Posted by David A. Lehrer
This past weekend’s press brought good and bad news—-good news that the pension/budget disaster that looms over local and state governments from coast to coast is getting the attention from the media that it deserves; bad news that many of our elected leaders are still willing to act as if there is no problem and avoid confronting the unpleasant realities that are before us.
Sunday’s The New York Times Magazine featured a piece by Roger Lowenstein entitled “The Next Crisis: Public Pension Funds,” a much needed report on how “public pension funds are now massively short of the money to pay future claims—-depending on how their liabilities are valued, the deficit ranges from $1 trillion to $3 trillion.”
The article details California has a prime example of states skimping on what they owe their pension funds while operating under actuarial projections that typically assume 8% annual returns. Assumptions that allowed, as Lowenstein pointed out, “payoffs to powerful, unionized constituents at minimal cost.”
The game that has been played can’t continue for long—-8% returns aren’t in the cards and pension funds are demanding contributions (Calpers, California’s biggest state pension fund, is forcing hard-pressed localities to cough up an extra $700 million in contributions).
The Times’ piece concludes that,
States really have no choice but to further cut spending and raise taxes. They also need to cut pension benefits. About half have made modest trims, but only for future workers. Reforming pensions is painfully slow, because pensions of existing workers are legally protected. There is, of course, no argument for canceling a pension already earned. But public employees benefit from a unique notion that, once they have worked a single day, their pension arrangement going forward can never be altered. No other Americans enjoy such protections. Private companies often negotiate (or force upon their workers) pension adjustments. But in the world of public employment, even discussion of cuts is taboo.
Government’s greater ability to borrow enables it to defer hard choices but, as Greece discovered, not even governments can borrow forever. The days when state officials may shield their workers while subjecting all other constituents to hardship are fast at an end.
Apparently, The New York Times Magazine doesn’t get wide enough circulation in Sacramento to impact its citizenry.
The Los Angeles Times reported over the weekend that the Democratic leaders of the state legislature are divided over just this issue. The State Senate’s leader, Darrell Steinberg, is willing to work across party lines to achieve “a lasting solution to the state’s accounting mess.” But his counterpart in the Assembly, Speaker John A. Perez, “is approaching the budget as a rigid partisan….mostly through massive borrowing of dubious legality” and the two are vying for influence in negotiating the 2010-2011 budget.
The article lays a good deal of the blame for the speaker’s intransigence at the foot of “organized labor leaders, who hold considerable sway over the Legislature.” Indeed, both they and Perez are, according to the article, “postponing the day of reckoning—-perhaps until a Democrat is in the governor’s office.”
Combining the two Times’ pieces doesn’t give one a warm and fuzzy feeling as a Californian. In fact, just the opposite is the case.
Our public employee unions will work over Perez and his colleagues to insure that accommodating California’s budget to the realities of our times doesn’t occur. And they’ll beat up on their friends if necessary.
Steinberg angered the unions when he told them this month that “he would not rule out a budget agreement that rolled back some retirement benefits their members receive.” The California Teachers Association wasn’t pleased. The Times reported that “they posted billboards in Steinberg’s district implying that he sold out teachers—- and his constituents—-in previous budget deals.”
The distressing budgetary facts that California and the rest of the country must come to grips with are irrelevant to the public employee unions who have a narrow and self absorbed focus and will mercilessly squeeze our electeds (including their friends) to get what they want.
Would that there were a few more leaders willing to make tough choices to spare us from imminent disaster, a Greece-like financial implosion. Steinberg ruefully told the Times that “in this position, you have to govern.” We need a few more leaders willing to govern as well.
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June 15, 2010 | 4:11 pm
Posted by Joe R. Hicks
Have you heard this joke?
A man walks into his local Democratic Party office and plunks down ten grand to run for the United States Senate.
Then he goes home and sits on his butt. He has no campaign manager, hires no staff, doesn’t raise a dime, does no campaigning, produces no campaign literature, makes no appearances and … gets elected!
Oh wait, that’s not a joke … that actually happened in South Carolina’s recent primary election.
Alvin Greene, by all accounts, strolled into a regional Democratic Party office, handed officials a check for $10,400—and then apparently did almost nothing else. Since paying the filing fee, almost nobody can vouch for Greene’s activities. What he seems to have done is just sit on his rear at his home in Manning, South Carolina and wait for primary election day to roll around. At the end of that day he was declared the winner and will be the Democrat’s horse in the upcoming race for the U.S. Senate in November.
This has left lots of egg on the faces of local Democratic Party officials who can’t explain how this guy wound up winning by a significant amount – 59 percent to 41 percent over the second-place candidate. That second-place finisher was Vic Rawls, a reasonably well-funded politico who was expected to win handily. After all, Rawls had raised money, had an actual campaign staff, ran a traditional race, and was a respected figure in South Carolina Democratic political circles.
The bigger picture however is that no Democrat’s going to unseat the incumbent, Republican Senator Jim DeMint. DeMint is the odds-on favorite in a state that has consistently voted Republican.
Only an act of God might prevent DeMint from winning in November, something that hasn’t prevented some Democrats from pointing fingers at Republicans for complicity in the Greene scandal. The Democrat’s House Majority Whip, James Clyburn, hinted that Greene was a Republican plant, saying that there was “elephant dung all over the place.” If this was true, Clyburn needed to produce some sort of evidence quickly – something he’s been completely unable to do.
And exactly how would running a Republican plant serve the interests of Republicans? No Democrat threatened DeMint, so cooking-up some scheme to insert a shill in the race would have been simply silly. Clyburn has since backed off this ridiculous charge.
Nonetheless, the mystery surrounding Alvin Greene remains. How’d he do it?
Theories abound. Was it stupidity on the part of some South Carolina voters? After all, some argue that many voters may have believed that Al Greene, the well-known soul singer and Baptist preacher, was somehow on the South Carolina ballot. Personally, I think it would be great to have Al Green in the U.S. Senate, with all the political clowns in Washington D.C., at least Green can bust a move and lay down some soothing lyrics. But, let’s get real ... Al Green doesn’t even live in South Carolina.
Then there’s the belief that Greene won because of a low voter turn-out among Democrats, since the Republican, DeMint, will be a virtual shoe-in for re-election. Additionally, Alvin Greene’s name alphabetically came up first on every ballot in the state and since no Democrat had high name-value, some argue voters simply pulled the lever for the first candidate on the list.
Whatever the reason, the result is that an unpolished, unknown, unemployed man will be on the ballot against a seasoned and sophisticated veteran politician. This is an unfair situation at best——it mocks the concept of American democracy. Voters at the very least deserve competitive candidates who can serve if elected.
But there was something momentarily appealing about a dark-horse candidate like Greene, a “regular guy” emerging from the primary with a shocking victory. However, once we began to learn more about who this guy is. To be blunt, the picture isn’t pretty.
As it turns out, Greene has a pending felony charge – the legal complaint alleges that he sexually harassed a female college student by showing her pornographic pictures … something she neither encouraged nor welcomed. If convicted, Greene’s facing a possible five-year prison term.
It also appears from radio, television and print interviews that Greene may be mentally functioning one or two bottles short of a six-pack. He answers questions in a mumbling, monosyllabic and intellectually unstructured fashion that is painful to hear or watch.
The fact that Greene is completely unqualified to represent South Carolina’s voters in the U.S. Senate is obvious. However, since Greene is black, some have claimed that racism lies at the root of attacks on the man’s abilities and intellect, and also underlies simply asking where an unemployed man may have gotten ten grand to run for elected office.
In The Root, the website run by black scholar Henry Louis Gates, writer Cord Jefferson says that “as a person of color, I can’t help but question the motives of those who agree with me.” What were these “minions who agree with me” doing that Jefferson finds so troubling? Well, after interviewing Greene for The Root, Cord said “I’m absolutely certain I wouldn’t want him in any political office, high or low.”
So, let me get this straight. Cord assesses Greene’s mental capacity as, well, limited, and thinks he’s unqualified to hold any political office, but then turns on a dime to say that those (whites) who agree with him are racists.
Okay, I’m stumped. Alvin Greene’s race has no part to play in this embarrassing political tale. Those who inject skin-color politics into a discussion of this particular South Carolina primary race should simply back off and take another long and hard look.
However and whatever may have conspired to allow Alvin Greene to win his fifteen minutes of political fame in the harsh and unflattering glare of the national media spotlight is less important than this: The losers are South Carolina voters who expected that the little-known Greene would be able to perform capably if their votes pushed him into the victory circle. Instead, democracy got a black eye when the votes were counted.
June 4, 2010 | 4:02 pm
Posted by Joe R. Hicks
Tavis Smiley is the host of a weeknight PBS show who recently made the astounding claim that “every single day in this country” Christians commit violent acts of terrorism. If you financially support PBS, consider yourself a Christian, or are offended by this bizarre argument, you might want to let PBS know what you think of Mr. Smiley and his claim.
Prompting these rambling claims of daily Christian terror was the appearance of Ayaan Hirsi Ali on Smiley’s show. Hirsi Ali is the internationally renowned social critic and author of “Infidel” and she visited the PBS show to promote her new book “Nomad.”
This woman’s amazing and courageous life story is full of events that would make for a gripping Hollywood film and includes being the victim of genital mutilation while a young girl, fleeing her Muslim homeland of Somalia, escaping from an arranged marriage, and making her way to the Netherlands where she was later elected to that European nation’s parliament. While in the Netherlands Hirsi Ali underwent an intellectual awakening which resulted in her rejection of Islam.
Hirsi Ali’s name was in the international headlines after her colleague, Theo van Gogh, had his throat slit by a Muslim assassin in broad daylight in the middle of a busy boulevard in Amsterdam. The Muslim immigrant who killed van Gogh had also vowed to kill Hirsi Ali because, “Submission,” the film she and van Gogh made, angered Muslims because it depicted the conditions of women living under Islam.
Following the brutal killing of van Gogh, Hirsi Ali made her way to the United States where she now lives – but under the constant vigilance of security guards. Her life continues to be threatened by Islamic extremists.
In 2008 Community Advocates honored Hirsi Ali with the “Ziegler Courage of Conviction Award.”
This was the woman who walked onto Tavis Smiley’s nationally syndicated PBS show. Most likely she thought there would be at least a thoughtful discussion of her new book – which calls on key institutions in the West, universities, feminist groups and Christian churches to wage a war of ideas with radical Islam.
However, Smiley wasn’t in the mood to hear Hirsi Ali’s critical views of extremist Islam. He seemed intent on asserting the shop-worn and politically-correct notion that Islam is always and everywhere “a religion of peace.”
Apparently irritated with Hirsi Ali’s contention that radical Islam poses a danger far more serious than other world religions, the left-leaning Smiley said:
“I guess I’m trying to understand where the evidence is that suggests that all of us who happen to be Christians or enlightened in some way need to take on Muslims here in the West.”
Looking incredulous, Hirsi Ali patiently forged ahead:
“Okay, I think first and foremost what we have to acknowledge is we’re not going to get a monster with horns, blue in the face, looking like a dragon called jihad coming in and terrorizing us. The people engaged in terrorist activities look like you and me. They look like everybody else here. Major Nidal Hasan, the military guy who in November shot 13 of his colleagues and injured 32 … the young man, Faisal Shahzad, in Times Square who tried to blow innocent people he didn’t know up, these guys are acting on conviction. Somehow, the idea got into their minds that to kill other people is a great thing to do and that they would be rewarded in the hereafter.”
Now appearing even more agitated, Smiley says to Hirsi Ali:
“But Christians do that every single day in this country.”
Hirsi Ali responds with:
“Do they blow people up?”
Not content with making a completely baseless argument, Smiley stuck his foot even deeper in his mouth:
Yes, Oh, Christians, every day, people walk into post offices, they walk into schools, that’s what Columbine is – I could do this all day long …
There are so many more examples, Ayaan, of Christians who do that than you could ever give me examples of Muslims who have done that inside this country, where you live and work.”
Realizing finally that she’s got a clueless television show host on her hands, Ali simply replies:
“Well, I think you and I disagree …”
The sweeping ignorance, or political blindness, of Smiley’s claims that “… Christians (commit acts of terror) every single day in this country” is nothing short of jaw-dropping.
Unlike Islam, present day interpretation of Judeo-Christian scripture does not guarantee Paradise to those who kill in the name of their faith. However, the Koran does offer the fruits of Paradise to those who kill for Allah. Suicide bombers have been lured to their deaths with the promise, and the offer, that they will be free from the fires of hell if they kill an infidel and, in the process, die.
However the attempt to establish a moral equivalency between the acts of Islamic jihadists and Christian fundamentalists is hardly new. Rosie O’Donnell, a former host on ABC’s “The View,” once argued that “Radical Christianity is just as dangerous as radical Islam.” Now, a supposedly more thoughtful Tavis Smiley has wondered into the same intellectual weeds.
Smiley’s smear of Christians was so appalling that Michael Getler, the PBS Ombudsman, issued a statement taking issue with what Smiley had said. In a decidedly understated way, Getler’s statement in part said, “I don’t think he (Smiley) made his case.” Getler noted that the only example Smiley offered of Christian terrorism was the Columbine shootings, which he rightly said, “had nothing to do with Christianity.”
Especially disgusting is Smiley’s attempt to somehow transform the actions of the two punks who shot 13 of their fellow students to death in the 2000 Columbine massacre into an act of “Christian terror.” Apparently Smiley’s among the rare individuals who have managed to forget that the Columbine killers thought that it was a big joke that some of their victims pleaded for God to save them – before shooting them.
The bottom line is this: Tavis Smiley showed that he’s incapable of approaching a serious and complex topic like Islamic extremism with intellectual openness and curiosity.
Instead, he chose to play fast and loose with the facts and slander seventy-five percent of the American population who identify as Christians. If that wasn’t bad enough, he also lost a battle of wits with and insulted a woman whose life bears the scars of Islam and its connection to terror.
June 3, 2010 | 3:22 pm
Posted by David A. Lehrer
This entire week the media has been preoccupied with reports of the Israeli navy’s interception of Turkish flotilla seeking to break the Israeli blockade of Gaza. The past few days have offered one of those moments when it becomes clear who has clarity of thought and reason without ideological blinders and who doesn’t.
All too predictably, the governments of Europe and much of the world rushed to condemn Israel before the facts were even known. The United Nations issued the requisite condemnation of Israel, while also calling for an investigation to determine what in fact transpired. An odd, but not unpredictable, order of doing things—-condemn first, learn facts later.
In a wonderful op/ed in today’s Wall Street Journal, Daniel Henninger describes the ease with which the world’s governments condemn Israel while they have repeatedly failed
to do anything about more important and difficult problems such as Iran, North Korea or sovereign debt….In any of the places where men discuss truly monstrous and dangerous plans, in Kim Jong Il’s Pyongyang or Mahmound Ahmadinejad’s Tehran, watching the hyperventilated criticism of Israel for a shoot-out on a boat must strike them as laughable…with this unbalanced double standard, the world increases the odds that a truly irresponsible regime will miscalculate.
For every sober analysis by a Daniel Henninger, however, there are countless, all too predictable pundits who bemoan the Israeli use of force and view it, with seeming glee, as a precursor of isolation and ostracism for Israel. The Washington Post’s Harold Meyerson (formerly of the LA Weekly) quotes J Street and Americans for Peace Now to support the proposition that Israel’s action divides American Jews into two camps (picking up on the Peter Beinart essay in The New York Review of Books) and condemns Israel for reducing “the democratic character of this once democratic socialist nation.” In his view, Israel’s enforcement of a legal blockade of a state sworn to destroy it and which has committed terror against it is to be judged by what he claims is its impact on American Jewish elites who might be displeased. He concludes that American Jewish leaders like Justice Louis Brandeis would “no longer embrace” a country like Israel—it has wandered from Meyerson’s ideals, he feels “estranged”—-too bad Harold….the residents of Sderot take precedence.
Meyerson’s mushy views are echoed in an email I received today from the New Israel Fund’s Daniel Sokatch who just couldn’t restrain himself. He notes that the Fund does “not take a position on military operations” BUT “we are especially sensitive to the humanitarian and human rights issues that must attend any discussion of Gaza.” He opines that “we at NIF are shocked and dismayed by the tragic consequences of the attack on the flotilla…”
Sokatch’s views along with those of countless others betray no effort to offer Israel’s perspective that a legitimate and legal boycott can be enforced and that there are unfortunate consequences for those who seek to defy a nation state and its forces; especially, when the “boycott runners” are political extremists (along with naive fellow travelers) longing for a confrontation.
There are grounds for criticizing Israel, primarily for allowing the Hamas supporting forces to garner too much sympathetic media coverage by botching the diversion of one of the six ships—-but those are tactical complaints, not on the merits of what Israel did and had the right to do.
The good news is that there have been some wonderfully incisive analyses that point out the hypocrisy of so much of the punditry and of governmental pronouncements. These analysts have pierced through the facile assumptions that have dominated so much of the coverage and bloviating.
David Makovsky wrote in the Christian Science Monitor of the reality of who exactly Israel’s neighbor is,
Hamas does not recognize Israel at any size—-even the area of a telephone booth on a Tel Aviv beach. Just last week in Damascus, Syria PBS talk show host Charlie Rose kept asking Hamas leader Khaled Meshel if he would accept Israel if it withdrew to the pre-1967 borders; Mr. Meshel refused to answer….So who would ensure that a lifter blockade from Gaza would not permit more rockets to come into Gaza? No countries have volunteered to be peace enforcers on Gaza’s borders.
Makovsky cites a fascinating article that appeared last week, before the flotilla incident, in the Financial Times (not the Jerusalem Post, mind you) that calls into question the widespread belief that Gaza is “grim” (The New York Times’ editorial) or has pervasive “unacceptable suffering” (Los Angeles Times’ editorial).
The author, Tobais Buck, describes the tunnel operations between Gaza and Egypt that have “allowed Hamas…to replenish its coffers and rebuild its military arsenal.” A tunnel operator quoted in the article bemoans the fact that Hamas “is taking an even greater cut of the operator’s profits.
Moreover, the prices of many smuggled goods have fallen in recent months, thanks to a supply glut that is on striking display across the Strip…..shops all over Gaza are bursting with goods
.” Buck quotes one shop owner, “
everything I demand, I can get, says Abu Amar al-Kalout, who sells household goods out of a warehouse big enough to accommodate a passenger jet
Why the nearly complete failure to offer a more balanced picture of the threat and dishonesty that the Hamas leaders embody? The best answer comes in a piece by Leslie Gelb a distinguished foreign policy maven who worked for The New York Times, served in the State Department and was the chair of the prestigious Council on Foreign Affairs (he’s no Mort Klein of the ZOA).
Ah, the international outrage. Turks, French, all leaders large and small condemned Israel and called for international commissions. Ban Ki-Moon, the United Nations Secretary-General, said he was “shocked” by the attack. He condemned the violence, and added: “It is vital that there is a full investigation to determine exactly how this bloodshed took place. I believe Israel must urgently provide a full explanation.”
Well, where was all that international outrage and demand for explanations and retribution when the North Koreans sunk a South Korean ship? Where was it when the Gazans attacked Israel? Where, when Afghan men flogged their women for not wearing veils? Where, when Saudi Arabia funds terrorists around the world? This international outrage is highly selective, isn’t it? The one consolation is that the international community, such as it has become, doesn’t get anything of value done
And as for the Meyersons and the New Israel Fund folks, Gelb has them pegged too,
Israel had every right under international law to stop and board ships bound for the Gaza war zone late Sunday. Only knee-jerk left-wingers and the usual legion of poseurs around the world would dispute this. And it is pretty clear that this “humanitarian” flotilla headed for Gaza aimed to provoke a confrontation with Israel. Various representatives of the Free Gaza Movement, one of the main organizers of this deadly extravaganza, have let it slip throughout Monday that their intention was every bit as much “to break” Israel’s blockade of Gaza as to deliver the relief goods.
The blockade is legal and its enforcement is legal. The “humanitarian disaster” in Gaza is, seemingly, as much Hamas’ doing as it is that of the Israeli blockade. If Hamas chooses to have weapons flow through the tunnels from Egypt instead of other supplies, that’s its decision, not the Israelis. The guilt ridden pundits who can only see Israeli “mishandling” of the incident view the events through a prism that distorts and misleads.
Vice President Biden observed yesterday that Israel has an “absolute right” to defend its security interests and squarely laid blame for such humanitarian concerns as exist where it belongs, “as we put pressure on Israel….to let material into Gaza to help those people who are suffering, the ordinary Palestinians there, what happened…Hamas would confiscate it, put it in a warehouse, sell it.”
Mercifully, Israel’s most important friend gets it. Lets stop the political posturing and game playing and face the grim reality that Israel is in a very tough neighborhood and needs to be tough to survive.