Monday, February 28, 2011
Three Empty Suits....Would you buy a used car from them?? Probably not - So why would you bother to vote for them ???
Sunday, February 27, 2011
The DNC raises the flag of surrender....Their resolution provides aid and comfort to the enemies of our way of life.
To walk away from our responsibility to assist the people of Afghanistan is similar to what these feckless bastards wanted to do to Iraq also.
2011 will be a watershed year for this conflict. The Taliban has retreated to the Waziristan area of the AF/PAK border and the people of Afghanistan are starting to take back their country, similar to what the Iraqis did in the "Awakening". It is everyone's hope that we can resolve the situation sooner rather than later BUT there can only be Victory as to surrender Afghanistan to these murderous bastards is unaccpetable.
To cut & run as the DNC requests would be disastrous and only embolden our enemies who would like nothing more than to reestablish Afghanistan as their base of operations.
The DNC needs to understand that the price of Liberty is high, but we have always been willing to pay that price as the alternative is surrender to the dark forces who would make this world a sad place.
It is truly sad that the DNC is nothing but a sad and feckless group that has followed the failed ideals of people like Nancy Pelosi.....the Democrats that came before like Truman, FDR and JFK would be horrified by the lack of will shown by today's DNC to defend Liberty.
JFK's words echo across the years, and set the standard for what out nation has done to help those who needed our help:
" Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty."
Jack had it right - The idjits at the present day DNC are unworthy to stand in his shadow.....They knowling provide aid and comfort to the enemies of our way of life. This world is not what we want and to continue to allow our country to be attacked because we failed to act would be to surrender the security of our nation.
DNC Pressures Obama, Passes Resolution Endorsing Swift End To Afghanistan War
WASHINGTON -- Members of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) gave President Obama a rare push on Saturday, adopting a resolution attempting to encourage the administration to move toward a speedier withdrawal from Afghanistan.
The resolution adopted Saturday states that "the Democratic Party supports prioritizing job creation and a swift withdrawal of U.S. armed forces and military contractors in Afghanistan which must include a significant and sizable reduction no later than July 2011."
"The passage of my resolution places the Democratic Party squarely on the side of American people who overwhelmingly support a swift withdrawal from Afghanistan, beginning with a significant and sizeable reduction in U.S. troop levels by no later than July of this year," said Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), who submitted the resolution. Other submitters were DNC Vice Chairs Donna Brazile and Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.) and DNC Secretary Alice Germond.
The Obama administration's policy is to begin withdrawing U.S. troops from Afghanistan in July 2011 and fully transfer security responsibilities over to Afghan forces by 2014. The pace of withdrawal is yet to be determined.
DNC resolutions are meant to express the sentiment of the party's members. Other measures approved at the winter meeting this year, which took place Feb. 24-26, include ones honoring the work of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), expressing solidarity with Wisconsin's protesters and memorializing Elizabeth Edwards.
The White House did not immediately return a request for comment.
Resolution Supporting Ending the War in Afghanistan Now and Transferring the Funding to Job Creation, other Crucial Domestic Priorities and Deficit Reduction
Submitted by: Hon. Barbara Lee, California
Donna Brazile, DNC Vice Chair/District of Columbia
Hon. Mike Honda, DNC Vice Chair/California
Alice Germond, DNC Secretary/West Virginia
WHEREAS, the United States has been involved in war in Afghanistan for almost a decade and remains militarily engaged in what has become the longest war in American history; and
WHEREAS, the mounting costs of the war in Afghanistan, now totaling over $100 billion a year, have constrained efforts to invest in job creation and in strengthening our country and our economy; and
WHEREAS, according to a Gallup Poll released February 2, 2011, 72% of Americans favor action to "speed up the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan"; and
WHEREAS, President Obama supports a transition to an Afghan-led security arrangement in Afghanistan "because open-ended war serves neither our interests nor the Afghan people's"; and
WHEREAS, a diplomatic solution in Afghanistan that emphasizes economic development, political reconciliation and inclusion, the engagement of regional and global stakeholders, and the safeguarding of basic human rights is essential to ensure long-term stability in Afghanistan and the surrounding region; and
WHEREAS, military and intelligence officials agree that the situation in Afghanistan will not ultimately be resolved by a military solution; and
WHEREAS, the national and economic security of the United States depend upon a national defense strategy which addresses the modern threat of global terrorism in an effective, sustainable, and comprehensive manner; and
THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, the Democratic Party recognizes the enormous strain placed on the U.S. military servicemembers, and their families since 2001 as a result of continuing engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan and remains committed to ensuring that our troops have the support that they require when deployed as well as the care that they and their families need and deserve when they return home;
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Democratic Party supports prioritizing job creation and a swift withdrawal of U.S. armed forces and military contractors in Afghanistan which must include a significant and sizable reduction no later than July 2011
Afterwards, watch the enclosed video on the brave men & women who fly the Apache AH-64 Attack Helicopters and listen to why they do it.....
For the Soldiers on the Ground.
Our prayers of protection for all the troops who serve our nation far from home.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt - June 6th, 1944 - Address to the Nation
Almighty God: Our sons, pride of our nation, this day have set upon a mighty endeavor..... to set free a suffering humanity.
Lead them straight and true; give strength to their arms, stoutness to their hearts, steadfastness in their faith.
They will need Thy blessings. Their road will be long and hard. For the enemy is strong. He may hurl back our forces. Success may not come with rushing speed, but we shall return again and again; and we know that by Thy grace, and by the righteousness of our cause, our sons will triumph.
They will be sore tried, by night and by day, without rest -- until the victory is won. The darkness will be rent by noise and flame. Men's souls will be shaken with the violences of war.
For these men are lately drawn from the ways of peace. They fight not for the lust of conquest. They fight to end conquest. They fight to liberate. They fight to let justice arise, and tolerance and goodwill among all Thy people. They yearn but for the end of battle, for their return to the haven of home.
Some will never return. Embrace these, Father, and receive them, Thy heroic servants, into Thy kingdom.
And for us at home -- fathers, mothers, children, wives, sisters, and brothers of brave men overseas, whose thoughts and prayers are ever with them -- help us, Almighty God, to rededicate ourselves in renewed faith in Thee in this hour of great sacrifice.....
Give us strength, too -- strength in our daily tasks, to redouble the contributions we make in the physical and the material support of our armed forces.
And let our hearts be stout, to wait out the long travail, to bear sorrows that may come, to impart our courage unto our sons wheresoever they may be....
Thy will be done, Almighty God.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt - June 6, 1944
I am a fan of all things HAWAII and having lived there for an extended period, I enjoy both the history of Hawaii but also the culture.
I am glad to see that the history of what was Hawaii has been preserved in pictures...To have stood on the shore of Waikiki back before the hotels and see what true Hawaii looked like in the day must have been special.....
Hawaii 1890: Is this the first ever picture of a surfer about to ride the waves in the 19th century?
By Daily Mail Reporter
27th February 2011
Long before Kelly Slater was picking up World Champion titles for his surfing prowess, the sport was being followed by Hawaiian natives in the 19th century.
And now the first ever picture of a surfer has been found in a photo album that dates back to 1890.
The muscled Hawaiian beach boy is photographed wearing a traditional loin cloth and shown standing in the shallows holding his rudimentary board.
Missionaries who went to the island after Captain Cook's death there in 1789 virtually stamped out all surfing in Hawaii because they thought it ungodly.
It survived in small pockets and this strapping surfer was clearly keeping up the tradition and the picture has survived and is now up for sale.
Two albums full of snaps have been submitted for auction and other subjects include pictures of topless native women from Hawaii and Fiji – and the pre-sale estimate is £10,000.
It is unclear who owned the albums, although it is thought that whoever it was acquired them during their travels around the globe.
Photography was able to bring the exotic back home and at the same time record history.
They were bought by a private dealer at a house clearance many years ago and he is now selling them.
Other photos include some of Hawaiin Royalty including King Kalakaua - who died in 1891 - Queen Liliuokalani and Princess Kaiulani.
In total there are 100 photographs, 20 from Fiji, and they record the characters and scenes that Britons found so intriguing to look at.
Chris Albury, from Dominic Winter auctions near Cirencester, Gloucs, which is selling the albums on Thursday, said: 'These are very interesting albums.
'And what does stand out is the photograph of the surfer which we think was taken in about 1890 and is one of the earliest photos taken of a surfer.
Saturday, February 26, 2011
Great overview on what is required to keep these machines flying.....I am glad they are there. 40 years old and still taking it to the enemy....awesome.
Combing the A-10 keeps “Sharks” in the air Login to Vote!
451st Air Expeditionary Wing
Story by Capt. Penelope Carroll &Tech Sgt. Emily F. Alley
KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan - Every 500 flight hours, each A-10 must go through a phase inspection. In the five months the current inspection team of the 451st AEW has been at Kandahar Airfield, they've completed twenty phase inspections and repaired more than 6,000 total discrepancies.
The inspection might find hairline cracks, missing bolts or chafed hydraulic lines. The inspection is especially necessary for an aircraft that may be older than the pilot flying it.
"This guy could use some dental work," remarked Tech Sgt. Thomas Breining, running his hand over the gray nose of an A-10 where the teeth of this "Tiger Shark" had been chipped away from previous repairs.
Breining and his crew rotate through a different aircraft about every six days at the airfield, which is half the time they would normally take for inspection back at their home station, Moody Air Force Base, Ga. The break between aircraft inspections at KAF has ranged from one week to thirty minutes.
"We take off the panels, look at every item from engines, to flight controls, to each rivet holding on a nutplate for a panel," he described. "The aircraft drives the rest of it."
The specific needs of the aircraft, any discrepancies, merit the attention of the subject matter experts. Fuels, avionics, engines, sheet metal, egress and armament will each send technicians to the phase dock to repair any discrepancies that were identified. Additionally, the non-destructive inspection, repair and reclamation, metals technology and electrical and environmental will take part in phase inspection. Armament inspectors, for example, are responsible for both the gun of the A-10 and munitions racks that are capable of supporting 2,000 pound bombs. Every phase inspection guts the huge ammunition-carrying drum from the plane to inspect it and clean the gun bay.
"We see stuff we don't see at home-- buildup of carbon, wear," described Staff Sgt. Christopher Deem, a combat armament support chief.
In fact, the 451st AEW A-10s set a record for their Area of Responsibility, Afghanistan. From the combined guns of those aircraft, more than 100,000 total rounds were fired within two months in support of troops on the ground in October and November of 2010. Tech. Sgt. Donovan Stinson, a combat armament team chief, estimated that they've seen the heaviest usage in the history of the A-10.
"We're seeing things nobody has seen before," he concluded.
In addition to their primary responsibility in phase inspections, Sgts. Stinson and Deem also respond to emergencies in their aircraft system.
One of the most challenging moments they recalled during their deployment was a weapon malfunction. During a mission, the pilot's gun had a sudden stoppage and wouldn't clear. Once he landed, Stinson and Deem met the aircraft and began to carefully inspect the gun. With live rounds in the chamber, the wrong movement could have caused it to fire at any moment.
The gun is only designed to be fired during flight. The shot is so powerful that if it was fired while the plane was sitting on the ground, the entire aircraft could be knocked on its tail.
"The nose would go up and everyone around would be bleeding from the ears," Sgt. Stinson described.
Finally, they found the problem. The stoppage, they found, was caused by several bolts that had become loose and backed out. The gun is designed to fire almost four thousand rounds a minute and, during training and within the United States pilots try to avoid firing for continuously for more than three seconds.
"In combat, they'll go a lot longer than three seconds," said Sgt. Deem.
After fixing the weapon, they submitted a correction to their technical orders, which are universal books used by all crew chiefs, suggesting the bolts be secured to keep them in place.
The extraordinary amount of wear that Stinson and Deem, and other phase inspectors see at Kandahar Airfield gives them an opportunity to see how the aircraft will respond under the stress, and how it can improve.
Between their hard work at Kandahar Airfield and the maintainers they left at the 23rd Equipment Maintenance Squadron at Moody Air Force Base, Ga., the crew chiefs were recognized with the Hog Star Award on Feb. 8, 2011. It is an annual prize given by the Air Force A-10 System Program Office that recognized the maintainers' innovation and hard work.
"It's a good system," said Sgt. Stinson of the A-10. "It's been around forever. Not a lot of cars the same age are used as much as this plane."
Despite the quality of the aircraft, or any improvements, the inspectors are still meticulous. Unlike a 40-year old car, an aircraft can't just pull over when something breaks
Tribute to a Brit Soldier, "'He disobeyed a direct order so that he could render life-saving first aid to a colleague..."
This was demonstrated by this British Soldier who gave his life, disobeying a direct order to save his friend's life and sacrificing his own.....
This is why I see the British as our greatest allies. We share a kindredship with them that transcend politics. POTUS acts like a petulant child towards them but all true Americans admire the Brits for their steadfast support for the " Colonies " as they like to call us.
To the Family of Private Martin Bell, you have our thanks, condolences and undying support. We too mourn the loss of this brave soldier.
'Epitome of courage': Mother's grief as soldier who defied orders to save injured comrade is buried By Richard Hartley-Parkinson
UK Mail - 26th February 2011
A paratrooper who died while disobeying a direct order so he could help a wounded friend was described at his funeral today as 'the epitome of courage and the finest example of what makes this country great'.
Private Martin Bell, 24, was the 350th UK military fatality in Afghanistan since operations began in 2001.
Pte Bell, from 2nd Battalion The Parachute Regiment, was fatally wounded by the blast from an improvised explosive device (IED) to the south of Nahr-e-Saraj in Helmand province on January 25.
He was struck as he moved to help a comrade injured by another device.
Today, hundreds of mourners packed Bradford Cathedral for a funeral service with full military honours.
The mourners were led by his parents Elaine and Simon, along with his brothers Oliver and Philip.
They were told about Martin's bravery and how, without his bravery, his friend would have died on the battlefield.
He was killed moments later when an IED exploded south of Nahr-e-Saraj in Helmand Province a month ago.
One mourner laid a wreath of red chrysanthemums and roses nestled inside a pair of black Nike trainers - symbolic to his friends since he was known to lose his training shoes.
With it, a card that read: 'Dear Martin, Just in case you lose your trainers again. I'll never forget you and will love you always. Miss you already.'
Shortly before the funeral, Lt Col Andrew Harrison of the 2nd Battalion The Parachute Regiment paid his respects to Martin
He said: 'He was a great soldier, a great family man and a great friend and he died in the most courageous of circumstances.
'He disobeyed a direct order so that he could render life-saving first aid to a colleague and for that exceptional valour he paid the ultimate price.
'He will always be remembered as a true hero.'
Martin's coffin, which was carried by eight colleagues from his regiment, was draped in a Union Jack flag and adorned with his maroon beret, a belt, and a wreath of poppies.
His mother, Elaine, is hugged by a soldier. She wrote: 'I love you so much Marts, my heart is in pieces and the pain is unbearable.'
As his coffin was slowly taken inside, it was followed by 20 family members, including mum, Elaine, dad, Simon and brothers Oliver and Philip, who comforted their parents
All of the family members wore burgundy silk scarves as a mark of respect to their fallen hero.
A lone piper played "Amazing Grace" as four hearses, including one carrying a wreath that read "Marts", as he was affectionately known by his family, entered the Cathedral grounds.
Reverend Dr David Ison, Dean of Bradford Cathedral, led the service which lasted just over an hour. The moving service began with The Lord of the Dance hymn and included readings from Martin's parents, brothers, and Lt Col Harrison.
"The Climb" by Joe McElderry could be heard echoing from the cathedral as mourners wept.
Mum Elaine told the congregation that despite being nervous to do a reading, she took strength from the courage her son had shown during his time in service.
She thanked his regiment for the support they have provided the family and said: 'I now know why Martin was so proud to be part of such an incredible force.
'Martin told me that if anything were ever to happen to him, we were all to celebrate his life and that's what we're doing now.'
Before the service the family said: 'He had a wicked and infectious sense of humour that would have served him well in difficult times.
'We are a very close knit family and although we are grieving for his loss, we hope that other soldiers out there will keep safe.
'Pte Martin Bell's name will be carved into the chronicles of history.'
As 12 soldiers from Martin's regiment fired three shots into the air in honour of their fallen comrade, the sounds of Brian May's 'No-one but you' could be heard playing inside the Cathedral.
Martin's proud dad, Simon, wrote on a tribute of white flowers that lay next to his son's coffin: 'My darling Martin, my son, my brother, my best friend, my hero, my everything.'
Elaine wrote: 'To mummy's little soldier, what does a mum put to her son? I love you so much Marts, my heart is in pieces and the pain is unbearable. I am so proud of you, please look after us. Love Mum.'
A touching tribute, laid by friend Sarah, said: 'You stole my heart a long time ago, now you have taken it with you and it will be forever yours. I will always love you and never forget you. A true hero, my hero, all my love.'
Providence Mayor, " we have a responsibility to balance our budget. We have a very difficult situation. It’s unprecedented."
The Mayor of Providence has had to move to much more drastic measures to get costs under control....The seniority system and how we employ Teachers does not allow us to keep the BEST Teachers, only those who have the highest seniority...That said, we also spend more per capita on students in the USA than any other country in the world and we only rate "Average" in the world for education.
The three-yearly OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) report, which compares the knowledge and skills of 15-year-olds in 70 countries around the world, ranked the United States 14th out of 34 OECD countries for reading skills, 17th for science and a below-average 25th for mathematics.
25th in MATH ?!?? Are you kidding me?? We need higher Math scores if we are to keep up with the other countries and continue to innovate.
So when people get irate at the idea of what the Providence Mayor is doing, I look at it and say it can't be that bad as the present system only reinforces lower performance for education....In this manner, the Providence Schools system will be able to keep the BEST teachers, not just the ones who have been there the longest.....
How long would you be employed at your job if year after year you were only rated as " average "....likely you would be out except in a public sector union where " average ' get reinforced.
NOW, we need to do the same for the ADMINISTRATORS as they are just as responsible for the low rating of our education system.....Send them packing too.
Providence teacher dismissals seen as blow to seniority system
01:00 AM EST on Saturday, February 26, 2011
By Linda Borg - Providence Journal Staff Writer
PROVIDENCE — No matter how you slice it, school experts say, the decision Thursday by the city School Board to notify teachers that they might be terminated at the end of the school year strikes at the heart of their union contract’s seniority system.
Mayor Angel Taveras says that the decision he recommended to the board is strictly about balancing the city and the School Department budgets. He says that termination will save money because teachers who are dismissed and not rehired will not end up in a substitute teaching pool.
But David V. Abbott, the state’s deputy education commissioner, said the difference between layoffs and dismissals is this: When a teacher is laid off under state statute, he or she is put on a recall list. Although that teacher is no longer working and no longer paid, that person exists in an employment “limbo.” The teacher hasn’t been actually dismissed.
If a job becomes available for which that teacher is qualified, that person must be rehired based on seniority.
“If you are laid off, you have the right of recall,” Abbott said Friday. “You still have one stick in your bundle. If I’m dismissed, I’m out of work and I need to be rehired.”
In effect, every teacher who is terminated has to reapply for his or her job as would any new teacher entering the system.
“It is a way to get around seniority,” said Tim Duffy, executive director of the Rhode Island Association of School Committees. “In order to give the administration the flexibility to recall the teachers they need, they had to give out dismissal notices.”
But Duffy also says that the shift from layoffs to dismissal notices moves Providence — and Rhode Island — into “uncharted territory.”
Will the dismissed teachers be entitled to a hearing before losing their jobs? What will an appeals process look like? Will the district have to state why each teacher is being dismissed?
“Termination for fiscal reasons,” he said, “is different from termination for ‘we don’t like you’ reasons.”
Duffy says that the mayor, whose schools face a $40-million budget shortfall next year, doesn’t have a lot of choices.
“The mayor is looking into the abyss,” he says. “He doesn’t have any options. The biggest driver in the city’s budget is education. You have to take a look at personnel costs.”
The termination process, Duffy says, gives Taveras a chance to consolidate schools and match teachers to the needs in each school.
But Taveras dismisses the common perception among teachers that his decision was motivated by a desire to eliminate seniority-based hiring.
“Why did I do this?” he said. “Because we have a responsibility to balance our budget. We have a very difficult situation. It’s unprecedented. That’s why we have taken an unprecedented step, even though it has caused turmoil.”
Taveras says that the city will let teachers know whether they’ll be able to keep their jobs as soon as possible. He also says that the city will do everything it can to make sure that the terminations do not damage teachers’ careers.
“This is not about ruining anyone’s future prospects,” he says. “It’s about getting our budget under control.”
Further complicating matters, Providence recently changed the way it fills vacancies. Starting last fall, teachers are no longer chosen for openings based solely on seniority. They have to submit to an interview process, held by the school principal and a team of colleagues. In addition, they have to submit a model lesson plan and a writing sample.
The goal is to select the best person for each position, not simply hire the most senior person for the job.
And statewide, the situation gets still more complicated in the months to come. Many other school districts may be altering the use of seniority in assigning teachers.
State Education Commissioner Deborah A. Gist, in an October 2009 memo, informed districts that they can no longer base teacher assignments solely on seniority.
In a memo sent to school districts this week, Gist wrote that the state’s Basic Education Plan, which took effect July 1, 2010, “requires districts to recruit, hire and retain highly effective personnel based on student and district needs.”
“As I noted in my memo,” Gist wrote, “teacher assignments based solely on seniority cannot comply with this requirement. Under Rhode Island law, these are personnel-related considerations that must be used in the planning and implementation of a reduction in the teaching force for budgetary or program reasons.”
As teacher contracts come up for negotiation, districts will have to include new language that limits the role of seniority in hiring.
Friday, February 25, 2011
Hopefully, the both of them will get sent packing in the near future....We need real leadership like Chris Christie or Gov. Walker of Wisconsin....Senator Scott Brown showed that Massachusetts still has some real leaders in our midst...we just have throw the Bums out and elect decent people who are there for the citizens, not the Unions and the Liberal Elite.
Thursday, February 24, 2011
How Chris Christie Did His Homework
By MATT BAI / NY TIMES
Published: February 24, 2011
Like a stand-up comedian working out-of-the-way clubs, Chris Christie travels the townships and boroughs of New Jersey, places like Hackettstown and Raritan and Scotch Plains, sharpening his riffs about the state’s public employees, whom he largely blames for plunging New Jersey into a fiscal death spiral. In one well-worn routine, for instance, the governor reminds his audiences that, until he passed a recent law that changed the system, most teachers in the state didn’t pay a dime for their health care coverage, the cost of which was borne by taxpayers.
And so, Christie goes on, forced to cut more than $1 billion in local aid in order to balance the budget, he asked the teachers not only to accept a pay freeze for a year but also to begin contributing 1.5 percent of their salaries toward health care. The dominant teachers’ union in the state responded by spending millions of dollars in television and radio ads to attack him.
“The argument you heard most vociferously from the teachers’ union,” Christie says, “was that this was the greatest assault on public education in the history of New Jersey.” Here the fleshy governor lumbers a few steps toward the audience and lowers his voice for effect. “Now, do you really think that your child is now stressed out and unable to learn because they know that their poor teacher has to pay 1½ percent of their salary for their health care benefits? Have any of your children come home — any of them — and said, ‘Mom.’ ” Pause. “ ‘Dad.’ ” Another pause. “ ‘Please. Stop the madness.’ ”
By this point the audience is starting to titter, but Christie remains steadfastly somber in his role as the beseeching student. “ ‘Just pay for my teacher’s health benefits,’ ” he pleads, “ ‘and I’ll get A’s, I swear. But I just cannot take the stress that’s being presented by a 1½ percent contribution to health benefits.’ ” As the crowd breaks into appreciative guffaws, Christie waits a theatrical moment, then slams his point home. “Now, you’re all laughing, right?” he says. “But this is the crap I have to hear.”
Acid monologues like this have made Christie, only a little more than a year into his governorship, one of the most intriguing political figures in America. Hundreds of thousands of YouTube viewers linger on scenes from Christie’s town-hall meetings, like the one in which he takes apart a teacher for her histrionics. (“If what you want to do is put on a show and giggle every time I talk, then I have no interest in answering your question.”) Newly elected governors — not just Republicans, Christie says, but also Democrats — call to seek his counsel on how to confront their own staggering budget deficits and intractable unions. At a recent gathering of Republican governors, Christie attracted a throng of supporters and journalists as he strode through the halls of the Hilton San Diego Bayfront Hotel like Bono at Davos.
While Christie has flatly ruled out a presidential run in 2012, there is enough conjecture about the possibility that I felt moved to ask him a few weeks ago if he found it exhausting to have to constantly answer the same question. “Listen, if you’re going to say you’re exhausted by that, you’re really taking yourself too seriously,” Christie told me, then broke into his imitation of a politician who is taking himself too seriously. “ ‘Oh, Matt, please, stop asking me about whether I should be president of the United States! The leader of the free world! Please stop! I’m exhausted by the question!’ I mean, come on. If I get to that point, just slap me around, because that’s really presumptuous. What it is to me is astonishing, not exhausting.”
There is, in fact, something astonishing about the ascent of Chris Christie, who is about as slick as sandpaper and who now admits that even he didn’t think he would beat Jon Corzine, the Democrat he unseated in 2009. Some critics have posited that Christie’s success in office represents merely the triumph of self-certainty over complexity, the yearning among voters for leaders who talk bluntly and with conviction. Yet it’s hard to see Christie getting so much traction if he were out there castigating, say, immigrants or Wall Street bankers. What makes Christie compelling to so many people isn’t simply plain talk or swagger, but also the fact that he has found the ideal adversary for this moment of economic vertigo. Ronald Reagan had his “welfare queens,” Rudy Giuliani had his criminals and “squeegee men,” and now Chris Christie has his sprawling and powerful public-sector unions — teachers, cops and firefighters who Christie says are driving up local taxes beyond what the citizenry can afford, while also demanding the kind of lifetime security that most private-sector workers have already lost.
It may just be that Christie has stumbled onto the public-policy issue of our time, which is how to bring the exploding costs of the public workforce in line with reality. (According to a report issued last year by the Pew Center on the States, as of 2008 there was a $1 trillion gap, conservatively speaking, between what the states have promised in pensions and benefits for their retirees and what they have on hand to pay for them.) Then again, he may simply be the latest in a long line of politicians to give an uneasy public the scapegoat it demands. Depending on your vantage point, Chris Christie is a truth-teller or a demagogue, or maybe even a little of both.
To say that New Jersey has a budget problem wouldn’t really be accurate. The state has at least three major budget problems related to the costs of the public workforce, all of which contribute to a shortfall that the state’s legislative accounting office projects to be almost $11 billion this year — an amount that’s more than a third of the state’s total budget. And in order to understand what’s happening in statehouses all over the country, and what Christie is trying to do about it in New Jersey, it helps to have some sense of how these problems tie together.
First, there’s the local aid. New Jersey sends 40 percent of its annual budget to an overlapping tangle of 566 municipalities and 600-plus school districts, in order to help them slow the mutantlike growth of local property taxes, which are among the highest in the country. Each of these little hamlets and districts negotiates its own labor contract with the police and firefighters, sanitation workers and, most consequentially, teachers, which means the contracts established by the most affluent communities end up setting a statewide standard — a process that drives up everyone else’s costs to a level that the local governments simply can’t sustain by themselves.
Second, in the long term, New Jersey doesn’t have nearly enough money on hand to cover its pension obligations to teachers and other state workers. At no time in the last 17 years has New Jersey fully met its annual obligation to the pension fund, and in many of those years, the state paid nothing at all. (That didn’t stop one governor, Donald DiFrancesco, a Republican, from increasing payouts by 9 percent and lowering the retirement age before he left office, which would be kind of like Bernie Madoff writing you a $1 million check before heading off to jail.) Even had the state been contributing faithfully to the fund as it was supposed to, however, there would still be trouble ahead. That’s because New Jerseyans, who are glass-half-full kind of people, have assumed an improbably healthy return of 8.25 percent annually on the state pension fund. The actual return over the last 10 years averaged only 2.6 percent.
Finally, the state will pay close to $3 billion this year in health care premiums for public employees (including retired teachers), and that number is rising fast. New Jersey has set aside exactly zero dollars to cover it. All told, in pensions and health care benefits, New Jersey’s “unfunded liability” — that is, the amount the actuaries say it would need to find in order to meet its obligations for the next 30 years — has now passed the $100 billion mark.
There was little in Christie’s uninspiring campaign to make anyone think he would address these issues with more tenacity than the governors who preceded him. A U.S. attorney whose only overtly political experience entailed serving on the Morris County Board of Chosen Freeholders (seriously, they still call it that), Christie had only a fraction of Corzine’s public exposure or personal fortune. About the only thing he had going for him was that Corzine was pervasively unpopular. And so rather than come up with a lot of actual ideas, which Corzine would then be free to oversimplify and distort in a barrage of television ads, Christie simply offered up a bunch of conservative platitudes and tried to make the campaign a referendum on the Democratic governor. (When we talked during the campaign, Christie could articulate little by way of an agenda, except to say that he would “get in there and make it work.”) Even a lot of Republicans thought Christie was underwhelming as a campaigner.
In the end, Christie won by about four points on Election Night in 2009, with little notion of what he was going to do next. When I asked him if there was any one moment of clarity that put him on the path from cautious candidate to union-bashing conservative hero, Christie pointed to a meeting about a month into the transition, when his aides came to him brandishing an analysis of the state’s cash flow produced by Goldman Sachs. They advised the governor-elect that, without some serious action, the state could fail to meet payroll by the end of March. After scrutinizing the budget, Christie told me, his team came to the conclusion that the only way to get control of local taxes and state spending was to go after the pension and health care benefits that the public-sector unions held sacrosanct. From that point on, it seems, Christie has conducted his governorship as if he were still a grandstanding prosecutor, taking powerful unions on perp walks with evident enthusiasm.
The centerpiece of Christie’s frenzied agenda, which passed the Democratic-controlled Legislature last July, is a strict cap on local property taxes, which will be allowed to rise no more than 2 percent every year. When combined with a reduction in state aid, what this means, practically speaking, is that New Jersey’s townships and cities will have to hold the line when negotiating municipal labor contracts if they want to remain solvent, because they can’t rely on either their residents or the state for more money.
To help them do that, Christie has put forward 33 measures that are part of what he calls his “toolkit” for reform. These include, for instance, a proposal that would allow localities to opt out of the civil-service system altogether, giving them more control over hiring and firing local officials, and another that would limit the cash payouts that retiring workers can take for their unused sick days. On the pension front, if Christie has his way with the Legislature, most union members would contribute more to their plans than they have up to now, and all of them would retire later and receive lower benefit payments.
The crux of Christie’s argument is that public-sector contracts have to reflect what has happened in the private sector, where guaranteed pensions and free health care are becoming relics. It’s not surprising that this stand has ingratiated Christie to conservatives in Washington; advocacy groups and activists on the right have carried out a long campaign to discredit the ever-shrinking labor movement in the private sector, and what Christie has done, essentially, is to blast his way into the final frontier, taking on the public-sector unions that have come to wield enormous political power. More surprising is how the governor’s proposals are finding sympathy from less-partisan budget experts, if only because they don’t see obvious alternatives. “I’ve tried to look at this objectively, and I just don’t know of any other option,” says Richard Keevey, who served as budget director for a Democratic governor, Jim Florio, and a Republican governor, Tom Kean. “You couldn’t tax your way out of this.”
Union leaders, on the other hand, are howling. The heads of the police and firefighters’ unions say that Christie’s cuts to local aid have already cost the state several hundred firemen and police officers, and they warn that his 2 percent cap on property taxes will have dire effects on public safety, as more towns and cities try to shave their payrolls to conform with the cap. “I don’t think they’re going to get it until the body bags pile up,” Anthony Wieners, president of the police union, warns darkly.
Leaders of the teachers’ union, meanwhile, are apoplectic about Christie’s proposed changes to their pension plan, which they say will penalize educators for the irresponsibility of politicians. After all, they point out, it wasn’t the unions who chose not to fund the pension year in and year out, and yet it’s their members who will have to recalibrate their retirements if the benefits are cut.
When I made this same point to Christie, he simply shook his head. What’s done is done, he told me, and it’s time for someone to tell these workers the truth, which is that the state is simply never going to have the money to make good on its commitments. “Listen, if they want to travel in the Michael J. Fox time machine and change time, I guess we could try that,” he said. “We could get the DeLorean out and try to go back there. But I think realistically that that was just a movie and make-believe. So we’ve got to live with what we’ve got.”
Chris Christie is fat. You can use nicer words if you want — rotund, portly, big-boned — but it is what it is, and the governor will be the first to tell you so. And because he’s fat, a lot of people, consciously or not, tend to assume certain things about Christie — that he’s undisciplined and impulsive, graceless and bullying. (Corzine’s most brutal campaign ad accused Christie of “throwing his weight around.”) At times, Christie seems to exploit this persona. He likes to present himself as the proverbial bull in the china shop, the ungainly, somewhat boorish guy who lacks the artifice to keep from saying whatever obvious truth pops into his head. “I don’t think you elected me because of my charm and good looks,” Christie likes to say, just to show he’s in on the joke.
And yet, to portray Christie in this cartoonish way, as so many critics do, is to vastly underestimate his skill as a politician. The most sophisticated communicators of the modern era hammer at a consistent argument about their moment and the response it demands, and they choose carefully constructed metaphors to make the choices ahead seem obvious — think of Ronald Reagan’s morning in America, or Bill Clinton’s bridge to the 21st century. And Christie’s communications strategy is about as sophisticated as any you will find in American politics right now.
Take Christie’s choice of a somewhat mundane image, the “toolkit,” as a unifying frame for his proposals. As a metaphor, the toolkit works on two levels, depending on the audience. You can visualize it either in the sense of screwdrivers and hammers or, if you work in an office all day, you might envision it more as a software suite. Either way, the toolkit symbolizes flexibility and local control. It’s a way of saying that Christie isn’t putting unwieldy restrictions on towns and cities, as the cops and firefighters charge — he’s just empowering those towns and cities with a variety of implements and gadgets with which to attack their budget problems themselves.
In sustaining his assault on the public-employee unions, Christie knows he has to make his subject comprehensible. One reason that leaders in a state like New Jersey haven’t been able to get a handle on pension and benefit costs, despite years of dire warnings from good-government advocates, is that the subject is agonizingly dull and all but impossible to explain. There are myriad plans for all the different public-employee unions, various contribution formulas for each one and actuarial projections that require an advanced degree to unravel.
Christie, it turns out, has a preternatural gift for making the complex seem deceptively simple. Last month I saw him hold forth at a town-hall meeting in Chesilhurst, a South Jersey borough of about 1,600. Chesilhurst is about half African-American, and I sensed more curiosity than enthusiasm among the racially mixed crowd as it flowed into the little community-center gymnasium. An unusually large number of folding chairs were empty. About 20 minutes after the program was supposed to start, there came over the loudspeakers the kind of melodramatic instrumental that might introduce a local newscast, or maybe an Atlantic City magic show, and in came Christie, taking his position in the center of the crowd. The theme of the week was pension-and-benefits reform, and in his introductory remarks, Christie explained the inefficiency in the state’s health care costs not by wielding a stack of damning statistics, as some politicians might, but by relating a story.
When he was a federal prosecutor, Christie told the audience, he got to choose from about 100 health-insurance plans, ranging from cheap to quite expensive. But as soon as he became governor, the “benefits lady” told him he had only three state plans from which to choose, Goldilocks-style; one was great, one was modestly generous and one was rather miserly. And any of the three would cost him exactly 1.5 percent of his salary.
“ ‘You’re telling me,’ ” Christie said he told the woman, feigning befuddlement, “ ‘that no matter which one I pick, the good one or the O.K. one or the bad one, I’m going to pay 1½ percent of my salary?’ And she said, ‘Yes.’
“And I said, ‘Then everyone picks the really good one, right?’ And she said, ‘Ninety-six percent of state employees pick the really good one.’
“Which led me to have two reactions,” Christie told the crowd. “First, bring those other 4 percent to me! Because when I have to start laying people off, they’re the first ones!” His audience burst into near hysterics. “And the second reaction was, of course I would choose the best plan,” Christie said, “and so would you.
“Now listen, I don’t think this is groundbreaking stuff,” Christie added. “I don’t think this means that instead of being governor, you know, I should be at NASA, working on the space shuttle. I’m no genius. Just seems to me that if you give people an option to get something for nothing, they’ll take it.” Scanning the nodding faces around me, it seemed there wasn’t a person in the gymnasium, at that point, who wouldn’t have voted to make state workers and teachers pay more for the better plan.
Another thing Christie understands about political messaging, especially when your adversaries are out there portraying you as callous, is that it has to be grounded in the personal. “If you’re asking people to do some really difficult things, which I am asking them to do,” Christie told me, “then I think they feel more comfortable doing those things if they know you.”
And so the 48-year-old Christie makes a point of sharing intimate details of his life and times — that he uses an asthma inhaler, that he has struggled with dieting and exercise since his days as a high-school catcher came to an end, that his mother told him on her deathbed that he should go back to work because nothing between them had been left unsaid. That last one, which elicited audible gasps of sympathy from the audience in Chesilhurst, is his way of saying that he wants to leave nothing unsaid between him and the voters, either, even if they both occasionally get hurt.
“My mother said to me all the time, ‘Christopher, you’re going to have choices in your life between being loved and being respected,’ ” Christie told his rapt audience, strains of emotion creeping into his voice. “ ‘And you should choose respected. Because if you’re respected, love can come.’ She said, ‘But seeking love without also being respected — well that love doesn’t last.’ ” It was as if some weird brain-switching experiment had taken place, and somewhere, at that very moment, Oprah was giving a talk about state budgets and tax policy.
There’s one more piece of political narrative that Christie seems to grasp, which is that every story has both a protagonist and an antagonist, someone who stands for change and someone who plays the foil. Christie never had to look far to cast his ideal antagonists. They sit just across the street and one block down from the State House, in the building occupied by New Jersey’s major teachers’ union.
WITH 200,000 MEMBERS and more than $100 million in dues, the New Jersey Education Association is easily the most powerful union in New Jersey and one of the more powerful local unions in the country. In Trenton, the union’s organizing might — and its willingness to use that might to intimidate candidates and lawmakers — has sunk a small shipyard of promising careers. So it’s not hard to see why the twilight struggle between Chris Christie and “the bully of State Street,” as he likes to refer to the teachers’ union, has transfixed New Jersey’s political observers for the last year. It’s as mesmerizing as an episode of “The Real Housewives of New Jersey,” only harder to watch, mostly because Christie can be so unrelentingly brutal.
“We have similar personalities,” Stephen Sweeney, the Democratic president of the state Senate, told me recently, when ruminating on Christie’s style. “The difference between he and I is, I have an off switch and he doesn’t. You know, if I knock you down, I’ll pick you up, brush the dirt off your back, try to build a relationship and go forward. He knocks you down, like with the teachers, and he’ll stomp on you, kick on you until he can kill you.”
The war between Christie and the union has two fronts, so closely interrelated that it’s hard to separate them. First there’s the fight over budgeting issues like pensions and benefits. And then there’s the “year of education reform,” as Christie has proclaimed 2011, in which he intends to push his case for merit pay, charter schools and the abolition of teacher tenure — all of which are, of course, anathema to the union.
At times in this epic clash, it can be hard to know where personal animus leaves off and political gamesmanship kicks in. All that’s clear is that Christie seems to be winning at every turn. Last April, for instance, Christie claimed to be infuriated by a joke memo circulated by the president of the Bergen County chapter of the union. “Dear Lord,” it read in part, “this year you have taken away my favorite actor, Patrick Swayze, my favorite actress, Farrah Fawcett, my favorite singer, Michael Jackson, and my favorite salesman, Billy Mays. I just wanted to let you know that Chris Christie is my favorite governor.”
In a 15-minute meeting, the union’s president, Barbara Keshishian, apologized to Christie for the memo, but she refused to fire the Bergen County president, which further infuriated the governor. If his chief of staff had sent out such an e-mail, Christie told her, he would have been fired immediately. “That conversation embodies the elitism and the double standard that the teachers’ union thinks applies to them,” Christie told me last month, recounting the confrontation. We were sitting in the restaurant of the Hay-Adams Hotel in Washington, where state troopers and aides with cellphones buzzed around the empty dining room. Christie was in town to headline a dinner for the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce. “And you know what? I can’t entirely blame them for it, because politicians have treated them differently than everybody else, because they’ve been scared of them. And so part of the blame goes on the political culture of New Jersey that has helped to enable this elitist, double-standard attitude.”
The death-wish incident instantly became lore in Trenton and proved politically advantageous to the governor. It gave him a pretense to break off all communication with the union; he has refused to meet personally with Keshishian or her deputies since. And he has repeatedly used the ill-advised memo to portray himself as the courageous victim of unhinged union activists. At least once a week, it seems, he reminds some audience that the union once “wished for my death,” as if he were Robert Kennedy staring down the Teamsters.
Perhaps the most consequential episode between Christie and the union, at least as far as public perception was concerned, had to do with the pay freeze. Almost as soon as the scope of the budget problem became clear, the governor called on teachers, who received scheduled raises during the recession, to accept a one-year freeze. He reminded the teachers that a lot of private-sector workers felt lucky if they could keep their current salaries, and he said a voluntary freeze would enable the union to avoid widespread teacher layoffs in cash-poor school districts. Most local chapters of the union ignored him. Ultimately some 10,000 union members — teachers and support staff — saw their jobs eliminated. Christie hasn’t stopped talking about it since.
The union maintains that Christie’s plea was mere gimmickry, because the layoffs would have happened even if its local chapters acceded to the demand for a freeze. But even if this is true, it would seem to reflect a staggering lack of political calculation. Had the teachers agreed to take the short-term hit by acquiescing to a temporary freeze, it would have been worlds harder for Christie to then run around the state demanding longer-term concessions on pensions and benefits. And when the layoffs did materialize, the governor would most likely have shouldered most of the blame. Instead, the whole affair seemed to prove Christie’s point about the union’s self-involvement, and it enabled him to blame the teachers themselves for the layoffs.
During our conversation at the Hay-Adams, I suggested to Christie that the teachers had given him a valuable political gift by refusing to compromise. “I don’t look at it as a gift to me,” he replied. “I look at it as a huge mistake by them, and also a window into who they are.
“Let’s assume that they’re smart, because I think they are,” he went on. “So then, why don’t you do it? Because they believe they are entitled to it. They believe they are special and different and that they shouldn’t have to share the sacrifice. And that’s, I think, what’s ultimately driving public opinion against them.”
One afternoon last month, at the modern, airy headquarters of the N.J.E.A., I sat with Barbara Keshishian, the union’s president, and Vincent Giordano, its executive director, and listened as they tried to puzzle out why it was that Christie seemed so determined to humiliate them.
“Frankly, I for one don’t say we’re always 100 percent right on every single issue, and certainly neither is the administration across the street,” said Giordano, a bald and goateed organizer who has been at the union for 40 years. “The difference is the tone and the mean-spiritedness of the way he talks about us. He has made us basically the whipping boy for anything that goes wrong in New Jersey and the country and in Bangladesh if there’s an earthquake. It seems that we’re just the cause of all the problems in our society today.
“I don’t know what he’s got buried down there inside of him that causes him to be this totally driven,” Giordano said. “I don’t think he’s really supportive of a public-education system. If he was, he might send his kids to public school, which he doesn’t.” (Christie and his wife, Mary Pat, a bond trader, have four children, ages 7 to 17, and all attend Catholic schools.) “I think he’s not very enamored with public services in general. Public employees, public education, public pension systems — somehow he’s allergic to the word ‘public.’ Somebody ought to get him some kind of medication that gets him off of that allergy he has to anything that’s public.”
The two union leaders made several points in defense of their stances against pension reform and the pay freeze. They pointed out that despite all Christie’s talk of shared sacrifice, he refused to renew a tax on millionaires in New Jersey that would have raised about $800 million this year — not enough to solve the state’s fiscal problems, certainly, but enough to restore most of the school aid that was slashed from the budget. They noted that they already made concessions on teachers’ pensions in 2007 and 2008, when they agreed to increase contributions by 10 percent and to raise the retirement age from 60 to 62. They mentioned that the average salary of a New Jersey teacher is about $67,000, and the average pension is between $35,000 and $40,000. “Try living on that in the state of New Jersey,” Giordano said. “I don’t see why we’ve suddenly been identified as fat cats.”
In the union’s view, Christie is simply trying to exploit the downward spiral of the American labor movement. First, greedy companies, claiming pressures from the new global market, began rolling back the pensions and benefits that private-sector unions negotiated over a period of decades. And now, instead of trying to find a way to restore those hard-earned benefits for all workers, politicians like Christie are using corporate America’s bad behavior as an excuse to take benefits away from the last set of union members who managed to cling to them — those in the public sector. Christie is pitting one set of middle-class workers against the other, perhaps in the hope that private-sector unions will ultimately turn on their brethren in the public workforce, or that the public unions will turn on one another. And the end result will be that everyone loses.
All of this seems to add up to a reasonable counterargument to Christie’s main indictments against the teachers’ union, and so I asked Keshishian and Giordano why they thought they were having such a problem making their case to the public. After all, according to a Quinnipiac University poll conducted this month, most voters in New Jersey still admire teachers themselves, but only 27 percent have a favorable view of the union, while 44 percent say their view is unfavorable. By contrast, Christie’s job approval has been consistently hovering above the 50 percent mark.
“He is the governor!” Keshishian said, her voice rising. “People listen to him! You know, he could be in a crowd of people, and they’re going to interview the governor! And people, I guess, believe that what the governor says is the truth.” Keshishian taught high-school math for 29 years, but her grasp on civics sounded a bit shaky. It doesn’t seem especially likely that Christie is breaking through because he is a politician and therefore people take to heart his every word.
What the union’s leadership seems not to have considered is that public sentiment around budgets and public employees has shifted in a fundamental way. For decades, as Keshishian and Giordano were rising up through the union, it probably made sense to adopt a strategy of “no surrender,” to dig in and outlast the occasional politician who might dare to threaten the union’s hard-earned gains. But over the last 10 years or so, most American workers have come to expect less by way of benefits and security from their employers. And with political consensus building toward some kind of public-school reform, teachers’ unions in particular have lost credibility with the public. Forty-six percent of voters in a poll conducted by Stanford and the Associated Press last September said teachers’ unions deserved either “a great deal” or “a lot” of blame for the problems of public schools.
And so, when the union draws a hard line against changes to its pay and benefit structure, you can see why it might strike some sizable segment of voters as being a little anachronistic, like mimeographing homework assignments or sharpening a pencil by hand. In a Pew Research Center poll this month, 47 percent of respondents said their states should cut pension plans for government employees, which made it the most popular option on the table.
Some unions are more attuned than others to this gradual changing of the climate. The American Federation of Teachers, for example, which is by far the smaller of the two major teachers’ unions nationally, has consciously tried to position itself as a more pragmatic union and has proposed a lot of its own classroom reforms in a campaign to get out in front of public opinion. In Newark, New Jersey’s largest city, A.F.T. organizers have signaled that they will work with Christie on changes to the pension and health care system, in addition to negotiating on issues like merit pay. “Better to be seated at the table than to be on the menu” is how Joseph Del Grosso, the union’s leader in Newark, explained the strategy to me.
But the larger and mightier N.J.E.A. has made the decision to hunker down and fight all comers. And because of that, its leaders run the risk of confirming the public’s darkest suspicions about them, whether they have salient points to make or not. “They may have dug themselves a hole that will be very difficult to dig themselves out of,” Del Grosso says of his competitor. “They are on the menu.”
And so this is why Christie has gone out of his way to anoint the teachers’ union as the most sinister force in the galaxy — not because he has some long-buried torment with a teacher to work through, but because the union does a very capable job of representing for him everything about the public sector that voters don’t like. He knows there is a risk in using this strategy: he has to make sure his war on the union doesn’t ultimately come to seem like a war on individual teachers, which is why he tries constantly to draw a distinction between the union and its members. (“I love teachers — I just can’t stand your union,” is one of Christie’s signature lines.) For now, though, even some of labor’s strongest advocates will tell you that Christie has the teachers and other public-sector unions backed up against a hard wall of political reality.
“My politics are union politics,” Sweeney, the Senate president, assured me when I visited him in his State House office. He reminded me that he is not only the state’s top elected Democrat, but also a union ironworker. And yet, he said, “what I think that public-sector employees have to do is look at what’s going on around them, look at all the pain around them, and understand that no one hates them, but they want them to sacrifice like everyone else. It’s that simple.”
THE POLITICAL DYNAMIC in New Jersey tells you a lot about what’s driving similar conversations all over the country. Last year alone, 18 states either raised the pension-contribution levels for public employees or reduced benefits for their retirees, according to Susan Urahn, the managing director of the Pew Center for the States. Three states — South Dakota, Colorado and Minnesota — decided to eliminate cost-of-living raises for state workers who have already retired. (As a result, all three states are now ensnared in court challenges over whether they can alter benefits for current retirees — cases that could have a huge impact on state budgets, depending on how far states are ultimately allowed to go in rolling back already-promised benefits.) Illinois raised its retirement age to 67, and Vermont, Michigan and Utah introduced “hybrid” retirement plans that are a step away from the defined-benefit pension plans that were the standard for much of the 20th century.
Now a new class of governors from both parties is promising to revisit union contracts in order to put their states on firmer fiscal ground. In Wisconsin, Scott Walker, an aggressive new Republican governor, just proposed legislation that would limit the rights of public workers to collectively bargain. “You can’t have one group who are the haves,” Walker told me recently, meaning government workers, “and one group, the private-sector workers, who are the have-nots.” Walker’s move led to protests in Madison, drawing President Obama into the debate and raising the prospect of French-style labor uprisings among public workers across America.
In part, the viral movement against public-sector unions is a result of political necessity. In states all over the country, balancing the budget has become an annual exercise in Copperfield-like illusion. Over the past decade, governors have exhausted all the easy options for eradicating, or at least hiding, deficits — building casinos and adding new fees, issuing bonds and securitizing tobacco revenue. Now, facing a painfully slow recovery and the end of stimulus spending from Washington, governors from both parties are finding that there are simply no more gimmicks left to exploit. They have to deal with what has long been an unspoken reality — that state governments have made a mountain of promises they can’t keep.
It’s also true, though, that what used to be unspeakable, politically, simply isn’t anymore. It’s not as if the problem of public pensions suddenly got so much worse than it was before (the shortfalls have been building steadily for years, after all), nor is this new crop of governors somehow genetically bolder than their predecessors. If politicians of both parties are suddenly willing to go after the pensions and health care plans of teachers and cops and firefighters, it’s probably not only because they’re out of budgeting options, but also because suddenly they see it as politically advantageous. In other words, not only are public employees’ contracts no longer untouchable for any politician who wants to stay in office, but it turns out that the opposite is true; taking the fight to the unions is a good way to bolster your credentials as a gutsy reformer with voters who have been losing faith for years in public schools and government bureaucracies.
This, more than anything else, is the lesson that Chris Christie has impressed on his contemporaries. The question now, and what a lot of these other governors are watching to see, is whether Christie can convert his anti-union riffs into a revised social contract for public servants. While he has enacted several pivotal pieces of his agenda, Christie has yet to pass more than a handful of the measures in his toolkit. This year will mark a major test of his staying power. The question a lot of political observers are asking, in New Jersey and nationally, is whether Christie’s argument will begin to lose its resonance as voters inevitably grow weary of the hostility and the rhetorical smack downs. Sooner or later, most people tend to tire of the boorish guy at the party, even if he’s entertaining, and even if he has a point.
Christie waves away such concerns. “When I run out of fights to have, I’ll stop fighting,” he told me. Until then, you will find him out on the town-hall circuit, play-acting, berating and emoting his way toward some kind of public reckoning, leaving nothing unsaid.
Matt Bai, a staff writer, covers national politics for the magazine.
"We do strongly believe that for Afghanistan to be able to survive... it will need (US) help beyond 2014..."
We will be there for the foreseeable future as our presence provides stability. The change we need to look at is how long we should house military troops in Europe as the threat there has diminshed. Changing our footprint there could save Billions and allow us to redirect support where it is needed.
The instability that would follow our pulling out of Afghanistan before the job is completed would make things there only worse. The trick will be making sure we strike the right balance between what is needed and what we can provide....I have personally seen the progress there and it is encouraging although it will always be a difficult place. The hope is that the effort will pay out in the future...Many people said that stability would never occur in Iraq, but they were proven wrong.
Afghanistan seeks US help post-2014
by Shaun Tandon Shaun Tandon – Thu Feb 24, 12:24 am ET
WASHINGTON (AFP) – Afghanistan appealed to the United States to provide security assistance beyond 2014, the date by which President Barack Obama wants to withdraw US combat troops.
Afghan Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak held talks at the Pentagon to look at future relations, despite recent tensions between the two governments over civilian deaths in the NATO-led campaign against the Taliban.
"We do strongly believe that for Afghanistan to be able to survive in that very volatile region, it will need your help beyond 2014," Wardak said at the start of a meeting with US Defense Secretary Robert Gates.
Wardak saluted the nearly 1,500 US troops who have died in the war, which was launched in 2001 to root out Al-Qaeda extremists responsible for the September 11 attacks on the United States.
"We should be extremely grateful for all the sacrifices which your sons and daughters have given," Wardak said.
Gates said the meeting would be the start of a twice-a-year forum aimed at laying "an enduring foundation for our partnership well beyond 2014."
The meetings should "demonstrate to others in the region and to our own people, in concrete terms, that together we are putting Afghanistan on a path towards stability and security," Gates said.
In a statement afterward, the Pentagon said the talks aimed at developing "an enduring strategic partnership" in which Afghans take charge of their own security and ensure the country "never again becomes a safe haven for extremists that threaten others."
Opinion polls show dwindling US public support for the war in Afghanistan, with many Americans questioning the continued human and financial toll nearly a decade after troops were first deployed.
Obama has poured more troops into Afghanistan but said he will start pulling them out in July this year. However, the administration has recently shifted focus and emphasized 2014 as the date by which US troops will leave.
Colonel Dave Lapan, a Pentagon spokesman, said the US military expected to play a role in Afghanistan even beyond that year.
"We have said that there will likely be some type of support past 2014 involving US troops of some nature," Lapan told reporters.
Lawmakers from the rival Republican Party have criticized Obama for setting a time-frame for withdrawal, saying it would embolden guerrillas to wait out and also encourage Pakistan to hedge its bets by keeping ties with the Afghan Taliban.
Gates, a holdover from Republican president George W. Bush, acknowledged in an interview published Wednesday that he was initially skeptical of setting a deadline but came to believe it would influence Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
"I couldn't think of another way to grab Karzai by the lapels and say: 'You have to take ownership of this. This is your war,'" Gates said in The Weekly Standard, a conservative political magazine.
Gates also said that the United States soon "could do some judo" on the Taliban, who would be surprised if they had anticipated a significant troop drawdown in July.
The United States has had tense relations with Karzai, with officials accusing him of corruption, personal instability and a dependence on US troops that has prevented Afghanistan from developing its own forces.
Tensions have also mounted over civilian casualties. Karzai on Sunday voiced anger at what he said were the deaths of more than 50 civilians in airstrikes in Kunar province. NATO said it would probe the allegations.
The deaths of Western troops and Afghan civilians have also fueled opposition to the military campaign in the United States, where polls show more than half of the public believe the war is going in the wrong direction.
Representative Dennis Kucinich of Ohio, a staunch war critic from Obama's Democratic Party, said that the civilian deaths from the airstrikes would only fuel the insurgency.
"No innocent civilian deaths are acceptable, especially to the families of those killed. We must end this war and bring our troops home," Kucinich said
" It was a recipe for waste, a scatter-gun approach that raised many public expectations, but in the end provided few achievements and fewer yet jobs"
Wow....a real shocker eh?? And does it matter to them? No, after all, he & the rest of his ilk will be on the Federal Dole for life....while we (you,me, our children and their children, etc.) will be paying the bill for this foolishness for the rest of our combined lifetimes.....Talk about " Highway Robbery " ...You can't spend yourself out of a hole but these fools have wasted our National Treasure to line the pockets of their political allies and only succeeded in digging the hole deeper.
CBO raises its stimulus cost estimate, again
By Stephen Dinan
The Washington Times
8:02 p.m., Wednesday, February 23, 2011
Congress‘ chief scorekeeper has again raised the cost estimate of President Obama‘s two-year-old economic-stimulus program, calculating it will end up costing taxpayers $821 billion — or $34 billion more than originally projected.
And the economic boost from the added government spending is beginning to wear off, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said in a new report Wednesday. The CBO said that in the final three months of 2010, the stimulus was paying to keep between 1.3 million and 3.5 million people in jobs, both down from the peak recorded in the prior three-month period.
The drop was expected, since the biggest chunk of stimulus money was spent out during fiscal year 2010, which ended Sept. 30.
Mr. Obama‘s stimulus program turned two years old last week, but it remains a thorny political issue.
House Republicans sought to cancel several billion dollars in unspent stimulus money as part of the $61 billion in spending cuts they passed Saturday, and Republicans on both sides of the Capitol have introduced legislation to try to reclaim other money or audit what was actually spent.
“The Department of Energy alone had $39 billion in stimulus money — all, I might say, borrowed — $9 billion more than its entire budget. It was a recipe for waste, a scatter-gun approach that raised many public expectations, but in the end provided few achievements and fewer yet jobs,” said Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, New Jersey Republican, in the debate last week.
But Democrats said the remaining stimulus funds should be spent.
“There are people who are now at their 99th level of not being able to get employed and get unemployment insurance. They need these jobs,” said Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, Texas Democrat, during the floor debate.
Estimates for the actual cost of the stimulus have changed dramatically, rising from the initial $787 billion price tag to reach $862 billion, then falling to $814 billion and now ticking back up to $821 billion.
The increased overall 10-year cost of the stimulus comes mostly from higher Medicaid spending in 2010 and a higher payout of refundable tax credits in 2011, CBO analysts said.
© Copyright 2011 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.
Wednesday, February 23, 2011
A Library discovers a collection of President Thomas Jefferson's personal books from his library....
"A wise and frugal government, which shall leave men free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned - this is the sum of good government."
A collection of his books from his own personal library have been discovered....This is the kind of news that makes History come alive....
Jefferson's books found in Mo. university library
Dozens of Thomas Jefferson's books, some including handwritten notes from the nation's third president, have been found in the rare books collection at Washington University in St. Louis.
Now, historians are poring through the 69 newly discovered books and five others the school already knew about, and librarians are searching the collection for more volumes that may have belonged to the founding father.
Even if no other Jefferson-owned books are found, the school's collection of 74 books is the third largest in the nation after the Library of Congress and the University of Virginia.
"It is so out of the blue and pretty amazing," said Washington University's rare books curator Erin Davis of the discovery that was announced on President's Day.
The books were among about 3,000 that were donated to the school in 1880 after the death of Jefferson's granddaughter, Ellen Wayles Randolph Coolidge, and her husband, Joseph Coolidge.
There was no indication at the time that any of them had belonged to Jefferson. But it turns out that 2 ½ years after Jefferson's 1826 death, his library of 1,600 books was sold to settle debts. Ellen Coolidge's grandfather helped oversee her schooling when she lived at his mountaintop estate at Monticello when she was a teenager and young adult.
She was eager to acquire some of her grandfather's books, and her husband wrote her brother-in-law, Nicholas Trist, and told him what they wanted him to buy them at the auction. They were particularly interested in books that contained Jefferson's notes or other marks.
"My dear N. —I beg you to interest yourself in my behalf in relation to the books; remember that his library will not be sold again, and that all the memorials of T.J. for myself and children, and friends, must be secured now!_this is the last chance!" the letter reads.
Two researchers, Ann Lucas Birle and Endrina Tay, began searching for what became of the couple's library last year. The researchers' big break came in October, when they learned the Coolidges' daughter and son-in-law had a relationship with one of the founders of Washington University and donated the books to the school.
In the hand-pressed books that were common in Jefferson's day, printers would place the letters of the alphabet — called signatures — at the bottom of some pages so that when the books were bound, the pages would be placed in the correct order. One way Jefferson marked his books was to place a small "T'' in front of one of the "I'' signature, which was significant because "I'' is "J'' in the Latin alphabet.
"It was a little bit of detective work," said Anne Posega, head of special collections at Washington University Libraries.
Jefferson scholars traveled to St. Louis last week and spent three days confirming the books had belonged to the former president. They never imagined they would find the books in one place.
"I think the assumption was either they were with the family or dispersed," Tay said.
Among the significant finds is an architectural book that Jefferson consulted when he designed the University of Virginia. Jefferson didn't write in his books as much as some of his contemporaries, but his handwriting is clearly visible in the book. In another book, they found a small scrap of paper with Greek notes in Jefferson's hand.
A few of the volumes have been placed on display, and the school is welcoming Jefferson scholars to review the newly discovered books. But the search is far from over.
"We think we are going to find more treasures," Tay said.
Copyright © 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved
In the real world, unlike for Wisconsin Teachers & Legislators, people who lie about missing work get a pink slip....
It comes down to this - Agree or disagree, teachers skipping school and legislators leaving the state to avoid doing their jobs is ethically wrong. If you want to debate an issue, do so in the legislature. If you want to protest, do so on your own time, not when you should be teaching in the schools or doing your state job. Any private employee who acted this way would likely be fired and/or replaced. But because they work for the state/municipal system, they are allowed to acted insubordinate to the taxpayers.
Teachers & Legislators, get back to the work you are being paid for and stop the acting out. It is embarrassing that these "public employees" are not taking care of their customers, only themselves....and it has been going on for far too long.
An “Assault on Unions?” It’s About Time
By Susan Brown February 22nd, 2011
Thuggish, “community organizing” politics showed up in Wisconsin after Commander-in-Chief, President Obama, deployed his Organizing for America (OFA) troops to inject protestors into the Wisconsin budget debate Obama describes as an “assault on unions.” Obama is a smart man, so why would he choose to federalize a state issue and define Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s plan to reduce the state’s deficit, preserve jobs and prevent dramatic pay cuts as an “assault?”
After all, Gov. Walker simply asked union members to chip in a moderate percentage of their above average salary to contribute to their very generous and above the average pension and healthcare plans. The proposed increase could be partially recouped by another part of the proposal to make union participation and dues – optional – saving teachers upwards of $1100 annually.
Rather than intelligently considering the facts and having an intelligent debate, those charged with the honor of teaching our children responded like high school freshmen by calling in “sick” and closing down the Madison school system to join in a protest instigated by political arm of the Grande Community Organizer himself – President Obama. In the real world, where the parents of the Wisconsin public school system children live, people who lie about missing work only to show up on their bosses doorstep to protest get a pink slip, not a pat on the back.
In the meantime, Wisconsin Democrat legislators revealed their lack of intestinal fortitude when they left the state. They bailed to prevent the three-fifths quorum requirement necessary for continuance of Walker’s proposed legislation.
The sad part about all this is the “to hell with the children” attitude displayed by the Wisconsin educators, union members and the Obama administration. The children are the ones who pay the price for this ridiculously mindless political power stunt.
It really boils down to money and power. Former American Federation of Teachers president, the late Albert Shanker, said it best when he said, “When school children start paying union dues, that’s when I’ll start representing the interests of school children.”
Recently, Wisconsin Education Association Council President Mary Bell reiterated the same self-serving attitude when she said, “This is not about protecting our pay and our benefits. It is about protecting our right to collectively bargain.”
Walker’s proposal would effectively make union membership optional, and as such, would slowly act as a way to dissolve some of the power teachers unions have collected for themselves over the years. No longer would taxpayer money be funneled directly into union boss pockets – leading to less political clout and less manipulation of the American electoral process.
America needs to be about the business of creating jobs. The traditional need for unions has long since passed and the longer they linger the more unions will be like a cancer on the workers in this country and the businesses they support.
The Bush administration understood that danger and demanded accountability by forcing unions to be more transparent by itemizing expenditures on an LM-2 report form. This accountability led to the indictment of 1004 union officials and the conviction of a little over 900 – for crimes including fraud, embezzlement of members’ dues and $93 million in court-ordered restitutions leading to the resignation of some of Service Employees International Union top employees.
Any level of transparency the Bush administration achieved was reversed when, in 2009, the Purveyor of Transparency himself rescinded the Bush LM-2 form rules and ostensibly padded union fat cat wallets.
This move away from transparency served to peel back layers of hope and change to reveal a very union-friendly core. And federalizing the Wisconsin budget debate made Obama look like a national union boss rather than an American president.
You say Governor Walker’s proposed legislation is an “assault on unions,” Mr. President? Many Americans say, “It’s about time.”
©2011 Susan Stamper Brown. Susan is a motivational speaker and military advocate and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org her website www.susanstamperbrown.com