Category: unions

Heidi Cruz wants to build a North American Community – what does that mean, exactly?
Posted on August 21, 2015 by austrogirl
ted cruz
Rafael Edward “Ted” Cruz, with his Spanish name, Canadian birth and US citizenship, would actually be a natural candidate to be the First President of the North American Union! (n/t The Next News Network)

In today’s video preview of tomorrow’s show, I refer to a document, Building a North American Community, written by a Council on Foreign Relations task force which included Heidi Cruz (i.e., Mrs. Ted Cruz), who expressly agreed with the recommendations in the report. What are those recommendations? Here’s a sampling, but I highly recommend you read the whole text (it’s large print and only 32 pages of actual report, the rest you can skip):

To lay the groundwork for the freer flow of people within North America with the ultimate goal of full mobility of labor and goods across Canada, Mexico and the United States. To facilitate this, rules and regulations on labor and the environment among other things should conform across the “trinational” region. “[T]he three countries should make a concerted effort to encourage regulatory convergence…including harmonization at the highest prevailing standard…and unilateral adoption of another country’s rules.”
“Make a North American standard the default approach to new regulation….The new trinational mechanism also should be charged with identifying joint means of ensuring consistent enforcement of new rules as they are developed.”
Increase information and intelligence-sharing at the local and national levels in both law enforcement and military organizations.
Conduct annual training exercise to develop interoperability among and between law enforcement agencies and militaries of the US, Canada & Mexico.
Create a North American Border Pass with biometric identifiers.
Establish a North American energy and emissions regime that could offer tradable voucher systems for emissions trading.
Creation of a North American Advisory Council with a complementary private body “that would meet regularly or annually to buttress North American relationships, along the lines of the Bilderberg or Wehrkunde conferences, organized to support transaltantic relations.”
Creation of a North American Inter-Parliamentary Group that will include US Congress along with Canadian and Mexican Parliamentary representation, who play key roles in policy toward each other. The newly created North American Advisory Council (likened to the Bilderberg Group) “could provide an agenda and support for these meetings.”


Party of surrender strikes again
Indiana Gov. Mike Pence listens to a question during a news conference, Tuesday, March 31, 2015, in Indianapolis. Pence said that he wants legislation on his desk by the end of the week to clarify that a new religious-freedom law does not allow discrimination. The law has triggered an outcry, with businesses and organizations voicing concern and some states barring government-funded travel to the Midwestern state. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)
Indiana Gov. Mike Pence listens to a question during a news conference, Tuesday, March 31, 2015, in Indianapolis. Pence said that he wants legislation on his desk by the end of the week to clarify that a new religious-freedom law … more >

There are few constants in this world but there is one that can be taken to the bank. When the going gets tough, Republicans surrender. If given a choice between the Republicans and the French army, the smart money would be on the French army. It will at least fight a little bit before surrendering.

Not so with the Republicans.

The latest standard bearer for the Republicans’ trademarked freshly laundered white flag of surrender is Indiana Gov. Mike Pence. Last week, the Indiana Legislature sent the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) to Mr. Pence for his signature. This same statute has been passed in a half-dozen other states. As soon as it went to Mr. Pence’s desk, the liberal hate-storm started.

Mr. Pence immediately cowered and scheduled a private bill signing, hoping the furor would go away. The RFRA is a simple bill. It makes it almost impossible for groups to sue individuals and businesses if they decline to offer a good or service because doing so would violate their religious beliefs.

This law became necessary because the radical homosexual movement is making war on Christianity. In the beginning, homosexuals said they just wanted “tolerance.” They just wanted to have what everyone else had and to be left alone. That was a lie, but the left always lies about its objectives.

The radical homosexual movement doesn’t want tolerance. It wants complete victory. Members of the movement and their supporters do not want anyone to be allowed to disagree with them. They want to force Christians to participate in homosexual weddings, regardless of the Christian’s beliefs.

In various states, homosexual activists have targeted Christian vendors and when these vendors declined to participate in homosexual weddings because of their beliefs, they have sued or asked the state to sue.

Indiana was the 19th state to pass a Religious Freedom Restoration Act. But when the Indiana governor cowered, the radical homosexuals saw fear and they acted. Indiana was bombed with threats. NASCAR denounced the RFRA.

NASCAR should have polled fans. It is a safe bet that 95 percent of NASCAR fans support the RFRA. Tim Cook of Apple computers blasted the law. He ignored the fact that Apple does business with nations that hang homosexuals.

The pressure was too much for the cowardly Republican governor, who demanded the state legislature pass a “fix” for the bill. This fix prohibits anyone from denying services to someone based, among other things on their sexual orientation. One law professor, Mark Rienzi of Catholic University Law School, has opined that this law could be used to imprison Christians who chose to stand up for their religious beliefs.

On April 2, Mr. Pence signed the “fix” to the RFRA, which at best guts that law and at worst turns it into a weapon to be used against Christians.

Conservative Christians are a part of Mr. Pence’s base. Like so many other Republicans, Mr. Pence lacks the spine to stand up for his beliefs and won’t even stand up for the people who make up his base.

Mr. Pence’s name has been floated as a possible dark horse candidate for president. He will have to choose whether he wants to run for president or run for re-election.

Or maybe he will just do everyone a favor and retire.




Public Pension Red Alert

March 7, 2014 6:27 p.m. ET
The Detroit bankruptcy is offering a hard education in the risks of lending to deadbeat governments, which are increasing as state and local pension obligations swell. Investors who have enabled these unsustainable promises may be in for a lot more pain.

Public pension funds have posted double-digit gains four of the last five years, and asset levels have never been higher. Yet government pension costs are soaring as the bills that politicians postponed during the hard economic times come due. No less than Warren Buffett warned this week that “local and state financial problems are accelerating, in large part because public entities promised pensions they couldn’t afford.” Moody’s last month advised investors that “contribution requirements for pensions will remain high and trending upward in most cases.”

Perhaps the biggest pension landmine outside of Detroit is Chicago. The Windy City next year must make a $1.07 billion balloon payment—equal to a third of the city’s operating budget—on $19.4 billion of pension debt. The pension payment could cover salaries for 4,300 police officers or the resurfacing of 16,000 blocks of road, and Mayor Rahm Emanuel has warned that property taxes may have to double to pay the bill.

Railroad ties and track are stacked along the CTA’s Red Line reconstruction route on Chicago’s South Side. Associated Press

Meantime, the required pension contribution for Chicago schools this year is tripling to $613 million. Chicago unions are pressing the state government to raise property, sales, income and corporate taxes to bail out worker pensions. Chicago’s pension funds are only half as well-funded as even Detroit’s, if you can believe it, and could run dry by 2020. With state politicians up for re-election this November and Chicago’s mayoral race next February, it’s more likely that investors will foot the bill.

Last month, Chicago’s city council approved the issuance of $500 million in commercial paper and $900 million in general-obligation bonds purportedly to refinance existing debt and improve public works. There’s little to stop politicians from pouring the proceeds into pensions—or later reneging on this unsecured debt if it were to file for bankruptcy.

Detroit plans to repay its general-obligation bondholders a mere 20 cents on the dollar and has sued to invalidate $1.4 billion in certificates of participation, which were used to backfill the pension funds in 2005. Banks that helped the city hedge this pension bet with an interest-rate swap will be lucky to recover 30%. Unions refuse to support a readjustment plan that repays banks even a penny since this would be a “gift” to investors.

Retirees’ pensions will be cut between 4% and 34%, but unlike investors they could recoup their losses if pension investments perform well. Workers will also get to keep their defined-benefit plans with modest adjustments going forward.

Back in Stockton, California, which declared bankruptcy in 2012 due partly to soaring retirement obligations, Franklin Templeton Investments is recovering only $94,000 of the $35 million it furnished the city to modernize public works. Investors who lent the city $125 million for pensions will get 50 cents on the dollar. Worker pensions will remain intact.

Moody’s last month warned that California municipalities “will likely continue to pay a steep price if bankruptcies remain venues for restructuring debt obligations but pension liabilities remain untouched” and that Stockton’s fiscal challenges could resurface. The Bay area suburb of Vallejo, which didn’t modify pensions in its recent bankruptcy, faces a structural deficit of “$8.9 million without corrective measures” and “the risk of a second bankruptcy.”

Pension costs are increasing across California. In the last year, the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (Calpers) has raised pension bills of municipal employers by up to 50% to amortize its unfunded liability and compensate for its erroneous mortality assumptions. Local governments won’t feel the full brunt until 2020 since the pension behemoth softened the blow by phasing the increase in over several years.

Calpers also voted last month to dun state taxpayers for an additional $1.2 billion a year. And lo, the state Legislative Analyst’s Office says that California State Teachers’ Retirement System (Calstrs) says it needs $5.3 billion to $5.7 billion more annually by 2020 to pay down its $71 billion shortfall. That’s more than California spends on the University of California and Cal State colleges.


Not worried enough? Governor Chris Christie in New Jersey has declared that modest pension reforms in 2011, which suspended retirees’ cost-of-living adjustments and raised the retirement age to 65 from 55 for new workers, were too little, too late. The state’s pension bill has gone from zero to $2.4 billion in the last four years and will increase to $4.8 billion by 2018, which will crimp public services.

As Mr. Christie has explained, politicians goosed benefits during good times to curry favor with public unions, knowing that the bills wouldn’t come due for many years. Unions now argue that retirement promises are de facto contracts that the U.S. and state constitutions protect from impairment, and they’re going to court in states like Illinois to try to prove it.

Governments have sought to reduce their pension bills by tweaking benefits for new workers, but this won’t save much cash for decades. So taxpayers are now footing the bills in reduced services and higher taxes. Yet as Detroit shows, there’s only so much pain the public can endure. Investors shouldn’t be surprised if they’re asked for more “gifts” to bail out union pensions.

Senate Fails to Pass Three-Month Extension of Jobless Aid

By FEB. 6, 2014

WASHINGTON — The Senate failed to move forward on a three-month extension of assistance for the long-term unemployed on Thursday, leaving it unlikely that Congress would approve the measure soon while undercutting a key aspect of President Obama’s economic recovery plan.

Fifty-nine senators, including four Republicans, voted to advance the legislation, falling one vote short of the 60 needed to break a Republican filibuster effort.

Republicans and Democrats, many from the nation’s most economically depressed states, had been trying to reach a solution that would allow people who have exhausted their unemployment insurance to continue receiving benefits as long as the government offset the $6 billion cost.

Ultimately, how to pay for the program proved too big a hurdle for senators to overcome.

“We’ve given them everything they wanted. Paid for,” said Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the majority leader, flashing his irritation at Republicans who blocked the bill.

He said Democrats would keep pushing to extend the benefits, which expired at the end of last year, cutting off more than 1.3 million Americans. That number has since grown to more than 1.7 million.

Democrats hope to turn the issue into an election-year cudgel and have accused Republicans of ignoring people who are out of work. Republicans have balked at that as political smoke.

“We know it’s a political game,” said Senator Orrin G. Hatch, Republican of Utah. “We know they’d like to bring it up every three months and bash Republicans with it.

“We cannot allow one vote to stand in the way of supporting these Americans as they struggle to find work,” a White House statement said Thursday. “Both sides of the aisle have worked together to prevent this kind of hardship in the past, and neglecting to do so now is unacceptable — especially given the high long-term unemployment rate.”But even if the Senate had moved forward, getting any extension through the Republican-controlled House was going to be very difficult. Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio has said he would entertain a bill only if it was paid for and could stimulate job growth.

Some of his more conservative members, who said the extension would only create more debt for future generations to deal with, were even more hesitant.

“The perception that I get from the Senate right now is: ‘Times are tough. We should make times tougher on our kids to make it easier on us, and then feel better,’ ” said Representative James Lankford, Republican of Oklahoma. “And I think that’s just not a philosophy I’m willing to support.”


Richard Vedder and Christopher Denhart: How the College Bubble Will Pop

In 1970, less than 1% of taxi drivers had college degrees. Four decades later, more than 15% do.


Jan. 8, 2014 6:38 p.m. ET
The American political class has long held that higher education is vital to individual and national success. The Obama administration has dubbed college “the ticket to the middle class,” and political leaders from Education Secretary Arne Duncan to Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke have hailed higher education as the best way to improve economic opportunity. Parents and high-school guidance counselors tend to agree.

Yet despite such exhortations, total college enrollment has fallen by 1.5% since 2012. What’s causing the decline? While changing demographics—specifically, a birth dearth in the mid-1990s—accounts for some of the shift, robust foreign enrollment offsets that lack. The answer is simple: The benefits of a degree are declining while costs rise.

A key measure of the benefits of a degree is the college graduate’s earning potential—and on this score, their advantage over high-school graduates is deteriorating. Since 2006, the gap between what the median college graduate earned compared with the median high-school graduate has narrowed by $1,387 for men over 25 working full time, a 5% fall. Women in the same category have fared worse, losing 7% of their income advantage ($1,496).

A college degree’s declining value is even more pronounced for younger Americans. According to data collected by the College Board, for those in the 25-34 age range the differential between college graduate and high school graduate earnings fell 11% for men, to $18,303 from $20,623. The decline for women was an extraordinary 19.7%, to $14,868 from $18,525.

Graduation day at Princeton University in June 2013.Bloomberg

Meanwhile, the cost of college has increased 16.5% in 2012 dollars since 2006, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ higher education tuition-fee index. Aggressive tuition discounting from universities has mitigated the hike, but not enough to offset the clear inflation-adjusted increase. Even worse, the lousy economy has caused household income levels to fall, limiting a family’s ability to finance a degree.

This phenomenon leads to underemployment. A study I conducted with my colleague Jonathan Robe, the 2013 Center for College Affordability and Productivity report, found explosive growth in the number of college graduates taking relatively unskilled jobs. We now have more college graduates working in retail than soldiers in the U.S. Army, and more janitors with bachelor’s degrees than chemists. In 1970, less than 1% of taxi drivers had college degrees. Four decades later, more than 15% do.

This is only partly the result of the Great Recession and botched public policies that have failed to produce employment growth. It’s also the result of an academic arms race in which universities have spent exorbitant sums on luxury dormitories, climbing walls, athletic subsidies and bureaucratic bloat. More significantly, it’s the result of sending more high-school graduates to college than professional fields can accommodate.

In 1970, when 11% of adult Americans had bachelor’s degrees or more, degree holders were viewed as the nation’s best and brightest. Today, with over 30% with degrees, a significant portion of college graduates are similar to the average American—not demonstrably smarter or more disciplined. Declining academic standards and grade inflation add to employers’ perceptions that college degrees say little about job readiness.

There are exceptions. Applications to top universities are booming, as employers recognize these graduates will become our society’s future innovators and leaders. The earnings differential between bachelor’s and master’s degree holders has grown in recent years, as those holding graduate degrees are perceived to be sharper and more responsible.

But unless colleges plan to offer master’s degrees in janitorial studies, they will have to change. They currently have little incentive to do so, as they are often strangled by tenure rules, spoiled by subsides from government and rich alumni, and more interested in trivial things—second-rate research by third-rate scholars; ball-throwing contests—than imparting knowledge. Yet dire financial straits from falling demand for their product will force two types of changes within the next five years.

First, colleges will have to constrain costs. Traditional residential college education will not die because the collegiate years are fun and offer an easy transition from adolescence to adulthood. But institutions must take a haircut. Excessive spending on administrative staffs, professorial tenure, and other expensive accouterments must be put on the chopping block.

Second, colleges must bow to new benchmarks assessing their worth. With the advent of electronic learning—including low-cost computer courses and online courses that can reach thousands of students around the world—there is more market competition than ever. New tests are being devised to assure employers that individual students are vocationally prepared, helping recruiters discern which institutions deliver superior academic training. Purdue University, for example, has joined with the Gallup Organization to create an index to survey alumni, providing universities and employers with detailed information, including earnings data.

This educational entrepreneurship offers hope that creative destruction is coming to higher education. Many poorly endowed and undistinguished schools may bite the dust, but America flourished when buggy manufacturers went bankrupt thanks to the automobile. The cleansing would be good for a higher education system still tied to its medieval origins—and for the students it’s robbing.

Mr. Vedder, an adjunct scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, is the director of Center for College Affordability and Productivity and a teacher at Ohio University, where Mr. Denhart is a student.


December 10, 2013

G.M. Board Picks a Woman to Be Chief Executive



DETROIT — Her father was a die maker for 39 years, one of the legions of employees who performed the gritty tasks that made General Motors the nation’s largest and most powerful auto company.

And ever since she was a child, Mary T. Barra aspired to join the family business and make her mark in the rugged, automobile industry. At 18, she did just that, entering a G.M. technical school to become an engineer.

On Tuesday, Ms. Barra, 51, completed a remarkable personal odyssey when she was named as the next chief executive of G.M. — and the first woman to ascend to the top job at a major auto company.

While she is the consummate insider who has spent 33 years with G.M., Ms. Barra is now charged with driving change at the automaker, which, just four years ago, went bankrupt and needed a $49.5 billion government bailout to survive.

G.M.’s board chose her unanimously from a handful of internal candidates to succeed Daniel F. Akerson, who was a fledgling outside director of the company with no automotive experience when he took the reins of G.M. in 2010.

But the selection of Ms. Barra (pronounced BAHR-ra) is a milestone in an industry long dominated by men, and a signal that the stodgy corporate culture at G.M. has changed forever.

“This is truly the next chapter in G.M.’s recovery and turnaround history,” Ms. Barra told employees at a town-hall style meeting Tuesday at company headquarters in Detroit. “And I’m proud to be a part of it.”

Ms. Barra brings extensive experience to her new position. She has been a rank-and-file engineer, a plant manager, the head of corporate human resources and, since 2011, the senior executive overseeing all of G.M.’s global product development.

And she has, in the parlance of the Motor City, gasoline running through her veins. She and her husband, Tony, a management consultant whom she met at G.M.’s technical school, have owned several Chevrolet Camaros. And Ms. Barra can often be found on the company’s test track putting vehicles through their paces at high speeds.

Mr. Akerson, who is retiring earlier than expected from G.M. because of his wife’s health problems, insisted that Ms. Barra was not chosen to make a statement about the need for diversity in the ultracompetitive auto industry.

She beat out some prominent candidates for the job, including Mark Reuss, the head of G.M.’s North American operations and the son of a former president of the company.

“Mary was picked for her talent, not her gender,” Mr. Akerson said in a conference call with reporters.

But on a personal note, he said, promoting Ms. Barra to become chief executive was an emotional moment for him. “It was almost like watching your daughter graduate from college,” he said.

He said that Ms. Barra “brought order to chaos” in G.M.’s vast product development organization, mostly by flattening its bureaucracy and cutting overlapping layers of executives. She was also in charge of reducing the number of expensive, global vehicle platforms, and bringing new models to market faster and at lower cost.

During her tenure, G.M. has introduced competitive small cars like the Chevrolet Sonic and redesigned versions of its big-selling pickup trucks. Ms. Barra has also been a champion of more fuel-efficient engines and lighter-weight vehicles.

G.M.’s announcement that Ms. Barra will take over as its chief executive in January came one day after the Treasury Department sold the last of the G.M. stock it took in exchange for the company’s government bailout.

Now G.M. can continue its comeback without the lingering, negative nickname of “Government Motors” — and under the leadership of a woman who has shattered the glass ceiling in the car business.

Ms. Barra was not available for comment on Tuesday. One of the first women to serve as a G.M. vice president, Marina Whitman, said her selection was overdue in a company that rarely breached its tenets of conformity. “One of my greatest frustrations at G.M. was we were never able to persuade top management that the world was changing rapidly and they needed to change to keep up with it,” said Ms. Whitman, a University of Michigan business professor who worked at G.M. from 1979 to 1992.

But because Ms. Barra has had such a stellar career at G.M., she now has an opportunity to accelerate its post-bankruptcy transformation.

Ms. Barra is hardly a flamboyant figure at the company. She is known inside G.M. as a consensus builder who calls her staff together on a moment’s notice to brainstorm on pressing issues.

An early riser who is often in her office by 6 a.m., she has a soft-spoken manner that belies her intensity on the job.

In a commencement speech last summer to students at her alma mater, the G.M.-sponsored Kettering University in Flint, Mich., she summarized her inclusive management style. “Problems don’t go away when you ignore them — they get bigger,” she said. “In my experience, it is much better to get the right people together, to make a plan, and to address every challenge head on.”

One of her initiatives in the product-development job was to assign engineers to work in car dealerships to learn more about what customers want and need in their cars and trucks.

“It’s the little things,” she said in November. “It’s the person who programs the Sonic windshield wiper who says, ‘Hmm, why don’t I turn this on when the rain sensor for the windshield senses it’s raining, when the person puts it in reverse?’ ”

And while she has a low-key personality, Ms. Barra, the mother of two teenage children, is keenly competitive when it comes to beating rival automakers.

“We’re not developing models to participate in a segment,” she told members of her team at a recent meeting. “We’re developing models to win in a segment.”

Mr. Akerson lauded Ms. Barra for her management and product skills, but also said she had “an ability with people” that is critical to G.M.’s team-first approach.

She will need those talents to lead other executives who lost out on the chief executive job, including Mr. Reuss, who will take over Ms. Barra’s product development duties, and Daniel Ammann, the chief financial officer who was promoted on Tuesday to be G.M.’s president.

The G.M. board, however, did split the chairman and chief executive jobs that were both held by Mr. Akerson. The new chairman of the board will be Theodore M. Solso, a former head of Cummins, the engine manufacturer.

In the end, Ms. Barra’s biggest challenge is to continue to ensure improvements in G.M.’s product lineup. G.M. has overhauled many of its models since emerging from bankruptcy in 2009, but its American market share remains stuck at about 18 percent.

Other hurdles include fixing G.M.’s troubled European operations, and spurring more growth in China and Asia. And while G.M. has been profitable for 15 consecutive quarters, it still lags competitors like Toyota and Ford Motor in overall earnings. 




Steve Malanga: The IRS Throws a Wrench Into Public Pension Reform

Workers who choose a defined-contribution plan could lose a big tax break. Or not. But the agency won’t say.


Updated Dec. 6, 2013 6:33 p.m. ET
Financially troubled cities got some good news this week when a federal judge ruled that the pensions of Detroit’s employees could be cut in a bankruptcy proceeding. The leverage provided by Judge Steven Rhodes’s decision may help bring public unions elsewhere to the bargaining table, but cities face another obstacle to pension reform: the Internal Revenue Service.

For more than three years the IRS has failed to clarify a rule on changes to public pension systems that would allow municipalities to shift workers into new, less-expensive plans without losing any tax advantages they had under the old plan.

The issue flared up in 2009, when officials in California’s Orange County negotiated an agreement with their union that included giving workers the option of moving from their expensive, defined-benefit pension into a hybrid plan featuring a less-costly defined-benefit combined with a 401(k). The plan saves the county money—at least $10 million annually and potentially much more, depending on how many workers sign up—and it also increases worker take-home pay by cutting employee contributions to the plan.

The Orange County Employees Association accepted the new plan to let workers choose more take-home pay now, but there was an unexpected glitch. Local government contributions into a defined-benefit pension aren’t counted as part of an employee’s taxable wages. However, officials discovered that thanks to a murky ruling a few years earlier, the IRS might decide that a portion of the employees’ pension contributions are taxable if a worker moves into a plan such as the one offered by Orange County. Such a ruling would remove a key tax-savings for the employee and probably cause most workers to avoid the new plan.


Orange County officials, worried about the tax issue, asked the IRS to endorse the idea of giving workers a one-time chance to join a cheaper system without any tax penalty. They got no answer. Since then the county and the union have continued to press for a ruling, including hiring a Washington law firm to lobby the IRS.

“There is no legitimate reason to deny localities this tool,” San Diego City Attorney Jan Goldsmith told the San Diego Union-Tribune in April 2012, expressing the frustration of many municipal officials over the federal government’s failure to make a decision.

Other cities that have adopted or are considering similar pension reforms—including San Jose, San Diego and Mesa, Ariz.—have also petitioned for clarification. National groups like the U.S. Conference of Mayors and the National League of Cities have similarly urged the IRS to endorse the changes sought by cities.

So far, Orange County’s hybrid plan is on hold for city workers in the old plan. Meanwhile, total pension contributions by the county government and employees soared to $628 million last year, up from $545 million in 2009.

Last year, San Jose voters approved a pension reform championed by its mayor, Chuck Reed, that requires current employees to contribute more out of their own pockets to their retirement costs. As an alternative, however, workers can shift into a new, less expensive plan that reduces benefits but doesn’t oblige employees to pay more. But until the IRS clears up the tax issue, going ahead could prove risky for the city and its workers. “Nothing is ever easy in this area,” Mr. Reed said recently, noting that the IRS doesn’t seem to view employee choice on pensions favorably.

Earlier this year, several members of Congress introduced a bill that would amend the IRS code to permit the kinds of changes enacted by San Jose and Orange County. “The federal government should not be standing in the way of states, cities and counties that are attempting to take the initiative in solving their own deficit problems,” co-sponsor John Campbell, a Republican representing part of Orange County, said when the bill was introduced in January. The bill has bipartisan backing, including Democrat Loretta Sanchez, who also represents one of Orange County’s congressional districts.

But so far the bill has gone nowhere, in part because of union opposition. In August, Ms. Sanchez told the press that the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and others are unhappy because clarification of the tax issue would spur more cities to move current employees into hybrid plans that feature defined contribution options.

Defined-contribution plans are like the 401(k)s that more than 50 million Americans use to save for their retirement. But according to Sandra Fox, president of Afscme Local 2076 in California, they’re too risky. “Let’s say you do the wrong investment. What happens? You lose everything.”

The IRS has failed, for years, to resolve the pension issue. It has appeared several times on an annual list of priorities the IRS says it intends to address, but that has yet to result in any ruling. And the IRS doesn’t comment on pending matters.

Why are the bureaucrats sitting on their hands? Some critics believe the delay is thanks to the big government unions in Washington. The IRS is part of the U.S. Treasury, and from what he has been able to learn, Orange County Supervisor John M.W. Moorlach believes these unions “have a stranglehold on the Treasury Department.”

Regardless of where the blame lies, the need for a solution is pressing. “Cities and counties all over America are losing their grip on solvency, and pension costs are often a factor,” says Mr. Moorlach. “Offering employees a cheaper plan is a way to curb costs while attempting to sidestep what’s really the only other option: a showdown” with unions rather than a negotiated settlement like the one in Orange County. Ms. Sanchez has put it more simply: “We don’t want to end up like Detroit.”

Mr. Malanga is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute.

Friday 18 October 2013

Marine Le Pen: EU will collapse like the Soviet Union

Marine Le Pen aims to set up radical, anti-Europe faction in the European parliament with help of Geert Wilders, the Dutch MP

Marine Le Pen: EU will fall like the Soviet Union

Marine Le Pen criticised the EU as a ‘global anomaly’ Photo: AFP

By Martin Banks, Henry Samuel and Alex Spillius

6:05PM BST 16 Oct 2013

The leader of France’s far-Right party has vowed that the European Union would “collapse like the Soviet Union” as she conspired to form what would be the most radical faction yet seen in the European parliament.

Marine Le Pen, buoyed by a weekend by-election triumph in southern France, criticised the EU as a “global anomaly” and pledged to return the bloc to a “cooperation of sovereign states”.

She said Europe’s population had “no control” over their economy or currency, nor over the movement of people in their territory.

“I believe that the EU is like the Soviet Union now: it is not improvable,” she said. “The EU will collapse like the Soviet Union collapsed.”

Ms Le Pen, 45, will next month travel to Holland to chart a joint campaign with Geert Wilders, whose anti-Islamic Freedom Party (PVV) currently tops national opinion polls for May’s European elections.

Together they aim to establish a pan-European, far-Right parliamentary grouping that would run on an anti-immigrant, anti-integration platform. Once in office its overriding aim would be to be as disruptive as possible.

Even ardent European federalists now concede that as much as 30 per cent of the new parliament will comprise Euro-sceptics capitalising on economic misery and record levels of unemployment across Europe.

“If Eurosceptic parties are successful in 2014, this would create the most extreme European parliament ever,” Sarah Ludford, a Liberal Democrat MEP, said.

“I’m alarmed at not only their racist and discriminatory attitudes but also their protectionism and hostility to the European single market to which three million British jobs are linked.”

Guy Verhofstadt, a former Belgian PM, urged mainstream parties across Europe to stand firm against the forces of extremism that fuelled the Second World War.

“If we allow these forces to gain a foothold once again on our continent we will have wasted a century of building closer ties and condemned history to repeat itself,” he said.

President François Hollande of France warned this week that the prospect of a significant anti-EU grouping could lead to “regression and paralysis” in Europe, adding that it could threaten the continent’s ability to recover from the after-effects of the crisis in the Eurozone.

Ms Le Pen has already cultivated links with Austria’s far right Freedom Party, which gained 21 per cent of the vote in last month’s general election.

Mr Wilders, whose party was until last year a member of his country’s ruling coalition, has forged links with Vlaams Belang in Belgium, the Democratic Party in Sweden and the Northern League in Italy.

“We want to do whatever we can to turn the forthcoming European elections into a Europe-wide electoral landslide against Brussels,” said Mr Wilders.

The new anti-EU bloc would be to the Right of the existing Eurosceptic group in Brussels, Europe of Freedom and Democracy, which is dominated by the UK Independence Party.

Nigel Farage, Ukip’s leader, has ruled out any alliance with FN or PVV, saying their views on race and religion were too extreme.

It is predicted Ms Le Pen’s party could win 20 seats or more in May. Forming an official group in the European parliament requires 25 members from at least seven of the union’s 28 states.

Creating such an official faction brings major advantages such as guaranteed speaking time in debates and considerable subsidies.

Ludovic de Danne, Ms Le Pen’s international affairs adviser, said: “She is not wandering alone in the desert. If I were a federalist, I would be very, very frightened.”

In the past Mr Wilders refused to associate with FN because he disapproved of the anti-Semitic remarks of Ms Le Pen’s father, Jean-Marie Le Pen.

Since she replaced her father in January 2011, Ms Le Pen has tried to improve the party’s image and move it into Left-wing territory on social policy and economic protectionism.

Previous attempts at cooperation by the far Right in Brussels have been defeated by national rivalry and policy disagreements.

In 2007, 23 far-right and nationalist MEPs formed a group called Identity, Tradition and Sovereignty. Within months, they had broken up after Alessandra Mussolini, an Italian MEP, insulted the Romanians.

The Walker era: Teachers’ union in Wisconsin’s third-largest school district decertified

Written by . Posted in 2014 Campaigns

Published on September 12, 2013


An exclusive by Mark Belling:

I have learned the third largest teachers union in the state, the Kenosha Education Association, has been decertified. Only 37 percent of the teachers in the Kenosha Unified School District voted to reauthorize the union in a recent vote…Under Act 10, public employee unions must be recertified every year by an affirmative vote of at least 50 percent of the employees.

Read it all at the Conservative badger.

“Act 10″ is, of course, Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s controversial public-sector union reform law. Some people have argued that this particular requirement — for an annual recertification vote — is somehow out of line. But how many workplaces are there in America where unions were certified decades ago and have coasted on pure inertia — where practically (or even literally) no one working today actually voted for the union that represents them?

And think of it from the union’s perspective. If you can’t even get 40 percent of your members to reaffirm that they want you representing them, then what claim do you have to their allegiance? Maybe they’d be better off with no union — or with a different union.

It makes you wonder — just how many union members really think they’re getting their money’s worth for the dues they pay? The whole point of union representation is that all of (or at the very least, a bare 51 percent majority of) the workers act in solidarity. Not so much in Kenosha’s school district.

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AUGUST 21, 2013

After Walker Reforms, Wisconsin Workers Kick Government Unions to the Curb

Guy Benson

7/23/2013 1:55:00 PM – Guy Benson

When the Left celebrates “choice,” they’re generally talking about one macabre subject. They’re studiously anti-choice on a host of other issues, because liberty doesn’t always work out so well for them (via the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel):

Wisconsin’s public employees are leaving their unions in droves, which should be no surprise: With passage of Act 10 in 2011, public unions in the Badger State lost many of their reasons for being. The “budget-repair bill” pushed through the Legislature by Republicans and signed into law by Gov. Scott Walker limited bargaining to wages only, and then only up to the cost of living; it also required unions to recertify each year and barred the automatic collection of union dues. Relying on federal financial records, the Journal Sentinel’s Dan Bice found union membership has declined by 50% or more at some unions, including the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees District Council 48, which represents Milwaukee city and county workers. It has gone from more than 9,000 members and income exceeding $7 million in 2010 to about 3,500 members and a deep deficit by the end of last year. Walker inherited a budget mess from the administration of former Gov. Jim Doyle. He was facing a sizable deficit and entrenched public sector unions that had big political power bases that they used to protect their members. That often put them at odds with both good government and overburdened taxpayers.  It was necessary to ask more of public workers — to have them pay a larger portion of their benefits. In particular, Walker needed to get control of spiraling health care benefits.

We touched on this effect a little over a year ago, and it seems the trend has continued.  The editorial above goes on to complain that Walker’s non-fiscal measures, such as requiring annual union re-certification and ending compulsory dues-paying, were unnecessarily political.  He pandered by exempting first responders!  His GOP “coup” damaged Wisconsin’s political climate!  Yes, he did exempt first responders, which I’m confident was a savvy and calculated move.  Whenever these sorts of reforms are proposed, Statists employ the strategy of holding up police and firefighters as popular ‘victims’ of the cruel, cold-hearted reformers.  Walker denied his critics this turn-key demagoguery.  This is known as smart politics.  As for the political climate, Republicans introduced a controversial bill; liberal lawmakers fled the state to avoid votes while Leftists occupied the capitol, spewed vile hatred, and leveled chilling threats.  Who is primarily responsible for the incivility in Madison, again?  Livid and defeated, Democrats launched a costly do-over election campaign against Walker, indicting him with some of the objections raised in this editorial.  When the dust settled, the people of Wisconsin decisively chose to let Governor Hitler McDivisive retain his job.  Walker won by a larger percentage, and with more raw votes, than in his original race.  Now, as their membership craters, Wisconsin’s government unions despair. Behold, the wages of choice.  Government union workers — the very people who opposed Walker most strenuously — have discovered that their membership isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be:  These dues aren’t worth it…I can spend my own money better…buh-bye.

It’s this phenomenon that explains government union bosses’ vituperation and desperation throughout 2011 and 2012.  The anti-Walker hordes weren’t out there for “the children,” or to champion any of the other arguments they trotted out.  The calculation was pretty straightforward and self-interested, really. They knew this law would spell their demise because it would liberate their own people to evaluate the true value of membership, and to say no thanks.  And oh by the way, Walker’s budget reforms have proven to be a demonstrable success, an outcome the Journal-Sentinel editors concede.  Walker is up for re-re-election next year.  His campaign announced yesterday that he’s raised $3.5 million so far in 2013, 80 percent of which has flowed from small donors.  He enjoys a modest but stable positive approval rating.  Divided and demoralized Democrats are struggling to recruit a name opponent to run against him.  Some national conservatives may blanch at isolated remarks he’s made about one hot-button issue, but Walker’s record in Badgerland speaks for itself.  He’s been a strong, fearless, effective conservative reformer, who’s beaten the Left like a drum, and plunged his remaining opposition into a state of disarray.  If he wins next year and keeps his train chugging along, these whispers will grow louder.  As they should.


Editor’s note: A version of this piece is cross-posted at Hot Air.