UPDATE: New poll numbers for the Obama health care reform plan are discussed here.
1. After attention was focused on the Congressional appropriations bill in which members of Congress bumped up the order of new executive jets for themselves and other government VIP’s, now John Murtha, the powerful head of the Appropriations Committee, is saying the jets order may be scrapped. It is possible that I was wrong in my characterization of the order. According to Murtha, this is not a matter of purchasing new jets but of replacing older jets with maintenance issues. The new jets, he claims, will be cheaper to operate. Presumably it would take an awful long time to pay off the $550M price tag, however, and the fact remains that this was a foolish bit of extravagance for a Congress that recently berated CEO’s for using executive jets when they were receiving taxpayer money.
Readers of this blog might recall the slow-drip scandal in London when a light was shone on the extravagance lifestyle of the members of Parliament and etc. I have little doubt that a similar scandal would erupt here in the United States if all of the perks and luxuries of members of Congress–especially the more powerful ones–came to light.
2. To underscore the point: the California state government, in the midst of the worst fiscal crisis it has faced in generations, facing an unprecedented deficit in the tens of billions of dollars, actually added employees over the past 12 months. While the private sector lost 760,000 jobs (a 6% loss), local governments shrunk by only 1.5% and the state government grew by 3,600. Now, state jobs (this may be counter-intuitive, but it’s true) tend to pay more, on average, than private sector jobs (about 54K/year compared to 42K/year). So $3600 jobs at an average of 54K comes out to nearly $200M. Small potatoes compared to the federal budget, where the $550M for the 8 jets is a rounding error, but in any state budget, even California’s, $200M is a lot of money.
A big part of the problem, of course, is the immense power of the public employee unions (teachers’ unions, police unions, etc) over the government of California. Steven Greenhut writes about the union demands, in the midst of an 11% unemployment rate, for higher pay and more perks: “But these unions really aren’t crazy. In fact, they understand reality better than the rest of us, who still hold to the quaint belief that public employees serve us. The unions know the truth: that the public servants are now the public’s masters.”
Many of California’s workers receive a pension, at the age of 50 (!!!), for the rest of their lives, at 90% of their final year’s pay–and many use “spiking schemes that allow many employees to retire with pay well above their final year’s salary.” This is outrageous. But where is the outrage? When will those who do not work for the state stand up and demand fiscal responsibility, an end to the excess, a tightening of the belts? Right now, the organized public employee unions are far more powerful than the disorganized employees of the private sector.
3. Ross Douthat writes on the social conservatism expressed in Judd Apatow movies, which tend to affirm traditional values under a barrage of crude penis jokes. Apatow’s new book, “Funny People,” is more serious, and tends to show the messy complexity of life (it is “the first Apatow film in which you get punished for your sins”)–the poor reaction of American audiences shows, Douthat claims, that Americans are more conservative in theory than in practice:
More than most Westerners, Americans believe — deeply, madly, truly — in the sanctity of marriage. But we also have some of the most liberal divorce laws in the developed world, and one of the highest divorce rates. We sentimentalize the family, but boast one of the highest rates of unwed births. We’re more pro-life than Europeans, but we tolerate a much more permissive abortion regime than countries like Germany or France. We wring our hands over stem cell research, but our fertility clinics are among the least regulated in the world.
In other words, we’re conservative right up until the moment that it costs us.
Ouch. For those who are social conservatives–that is, those who oppose abortion and experimentation on embryos or embryonic tissues–this is a painful and yet apt point. In my view it is because we have this strange notion that our laws ought not to reflect our shared moral values. We are legal libertarians more than we are legal moralists, whereas the Europeans have long had laws that reflect their own moral traditions.
4. Another sign of the fall: human traffickers snatching children away from their families, away from their homes, and sending them off to live (and often die) as slaves.
5. The Obama administration is starting to pay a price for its deal with Big Pharma. And Obama is having to hit the campaign trail again, as he will hold his own town hall meetings, presumably to counter the bad press of the Congress town hall meetings.
6. Sign of the Times: “Viagra ice cream to go on sale at Selfridges“.
7. I don’t mean to harp on the story of the North Korean former-hostages, but Christopher Hitchens has a piece on the ordeal today. Whether or not one agrees with him, Hitchens is one of the sharpest, most pungent political writers working today.
8. Speaking of sharp writers, Roger Kimball is well worth reading on the subject of health care reform. Also writing from the right, Shawn Tully has a fine explanation of people’s concerns with the health care reform. From the left, consider Eugene Robinson’s piece, and Lee Siegel from The Daily Beast.