Sunday, March 23, 2014

The Sound of Silence

 Hear my words that I might teach you
 Take my arms that I might reach you”
 But my words, like silent raindrops fell 
 And echoed in the wells of silence 
                       ~ Simon and Garfunkel 

Is it not okay to die in one war because it was George Bush’s but okay to die in another because it’s Obama’s war?

Why is this not an electoral issue? Have Obamacare, illegal immigration, and gay rights turned everyone’s attention away from the fact there is still a war going on?

When the last U.S. combat troops departed Iraq in December 2011, they left behind a defeated al-Qaeda and an Iraq; two years later, al-Qaeda had seized major cities where hundreds of U.S. troops died. Even as we drawdown in Afghanistan, as was proven with Iraq, any gains made by the United States will be quickly lost under the wrong leadership.

What you don’t hear the media screaming about: during seven years under President George W. Bush, 630 Americans were killed in Afghanistan. Under Obama, over 2,000 troops have been killed, and the 127 killed this year (even as the war was supposedly winding down) are more than any other year but one under President Bush.

At the height of the war in Iraq, the greatest loss of American lives was in 2004, when we suffered 904 American casualties in addition to 575 American troop deaths in Afghanistan under Bush. Under Obama, who supported an ‘Afghan-led reconciliation’, over 2,000 US troops have died, including over 50 Special Operations Forces members.

Regardless of what one’s opinion on the Iraq war may be, does anyone wonder where the hypocrites are now, when Obama has put more boots in more nations than Bush ever did? What happened to all of the anti-war protesters? Was there really an anti-war movement, or was it simply an anti-Bush movement?
Over 100 soldiers have died in the last 122 days alone. Perhaps mainstream media thinks dead soldiers under a Democrat are less dead than under a Republican? Remember when CNN ran daily body counts? Where are the numbers now?

Then-Senator Obama trashed then-President Bush for committing the U.S. to war abroad; President Obama committed the U.S. to 12 more years in Afghanistan and billions of dollars in aid. The sound of crickets in the liberal newsrooms across America is deafening.

December 2013 polls reveal that 63% of the population oppose the war, 56% think it is going badly (with 21% believing it is going very badly), and 60% believing it was not worth fighting; opposition to the war in 2014 is now on a par with Iraq in 2006.

During the Vietnam War, John Kerry testified before the Senate foreign relations committee and infamously asked “[h]ow do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?”

Fast forward forty-three years later and the answers appear to be that you simply stop paying attention to their deaths.

It appears as though American soldiers are not so much dying for their country, but because of it.
Admiration for our military may be deep, but interest in what they are doing is superficial, short-lived and fleeting.

As recently as February 19th, 36-year-old Marine Master Sgt. Aaron C. Torian of Paducah, KY., gave his life during combat operations in Afghanistan.

War has no claim on race, creed, or color. Death, however noble, provides little comfort to the thousands of families who have lost their loved ones in a directionless, goal-less conflict across the globe.

There are 99 New Jersey families who would love to have their boys back home. I’d love to have a media with the guys to ask the right questions of our leaders for them.

The History Behind Trenton’s Pension Death Spiral

Democrat Governor Jim Florio was the first to use the pension fund as a fall-back piggy bank in a time of crisis.

In 1992, facing a budget shortfall, Florio pushed through the Pension Revaluation Act with unanimous support in the legislature, reducing taxpayer contributions to the public retirement plans by $1.5 billion.

This scheme was accomplished through the financial deception of introducing a more optimistic method of evaluating pension system investments. The end result was to make the retirement plans’ finances “look far rosier” than they really were, by lifting the projected rate of return on the fund’s investments to 8.75% from 7%.

In 1997, New Jersey sold $2.75 billion of bonds paying 7.6% interest, putting the proceeds into the pension fund to be invested for higher returns. Unfortunately, the fund has earned less than 6% annually since the bonds were issued.

Christie Todd Whitman, running on a tax-cutting platform, defeated Florio in the 1993 governor’s race. To help pay for her promised tax cuts, Whitman, like her predecessor, turned to the pension fund. Governor Whitman invested the pensions into the stock market, and no one complained when the funds were making money. She left in 2000 and the funds continued to do well with annual investment returns of 8.75 percent until the bust of 2001 when the markets took a massive dive.

After Christie Todd Whitman, accumulated pension debt was compounded by those following her tenure. Governors DiFrancesco, McGreevy, and Codey continued the trend and the public was lulled into a sense of false financial security. Unknown and unannounced to the public, monies were indiscriminately withdrawn from the pension funds and used to pay for tax cuts and balancing the state budget. Out on the campaign trail, politicians touted the virtues of how through their financial genius they were able to balance their state and local budgets, all the while relying on returns from the stock market to cover the missing funds.
It was the Whitman administration that suggested towns set contributions aside for when the state called to make good on them. The small print in Whitman’s bill was ignored which stated that funds the state failed to contribute would have to be made up at a later date.
And, even as pension contributions were neglected, New Jersey politicians sweetened the pot. In 2001, government employees and teachers benefits were increased by 9%, creating an additional $4.2 billion in liabilities. In 1999, the state approved a “20 and out” measure that allowed firefighters and local police to collect pensions equal to 50% of their pay after 20 years of service . . . a perk formerly reserved only to the state police. Benefits added since 1999 have increased liabilities into the billions.

Governor James McGreevey appointed a money manager as head of the State Investment Council, a position which would set policy for the pension plan, and some of the fund’s assets were turned over to Wall Street professionals to diversify into alternative investments such as hedge funds and private equity.

Politicians remained silent as pension funds dwindled. To bring what was happening to light at that juncture would certainly mean political suicide,  it was reasoned, knowing that towns and municipalities would have to raise taxes to make up for their error in financial judgment and planning.

By the time Governor Corzine came into office, it was too late to turn back the clock as he put the brakes on, stopping the practice. To his credit, Corzine had imposed reduced benefits on state workers, raised the retirement age to 62, increased the salary requirement for pension eligibility, increased employee contributions, and capped pension income. But by then, the damage was done.

The misery of New Jersey’s pension woes can’t all be blamed on poor investment results. For years, New Jersey shortchanged the retirement programs that cover teachers, police, and other public employees, as the stock market plunge wiped out billions of dollars, the real problem has been the underfunding. Those members contributed in good faith towards their pensions and they aren’t the problem.

The problem? Politicians who continued to raid the pension system and not replenish what was taken.

Having a negative cash flow with contributions that are less than the benefits paid out leaves the state on the fast track to an out of control death spiral.

Florio, Whitman, it doesn’t matter anymore who gets the fickle finger of fate, Save Jerseyans; it is time to go forward, not backwards. What’s done is done.

Moody’s ranked New Jersey’s pension plans as having the fourth highest unfunded liabilities in the nation. A collapse could come as soon at 2018,. and current New Jersey Governor Chris Christie had no influence at all on Moody’s rating.

Christie is going to be made out to be the bad guy, and the somber mood at Tuesday’s budget address was proof enough that I’m right, but he needs to come up with a pension reform plan to correct decades of mismanagement from both parties. Democrats will make him the scapegoat or the fall guy for the failure of their party to do something when they had the chance. They kicked the proverbial can down the road and now look to place the blame on anyone but themselves.

We’re the ones who will pay for their mistakes. By 2018, state taxpayers will begin paying more than $5 billion per year for pensions, about 10 times higher than the current payments being made, more than the current total state and local spending in Vermont, Wyoming and both Dakotas, respectively.

Unless there is pension reform,  regardless of who is assigned the blame or fault, the taxpayers will suffer and the pensions will dwindle until there is nothing left.
If you think New Jersey’s taxes are high now, you ain’t seen nothing yet.

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Hey, New Jersey: Smoke, Smoke that Cigarette

New Jersey Democrat Assemblywoman Valerie Huttle is sponsoring a bill that would ban smoking at all parks and beaches. The controversial measure won the approval of the State Assembly on Thursday and will now head to the State Senate where a vote has not yet been scheduled.

I’m sorry to disappoint those who feel that government should just make the sale of tobacco illegal, but it just isn’t going to happen.

Regardless of the arguments both pro and con, a federal ban on cigarettes would be a practical impossibility considering that tobacco is still a big business (and source of tax revenue).

The tobacco lobby is one of the most powerful political forces in America. According to The Tobacco Atlas, estimates of revenues from the global tobacco industry likely approach a half trillion U.S. dollars annually. In 2010 alone, the combined profits of the six leading tobacco companies was U.S. $35.1 billion, equal to the combined profits of Coca-Cola, Microsoft, and McDonald’s in the same year.

The world tobacco industry generated sales of almost $721 billion in 2010. Cigarettes represent the leading market segment with revenue exceeding $681 billion, which accounts for almost 95% of the overall market. The yearly rate of market growth is expected to accelerate to be 4.5% until 2015, bringing the market to almost $890 billion.

An estimated 42.1 million people, or 18.1% of all adults (aged 18 years or older), in the United States smoke cigarettes; any universal smoking ban would have such an overwhelmingly massive effect on U.S. politics that the party or politician responsible for the ban would soon lose all political power.

Moreover, as a practical matter, the government simply does not have adequate law enforcement personnel to change the behavior of 45 million people by force.

Since 1998, governments at all levels have collected more than $484.6 BILLION in cigarette taxes (including sales tax) and payments from smokers.

The government per-pack profit from cigarettes in 2012 was $3.78 (or 66 percent of the cost of a pack of cigarettes), almost ten-times the profit of R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company.
If Big Tobacco were a country, it would have a gross domestic product (GDP) of countries like Poland, Saudi Arabia, Sweden and Venezuela.

It’s not clear how much Huttle’s bill will actually accomplish. It’s designed to eliminate exposure to secondhand smoke at beaches and parks, cut down on litter and improve fire safety in those public areas. However, smoking would still be allowed in parking lots near beaches and parks.

Anti-smoking advocates tout that the measure would encourage smokers to quit and set a better example for children and drastically reduce litter. Violators could face a $250 fine for a first offense, $500 for a second offense and $1,000 for subsequent violations.
Good luck! It may be illegal to smoke in public places, but there is nothing illegal about smoking itself.

There are two sides to every coin and two sides to every story; in this instance, we’re seeing another assault on the liberty of the people and, at the same time, a way for Trenton to snag more money out the people’s pockets.

The battle between smokers and non-smokers goes on, a battle that’s as much cultural as anything else, and government watches on as it reaps the rewards of the battle which it instigated.

Ironic, isn’t it? They’re the ones always accusing Big Tobacco of Machiavellian tactics. Big Tobacco can’t hold a candle in this regard to Big Government.