Sunday, February 27, 2011

Barack Obama: Divider in Chief

America is facing a number of political showdowns which stand to further reshape the nation's ideological landscape beyond what we’ve seen over the last two years.

Budget battles have been popping-up in almost domino fashion in state capitals over the last couple of weeks, threatening the financial predominance of the Democratic Party's – particularly President Barack Obama's – stalwart union base. And, this administration's inconsistency in its responses to the popular uprisings taking place in the Middle East is causing the White House to take a PR beating.

So, what is Obama's plan for putting out the fires?

"Hey, look over there!"

On Wednesday, February 23, he got almost every conservative in America to reach for the bait and work themselves into an uproar over the announcement by Attorney General Eric Holder that the Justice Department would no longer defend the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in court if a case should arise.

I find myself reminiscing about a line made popular by the old Monte Python troupe: "And now, for something completely different…"

Instead of stepping up and demonstrating himself as a true leader, Obama opted to fall back on his life as a lawyer-turned-career-politician and give good old fashioned misdirection a try. Just when any semblance of success anywhere seemed out of his reach, our president took a chance on trying to create division among his opposition.

So far, it seems to be working out for him fairly well. After all, when a crisis erupts you never want it to go to waste; if there's no crisis to exploit, invent one.

There are two key camps within the tide of popular sentiment rising against progressive establishment dogma over the last two years: the mainly libertarian-leaning crowd that got the snowball which is the Tea Party rolling and the Republican establishment camp which has not only jumped all over that bandwagon but is trying to wrest the reins away for their own use. If there was one issue that could get tossed out there and create in-fighting, DOMA was it.

In fact, even libertarians are experiencing rifts over the topic. One libertarian blogger whom I recently began following has chosen to take Representative Ron Paul to task for his criticism of the Obama Administration over the DOMA announcement.

Now depending on with whom you talk, there are two key opposing arguments in this discussion: "DOMA is unconstitutional" vs. "government has no business redefining marriage."

At this point I am taking a stand and examining those points no further. I will leave it up to anyone who reads this to do their own research on them. I refuse to reach for that hunk of cheese positioned on the wooden rectangle or bite into that worm bouncing magical through the water.

Instead, I am going to re-emphasize the deliberately ignored third argument on this issue – one that I tackled already: why does government at any level need to concern itself with any situation regarding who marries whom in the first place?

Until that argument reaches more audiences across the nation, we leave ourselves in a position to be unnecessarily divided on a truly peripheral issue.

Let there be no doubt how clear Obama's mindset is: if he can’t get you to drink his Koolaid, then he will poison your tea!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Union busting or self-preservation?

Like so many of my blogs and other essays, this one was inspired by my two-cents-worth I added as part of a larger discussion of the topic of public education (thanks for the inspiration, Jennifer and Josh!). I've added a little more here than where this was originally posted and cleaned-up any typing or grammatical errors that were there, of course.

The legislative battles over collective bargaining for public employees have sparked multiple firestorm debates and discussions. We're seeing this take shape both here in Ohio and in Wisconsin.

What bother me are the notions being spread that public employees are being denied the right to collectively bargain and they will face abusive working conditions.

First of all, no law can deny anyone – whether they are publicly employed or not – the right to affiliate with any labor organization. This is guaranteed by the Freedom of Assembly clause in the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment.

So, that argument is laid to rest pretty quickly.

The key point being deliberately ignored by many people in the broader conversation is to whom the politicians, their appointed and hired administrators, and the publicly employed laborers are supposed to be answerable. We are their bosses, not the governor, state senators, state reps, county commissioners, township trustees, or municipal office-holders. We, the voters and taxpayers are their rightful bosses. And, for decades, we have been steadily pushed right out of the loop on collective-bargaining contract negotiations.

No one is saying workers of any stripe have no right to collective bargaining. But, it is time we returned the service portion to the key old phrase "public service." These jobs were never intended to become tenured, lifelong positions requiring a near-act-of-God in order to terminate an ineffective employee: especially when it comes to education.

Among the new terms Wisconsin's legislators are looking put into law are calling for increases on behalf of all public employees with their own contributions to their retirement plans and health insurance coverage. They are all in an uproar in Madison: but the punch line there is the potential new contribution levels are still well below (in some instances half that of) what the average private sector worker pays into their respective plans out of each paycheck.

But, we're supposed to believe these proposed working conditions constitute abuse of the public sector. Give me a break.

Also, the vast majority of states are facing monstrous unfunded liabilities. According to a study released a year ago by the Pew Center on the States, when you combine the retirement obligations for public employees of all 50 states, they face a grand total $1 trillion shortfall in their ability to meet $3.35 trillion in total liabilities.

Illinois is in the most extreme situation. That state is projected to have $131 billion in such liabilities by the end of the current fiscal year and only $46 billion in available assets (roughly 35%) to cover them.

The majority of states are facing such legacy-cost obligations at varying degrees of severity.

I would contend that if the unions are so adamant they have the support of the people, then they ought to agree to my idea of putting all negotiated contract proposals at the state and local levels up for a public referendum vote. That would require all the terms of each contract to be made available for public scrutiny and evaluation well in advance of the day of the election. If they have that all-important public support they claim, then they should have no problem embracing that "pure democracy" for which they regularly clamor.

A focused discussion on public education

Perhaps the single-greatest point of contention when it comes to America's public sector workforce is education.

While most of the problems with public education in America are the combined result of federal policy (Department of Education) and teachers unions, at the state and local levels dealing with issues of collective bargaining is the area where these governments can have the most significant influence.

Where the unions have had the most intense impact is they have gone beyond merely engaging in collective bargaining for "fair" salaries and other compensation for their vocation. These unions have sought to create work environments where their members enjoy job protection to such a degree (especially once they've "earned" tenure) they cannot be dismissed except under the most extreme circumstances – and even then it depends on where you're examining this condition.

A tenured teacher enjoys a work setting which allows for little to no regard for the basic principle of job performance – half of that is the result of the deliberate dilution of what constitutes job performance while the other component is the set of legal hurdles (enormously expensive ones at that) in place inhibiting the process of getting a defective teacher terminated. The most extreme examples of that are the "Rubber Rooms" in New York's school district.

Human nature being what it is, this opens-up room for a growing number of people in this profession to become perilously comfortable with their station in the workplace – at the expense of our children. It's a problem that has grown pervasive to the point of becoming institutional in nature.

And all that is before you even factor-in the influence within the vocation by its vocal and active members who make up its left-leaning political culture – a culture whose size within the education profession is often debated but whose impact is undeniable.

Getting back to my original point, in this situation there gradually becomes little room for dissenting views among peers. This is why we rarely – if ever – hear of internal reforms coming about in any of the local chapters of whichever union represents a given school district. What usually has to happen is what we're seeing taking shape here in Ohio and in Wisconsin: so-called union-busting proposed legislation.

Until something gives in this process, the good teachers will continue to be overshadowed and even swallowed-up by the education system and the work environment that has evolved within it.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Tunisia, Egypt, and other dominoes

In light of the domino effect that is apparently taking shape in the Arab World in recent weeks, we as a nation may have no choice but to reevaluate our role in the affairs of other states.

As uncomfortable as this is sure to make many people, the time may be upon us to end our policies of propping-up everyone else's so-called quality of life in various corners of the world when we're failing at an increasing rate at maintaining our own country's way of life.

If the people in the Middle East want the caliphate, I just don't see how we can legitimately deny them the basic right of national self-determination.

To my fellow Tea Partiers, how can we argue that we can no longer afford widespread entitlements and corporate welfare and then turn around and promote a continuation of interventionist foreign policy?

Furthermore, it's easy to make an ally of a dictator when you're slipping him taxpayer-funded kickbacks every year.

Ultimately, for many Americans there is real concern surrounding the perception of the United States’ prestige in the world going into decline. Many among us are blaming this particular situation on President Barack Obama’s tendency toward waffling during such instances as the demonstrations in Egypt and in 2009 in Iran – and most of the criticism is well deserved.

However, if meddling in the affairs of other, sovereign nations is a legitimate component of American vital interests (of which I am, shall we say, dubious), then equally to blame for our dramatic loss of prestige is former-President George W. Bush for not just entrenching America in two undeclared wars on the other side of the world but also for woefully mismanaging both war efforts before Obama came along and continued the trend.

This overall sentiment is extrapolated-upon much more eloquently by Pat Buchanan in his columns published on February 18 and January 18.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Egypt and the Either/Or Fallacy

Before my own analysis of the Egyptian political situation begins, I need to share my own feelings on what has transpired -- or perhaps more accurately what we're being told has transpired -- thus far in that country.

With this topic, much like the WikiLeaks story, I am torn.

The growing movement in Egypt is in response to the people's fatigue with a heavy-handed head of state and a desire for greater self-determination among those who initiated the protests in Cairo. Weighing against that is a very real concern about who may opportunistically emerge to fill a power void if the people succeed.

Predictably, the news coverage of the demonstrations in Egypt has devolved into a cacophony. Making the noise worse as of late is the barrage from conservative commentators who insist an ouster of Hosni Mubarak's regime (not just Mubarak himself, but of the regime he has put in place) is the last thing anyone wants to see.

Across the board, the right wing spin wizards steadily have fallen in line and declared if Mubarak steps down he will inevitably be replaced by a Muslim Brotherhood-designed radical theocracy.

This is the American Right Wing employing the either/or fallacy, a topic I have addressed before. The either/or argument relies on a typically false premise that in any situation or problem there are only two possible causes, courses of action, resolutions, or outcomes.

In the case of Egypt and Mubarak, the assertion is we have to choose between the devil we know or the devil they're convinced will be worse.

Most of the radio and television pundits insist Egypt is poised to become the next Iran and Israel is on the brink of going up in flames. As far as I've been able to determine, Glenn Beck is the only one who has suggested Egypt's Marxist Party has demonstrated the same degree of opportunism as the Muslim Brotherhood.

Before continuing, make no mistake that Mubarak (the "devil we know") is a thug: he has cracked-down relentlessly on his own citizens who are active in Egypt's Islamic wing, followed by his reported participation in rendition efforts in recent years.

Where I disagree vehemently with conservative talk hosts is their absolutism regarding the prospects for a post-Mubarak Egypt.

The movement in that country began in true grassroots fashion. Much of the Egyptian population simply has had enough of the conditions there, not the least of which has been the steadily worsening economy. Now, their frustration has motivated hundreds of thousands of them to take to the streets and call for Mubarak's unconditional resignation.

To suggest the protests serve only to set the stage for the rise of a fundamental Islamic theocracy requires ignoring that Egypt's Islamists and Marxists have been johnnies-come-lately who are trying to co-opt the rising tide of public sentiment. They are not the originators of the movement.

Dare I say it, but a number of American conservatives are taking the exact same approach toward their spin of this story as our left-dominated news media has employed in covering the Tea Party.

Before anyone gets their knickers in a knot, as a Tea Partier myself I am not comparing what is taking place in Egypt to the Tea Party movement. What I am comparing are the similar slants set forth by the analysts for both wings of the outdated linear political scale. It's curious how eagerly dismissive they both have been of their respective quarries as dangerous.

And, both sides are being driven by a desire to maintain their respective status quos. Statists on the left want to continue the march toward socialist domestic policy while statists on the right want to continue an active interventionist foreign policy.

As a result of all this -- getting back on course -- what is being ignored by too many conservatives is the possibility the Egyptians may be ready to put in place an establishment that offers greater freedom and possibly a little bit of liberty (or at the very least the aforementioned expanded opportunity for self determination).

It won't be easy. I agree that any representative democracy which emerges from the ashes of a displaced Mubarak regime will be regularly and aggressively challenged from the onset. And, those jockeying for position to overrun the system will be the Muslim Brotherhood and Marxist parties -- both of which will assuredly receive significant foreign financial backing.

A new government may even have to withstand militant violence. We have seen similar circumstances elsewhere in the Middle East.

One could easily point to the days of protests in Iran following the results of the 2009 presidential election there. But, there also is the war-torn nation of Lebanon.

The Lebanese had long enjoyed a more Western society and was once a popular tourism stop. Christians and Muslims were able to live together in relative peace. All that changed in 1975 as radical Islamic extremists began to overrun the country.

While that nation began to fall into factioning, most who joined the fighting in Lebanon did so for the purpose of reestablishing their representative democracy. The rebuilding process began in 1990 after the end of their civil war.

Tensions have been sparked on and off since 2006, but that has been due to external influences and interests. Despite it all, the Lebanese people seek to restore their way of life. Unfortunately, their border with Israel makes the country a strategic focal point of interest for organizations such as Hezbollah and the countries aiding them.

Yet, the Lebanese still persist. Americans ought to be able to appreciate that.

While this may not be a scenario that would strike most people as the most desirable possible outcome for Egypt, it is what I believe to be the most likely outcome to result from the political unrest there.

Will it mean strife for Egyptians similar to what the Lebanese have had to endure? Yes. That may not be avoidable. And, it will be a shame considering they were the first of the Arabic nations that declared war on Israel to sign a peace accord and recognize the sovereignty of the Israeli state.

But, at some point this must be for the Egyptian people to determine for themselves. There are all the libertarian philosophical talking points which I could belabor at this juncture. But, just as importantly, there are the practical reasons. Primarily, we can no longer afford the tens-of-billions of dollars in foreign aid we have been doling-out every year. To continue using part of that dole to help prop-up someone such as Mubarak simply is more than many Americans can stomach: myself included.

Returning to my point at the beginning of this composition about being torn on this story, to some extent it is because of the simple fact change is always unsettling. And, as has been examined at great length, a change of power in Egypt means an even more uncertain future for a big chunk of the world.

To a larger extent, I'm torn because of the potential ramifications for Israel. While this surely will rankle a number of my fellow Libertarians, for reasons I will argue at a later date I am not ready to see the United States end material support for the Israeli state. I shall admit upfront that statement stands in immediate contradiction to the point raised two paragraphs prior. However, if America can only afford to maintain continuing support for one ally in the world, it should be Israel.

Obviously, the uncertainty facing Egypt, that lone nation to seek a peace accord with the Israelis, has the potential to mean an even more precarious situation for their neighbors to their northeast.

My hope is the fire in the Egyptian people's hearts for liberty is stronger than the resolve among a small percentage among them who seek to rain fire on parts of the world.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Fun with Senator Sherrod Brown

A friend of mine brought this survey to my attention at Senator Sherrod Brown's (D-OH) home page: "Where Do You Stand?"

Instead of pointlessly eating-up a lot of time recreating the site's contents I encourage you to click the link above, check out the questions and choices Senator Brown offers, and then come back to this tab to muse over my responses.

Being the infernal smartass that I am, I had to take advantage of the "Other" option and elaborate on the ways where Progressivism has gone terribly wrong.

Still, I love how in the main question -- regarding what are my economic concerns -- one of his choices is, "Big Bank Practices that Put Our Economy At Risk." If "Big Bank Practices" are so bad for American society, I'm wondering why Senator Brown voted to confirm former Goldman Sachs executive Tim Geithner as Treasury Secretary, nominated by President Barack Obama... But, as usual, I digress...

Back to the regularly scheduled program: for the question, I selected "Job Loss" and "Tax Reform" out of the available answers and then added in the "Other" section, "The excessive amount of regulation standing in the way of creation and expansion of businesses. Independent entrepreneurship has traditionally been the most effective path for the unemployed to emerge from recession conditions."

So-called Question 2 is how I'd like to hear back from Senator Brown (or, more likely one of his staffers hiding behind the anonymity offered by their Internet browser). Again, I opted for "Other" and stated my choice as "Phone." I then proceeded to type-in my cell phone number out of pure curiosity if someone will actually call me and take a chance on hearing what I have to say.

If they do, I'll likely feel compelled to press him or her on the whole Big Banking/Geithner thread. It ought to be a fun call.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Two links on ObamaCare you need to read

From the Washington Times, here are a pair of articles that tackle a few of the nuts-and-bolts of ObamaCare: the constitutionality of the law as well as the recent revelations of how many waivers have been handed out in the past few months.

There are – as of late January – 733 exemptions to ObamaCare's provisions which have been bestowed to various interests by the Department of Health and Human Services. More than 500 were issued this past December alone.

According to Washington Times editorial contributor Dr. Milton Wolf, a healthy chunk of these waivers have been handed-out to politically-well-connected recipients