Sunday, February 12, 2012

The real changes. Hope was not enough


A Job Too Good to Be True

Imagine a job where you earn an above-average salary. Enjoy plenty of paid leave and enviable health benefits. Get to retire at age 56 with a generous pension. Sound good?

For far too many Americans, the “imagine a job” part is taxing enough. Add the other features, and it sounds like a fantasy.

But it isn’t. There’s a large group of workers for whom the description above is real: federal workers. And as a new report from the Congressional Budget Office shows, they’re making significantly more than their private-sector counterparts.

The CBO examined workers with otherwise similar characteristics and found that “for workers at all education levels, the cost of total compensation averaged about $52 per hour worked for federal employees, compared with about $45 per hour worked for employees in the private sector.” That’s a tidy little raise, especially in a struggling economy.

The real key is benefits. If you look at straight salary, the CBO says federal workers do only slightly better than their private-sector counterparts. But federal workers enjoy gold-plated benefits worth 48 percent more than what they would receive outside of government. They also get nearly automatic seniority-based pay raises.

Sounds like the phrase “good enough for government work” doesn’t apply to compensation. Then it’s more like “never good enough,” apparently.

Even better (or worse, if you’re taxpayers footing the bill), federal workers enjoy a remarkable level of job security. “Since the recession began, federal employment (not including the Postal Service) has risen by 230,000, or 12 percent,” writes Heritage Foundation Senior Policy Analyst James Sherk. “Federal employees are almost never fired for poor performance.” Many Americans in the private sector only wish they could say the same.

It’s not just pay at the federal level that’s at issue. The issue has become heated where state employees are concerned as well. Legislatures and governors in capitals around the country are faced with growing deficits and a rising tide of red ink. So over the last few years, they’ve attempted to curb the growth of government pay.

Of course, this means opposing unions that fight tooth and nail to keep their inflated salaries moving in only one direction: up. This has proved to be quite a headache for governors such as Wisconsin’s Scott Walker. He’s been treated like Public Enemy No. 1 for trying to take even modest steps to address the pay issue and bring the state’s books into balance.



The Price of Obama's Fairness

President Obama is big on fairness. “Fair” or some variant thereof was mentioned eight times in his State of the Union speech, more than “health care” (twice), his signature legislative accomplishment, or “spending” (three times), the nation’s most pressing problem.

Mr. Obama claims, in fact, that the issue of fairness is the “defining issue of our time.” The president gives us a stark, if fallacious, choice:

“No challenge is more urgent. No debate is more important. We can either settle for a country where a shrinking number of people do really well, while a growing number of Americans barely get by. Or we can restore an economy where everyone gets a fair shot, everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same set of rules.”

Mr. Obama then laid out his prescription for creating this “fair” society - more government. New bureaucracies (a “trade enforcement unit”), more training programs, more infrastructure stimulus spending, more regulations on the financial and energy sectors and, of course, more taxes: “[W]e need to change our tax code so that people like me, and an awful lot of members of Congress, pay our fair share of taxes,” the president righteously intoned. Of course, the top 10 percent of earners already pay 70 percent of federal income taxes, a sum many people might conclude is “more than their fair share,” but never mind.

This effort to impose fairness on society by all-knowing, all-caring government functionaries has been tried many times. It never ends well, and comedian Louis C.K. tells a story that illustrates why. As Louis tells the story in one of his stand-up specials (I paraphrase here from memory), his daughter once accidentally broke one of her toys and then demanded that Louis break her sibling’s toy “to make it fair.”

Wow. From the mouths of babes, a perfect example of how the impulse to “fairness” - seemingly so benign in theory - in practice often leads to disaster.

Nature is not fair. It dispenses talent, intellect and luck unequally among the people of the world. As a result, some will always end up with more than others. When government sets out to impose “fairness” on society, it is therefore faced with a dilemma. It is impossible to make some people smarter, luckier and more talented. It is equally impossible to stop those blessings from being bestowed in the first place. The only recourse for government, then, is to destroy or confiscate the material rewards that so often accrue as a consequence of such qualities. Fairness to all, then, is really punishment for many.

This is the reason political systems that have as their explicit charter the imposition of fairness often descend into totalitarianism - total government power is the only way to enforce total equality. In such a state, misery and material want will be the norm; everyone will be equally unhappy, like Louis C.K.’s two children, each with a broken toy.

We should keep all of this in mind when we hear politicians like Mr. Obama lament the “inequality” in our society, and we should always look askance at their solutions to this alleged problem. We should remember that material equality does not necessarily mean prosperity or stability. As Charles Lane noted recently in The Washington Post: “Western Europe’s recent history suggests that flat income distribution accompanies flat economic growth. Which European country recorded the biggest decrease in inequality between 1985 and 2008? That would be Greece.”

And we all know how well that's working out.



Freedom From Religion

Oliver North

"We don't need you, so shut up!" That's the message the Obama administration has sent loud and clear to America's Roman Catholics. And it's a message now being sent to U.S. military chaplains -- to the detriment of our armed forces.

During World War II, the War Department and the Department of the Navy urged -- the operative word is "urged," not "ordered," mind you -- U.S. military chaplains to encourage soldiers, sailors, airmen, guardsmen and Marines that God was on our side in the global battle against fascists, Nazis and the godless heathens running rampant across Asia and the Pacific. The hymns "Onward, Christian Soldiers" and "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" were sung with fervor at chapel services regardless of denomination.

The U.S. military I entered in 1961 still had tens of thousands of men and women familiar with such experience. My regimental chaplain in Vietnam, Cmdr. Jake Laboon, a Jesuit priest, was a decorated U.S. Navy combat veteran of World War II. He routinely administered last rites to grievously wounded -- and often dying -- Marines and sailors without regard to a denominational preference on their dog tags. It's a good thing he was there when I was wounded, because, as others related to me later, he was the one who told the surgeons to "take this one next" while I was unconscious on a triage litter at a field hospital. If he hadn't been there, I might not be here.

All this helps to explain my bias. As a general matter, I like chaplains who do their duty to God and man. I especially admire men like Jake Laboon. And I don't like the way the Obama administration is treating them. This week's order to muzzle what chaplains can say is yet another O-Team salvo aimed at "de-Christianizing" -- and ultimately destroying -- the U.S. military.

The opening shot was fired when President Barack Obama declared in his January 2010 State of the Union address that he would "repeal the law that denies gay Americans the right to serve the country they love because of who they are." (Emphasis added.) The "law" to which the president referred was "don't ask, don't tell," which wasn't a law at all; it was an administrative policy implemented by the Clinton administration. The actual governing law -- Section 654 of Title 10 of the U.S. Code -- states, "There is no constitutional right to serve in the armed forces." The president ran roughshod over the law of the land in a political payoff to a preferred constituency.

The Defense of Marriage Act was next. Though the bill was argued, debated, passed by both houses of Congress, and signed into law by President Bill Clinton, Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder unilaterally declared the law unconstitutional in February 2011.

Holder was courteous enough to send Congress a letter explaining our legislature's irrelevance in the matter. He stated, "The President and I have concluded that ... Section 3 of DOMA is unconstitutional." Since then, Obama has said, "Where Congress is not willing to act, we're going to go ahead and do it ourselves." Efficiency is one of the great advantages of dictatorships.

Dispensing with DOMA paved the way for the Pentagon to greenlight same-sex "marriages" presided over by military chaplains -- on or off base -- in states that recognize such "unions." Now the O-Team has mandated that the Roman Catholic Church violate its own teachings on birth control and abortion.

The Obama administration's edict requiring employers -- including the Catholic Church -- to offer "health" coverage that includes sterilization, abortion-inducing drugs and contraception ignited a firestorm. Roman Catholic bishops protested loudly and in unison that the action was a violation of the First Amendment. In churches across the country, letters from the bishops were read to congregations, explaining the directive as unjust and unconstitutional because it forces Catholic institutions to violate their faith or pay staggering fines.

The O-Team shrugged off the dissent until Archbishop Timothy Broglio -- who leads the Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA -- issued a pastoral letter denouncing the Obamacare directive because "the Administration has cast aside the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, denying to Catholics our Nation's first and most fundamental freedom, that of religious liberty." The letter, sent to Catholic military chaplains, instructed them to read it to their congregations on the weekend of Jan. 28-29. In his missive, Broglio declared that the new rule "is a blow to a freedom that you have fought to defend and for which you have seen your buddies fall in battle."

Apparently, the archbishop's assertion that "we cannot -- we will not -- comply with this unjust law" was too much for the Army chief of chaplains. He ordered that the letter not be read in military chapels or field services because Broglio had not "coordinated" with his office. Army Secretary John McHugh subsequently admitted that such censorship was "a mistake."

"Mistake"? It wasn't a mistake if McHugh and the rest of the administration's objective is eliminating Christianity from the United States armed forces and wrecking the finest military the world ever has seen. We'll know for sure what the goal really is when the commander in chief orders chaplains to violate their religious beliefs and perform same-sex "marriages" or just get out. And then our men and women serving in uniform will finally have freedom from religion.



The moral high ground

Newt Gingrich knows the lingo. He makes conservative audiences roar with approval when he compares the efficiency of FedEx and MasterCard to the post office and Immigration and Customs Enforcement. He never loses an opportunity to attack the press for its moral preening. Conservatives adore this table turning. Nothing makes them angrier than to be derided as heartless by people who define virtue by their willingness to give away other people's money.

Rick Perry quickly lost his own conservative luster when he used the word "heartless" about his Republican rivals.

Want to see how conservatives behave? Rent and watch "The Blind Side." The family that adopted Michael Oher, a homeless black teenager, was conservative and Christian. Think that's an anomaly? Glance at the families of Republican office seekers. John and Cindy McCain adopted a sickly child from Pakistan. Jon and Mary Kaye Huntsman have two adopted daughters, one from China and one from India. Michele and Marcus Bachmann have five biological children and fostered 23 teenagers -- many with eating disorders and other challenges. Wander into any church or synagogue on the weekend and you will find more of a "rainbow coalition" than at a New York Times editorial conference.

Self-described conservatives, as Arthur C. Brooks demonstrated so cogently in his book "Who Really Cares," donate more to charity than do self-identified liberals. Perhaps that's because conservatives are wealthier? No. Liberals on average earn 6 percent more than conservatives. Yet conservatives donate about 30 percent more. Conservatives also volunteer more of their time -- and their blood. Brooks writes: "If liberals and moderates gave blood at the same rate as conservatives, the blood supply of the United States would jump about 45 percent." Of the 25 states that had higher than average charitable giving, 24 went for George W. Bush over John Kerry in 2004.

Liberals define virtue not by one's personal behavior but by one's political positions. Thus, Bill Clinton could, without risking the ire of liberals, behave like a caveman with women who actually came into his orbit because he supported unrestricted abortion for those who didn't. Similarly, Tim Geithner gets a pass on failing to pay his own taxes because he favors raising taxes on "the rich."

Rick Santorum understands these fault lines viscerally. Mitt Romney lives and thinks like a conservative, but he's not a good polemical conservative. One aspect of his stump speech that falls particularly flat with Republican primary voters is when he describes President Obama as a "good man" who "just doesn't get it."

It isn't that conservatives think Obama is personally evil (well, OK, some do), but they don't want their candidate to concede the moral high ground. That really rankles. Romney fell into that trap by conceding that he would raise the minimum wage after his gaffe about the "very poor." No! Everyone knows that the minimum wage increases youth unemployment. The answer to the problems of the very poor (at least those not mentally or physically disabled), as Romney has elsewhere emphasized, is to unshackle the private sector to create jobs and to remove the government incentives to idleness (such as 99 weeks of unemployment benefits).

The Heritage Foundation has just released its annual Index of Dependence on Government. Since 2008, the number of Americans dependent on state subsidies has grown 23 percent, to the point where 1 in 5 Americans is now dependent on the government. That's the highest rate in history.

The 20 percent of Americans who depend on government receive an average of $32,748 in benefits, which is more than the disposable income of the average American. Fifty-three percent of all American infants are now enrolled in the Women, Infants and Children nutrition program. Fifty-three percent!

The greatest enlargement in dependency in American history may strike President Obama and his liberal supporters as a moral triumph -- but for most conservatives it represents both an injustice and a fiscal calamity. It's an injustice both to those who pay for it (the minority who still pay income taxes) and to many of those enveloped in state subsidies. Dependence breeds intractable poverty and low self-esteem.

Someone needs to ask Obama how an increasingly impoverished nation, limping along on food stamps and housing subsidies, is going to pay for the existing beneficiaries, along with 77 million baby boomers set to retire in the next 25 years. A president who has impaired the vibrancy of the private sector so badly has long since forfeited the moral high ground.




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