My Reversal on the Wisconsin Debacle

March 5, 2011

It’s amazing how little you can know about a subject, despite following the news. Unions and union rights, etc. are still not entirely clear to me, but at least I understand what collective bargaining is. I figured it was one of those legal terms that didn’t mean what it seems to. Nope, it means bargaining together, which is the whole point of a union. I think I was confusing “collective bargaining” with “binding arbitration”. Pretty big mistake.

So when they say that Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin is attacking unions, yes, yes he is. That’s inarguable.

Joe Geni had been trying to convince me that it was a purely political move. I didn’t buy into it, because it made sense to me to go after state employees for receiving benefits that non-public employees don’t get to have. I still wonder if the job security and benefit that people have in the public sector are fair when no one else seems to have them, but perhaps it makes less sense to raze everyone down and more sense to figure out how we can accommodate the new structure of the job market to give people benefits that they need.

But back to the politics. A week or so ago, I glossed over a FOX News article by Chris Stirewalt where he takes the side of Gov. Walker. Reading it more closely, Stirewalt’s argument is fairly clear: unions are unfair because they get a lot of money that helps Democrats.

And since unions give almost entirely to Democrats, that means the lack of dues payments from the federal payroll – now more than $15 billion a month for nearly 3 million employees – leaves a lot of campaign cash on the table.

And

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel found that a fifth of all campaign donations to the fugitive lawmakers in the past two election cycles came from public workers.

For national Democrats, the stakes are just as high. The more than 2 million civilian federal workers available for union organization are small fry compared to what’s going on at the state and local level.

All right, Stirewalk, great, Democrats get money from unions. And Republicans? It’s common knowledge that they are supported by businesses. Is it fair to criticize businesses or try to limit their involvement in the political process? Nope, that infringes upon free speech. If businesses are somehow legally people (which is not an entirely agreed upon notion), those are some pretty damn big people. There’s a reason Godzilla fights Mothra, not moths. You need some sort of balance. It’s the whole reason for unions, to have a mass that can stand up to the mass of business itself.

Let’s say that public workers are getting too many benefits. Fine, that’s possible, so perhaps they shouldn’t. But to balance it out by taking away their right to organize doesn’t make any sense. It just means that if you’re then at a disadvantage for being in a public job instead of an advantage. Doesn’t balance it out, it just tilts the see-saw the other way.

The right to organize and join unions is in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 23, Section 4:

Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.

This is a document that the United States, including Eleanor Roosevelt, helped to craft. The United States voted in favor of it in 1948. To try to destroy unions is anti-American. And that’s all that collective bargaining means: bargaining together.

Even if Wisconsin’s public employees are getting more benefits than they should, it doesn’t mean that Wisconsin’s governor has any legitimacy in trying to take away something that the United States has declared to be a universal human right.

Mind you, I’m not going to go out and join the Wobblies.

Should people *have* to be in a union and pay dues? I don’t know.

Should unions get everything they want? No. But collective bargaining, as I realized, is not binding arbitration.

Do the benefits that some overpaid unionized workers get make us less competitive in the global market? Seems logical to me.

I still don’t feel like I’m well-enough versed in the subject, but at least I can say this: Screw you, Gov. Walker. Fight on, protesters.

I’ll credit the March 3, 2011 episode  of The Daily Show with helping me come to some of these conclusions.

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A true conundrum (AKA Arizona, Hospitals and Illegal Immigrants)

February 15, 2011

At first, I was going to get up in arms about Arizona’s recent attack against illegal immigrants. Now, I’m more mixed.

There is a proposal to require hospitals to report illegal immigrants to the authorities. This could easily go against the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act, which requires that everyone be treated, regardless of citizenship. But, if they are initially treating them in emergency situations, there is nothing wrong with then having to report a criminal to the authorities.

Really, what this comes down to are two things:

1) Do illegal immigrants deserve non-emergency treatment? Will this prevent people from going in for treatment, only causing further costs when they get emergency treatment?

2) What are hospitals required to take in terms of identification? What systems would need to be in place for them to check records? What would happen to the hospital/employees if they didn’t report it? How would the State of Arizona know, anyway?

As much as we can question what causes illegal immigration or if we are enabling it, it remains a crime. I imagine that other criminals would be reported by the hospital to authorities, so I don’t see the difference in this case, provided it isn’t an undue burden on the hospital to check ID. As always, what we really need to do is deal with immigration in a serious way.

What say you?


States ignoring U.S. Constitution

February 14, 2011

“No State shall… coin Money” [Article One, Section Ten, U.S. Constitution]

I am thoroughly confused by the headline that I read today.

A state senator in South Carolina and a Virginia delegate have respectively suggested that their states look into what it would take to print and coin their own currency, in the event of a failure of the Federal Reserve due to hyperinflation.

What sort of a world are we living in where people are getting elected and are allowed to stay in office when they are going directly against not only the spirit, but the letter of the law of the Constitution? Is that not part of their oaths of office?

I keep feeling like there’s more to say, but there really isn’t. This is asinine in every way, shape and form.


“no religious Test…as a Qualification to any Office”

January 19, 2011

Alabama state flag

From Article VI of the U.S. Constitution:

The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.

From the new Alabama governor, Robert. J. Bentley:

Now I will have to say that, if we don’t have the same daddy, we’re not brothers and sisters. So anybody here today who has not accepted Jesus Christ as their savior, I’m telling you, you’re not my brother and you’re not my sister, and I want to be your brother.

While it’s constitutionally true that there is no religious test to qualify for office, in some ways, this part of Article VI is null and void due to political demographic breakdowns.  Look at Obama. He’s ‘accused’ of being a Muslim, despite being way more Christian than I am comfortable with. Part of the reason that I wasn’t a fan of his Tucson speech (and conversely, part of why I imagine the right was so happy with it), was because of all of the Christian language therein. It sounded like a sermon, which is not something that I desire from my president.

America is as schizo as you can get when it comes to the religion issue. The Ten Commandments are prominently displayed in some parks, our money says “In God We Trust”, we pledge allegiance to one nation “under God”, and so on. Somehow, that’s not exclusive, but we draw the line at someone preaching what sounds like fairly mainstream evangelical Christian ideology. If there is a line, it’s that we’re a Judeo-Christian country. So, sorry, Bob, you left out the Judeo, in this case. Now you have to feel the wrath of the ADL and everyone else.

I find it very difficult to believe that any of Gov. Bentley’s comments are truly a surprise. I imagine that his Christian fundamentalism was not only seen during the campaign, but probably was a great deal of the reason that he was elected. In some ways, that’s democracy, someone who represents the majority of their constituents. But the majority isn’t everyone.  We seem to have accepted that our money and Pledge of Allegiance don’t need to include everyone, so is it so far off to think that our elected officials won’t either?


Would Ike want us to stay in Afghanistan?

January 17, 2011

President Dwight D. Eisenhower

Today is the 50th anniversary of Ike’s military-industrial complex speech (his Farewell Address), wherein he warned:

We must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex.

The US debt just passed $14 trillion. The military accounts for almost 1/4 of our spending. Seems like a natural place to start cutting. The problem is, the military is hugely important to us. Why?

1) Soldier worship

Soldiers’ duties and our responsibilities to them have drastically changed. No longer are they just killing machines following orders. We don’t have lines of cannon fodder marching across fields. The numbers of dead mean a lot more than they did even a few decades ago. There is also a sense of responsibility to make sure that soldiers are taken care of to the best of our abilities, offered the finest prosthetics and rehabilitation.

But why?

I’ve never been comfortable with the heightened level of respect soldiers get above everyone else. Sure, if they are literally fighting instead of you or making sure the bad guys don’t come and knock on your door, I get that. But is that really true? If we left Iraq and Afghanistan, would we really be in risk of an attack on the American homeland? The only way I anticipate that is if we entirely ignored Afghanistan and the Taliban re-welcomed terrorist groups. But would we really let it get to that point? No. No one would.

The other part of what we’re doing in these countries is employing counter-insurgency strategies to win hearts and minds, such as building schools and infrastructure, etc. If we really have no money, why are we spending money elsewhere on things that our country needs?  And why do we then credit soldiers for doing things in other countries that we don’t reward people for doing in our own? Because they’re in harm’s way for… What?

2) Goal-oriented thinking

We won’t leave Afghanistan because we haven’t accomplished the mission yet. The mission of what?

a) Reducing/destroying al-Qaeda’s operational capabilities

Al-Qaeda is in other countries, too. They’re in Pakistan, Yemen, etc. Are we going to go into every country to hunt them down in broad strokes? No. Obviously, this is not a war that can be won that way.

b) Putting in a Western-style, democratic government

Centralized government doesn’t work in Afghanistan. Even if it did, nothing we’ve done has reduced the corruption. We’ve demanded to Karzai to keep certain people out of his government and he’s refused.

c) Saving the women and children

Perhaps we’re there for humanitarian reasons. Will whatever we set up for women’s/children’s rights outlive the soldiers on the ground? Whatever societal constructs that are there will not be solved by external forces.

d) According to this Foreign Policy article, combating the drug trade

Really? Come on. World’s leading supplier of opium.

According to the UN: In 2007, 92% of the opiates on the world market originated in Afghanistan.

That’s after we’d been in the country for how many years? Exactly.

Opium plant eradication/substitution hasn’t worked. And we haven’t even done a particularly good job coordinating with Afghanistan’s neighbors to stem anything.

3) Job protection

The Joint Strike Fighter, a next-generation fighter plane, has had funding cut by the Pentagon and then restored by Congress multiple times. Why? To protect the jobs of people in local districts. Wonderful for the person that wants to stay in office and their constituents that put them there, not so good for the rest of the country who needs to pay for it.

Wouldn’t it be common sense to, at the very least, let the Pentagon cut what it wants to?

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has mentioned cutting benefits and raising costs for various elements of the Pentagon’s healthcare system, but admits that a lot of it might not go be enacted by Congress. Why? Because the military just cannot be cut. It looks bad. We care about them to the point of not caring about ourselves. And to the point of not trusting them to take care of themselves, either.

Conclusion:

As much as it’s wonderfully humane to help other countries with our “arsenal of freedom”:

a) They don’t necessarily want the ‘help’ that we’re offering.

b) We can’t pay for it with money we don’t have.

We’re finishing up with Iraq to whatever point that we finish wars and pack up, but Afghanistan remains a war of choice. Being in Afghanistan the way we are, with the amount of money we spend on a daily basis, no longer makes sense.

If you’ve maxed out your credit cards, it’s probably not the best idea to do grocery shopping for your neighbors.


The US Air Force Hates the Constitution

December 15, 2010

The US Air Force has blocked its members from accessing the New York Times and other websites that have posted full cables from WikiLeaks.

When I found out, I posted it on my Facebook page. One response was that it is simply coinciding with the law, in that these documents are still labeled as secret, which means that the government still needs to treat them as such. Nice in theory, but the Air Force has said:

If a site has republished the documents, then we block it.

Far from a pinpointed thing. Sounds like retribution.

Forget the “cat’s out of the bag” aspect of this. The government censoring the media, especially an entity that is responsible with protecting freedom of the media, sounds nothing like any America that I want to be a part of.

Below is the message that I sent to my congresspeople and to the Letters to the Editor section of the Everett Herald and Seattle Times.

——————–

I wish to register my disgust at the US Air Force’s decision to block the NY Times and other reputable news sources.

The United States military is charged with defending and protecting the Constitution. Not too far into this document is an amendment regarding freedom of the press, something that has been upheld multiple times by the Supreme Court.

While there might be argument as to whether WikiLeaks is a journalistic organization, that cannot be said for the New York Times and other USAF-banned media.

I urge immediate action to reverse this decision and improved consideration in the future before enacting such misguided policies.

Sincerely,
Roni Weiss

Update: My letter to the editor got posted on The Seattle Times’ website.


Why is Santa still alive?

December 14, 2010

Christmas is a surprisingly controversial subject. You would think that a time that is about good cheer would provide more of it. But you have nostalgists on one hand and anti-capitalists on another and your hands will quickly fill with all of the different opinions of the different facets of Christmas.

I guess I need to first say that I’m Jewish. Enough so that we never came close to celebrating Christmas as a holiday. So I won’t be surprised if you discredit me as some sort of an uninitiated outsider.

I’m not a parent, either, but I don’t see how that would invalidate my opinion. I have worked with kids and have put a lot of thought into what I would or wouldn’t teach my own children someday.

This post is focused. Not anti-presents or anti-decoration or, by any stretch of the imagination, anti-Christmas.

It is anti-Santa.

Read the rest of this entry »


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