Wednesday, August 24, 2016

The End of the Peace Dividend

While I would never endorse Donald Trump's call to end NATO, it would provide a very interesting case study into how long the social democracies of Western Europe could continue to maintain their vast nanny states if they had to pay for their own defense.  During the Brexit debate, European Union bureaucrats argued that it was they who had established the peace and prosperity seen in most of the Continent for decades.  Actually, it was the broad wings of the US Military that has maintained the peace after World War II.

Who funded the Marshall Plan--allowing war-torn Europe to rebuild?  Who stood up to the Soviet aggression of the Cold War? Who quelled ethnic cleansing in the Balkans?  It certainly wasn't Greece, Spain or Belgium.

Donald Trump is correct in saying that many NATO members aren't pulling their own weight.  When it was formed, the alliance required its European members to commit just two percent of their annual budgets to defense efforts.  Today, just five countries are meeting that requirement.  The US covers between 70 and 75% of the annual expenses of NATO--to the tune of $650-BILLION out of the $900-BILLION total.

So let's say the US really did take its ball (and missles and warships and soldiers) and went home--how would our allies make up for that?  And remember, our European friends also enjoy the quick deployment capabilities of the ENTIRE US Military in the event of a major threat of action.  How would the Scandanavian countries--who are already taxed to the max--fund their cradle-to-the-grave entitlement programs when they would have to field much larger armies, develop their own defense technologies, build (or buy) all of those tanks, planes and weapons systems?  Would the French, the Spanish and the Italians be able to take entire months off of work if they had to pay for their own systems of spy satellites, surveillance drones, anti-submarine technology and missle defense systems?  And imagine if every European country had to establish its own intelligence system to infiltrate not just the threats from Russia and China--but the infiltration of their own societies by Islamic terror groups like ISIS and Al Qaeda.

This may lead you to wonder why the US spends all of this money to protect countries that then enjoy the "peace dividend" we fund?  Well it comes from lessons learned in the early 20th Century: we can either pay to maintain the peace in Europe now--or we can pay a lot more--with our lives--to re-establish it later.  And the next time you hear a Liberal say we need to be "more like Europe" in pushing for some entitlement program, ask them which superpower is going to protect us--so we can pay for it.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

The Epitome of Customer Non-Service

Allow me to vent about a major retailer for a moment.  Nearly two years ago, we purchased an entire office-worth of furniture from the Ikea in Schaumburg, Illinois, with plans to replace our current home office fixtures.  The plan was to put in new flooring in the room before construction of the do-it-yourself furniture.  Unfortunately, other more pressing home improvement projects came up--and the new flooring got pushed back (because we are on the Dave Ramsey Plan and we weren't about to borrow for the office makeover).

But finally this month, the new flooring went in--some paint touchup was done--and I could finally put together the Ikea furniture.  After struggling with the no-words-just-generic-illustrations-for-directions, I thought that I had the file cabinet put together--but the middle drawer stuck out farther than the other two drawers--and I knew my "particular" wife would not be cool with that.  So I called the "Customer Service Line" to inquire as to how to fix the problem.

After a 45-minute wait on the phone--because they are "experiencing high call volume" (as every business has been for the last ten years)--I finally got a real person on the line--who of course, couldn't help me with my problem.  That meant another 20-minutes on hold until "someone with more expertise in assembly" could pickup the phone.  After I explained the issue, she called up the very same assembly manual that I already had in front of me (which offered no advice on how to get a drawer to go in farther) and then started "guessing" at what the fix may be.  While following her direction to try and pull out the drawer and re-seat it on its rails I pulled up on the assembly ("you may have to pull pretty hard, sir) I ended up actually breaking a couple of plastic clips that are integral to keeping the drawer on the rails--rendering the drawer useless.

After telling my "expert" that the drawer had broken following her recommendations, she expressed no empathy or regret for giving me obviously wrong information and said that I would have to call a different number to get replacement parts sent to me.  That meant another 45-minutes on hold (they are experiencing "high call volume" again this decade).  After finally getting a "Customer Service Representative" and explaining to her the parts that I would need, I was informed that part cannot be shipped out--because it's "hardware"--and that can only be picked up at the store itself.

Fighting back my growing rage, I accepted her offer to be transferred to the Schaumburg store to inquire about having the parts shipped to me--rather than wasting a day driving down there again.  That is when I entered the "Phone Tree of Death"--being told to enter my parties extension number (which I couldn't possibly know) or to "hold for the operator--which just took me back to the top phone menu again. 

FINALLY after randomly hitting four digit extensions I got a real person to answer the phone!!  She immediately told me that she had nothing to do with floor stock and transferred me to "a person who might know something about that"--where my call immediately went to voice mail.  I can flat out guarantee that call will NEVER be returned. 

So I guess I know what the wife and I will be doing some weekend in September.  And people wonder why I wasn't jumping up and down celebrating that one of these evil hell-holes is opening in Wisconsin.

Monday, August 22, 2016

The Last Olympics

The Olympic flame has been doused in Rio, and while it may be an unpopular opinion, I'd be more than okay if we kept it that way.  I know that Games have been awarded to South Korea for the winter of 2018 and Tokyo for the summer of 2020--but we should just cancel them and reconsider the way we put on the largest sports festival in the world. 

When the athletes and the media leave Brazil this week, the country will be left to deal with the huge economic and social problems that were aggravated by the cost of building venues that will see little or no use in the future.  Check out "abandoned Olympic venues" on the internet sometime to see how buildings that were promised to "provide public access for decades to come" are dilapidated and crumbling.  And Brazil was a country that couldn't afford that much unnecessary spending to begin with.  That's why fewer and fewer cities and countries are even interested in bidding on hosting Olympics anymore--it's simply not worth the cost.

The International Olympic Committee could ease this expense by returning more often to cities that have hosted already--and have the infrastructure in place--but that wouldn't allow them to line their pockets with kickbacks from crooked politicians and developers.  And that is how we end up with sites like Sochi, Russia and Rio hosting games--while Los Angeles (which would have to build just one new venue to host the summer games again) are rejected over and over again.

And the pro sports that now support the games are beginning to lose interest.  The NBA could have fielded a team of guys that sat out these Olympics that like could have beaten the Team USA that easily won the gold medal.  And the NHL has absolutely no interest in sending its pros to the South Korea games in two years.  Asia is hardly a hotbed for hockey or potential growth for fan base and sponsors--plus, the players don't want to leave in the middle of their regular season to fight jet lag for a two week tournament halfway around the world.  If you aren't going to have the best compete in your signature event, why even bother.

Let's be honest, the Olympics exist primarily as a television show.  A two-week ratings boost for whatever network is willing to grossly overpay for the broadcast rights--which don't benefit those competing--and rather feed the disgusting beast that is the International Olympic Committee.  Every sport already has its world championships that are held every year--or World Cups contested every four years.  In our modern, every-game-on-every-channel sports world, that should be more than good enough.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Seeing Continued Success

You know what is proving to be a huge waste of time and money?  The efforts to "repeal and replace" the Affordable Care Act.  Instead of filing lawsuits and passing bills that are just going to be vetoed anyway, everyone opposed to the ACA just needs to be patient and let it collapse under its own enormous weight.

Another step in that process came this week as Aetna announced it was dropping out of exchanges in 70% of the markets where it had offered health insurance plans this year.  Add that to similar decisions by UnitedHealth, Humana, Blue Cross and Blue Shield and the bankruptcy of many co-ops who didn't come close to breaking even and you have many people in the exchanges having one--and sometimes no--plans available to them anymore.  Anyone "schocked" or "angry" by this development obviously knows nothing about insurance--or they would have seen this coming from day one.

But the ever-dwindling insurance options may lead to more legal action by those who support the ACA.  The Supreme Court has already decided that the Federal Government can force you to buy a product you may not want to buy (under the guise that it is actually "a tax")--so why couldn't the Justices rule that the Federal Government can force a company to sell a product it may not want to sell? 

And here is how they can do it: claim the insurance companies are engaging in racist and discriminatory practices.  President Obama and Hillary Clinton in their speeches say many of those who were provided Government-subsidized health insurance through the exchanges are minorities.  Therefore, the Department of Justice can "prove" that Aetna's withdrawal from the exchanges is designed only to affect people of color and women.  (Nevermind the $300-Million in losses this year alone).

Armed with their latest judicial victory, the Administration could force every insurance company in the country to return to the exchanges (and probably dictate premiums as well) no matter how much money they lose on the policies.  All of which will lead to either the total collapse of the private health insurance industry--or result in such astronomical rate increases on those with standard plans--that public outcry will demand the Single-Payer, Government-Controlled Health Care that the "success of ObamaCare"--disguised as a "failure" was designed to usher in from the very start.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

What Do We Have to Offer Them?

Every time we have riots like those seen in Milwaukee this weekend, the local leaders (usually long-term Democrats) say "We need to do more for these neighborhoods".  But really, what do we have to offer those living in the most down-trodden areas in our largest cities?

Unfortunately, those folks have learned that having government-subsidized health insurance has made no real impact on their lives--since you can't just flash an insurance card to pay for your groceries or keep the lights on.  There's plenty of talk about decriminalizing marijuana use--because those folks who were throwing rocks and burning down gas stations just needed a "little hit of the chronic" to make their problems disappear for a little while.  And President Obama commuting drug sentences and putting dealers back on the streets in those same neighborhoods sends a real powerful message as well.

In the case of Milwaukee, those city leaders are offering what Sheriff David Clarke calls "the ghettos" a new downtown arena surrounded by upscale hotels and restaurants and high-end apartments and condos--which should be a source of many part-time jobs cleaning or doing other low-skill service work.  And then of course, there is the streetcar line--which will connect the "entertainment district" with the new upscale residences near the lakeshore--not the neighborhoods where people who can't afford cars could actually ride it to their part-time menial jobs.

To be fair to Mayor Tom Barrett and the rest of the hapless Milwaukee City Hall leadership, arenas and restaurants are about the only thing they can offer in terms of economic development and new jobs.  The days of our cities being industrial centers are over.  Big plants employing thousands of people with varying levels of education and job skills use too much energy, emit too many carbons and threaten water supplies.  So all of that work is now done by the Chinese and other Asian workers and shipped back to WalMart (which tends to avoid downtrodden neighborhoods as well).

As other cities have discovered, even when you put effort into improving high-poverty areas, things usually backfire.  New public transportation lines, money to improve rental units and tear down dilapidated buildings and cleaning up street crime leads to young, white (liberal) professionals seeing those areas as the "hip new place to be"--so they come in with more money--driving up rents--and driving out those whom the improvements were supposed to benefit, in a process called "gentrification".

The demand to improve public schools in Milwaukee is spot on as well--but does nothing for the tens of thousands of dropouts and under-educated people that were already allowed to coast through the system for decades.  And the man appointed to create better schools in the worst neighborhoods quit after the School Board and district officials refused to do business with him.  So efforts to make things better have already met with failure.

So what do we offer those taking to the streets demanding "economic equality" and "social justice" that will actually fix the problem, long-term?

Monday, August 15, 2016

THE GREATEST EVER!!! (For This Year)

Want to get me to turn off Olympics coverage?  Just have the commentators start talking about how the person that just won the competition we watched is the "Greatest Ever".  There was plenty of that talk over the weekend as Michael Phelps added to his unprecedented gold medal collection and Usain Bolt became the first man to win the 100-meter dash in three consecutive Olympics.

For Phelps the declaration was that he is the "Greatest Olympian Ever!!"  While Phelps has more gold medals that over 100-counties have accumulated in the history of the Olympics, did he ever face the societal and political pressure that Jesse Owens did in Berlin in 1936?  Has Phelps ever been referred to as an "African surrogate" and had Hitler root against him?  In winning his four-straight golds in the 200-meter individual medley did he ever have to hold a regular "non-swimming" job to make ends meet like Al Oerter did between his four consecutive gold medals in the discus?

Phelps reign as the "Greatest Ever!!" (at least in the eyes of NBC Olympic commentators) was short-lived--as a night later, Usain Bolt was declared one of the "Greatest Athletes Ever!!" after running for less than ten seconds.  His third straight gold in that event was compared to the career accomplishments of Muhammad Ali and Michael Jordan.

Now when we are talking about "athletes" I like to think of people that can do various things in a variety of sports that require different skill sets.  That's why--for me--the greatest athletes ever are Bo Jackson and Jim Thorpe.  That's it, that's the list.  Thorpe won both the Pentathalon (five events)AND the Decathalon (ten events) IN THE SAME OLYMPICS!! He also played professional baseball and professional football--being inducted into that sport's Hall of Fame in Canton.  Bo Jackson was an All-Star in Major League Baseball and the National Football League IN THE SAME YEAR!!   Plus, he ran track in college and qualified for the NCAA Championships--WHILE ALSO PLAYING ON THE AUBURN BASEBALL TEAM!!

I will grant you that Jim Thorpe would never catch Michael Phelps in the pool--but would Phelps come close to competing with Thorpe in 15 different Olympic events--and then play two completely different sports professionally after that?  And in his prime, Bo Jackson probably could have stayed within a second of Usain Bolt on the track--but do you think Bolt could hit within .100 points of Jackson's MLB batting average?  Or amass one-tenth of the yardage he gained carrying and catching the ball in the NFL?

So please, let's keep things in perspective when lauding our modern Olympic heroes.  Usain Bolt and Michael Phelps are among the greatest in their specialized activities--but let's not start putting them ahead of guys that showed they could do so much more than go fast in a straight line.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Legislation by Litigation

Pop quiz: Is Wisconsin's Voter ID Law currently in full effect?  When you went to the polls on Tuesday for the primary election, the answer was "Yes".  Everyone had to show a legal ID to get a ballot.  But when you woke up on Wednesday, a ruling by Federal Judge Lynn Adelman had gone into effect, where if someone who wanted to vote in the November general election didn't have legal ID, they could just sign an affidavit swearing to their identity--and then they could vote.  However, by lunchtime yesterday, a Federal Appeals Court issued a stay on Judge Adelman's ruling--meaning full voter ID is back in effect for November--unless the Appeals Court issues a final ruling before ballots are printed--in which case, a totally different set of rules may apply.

If you're my age you may recall learning about how laws are made this way:

But today, that is NOT how laws are made.  Yes, legislative bodies approve measures and executives sign them--but now many new laws are immediately challenged in court--sometimes before they can actually go into effect (even though the law holds in most cases that aggrieved parties have to show that they have actually been harmed by a law rather than just thinking they might be harmed by a law).

And it's not just laws that are constantly being challenged in court, it's executive orders and even voter-approved Constitutional amendments.  And it leads to the on-again, off-again status of regulations, requirements and even civil rights that make our country look like a banana republican that doesn't know how to govern.

So here's an idea: let's just have every proposed bill, order and amendment go through litigation before anybody votes on it or signs it?  Yes, it could take years and even decades to do that--but it will at least ensure that once a law goes into effect--it stays in effect.  If a state bill upsets liberals, the challenge can be filed in Dane County.  Conservatives can file their challenges in Waukesha County courts.  Federal challenges can go to San Francisco for liberals and Texas for conservatives.  And then the long process of appeals and further appeals can go on until even the most innocuous measure goes before the Supreme Court of the United States for the final legal challenge.  (The only fly in the ointment is that due to Senate filibuster or just plain inaction, all of the Supreme Court Justices and Federal Court Judges will have retired or died by that time--and there will be no one to hear the cases)

But at least then--and only then--"Bill" can start sitting on Capitol Hill.  And once he signs you, Bill, you really will be a law--instead of the first step in a confusing, expensive legal battle.