it’s up to passengers to also take personal responsibility in preparing themselves for security checkpoints.

But perhaps the answer lies not in how to repair a broken and dysfunctional federal bureaucracy, but in replacing it with a private sector solution.

Like Postal Service workers who are frequently friendly, courteous and competent, TSA workers also display these qualities. But like the Postal Service, the TSA is a broken and largely failing agency.

Government agencies operate in a system that provides guaranteed clients, guaranteed revenue, and no competition, hence there is little incentive to be effective. This is why few of the multitudinous activities of the federal government are successful.

Our government keeps growing, finding ever more things that it believes need federal attention, all the while adding bodies to the federal payroll, increasing costs and delivering less than we deserve.

Airport/airline security really is mostly the concern of the individual airlines and airports – after all, they have the most to lose from a security failure and more to gain from being recognized for security successes. Why, then, should the federal government attempt this important mission with its history of ineffective bureaucratic methods?

Private businesses have not only the pride factor in their operation, but also the profit motive. If they fail to do the job satisfactorily, they will be replaced, and that adds an incentive to preform well that government agencies simply do not have. Competition drives success.

The big government mentality sees all problems as federal problems and big government solutions as the only means of salvation. Bureaucracies are self-sustaining parasites living off citizens, and mostly failing them.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

The U.S. armed forces have been weakened by budget cuts and ideology

In recent years America’s military has experienced operational readiness issues. A good bit of this is due to budget cuts resulting from the 2013 sequestration, but some sources also blame philosophical ideas about the military within the Obama administration.

Sequestration, as explained by CNN at the time, is “a series of automatic, across-the-board cuts to government agencies, totaling $1.2 trillion over 10 years. The cuts would be split 50-50 between defense and domestic discretionary spending. More than $500 billion will be cut from the Defense Department and other national security agencies, with the rest cut on the domestic side…”

The Pentagon, under then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, planned to reach its mandated cuts through furloughs of hundreds of thousands of civilian workers in combat readiness training and weapons maintenance. He said at the time that the $46 billion in cuts the first year would significantly affect military readiness, and the longer the sequestration lasts, the deeper cuts that will be required to achieve the mandated savings.

Just how badly this has affected military readiness is demonstrated in a Fox News story earlier this month. The U.S. Air Force, the smallest of the four major armed services, has cut staff to the degree that many military personnel now work extra shifts performing administrative jobs previously performed by civilians.

These cuts have put the Air Force in the position of being short 4,000 service personnel to maintain its aircraft and 700 pilots to fly them. Personnel are now cannibalizing parts from planes no longer in service and stored at a desert site called "The Boneyard" and from planes on display in museums to repair active aircraft.

Master Sgt. Bruce Pfrommer, who has worked on B-1 bombers for more than 20 years, told Fox that at Ellsworth AFB, South Dakota, where the 28th Bomber Wing is located, only nine of the 20 bombers there can fly. Those aircraft are closing in on 10,000 flight hours each, compared to about 1,000 when Pfrommer started working on them 20 years ago.

"Our retention rates are pretty low. Airmen are tired and burnt out,” Staff Sgt. Tyler Miller, of the 28th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron at Ellsworth, told Fox. "When I first came in seven years ago, we had six people per aircraft — and the lowest man had six or seven years of experience," Miller said. "Today, you have three-man teams and each averages only three years of experience."

The Navy also has operational issues. A Government Accountability Office report issued earlier this month, titled “Navy’s Optimized Fleet Response Plan” (OFRP) discusses problems facing our sea-going service. While the report does not specifically mention sequestration budget cuts, the symptoms support this as a least part of the problem.

An excerpt from the OFRP tells us that:
• Over the past decade, high operational tempo has reduced the predictability of ship deployments for sailors and for the industrial base that supports ship repair and maintenance. For example, carrier strike group deployment lengths have increased from an average of 6.4 months between 2008 – 2011 and 8.2 months between 2012 – 2014, to 9 months for three carrier strike groups in 2015.
• Increased deployment lengths have resulted in declining ship conditions and materiel readiness, and in a maintenance backlog that has not been fully identified or resourced, according to Navy officials.
• The declining condition of ships has increased the duration of time that ships spend undergoing maintenance in the shipyards, which in turn compresses the time available in the schedule for training and operations.

In its 2016 assessment of the four major military branches, the Heritage Foundation shows how true Panetta’s prediction was. The assessment rated the Army as “weak,” and the Navy, Marines and Air Force as “marginal,” rating the U.S. military overall as “marginal.”

In addition to budget cuts, reports of military brass being displeased with President Obama’s policies also pose questions.

Writing in Politico in 2013 Rosa Brooks noted, “In my interviews, however, many senior military leaders complained of feeling baffled and shut out by a White House National Security Staff.”

“The NSS wants to run the show, day to day and minute to minute,” laments a former military official, “so they have no time—they’re almost incapable of strategic thinking.” Another recently retired senior general said, “I don’t understand the process by which the White House is making strategic or foreign-policy decisions. … There’s an appearance of consultation, but you know you won’t be listened to.”

The Preamble to the U.S. Constitution provides that the federal government “provide for the common defense.” But in Article Four, Section Four, it states specifically that the “United States shall guarantee to every State a republican form of government and shall protect each of them against invasion.” No other power of the federal government shares that strong a requirement for performance.

No reasonable observer would contend that the federal government is obeying its Constitutional mandate to “provide for the common defense.”

How does the Commander in Chief plan to fix this?

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Democrat policies have a troubling past and promise a bad future

When Barack Obama took office in January of 2009 the U.S. was emerging from the recession that began in December of 2007. Running 18 months, this was a significant recession, with GDP reaching -8 percent in 2008 and unemployment peaking at 10.0 percent in October 2009, four months after the technical end of the recession.

In February 2009 President Obama signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act into law, an $830 billion spending plan that was supposed to keep unemployment from rising above 8 percent. It didn’t.

Truthfully, seven full years later the United States has not fully recovered from the recession, and Obama blamed the recession throughout most of his presidency to cover his tracks on the poor economic recovery. But the severity of the recession wasn’t to blame.

Gross Domestic Product growth has been inconsistent during Obama’s presidency, and averaged slightly above the 2.0 percent range. And while unemployment finally dropped to respectable territory at 4.9 percent in January, that must be considered in light of the fact that it’s only that low because more than 90 million Americans couldn’t find a job to replace the one they once had and left the workforce. When those people are included in the calculation, the unemployment rate at the end of April was 9.3 percent (U-6).

The labor force participation rate is the percentage of working-age persons in an economy who are employed, or are unemployed but looking for a job. Today, according to the Bureau of Labor Standards, the participation rate is 62.8 percent, the lowest since the 1970s.

Contrast Obama’s dreary results with the last recession that lasted at least 16 months. During Ronald Reagan’s first term, the recession began in July 1981 and ended in November 1982. Under Reagan’s policies the unemployment rate fell from a high of 10.8 percent in December 1982 to 7.2 percent in November of 1984 – that’s a 3.6 point improvement in 23 months, a striking difference from the 2007 recession, where unemployment peaked at 10.0 percent and never fell below 8.0 percent in the first 43 months afterward.

During the Reagan recovery the economy posted a robust 4.8 percent annualized growth over 23 quarters, according to economist Stephen Moore in The Daily Signal, and that was more than double the rate during Obama’s tenure.

Where Obama responded to an economic recession with $2 trillion worth of government expansion (more than $1 trillion on health care and $830 million in economic stimulus), Reagan cut marginal income tax rates across the board permanently through the Economic Recovery Tax Act of 1981: Different approach; different results. Reagan’s results were far better.

When your country is in trouble the president is supposed to put political and ideological goals aside and take actions that help the country recover. Instead Obama, not one to let a crisis go to waste, pursued his manic pledge to “fundamentally transform” the country, doubling down on reckless environmental policies that since September of 2014 have cost 191,000 people in mining industries their jobs, about 30 percent of them in the coal industry, according to CNS News, citing data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

That trend will continue if, through some great misfortune, Hillary Clinton gets elected. Recently, Clinton said, “I’m the only candidate which has a policy about how to bring economic opportunity using clean renewable energy as the key into coal country. Because we’re going to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business.”

She then visited West Virginia coal country on the campaign trail and faced an out-of-work coal miner who is having trouble taking care of his family because of the Obama administration’s punishing policies on mining and burning coal. She answered his complaint about killing the coal industry by saying that her comment was out of context and that she had a plan to help families and individuals who have been put out of work.

The Huffington Post described that plan: “Hillary Clinton has a $30 billion, 4,300-word plan to retrain coal workers ...”

But there are two problems. First, in her initial statement she clearly promised to kill coal jobs. For a candidate for president to advocate a policy of deliberately targeting a group of jobs that are legal ought to be disqualifying. Furthermore, Clinton said the focus would be retraining those out of work for new jobs. And just what sort of new jobs would there be in this situation and in a state so terribly wracked by Obama-caused economic woes?

Of Clinton’s plan, West Virginia Coal Association Senior Vice President Chris Hamilton told The Huffington Post, “Hillary’s plan is akin to somebody running you over, then offering to pick you up,” he said. “It’s not a plan. It’s a care package.”

Obama’s policies have inflicted great pain on the nation, and Hillary Clinton gives every indication of continuing along a similar line. So much of what liberal Democrats have done and will do is to shove their ideas down our throats, instead of allowing change to evolve naturally. People who live in coal producing states understand quite well the damage such policies cause.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Strong resistance to federal overreach is overdue, but growing

For four years, an organic farmer in Indiana was harassed when he supplied raw milk to the local organic co-ops. What prompted this action was what the Goshen News reported in 2010 as an outbreak of campylobacter bacterial infections “that might be traceable to the Forest Grove Dairy.”

Obviously, if bad milk makes people sick, health departments need to be involved, however, farm owner David Hochstetler told the paper at the time that health departments had not visited the farm to investigate, and he was never found to have sold bad milk.

Despite never having his product tied to the outbreak, Hochstetler’s farm was subjected to frequent inspections and harassment by two federal agencies, the Food and Drug Administration and the Department of Justice, actions believed to be aimed at closing down the dairy farm. And then Elkhart County Sheriff David Rogers responded to Hochstetler’s complaint, realized there was no justification for such harassment, and stepped in and blocked this over-reach from the federal government.

Rogers wrote to the DOJ telling them he would take action, including “removal or arrest” of federal agents, if the inspectors came without a signed warrant specifying probable cause and giving a clear reason justifying their invasive searches.

Rogers explained in the local newspaper, “My research concluded that no one was getting sick from this distribution of this raw milk. It appeared to be harassment by the FDA and the DOJ, and making unconstitutional searches, in my opinion. The farmer told me that he no longer wished to cooperate with the inspections of his property.”

You may be wondering why federal agencies were involved in what clearly was a local/state issue. This is not unusual.

The Daily Caller reported a year ago on the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Waters of the United States rule that critics say “would allow the agency to regulate waterways previously not under federal jurisdiction, including puddles, ditches and isolated wetlands.”

The EPA may be the agency that has done the most damage to the U.S. economy and business operations with its over-zealous and intrusive mandates, concerning such things as incandescent light bulbs, toilets that use “too much” water, limiting wood burning and charcoal use, and now extending its tentacles to regulating temporary water collections on private property.

Many states are growing tired of these overreaches. A bill introduced in the Indiana State Legislature reflects that state’s frustration. The bill nullifies all of the EPA’s regulations and places all environmental protection authority with the state’s Department of Environmental Management. And 24 states, including Indiana, have filed a lawsuit in federal court to strike down the new source performance standards affecting new coal burning power plants.

The EPA’s costly excesses and other excessive behaviors by administrative agencies trample all over the plain language the Founders deliberately wrote into the U.S. Constitution through the Tenth Amendment, which states: “The Powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

However, it is the wont of federal bureaucracies to grow like weeds, often with the tacit approval of our elected representatives in Congress, and not infrequently at their behest. Bureaucrats isolate themselves into protected enclaves extending their reach beyond that which is appropriate. They often do serious harm to their bosses, the American people, usually without accountability for their misdeeds.

Having escaped the heavy hand of King George only a few years before, the Framers of the U.S. Constitution sought to create a document establishing a new government for the United States that could not evolve to be as oppressive as Mother England had been; a government “of the people, by the people and for the people.” It was no accident that the phrase “the people” is mentioned five times in the Bill of Rights.

The Legal Information Institute of the Cornell University Law School explains: “The U.S. Constitution grants the federal government with power over issues of national concern, while the state governments, generally, have jurisdiction over issues of domestic concern. While the federal government can enact laws governing the entire country, its powers are enumerated, or limited; it only has the specific powers allotted to it in the Constitution.”

Some constitutional scholars and experts have described the Tenth Amendment as the Bill of Rights’ “catch-all” amendment, a strong reminder to federal lawmakers and officials that the federal government has strict limits, and everything outside those limits is under the control of the states.

The checks and balances of our governmental system give Congress the duty and the authority to oppose excessive behavior by the executive branch. The federal budget is an excellent tool for this purpose. It is shameful that these elected representatives have so often and for so long failed to protect their own Constitutional authority and, more importantly, the best interests of the people they were elected and sworn to represent.

The failure of Congress to oppose over-zealous federal agencies means the states have no other choice but to strongly oppose the unconstitutional federal intrusions, either through legal action, or by actions like that of Sheriff Rogers.

Tuesday, May 03, 2016

Looking at the U.S. performance in the 2016 Index of Economic Freedom

The 2016 Index of Economic Freedom shows that the United States has climbed one notch from 12th place to 11th among the 186 nations of the world that were surveyed and rated.

The Index is an annual guide published by The Wall Street Journal and The Heritage Foundation, and rates nations for labor freedom, business freedom, and fiscal freedom. There are 10 different measures inside those three major groupings. Data used is from 2014, and was compiled and analyzed last September.

The nations with more economic freedom than the U.S. are, starting with first place: Hong Kong; Singapore; New Zealand; Switzerland; Australia; Canada; Chile; Ireland; Estonia; and the United Kingdom.

Ranking 11th over all and 2nd among the three North American nations, the U.S. “remains mired in the ranks of the ‘mostly free,’ the second-tier economic freedom status into which it dropped in 2010,” the introduction to the report states. In seven of the past eight years Americans have seen their economic freedoms decline, and this year’s score equals their country’s worst score ever in the Index. At 75.4 out of 100 points, the U.S. has seen its score drop 0.9 since 2012, and from 80.7 since 2009.

“America’s historically vibrant entrepreneurial growth is significantly hampered by intrusive, expensive, and often ineffective government policies in areas ranging from health care to energy to education,” the report states. “Government favoritism toward entrenched interests has hurt innovation and contributed to a lackluster recovery and stagnant income growth,” even though a private sector energy boom has put the U.S. at the top of the world’s producers of oil and gas.

While America’s 6.2 percent unemployment rate in 2014 has improved, GDP growth was an unimpressive 2.2 percent over five years from 2009 to 2014. Our public debt then was nearly 105 percent of national GDP, which means that if every dollar of production – the value of all final goods and services produced in a year – went to pay down the debt, we still would have debt.

One small piece of good news is that in the Rule of Law category the “Freedom From Corruption” rating rose from 72 to 74 from the prior year, but the “Property Rights” rating dropped 10 points from 90 to 80, and this year produced the lowest ranking of the American people’s trust in government in the last 10 years, based on polls taken in 2015, where 75 percent of respondents said they believe corruption is widespread in the government and in government regulation of business.

Taxation continues to bedevil America’s freedom standing, with more than one of every four dollars of domestic income being taken by taxes, the U.S. having one of the highest corporate tax rates on the planet at a punishing 35 percent, and the top individual income tax rate of 39.6 percent. Government spending runs just short of 40 percent of GDP, and the size and scope of the government remains too big and too intrusive. The “Government Spending” and “Fiscal Freedom” ratings each fell, 59.6 to 54.7 and 67.5 to 65.6 respectively.

The nation saw substantial declines in the Regulatory Efficiency category, where each sub-category saw declines: Business Freedom - 91.9 to 84.7; Labor Freedom – 95.1 to 91.4; Monetary Freedom – 84 to 77. The report notes that “180 new major federal regulations have been imposed on business operations since early 2009 with estimated costs of nearly $80 billion,” explaining that the regulations themselves are not rigid, but that policies, such as excessive occupational licensing, restrict employment opportunities, and “damaging monetary policies, tangled webs of corporate welfare, and various subsidies” have affected the economy negatively.

The U.S. was heavily affected in two of the three sub-categories of Open Markets, where “Trade Freedom” remained essentially flat at 87 points, but “Investment Freedom” and “Financial Freedom” each took a 10-point hit, falling from 80 points to 70. The report notes that while “domestic regulations have been emerging only gradually, the financial reforms adopted in 2010 have increased both costs and uncertainty.”

Even though the U.S. moved up one position among the 186 nations, being 11th instead of 12th does not provide enough for even Donald Trump to brag about, especially in view of the fact that the overall score fell nearly one point and that the U.S. lost ground in 8 of the 10 sub-categories contained in the Index. And its position in the second tier may prompt a drive to change our “land of the free” motto to “land of the mostly free.”

The importance of this report is not so much the U.S. ranking, but the continued commitment of its government to policies contrary to the values that made America exceptional and free. This perspective is not merely the view of conservatives and libertarians, but also of someone who has seen this same scenario up close and personal.

Filmmaker and American citizen Agustin Blazquez saw this same theme play out in his native Cuba, and warns, “Wake up, America!” Blazquez sees the same radical shift happening in America that turned Cuba into a communist country.

This ought to be a call to action, but thus far all of those have failed.