Time to Dump Government Unions

President Trump’s State of the Union speech included a lengthy “to-do” list: infrastructure improvements, workforce development, secure borders and immigration reform, strengthened military, and much more.

One of President Trump’s “to-do” items grabbed my attention, although I have not seen it mentioned anywhere in the press.  Half-way through his epic speech, he said:

All Americans deserve accountability and respect — and that’s what we are giving them. So tonight I call on Congress to empower every cabinet secretary with the authority to reward good workers — and to remove federal employees who undermine the public trust or fail the American People.

I have long pressed for accountability from government employees.  We all know that as the cost of government continues to spiral out of sight, resulting in a $21 trillion debt (and climbing), performance continues to decline.  The federal government hires more and more employees, at ever high wages and benefits that far eclipse comparable jobs in the private sector, with no improvement in results.  Any work done by the federal government will take much longer and cost much more than the same work done outside the Beltway.

The problem is clear, it is huge, and it is easy to solve:  we must eliminate the destructive influence of federal government employee unions.

No business or private organization could survive in an environment where managers can not fire or discipline their employees.  And what employer could afford hiring three people for every job just to get the base amount of work done due to minimum five-week vacations, 21+ days of paid sick leave whether used or not, 12 or more holidays, personal leave, six hour (or less) work days, long lunches, protesting time, travel to exotic locales for meetings, “she’s away from her desk” time, etc.  Government employees are virtually guaranteed over-market salaries, regular raises, bonuses, Cadillac benefits and lifetime employment regardless of performance.   And in many cases the service level to the taxpayers who pay the salaries is disgraceful – witness the abuse of Western landowners at the hands of federal agencies and veterans who die waiting for care at VA hospitals.

Worse yet, the cozy union/Democrat alliance is quid-pro-quo corruption at its worst.  Unions collect gargantuan sums of money to be fed directly to the Democrat party, and federal workers vote overwhelmingly for Democrats, who repay the favor to their benefactors.  It’s so easy to be generous with somebody else’s money.

Of course there are federal government employees who earn their keep, especially in the armed forces and security agencies.  But there are also buildings all across the nation overstuffed with un- or under-productive federal employees and officials who won’t or can’t address the outrageous waste.  Meanwhile, competent and cost-effective individuals and companies who could do the work of the people efficiently can’t break through the bureaucracy.

Now is the time to eliminate the federal government employee unions once and for all.  I call on Congress and the President to relieve this festering sore on the behind of the taxpayers.  Rep. Ralph Norman (R-SC) gets it.  He told me,  “This could be part of federal right-to-work legislation.”

We are tired of being told that federal spending can’t be cut because it’s just too huge to even bother trying.   We demand that our legislators do their jobs, which are setting and administering budgets, appropriating funds, and overseeing agency and department heads.  OMB Director Mick Mulvaney and Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta must step up.  The taxpayers will hold you all accountable as you must hold your federal bureaucrats accountable for efficacious results.

Tom Balek – Rockin’ On the Right Side

I’m proud to a union man
I make those meetings when I can, yeah
I pay my dues ahead of time
When the benefits come I’m last in line, yeah.

Union Man – Neil Young

 

Corruption – Time To Raise A Little Hell

nothing to hide corruption75% of Americans think our government is corrupt.   No kidding?

Everybody knows the game:

  1. Taxpayers give money to government.
  2. Corrupt politicians give some of that money (or favors) to organizations
  3. Organizations kick back some of the money to the corrupt politicians as campaign contributions.
  4. The politicians use the dirty money to get re-elected.
  5. Return to number 1.

The corruption game is nothing new. Call it payola, quid pro quo, scratch my back – it has gone on ever since the first government came into being, and still occurs all over the world. In Mexico and similar “banana republics” nothing gets done by government without illegal payoffs.

No, the corruption game isn’t new, but the playbook has changed. Until recently, corrupt deals were made between public officials and private businesses. That arrangement was problematic – when the public found out about massive corruption (back then we had real journalism) the citizens would raise hell until the corruption was at least somewhat beat down. They didn’t like their tax dollars going to fat cat big business operators. But corrupt politicians didn’t appreciate these temporary interruptions in the game. So instead of using corporate cronies to fatten their wallets, they learned to cycle the dirty money through government employee unions, quasi-government organizations and NGO’s (non-governmental organizations) instead of private businesses.

This week’s scandal du jour is the uproar over Planned Parenthood’s use of taxpayer money for purposes that most citizens find repugnant. The dollars aren’t huge – only a half a billion or so – but what they do with the money sure has a lot of taxpayers’ underwear in a knot. Moreover, Planned Parenthood uses a good chunk of the money for campaign contributions and lobbying. They claim the government funds they get are applied only to honorable pursuits. But we all know that money is “fungible”.

Remember Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac? These behemoth quasi-government organizations almost buried our economy in 2008 when the real-estate bubble of their creation popped and the government bailed out the big banks. Even President Obama, a master of quid pro quo, called the Fannie Mae / Freddie Mac business model “heads we win, tails you lose.” We really still haven’t recovered. But the Fannie and Freddy corruption machine keeps chugging along, making big contributions to campaigns, paying monster salaries to its officials, and playing fast and loose with taxpayer money with almost no oversight.

Government employee unions are now the largest group of contributors to political campaigns. What a concept: the unions contribute taxpayer money to the very politicians who promise to protect their jobs and raise their wages. Jefferson would have loved that one.

Another cool quasi-government corruption setup is the Export/Import Bank, which uses taxpayer money to make risk-free loans that benefit crony corporations like Boeing, General Electric, and Caterpillar, to foreign governments and companies, some of whom actually compete with other domestic companies. There are all kinds of opportunities for bank employees to profit personally from shady arrangements. Some honest legislators, prodded by conservative constituents, may have finally put an end to this game, although General Electric and their political partners in crime are trying hard to keep it going.

And it’s not just about dirty politicians seeking campaign funds any more; federal agencies are in on the act. They now extort funds from US companies by threatening huge fines for trumped-up regulatory violations. Agencies like the EPA, FCC, NLRB and others routinely set up schemes that trade a “consent decree” (an agreement to not destroy a business with a long, expensive legal action) for cash. The feds also use consent decrees to take control over local government operations, such as police departments and local utilities.

Some federal corruption is simple and creative. Conservatives in Congress were furious to learn that VA Administration bigshots received big bonuses by faking the real performance records of their agency while patients died waiting for care. When the congressmen found out these guys could not be fired (this belongs in Ripley’s Believe It or Not!) they passed a law that making it possible to fire VA officials. So how many were fired? You guessed it. Zero.

The exploding corruption culture in Washington, DC is not a partisan issue – both Democrats and Republicans say they oppose corruption, but only a few true Conservatives are making any effort to do something about it. Leading Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump admitted paying off politicians. One can only assume the practice would continue under his watch.

One thing hasn’t changed. The only way to kill corruption, or at least slow it down, is for citizens to raise hell about it.

Ask your public officials and candidates what they plan to do about corruption. Give them specific examples. Most of them don’t mention the issue and haven’t even thought about it. Let’s raise a little hell.

Tom Balek – Rockin’ On the Right Side

Rockin' On the Right SideIf you want to see an angel
You got to find it where it fell
If you want to get to heaven
You got to raise a little hell

If You Want To Get To Heaven –
Ozark Mountain Daredevils

Another great seventies band, still on the road, gray hair and all, bangin’ on guitars!

Detroit Autopsy – Defined Benefits, Union Paybacks

Back in the 1980s I was CFO for a family-owned chain of lumber yards and home centers.  The company had grown to about 300 employees, and was making the transition from a small, easy-going operation to a more fast-paced, modern corporation.

Like most companies of that age and size, mine provided its employees a defined-benefit pension plan.  A defined-benefit plan is one in which employees are guaranteed a specific monthly check at retirement.

There were several problems inherent in these defined benefit plans.  The amount received by the employee after decades of service was actually pretty minimal.   The insurance companies who ran the plans quietly took a huge slice of the pie for their participation, and paid minimal interest on the funds they held.  If an employee changed jobs before he was fully “vested”, he lost most, if not all, of his pension.  And many of these plans were “overfunded”, meaning the company had paid more money into the plan than the employees would ever be able to receive – this cash should be used by the company for some purpose other than making the insurance company richer.

We made the decision to terminate our defined pension plan and convert to a new 401(k) defined contribution plan, which had just been authorized by Congress.  Employees were encouraged to save some money, tax deferred, from every check, and the company generously matched the employee’s contribution.  Employees chose how they wanted to invest their savings, and in no time we all had considerable accounts to look forward to in retirement, which we could take with us if we changed jobs.

The difference between “defined benefit”, which promises security but not prosperity, and “defined contribution”, which offers rewards based on saving and investing, is the difference between “communism” and “capitalism”.

And it is what killed Detroit.  It will kill more cities and states, and perhaps our nation, if we don’t learn this difference and take action now.

Our government union employees are about the only workers left in our country who are promised a guaranteed, and in most cases very lucrative, income at retirement.  Virtually no businesses operate this way.  Our government officials have promised their union employees a great deal more money than they can extract from the taxpayers.  The result is economic disaster.

Maelstrom_of_MoneyHow did this happen?  Simple.  Elected officials control the compensation paid to their union employees as well as the revenues extracted from taxpayers.  Union employees promise to help (with cash and labor) elect the politician.  When elected, the politician pays the union back with higher compensation, using money that is extracted from the taxpayers.  It goes around and around until the government is broke.

We must guard against government growth with every breath.  The framers of our constitution were trying to create a system that would not be subject to the corruption that has eventually destroyed every government in history.   Government must be restricted to only strictly necessary spending, according to the constitution, and let the miracle of free-market economics build our wealth and improve the standard of living for all.

The only way out is to elect officials who will eliminate government employee unions, and stop the unholy cycle of pay-backs. Government employees should be compensated fairly based on actual performance, and compete for their jobs, just as employees in the private sector do.

Before you vote for any elected official, ask him or her for a statement of position on government employee unions.

Tom Balek – Rockin’ On the Right Side

Rockin' On the Right Side

Too many people need me
I’ve got so much, so much to do
But when my traveling is over
I’ll pay you back with interest
I’ll pay you back with interest

Supply and Demand – Another Law No Longer Enforced

Supply and demand.

Please close your eyes, stop your busy brain for a second, and say those three words.  Give me a quick one-sentence explanation of what it means to you.

Okay, ready?

Supply and demand.  Did that phrase register with you?  Was it a simple concept, an obvious and common thing like salt and pepper?  Or did it kind of bounce off, a hazy theory, something you have heard of, but never really thought about?

Even if you can’t give a pretty definition, you probably do understand the concept.  While economists can discuss nuances of the law of  supply and demand for years, the basic concept is simple and intuitive:  the less there is of something, the more valuable it is.  A pound of gold is worth more than a pound of rocks, because there are a lot of rocks in the world, and only a little bit of gold.

Supply and demand is why we get up in the morning and go to work.  We have needs and wants, we want our families to live better.  Every single waking moment of our lives we are active on both sides of the law of supply and demand.  We want to improve ourselves so that the demand for what we do is higher (competition), so we can make more money.  Others want to get our money, so they try to provide something we demand (competition).  The price of everything in the world is controlled by supply and demand.

I can think of no concept more critical to the success of every human being than a gut-level understanding of the law of supply and demand.  It is as undeniable and righteous as the law of gravity.  It should be the basis of our education system.  Sadly, it isn’t.  In fact the law of supply and demand is increasingly ignored, denied and dismissed in our schools, in the media, and certainly by our government.

To keep this sermon to a manageable length, here is an illustration:  if you had a choice between two identical loaves of bread – one cost a dollar and the other cost two dollars – which one would you buy with your own money?  Duh.

Now, if you had a choice between two employees doing the same work – one cost $50,000 and the other cost $100,000 – which one would you buy with your own money?  Double Duh!  So why do federal employees receive more than DOUBLE the compensation of the private-sector employees who pay their salaries?

How can that happen?  The law of supply and demand has been broken.  There is no scarcity of federal employees (over a half million of them make more than $100,000 per year).  They are no more valuable than their private-sector counterparts.  What’s going on here?

The answer is:  Corruption.  Pay to play.  Quid pro quo.  We have allowed government employees to unionize.  The unions promise money, logistical support, and votes to elected officials in exchange for more union jobs and higher pay and benefits.  Get me elected, I’ll pay you back, with somebody else’s money. Pay me back, I’ll get you elected.  The taxpayer has no input or control over this.  It is a done deal.  The law of supply and demand has been broken, and until we eliminate government employee unions, this corruption will escalate until our economy and nation is destroyed.

There are many more examples of government breaking the law of supply and demand – crooked contracts, cronyism, manipulating interest rates, all the things that make elected officials stinking rich.  But this one – government employee unions – is the big kahuna, because of the vast number of people involved.  ObamaCare promises another 21 million government union employees.  It’s the perfect crime.

I can’t help but wonder if more Americans understood and recognized and respected and enforced the law of supply and demand, would they hold their government accountable?

Tom Balek – Rockin’ On the Right Side

These days the buck stops nowhere
No one takes the blame
But evil is still evil
In anybody’s name
If dirt were dollars
If dirt were dollars
If dirt were dollars
We’d all be in the black

If Dirt Were Dollars – Don Henley