Front and Center

Politics, society, and other random randomness

Monthly Archives: February 2011

White House sparks controversy over Defense of Marriage Act–and I’m Torn

In 1996, President Clinton signed into law the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which allowed states that did not allow gay marriage to refuse to honor such marriages done in other states.  On Wednesday, the White House sparked some major controversy when Attorney General Eric Holder announced the Department of Justice would stop defending DOMA:

President Obama has instructed the Justice Department to stop defending the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act, which has since 1996 allowed states to refuse to recognize same-sex partnerships legally recognized in other states.

The announcement was made in a letter from Attorney General Eric Holder to congressional leaders in relation to two lawsuits, Pedersen v. OPM and Windsor v. United States, which challenge a section of DOMA that defines marriage for federal purposes as only between one man and one woman.

President Obama believes that section – Section 3 — “is unconstitutional” given the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment (including its equal protection component), Holder wrote, and the president has instructed the Department of Justice to no longer defend the law in those two lawsuits.

Here is where I am torn. On the one hand, I have an issue with the AG saying they are not going to defend a law just based on the President deciding its unconstitutional. That’s for the courts to decide. Per the article, a judge did rule it unconstitutional in 2010, but I don’t think that one judge is able to stop the enforcement of the law. If a sitting president can make such decisions, then it makes laws moot. What other laws could a president decide was unconstitutional?
On the other hand, I must confess–I don’t support DOMA. Contrary to the belief of many, traditional man-woman marriage is not under threat from the prospect of same-sex marriage. I have yet to see how allowing gays to marry (or civil unionize) has had a negative effect on marriage. It puzzles me that many on the right advocate for the government to stay out of folks’ personal business–then want the government to “protect” marriage.
So, as much as I would love to say “right on, mister prez!” my respect for the law says “not so fast.”

If Andy Stern’s ideas came true, I might become a union fan

In a Washington Post article/interview, columnist Ezra Klein interviews Andy Stern, former head of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).  I’ve heard a number of things he has said in the past that did nothing to pull me over to the pro-union side.  However, in the interview, he mentions a number of things that would actually think twice about my stance if they were status quo in America.  the article can be read here but here are a few quotes that jumped out at me.
On a “collaborative process:”

We have this anti-employer, they’re going to kill us we need to kill them first, mentality. We’ve done a very bad job, for instance, making alliances with small businesses.

We need an ideology based around working with employers to build skills in our workers, to train them for success. That message and approach can attract different people than the “we need to stand up for the working class!” approach. That approach is about conflict, and a lot of people don’t want more conflict.

On working together with employers:

We’ve never, as a union movement, promoted partnerships with employers where we talk about how to share in success and in skills and training. You say those things in the labor movement and they go over well with workers and employers and badly with activists. To the activists, this is sell-out language.

On the Democrat Party and unions:

The forces that don’t like unions there have largely finished with us. And now they’re moving to the public sector. But part of this story is that the Democratic Party hasn’t embraced unions in the last 20 years. Republicans understood unions as an ally of the Democratic Party. But unions couldn’t get Democrats to embrace unions as a response. They made the argument that making more union members was how you make more Democrats, and that argument is true, but they couldn’t get the Democratic Party to really embrace that theory.

The rest of the interview and the questions asked can be read here: “Andy Stern: ‘It may not end beautifully in Wisconsin.'”

So Much for Transparency…

One of the pledges made by then-Senator Obama on the campaign trail was a new era of unprecedented transparency.  And in some ways, he has kept that promise.  But a recent article puts a dark mark on that record:

Caught between their boss’ anti-lobbyist rhetoric and the reality of governing, President Barack Obama’s aides often steer meetings with lobbyists to a complex just off the White House grounds — and several of the lobbyists involved say they believe the choice of venue is no accident.

It allows the Obama administration to keep these lobbyist meetings shielded from public view — and out of Secret Service logs kept on visitors to the White House and later released to the public.

Read more: Lobbyists: White House sends meetings off-site to hide them

Thoughts about unions

  • I’ve admitted to not being a fan of unions.  The main reason for this is that I feel a job is an agreement between an employer and an employee.  The employer agrees to provide agreed-upon wages and perks in return for the employee doing a job.  Either side can terminate this agreement at any time.  Introducing a union into the mix adds an extra layer into the agreement, typically in favor of the employee.  Now, the employee can leave at any time, leaving the employer to have to fill the spot.  Meanwhile, the employer now has to go through red tape and hurdles to fire an employee.
  • Forced unionization is just flat out wrong.  In a forced unionization state, a non-unionized worker who goes to work at a unionized establishment MUST pay union dues whether they get involved with the union or not.  One of the reasons unions  are protesting in Indiana (and why their Democrats have fled) is because a new law up for vote by legislators would bar non-union employees from having to do this in a union shop.  This idea is being described as “an attack on workers.”  Isn’t forcing them to unionize an “attack on workers?”
  • I mentioned this in a discussion the other day.  Why is it no one on the supporting side of the unions can admit that maybe–just maybe–in some cases unions have too much power?  And that losing some things isn’t a total loss?
  • In any other situation, wouldn’t the idea that a group could take money, use that money to help elect people on the side of their cause, then go negotiate with these same people in order to get as much as possible for the group a conflict of interest?  Just wondering, since most complains are about conservatives attempting to “bust up” unions but one rarely hears complaints about Democrats giving more power to unions.

My last thought is a quote.  I found this comment online in response to a news article (“Right to Work Bill Puts Republicans, Democrats At Odds”) and it was one of the most sane, concise comments I’ve seen in the entire pro-union/anti-union debate:

All of these negatives that are presumed to happen to union workers if this bill passes are the issues the rest of us face already. All of us that do not have benefit of a union can be fired for no reason or replaced by someone just because they will do our job for less. That is Capitalism. When anyone suggests that there should be laws protecting all workers, as I do, they are called Communist. Anyone who has read Marx knows that laws to protect the rights of workers is a Marxist ideal. If it is fair and just for union workers to require certain benefits from employers then it should be so for all workers. I have seen both sides. I have been replaced by someone with less experience who would do my job for less money. Working for the state as a social worker, I have had my pay cut by 60% with no warning, then to have it ‘eliminated’ with no warning. I have been hired for a job and then had more and more of my supervisors responsibilities put on me. I have also been witness to my husband, who is owner of a national shipping company, struggling with incompetent workers whom he can not fire without a major ordeal and unreasonable demands from the union, even though he voluntarily pays two dollars more an hour than is consistent with the market. My mother was a union factory worker. She has attested to the fact that the union often protects people who take advantage of the power the union affords them. When workers cost a company money, it is the consumer, you and I, who absorb the cost. Someone always loses when the other side has too much power. There should be laws that protect all workers while still allowing businesses to function as they see fit.

Are you a protesting teacher in Wisconsin? Need a doctor’s note? No problem!!

One thing that came to mind about the protests in Wisconsin is that the individual school districts could (and should) come down hard on all the teachers that skipped work to protest, causing widespread school closings.  I figured there would be no way they could get away with it without a doctor’s excuse.

Well, I guess someone else thought of that, too:

The funny thing is, these folks know good and well what they are doing is fraud, but have their “defense” already prepared when asked, especially the doctor who decided to get all snarky with the camera person.  Its situations like those when one wishes the person behind the camera was a little more quick with the wit to bring the guy down a notch.

Plus, how many of us would be able to call a random doctor and get a doctor’s excuse on the fly?

More info here: Fake Doctors’ Notes Being Handed Out at Wisconsin Gov. Union Rally

Revisiting the notion that only the Right does hateful rhetoric

As the protesters in Wisconsin are happy to show (and as I have been saying for a while now), the left is perfectly capable of the hateful rhetoric that supposedly is exclusive to the right.  Yes, the video is from the Wisconsin GOP (for those who care), but the evidence is clear.

Follow up to my story on protesting at private residences

A quick follow-up to my previous post as to whether or not it goes to far to protest at someone’s private home:  Here is a good Washington Examiner article about how DC residents went and protested at the home of the Speaker of the House:

Nearly two dozen activists from DC Vote swarmed House Speaker John Boehner’s Capitol Hill residence at 7:30 Thursday morning, chanting “Don’t tread of D.C.” and “No taxation without representation” to protest congressional “meddling” in the District’s local affairs, in particular a House continuing budget resolution that would cut $80 million in federal payments and prohibit the city from using local funds to pay for needle exchange programs and abortions.

Read more at the Washington Examiner: Group targets Speaker Boehner’s (small-h) house

Just a thought: is it going to far to protest at someone’s house?

In one of the articles about the ongoing protests in Wisconsin, it was mentioned that protesters were not only at the capital building, but also at the governor’s house.  Seeing that reminded me of incidents reported after AIG gave their executives bonuses, and protesters loaded vans and set up shop outside the residences of AIG employees and executives in an effort to guilt them into returning the bonus money.

Other reports of people protesting at (and doing damage to) politician’s homes, as well as unions and other organizations handing out flyers with home addresses of protest targets are readily available on the web.  Which made me wonder:  is that taking things too far?

Lets acknowledge that there is a right to assemble.  There is also freedom of speech.  But is such style of protest really a peaceful move?  I would say no.   When you show up at someone’s residence, it is by default an attempt at intimidation.  “We know where you live!” is the message given by such actions.  I say its taking things too far.  Besides, how would these protesters respond if the person being targeted responded by hiring security to come in and create an opposing show of force?  What if counter-protesters showed up at the houses of the protesters?  I can hear the howls of…well, of protest.

More on the Wisconsin fiasco

The wackiness in Wisconsin over proposed changes to collective bargaining for government employees just keeps getting…wackier.  Is that a word?  Well, for today, it is.  Democrats in the Wisconsin Senate have been on the lam for 3 days, preventing any further work in the Senate.  Attempts to have then retrieved and compelled to attend by state law enforcement were stymied by a simple counter move:  all 14 of the Dems in question jumped on a bus and have taken “refuge” in Illinois.  By crossing state lines, Wisconsin troopers can’t come get them, and Illinois law enforcement isn’t going to get involved.  From the Dems:

“This is a watershed moment unlike any that we have experienced in our political lifetimes,” Miller said. “The people have shown that the government has gone too far. . . . We are prepared to do what is necessary to make sure that this bill gets the consideration it needs.”

Sen. Bob Jauch (D-Poplar) said the decision on when to return had not been made yet. Sen. Spencer Coggs (D-Milwaukee) said Democrats were prepared to stay away “as long as it takes.”

In a situation like this, one has to wonder which set of “people” should have the most say in this? The people that are part of the union, with something to lose? Or the people that elected the politicians (and in this case put Republicans in power in Wisconsin)?

Another great article on this comes from Patrick McIlheran in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel called Unions want to overturn election result where he not only makes the point about the will of the electorate, but also makes a very important point in regards to public sector unions:

They insist this is the end of unionization in government, something to which they have as much right, they say, as anyone else.

But they miss a bedrock difference. Unions in the private sector are a way of organizing private interests, those of employees, against other private interests, those of a company’s owners, for economic gain and for protection against unfairness. In government, workers are already protected against unfairness by civil service laws, and Walker has supported expanding those. Economically, government unions pit a private interest, that of employees, against the public’s interest, that of taxpayers and voters.

Private sector unions are one thing. But personally, the idea of a group demanding more perks, paid for by taxpayer money, that are over and beyond what the normal taxpayer gets, gives me pause. Isn’t it enough that public sector unions use what is essentially taxpayer money to support candidates of their choosing, donating millions to politicians that will further their interests?

Wait. That’s another story for another day.

In Wisconsin, the line between Unions/Dems and Repubs is drawn in the sand

In the state of Wisconsin, the state government has a $3.6 billion shortfall.  Similar to other state legislatures across the country, they are coming up with a number of measures to attempt to close the budget hole.  One of the ways new Republican governor Scott Walker has proposed has created an outcry from teachers and unions:

In addition to eliminating collective bargaining rights, the legislation also would make public workers pay half the costs of their pensions and at least 12.6 percent of their health care coverage — increases Walker calls “modest” compared with those in the private sector.

According to Walker, the proposal will save $300 million over the next two years. But Dems are not at all happy with what they see as being deprived of a right. Teachers have staged massive “sick outs” so that they can protest. Democrats in the Wisconsin legislature have left and gone into hiding to prevent any vote from occurring. Protesters at the capital have been heard chanting “Freedom! Democracy! Unions!”

Wait. Did they actually include the word “unions” with freedom and democracy? Wow.  I thought democracy is people getting out to vote, voting in politicians whose job it is to steward taxpayer money, and make cuts when necessary when there is a deficit, even if the other side doesn’t like it.  Which would mean the unions are actually trying to stifle a democratic process by protesting and causing school closings.  But I digress.

Having spent my entire young working life in a right-to-work, merit pay environment, I have yet to develop much sympathy or support for unions. I admire the important things they helped with over the years (40 hour work week, child labor laws, ect). But am I supposed to be upset because they wouldn’t be able to force people to pay union dues? That they wouldn’t be able to to negotiate for things other than pay? Or that they would have to pay more money for pension and benefits just like most of us in the private sector?
Sorry, but I say no. Especially when taxpayer’s money is involved.

Links to the story can be found here and here.

Never thought i’d see it: Dems accusing Repubs of cutting too much defense spending!

Usually, Dems will yell at the right for never cutting defense spending. But in an interesting move, the shoe is on the other foot.

Since there is no official budget in place, the government is being funded through continuing resolutions–in short, declarations that say the government will continue to be funded at current levels temporarily. In the latest offering, republicans have suggested a number of deep spending cuts, including to the department of defense. But the president isn’t having it, saying he will veto the GOP spending measure:

“The statement said the GOP proposal goes too far and proposes cuts that would sharply undermine core government functions and investments key to economic growth and job creation, and would reduce funding for the Department of Defense to a level that would leave the department without the resources and flexibility needed to meet vital military requirements.”

Expect this drama to drag on for a while.

Neither party is serious about debt, and the joke is on us

As of today, to pay off the entire US debt would require every US citizen to write a check for $45,400.  EVERY citizen.  The total debt is right at $14.1 TRILLION.  And neither party is really serious about doing something about it.

On the right, they are making a lot of noise, but as the saying goes, “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”  First, after promising to cut $100 billion in spending from the next budget, they are only able to come up with about $65 billion.  After being called to task by the Tea Party, they are able to dig and find the promised $100 billion.  The problem?  Not only are the cuts based on a budget that President Obama never sent to the House, but they also used the infamous “baseline budgeting” tricks.

Quick refresher:  Baseline budgeting is a technique where by the budget of a particular department or organization is projected years in advance.  Typically, those budgets include an already-applied increase in funding.  So, a department may already have on paper that in 2011, they will be funded at $10 million, but due to a budget increase already factored in, they may know that their budget in 2012 will have $10.3 million due to an expected 3% increase in funding.

What republicans have done is to say “we are going to cut x billions,” not acknowledging that instead of truly cutting funding, they are simply reducing the already scheduled budget increase.  So instead of cutting a department’s funding from $10 million to $9 million, they are simply advocating cutting the 3% increase to 2% or some other number.  The cut isn’t really a cut.

Further, in the “fraud waste and abuse” category, some republicans are on board with funding a 2nd, alternative engine for the F-35 Lightning II project.  The F-35 is slated to replace thousands of fighter jets in the US inventory, and the building effort is being shared across many countries, including the US, Canada, the UK, and Turkey.  The engines for the plane are made by Rolls Royce, but there is an effort in Congress to secure funding for a second engine.  The reasoning given is “in case the first one has problems,” but the real reason is to secure jobs and a contract for an American firm.  Even the Pentagon has said they don’t want it.

Democrats aren’t helping.  Even thought the White House has proposed cutting funding to some programs (like a heating oil assistance program), many Dems refuse to go along with any proposed cuts in “entitlement” spending.   Though everything should be on the table, dems are resisting anything that might touch Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.  Obama and the democrats have also been using the baseline budgeting trick, especially with the healthcare reform bill.  Once again, a cut isn’t really a cut.

For there to be real solutions, someone on both sides needs to wake up and wake up their fellow politicians to the real threat they all know about but are afraid to do something about (don’t want to mess up their reelection chances!).  The recommendations of the Debt Committee would be a good place to start.

Reagan is Conservatism’s Patron Saint But Would Never Get Elected By Today’s GOP

Official Portrait of President Ronald Reagan

Image via Wikipedia

Aside from Feb. 6th being Super Bowl Sunday, it was also what would’ve been President Ronald Reagan’s 100th birthday.  As Reagan is considered a hero by many on the right, there have been remembrances, dedications, shout outs, flashbacks, and countless other looks back on Reagan and his legacy in the last week.  Of course, folks on the left are having none of that, understandably choosing to focus more on those “accomplishments” that they feel did more bad than good.

I (as is often the case) am in the middle on Reagan.  I wouldn’t call him a hero, but then again, I wouldn’t try to back over him with a MARTA bus, either.  But I’m pretty convinced that based on his overall record, if an exact Reagan clone popped up today and attempted to run for President saying he would do exactly as Reagan did and be exactly as Reagan was, he wouldn’t even make it out of the primaries.  Why?  Simple.  Reagan doesn’t fit the mold of today’s Republican.

First, there is his track record on taxes.  In 1981, Reagan signed the The Economic Recovery Tax Act of 1981 also known as the ERTA or “Kemp-Roth Tax Cut.”  The top marginal rate for personal income taxes went from 70% to 50%, and the bottom rate dropped from 14% to 11%.   In general, the Act lowered marginal tax rates on average 23% across the board.  He also lowered taxes in 1986.  After that, the top marginal rate was 28%.  While tax revenues decreased over the short term, over the long term there was not only an increase in the amount of tax revenues to the government, but also a long period of economic growth.  But, that’s not the entire story.

As the budget deficit grew, Reagan knew something had to be done.  So, he signed into law legislation that, in essence, were tax increases.   Bills signed in 1982 and 1984 closed tax loopholes and increased the tax base by making more transactions taxable.  The 1986 reform bill eliminated many deductions that high income earners had been allowed to use, increasing their tax bills.  In the end, his tax increases actually increased tax revenue to the government and offset much of the revenue lost from the earlier tax cuts.

In 1982, Reagan led efforts to privatize Social Security.  Not only did it not work, but (as is usually the case in midterms) the GOP lost many seats in the following elections.  In 1983 he signed legislation that bailed out Social Security.  Pricetag:  $165 billion. Results of the bailout included higher  payroll taxes for higher income earners and the self-employed, expanded the system to include federal workers, and made Social Security benefits taxable.

These tax increases are rarely mentioned.  In today’s environment, once it came to light, the Reagan-clone would get skewered for ever considering tax increases as fiscal policy.

The national debt also tripled under Reagan.  It went over $1 trillion during his first year, and was $3 trillion when he left.  Of course, that was a bipartisan effort, as the House was under Democrat control all 8 years of his presidency, and the Senate was for 2 of his 8 years.  But evidently, veto wasn’t an option.  Of course, many will say that much of the spending was to counter the Soviet Union.  But SOMEONE has to account for the money vacuum that was SDI, which never worked.

Among other things that are rarely mentioned:

  • Reagan promised to reduce the size of government, in part by eliminating the Departments of Energy and Education.  Instead, he added a new Department of Veterans Affairs.
  • There was little done in the way to reduce government spending over Reagan’s 2 terms.
  • Many will always repeat Reagan’s call to Gorbachev to “tear down this wall” and say “see?  you have to be tough!”  In actuality, Reagan and Gorbachev nearly agreed to eliminate ALL nuclear weapons from each country’s arsenal.  Plus, to help Gorbachev enact reform, the US reduced defense spending in the latter part of Reagan’s second term.  How’s that for “peace through strength?”

Finally, the the proverbial straw that would bring our Reagan-clone’s hopes to an end–and yet one more point rarely mentioned–is immigration.  In 1982, Reagan signed a bill that allowed any illegal alien in the US before that year to be eligible for amnesty.  Yep, blanket amnesty.  In today’s environment, that would be a big no-no.

In the end, Reagan gains sainthood by default.  For those keeping up with conservative politics, there is no one else that can take his place.  Nixon resigned.  Ford was considered weak.  Bush I lost his reelection bid despite removing Saddam Hussein from Kuwait (taxes played a role in his defeat).  Bush II had two terms, but many on the right don’t consider him conservative enough.  So who is left?  No one but the Gipper.  But he’d never make it today.

QuickHit: New Mexico no longer a “sanctuary state.” why is this a “tragedy?”

New Mexico governor Susana Martinez, by executive order, declared that New Mexico is no longer a sanctuary state:

Martinez ordered the reversal of the state’s “sanctuary status,” which prohibited law enforcement from asking criminal suspects about their citizenship. Now, officers will be able to ask anyone they suspect of a crime about their immigration status.

Marcela Diaz, of Somos Un Pueblo Unido, an immigrant rights  organization, said this will essentially turn police into immigration agents.

“I think this was a knee-jerk decision that was not well thought out,” Diaz said. “Not only will this lead to increased racial profiling, it taxes resources of limited enforcement.”

It makes me scratch my head. The governor basically puts the state in compliance with federal law, since the notion of being a sanctuary state (or city) says “in spite of federal law, you can stay here.” I’m not exactly sure how states and cities have been allowed to do such in the first place.
Diaz makes a statement about “gains” being lost. I’m not sure how gaining the ability to flout established law can be considered a “gain.”  Then again, I’m also not sure how an illegal alien has the right to stay in the country, but I digress…

Article here: NM No Longer a Sanctuary State

DNC picks Charlotte for 1012 convention, and supporters are not happy

Recently, the Democratic National Committee announced that their 2012 convention–where we presume that President Obama will be nominated as the Dem presidential candidate unopposed–will be held in Florida.  This decision has many on the left quite upset.  Why?  Well, its no secret that unions have a lot of sway and influence with the party, but it turns out, North Carolina is the least union state in the country:

North Carolina has another distinction: it’s the least union state in the country, with just 3.2% of its workers belonging to a union (coming behind even Arkansas, Georgia, and Mississippi). And the DNC’s host city of Charlotte has exactly 0 (zero) union hotels in which the 15,000+ visitors will stay for the convention. Finally, the host venue in Charlotte, the Time Warner Cable Arena, does not appear to have any union workers. (I called the arena; the operator laughed at the notion that employees would be union members, and a press contact hasn’t replied yet.)

I’m actually impressed. Both sides of the aisle have their “special interest groups” that they kneel to, and Dems definitely bow at the altar of the unions. So to see this happen is a surprise. However, I predict that between now and convention time, Dems and the unions will find a way to inject themselves into the situation one way or another.

Article here:DNC’s Union-Free 2012 Convention

The US problem with Egypt: who to support?

In the last 24 hours, a crowd estimated to be nearly 2 million people took to the streets of Cairo to protest the current government led by Hosni Mubarak.  The people are demanding an end to hs 30 year rule, amid cries of poverty and brutality.  This has the US in a pickle.  Continuing to support him would make it seem that we don’t support “the will of the people.”  Supporting his removal could have major ramifications not only for the US but for the entire Middle East.

Tony Blankley addresses the dilemma in a piece at Real Clear Politics:  “The Historic Dilemma in Egypt.

Revolutions – French, Russian, Chinese and Iranian – have a typical trajectory. They are won on the street with the masses calling for freedom; they are stolen afterward by the best-organized, usually most malicious thugs (Napoleon, Lenin, Mao and the mullahs).
Once in a while – as in our Revolution – the cry of the street slogans becomes the principle of the government that follows – but usually not.
If the revolution in Egypt results in the fall of the existing governmental order, what are the chances that the people will be governed subsequently by a more just system? And what are the chances that America’s interests will be advanced by that result?

Another ruling against the healthcare bill

As has been widely reported, U. S. District Judge Roger Vinson ruled on Monday that the requirement to make individuals purchase health insurance is unconstitutional. Not only did he rule against that provision, he ruled against the entire law:

“I must conclude that the individual mandate and the remaining provisions are all inextricably bound together in purpose and must stand or fall as a single unit,” Vinson wrote.

As expected, the White House announced they would appeal. But what does this mean for the law?
Republicans announced right after the bill was passed that they would do whatever they could to repeal it. The House has already voted to repeal, and conservatives believe they can use procedural techniques to force a repeal vote in the Democrat-held Senate. But somewhere, Dems are nervous. While there have been two judges that upheld the new law, and now two that have ruled against, it’s highly likely the argument will not be settled until reaching the Supremes. Currently, the court leans conservatively, with no change in sight. This would seem to bode well for the right and not so well for the left–though stranger things have happened in regards to the court and their judgements (look up “Kelo” and “imminent domain“).