Sunday, February 27, 2011

Organized Labor Under Attack

Protests in support of unions' rights to collectively bargain spread to nearly every capital in the Union. Spurred by Wisconsin governor Scott Walker's attempt to balance a budget drowning in unfunded public pension liability, many high profile governors are attacking the problem with malice aforethought. One protester supporting the public union's position decried Walker's attempts to reign in the liability accrued by a state government as a direct attack on union members' First Amendment rights. Quite a stretch to say the least. The specific issue in Wisconsin revolves around not only asking union members to contribute more to their own health care and retirement accounts but Walker is further angling to take away the public employee's union ability to collectively bargain for wages, hours, benefits, and so on. This is in modern times a touchy subject because in the last 70 years plus we've become attached to government intervention in the name of entitlements.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is a tea party favorite and budget hawk. He's choosing to attack the same problem Walker is but without a full frontal assault on the collective bargaining aspect associated with the public unions. Many states are choosing to require state and local workers that are represented by unions to contribute more to their own pensions and health care requirements. This is as it should be. Public service employees that organized by way of a union used to view public service as a calling rather than a way to bolster middle class incomes like private sector unions did. In many instances public workers making their living off of the taxpayer's dime accepted modest wages in trade for acceptable insurance and benefit packages. Now by conservative estimates, public employees earn by way of salary and full benefits nearly 30% more than their private sector counterparts. I have no issue with any American succeeding financially to provide for a family and a future but at some point the golden goose will quit laying the golden eggs. States were bullied by powerful lobbies like the NEA into unfavorable agreements. States without consultation with taxpayers agreed to lucrative wage and benefit packages with public sector unions. States signed contracts and wrote checks the taxpayers' collective bodies couldn't cash. Private sector employees have no such guarantees and rely on the ups and downs of a free market. The exorbitant excesses of public union manipulation of taxpayer coffers is thankfully coming to an end.

I've never been a fan of labor unions for a variety of reasons. I think by its very composition the idea of organized labor encourages mediocrity and a protected means to limit productivity and efficiency. Why excel at what you do when union contracts prevent an employer from removing an unproductive employee by virtue of a labor contract? You no longer have a stake in making your employer as profitable as possible. You're covered. You're protected. You don't have to answer to your employer for less than acceptable work performance. You've got the UNION backing you. It's right there in black and white and that is the end of the story. For years unionized workers have fared better than their private sector counterparts. When President Obama initiated the auto bailout/buyouts of GM and Chrysler the unions received $.55 while private investors received $.10 per dollar of investment. That is government collusion and corruption at its finest and perhaps most visceral. Unions guarantee another calamity without argument. Unions by virtue of their expensive labor agreements drive up the cost of goods sold and solidify the United States as a top candidate for ongoing and perpetual trade deficits. Liberal politicians decry evil capitalists for outsourcing and pursuing engagements free from corrupt union interaction while at the same time accepting hundreds of millions of dollars in campaign contributions from perhaps the most powerful liberal lobby in the world.

Organized labor in the private sector isn't going anywhere. I wish it would but beating a dead horse is both unproductive and inefficient. Labor representation in the public sector is a horse of a different color however. There is no way public employees making a living on taxpayer revenue have a right to join a union which by definition intimates the ability to access and distribute taxpayer money without consent of the taxpayer. The government has a right to set the wages and benefits of its employees at what it believes to be an affordable and fair scale. It must occur within the confines of responsibility to the taxpayer first, not the union. The taxpayers deserve an efficient government that spends taxpayer money wisely not at the behest of a union. What if I was forced to join a union to obtain a position I desperately coveted but didn't want my union dues to be funneled to liberal politicians campaign funds? Is that fair? Is that deserved? What if I as a taxpayer am happy to see public service employees make a fair and decent living but in no way support public unions' political viewpoints? Is it fair that my taxes ultimately support liberal causes without my permission and consent? If you can muster a yes you're bordering delusion and a dangerous form of elitism.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

The Importance of the Egyptian Revolution

The world and most specifically the Middle East will not be the same. History unfolded before us over the past 18 days culminating in the resignation and departure of Egypt's longtime authoritarian dictator Hosni Mubarak. Egypt will move forward towards democracy. Maybe. We can only hope. While the populist uprising and unbridled power of the people taking to the streets and demanding basic freedoms is to be celebrated under any circumstances there is some concern to be had in regards to the power vacuum moving forward.

What began as a not too uncommon protest by a vocal few in Tahrir Square nearly three weeks ago became like a wind fueled inferno, its flames intent on turning to ash the legacy of Hosni Mubarak. Mubarak sat at the poker table with the United States for the past thirty years. When his own people threatened to physically overthrow his government, he realized he didn't have the cards to bid on a bluff. I doubt Mubarak really believed the United States and the Obama Administration would push him overboard with such decided and pointed efficiency. He was wrong. After all, Mubarak had been a U.S. ally in the region for nearly three decades. I think ally is a controversial term. I think the U.S. government did what it often does when faced with choosing the lesser of evils. I think of Mubarak as much less an ally and more of a racketeer. We bought him off with billions in military aid to do our bidding. We paid an evil man to support and defend our foreign policy initiatives. He becomes rich, his people are oppressed while we tolerate their pain, and our foreign policy goals are furthered. The military aid distributed to the Egyptian military does have its advantages. The Pentagon and Egypt's military council have a good working relationship and this point cannot be undervalued. Now that the military under the direction of Defense Minister Mohammed Hussein Tantawi, 75, controls the government in temporary fashion it is a plus for stability in the region and a plus for the United States. I must stress the temporary element of the situation.

The people of Egypt support their military. I think this is so because the military command eschews the fundamentalist ideologies of radical Islamists unlike the theocracies in Iran and a corrupted Syria do. Many in the military, including Tantawi, know that there is no way to win even if it wanted to battle Israel a fourth time in the killing sands of the Sinai. There is an inherent stability based on our relationship with Egypt's military command. Although very poor by a world standard, many in Egypt, especially those under the age of 30, believe in a secular governmental and military structure as opposed to one immersed beneath the smothering veil and tenets of radical Islam. More important moving forward in regards to the military control of government, free and fair elections must take place sooner as later. Let democracy take its foothold now by making emergency revisions to Egypt's constitution so that elections can take place in September as they should.

The U.S. response while somewhat cumbersome and untimely ultimately proved to be the right response in support of the overthrow of a dictator. We came out correctly in favor of democratic ideals. It is rare indeed that I support any of Barack Obama's initiatives, policies, or visions. I thought Obama's speech about the overthrow of the Egyptian dictatorship was maybe his most presidential moment since entering office. He and his administration had a chance to make a larger and more sweeping change for democratic good when the Iranian protests reached their boiling point in June 2009. He and Hillary Clinton dropped the ball then and it cost millions their freedom when that evil theocracy was tottering on the edge of collapse. Perhaps there was a lesson learned. Obama didn't really have a choice once the Mubarak's train came off the tracks but I'll give credit where credit is due. I doubt you'll see tons of flattering praise for Mr. Obama in future posts.

One point of caution moving forward in this exciting and positive revolution in Egypt. Groups like the Muslim Brotherhood lurk in the shadows and would like nothing more than to insert themselves into the political process moving forward. They are evil and known for such quotable nuggets such as "a Christian woman could never be President of Egypt." I hope the people in their deserved euphoria resist the temptation to fall prey to the silver tongued false prophecies of a radical Islamic group like the Muslim Brotherhood.

We are witness to history. We can hope and pray for a legitimate democracy in Egypt moving forward. And with future success and luck, maybe democracy will be in store for those suffering in Saudi Arabia, Syria, Bahrain, and scores of other corrupt theocracies that revel in choking their citizens into submission.