Be Informed And Watch Government ‘Like A Hawk!’

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It’s inevitable that citizens would often feel frustrated with their elected officials. After all, it’s impossible to please all the people all of the time; and if they are, they likely aren’t doing their job. But there is one thing that likely is felt universally by constituents of all ideological persuasions: our elected officials work for us and represent us and our interests; and they should never forget their role of serving in our behalf.

Every once in a while, something in our popular culture will capture such universally felt sentiments. Such was the case several years ago with a movie titled Protocol, starring Goldie Hawn (mother to actress Kate Hudson).

In the film, Hawn plays the role of a loveable, yet somewhat ditzy waitress in D.C. who happens to save the life of a visiting Emir from the Middle East. For her heroism, the State Department rewards her with a job serving in the Protocol Division and then initiates a scheme to marry her off to the Emir whose life she’d saved, in exchange for a new military base to be constructed in the Emir’s country.

When the plan unravels and comes to light, Sunny (Hawn’s character) is hauled before a congressional committee to answer to her involvement in the scheme that has been affectionately dubbed “Sunnygate.” Her response is classic and reminds us all of some of our responsibilities as American citizens.

As the committee chairman begins the hearing, he declares his intent to find out who was responsible. Sunny responds, “I’m responsible!” She then explained why. “You want to know something? Before I worked for the government, I’d never read the Constitution. I didn’t even begin to know how things worked. I didn’t read the newspaper, except to look up my horoscope. And I never read the Declaration of Independence. But I knew they had, the ones we’re talking about, the experts, they read it. They just forgot what it was about. That it’s about ‘We, the People.’ And that’s ME. I’m ‘We, the People.’ And you’re ‘We, the People.’ And we’re all ‘We, the People,’ all of us.

“So when they sell me that ten cent diamond ring or down the river or to some guy who wears a lot of medals, then that means they’re selling ALL of us, all of ‘We the People.’ And when YOU guys spend another pile of money and when you give away or sell all those guns and tanks, and every time you invite another foreign big shot to the White House and hug and kiss him and give him presents, it has a direct effect on ‘We the People’s’ lives.”

“So if we don’t, I mean if I don’t know what you’re up to, and if I don’t holler and scream when I think you’re doing it wrong, and if I just mind my own business and don’t vote or care, then I just get what I deserve. So now that I’m a private citizen again, you’re going to have to watch out for me. ‘Cause I’m going to be watching all of you. Like a hawk.”

There are some notable principles embedded in that inspiring response. First was the concept of personal responsibility. How often do we see people, whether in public life or in their personal lives, not take responsibility for their actions, or refuse to stand up against those who ultimately are culpable? It’s becoming as uncommon as common sense. Someone, or something, else is always to blame for poor decisions, bad plans, and/or ill-spoken words. And regrettably, it seems most obvious in the realms of government, where all too few feel they’re accountable to the electorate for their actions.

Next, Sunny reminded us that, as citizens, it’s our responsibility to be knowledgeable and proactive citizens. If we let our elected officials get away with things that are unconstitutional or illegal, we’re at least partly to blame. After all, collectively, we are the ones who put them in their position of responsibility; and they are, or at least should be, accountable to us.

That’s one of the beauties of the American governance model: we hire them to protect us and our interests and our rights as citizens. If we’re not proactive, they can increasingly feel like they’re accountable to no one, least of all us. When they start feeling entitled to their perks of office, and taking us, their employers, for granted, they’ve outlived their usefulness; and it’s time to retire them.

Such a level of proactivity will only be efficacious if we’re knowledgeable of our founding documents to know the proper role of governance, and if we keep ourselves apprised of what our government attempts to do for, and to, us. Too many of us are illiterate when it comes to our founding documents and don’t bother to keep informed of what those in government are doing. I think this is what Winston Churchill was referring to when he said, “The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.”

I think FDR would have approved of Sunny’s response to the congressional panel; for FDR himself said, “Let us never forget that government is ourselves and not an alien power over us. The ultimate rulers of our democracy are not a President and senators and congressmen and government officials, but the voters of this country.”

It’s unusual to garner anything substantive from movies, and so something like Goldie Hawn’s eloquent speech before a congressional committee stands out rather starkly. Although she’s a fictional character, Sunny represents what should be the best in all of us, as citizens, as we educate ourselves, keep informed, and watch our elected officials “like a hawk!”

The views expressed in this opinion article are solely those of their author and are not necessarily either shared or endorsed by WesternJournalism.com.

This post originally appeared on Western Journalism – Informing And Equipping Americans Who Love Freedom

Healthiest State Economies Are Right To Work States

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This past week, Wisconsin became the 25th state in the union to pass and sign into law so-called “right to work” legislation. Despite the pejorative light oftentimes associated with right to work (RTW) laws, all they do in is proscribe the requirement that a worker join or pay dues to a union as a qualification for employment.

Unions often view laws removing compulsory union membership for work in the private sector as “anti-union,” while advocates of right to work laws maintain it’s a matter of personal liberty and economic freedom. They argue that workers in given trades or industries should have the option to choose whether to join a union or not. Arguably, if a union is doing a good job representing the interests of its members, it should not be threatened by the freedom to choose, as the benefits of union membership would be self-evident.

Even some union leadership supports such a sentiment. Gary Casteel, the Southern region director for the United Auto Workers, explains: “This is something I’ve never understood, that people think right to work hurts unions. To me, it helps them. You don’t have to belong if you don’t want to. So if I go to an organizing drive, I can tell these workers, ‘If you don’t like this arrangement, you don’t have to belong.’ Versus, ‘If we get 50 percent of you, then all of you have to belong, whether you like to or not.’ I don’t even like the way that sounds, because it’s a voluntary system, and if you don’t think the system’s earning its keep, then you don’t have to pay.”

One cannot be a student of history without recognizing the tremendous contributions unions made to the emergence of the middle class in early to mid 20th century America. They significantly improved working conditions, workweek hours, and compensation levels.

In today’s highly competitive economy, their focus seems to have changed, as they seem to be primarily political entities today, with compulsory union dues used mostly for amassing power in the political arena, and spent on candidates and causes that some members may object to. Even Bob Chanin, former top lawyer for the National Education Association, admitted such in his farewell speech a few years ago. “It’s not about the kids…it’s about power,” he said.

According to Department of Labor statistics, only about 7% of America’s private sector workforce is unionized. In the post-World War II era, it was nearly 40%. The trend is reversed for public employees, where the unionized segment of the public employees workforce 60 years ago was less than 10%, while it currently is nearly 37%. Logic leads one to surmise that maybe all those “evil corporations” have gotten it right, and are providing pay and benefits at a level that employees are satisfied with. While the same logic might lead us to believe that, following those trends, it is “evil government” that is taking advantage of employees and must be represented by collective bargaining.

Average wages do tend to be slightly lower in right to work states, as reported by The Wall Street Journal last year. But the differences may be attributable to other factors. As the Journal explained, “Many economists say when differences in cost of living are taken into account, wages are roughly the same—or even higher—in right-to-work states.” When looking at a map of non-right to work states, geographical and cost of living factors seem to affirm that distinction.

Last year, the National Institute for Labor Relations released a detailed study of right to work vs. non-right to work states. The research was based upon data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, United States Census Bureau, United States Patent and Research Office, and Bureau of Economic Analysis. Five economic factors were analyzed in right to work and non-right to work states in the Midwest, with the following statistical conclusions:

Job growth is twice as strong in RTW states. The percentage growth of non-farm private sector jobs (1995-2005) 
in right to work states was 12.9%
, while non-right to work states came in at 6.0%.

Perhaps surprising to some, poverty is actually higher in non-right to work states. The average poverty rate, adjusted for cost of living, was 8.5% in RTW states, and 10.1% in non-right to work states. This may likewise have more to do with geography and cost of living factors, however.

New company and new product growth is significantly greater in RTW states. During that same period, annual percentage growth in patents granted was 33% in RTW states, and only 11% in non-right to work states.

Income growth rates are higher in RTW states as well. The percentage growth in real personal income was 26.0% 
in RTW states, while non-right to work states grew at 19.0%.

Even health insurance coverage in RTW states fared better. Note that this data was gathered before the implementation of Obamacare. The percentage growth in the number of people covered by employment-based private health insurance was 8.5% for RTW states, and 0.7%
for non-right to work states.

Consequently, based on National Institute for Labor Relations research, right to work states create more private sector jobs, enjoy lower poverty rates, experience more technology development, realize more personal income growth, and increase the number of people covered by employment-based private health insurance. Clearly, when looking at the big picture, the economy of a state is more likely to be more robust when the workforce has the freedom to choose.

The views expressed in this opinion article are solely those of their author and are not necessarily either shared or endorsed by WesternJournalism.com.

This post originally appeared on Western Journalism – Informing And Equipping Americans Who Love Freedom

Common Core Has Fundamental Flaws

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Common Core State Standards for education were advanced as a holistic reform intended to raise academic performance based on standardized achievement results. When reading the standards themselves, and the stated objectives, it’s inconceivable that anyone would take exception to them. Indeed, the education reform language sounds as idealistic and pertinent as any could. They were superbly crafted. Regrettably, in application, much is lost in translation; and Common Core is quickly becoming a significant detriment to our public educational system.

Achieve Inc. (a Bill Gates-funded educational consulting firm) created the standards for the National Governor’s Association (NGA). And in 2010, when they were rolled out, adoption of the standards by the respective states was tied to the Race To the Top grants, funded by the massive Stimulus package of 2009. The granting of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) waivers augmented inducement for states adopting the standards. The irony of the latter is that we’ve learned over the past ten years of NCLB that accountability and subsequent punishment of districts, schools, and teachers does not substantively improve the quality of education. Yet it’s a significant characteristic of CC.

Achieve, Inc. called upon 135 academicians and assessment experts, most with ties to testing companies, to draft CC. The standards had, prior to their rollout, never been fully implemented or tested in actual schools. This represented a sharp break from educational reform traditions of basing reforms on empirical data and calculable results. Very few of the 135-member team were either classroom teachers or current administrators. The other most conspicuous absence from the development team was parents. After the standards were drafted, K-12 educators were reportedly brought in to “tweak and endorse the standards” to “lend legitimacy to the results,” according to the editors of RethinkingSchools.org.

By contrast, when I served on the Excellence In Public Education Commission for Idaho in the 80s, almost all of the commission members were educators, administrators, and/or parents. All of the major stakeholders in public education were represented. Such stakeholder involvement was conspicuously, and suspiciously, absent when CC was drawn up.

Perhaps none have explained the problems with CC as eloquently and precisely as Carol Burris from New York. In 2010, she was named the New York State Outstanding Educator by the School Administrators Association; and in 2013, she was named the New York State High School Principal of the Year. She has identified five key reasons CC is disastrous for education. She was extremely supportive of the objectives of CC; yet, after thoroughly examining the program, she realized the damage it would do to education. The following are some of her findings:

Despite the claims of supporters, the standards are not built on sound research. They have never been field-tested nor proven to raise student achievement. The truth of the matter is research shows the rigor of state standards is not related to student achievement. In addition, a study of the state standards most like the Common Core by the Brookings Institution concluded that it is likely that the Common Core will have minimal effect on student learning. There is no research that supports the untested standards and practices of the Common Core.

The Common Core standards contradict what we know about the way young children learn. Louisa Moats, one of the few early childhood experts on the team that wrote the early literacy standards, is now an outspoken critic. Why? Because the K to 3 Common Core standards disregard decades of research on early reading development. Shortly after the standards were published, 500 early-childhood experts — pediatricians, researchers and psychologists — found the early-childhood Common Core standards to be so developmentally inappropriate that they called for their suspension in grades K to 3.

The Common Core standards for English Language Arts promote the use of questionable strategies and over-emphasize informational text. One of New Jersey’s leading literacy experts is Russ Walsh of Rider University. Walsh, as well as other literacy experts, has become uncomfortable with the beliefs that guide the Common Core ELA standards, specifically that background knowledge does not matter for reading, “close reading” should dominate literacy instruction, and that students should be reading only grade-level texts. There is also worry that informational texts are crowding out literature in English Language Arts classes.

The Common Core tests are unreasonably difficult and will result in unfair consequences for students. Even as New Jersey begins the PARCC exams, some states have begun giving their own Common Core tests. New York’s students have taken Common Core tests twice. Proficiency rates dramatically dropped to the low 30s, with minimal improvement in year two. Results have been especially devastating for special-education students, English language learners, and students of color and poverty — with proficiency rates in single digits for students with disabilities who are poor.

Low test scores have consequences for kids. Students are put into remedial classes. Test scores are used to decide who gets into gifted programs and into competitive schools. In a pro-Common Core report titled “Opportunity by Design,” The Carnegie Corporation estimated that due to the Common Core, the national six-year dropout rate will double from 15 percent to 30 percent, and the four-year graduation rate will drop from 75 percent to 53 percent.

New York students took the Common Core algebra test, which is a graduation requirement, last June. Only 22 percent met the Common Core score that is being phased in as the new passing standard for graduation. Are these fair and reasonable standards? I think not.

This kind of top-down regulation of education is entirely the opposite of what is needed in education, and none can offer a better assessment of what works and what doesn’t than those with “boots on the ground”: the teachers, with parental input. The establishment of standards by bureaucrats and corporate sponsors, as CC was devised, is the wrong approach entirely.

Senator Mike Crapo’s (R-ID) Local Leadership in Education Act, Senate Bill 144, needs to be passed. This Act will “prohibit the Federal Government from mandating, incentivizing, or making financial support conditional upon a State, local educational agency, or school’s adoption of specific instructional content, academic standards, or curriculum, or on the administration of assessments or tests, and for other purposes.”

All efforts to roll back and rescind CC are advisable at this juncture, at the state and local level, as well. This is not a partisan issue. Something as crucial as our children’s education transcends politics and bears substantive implications for the future of America, as a nation and as a people.

The views expressed in this opinion article are solely those of their author and are not necessarily either shared or endorsed by WesternJournalism.com.

This post originally appeared on Western Journalism – Informing And Equipping Americans Who Love Freedom

No Scandals For Obama Administration? You Can’t Be Serious!

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David Axelrod, former top advisor to President Obama, made a revelatory comment on his book tour this week. In an appearance at the University of Chicago, touting his political autobiography, Axelrod said, “I’m proud of the fact that basically you’ve had an administration that has been in place for six years in which there hasn’t been a major scandal. I think that says a lot about the ethical strictures of this administration.”

Perhaps most surprisingly, Axelrod made the statement with a straight face. The only logical explanation for such a statement is that either he’s oblivious to what the administration has done over the past six years, or he’s completely detached from reality. At the very least, he clearly could have a promising future as an actor.

Equally alarming is the context within which Axelrod made the remark. He was responding to a question from an audience member on why Obama broke his promised ban on lobbyists in the White House. Axelrod replied that he didn’t “think that’s true.”

Lobbying scholar Conor McGrath has documented how inaccurate Axelrod’s perception is. In the latest issue of the Journal of Public Affairs, McGrath said, “President Obama’s public rhetoric on contact with lobbyists does not always accord with his private actions.” You’ll recall that on his first day in office, Obama ostentatiously signed an Executive Order banning former lobbyists from working in his administration. That makes it even more difficult to disavow the reality that they hired 119 former lobbyists, including 60 in senior administration posts, according to McGrath.

Since Mr. Axelrod seems to be oblivious to the administration’s failure in regard to hiring lobbyists, he’s certainly left the door open to erroneous perceptions with regard to administration scandals, as well. So let’s take a look at some of the scandals that have not taken place over the past six years, per the former advisor.

Things like the IRS being used as a political enforcement arm of the administration in targeting opposition groups and taxpayers. And how about the three-fer of refusing to provide adequate protection of our ambassador to Libya, blaming his murder on a video that no one in Libya had seen before then, and then covering up everything from the State Department to the Pentagon and the White House to prevent the truth from being revealed.

Axelrod clearly doesn’t think Obamacare’s a scandal, but there are a great number of Americans who believe differently. What else can it be called when a president promises our health insurance would drop by $2,400 and we could all keep the policies that we like, but then prices rise by an average of 78% in four years, and tens of millions of Americans lost that insurance they were promised they could keep? In a normal person’s lexicon, that would be considered scandalous, especially since it was all obviously based on a lie.

And let’s not forget Axelrod’s “non-scandal” of dozens of our veterans losing their lives, and tens of thousands of them being deprived requisite healthcare because of internal politics within the Veteran’s Administration. When policies lead to one unnecessary and innocent death, isn’t that scandalous? So why is it not when it leads to over 40 deaths?

In banana republics, politicians giving money to their political cronies, and vice versa, is considered graft and corruption. This administration has proven one of two things: either the U.S. is now a banana republic, or such graft and corruption is now acceptable in the most powerful republic in the world. How else can we classify the billions of “stimulus” dollars that went to administration friends at Solyndra, NextEra, Ener1, Solar Trust, and dozens of other well-connected companies, which all subsequently went bankrupt?

Typically, when a government illegally (according to its own laws) operates a gun-running operation, putting guns purposefully into the hands of drug cartels and their goons, leading to the deaths of government law enforcement agents, it would be considered a scandal. Perhaps Mr. Axelrod just thinks that the DOJ’s “Fast and Furious” operation was just business as usual.

We could go on and on, including the EPA’s collusion with the green lobby, the 25 documented unconstitutional actions of the administration after taking an oath to uphold it, the massive debt and deficit spending that threatens our economic stability, and the Bowe Bergdahl fiasco of trading five of the most hardened jihadists for an army deserter. And then, in the case of the latter, having the temerity to claim the “Taliban is an armed insurgency; ISIL is a terrorist group. So we don’t make concessions to terrorist groups.”

I’m sure that a major component to Axelrod’s ignorance of administration scandals is the fact that the mainstream media has virtually ignored all of them. To a media that has ignored the myriad of administration scandals, failures, lies, and incompetency, if they don’t report them, the scandals apparently never occurred. Kind of like the old philosophical question of a tree falling in a forest; if there’s no one to hear it, does it make any noise? To the media, if they don’t report it, it didn’t happen; and the administration affirms the nonevent.

Then again, perhaps it’s just a characteristic of sycophancy. If Axelrod denies the scandals occurred, they didn’t. For perception rarely approximates reality in a sycophant’s mind. Such detachment from reality may be laudable in Hollywood, but certainly not in the top echelons of government.

The views expressed in this opinion article are solely those of their author and are not necessarily either shared or endorsed by WesternJournalism.com.

This post originally appeared on Western Journalism – Informing And Equipping Americans Who Love Freedom

Why Can’t Obama Say “Islamic Extremism?”

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Why is it so hard for this administration to call Islamic extremists what they are? Instead, they parse and mince their appellations in every conceivable way to avoid identifying them as such. For that matter, how can the president maintain any semblance of credibility when he illogically avers that the Islamic State is not Islamic? By refusing to acknowledge, at least publicly, the enemy that has unleashed its destructive tactics against humanity, the administration appears incompetent, indecisive, and impotent against those who have declared jihad against America and the west.

It’s critical to make a distinction between the faith of Islam and Islamic extremism. Islam, as a religion, is faith-based, while the sectarian-defined extremism of the Wahhabist movement, or Salafi, is more of an Islamo-Fascist political movement. Even though it has its theological roots in Islam the religion, they are more of a politically ideological sect within Islam that goes far beyond what is reasonable in their interpretations of key scriptures in the Koran and the Hadith or sayings of Mohammed.

Abdallah Al Obeid, the former dean of the Islamic University of Medina and member of the Saudi Consultative Council, confirms that this is politically ideological, rather than sectarian. He calls this extremism a “political trend” within Islam that “has been adopted for power-sharing purposes.” He says it cannot be called a sect because “It has no special practices, nor special rites, and no special interpretation of religion that differ from the main body of Sunni Islam.”

Lt. General Thomas McInerney, who serves on the Iran Policy Committee, said a few years ago in an interview, “Islamic extremism is an ideology just like Fascism and Communism, and it must be fought in much the same way. The West has not acknowledged this and consequently we have not educated our population that it is an ideology rather than a religion. This is confusing people because of our tolerance for the diversity of religion.”

The rest of the world seems to have divested itself of the ineffable “Islamic extremism” label. After the horrendous murders of a dozen employees of the Charlie Hebdo paper in Paris last month, more than a million people, including 40 presidents and prime ministers, showed up for a solidarity rally against Islamic extremism. It was, as the New York Times reported, “the most striking show of solidarity in the West against the threat of Islamic extremism since the Sept. 11 attacks.”

No one from the Obama administration attended, even though Attorney General (AG) Eric Holder was in Paris at the time. The New York Daily News ran a Front Page headline, sending President Obama a message in type large enough he could have seen it 220 miles away in Washington, “You let the world down.” The (UK) Daily Mail headline read, “America snubs historic Paris rally.”

Isn’t it interesting that the AG that has called us a “nation of cowards” for not having a discussion on race would capitulate to the political correctness of not having a discussion (or demonstration) against Islamic extremism? It appears downright cowardly. But it is his Dept. of Justice that still classifies the 2009 Fort Hood shooting as “workplace violence,” even though the shooter, Nidal Hasan, describes himself as a “Soldier of Allah” and has petitioned to be classified as a citizen of the Islamic State. But Holder was undoubtedly just following the directives of his boss, who declared a couple years ago at the United Nations that “The future must not belong to those who slander the prophet.”

Even in denouncing the Islamic State burning to death a Jordanian pilot this past week, the president revealed the great lengths he will go to maintain ambiguity in identifying our enemies. In a taped comment in the White House, Obama said, “It also indicates the degree to which whatever ideology they are operating off of, it’s bankrupt.” Really, Mr. President? “Whatever ideology they are operating off of?” Are you the only one on the planet who doesn’t know where the jihadist ideology originates?

The matter became only more convoluted by White House press secretaries this past week. ABC News’ Jonathan Karl asked Deputy Press Secretary Eric Schultz what the distinction was between terrorists and the Taliban. Karl asked, “You say the United States government does not give in to demands [and] does not pay ransom. But how is what the Jordanians are talking about doing any different than what the United States did to get the release of [Bowe] Bergdahl — the releasing prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay to the Taliban, which is clearly a terrorist organization?”

Shultz stammered in his obfuscating response, “As you know, this was highly discussed at the time. And prisoner swaps are a traditional, end-of-conflict interaction that happens. As the war in Afghanistan wound down, we felt like it was the appropriate thing to do…I’d also point out that the Taliban is an armed insurgency; ISIL is a terrorist group. So we don’t make concessions to terrorist groups.”

So the Taliban is an “armed insurgency” and not a terrorist group. What a relief it is to finally learn that the organization that harbored and protected Osama bin Ladin was not a terrorist group! I really thought they were, especially after their massacre of 130 school children in Pakistan last month! Maybe they’re just not “JV” enough to be considered outright “terrorists.”

I’m not sure that we could expect anything different from a cadre of ideological academics who had no real-world experience prior to running the sole remaining world superpower. For as Dr. Lyle Rossiter explained in his book “The Liberal Mind,” the single greatest symptom of the liberal mindset is detachment from reality. And the proof that this administration is severely afflicted with it is most clearly exemplified by their inability to identify our enemies as Islamic extremists.

The views expressed in this opinion article are solely those of their author and are not necessarily either shared or endorsed by WesternJournalism.com.

This post originally appeared on Western Journalism – Informing And Equipping Americans Who Love Freedom