Monday, February 21, 2011

Cutting the Budget 101

With the budget battles in Wisconsin garnering a lot of attention, it's easy to overlook the budget battle going on in Washington, DC, right now. And much like in Wisconsin, the battles are contentious. Democrats and Republicans are fighting over what to cut and how much. Although Republicans have introduced a decent plan to cut over a trillion dollars, but after reading some of the proposed cuts (and noticing some of the things that aren't being cut), I'm have to say Republicans aren't serious about it.

Allow me to step in and offer some suggestions for areas to cut.

Department of Education - Since the inception of the Department of Education, America's educational standards have slipped significantly. Whether it's students who can barely read coming out of high school or watching our math and science scores slide further and further down the list of countries, it's clear the Department of Education is failing. Oh, and when you consider Department of Education funds were used to buy the National Education Association a new office building in's time to make some serious cuts in their budget.

Superfund - The EPA set up this fund as a means to help clean-up efforts at pollution sites. A good idea in theory, but in practice? Not so much. Superfund has constantly been funded, but the number of pollution sites being cleaned is pitiful at best. The list of pollution sites has been growing, but the number of sites actually being cleaned is practically non-existent. Put the clean-up efforts in the hands of private industry and defund Superfund.

Department of Defense - Cost overruns aren't unusual for defense spending, but the amounts are obscene. If you're a Republican House member reading this, you honestly don't see a single cent that could be cut in the defense budget? I do, and we need to get a serious grip on our defense spending so we can stop spending $350 on a hammer. That's mini bar prices, kids. Go to Ace Hardware and pick up a hammer for a fraction of that. Then, let's cut a lot more.

Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae - Does anyone really think the government needs any hand in the mortgage industry? After all, the government only caused the current mortgage crisis. Strip them of funding yesterday.

National Endowment for the Arts - I appreciate a good dramatic play, opera, or art exhibit as much as anyone. But given how Leftists are the ones who claim to appreciate them far more than a guy like me, maybe they should dip a little deeper into their pockets to support the arts. And why not cut out the middle man (i.e. government) and have them donate directly?

The FCC - What part of "Congress shall make no law...abridging the freedom of speech" is confusing to the FCC? The very fact it exists defies the Constitution, and the fact it keeps getting funded is absurd.

See? I've already shaved off billions with only a few suggestions. Come back when you have a serious budget cutting plan, Republicans.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

The State of the Unions

With the budget battles in Wisconsin, America is taking a harder look at labor unions and collective bargaining. At the heart of the budget battle is the Governor's desire to have public servants, except for police and firefighters, to voluntarily give up collective bargaining as a means to try to address the budget shortfalls Wisconsin is facing. This has labor unions, especially teachers unions, up in arms.

In their defense of the Wisconsin teachers protesting the Governor's proposal, the Left paints a vivid picture of just how important labor unions have been. Have a 40 hour work week? Thank labor unions. Glad to know your children aren't slaving away at a job due to no child labor laws? Thank labor unions. Getting good wages for honest work? Thank labor unions. And I'd be hard-pressed to tell you labor unions haven't been essential to the evolution of the working environment. I wholeheartedly agree with the Left on that point.

But, as Janet Jackson once put it, what have you done for me lately?

The main problem with labor unions today is they're stuck in the past. It's like the high school student who is the star of the football team, but doesn't really do much beyond that. Then, when that football star graduates, there's really nothing waiting for him because he hadn't planned for tomorrow. Labor unions have a rich history, but it's still history. The workplace environment has evolved due in large part to the demands of the workers, union or not. If anything, the workplace has done more in recent years than labor unions could have ever dreamed to accommodate the needs of the employees . Sure, there are still areas where labor and management could be better, but when you compare today's working environment to the working environment of the early 20th Century, you have to admit great strides have been made.

However, not-so-great strides have been made in union circles. Over the past decade or two, union membership has been declining for various reasons. Perhaps one of the biggest reasons is workers don't think they need to be part of a union to defend their rights as workers. Most of the time, they're right. Instead of changing with the times, unions have clung to their pasts trying to make them seem relevant to people who are self-empowered. That's a losing proposition.

I think labor unions may have a vital role in the future of the working person, but not in their current state. Living in the past as a justification for existing in the present is no way to do it. Unions need to change with the times and really work for the people they claim to represent, not just be there to argue over pennies towards a dental plan. Until that happens, labor unions will continue their slow spiral towards irrelevance, becoming extinct not with a bang, but with a whimper.

Or a picket line. You know, whichever they feel more comfortable doing.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

We're Rebuking Who?

When Barack Obama ran for President in 2008, he promised change. And today, his Administration delivered a big change to our relationship with Israel. In a stunning move reversing years of policy, the Administration announced it would lend support to a UN Security Council statement rebuking Israel for its stance on the settlements in the Gaza Strip. Rumor has it this move was done so the US wouldn't have to veto a UN Security Council resolution by the Palestinians condemning Israel.

Wow. What bold leadership there, huh?

We can debate endlessly over which side is right when it comes to the Gaza Strip, but let's look at some facts.

Here are some facts about Israel, the country we're rebuking:

- Under Israeli law, Muslims have as much freedom as Jewish citizens do, including the right to vote or own a business.

- Although Israel has earned quite a bit of land through military actions, it has given most of the land back through peace treaties.

- Israel has produced numerous Nobel winners in the areas of science and medicine.

- Although the land in Israel is arid, the Israelis have managed to find ways to make the land prosperous.

- Israel is a strong military ally whose form of government is similar to our own in many ways.

- The United States played a sizable role in Israel's reformation in the 1940s.

And we're rebuking these folks?

Saturday, February 12, 2011

What Happens Tomorrow? - Redux

Boy, what a difference a few hours make. After my previous blog post, former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak stepped down. And in the spirit of the times, I hereby take full credit for it happening.

Seriously, though, we're moving into new territory, yet it's familiar from the standpoint of who is stepping out to accept praise for the immediate turn of events. The media have all but said President Obama and his Administration were the catalyst behind Mubarak stepping down and ushering in a new era of freedom. Some have gone so far as to call the Egypt situation Obama's "Berlin Wall moment," referring to the efforts of Ronald Reagan to bring down the Berlin Wall and signaling a new era of freedom in the former Soviet Union and former Soviet Bloc.

I, on the other hand, am not so quick to jump on that bandwagon. I grant you the Egypt situation was difficult to stay ahead of, but that doesn't excuse what the Administration and Obama himself did during it to erode confidence in our foreign policy. It may seem to be insignificant that we had so many government officials from Obama on down giving contradictory statements, but the world was watching us as intently as it watched Egypt to see how we would handle the situation. When push came to shove, we basically stood out of the way, issued statements, and left it at that.

Yeah. Way to show leadership, guys and gals.

The truly funny thing about the Left praising Obama's efforts with Mubarak is that no one can really point to anything he did that had any direct impact on the events of the past week. They point to a speech Obama gave in 2009 that they claim inspired the people to rise up against Mubarak, but having read the speech and watched a portion of it as it happened, I didn't find anything that had any direct correlation. It was a typical Obama speech: full of high-toned rhetoric, but short on actionable items. Plus, the fact it was given almost 2 years ago makes me less inclined to believe it had any lasting impact on the people of Egypt.

In a way, giving Obama credit for Mubarak's departure is a slap in the face to the Egyptians we're supposed to be lionizing right now. They are the ones who risked their lives. They are the ones who took action when we didn't. They were the ones who saw an opportunity to change the world and took it. Anybody who chooses to praise Obama for the Egyptian situation is disregarding the actions of those who took the risks.

Now, it's up to Egypt to take the next tentative steps towards a new world. Let's not get caught up in the emotions of the moment that we overlook the real struggles ahead. Given America's tendency to get all worked up about an issue like this only to forget about it when something insignificant but more "sexy" comes along, I get the feeling Egyptians may have to go this one alone. And don't think they'll be nice enough to overlook our lack of long-term support, either. If we ignore Egypt once the thrill of Mubarak's leaving is gone, it will take more than an Obama speech to get them to trust us.

Friday, February 11, 2011

What Happens Tomorrow?

Yesterday, the media were abuzz with the rumor Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was going to step aside amid controversy and protests. The media were ecstatic! The Left was ecstatic! And for the same reason: they wished for and got a change in leadership without violence (at least without violence as instigated by the US government like Iraq was).

Oh, so close and yet so far. With Mubarak's announcement he wasn't stepping down and, instead, transferring some of his powers to his Vice President, the Left and the media are faced with a reality they hadn't anticipated. More importantly, though, their reaction to the possibility of Mubarak stepping down shows a dangerous short-sightedness that may not end well for us.

We've been in bed with Mubarak for decades, and doing so has meant we've overlooked a lot of things we wouldn't overlook otherwise. Contrary to what our Vice President Joe Biden has said, he is a dictator, so our natural inclination is to support his removal. The problem is we haven't thought about the implications of the alternatives. In that corner of the world, there are always extremist Muslims looking to take advantage of any amount of chaos to assert itself, and in this case, it's the Muslim Brotherhood waiting in the wings. Of course, there's always a chance groups like the Muslim Brotherhood won't get much traction, but the odds are against it.

The people cheering yesterday at the possibility of Mubarak stepping down miss the all-important question we should all be asking: what happens tomorrow? If Mubarak stepped aside (or steps aside later), there will be a vacuum that can and probably will be filled with someone as bad as Mubarak has been. In short, the change some of us are hoping for may not be change at all.

That's why we need to be very careful with what we're saying and doing in Egypt. After 50+ years of stupidly contradictory foreign policy in the Middle East, we find ourselves in a no-win situation. If we support Mubarak, we silently condone his practices to date. If we oust Mubarak, we create a situation that allows extremists a chance to cause more chaos by flexing their muscle and asserting themselves. We lose in either case.

But at least we feel good about it because we supported change and getting rid of a bad guy, right?

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Reasons Why Obama May Not Want a Legal Fight Over Obamacare

With the announcement earlier this week of a federal court judge ruling the health care reform bill passed by Congress last year as unconstitutional, the Administration has already issued a statement they will appeal the judge's decision. At first blush, this seems like a good idea. After all, it's been one of the few legislative victories Obama has had since becoming President.

Personally, I think it would be a mistake on a few different levels.

1) It's bad law. This may come off as partisan sniping to some, but it's not. The health care reform bill as passed reached too far with too little legal standing and too many loopholes and exceptions. The federal judge's ruling and justification for it exposed the flaws in the existing law, which will make it tough for the Supreme Court to put up a legal defense of the health care bill, if they even decide to hear the case at all.

2) Obama has been exposed as weak on the issue. The longer this issue goes on, the weaker Obama appears on the issue. From the day he announced his intention to pass health care reform to the date of its passage and now with the legal challenges, Obama has not come across as a strong advocate for the measure. Instead, he came up with the idea and punted it to Congress to iron out the details. Because of his lack of leadership, his crowning jewel is possibly on the verge of being ripped away from him. The other factor along these lines is footage from the 2008 Democrat debate where Obama came out strongly against some of the provisions he signed into law. For health care reform advocates, that has to be hard to justify.

3) A loss in court undercuts Obama's legacy. Health care reform was one of the few bright spots so far in the Obama Administration, if not the brightest. There were bound to be legal challenges to it because, well, the Republicans said there would be. Having said that, the Obama team should have been better prepared for the challenge because of the political implications of a loss at the Supreme Court level. If the USSC refuses to hear the case or takes on the case and rules against the Administration, it strips away Obama's major policy initiative, which leaves nothing much left to hang his hat on for reelection.

4) This one can't be blamed on the Republicans. For as much as Democrats love to paint the GOP as the "party of NO," they held majorities in both houses of Congress and utilized that power to pass the health care reform bill as written. Republicans had little to no influence on the bill itself. That means any failure, legal or otherwise, is on their heads. Forcing a court battle will only bring that fact further to light. Good intentions with bad form don't mean anything in the end, and simply screaming about the "party of NO" won't change reality. This is on Democrats' heads.

And finally...

5) Dissing Supreme Court Justices isn't exactly the best way to get them to rule in your favor.