Thursday, March 31, 2011

A Reasoned Discussion

by Keith Cooper

From Broader View Weekly, March 30, 2011

The Middle East region has been difficult to navigate in terms of foreign policy. U.S. oil interests are rich there and a sense of animosity that America has played the aggressor there for its own gain has infected many Arab nations. The United States’ dysfunctional relationship with Israel has added to the difficulty, and mistrust of western agendas is rampant. The recent unrest in Libya has added to the complexity of the dynamic.

Emboldened by the protests in Egypt, Tunisia and elsewhere, citizens and grassroots rebel forces stood for the first time against power-mad dictator Muammar Gaddafi. Retaliation was swift and brutal. Claiming at times that the protestors were drugged by al Qaeda, Gaddafi ordered his troops to fire on the opposition, killing hundreds. As the international community warned Gaddafi of sanctions, he sent air forces to gun down his own people.

During this process, the United States and the United Nations declared an imposed no-fly zone over Libya to protect its citizens. Gaddafi seemed to comply by declaring a cease fire, and then escalated attacks against protesting Libyans.

On March 17, in answer to Gaddafi’s defiance of an earlier resolution, the U.N. authorized use of air strikes to enforce the no-fly zone. The United States, in compliance with our obligations as a member and security council power, led a coalition of international forces, including those of Arab nations, to support this resolution. This enforcement was executed with the use of U.S.-made Tomahawk missiles and collaborative air support.

Now, there is a great deal of criticism over the way the Obama administration handled the crisis, and the process in which the commitment of military force was enacted.

There is definitely a legitimate discussion to be made about any such action. Especially in the sensitive Middle East. I, for one, am as leery of committing military personnel and dollars now as I was during the previous administration. I heard a recent analogy that each missile launched at a building in Gaddafi’s compound or other strategic target represented the cost of our nation’s head start program, which will be cut, under conservative budget proposals. A couple weeks ago, I ranted in this column about the reluctance to cut military spending, while harping about growing national deficits. I stand by that position on military action and I think any time we commit men and women to service we must carefully weigh these and other consequences.

That said, in order for the discussion to move forward responsibly, we must apply standards that transcend political affiliation.
A frustration for me over the past few weeks is the outcry on the right against the way the current administration is handling the situation. The hypocrisy is sometimes surprising in its stark contrast to previous statements and opinions leveled.

Conservatives who were military hawks when George W. Bush was proposing engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan are suddenly appalled that we are involved in enforcing the U.N.’s resolution. Those same voices are now dovish and isolationist in their criticism of Obama. While I’m glad to see some restraint militarily, I would have preferred it when Bush II was racing to invade Iraq under the false pretense of non-existent WMD (weapons of mass destruction).

My brother Gordon is in this camp, as is Republican House Speaker John Boehner. He was so up in arms over the way Obama handled the situation, that he issued a public statement and then penned a strongly-worded criticism asking for clarity and a defined goal. It seems that the White House briefing given to Boehner and other congressional leaders would have been the perfect opportunity to ask those questions. Of course, a published letter proclaiming that the sitting president mishandled the affair is much more beneficial politically. It is disturbing that the letter implied that Congress had not been involved at all in the process (and disturbing that the media failed to stress this fact in any way that would dispel the myth).

Boehner’s mention of the cost of the operation was interesting given the Republicans’ stance during the last decade. When Bush was frittering away the national treasury on his war of choice in Iraq, they seemed to believe that there was an endless supply of funds. Now, interestingly, we can’t afford military action in the Middle East. I say it’s about time the GOP saw the light.

Another oft-repeated claim is that the administration refuses to call the action a “war”. This has been used by both sides to protest Obama’s strategy. Democratic Senator Dennis Kucinich went as far as calling it an impeachable offense to commit forces without congressional approval. Well, as much as I agree that proper authorization should be required before putting our sons and daughters in harm’s way, the current operation does not qualify as a declaration of war.

The president has committed U.S. forces to join a coalition of forces to this mission. However, the mission has a finite goal of providing protection to Libyan citizens and is authorized under the auspices the U.N.

The declaration of war has been problematic in light of the Constitution. And, by some standards, every U.S. military operation since World War II has been unconstitutional.

In September of 2001, following the 9/11 attacks, then-President Bush effectively declared a metaphorical “war on terror”. This broad and open-ended war had no clear objective or metric for success. Yet the president was afforded a great deal of authority (under the approval of Congress) to execute a broad range of military aggression against real and perceived threats. Many of the conservatives who supported this unfettered power, hypocritically question Obama’s role as Commander in Chief. Obama is not acting under any such authority (either conditional or unconditional).

I think it is important to have a dialog about Libya, just as it will be important to openly discuss other emerging hot spots in the Middle East. However, we must be consistent in our standards and reasonable in our approach. The United States is in danger of forfeiting democratic compromise to political contest.

Obama’s War of Choice

by Gordon Cooper

From Broader View Weekly, March 30, 2011

If the issue at hand was not so serious and its outcome so important to our nation’s position as the world’s sole superpower, it would be hilarious the way our Commander-in-Chief has been forced to reveal the fluidity and vacuity of his words.

I am speaking, of course, of the current war in Libya (despite my brother’s claim that this current “kinetic military operation” does not rise to that definition, my Encarta Dictionary provides the following definition: “a period of hostile relations between countries, states, or factions that leads to fighting between armed forces, especially in land, air, or sea battles.”). So, when we send Tomahawk missiles toward military targets and fly sorties over Libyan airspace with hostile intentions, we are at war and when those missions were ordered without congressional approval, it is unconstitutional, but then, why should words or protocol matter when one determines policy and principle based solely upon the ethics of the moment and the popularity of the polls.

The “hypocrisy” Keith mentions in his essay referred to the apparent change of heart taken place by those who favored military action in Iraq, but who now seem reluctant to use force in Libya. I would point out to Keith that these two operations bear little resemblance to each other. True, they are both Eastern nations controlled by despots and both leaders have defied UN sanctions, however, there are several areas in which they are very dissimilar.

In Iraq we had a history of Saddam’s willingness to invade and conquer his neighboring states (Kuwait), we had evidence of weapons of mass destruction used by Saddam against his own people and the Turks, we had over 39 nations join us in a coalition of forces (Obama could muster less than 25 and several of those in the Arab League have since declined to continue their support) and we had debate and approval (including over 118 Democrats such as Hilary Clinton and John F. Kerry – before he opposed it!) in Congress before operations began – not 45 hours after the missiles were fired and troops deployed.

The words of a senator who opposed that effort, despite all of the above reasons, are here offered for your consideration:

That’s what I'm opposed to. A dumb war. A rash war. A war based not on reason but on passion, not on principle but on politics.

Now let me be clear: I suffer no illusions about Saddam Hussein. He is a brutal man. A ruthless man. A man who butchers his own people to secure his own power.... The world, and the Iraqi people, would be better off without him.

But I also know that Saddam poses no imminent and direct threat to the United States or to his neighbors...and that, in concert with the international community, he can be contained until, in the way of all petty dictators, he falls away into the dustbin of history.

I know that even a successful war against Iraq will require a U.S. occupation of undetermined length, at undetermined cost, with undetermined consequences.

I know that an invasion of Iraq without a clear rationale and without strong international support will only fan the flames of the Middle East, and encourage the worst, rather than best, impulses of the Arab world, and strengthen the recruitment arm of al-Qaeda.


The words above came from a speech given by then Illinois State Senator, Barack H. Obama in October of 2002 while debate was being conducted in Congress and in the public sphere over the need to hold Saddam accountable to the conditions of his surrender and to prevent his continued support of international terrorism. We see none of these situations at play in Libya today.

What we see in Libya can best be described as a tribal conflict with no clear distinction between the ideals of the two combatants. It is true that the rebels suffer a disadvantage in firepower as long as Khaddafi has a functioning air force. In the present war strategy, we should limit our involvement to eliminating that advantage. We should not align ourselves (i.e. provide arms or training) with any rebel group unless and until we determine the true intent and content of that group.
Regarding Obama’s above warning concerning “an invasion without a clear rationale” we see in this current war no clear rationale or distinct goal. We heard Obama say “Khaddafi must go” but we also hear Secretary of State Hilary Clinton tell us that it is not our intention to attack Khaddafi directly (even though the main targets of our missiles has been his compound) and we hear another side from Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staffs, who said on March 20: it “isn't about seeing him (Gadhafi) go.” Mullen, asked whether it was possible that the mission’s goals could be achieved while leaving Gadhafi in power, said, “That’s certainly potentially one outcome”. Again we hear this from one of our allies, British Foreign Secretary William Hague who said, “It is not about regime change”.

In conclusion, it is clear that Obama has entered into this war without fully counting the cost or determining the desired outcome. It is justly named “Operation Odyssey Dawn” because the definition of “odyssey” is “a wandering trip or a long series of travels and adventures”, unlike the aptly named “Operation Iraqi Freedom” which could be seen as a success when we saw purple fingers waved in the air after Iraqi citizens were blessed with the freedom of voting. We have no idea what we shall see when this odyssey is over.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Federal Budget Battle 2011

by Gordon Cooper

From Broader View Weekly, March 17, 2011

I find it amazing when I see how quickly we seem to forget certain unpleasant realities and go forth as if our perceptions or wishes alone could somehow change what has been proven to be true. For example, it seems that some members of our government are shielding themselves from certain fiscal realities and going forward with failed practices as if by wishing and hoping they could make a “new reality” in which debt and deficits have no effect and spending by credit is somehow harmless and maybe even beneficial.

Another example of this type of wishful thinking is seen in those who are trying to forget what happened in November of 2010 when a historical shellacking took place and a new political reality was established. Perhaps they are trying to delude themselves into thinking the voters of 2010 were only throwing a temporary temper tantrum and they didn’t really mean it when they voted for fiscal responsibility and lower taxes.

Both examples cited above can be seen in the current budget battle taking place in our capital. President Obama exhibited this delusion when he presented a budget that deliberately ignores the fact of credit costs – i.e. Interest Must Be Paid! This was exposed by the Washington Post Fact Checker, Glenn Kessler ( where he quoted Obama’s words:

What my budget does is to put forward some tough choices, some significant spending cuts, so that by the middle of this decade, our annual spending will match our annual revenues. We will not be adding more to the national debt. To use a sort of an analogy that families are familiar with, we’re not going to be running up the credit card anymore. That’s important, and that’s hard to do, but it’s necessary to do.
–President Obama, Feb. 15, 2011

Kessler then goes on to show how Obama used misleading (some may simply call a misleading statement a lie or untruth, but I, in an attempt to keep the peace, will just say he was less than truthful) language to say his budget “will not be adding more to the national debt”. When Obama was challenged by a clever reporter (Chip Reid of CBS – not FOX) who asked him how he could make such a statement when the submitted budget openly claimed the estimated deficits would rise throughout the next decade. Again using Obama’s own numbers from his own tables:

The deficit in 2015 is $607 billion. In 2016, $649 billion. It keeps going up and up until 2021, the last year of the budget blueprint, when it shows a deficit of $774 billion.

Endless deficits mean more debt. And indeed, the debt climbs and climbs. In 2012, the total national debt would be $16.6 trillion. In several years – 2015 – it would be $19.8 trillion. By 2021, it would be $26.3 trillion.
Now, to be fair, Obama did respond to the reporter with an explanation – well, sort of.

We still have all this accumulated debt, as a consequence of the recession and as a consequence of a series of decisions that were made over the last decade. We’ve racked up a whole bunch of debt, and there’s a lot of interest on that debt. So in the same way that if you’ve got a credit card and you’ve got a big balance, you may not be adding to principal, you’ve still got all that interest that you’ve got to pay; well, we’ve got a big problem in terms of accumulated interest that we’re paying. And that’s why we’re going to have to whittle down further the debt. – Obama, February 15, 2011

So, according to wishful thinking and selective memory, we can keep on borrowing and spending and pretending that, by not adding to the principal, we are not continually enriching our creditors (i.e. China) and decreasing our financial security.

Now, to the other example of forgetting the Election of 2010, Obama and the Democrats seem to go forward on the assumption that the voters didn’t really mean it when they pulled the levers for a new direction. The new majority in the House has been given a mandate from the people and that mandate is to change the direction of the past two years.

The hard facts of life demand certain responses from each of us. Laws of economics are as real and as immutable as laws of nature. We cannot ignore the cost of interest and the weakness of being a “debtor nation” any more than we can ignore the pull of gravity.

To restore our credit standing, there is no alternative to limiting our spending – and that means in every category from defense to Social Security – and we must look seriously at eliminating redundant agencies. Even Obama mentioned this in his State of the Union address when he outlined the number of agencies supported by our tax dollars:

“There are 12 different agencies that deal with exports. There are at least five different agencies that deal with housing policy. Then there’s my favorite example: The Interior Department is in charge of salmon while they’re in fresh water, but the Commerce Department handles them when they’re in saltwater.” (

In conclusion, budgets are never easy, nor are they fun, but they are necessary and we need to face them with a solid grasp on reality.

Reality Check

by Keith Cooper

From Broader View Weekly, March 17, 2011

It seems my brother Gordon and I find ourselves agreeing on at least one point. It is important to face reality with clear recognition. However, President Obama isn’t the only one facing harsh truths.

Last week, several thousand public employees in Wisconsin were blindsided with stark reality when the state’s legislature circumvented procedural rules in order to deny the workers’ rights. A second blow came when Wisconsin State Senate Leader Scott Fitzgerald admitted in a Fox News interview that the union-busting bill (all budget-related provisions were stripped to allow Republicans to pass it) was merely political. Senator Fitzgerald told Fox’s Megyn Kelly that the underhanded deal (which impacts the lives and livelihoods of not only current public employees and teachers but permanently revokes union rights) was about protecting Republican power. “If we win this battle, and the money is not there under the auspices of the unions, certainly what you’re going to find is President Obama is going to have a much difficult, much more difficult time getting elected and winning the state of Wisconsin.” Eight of Fitzgerald’s GOP colleagues facing recall elections this summer may feel the sharp sting of the fact that political football is unpopular when it harms the working class. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker is already facing the stark reality of plunging approval ratings (he’ll have to serve a year before a recall threatens his temp job). So much for a mandate.

House Speaker John Boehner may or may not be bothered by the potential job losses the Republicans’ proposed spending cuts would cause. He publicly dismissed the losses out of hand, saying, “so be it”. It seems he is more likely to cry over his tavern-owner’s-son roots or his own personal American dream that lifted him to the third highest office in the land. Of course the hundreds of thousands who would be out of work will face the harsh reality of economic uncertainty.

Indeed, this proposal smacks of political agenda, as well. Why would the Republicans endanger the livelihoods of thousands in the guise of cutting spending? From reading his column, it’s plain to see that my brother’s answer would be “to honor the wishes of the Tea Party Movement. Remember the shellacking?” Well, there’s another theory to consider.

Republicans see the country beginning to rebound from a severe recession and the unemployment rate beginning to dip to acceptable levels. This “spending” bill is an opportunity to keep unemployment high. In 2012, you will see every GOP candidate run on a platform promising jobs, budget be damned. The ploy is not rocket science. If this victory comes on the back of displaced workers, “so be it”.

The harsh reality that the Republican cuts won’t address the deficit in a meaningful way is beside the point.

Public education is facing the harsh reality that district budgets are slashed before almost any other spending consideration. Correctional and penal costs are a large chunk of every state’s budget: 20 to 25 percent in some cases. Restructuring prison systems to make them more efficient, cutting waste, while taking advantage of revenue sources would help reduce the costs. Approaching drug abuse from a treatment angle as opposed to a law-enforcement angle would be another way to curb the growing cost of corrections and facilitate the prison closings already planned in some states.

Instead politicians from both parties are turning their daggers on education, which can ill afford the cuts. Both Democrats and Republicans have begun to vilify school district superintendents and their salaries. It has been amazing for me to watch those who were critical of a designation of $250,000 as a wealth cut-off point be politically reborn into a faith in salary caps as they demonize superintendents earning $150,000 a year.

Then there are those who have avoided the constraints of reality. Wall Street has been untouched by the nation’s financial collapse, as 2010 was a banner year for earners. They’ve had record incomes, even if the healthy bonuses of the past had to be offset by shifting into higher salaries. Good to see that some are escaping the perils of a floundering economy. Pity that those same people caused much of the financial woe.

The Tea Party’s outcry for lower taxes and lower deficit is self-contradictory. Simple economics tells you that spending cuts have to be steep and painful in order to reduce revenue and still pay down debt. Again, the wealthiest among us have averted this reality. The Bush era tax cuts for the wealthiest two percent of Americans remain intact despite all the deficit hawkishness in Washington. I guess shared sacrifice applies only to those already sacrificing in limited jobs and incomes.

Military contractors have been spared the unfortunate truth of budgetary restraint. War profiteers remain unscathed as legislators and even the president refuse to make meaningful cuts to military spending, though it looms large as a portion of the federal budget.

Gordon and I could go on all day about the realities of federal and state budgets, had we the column inches. However, when we discuss the deficit, taxes, and spending, we need to consider the impact of reality upon real lives. Cold numbers fall short of telling the whole story.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Haves vs. Have-Nots

by Keith Cooper

From Broader View Weekly, March 3, 2011

There is a clear danger to unity in the United States. Strategies designed to drive a wedge of division between American citizens are increasingly evidenced throughout the political landscape. The current use of state budget constraints as a weapon against targets like unions and public education is only the latest in the mechanism designed to maintain the “us versus them” climate that contributes to our dysfunctional two-party system. Partisan politics has pitted us against one another and turned complex issues that impact real lives into black and white oversimplifications that are manipulated to inspire fear and rage.

With the U.S. economy still recovering from the massive recession ushered in under the Bush administration, one particularly effective conflict is designating a chosen group as “haves” and another as “have-nots”. In America’s post-industrial era, when corporations are outsourcing decent jobs and the shrinking middle class is feeling the sting of downsizing and unemployment, an interesting division has developed. Public workers and schoolteachers with average salaries of $50,000 per year are now being called the “haves” and they are being criticized for their greed, and personally attacked by conservatives (including politicians and pundits as well as misguided common folk).

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has described the people of his state as two distinct classes; those “who receive rich benefits, and those who pay for them”. One might think he was talking about corporate fat cats, who enjoy huge bonuses and ballooning salaries, and the working class who see their wages stagnate as their jobs are shipped overseas. Nope. He was referring to the public employees of New Jersey.

And New Jersey isn’t an isolated case. Wisconsin’s highly-publicized standoff with protesting public employees and their unions is all about painting those workers as the haves, and the poor taxpayers of Wisconsin as the have-nots. But wait. Isn’t the issue that the state is experiencing dramatic budget shortfalls and simply can’t afford to provide benefits like health care and pensions for public employees?

Well, I’m certain that Wisconsin (like most states) is facing budget deficits. But that oft-repeated mantra doesn’t come close to telling the whole story.

Seldom reported is the fact that two-thirds of the corporations operating in Wisconsin enjoy the public services provided by state and local governments but pay absolutely no corporate taxes. Recapturing this lost revenue would go a long way toward bridging the budget gaps. “Aha!,” I can hear my brother Gordon say. “Asking corporations to pay their fair share will only worsen the plight of the working class by drying up jobs.” The fact of the matter is that regardless of taxation or lack thereof, businesses are outsourcing jobs. And not just across state borders. Continuing to cater to these corporations isn’t retaining jobs and is impacting the Wisconsin budget.

Furthermore, public sector unions and employees agreed to make financial concessions to help meet budgetary demands. Unfortunately, Governor Scott Walker refused to negotiate the terms of the bill he proposed, which has far-reaching and permanent impact on the workers’ rights to organize and on the power of the governor (who would be free according to the terms of the law to declare a state of emergency and fire any union or non-union state employee). No. It appears that the only thing that will fly in Wisconsin is a union-busting measure that denies collective bargaining.

The picture would also not be complete without looking at David and Charles Koch. These powerful billionaires not only contributed thousands of dollars to help Walker get elected in Wisconsin, they’re currently spending millions to put anti-union ads on the air and are exercising enormous influence over the governor and the Republican Legislators in the state to push through this damaging bill. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out why corporate power brokers would want to crush any union.

And what about these greedy public employees who are overpaid at the expense of the taxpayer? Public schoolteachers are professionals who leave college with the requisite degrees for employment and with tens of thousands of dollars in student loans that they must repay on starting salaries of $25,000 or less. They are required to pay for their own certifications and much of their own teaching supplies (because public school budgets are constantly being squeezed). In exchange for accepting meager salaries schoolteachers and other public employees count on benefits like health care and pensions.

Of course conservatives point to some studies that show public employees surpassing the private sector in compensation. They have used these numbers to demonize public sector unions and because the private sector is feeling the misery of a failing economy, they are claiming success. But that isn’t the whole story either. I saw one report of 75 percent of Wisconsinites supporting retaining collective bargaining rights if employees agreed to absorb part of the health care and pension cost (a conservative source pegged the poll closer to two-thirds). Other reports dispute that public employees earn more. In fact, Wisconsin University Professor Keith Bender tells the opposite tale. According to an ABC news story he “and professor John Heywood found that wages and salaries of state and local employees are lower than for private sector workers of equal education, and further, that for the past 20 years those earnings have been in relative decline.”

I think it is important to consider the impact on the public school system, because that is the second front in this two-pronged attack. The clear intent is to use the current economy and tight budgets to weaken both the unions and public education. States and local governments everywhere are choosing cuts in education above other spending areas. The City of Detroit just announced this week plans to close half its schools and double class sizes to 60 students. This will have a devastating effect, especially on schools that are currenty struggling. If public education continues to be assaulted in this way, it will be crippled and the wealth imbalance will grow, with only those who have access to private education afforded the promise of the American dream. Scott Walker, Chris Christie and those who demonize unions and public employees must not win out or the middle class and working class will lose big.

The good news is that many are standing shoulder-to-shoulder with public employees. Organizers have planned demonstrations in all 50 states as a show of solidarity and support. People are paying attention. And as much as some politicians are behaving as if the Tea Party represents the majority, those who call for smaller government at any human cost remain in the extreme minority. Be vigilant and protect our public schools. They are the only hope of a democratic future in the United States.

The Inconvenient Truth about Public Sector Unions

by Gordon Cooper

From Broader View Weekly, March 3, 2011

In order to fully understand the protests unfolding in Wisconsin, New Jersey, Indiana, Ohio and even in good old Albany, New York, we need to take a short trip into the history of the labor movement in our nation, and then to take a close look at the issue of unions in general and the public sector unions in particular.

As we all know, things were not always as they are now. There was a time when avaricious employers took heady profits by manipulating desperate workers into back-breaking labor for poverty level wages in unsafe environments. Children and the unskilled were especially taken advantage of and a tremendous disparity existed between the lifestyles of the affluent and the working class.

Unions were organized, and through a painful process of strikes and negotiations, conditions improved to such a state that the demands went from mere safety and fair wages to security issues like seniority, health care and pensions. As each contract season neared, the collective bargaining process would pit the union representatives against the management. Each side would bring conflicting demands – the union would seek a fair compensation for the labor of their constituents and the management would seek the most profitable and productive return for their labor dollar. The pendulum swung to both extremes at various times in our nation’s history, as first labor and then management would benefit from favorable legislation.

The conception and growth of public sector unions was understandably a different story as the task of working for the government was not the same as working for a “for profit” corporation. In fact, one former president was adamant in his refusal to allow collective bargaining for public employees. Consider the following quote:

Meticulous attention should be paid to the special relations and obligations of public servants to the public itself and to the Government....The process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the public service… [a] strike of public employees manifests nothing less than an intent on their part to obstruct the operations of government until their demands are satisfied. Such action looking toward the paralysis of government by those who have sworn to support it is unthinkable and intolerable.

Who made such a quote? Was it Reagan at the occasion of the Air Controllers strike? No, it was that labor-friendly liberal, FDR, in 1937, who recognized the incestuous relationship that would exist if government employees bargained with other government employees that they elected, with public funds extorted from taxpayers to extract more public funds from the taxpayers who would never have a seat at the bargaining table.

However, things changed in the late 50s, when through an executive order, which prevented that messy thing called the legislative process, Mayor Wagner of NYC declared city public unions could represent all city employees in collective bargaining, regardless of whether those employees were in the union. President Kennedy expanded the right to all federal unions in another executive order in 1962 and this led us to the point where we are today, with public sector unions growing in numbers and power while private sector unions decline in both categories.

In fact, a New York Times Online article ( reported that Labor Statistics now show public sector union members outnumber their private sector counterparts 7.9 million to 7.4 million. Other reports, such as a lengthy article by Daniel DiSalvo on National Affairs website, cites in detail the differences in wages and compensation between the public sector employee and the private sector employee.

Some of the decline in private sector unions’ members and power can be attributed to the loss of American manufacturing jobs due to over-reaching union demands and the need for corporations to produce a profit coupled with the realization that the security of union protection comes at a cost and sometimes that cost may lead to the bankruptcy or relocation of the corporation. However, in the case of the governmental agency, relocation and bankruptcy is not an option, therefore the costs just get pushed onto the overburdened taxpayer.

Governor Walker’s bill does not take away collective bargaining for police or firefighters nor does it stop the unions from negotiating for pay raises, it merely limits pay raises to the level of inflation. I could go on and on about the indefensible actions of the teachers who took fraudulent sick days to protest, and the doctors who sign their excuses illegally, and the truant Democratic Legislators who are neglecting their assigned (and paid for) duties to hide in Illinois. But I am already above my allotted column space.

However, if you would indulge me for a few more lines, I must correct Keith on a few items. First of all, according to figures from the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (, the average compensation for public school teachers in Wisconsin was $75,587 and according to MacIver Institute’s report, Milwaukee, Wisconsin teachers earn a total of $100,005!

Another item that deserves correction is Keith’s claim that two-thirds of all corporations in Wisconsin pay “no corporate taxes and recapturing these lost revenues would bridge the budget gap”. Well, again the facts may be inconvenient, but according to, the corporate tax rate in Wisconsin is 7.9% on all corporations which ranks the state 17th highest in the nation. The report goes on to say that Wisconsin was ranked 40th in The Tax Foundation’s Business Tax Climate Index, which compares all corporate, income and property taxes as well as individual taxes.

To balance the budget by increasing taxes has never worked because individuals and businesses can always relocate.

American Exceptionalism

by Keith Cooper

From Broader View Weekly, February 3, 2011

The State of the Union address is always examined for its relevance and its meaning. The president orating is judged more closely by his words in this annual speech than by his actions and statements at any other time of the year. The mere fact that the political party not controlling the oval office begins preparing its response weeks before the speech is given illustrates this fact.

Last week, it was no surprise that Representative Paul Ryan echoed Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell by rephrasing the word “investment” as “spending” (a term approaching obscenity status in conservative circles) and called for smaller government and a repeal of the administration’s health care reform act. These are agenda items that have been in the G.O.P. playbook all along. No matter what issues or points Barack Obama would have covered in his address, the Republican Party was prepared to tell you why we need to make him a single-term president and work to return the government to their control so they can fix the damage done by the Democrats.

Ryan told the audience (that stayed tuned for his response) that there was still time, but not much, to right the wrongs committed by the Obama administration. Of course, this fear and rage tactic has always worked to rally the conservative base, and in the furious climate of the Tea Party era, it is even more effective.

Tea Party favorite, Representative Michele Bachmann, continued the theme with her own response (a G.O.P. two-fer), aired following Ryan’s rebuttal. During it, she laid the ballooning deficit, unemployment and the nation’s collective economic woes at the feet of Obama. This was typical and expected, even though it was deceptive in its targeting of the current administration while ignoring the fiscal irresponsibility of the previous. She also ignored the fact that we are currently spending hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars in Bush’s two protracted wars, even as she complained about $100 million worth of government spending.

This fear mongering reminds me of a favorite quote from the movie An American President, in which Michael Douglas’s character, President Andrew Shephard, says of his opponent’s interest in problem solving that he is interested only in “making you afraid of it and telling you who’s to blame for it”. He goes on to say that that is how you win elections; it seems to be a favorite political ploy in the perpetual election season that has consumed our government. I’m not sure if art is reflecting life or vice versa.

In the days after the State of the Union there was no shortage of commentary about the content of Obama’s speech. Every pundit chose portions to highlight and to support views about the direction he was moving or taking the country. There was the inevitable dissection of phrases like “win the future” or terms like “competitiveness”. There were analyses of ovations and of how well or poorly his jokes were received.

Nearly every news show or news channel had a theory about what the atypical seating arrangements (with Democrats and Republicans sitting side by side and intermingled throughout the chamber) meant for the tone of politics and partisanship in Washington. None of this speculation added to the national discussion that is vital in times of great trials, as we are facing.

I was pleased with the eloquence with which the speech was presented but I didn’t find myself wowed or inspired by this State of the Union address. There was tiptoeing around topics that opponents were sure to jump on. There were the requisite statements that amounted to the political positioning that is necessary to prepare for the 2012 presidential race.

One thing that did strike me was Obama’s discussion of the United States as exceptional. I have been criticized in the past for disputing the blind American exceptionalism that proclaims America the greatest country in the world while denouncing policies and programs that would make us exceptional. Some conservatives who criticize Obama for failing to believe in American exceptionalism are now criticizing his focus on new technology, education and repairs to infrastructure that would put us on par with other nations.

I have to admit that I am skeptical about the actual results we can expect from the promises outlined in Obama’s speech. I would feel better if breaks given on corporate taxes were contingent upon domestic hiring. I am afraid that while reforming the corporate tax code may draw corporate headquarters to locate in the U.S., the nation will still fail to compete in the global job market. I have a feeling that plans to invest in green technology that establish us as a world leader in the field, or in desperately needed infrastructure projects that would create real jobs, will be defeated in a climate hostile to government spending.

As much as I caution against blind exceptionalism, I do believe that our nation can and should be exceptional. The United States should be a land of opportunity that shines as a city on a hill. The U.S. should continue to do big things. We should all live up to the expectations of our children. That is the only way we can win the future.

Obama’s State of the Union Speech 2011

by Gordon Cooper

From Broader View Weekly, February 3, 2011

Due to my work schedule, I was unable to watch the live broadcast of President Obama’s State of the Union Address. I did get home in time to watch the re-broadcast at midnight. Before I fell asleep (his monotone voice and pause-heavy diction is a great sedative!) I heard some very interesting and surprising things. I heard him – who had apologized for America’s “arrogance” while before foreign audiences and who had stated that America had no greater claim to being exceptional than did Germany or Japan – say over and over again that we Americans were in fact an exceptional people. He said that we were unique because our nation was founded upon a dream. He even went as far as to say the following:

“America still has the largest, most prosperous economy in the world. No workers — no workers are more productive than ours. No country has more successful companies or grants more patents to inventors and entrepreneurs. We're the home to the world's best colleges and universities, where more students come to study than any place on Earth.”

I was feeling like I was reliving a Reagan moment. I slipped into peaceful sleep and dreamed sweet dreams of waking to a new world with a re-born Obama. I dreamt of a world in which our president realized that oppressive taxation, stifling bureaucracy, unrestrained spending and repressive regulations were failed policies of the past, and the election of 2010 had brought to him an epiphany of what the people of America truly wanted from their federal government.

Ah, but then I awoke Wednesday morning and with a few clicks of my mouse I found and downloaded the full transcript of his speech. No new dawn, no new Obama, no repudiation of failed liberal ideals did I find. Instead I found a rehearsal of the same old tired rhetoric.

I read one paragraph where he said we will “win the future” if we “out-innovate, out-educate and out-build the rest of the world”. He added in the next paragraph that “we have to make America the best place to do business” and “we need to take responsibility for our deficit and reform our government” and I was feeling pretty good.

But then I read in the later paragraphs that his idea of “innovation” really comes down to “imitation”. Imitation of South Korea’s educational philosophy (where teachers are called “nation builders”) was recommended. Imitation of China’s high-speed trains was recommended. And, surprisingly, imitation of enterprising private American companies was also recommended; but then that recommendation was later qualified with a small disclaimer. He just couldn’t let go of the liberal idea that innovation cannot survive without the federal government. Consider the following quote:

“Our free enterprise system is what drives innovation. But because it's not always profitable for companies to invest in basic research, throughout our history, our government has provided cutting-edge scientists and inventors with the support that they need. That's what planted the seeds for the Internet. That's what helped make possible things like computer chips and GPS.”

I wish it were true. I wish our government “provided support” for scientists and inventors today. But I believe the current administration is intent upon squelching scientists and inventors by bowing to the powerful trial lawyers and regulatory agencies (staffed by public-sector union lobbyists) which work together to inhibit innovation.

Obama spent a great deal of time discussing the need to “out-educate” the rest of the world by reforming our schools. Many of his points I found myself agreeing with. For example, he mentioned the need for involved parents. I agree, parents are a crucial resource that too many schools overlook or actively shut out from the educational process. He also mentioned that state governors are a vital force for reform of our educational system. I agree, however, I doubt Obama really means to allow at least one of the new ideas fostered by some of our state governors because their idea runs counter to the policies of the national teachers unions.

That idea is to promote competition and choice. Wherever we see true competition and choice, we see innovation and increased quality for lower prices. That is why we drive higher quality cars that cost a lower percentage of our income today, that is why every home in America can afford microwave ovens, two or more TV’s, cheaper cell phones, etc. etc. The same environment of competition and choice could produce better schools and higher quality teachers.

Several governors understand this and if Obama is interested in “out-educating” the rest of the world, he should follow the lead of Rick Scott in Florida, John Kasich in Ohio, Mitch Daniels in Indiana, Tom Corbitt in Pennsylvania and Chris Christie in New Jersey who have all proposed new policies to increase school choice by the use of vouchers and funding to promote private, parochial, charter, virtual and even home schools. These governors realize that jobs flow to educated populations.

“We go where the smart people are” – is the way the CEO of Intel Corp. put it in a recent interview.

To conclude, we are exceptional. We are innovative. We just need a government that will allow us to prove it to the rest of the world.