Friday, February 25, 2011

The labor debate, before the invention of lying

Not long ago, there was a Rickey Gervais movie called "The Invention Of Lying", which took place in an alternate universe in which people were incapable of telling anything but the unvarnished truth.

Let's superimpose that alternate universe on today's debate over public sector unions and their deathgrip on the public fisc. Our intrepid reporter is cruising labor demonstrations, statehouses, and Chicago hotels filled with Democrats subverting the legislative process in their home states.
SCENE: Big labor rally with lots of people dressed in red, waving their fists in the air.

Intrepid Reporter (to stout 40-ish woman): Excuse me, ma'am...are you a public school teacher?

Stout Woman: Yes, indeedy!

IR: And what are you demonstrating about today?

SW: Well, duh! Those terrorist Koch Whores who are trying to destroy our very way of life!

IR: Oh, you mean the Republicans?

SW: Exactly!

IR: And how are they doing that? Destroying our very way of life, that is.

SW: Well, they want us to work and contribute reasonable amounts of money to our medical benefits and retirement plans, without the right to dictate to the taxpayers how much is reasonable.

IR: Just like private sector workers, you mean?

SW: Exactly!

IR: Oh. So tell me...why did you become a teacher?

SW: Pretty obvious, really. I wanted employment for life, a decent salary, and a nice, fat pension when I retire at an absurdly young age.

IR: Just like private sector workers, you mean?

SW: Exa-- aw, I see what you did there! A regular comedian, you are!

SCENE: Cocktail lounge of a Chicago hotel.

IR (to a distinguished-looking 50-ish gentleman): Excuse me sir, but aren't you Senator Fleebagger from Wisconsin?

Sen. Fleebagger (glancing around furtively): Uh, yes...yes I am.

IR: Why are you here in Chicago instead of back in Madison representing your constituents?

SF: If I had any real interest in "representing my constituents", as you so quaintly put it, do you really think I'd be here? I can get martinis every bit as good as this one at home.

IR: Well, if you have no interest in representing your constituents, why did you run for election to the Wisconsin state senate?

SF: Stepping stone. You see where a state senate seat got our current president, don't you?

IR: Uh, OK. But aren't you just the least bit afraid that this stunt might jeopardize your reelection chances for the next term?

SF: Oh, hell no. I'll be running for the US Senate before this term is up, and my ill-informed and short-on-memory electorate won't let me down.

IR: Right, then. So tell me...why are you so strongly opposed to Gov. Walker's proposal to repair the state's budget?

SF: Look, I'm a Democrat, right? We Democrats depend on unions not just for campaign cash but for campaign workers. Without large, powerful unions that are flush with cash we'd never have a chance against Republicans in any election.

IR: So for you and your Democratic colleagues, this has nothing to do with workers' rights, then?

SF: Bwahahahaha! No.

SCENE: Wisconsin State House, hallway.

IR (to attractive, mid-30s woman): Pardon me, Senator Pachyderm...can you take a few questions?

Sen. Pachyderm: Sure, if you make it quick.

IR: What do you make of your Democratic colleagues' absence from debate on the Governor's budget repair bill?

SP: Well, clearly, they're subverting the democratic process for their own political ends.

IR: But don't you think they have the right to make their position known in the most forceful way possible?

SP: Of course, and the place do that is right here, on the senate floor. That's what they were elected to do.

IR: I assume you're in favor of the Governor's bill?

SP: Yes. We simply can't afford the continued high costs of pay and benefits and we have to prevent future extortion by the unions. And if it levels the playing field in the next election, then booyah!
And there you have it...the interviews we'll never see.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

UN furiously wringing its hands over Libya

For over a week now, Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi's loyalists have been murdering protesters in the streets, and going so far as to bomb them from the air. There are even reports that funeral processions for protesters are being attacked by Qaddafi's thugs, as are emergency medical service crews when responding to calls for help. Italy's foreign minister puts the death toll at north of 1,000 and Qaddafi's son promises to fight to "the last bullet" and threatens "rivers of blood". And what's the UN action been so far? They can't agree to boot Libya off the UN Human Rights Council or to even investigate the Libyan government's actions.

I realize that these guys are mainly career diplomats given to weak speech, but this is ridiculous:
The Thai ambassador also said he hoped that any resolutions against Libya would be taken seriously by Tripoli.

"If there is a unity... with members, observers of the council speaking with one voice, I think concerned countries will have to listen and I hope, be cooperative," he said.

He also spoke out against precipitous action to exclude Libya

"Let's address this situation first, then other issues of course we'll have to discuss in the council if members are going to discuss," he stressed.
The Thai ambassador is not alone.
But with a majority of Asian and African nations -- backed by Russia, China and Cuba -- declining to support a draft resolution, diplomats said it was likely to be heavily watered down and perhaps not passed at all at the emergency meeting.

A text tabled at the 47-nation Council condemns "extremely grave" rights violations as forces loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi moved to crush a revolt against his 41-year rule over the past week.

[ ... ]

The only sign of a break in the normally solid bloc of Islamic, African and Asian states which -- with Russian, Chinese and Cuban support -- effectively controls the Council came with Jordan, Qatar, Senegal and the Maldives backing the draft.

But diplomats said this would not be enough to prevent the majority -- who work to shield each other from public criticism on their rights performance -- from blocking any meaningful action by the Council.

Monday, February 14, 2011

I just cut $258 billion from the federal budget...

...and I haven't even touched Defense spending yet.

The first thing I heard on the news this morning when I got up was how gosh-darned hard it would be for Congress and the White House to cut the budget by $100 billion. Given the size of the federal budget, I figured that just had to be a load of crap.

A quick Google search turned up this set of PDFs summarizing the executive branch budget for FY11. Most department and agency budgets break down to discretionary outlays, mandatory outlays and "credit activity", which I take to mean lending programs of various types. When considering an agency or department's total budget, I disregarded the credit activity, so cuts would clearly be even larger if I took those into consideration.

I basically ignored those budgets that were very small (under a billion or so) and looked at these:
  • Agriculture
  • Commmerce
  • Education
  • Energy
  • Health and Human Services
  • Homeland Security
  • Housing and Urban Development
  • Interior
  • Justice
  • Labor
  • State
  • Transportation
  • Treasury
  • Veteran's Affairs
  • Corps of Engineers
  • EPA
  • National Science Foundation
  • NASA
  • Small Business Administration
  • Social Security
When a corporate CEO is serious about cutting spending, he or she will go to the various business units and direct their respective heads to cut, say, 10% of their budget. In other words, do it or be fired and replaced with someone who will. So, let's do the same with the federal budget. Granted, the exercise would be nowhere near as straight forward as cutting a private sector budget. Those "mandatory outlays" are mandatory because they're required by law, so a process would be needed to fast track legislation to amend public law as needed.

The bottom line is that an across-the-board cut of 10% of the budgets listed above yields a savings of over $258 billion. If one includes the $719B Defense budget, an additional savings of $71B is realized. Note that this doesn't even take into account the budgets for the various intelligence agencies.

No, finding $100 billion to cut from the budget isn't that difficult.