Thursday, May 31, 2012

The real story in Wisconsin

Our cheesehead neighbors to the east have been in the political news almost non-stop for 18 months now, ever since Wisconsin voters elected Scott Walker as governor and gave him a Republican legislative majority back in 2010. Faced with a multi-billion dollar budget shortfall, Walker and the Legislature took the mandate they had won and actually used it in a positive way, passing a budget-balancing bill known as Act 10.

In addition to balancing the budget, Act 10 imposed a number of reforms on a spending system that was wildly out of control. Among those reforms was the limiting of some of the collective bargaining rights of the Wisconsin public employee unions.

Of course, the lefties went beserk. Some Democrat legislators fled the state to avoid having to vote on the bill, protestors stormed the Capitol (resulting in millions of dollars in damage and clean-up costs) and after Act 10 became law, the unions began bankrolling a series of recall elections that will culminate Tuesday, when Walker himself faces a recall election. The likely end result of all this will be that the unions will have flushed away tens of millions of dollars while leaving things pretty much the same way they were after the 2010 election: Walker will still be the governor, the Republican legislative majorities will still be in place and Act 10 will stay in force.

Much of the focus has been on the fact that Wisconsin state employees were now forced to contribute more to their pensions and health care, bringing their benefits closer to (but still more lucrative than) most private-sector benefits. For example, most public employees now have to pay 5.6% of their salary towards their retirement, and 12.6% of their health-care costs. Most private sector employees view that as a pretty sweet deal, even though it made the union leaders hold their breath until they turned blue. These minor adjustments have made a huge difference for Wisconsin's towns, counties and school districts, many of whom have moved from deficit to surplus, and are actually lowering property taxes.

But less attention was paid to a provision of Act 10 that prohibited public employee unions from forcing their members to pay dues. Whenever a union contract expired, the union could only collect dues from members who said they WANT to have the dues taken from their paycheck.

It turns out that huge numbers of Wisconsin public employees don't think there's much value in belonging to a union. Since March of 2011 to this past February, the number of AFSCME (American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees) members is Wisconsin has fallen from 62,818 to 28,745, according to figures in the Wall Street Journal. Among just state employees, that number has dropped to 7,100 from over 22,000 last year.

Among teachers, the drop is not as steep, but it's still severe. About 6,000 of the 17,000 Wisconsin teachers represented by the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) have left the union since mandatory dues were eliminated.

Keep in mind that even after Act 10, union membership was not without its benefits. The union still negotiates on pay issues, can represent members in grievances and provide other assistance.

And yet, thousands and thousands of union members - given genuine choice as to whether they would belong - fled the union when given the first opportunity to do so.

It's not surprising. Americans have been voting with their feet and wallets for years, which is why unions represent only about 7% of private-sector employees. The public employee membership rate has been about 37%, and for years many economists said that number was as high as it was only because membership was mandatory in many cases.

"Nonsense," the union bosses said, arguing that public employees valued their union membership and needed it to avoid being exploited by those evil, greedy taxpayers.

Those same union bosses were using employee dues to fund some pretty lavish pay and perks for themselves. For example, the state's largest teachers union, Wisconsin Education Association Council (WEAC), employed 151 staffers at an average compensation package of $95,250 per employee, all funded by the teachers' dues. They're now laying off about 40% of their staff.

Turns out that teachers and other public workers just don't see the value in paying for all of that. Like emancipated slaves, Wisconsin's public employee union members are shedding their shackles and fleeing for greener pastures.

Isn't "choice" a beautiful thing?

Sunday, May 27, 2012

"By the dawn's early light....."

Those who know me well will be a bit shocked to know that I was up when the sun rose today, but I took advantage of the opportunity to go down to Red Wing's Bay Point Park, next to the Mississippi River, and took a picture of part of the "Field of Honor" that is erected here every year for Memorial Day. If you're around Red Wing this weekend, it's worth a visit.

And it was 98 years ago this month that John McCrae wrote "In Flanders Fields." Always chokes me up. Enjoy your Memorial Day weekend.

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

In defense of partisanship

It's become trendy among those who write about politics to decry the lack of "bipartisanship" in the current political environment. The purported problem is that everyone should be willing compromise on everything, and not hold fast to their basic principles.

The complaint goes back, I imagine, to the 1770s, when some of the American colonists wanted independence from Great Britain, while others wanted to remain  British subjects. I suppose a "bipartisan compromise" would have been negotiate with the British so that we could have been, perhaps, a "territory" without becoming an independent country. Of course, that would just have been kicking the can down the road a few years and wasn't a long-term solution. Fortunately, those "partisan" revolutionaries carried the day.

"Compromise" is not, in and of itself, necessarily a positive thing. If one party in the legislature thinks we should spend $1.4 billion on roads and bridges, and the other party only thinks we need to spend $1 billion, then a compromise at $1.2 billion seems reasonable. But if I don't think the State of Minnesota should build the Vikings a new stadium, and you think the State should build a $900 million stadium, then "compromising" on a $450 million stadium is not a solution.

An endless series of compromises accomplishes nothing, particularly when the modern political left seems to think that compromise is a one-way street: Any policy that moves leftward along the political spectrum is labeled  "good" and any rightward movement is "regressing."

As George Will once pointed out, we have two different political parties for a reason. Each is free to espouse its values and compete in the "marketplace of ideas," and then let the electorate make its choice. Voters continually say that they would like elected officials to live up to their campaign promises, so why are we surprised when those who are elected actually stick to those principles?

This whole rumination is brought on by a particularly silly column by the Washington Post's E.J. Dionne, who criticizes 43 Catholic institutions who have filed suit to overturn Obama administration regulations that would require some of these institutions to provide contraceptive coverage in their employees' health insurance. This goes against the core beliefs of .the organizations, and they view the regulation as an infringement on their religious constitutional rights.

Dionne accuses the Catholic institutions of simply being involved in "election year politics," and wonders why these institutions wouldn't simply compromise with "the administration’s olive branch."

This is what is has come to: If you believe you have a right to practice your religion freely, and the government doesn't believe you have that right, people like Dionne believe you should simply compromise by giving up some of your rights to allow the other side to impose its will on you. If you don't bow down to the Obama forces, you're being "partisan."

In that case, give me partisanship any day.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Al, Amy: What's your plan?

Ms. Klobuchar
Any objective observer would agree that the nation's finances are a mess. This year the federal government will run a deficit of somewhere around $1.5 trillion, and we're staring at a national debt of about $15.7 trillion.

What's more, a couple of pretty important budget items are in serious trouble. Last month the Medicare and Social Security trustees reported that the funds for those programs will be exhausted by 2024 (for Medicare...that's just 12 years away) and 2033. The report said both programs are on "unsustainable paths" and Obama's Treasury Secretary admitted that ""The projections in this year's report are somewhat more pessimistic than last year's report."

But our elected officials must be all over this, right? They must be crafting plans to eliminate the deficit, balance the budget and save the Social Security and Medicare programs, right? That's what we elect members of Congress to do, so they must be doing it, right?

Well, not exactly. At least not in the Senate, where the Democrat majority has not passed a budget since 2009, and they're just sort of hoping you won't notice until after they're all re-elected or retired on those nifty Congressional pensions.

Yesterday the Senate was given not one, not two, but FIVE budget options to vote for, and a look at the votes makes you wonder how anyone in that body gets re-elected.

First, the Senate voted on the budget submitted by President Obama. It lost by vote of 99-0. That made for a complete sweep by Obama's budget team; The same budget was rejected earlier in the House of Representatives by a 414-0 margin. That's pretty impressive, really: In competitive, hyper-partisan Washington, the Obama Administration was able to create a unanimous, bi-partisan 513-0 vote for the idea that "The Obama Administration's budget sucks." Well done, boys.

The Senate then proceeded to vote on something called the "Ryan budget." This budget - largely the handwork of the House Budget Committee chair, Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin - passed the House and provides for a restructuring of Medicare that involves giving seniors vouchers to purchase their own health coverage, thereby injecting some free-market competition into the process. I happen to think it's a terrific idea, but it's not everyone's cup of tea, and the Senate rejected it 41-58.

Then came another budget plan, this one put together in the Senate by Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey. I don't know many details about the Toomey budget, but it failed 42-57.

Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky had a pretty radical budget that would have eliminated four different cabinet agencies: HUD, Energy, Education and Commerce. Again, that's something I think is worth discussing, but the Senate rejected it 16-83, and then another proposal by Rep. Mike Lee of Utah was defeated 17-82.

What's noteworthy about the votes is that not a single Democrat voted for any of the five proposals. No one in the Senate's majority party found a single budget proposal that they could vote for. That includes Minnesota's hapless Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken. With these two in the Senate, the nation has suffered its first-ever credit downgrade, posted record deficits and debt and watched Social Security and Medicare move closer to the brink of collapse, yet they can't be bothered to vote for ANY budget that would try to restore fiscal sanity.

Of course the two will trot around the state this summer, bragging about spending several billion over here for light rail that nobody wants, or a few billion over there for combating non-existent global warming, but the question you should be asking them is this: What's your plan?

What's your plan, Amy? You didn't like any of the five budgets you were offered, so what's your plan? You've spent five years in Washington and handed future generations several trillion dollars in debt. What's your plan for getting out of this mess? Do you have a plan, or are you just going to keep voting "No" until - like Greece or Italy - we just dissolve into a pool of debt, with riots in the streets?

What's your plan?

Every parade, every press conference, every feel-good ribbon cutting Amy and Al attend, someone should be asking the question.

What's your plan?

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

We interrupt this blog.... give you the first picture of the Minnesota Wild's first selection in the 2030 NHL draft. Calvin Jacob Westphall checked in shortly after 4 a.m. yesterday, marking the third time my daughter has delivered a nine pound-plus baby. This one was the biggest yet, a 9 lbs., 11 oz., with hands and feet you could mistake for a two-year-old's.

Third grandchild, second grandson and possible future linemate for his older brother Sam, we're grateful for another safe arrival and healthy addition to the Droogsma bloodline. Welcome, C.J., and it's time to drop the puck.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Outwitted by a four-year-old

Well, not by just ANY four-year-old, but by my granddaughter Anne, also known as The Smartest Little Girl in the Universe. Anne correctly picked three of the four quarterfinal series in the Stanley Cup playoffs, and now leads me 7-6 in that category. My only hope for catching her this round lies with the Los Angeles Kings. I picked them to win, while she's banking on Phoenix. We both think the Rangers will knock off the Devils in the East. Here's her explanation:

UPDATE: The video has some kind of technical glitch in it...I'll try to figure out how to fix it.

Friday, May 11, 2012

"Journalism" at the Washington Post, math at the Star-Tribune

Several decades ago, when I was a young journalism student and the movie "All the President's Men" was sweeping the country, I used to dream about someday working at the Washington Post. Then I matured, gained a bit of wisdom and - most importantly - spent several years living in Washington and seeing on a daily basis that the Post wasn't really a newspaper, it was pretty much just a liberal opinion/propaganda publication.

If anything, it's gotten worse since then, and Thursday the paper provided more proof that it can't really be trusted. It's big expose on Thursday was that nearly 50 years ago, in 1965, while a high school student, Mitt Romney was part of a group of guys that pinned a fellow student to the ground and gave him a haircut.

Yep. That's the story. Except that it took only a few paragraphs to notice the sloppy reporting:

“I always enjoyed his pranks,” said Stu White, a popular friend of Romney’s who went on to a career as a public school teacher and has long been bothered by the Lauber incident," the Post reported.

Except that it turns out Stu White - "long been bothered" by the incident - told ABC News yesterday that he wasn't there when it happened, and didn't even know about it until a Post reporter told him about it a few weeks ago.

So, you know, he's a pretty reliable source.

Caught with its hand in the cookie jar, the Post tried to cover its tracks. By Thursday night, the online edition of the Post had changed the false paragraph to read that White "has been 'disturbed' by the Lauber incident since hearing about it several weeks ago."

Nice work, fellows. That helps your credibility.

A much more minor - but still fun to point out -goof appeared on the Star-Tribune's web site, where Rachel Stassen-Berger wrote a piece about the retiring members of the Minnesota Legislature. It's a tradition at the legislature that departing members give "retirement speeches" on the session's final day, and that took place yesterday.

Stassen-Berger took note, and then wrote, "Nearly ten percent of the 201-member Legislature will not be running for re-election next year." She then went on to list 41 names of members who are not running for re-election.

Well, first of all, no one is running for re-election "next year," they are running for re-election THIS year, but let's take a moment to focus on the math. "Nearly ten percent" of 201 would - by my finger-and-toe arithmetic - would seem to mean that about 19 or so members were not returning. The 41 names she listed, on the other hand, would seem to constitute just a fraction over 20 percent of the legislature.

I hope Stassen-Berger's math was better when she reported on the stadium bill, and yo hae to wonder just who - if anyone - is editing the copy over on Portland Ave.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Defend yourself? Not in Ellison's world

We've written before (click here) about Rep. Keith Ellison (D-al Qaida), the racist, tax-cheating, anti-semite member of Congress who represents much of the Minneapolis area, and who recently asserted that the Germans attacked Pearl Harbor.

Yesterday he and a few of his fellow travelers in the House of Representatives announced that they will offer an amendment to the upcoming Commerce Department spending bill that would block grants to any state that has a "stand your ground" law on the books. Stand your ground laws say that people who are attacked have a right to defend themselves, including using deadly force if necessary, to fight off an attack.

"Standing his ground" appears to be the most likely scenario in the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman case in Florida. The more we learn about the case, the weight of the evidence suggests that Martin - not happy about the local neighborhood watch guy keeping an eye on him - attacked Zimmerman and was pounding Zimmerman's head into the pavement when Zimmerman reached for his gun and shot Martin.

The Washington Times reports that Ellison said his amendment was necessary because "In Florida alone, deaths due to self-defense have tripled since the law was enacted."

As the fellows at Powerline observe, there's very little chance that there is any truth in Ellison's statistic. But if it IS accurate, why is that a bad thing? Ellison is so far left of the mainstream that he thinks it's a bad thing that people are able to legally defend themselves.

Apparently in Ellison's ideal world, criminals should always have the upper hand, and it's far better that they are able to assault/rob/rape/kill innocent people than it is for people to be able to defend themselves.

In a related story, recent crime statistics show that Ellison's home city of Minneapolis averages one murder every 11 days (32 murders in 2011), along with 1,600 robberies and 2,000 assaults per year. (Click here for the chart.) That makes folks living in Minneapolis about two and half times more likely than the average American to become a victim of violent crime. Looks as though Ellison's constituents could use a little help learning to stand their ground and less sermonizing from their congressman.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Poor, poor Julia

When Obama is defeated this November, I expect there will be many, many moments we will be able to look back on and say, "Boy, that's where he really lost it." It might be a debate gaffe, it might be when the Supreme Court overturns big chunks of Obamacare or it might be the inevitable moment when Joe Biden throws up his hands and asks, "Who am I and what am I doing here?" It might be the moment his campaign introduced that old Communist standard, "Forward," as its slogan.

Translation of the one on the left: "Under the banner of Lenin and the Leadership of Stalin: Forward!" Translation of the one on the right: "Please forget the nightmare of the past four years."

(Click here for a treasure trove of Communist "Forward" posters from over the years. Really, does anyone in this administration know how to use Google?)

But I think the Obama campaign goof I'm going to remember most is the creation of "Julia," the faceless, hapless, leftward-looking ward of the state created by the web wizards in the Obama shop.

In case you've missed the odd little tale of Julia, you can see the entire goofy little presentation here. Congressman Paul Ryan described Julia's story as "creepy," and that might be the best word for it, but there are so many others that could be used: Sexist, clueless, elitist, demeaning to women, scary and false.

Julia, age 3, headed for a life of serving Great Leader
The premise of Julia's tale is that everything in her life - her ability to read, her education, her career, even her child - is a gift from the great and powerful all-wise benevolent leader, King Obama.

The Obama campaign web site tells little Julia's life story, along with an alternative view of all the evils and pitfalls that will befall her if that nasty, smelly, icky, yucky Mitt Romney is elected President. 

It's impossible to read without laughing, but it's not just the amateurish artwork and childish text that make Julia's story so damaging to the Obama campaign.

It's that they believe it.

Julia's story is a crystal clear window into the mind of Obama and the American left, which believes that no one can succeed in America without government holding their hand and leading them every step of the way. In their world, no one learns to read, graduates high school, goes to college, swallows a pill, starts a business, raises a family or retires unless there's a government agency, program and bureaucrat to pave the way.

It's the vision they've been working to shove down our throats since Obama took office, a vision of (as Mitt Romney called it) a government-centered society in which all of the "smart" people will amass more and more power and tell the great unwashed how to live their lives in sheep-like compliance.

The tale of Julia's life is in direct contract to the American dream itself. We're a nation that broke free from the most powerful country in the world, settled a continent and became the most powerful force for freedom on the planet, and none of that required an army of unelected bureaucrats writing rules and regulations (or confiscatory tax rates) to make it happen.

What Julia has done is let us look right into the heart and soul of Obama and the left, where individuals are nothing but wards of the state, and their lives reflect only the greatness of government. As more and more Americans begin to understand that, Obama's grip on power will become more and more tenuous.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

The Senser verdict

Well, I have to admit surprise when the guilty verdicts came in today for Amy Senser. I genuinely thought that it would be very difficult to meet the legal standard of proof "beyond a reasonable doubt" when the prosecutors had to prove she KNEW that she had hit someone. I don't know if any of the jurors will talk about the deliberations, but of course it would be very interesting to learn their reasoning.

There were a number of parts of her story that, individually, seemed plausible. For example, easing her text messages, leaving the concert because of a headache, not seeing the victim, getting lost, etc. But perhaps the thinking was that, "Well, one of those exculpatory things might make sense, but there are just too many, in aggregate, to make her story plausible." Or maybe she just didn't sound convincing, I don't know.

The next part will be the victim's family pursuing a civil suit against Senser, which should be a slam-dunk, given the guilty verdict in the criminal case. The Sensers are probably best advised to seek an out-of-court settlement, given that such settlement would probably be paid by their liability insurance carrier. If they go to court, they risk not only compensatory damages, but punitive damages as well, and punitive damages are unlikely to be covered by insurance.

I heard local attorney Ron Rosenbaum on KFAN radio today, and he said something that disturbed me a bit. He said that virtually all of the attorneys he knew felt Senser would be acquitted, while almost all of the non-lawyers he knew felt she would be convicted. I took this to mean that I am starting to think like an attorney, which I don't necessarily  consider a positive development.