Gov. Walker Proposal in Line with Federal Unions

In my first post on the Wisconsin budget/union battle 2 days ago, I alluded to a point that federal employees like myself enjoy good benefits which are non-negotiable, benefits which include a contribution by the employee in addition to a matching contribution by the government up to a certain level.

Non-negotiable. In other words, federal unions don’t have the right to collectively bargain on benefits or wages. Sound familiar? Well, as the Wall Street Journal’s Kimberly Strassel points out, this fact isn’t lost on President Obama (emphasis mine):

The union horde is spreading, from Madison to Indianapolis to a state capital near you. And yet the Democratic and union bigwigs engineering the outrage haven’t directed their angry multitudes at what is arguably the most “hostile workplace” in the nation: Washington, D.C.

It will no doubt surprise you to learn that President Obama, the great patron of the working man, also happens to be the great CEO of one of the least union-friendly shop floors in the nation.

This is, after all, the president who has berated Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s proposal to limit the collective bargaining rights of public employees, calling the very idea an “assault on unions.” This is also the president who has sicced his political arm, Organizing for America, on Madison, allowing the group to fill buses and plan rallies. Ah, but it’s easy to throw rocks when you live in a stone (White) house.

Fact: President Obama is the boss of a civil work force that numbers up to two million (excluding postal workers and uniformed military). Fact: Those federal workers cannot bargain for wages or benefits. Fact: Washington, D.C. is, in the purest sense, a “right to work zone.” Federal employees are not compelled to join a union, nor to pay union dues. Fact: Neither Mr. Obama, nor the prior Democratic majority, ever acted to give their union chums a better federal deal.

Scott Walker, eat your heart out.

As Strassel goes on to write, it was the Carter Administration, in a miraculous stroke of genius, that implemented the Civil Service Reform Act in 1978 which stripped federal unions of bargaining rights for benefits and wages. Just as it should be for a public union for all the clear and obvious reasons Strassel mentions, illustrated by the taxpayer fleecing on behalf of the Wisconsin teacher’s union.

Something else to consider in this bitter debate.

A More Balanced Look at WI Gov/Union Battle

Here’s an assessment and Catholic perspective from Madison, Wisconsin’s Bishop Robert Morlino. It is a fair and honest assessment of the issue, admittedly more so than the one I posted yesterday. This doesn’t change my overall view, but it should give people on both sides “food for thought”.

Read Bishop Morlino’s article in full below (H/T Catholic Vote).

Continue reading

Violent Repression Continues in Cuba

An unfortunately-too-common occurrence in Cuba reared it’s ugly head again yesterday:

Cuban security officials tightened an already harsh clampdown on dissidents Wednesday, detaining and putting under house arrest well over 115 to block any possible protests on the one-year anniversary of Orlando Zapata Tamayo’s death.

The round-up hit across the island and virtually all top government critics: the Ladies in White, Guillermo Fariñas, Martha Beatriz Roque, “Antúnez’’ and an official of Elizardo Sánchez illegal but long-tolerated human rights group.

The worst single incident came when police chased and often pummeled about 15 women as they walked toward the Havana home of Ladies in White leader Laura Pollán to join in a rosary in Zapata Tamayo’s memory, witnesses said.

Some of the so-called Ladies in Support sought refuge in nearby homes but were tracked down by security agents and virtually all were believed to have been arrested, Alejandrina García, one of the Ladies in White, told El Nuevo Herald.

A mob of about 300 people organized by the government then laid siege to Pollán’s home for more than five hours, Roque said by telephone from the house. They threw rocks and eggs at the building and chanted, “Machete, because they are few.”

The incident spread when some of the women in Pollán’s house went out to help the Ladies in Support and were themselves attacked, Roque said. García said she was punched in the face by someone in the mob. Roque said she was hit in the arm by a state security official and Blanca Hernandez went to a hospital with a bloody nose.

These are unarmed and mostly middle-aged women, folks.

Where is Havana Cardinal Jaime Ortega’s denouncement of these actions? Or is he too busy “compromising” with the castro regime?

For his part, President Obama’s statement yesterday commemorating the one-year anniversary of Orlando Tamayo’s death is  appreciated by yours truly:

The Cuban people must know that their suffering does not go unnoticed and that the United States remains unwavering in our commitment to defend the inalienable right of the Cuban people to enjoy the freedoms that define the Americas and that are universal to all human beings.

Today, I join the Cuban people in marking this anniversary by again calling for the immediate and unconditional release of all political prisoners in Cuba.

Also, today (February 24th) marks the 15th anniversary of the Brothers to the Rescue tragedy over international waters in the Straits of Florida.

Wisconsin Teacher’s Union = Big Business

For those of us outside of Wisconsin, it’s easy to think that the brouhaha between Governor Scott Walker and the unions started a few days ago when Walker came out with his controversial proposal. However, the following illustrates that this has been coming for quite a while.

To illustrate, I am posting a small part of a report issued by Education Action Group (a pro-parental choice outfit) last fall which analyzes in detail the functioning of WEA Trust, Wisconsin’s union-affiliated health insurance company for the state’s school district employees, and how WEAC (Wisconsin Education Association Council – the state teacher’s union) uses its power and influence at the negotiating table to fill its coffers and suck money out of the taxpayers:

WEAC pressures its local union officials to stick with WEA Trust. One district administrator told us about a meeting where everyone present, including union employees, agreed that a non-WEA health plan would be better for the district. He said state WEAC representatives were present and argued in favor of WEA Trust, just because it’s the union’s insurance brand.

Unfortunately, it’s extremely difficult for a school board to break the shackles of the union insurance. With the law on their side, many local unions won’t even consider alternative health coverage. They refuse to have the WEA Trust language taken out of their contract at bargaining time. If a school board wants to contest the coverage, the unions will frequently take the fightto arbitration.

Many school officials accuse WEA Trust officials of purposefully withholding insurance claim histories from districts that want to seek other insurance bids. That makes it nearly impossible for competing companies to prepare informed bids based on recent insurance activity in a 5 district. It would be like asking a contractor to bid on a demolition project, without disclosingthe size or condition of the building.

Those districts that seek claim histories are often threatened with higher insurance rates by WEA Trust, according to several sources.

Some districts have managed to break the WEA Trust shackles. We’ve identified 59 districts that have found alternative health coverage over the past few years and saved a considerable amount of money. Officials from many of those districts report that their new insurance companies provide comparable, if not better, health benefits for employees.

But most of those districts had to bargain away some or all of the insurance savings to make the switch. Because union personnel have a voice in determining the insurance carrier, many leverage that power during contract negotiations to secure higher salaries with the insurance savings.

H/T: Redstate

Gov. Walker Fights the Good Fight

A couple of brief thoughts on the ongoing controversy in Wisconsin between Governor Scott Walker and state employees as represented by their unions:

- As a federal employee who enjoys the benefits of a non-negotiable pension plan in which my contribution is matched by my employer (i.e. you), I’m not going to trash public employee pension plans. Public service workers benefit the common good in many ways and should be justly compensated (key word here being justly).

However, the folks in Wisconsin are acting incredibly selfish in light of the huge budget deficits in their state. They currently don’t contribute a dime contribute very little to their pension, a pension which is better than that of the average private employee in the state. In a time when ALL of us are being asked to sacrifice a little, is it too much to ask for to contribute something to your own retirement? Or is this really about the political survival of unions – for the good of the unions and only the unions?

- It’s equally disappointing to see so many people protesting at the Wisconsin State Capitol on a daily basis. Not because I don’t believe they should have the right to protest, but because many of these folks are basically skipping their work day(s), likely on the taxpayer dime, to make a point that their hard work in the public sector should be “justly rewarded”. If that’s not contradictory and shooting-yourself-in-the-foot insane, then I don’t know what is.  I especially single out school teachers in this crowd who would rather take days off to make their flawed and selfish point than to go to work and educate children whose parents contribute to their salaries.

May Governor Scott Walker stay resolute in his efforts to bring about fiscal sanity to Wisconsin. The rest of the country is watching, watching indeed!

UPDATED: Here’s Gov. Walker’s proposal, in his own words.


Hero of the Week

Lila Rose and her organization, Live Action, are doing God’s work on Earth.

Word has been getting around this week about their hidden videos exposing Planned Parenthood for their not-so-subtle efforts to cover up underage prostitution rings in New Jersey and Virginia. Live Action has been at this for a few years now and, in the face of death threats and insults from the pro-abortion crowd, they are heroes for being fearless advocates for human dignity and life

Larger Role of Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt Could Spell Trouble

Joseph Bottom at writes on a lame NY Times parallel between Muslim Brotherhood and the Catholic Church, but that’s just a set-up for the real disturbing content in the NY Times piece concerning speculation continues on the increasing power and role of Muslim Brotherhood in a Mubarak-less Egypt.

Muslim Brotherhood is the proverbial wolf in sheep’s clothing: a rather loose movement with its tentacles in so many Middle East mainstream groups (as well as right here in the USA) that it’s easy to forget its original and true purpose which is to institute, by violent means if absolutely necessary, “political Islam” and all its trappings (e.g. Sharia law) across the world.

I recommend reading the NY Times piece as it’s actually fairly balanced, but this snippet speaks volumes about the real potential for instability and danger a Muslim Brotherhood-laced government would represent to the United States and its allies (emphasis mine):

(Shadi) Hamid said the Muslim Brotherhood’s deep hostility to Israel — which reflects majority public opinion in Egypt — would pose difficulties for American policy. Its conservative views on the rights of women and intolerance of religious minorities are offensive by Western standards. But he said that the group was far from monolithic and that it was divided between those who would never accept Israel’s right to exist and those who accepted a two-state solution in which Israel and Palestine exist side by side.

“Yes, in their heart of hearts, they hate Israel,” Mr. Hamid said. “But they know they have to live in this world and respect the geopolitical scene.”

Right. By supporting Hamas. Don’t fall for the fact that they are enemies of Osama Bin Laden.

I’m also not falling for the “there are good people in Muslim Brotherhood” trick. I’m sure there are decent people who work for that organization in its many forms. I’m also sure that not all of them advocate terrorism or violence. But more than enough of them apparently do, not to mention the even greater number of people who seem to tacitly approve of it.  An increasing Muslim Brotherhood presence in a country like Egypt should be cause for serious concern for anyone who wants to see lasting peace in the Middle East and in the world.

How Egypt Relates (or not) to Cuba

No doubt that the unrest and uprising in Egypt and other parts of the Middle East has made me think of Cuba. After all, if tens of thousands in Egypt can march and protest for days and bring the government to its knees, why can’t it happen in Cuba?

Well, as those of us familiar with the Cuba situation know all too well, it’s not that easy. Nothing is when it comes to Cuba.

The Miami Herald’s Myriam Marquez shares these thoughts in a column published last Sunday. I mostly agree with Marquez, but I would like to make a few points. First, here’s the column in its entirety:

A young fruit vendor sets himself on fire in Tunisia frustrated that a corrupt government keeps him from getting a job worthy of his college degree.

The Middle East is on fire, and who puts out those flames will determine if there will be an opening for true democracy or the same old oppression with perhaps a different face.

In Egypt, college students and the poor were on the streets again Saturday demanding President Hosni Mubarak, who has held power for 30 years, to step down. In Yemen, thousands of student protesters have been marching to oust Ali Abdullah Saleh, who has ruled for three decades.

And as these images reach our televisions, computer screens or smart phones in South Florida, many people have told me they can’t help but think about Cuba. As one reader put it in an e-mail: “What’s wrong with Cubans? They’ve had a dictatorship for 52 years! Cowards!”

Easy for you to say from the comfort of your American home. Try living there. There have been reams written about how many Cubans experience the “Stockholm syndrome,” the paradox of hostages loving their captors for not killing them.

I’ll never forget in 2002 interviewing 20-something and 30-something Cubans who had a long list of gripes against the régime’s corrupt policies, and yet they would not say a peep about Fidel Castro. When pressed, they would admit that Fidel’s time had passed but that he wasn’t responsible for the corruption. Raúl was more suspect because he ran the military, which controls the economy.

My head hurt trying to decipher these young Cubans’ thought process, but it was clear that people knew very little about what was happening in the world beyond what the Cuban government wants them to know. And that is what distinguishes Cuba from most of the Middle East, where Internet access, satellite television service and cellphones have played a huge role in bringing protesters together.

The Internet remains blocked to most Cubans, who have the lowest ratio of computers in Latin America. Smart phones are a pipe dream. Land lines are like cars in Cuba — few people have them and getting a line is prohibitively expensive for people who earn on average $20 a month.

Satellite TV is accessible for tourists in hotels, but it’s a crime for the average citizen to own satellite antennaes, though a black market has sprouted.

Bloggers like Yoani Sánchez of Generation Y don’t post directly to the Internet. They need foreigners to go to Internet cafés and spend big bucks to connect and send their messages to friends abroad who then post for the world to see.

Few Cubans — including Yoani — can check out those posts.

Technology is power, which is why Raúl Castro isn’t about to take President Barack Obama’s offer to open up telecommunications on the island by allowing U.S. companies to wire it.

Cuba has turned to Venezuela for the fiber optic cable, which blogger Sánchez noted in a Jan. 24 post is “the carrot dangled before the eyes of the inhabitants of this disconnected Island . . . When we are connected with Venezuela along the seabed, it will be even more immoral to maintain the high prices for access to the vast World Wide Web from hotels and public places. They will also lose the justification for not allowing Cubans to have accounts at home, from which we can slip into cyberspace, and it will be more difficult to explain to us why we can’t have YouTube, Facebook and G-mail.”

On Friday, Cuban dissident Guillermo Fariñas was arrested for the third time in as many days and then released. He was on his way with other dissidents in Santa Clara to lay flowers at the statue of Cuban independence hero Jose Martí to mark the 158th anniversary of his birth. There were no tweets to the masses in Cuba alerting them.

Marquez is right to call out those who easily and from the comforts of freedom call Cubans “cowards”. Her point about the limited availability of news in Cuba compared to most of the rest of the world, including most of the Middle East is also correct. However, I depart from Marquez in asserting that Cubans aren’t as uninformed or misinformed as she thinks.  Cubans have at least a basic understanding of what it means to be free. All of us do. It’s in our DNA. No matter how much news is not filtered down to the people, no matter how much the government puts limits on or censors the flow of information, people know and understand what goes on around them. If this wasn’t the case, then why are there people like Yoani Sanchez and Guillermo Fariñas in Cuba?
This assertion aside, a simple Google search reveals articles like these in Granma on the situation in Egypt (I apologize for the link to the odious Cuban state newspaper). Even if the entire story may not be revealed, most people are smart enough to put 2 and 2 together. Also, conversations with close relatives of mine who live in Cuba reveal that most Cubans know enough about their situation. Years of contact with relatives in the diaspora and years of unfettered tourism from Europe, Canada and Latin America have to be considered as well. After all, Cuba despite being an island,  does not exist in a vacuum.
I’m not sure there’s a Stockholm Syndrome thing going on, but I do think there’s a profound lack of confidence. You may even call it a lack of faith. Starting with the Catholic Church in Cuba and down through all the religious and denominational organizations that have either been too afraid or just plain corrupt to confront the evil in their midst, all the way to the average Jose and Maria that expend all of their energy staying afloat in a hopeless system; it’s precisely a lack of hope that in my opinion has played a huge role in the Cuban apparatus remaining intact after all these decades.  “Why bother? There’s nothing I can do”, you can almost hear the typical Cuban utter on a daily basis.
A brave, principled Church, instead of the mostly spineless one operating in Cuba, would go a long way towards infusing the hope that is needed to overcome all sorts of adversity. The Cuban people are slowly but surely losing their fear, just as those in Egypt did years ago which led to the current situation. Time will tell.

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