September 1, 2014
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Why the jobless rate doesn’t seem to add up
My take on the news
Lonnie Barham

OBAMA GIVING UP HIS CIA DRONE CONTROL:  It appears that President Obama relished his control over killings by drone strikes as part of his “targeted killing” program. Though he and most of his administration objected to any transparency with the CIA-run program and insisted targeted killings, even of Americans, was legal, too many members of Congress and many Obama’s supporters - even his own State Department - objected to the program’s secrecy and its operation outside of international law. Obama gave in and now plans to transfer control of the drone program from the CIA to the military. The military is obligated to conduct its operations within the parameters of the International Laws of War (ILW), while the CIA has been able to circumvent the ILW by calling its drone killings “covert actions.” The U.S. military is one of the most respected institutions in our country.  Poll after poll has shown Americans trust the military.  Conversely, the CIA comes up short in such polls.  Although, by failing to establish a timeline for when control of the killing program will shift to the military, Obama is leaving himself plenty of wiggle room to continue his secretive and personal control over the drone-strike “targeted killing” program.  At least he is finally listening to civil libertarians and professional diplomats who seem to see more far clearly than he about what’s best for our country.      

 

RI JOBLESS RATE:  Although the Rhode Island unemployment rate dropped to 9.4 percent in February, the underlying numbers are deceiving.  The state actually lost 2,600 jobs while the number of job seekers fell by 1,900.  Yet, surprisingly, the number of Rhode Islanders employed rose by 1,300. The numbers just don’t seem to add up, do they?  The reason: those lost jobs fled to other states while even more of our neighbors gave up on looking for work.  That’s the only way the numbers equate to a drop in the unemployment rate.  So, while it’s nice to say our jobless rate has dropped .4 percent, it’s not so nice to hear that most of those Ocean State residents who finally got jobs are working in other states and commuting long distances to work, and that many more Rhode Islanders have given up and joined those who have resigned themselves to never working again.  A reduction in the “official” jobless rate – yes.  But at what cost?     

 

UNION LEADER WHO MAKES SENSE:  Fredric Rolando, President of the National Association of Letter Carriers, the union representing U.S. Postal Service employees, makes a sound argument for changes that would make the postal service profitable.  Dropping Saturday delivery service would save peanuts compared to the increased revenue the postal service would garner should Congress allow the service to do what every other business and government organization does - pay for employee and retiree health care as health issues arise.  Instead, Congress requires the Postal Service to pre-fund health care 75 years in advance of the health problems.  This is what makes the Postal Service unprofitable.  If the service could do as every other government entity does and use a pay-as-you-go health care payment process, it would realize over a billion dollars per year in profits - funds it could invest in its technology and infrastructure in order to take greater advantage of burgeoning Internet sales and deliveries, and thus become even more profitable.  It’s refreshing to hear a union official argue for something that would be beneficial for everyone - union members, management, taxpayers and customers.  Let’s hope Congress is listening.  

   

BATTLING BUDGETS IN WASHINGTON:  After four years of failure, the U.S. Senate has finally produced a budget plan.  So, what are the differences between the Senate and House budget plans? Projected over the next ten years, the two plans differ substantially. The Senate wants to spend about $5 trillion more than does the House.  The Senate also wants to tax Americans more to finance that extra spending.  Because of spending cuts, the House plan doesn’t require any additional taxing.  The House wants to cut spending by about $4 trillion while the Senate plan cuts almost nothing. Bottom line:  The House plan would balance the budget in ten years while the Senate’s plan would continue to produce annual deficits and continue to grow our national debt.  

Reasonable people find faults with both plans.  However, the House plan at least recognizes the danger of allowing annual deficits to continue forever and the consequent economic destruction that could result.  Let’s hope the two houses of Congress can negotiate a reasonable budget plan that will keep our government running, albeit at a less costly level, while still eliminating our embarrassing, Greek-like slide into financial oblivion.          

 

GOVERNMENT SPENDING AS PERCENTAGE OF GDP:  An astute columnist for the Wall Street Journal, Holman W. Jenkins, Jr., pointed out that the reason for Europe’s economic dysfunction is related to its huge government spending as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product (GDP).  French government spends at 56 percent of GDP; Italy at 50 percent; Germany at 47 percent; and Greece at 50 percent.  Government in the U.S. spends at about 40% of our GDP, but that spending is increasing. If we continue to increase government spending to reach the levels endemic in Europe, we, too, will join the growing legion of countries that believe government spending can supplant private enterprise and keep their countries afloat.  The U.S. economy is weak but it is hanging on far better than Europe’s, and the primary reason is that we have yet to allow government spending to reach the neighborhood of 50 percent of GDP, as Europe has.  This comparison is good reason to support budget planners in Washington who are pushing for reduced government spending.  Let’s not spend ourselves into a European predicament.     

 

QUOTE OF THE WEEK:  “We don’t give this test without any preparation.  If I was to take the bar exam tomorrow, I have no idea if I’d pass or not,” said Eva-Marie Mancuso, chairwoman of the RI Board of Education, who is also a lawyer.  She decried the fact that so many “responsible” adults acted so irresponsibly by taking the NECAP test administered by a group of students who are attempting to outlaw the test as a graduation requirement.  The adults’ participation sent the message to students that giving up on something that is difficult is the right course of action.  She continued, “I would ask the commissioner to offer these adults exactly what’s been offered to the students.  The adults better be able to put in the time.  If they want to highlight the test and how difficult it is, we should be able to highlight how to make it doable.”  None of us would test well on most any high school subject after decades away from the classroom.  But, when we need the basics they are there.  What ensures the basics remain with us is the arduous learning of a subject’s more complicated tenets early in life.  Our students are given the tools to pass the NECAP. They just need to use them.


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