Saturday, 05 December 2015 05:10

Ramblings

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Ramblings

Allan C. Brownfeld

Allan C. Brownfeld is the author of five books, the latest of which is The Revolution Lobby (Council for Inter-American Security). He has been a staff aide to a U.S. Vice President, Members of Congress, and the U.S. Senate Internal Security Subcommittee. He is associate editor of The Lincoln Review, and a contributing editor to Human Events, The St. Croix Review, and The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs.

Out of Control Executive Authority Is a Growing Threat to Representative Government

The growth of presidential power in recent years represents a serious threat to representative government. The idea of the executive "executing" the laws passed by the elected representatives of the people in the Congress seems to those in power - whether Republicans or Democrats - to be an old-fashioned notion.

When President Obama unilaterally called a halt to deportation proceedings for certain unauthorized immigrants who came to the U.S. as minors, the eligibility requirements roughly tracked the requirements of the Dream Act, which was never passed by Congress.

In an interview with a panel of Latino journalists last fall, the president said:

This notion that somehow I can just change the laws unilaterally is just not true. We live in a democracy. You have to pass bills through the legislature and then I can sign it.

Gene Healy, vice president of the Cato Institute, notes that,

As it happens, Obama's "royal dispensation" for young immigrants is hardly the most terrifying instance of administration unilateralism. In fact, as a policy matter, it's a humane and judicious use of prosecutorial resources. But given the context, it stinks. It looks uncomfortably like implementing parts of a bill that didn't pass and - carried out as it was with great fanfare and an eye to the impending election - the move sits uneasily with the president's constitutional responsibility to "take care that the laws be faithfully executed."

Or consider the president's claim of "executive privilege" in withholding information about the Justice Department's Operation Fast and Furious, which deliberately put assault weapons in the hands of Mexican drug cartels as part of a sting, and then lost track of hundreds of them. A Border Patrol agent was killed in 2010, apparently by one of these guns.

Executive privilege, affirmed by the Supreme Court in U.S. v. Nixon, is historically limited to the president's own discussions. President Obama has now extended it to his attorney general. This contravenes the president's promises of transparency.

Recent legislation has made legal the president's right to detain a person indefinitely on suspicion of affiliation with terrorist organizations or "associated forces," a broad, vague power that can be abused without real oversight from the courts or the Congress.

At the same time, American citizens can now be targeted for assassination or indefinite detention. Recent laws have also canceled the restraints in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 to allow unprecedented violations of our right to privacy through warrantless wiretapping and government mining of our electronic communications.

According to The New York Times, President Obama is personally deciding upon every drone strike in Yemen and Somalia and the riskiest ones in Pakistan, assisted only by his own aides. It is reported that suspects are now being killed in Yemen without anyone knowing their names, using criteria that have not been made public.

Editorially, The Times declares that no president

. . . should be able to unilaterally order the killing of American citizens or foreigners located far from a battlefield - depriving Americans of their due process rights - without the consent of someone outside his political inner circle. How can the world know whether this president or a successor truly pursued all methods short of assassination, or instead - to avoid a political charge of weakness - built up a tough-sounding list of kills?

To permit President Obama - or any president - to execute American citizens without judicial review and outside the theater of war, gives him the power of judge, jury and executioner without any check or balance. This is clearly an abuse of presidential power.

For many years, under both parties, the power of the executive has been growing. In his classic work, The American Presidency, written in 1956. Professor Clinton Rossiter writes that:

The presidency has the same general outlines as that of 1789, but the whole picture is a hundred times magnified. The president is all the things he was intended to be, and he is several other things as well. . . . The presidency today is distinctly more powerful. It cuts deeply into the power of Congress. In fact it has quite reversed the expectations of the framers by becoming itself a vortex into which these powers have been drawn in massive amounts. It cuts deeply into the lives of the people; in fact, it commands authority over their comings and goings that Hamilton himself might tremble to behold. The outstanding feature of American constitutional development is the growth of the power and prestige of the Presidency.

He also makes the converse explicit:

The long decline of Congress has contributed greatly to the rise of the presidency. The framers . . . expected Congress to be the focus of our system of government.

That was 1956. The power of the presidency has steadily expanded since then, no matter which party was in power.

When Republican presidents have expanded the power of the presidency, Republicans in the Congress have acquiesced. When Democratic presidents expanded the power of the executive, Democrats in the Congress have embraced that expansion. The result is an executive branch increasingly unaccountable to the elected representatives of the people. That is not the system the authors of the Constitution had in mind. We would do well to return to the constitutional philosophy of checks and balances, and a division of powers. An all powerful executive is a threat to freedom and accountability, as the Framers of the Constitution understood very well as a result of their own experience and of the experience of the world.

To Reduce Government - and Debt - We Must Change the Incentive Structure for Politicians

Government spending and government debt has been skyrocketing. Under President George W. Bush, the debt reached unprecedented levels. Under President Barack Obama, it has exploded still further. Whichever party is in power, government gets larger and government debt increases.

Our political system, sadly, rewards big spenders. Every organized special interest group in the American society - the farmers, the teachers, the labor unions, manufacturers, Wall Street financiers, realtors, etc. - want one or another form of government subsidization for themselves.

They all have active political action committees, which promise rewards for those who open the government coffers to them, and penalties for those who do not. The incentive is clearly one-sided. As Democrats used to say in the New Deal days, the way to electoral success is clear: "Spend and spend, tax and tax, elect and elect." Now, Republicans too have learned this lesson. Since neither Republicans nor Democrats are too eager to antagonize voters by raising taxes to pay for their extravagant spending, the budget deficits grow each year.

In May, for example, President Obama reauthorized the Export-lmport Bank, raising its lending authority 40 percent to $140 billion by 2014, one day before the 78-year-old federal bank would have been shut down had he not signed the bill. During the 2008 presidential campaign, Mr. Obama called the bank, "little more than a fund for corporate welfare."

Despite President Obama's frequent criticism of corporate jets, the bill includes $1 billion in subsidies for jet manufacturers, which have experienced a steep decline in demand in recent years. Export-lmport Bank supporters in the business community - who speak of "free markets" but campaign vigorously for government subsidies - welcomed the President's support. John Murphy, vice president for international affairs at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said that the President's action was "Great news for thousands of American workers and businesses of all sizes." The National Association of Manufacturers - and both Republicans and Democrats in Congress-supported the reauthorization of the Export-lmport Bank.

Tim Phillips, president of Americans for Prosperity, described the Bank in these terms:

In (its) nearly 80 years, the official credit export agency of the United States has financed over $450 billion in purchases. Ex-Im allows the federal government to pick winners and losers in the market, and all too often, that leads to back room deals and government cronyism. . . . It is a heinous practice that gives money to a small number of politically connected companies while leaving taxpayers with the risk. . . . The American taxpayer does not exist in order to keep businesses from failing.

Republicans and Democrats are co-conspirators in this enterprise. The incentive structure for both parties is precisely the same. Republicans may talk of the "free market" and argue that Democrats are against it, but both parties raise their funds on Wall Street and in corporate boardrooms, and both parties have supported bailouts of failed businesses and subsidies for others.

Voters say that they are against big government, and oppose deficit spending, but when it comes to their own particular share, they act in a different manner entirely. This is nothing new. Longtime Minnesota Republican Congressman Walter Judd once recalled that a Republican businessman from his district

. . . who normally decried deficit spending berated me for voting against a bill which would have brought several million federal dollars into our city. My answer was, "Where do you think federal funds for Minneapolis come from? People in St. Paul?". . . My years in public life have taught me that politicians and citizens alike invariably claim that government spending should be restrained - except where the restraints cut off federal dollars flowing into their cities, their businesses, or their pocketbooks.

If each group curbed its demands upon government it would be easy to restore health to our economy. Human nature, however, leads to the unfortunate situation in which, under representative government, people have learned that through political pressure they can vote funds for themselves that have, in fact, been earned by the hard work of others.

This point was made 200 years ago by the British historian Alexander Tytler:

A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover they can vote themselves largess out of the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates promising the most benefits from the public treasury - with the result that democracy collapses over a loose fiscal policy, always to be followed by a dictatorship.

Hopefully, we can avoid fulfilling this prediction. It is an illusion to think that such a thing as "government money" exists. The only money which government has is what it first takes from citizens. Many years ago, Senator William Proxmire (D-Wisconsin) pointed out that no one ever petitions members of Congress to "leave us alone," everyone who comes before Congress, he lamented, wants something. Members of Congress - of both parties - have the same incentive, to give each group what it wants to ensure their support for the future. The result is that government spending - and government debt - steadily grows.

Unless we find a way to change this incentive structure, it seems unlikely that we will bring government spending - and government deficits - under control. As the presidential campaign gets under way, neither party is addressing this crucial question. Politics as usual, unfortunately, will not help us to resolve the very real problems we face.

Finally, Attention Is Being Focused on Our System of Excessive Public Pensions

In June, the effort by labor unions and others to recall Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker was soundly defeated. Governor Walker had not committed any crime or other indiscretion. He was being recalled only because he had implemented the policies he promised during his campaign.

In February 2011, Walker announced his plan to limit the subjects covered by collective bargaining for public employees, compel them to contribute more to their healthcare and pension plans, stop government from collecting dues automatically on unions' behalf, and require public employee unions to hold annual certification elections. Once in office, he implemented these policies.

Wisconsin's recall policy is questionable and, in many ways, a threat to representative democracy. Officeholders can be removed at the conclusion of their terms for policy disagreements. Wisconsin has had 14 elected state government officials involved in recall elections during the past year alone. The state's largest newspaper, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, endorsed Governor Walker, arguing that elected officials should not be recalled simply for policy differences. Some 60 percent of voters in exit polls agreed.

Beyond this, the union effort in Wisconsin has focused a much-needed spotlight on the excesses of public pensions. Over the years, politicians have given in to union demands for higher pensions - rather than wage increases - because they knew that such pensions would be paid many years later, under someone else's watch. Now, these bills are coming due -and many states and cities are in no position to pay them.

In New Jersey, Governor Chris Christie is seeking to reform his state's sick-pay policies. Current law allows public workers to accumulate unused sick pay, which they can cash in upon retirement. "They call them 'boat checks,"' Christie says.

Know the reason they call them boat checks? It is the check they use to buy their boat when they retire - literally.

He tells the story of the town of Parsippany, where four police officers retired at one time and were owed a collective $900,000 in unused sick pay. The municipality didn't have the money and had to float a bond in order to make the payments.

Governor Christie wants to end sick-pay accumulation. "If you're sick, take your sick day," he says. "If you don't take your sick day, know what your reward is? You weren't sick - that was the reward." Newsweek notes that,

It was by the force of such arguments that Christie was able to overcome the powerful teachers, union and force educators to help pay for their healthcare costs, and to win broad rollbacks in benefits for the state's huge public workforce.

Shortly after the vote in Wisconsin, there were landslide victories in San Jose and San Diego, California, of ballot measures meant to cut back public sector retirees' benefits. Warren Buffet calls the costs of public-sector retirees a "time bomb." They are, he believes, the single biggest threat to our fiscal health.

In California, total pension liabilities - the money the state is legally required to pay its public-sector retirees - are 30 times its annual budget deficit. Annual pension benefits rose by 2,000 percent from 1999 to 2009. In Illinois, they are already 15 percent of general revenue and growing. Ohio's pension liabilities are now 35 percent of the state's GDP.

Commentator Fareed Zakaria notes that,

The accounting at the heart of the government pension plans is fraudulent, so much so that it should be illegal. Here's how it works. For a plan to be deemed solvent, employees and the government must finance it with regular monthly contributions as determined by assumptions about investment returns of the plan. The better the investment returns the less the state has to put in. So states everywhere made magical assumptions about investment returns.

David Crane, an economic adviser to former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, points out that state pension funds have assumed that the stock market will grow 40 percent faster in the 21st century than it did in the 20th. While the market has grown 175 times during the past 100 years, state governments are now assuming that it will grow 1,750 times its size over the next 100 years.

Inflated retirement benefits are the reason for dramatic cuts in spending by state and local government for anything else. Last year, California spent $32 billion on employee pay and benefits, up 65 percent over the past 10 years. In that same time period, spending on higher education is down 5 percent. Three-quarters of San Jose's discretionary spending goes to its public safety workers alone. The city has closed libraries, cut back on park services, laid off many civil servants and asked the rest to take pay cuts. By 2014, San Jose, the 10th largest city in the country, will be serviced by 1,600 public workers, one-third the number it had 25 years ago.

The Pew Center on the States has quantified the problem. In 2008, the states had set aside $2.35 trillion to pay for public employees' retirement benefits while owing $3.35 trillion in promises. A year later, the trillion-dollar gap had grown by 26 percent. The massive expanding obligation cuts into the provision of government services. Former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan notes that:

A lot of things are going to happen dramatically over the next couple of years and then people will listen. If you close down all the parks and all the libraries, this is political dynamite.

In Wisconsin, as a result of Governor Walker's reforms, the state has balanced its two-year budget without tax increases and local school districts have used their new bargaining power to save money without layoffs or significant increases in class size. While leading Democrats, such as President Obama and former President Clinton, supported the recall effort in Wisconsin, many others, such as the liberal Democratic mayor of San Jose, recognize that it is time to bring the excesses of public sector unions under control. Editorially, The Washington Post declared,

. . . those who voted for Mr. Walker to show approval for his policies, and not just disapproval for the recall itself, had plausible reasons for doing so. . . . Public employee union leaders are pledging to fight . . . new laws in court. . . . They would do better to engage governments in a good-faith effort to restructure and preserve public services for the long term. States and localities face genuine problems, and the unions share responsibility for them.

Black-on-Black Crime: A Subject Which the African-American Community, Finally, Must Confront

In recent days, with the extraordinary publicity surrounding the Trayvon Martin case in Florida and an escalation in overheated racial rhetoric, one would think that the real problem facing black Americans are a result of "white racism."

Needless to say, this overlooks the fact that race relations in America have dramatically improved in recent years and that we are well on our way to achieving a genuinely color blind society.

Writing in The Washington Post, columnist Richard Cohen points out that most Americans

. . . do not know what a miracle has been pulled off - how a nation that once contained so much bigotry now contains so little. I am not a fool on these matters, I think, and I recognize . . . the residue of bigotry, but still the big picture is that Obama is a black man and is the president of the United States. Mamma, can you believe it?

Cohen provides this assessment:

Some insist that not much has changed. They cite a persistent racism. There are many such examples - not all that many, actually - but they are newsworthy because they are exceptions to the rule, not what we expect.

Recently, Wesley A. Brown, the first African American to graduate from the U.S. Naval Academy died. He was the sixth black man admitted and - the only one to successfully endure the racist hazing that had forced others to quit. He graduated in 1949. Cohen writes that,

When I read the obituary on Wesley A. Brown, I was shocked once again at the depth and meanness of our racism and just plain dumbstruck by how far we have come. The new field house at the Naval Academy is named for Brown. He called it, "The most beautiful building I've ever seen," but he was wrong. It's not a building. It's a monument.

This is not to say that the black community does not face many problems. These problems, however, are not a result of white racism but of internal forces at work within the black community. One such serious problem is crime.

Each year, roughly 7,000 blacks are murdered; 94 percent of the time, the murderer is another black person. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, between 1976 and 2011, there were 279,384 black murder victims. The 94 percent figure suggests that 262,621 were murdered by other blacks.

Though blacks are 13 percent of the national population, they account for more than 50 percent of homicide victims. Nationally, the black homicide victimization rate is six times that of whites, and in some cities, it is 32 times that of whites. Blacks are also disproportionately victimized by violent personal crimes, such as assault and robbery.

Economist Walter Williams points out that,

The magnitude of this tragic mayhem can be viewed in another light. According to a Tuskegee Institute study, between the years 1882 and 1998, 3,446 blacks were lynched at the hands of whites. Black fatalities during the Korean War (3,075), Vietnam War (7,243) and all the wars since 1980 (8,107) come to 18,425, a number that pales in comparison with black loss of life at home. Tragically, young black males have a greater chance of reaching maturity on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan than on the streets of Philadelphia, Chicago, Detroit, Oakland, Newark, and other cities.

Sadly, the question is hardly ever discussed by black leaders. In Williams' view,

A much larger issue is how might we interpret the deafening silence about the day-to-day murder in black communities compared with the national uproar over the killing of Trayvon Martin. Such a response by politicians, civil rights organizations, and the mainstream news media could easily be interpreted as blacks killing other blacks is of little concern, but it's unacceptable for a white to kill a black person.

Several black leaders have started to discuss black-on-black crime. When President Obama commented about the Martin case, William Fair, president of the Urban League of Greater Miami, said that "the outrage should be about us killing each other, about black-on-black crime." He asked rhetorically:

Wouldn't you think to have 41 people shot (in Chicago) between Friday morning and Monday morning would be much more newsworthy and deserve much more outrage?

Former NAACP leader Pastor C. L. Bryant said that the rallies organized by Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson suggest there is an epidemic of "white men killing young black men," adding, "The epidemic is truly black-on-black crime. The greatest danger to the lives of young black men are young black men."

Beyond this, argues Walter Williams,

Not only is there silence about black-on-black crime, there's silence about black racist attacks on whites - for example, the recent attacks on two Virginian-Pilot newspaper reporters set upon and beaten by a mob of young blacks (in Norfolk, Virginia). The story wasn't even covered by their own newspaper. In March, a black mob assaulted and knocked unconscious, disrobed and robbed a white tourist in downtown Baltimore. Black mobs have roamed the streets of Denver, Chicago, Philadelphia, New York, Cleveland, Washington, Los Angeles and other cities, making unprovoked attacks on whites and running off with their belongings.

This is not a new story. This writer was the author of a book (with Lincoln Review editor J. A. Parker) in 1974 entitled What The Negro Can Do About Crime (Arlington House). There was an extensive discussion of black-on-black crime and the manner in which black leaders refused to confront it.

On Page 54 is the following passage:

Criticizing those Negroes who have not spoken out against crime, Roy Wilkins, executive director of the NAACP, declared that, "except for a few voices, Negro citizens have given consent to robbery, muggings, assaults, and murder by their silence. They have been intimidated by a curious twisting of the 'us blacks together' philosophy that holds that complaining of black criminals is somehow 'betraying the race.'" This is nonsense. One can be proud of being black without embracing every black mugger, rapist, and auto thief.

For those in the black community genuinely concerned about the future prospects of its young men and women, focusing upon the black-on-black crime wave that now engulfs our inner cities, and has broken out into attacks upon the community at large, is an important place to begin. Thus far, however, this has largely been ignored in place of repeated attacks upon "white racism," which, by any standard, has receded dramatically. Such racial demagoguery serves the very community in whose name it is launched. It is time for a radically different direction.

Finally, Taking a Long-Needed Second Look at Vocational Education

We are now in an era when we are told that a proper goal for society is for "everyone" to go to college. At the same time, there is a serious mismatch of jobs that are now available and the number of individuals who are qualified to fill them. Manufacturing companies, for example, cannot find enough high-tech machinists, and they are subsidizing tuition at local community colleges in a desperate effort to fill vacancies.

The Cato Institute's Andrew Coulson reports that we spend - in real terms - almost twice as much per student in a public school as we did in 1970. Despite this, academic achievement has remained flat or worsened. Vocational training, a long and important path to gainful employment, has been pushed aside.

Vocational education once played an important part in our schools, designed for those who were not suited for, or had no interest in, higher education. About forty years ago, it began to fall out of fashion, in part because it became a civil rights issue. As Time recently noted:

Vocational education was seen as a form of segregation, a convenient dumping ground for minority kids in Northern cities.

Former New York City schools chancellor Joel Klein says that,

This was a real problem. And the vocational education programs were pretty awful. They weren't training the kids for specific jobs or for certified skills. It really was a waste of time and money.

In an important article, "Learning That Works," Time writer Joe Klein declares that,

Unfortunately, the education establishment's response to the voc-ed problem only made things worse. Over time, it morphed into the theology that every child should go to college (a four-year liberal arts college at that) and therefore every child should be required to pursue a college-prep course in high school. The results have been awful. High school dropout rates continue to be a national embarrassment, and most high school graduates are not prepared for the world of work. The unemployment rate for recent high school graduates who are not in school is a stratospheric 33 percent. The results for even those who go on to higher education are brutal: four-year colleges graduate only about 40 percent of the students who start them, and two-year community colleges graduate less than that, about 25 percent.

Diane Ravitch, a professor of education at New York University, says that,

College for everyone has become a matter of political correctness. But according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, less than a quarter of new job openings will require a bachelor of arts degree. We're not training our students for the jobs that actually exist.

At the same time, the U.S. is beginning to run out of welders, glaziers, and auto mechanics - jobs that actually keep things running, and cannot be outsourced.

In Arizona and a few other states, things are beginning to change. Vocational education there is now called career and technical education (CTE) and now attracts about 27 percent of students. It has been found that they are more likely to score higher on the state's aptitude tests, graduate from high school, and go on to higher education than those who don't.

"It's not rocket science," says Sally Downey, superintendent of the East Valley Institute of Technology in Mesa, Arizona, 98.5 percent of whose students graduate from high school. "It's just finding something they like and teaching it to them with rigor."

At the Auto shop in East Valley, there are 40 late model cars and the latest in diagnostic equipment, donated by Phoenix auto dealers, who are in need of trained technicians. "If you can master the computer science and electronic components," Downey says, "you can make over $100,000 a year as an auto mechanic."

Carolyn Warner, a former Arizona schools chancellor, says tech track students

. . . are more focused, so they're more likely to graduate from two- and four-year colleges. Those who graduate from high school with a certificate of technical expertise in a field like auto repair or welding are certainly more likely to find jobs.

At East Valley, there are 38 programs, with more coming. There are firefighter, police, and EMT programs; a state-of-the-art kitchen for culinary services training and welding (which can pay $40 per hour), aeronautics, radio station, marketing, and massage therapy instruction. Almost all of these courses lead to professional certificates. In addition to high school diplomas, many of the students are trained by employers for needed technical specialties.

An interesting example of business participation in technical and vocational education can be seen in the case of a new public school in Brooklyn, New York. called P-Tech, or Pathways in Technology Early College High School. Started last September, it is a partnership of the New York City department of education, the New York City College of Technology, the City University of New York and IBM, whose head of corporate social responsibility, Stanley Litow, used to be the city's deputy schools chancellor.

The goal is to create a science and tech-heavy curriculum to prepare students - some of whom would be the first in their families to graduate from high school - for entry and mid-level jobs at top tech-oriented companies. Each student gets an IBM mentor and there is also a core curriculum focused on English, math, science, and technology.

P-Tech students will graduate with not only a high school diploma but an associate's degree as well. This is important, since 63 percent of American jobs will require postsecondary training by 2018. The U.S. economy will create more than 14 million new jobs over the next decade, but only for people with at least a community college degree. These jobs - positions like dental hygienist, medical laboratory technician, aircraft mechanic and entry level software engineer - will allow millions entry into the middle class. Many of them will require serious technology skills.

Harvard Business School professor Rosabeth Moss Kanter argues that as much as a third of the increase in unemployment in recent years can be attributed to a mismatch between skills and jobs. The gap is greatest in positions that require more than a high school diploma but less than a bachelor's degree. Companies feel that schools are simply not turning out graduates with the skills they need. That was an impetus for IBM's role with New York's P-Tech.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel is setting up five new STEM schools - the acronym stands for science, tech, engineering and math - in partnership with IBM, Microsoft, Verizon, Cisco and other companies.

Vocational education deserves a serious second look by school systems across the country. Training young men and women for jobs that actually exist in our economy - something our current educational system is not doing very well - is certainly worth doing, both for the sake of the young people involved and for the health of our larger society and economy. *

Read 3051 times Last modified on Saturday, 05 December 2015 11:10
Allan C. Brownfeld

Allan C. Brownfeld is the author of five books, the latest of which is The Revolution Lobby(Council for Inter-American Security). He has been a staff aide to a U.S. vice president, members of Congress, and the U.S. Senate Internal Security Subcommittee. He is associate editor of The Lincoln Review, and a contributing editor to Human Events, The St. Croix Review, and The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs.

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