Something astonishing happened in New Jersey last week. A majority Democratic legislature and a Republican governor agreed on a measure that will cut benefits for the state's 750,000 employees and retirees.
Like Wisconsin and other states that are being forced to deal with large budget deficits caused mostly by sweetheart deals struck in more prosperous times between politicians who need votes and labor unions who deliver them, New Jersey couldn't afford to go on like this.
Is there a profit-making business -- other than TV networks and The New York Times -- that so disrespects its audience it works overtime to offend them?
What other business metaphorically flips the bird to those who don't subscribe to their social, cultural and political worldview? That is precisely what big media does to a large number of potential viewers and subscribers.
In the aftermath of the exposure and resignation of Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY) from Congress, his colleagues, some journalists, ethicists and pundits are trying to sort out what it means. Has a new standard been created in Washington? How can Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY) remain in office under an ethical cloud about money and Weiner be forced to resign because he had fantasy sex? It wasn't even "real" sex, like Bill Clinton had. Clinton also lied about sex and was impeached for lying (but not for the sex because as actress Janeane Garofalo told Bill Maher recently, "everyone lies about sex"). Some wondered then if standards had fallen for occupants of the Oval Office, or whether the behavior of Clinton and some Republicans mirror a national moral decline?
I bet you didn't know that federal law enforcement officers representing the Department of Education (DOE) can break down your front door if you are suspected of violating the law.
I was not aware of this until I heard what happened to Kenneth Wright of Stockton, Calif. On June 7, at 6 a.m., Wright was awakened by a knock on his door. According to his account, he came downstairs in his boxer shorts, but before he could reach the door, federal police officers stormed in. They were looking for his estranged wife, who was not in the house. Wright has no criminal record.
If the big media in 2008 had dedicated the resources they are now squandering on Sarah Palin's emails from when she was governor of Alaska and probed Barack Obama's background and associations, she might now be vice president of the United States and Obama might still be a junior Illinois senator.
Regardless of what you think of Palin, the vultures attacking her 24,000 pages of emails may represent the most flagrant example of bias since, well, since their attacks on any other Republican. "It could be fun," said Ken Schwenke of the Los Angeles Times about the email probe.
BELFAST, Northern Ireland -- The extinct political slogan "As Maine goes, so goes the nation," may be supplanted by what is happening in the United Kingdom. There is a form of functional political illiteracy here that does not bode well for the United States should it follow Britain's very bad example, particularly on matters involving immigration and health care.
For several years, the British media have been full of horror stories about failures in the National Health Service (NHS). "Thousands of Elderly at Risk in Care Crisis" screamed the front-page headline in the Times of London last week. This is nothing new, because a headline in The Daily Telegraph nearly two years ago warned, "Cruel and Neglectful Care of One Million NHS Patients Exposed." Is anyone listening?
The upheaval in Yemen and the possibility that al-Qaida might take over, turning that country into a stronger terrorist base than it already is, should give pause to American and European policy in the Arab world.
At its recently concluded G-8 meeting of industrial economies in Deauville, France, Western governments pledged $40 billion to "newly democratic" nations in North Africa and the Middle East. One might as well throw money at Chicago and hope for electoral reform so the dead are no longer allowed to vote on Election Day.
DUBLIN, Ireland -- Observing the start of Lord and Lady Obama's (aka president and Michelle) grand European tour and the fawning press coverage, one might conclude they were imbued with royal blood.
The normally reserved and thoughtful columnist for the London Times, William Rees-Mogg, gushed about the president's speech before members of Parliament, comparing him to Winston Churchill. Obama is to Winston Churchill as Lady Gaga is to Ella Fitzgerald. Both are singers, but that's where the comparison ends.
Perhaps you've heard of him, perhaps not. Louis Zamperini has had fame, lost it and seen it restored more than once. That happens when you are 94 years old and must be re-introduced to succeeding generations.
Zamperini was a juvenile delinquent, then an Olympic distance runner who competed in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, Germany (he met Adolf Hitler and his chief propagandist, Joseph Goebbels), then an Army Air Corps enlistee.
With friends like President Obama, who needs enemies? If you're Israel, you already have quite enough of those.
On May 14, 2011, the State of Israel observed the 63rd anniversary of its independence. But if the proposals made by President Obama in his State Department speech are implemented, that observance could be its last.
One of Dictionary.com's definitions of blackmail is "to extort money from (a person) by use of threats." Substitute "taxpayers" for "person" and you have what the White House and congressional Democrats are doing with the debt ceiling.
In case you weren't paying attention (and too few are) the United States officially reached the debt ceiling on Monday. Treasury Secretary Tim ("I forgot to pay my taxes") Geithner informed Congress of difficult decisions he was forced to make to keep the country solvent, which is a joke. How can a country be considered solvent when just the interest on the debt amounts to more than the entire gross national product of many countries?
Politicians and political activists frequently declare the end of the world will occur if their candidate isn't elected, or if the debt ceiling isn't raised. Some conservative Christians think the end is on the way because of behavior and practices they judge immoral. Somehow the country, not to mention the planet, survives and when "doomsday" passes, the prognosticators live to predict Armageddon on another day.
Now comes radio preacher Harold Camping, the nearly-90-year-old owner of a network of stations he calls "Family Radio." Camping once belonged to a traditional church. He then decided all churches are corrupt and people should leave whatever congregation they're in and listen only to him because only his interpretation of Scripture is true. I believe that is one characteristic of a cult.
Robert Woodson would probably wince if you called him a "community organizer." That's because for the last 30 years as president of the Center for Neighborhood Enterprise, he has not spent time organizing the poor around ineffective government programs and other addictions he has been helping them become self-sufficient.
"You can't learn anything by studying failure," he says. "If you want to learn anything, you must study the successful."
Here's a safe prediction: The "bipartisan" group of congressmen led by Vice President Joe Biden will fail to solve the $14 trillion debt crisis.
Here's another prediction: The Heritage Foundation (www.heritage.org/) has developed a formula, made possible by a grant from The Peterson Foundation (www.pgpf.org/), that could balance the budget in 10 years, reduce the debt to 30 percent of gross domestic product within 25 years, cut the size of the federal government in half by 2036, reform the tax code, restructure Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, while protecting the most vulnerable, and not increasing taxes if -- and it is a very big if -- politicians prefer the solution to continued bickering.
First quarter profits for American oil companies are jaw dropping. Exxon earned nearly $11 billion, up 69 percent from a year ago. Royal Dutch Shell PLC, Europe's largest oil company, announced it made $8.78 billion in the first quarter, a 60 percent increase over last year. Much of it, but not all, is due to higher gas prices, over which the companies have very little control due to our heavy reliance on foreign oil.
Some in Congress -- mostly Democrats, but a few Republicans -- are calling for an end to tax breaks enjoyed by the oil companies and in some cases, higher taxes on their profits. But the Obama administration is contributing to higher energy prices, which inflate the companies' bottom line.
Count me among the abstainers. I won't be watching over-the-top media coverage of Friday's wedding between Prince William and the "commoner" Kate Middleton.
After the "wedding of the century" of William's mother and father in 1981 and the ensuing drama that led to their divorce in 1996 and, eventually, her death on Aug. 31, 1997, the wedding of their son is unlikely to match the earlier nuptials in pomp or circumstance.
The RINO (reverend in name only) Terry Jones is like his fellow RINO, Fred Phelps, but in political drag.
Jones, the "pastor" (PINO?) of the tiny and inconsequential Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Fla., was jailed last week in Dearborn, Mich., "following a jury trial that found he was likely to create a 'breach of the peace' for plans to protest outside the Islamic Center of America in Dearborn," according to the Detroit News. Jones and his associate Wayne Sapp were taken into custody after they refused to post a $1 "peace bond." A judge then barred Jones and Sapp from entering the property of the Islamic Center -- the largest mosque in the U.S. -- for three years. The two posted bond and were released, but they promised to return on Friday.
In bridge, a trump card is held in reserve for winning a trick. In politics, Donald Trump is anything but reserved and appears to think he might trick enough voters to win the next presidential election.
There's plenty to draw on when critiquing a possible Trump candidacy. His multiple marriages (three) and affairs provide fodder for the media and contrast poorly with President Obama's "family values" image as husband of one wife and father of young daughters, whom he clearly loves.
The Democratic mayor of Washington, D.C., Vincent Gray, distinguished himself last week by getting arrested in an act of "civil disobedience" reminiscent of the '60s. The mayor, six council members and more than 40 other protesters were detained by Capitol police for blocking the street to oppose the congressional budget deal that deprived D.C. of federal funds for abortions.
They were also protesting a mandate under the same agreement that revives a popular school choice program, the "Opportunity Scholarship Program," which allows poor children in failing schools an opportunity to attend schools they and their parents believe will give them the best possible education. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan had pulled the plug on the Bush-era program after pressure from the teacher's union which, in a reversal of Bush's "No Child Left Behind," behaves as if no child in a failing school should be let out.
Twenty-nine years after her death, novelist Ayn Rand is coming to a theater near you. After many failed attempts, her 1957 novel "Atlas Shrugged" has been made into a film.
In an age when overspending, overreaching, higher-taxing and overregulating government increasingly strangles the private sector, robbing us of our liberties and transforming the country into the model of a socialist state, Rand's story reminds us how far ahead of her time she was and just how dangerous a time we live in now.
HOUSTON -- On the day of the NCAA men's basketball final, the Supreme Court handed down a decision that is likely to produce champions for generations to come.
By a 5-4 vote, the majority upheld an Arizona tax-credit program that, writes David Savage of the L.A. Times, gives taxpayers a "dollar-for-dollar tax credit, up to $500 per person or $1,000 for a couple, for those who donate to organizations that in turn pay tuition for students attending private and parochial schools." The minority contends this violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. The majority opinion, written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, maintains that since such donations are with pre-tax dollars, the government never has the money, and thus, "there is no such connection between dissenting taxpayer and alleged establishment."
During the 2008 presidential campaign when candidate Barack Obama told "Joe the Plumber" that he wanted to "spread the wealth around," it sounded to a lot of conservatives like socialism: "From each according to his ability, to each according to his need," in the words of Karl Marx.
There is a kind of wealth spreading, however, that ought to meet the political litmus test of conservative Republicans, liberal Democrats and radical Independents. At a time of high unemployment, too many layoffs and too few new jobs in the private sector (230,000 jobs were created last month, according to the Labor Department, but unemployment continues to officially hover at just under 9 percent and Gallup calculates it, without seasonal adjustment, at 10.0 percent), it is disheartening to see so many CEOs having recovered enough from their personal recession to pay themselves salaries and benefits that would have shamed the super-rich in America's Gilded Age.
Norman Braman is not your typical billionaire car dealer. Nor is he your typical establishment Republican, who too often puts party above principle. Norman Braman is the type of person who strikes fear into the hearts of every professional politician who thinks he can say one thing to get elected and then do the opposite once in office.
In case you haven't been paying attention, Braman led a successful drive to recall Republican mayor Carlos Alvarez of Miami-Dade, Fla., and Commissioner Natacha Seijas. Their offenses? In a telephone conversation, Braman tells me there were many, including, he says, "sloppy bookkeeping, fraud, and the mayor's decision to use tax dollars to build a sports stadium for the local baseball team" when fiscal challenges for the city and high unemployment were harming the local economy.
In the 1979 movie "The China Syndrome," reporter Kimberly Wells (played by Jane Fonda) witnesses an accident at a nuclear power plant and then uncovers a plot to keep it a secret in order to protect the power company's billion-dollar investment. The film was a gift to the political left, which at the time opposed the pursuit of nuclear energy to reduce our addiction to foreign oil. In some liberal circles, that opposition remains strong.
The film, along with real-life accidents such as Three Mile Island (also in 1979), in which no one was killed, and Chernobyl (1986), which, according to the World Nuclear Association, "killed two Chernobyl plant workers on the night of the accident, and a further 28 people within a few weeks, as a result of acute radiation poisoning," account for much of our modern thinking about all things nuclear. Other films, like "Dr. Strangelove," "Fail-Safe" and "On the Beach" -- along with the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which ended World War II and launched the Cold War with the Soviet Union in which "mutual assured destruction" (MAD) and civil defense drills became the norm -- make us nervous about what the unrestrained power of the atom can do.
If the resignations at National Public Radio continue at last week's pace, there may be no need for Congress to defund the aging dinosaur, because there will be no one left there to turn the lights on.
The latest is Betsy Liley, NPR's director of institutional giving. Conservative activist James O'Keefe secretly recorded phone conversations between Liley and a man masquerading as a potential donor from a fictitious group called the Muslim Education Action Center, which the man said had ties to the Muslim Brotherhood. The fake donor said his group was worried about a government audit. Liley told him that a $5 million contribution might not have to be reported to the IRS. Liley has been placed on administrative leave.
One of the pleasures of an earthly transition is that you can write nice things about a person while they are still around to read them.
And so, I rise to praise my friend and favorite newspaper writer, Frank Rich Jr. as he leaves The New York Times for New York magazine.
What, you say? You are a conservative and he is among the most politically liberal people in journalism. Or, as someone asked me one night when they heard I was going to dinner with former Senator George McGovern, "How can you eat with a man like that?" "Easy," I replied. "He's my friend." And so was Ted Kennedy, I am happy to say. After all, Jesus was "a friend to sinners" and if they were good enough for Him, they are certainly good enough for me.
President Obama has said his view of same-sex "marriage" is "evolving." Apparently he thinks that the law should be based on a kind of Darwinian jurisprudence which allows it to "evolve" and become whatever the ruling politicians at a given moment say it is (or isn't).
How else to explain the decision by the president and his attorney general, Eric Holder, not to defend the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1996? The Senate vote was 85-14; the vote in the House was 342-67, an indication of overwhelming public support to keep marriage for opposite-sex couples.
NOTICE of REVISION: This column has been revised to correctly attribute The New York Times for data and reportage cited in its Feb. 16 story on the statistical value of human life.
Back in the American Wild West, federal and state governments often put a price on the heads of infamous outlaws like Billy the Kid, Jesse James, Sam Bass, Belle Star and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
Today, our government is not so selective. It's seeking to put a price on the head of every American. Not because they've robbed a train, but for a different reason that could lead to a very bad end.
A recent New York Times story summarizes how various government agencies have come up with formulas for determining how much we are worth. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Times notes, has set the value of a human life at $9.1 million, reaching this determination while proposing tighter restrictions on air pollution. During the Bush administration, EPA calculated our value at $6.8 million. Was the difference in price caused by inflation? The EPA didn't say.
When three-fourths of the Boston police department went on strike in 1919, leading to broken shop windows and looting, then-Massachusetts Governor Calvin Coolidge called out the state militia and broke the strike. Coolidge declared, "There is no right to strike against the public safety by anybody, anywhere, any time."
His courage propelled him to the vice presidency and eventually to the presidency.
On the home page of the Office of Management and Budget website, President Obama is quoted: "Rather than fight the same tired battles that have dominated Washington for decades, it's time to try something new."
If only he would, but the president's proposed $3.7 trillion budget is more of the same: taxing and spending for which liberal Democrats are known and "cuts" as in Pell Grants and home heating assistance for the poor he knows congressional Democrats are unlikely to approve. It is also full of assumptions about revenue and a rosy scenario on economic growth that is more than double current growth.