Friday, April 28, 2006

"Unions' Advice Is Failing Teachers"

Los Angeles Times:
Some of the nation's largest teachers unions have joined forces with investment companies to steer their members into retirement plans with high expenses that eat away at returns.

In what might seem an unlikely partnership, the unions endorse investment providers, even specific products, and the companies reciprocate with financial support. They sponsor union conferences, advertise in union publications or make direct payments to union treasuries.

The investment firms more than recoup their money through sales of annuities and other high-fee products to teachers for their 403(b) plans — personal retirement accounts similar to 401(k)s.

New York State United Teachers, for instance, receives $3 million a year from ING Group for encouraging its 525,000 members to invest in an annuity sold by the Dutch insurance giant.

The National Education Assn., the largest teachers union in the country with 2.7 million members, collected nearly $50 million in royalties in 2004 on the sale of annuities, life insurance and other financial products it endorses.

Teachers unions across the country — including those in Las Vegas and San Diego and statewide teacher associations in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Oregon — have struck their own endorsement deals.

Unions in Dallas, Miami, Phoenix, Seattle and Atlanta, among others, refer members to products approved by the NEA and typically receive a share of endorsement revenue in return.

Many teachers say they presume an endorsement means their union has used its clout to get the best price, as unions do on products from eyeglasses to automobiles. But when it comes to retirement accounts, union backing is often a sign that the product will cost more, not less.

Buyers of an NEA-endorsed annuity sold by Security Benefit Life Insurance Co. pay annual fees totaling at least 1.73% of their savings. That is about 10 times as much as they would pay in 403(b) plans available from Vanguard Group, T. Rowe Price and other low-cost mutual fund providers.

The costliest option in the NEA-endorsed plan charges 4.85% a year. That means an investor would have to earn a return of nearly 5% just to break even.

Union leaders defend the endorsement deals and the prevalence of high-fee annuities. They say that teachers get valuable advice from brokers and financial advisors in return for the fees, and that the companies' contributions to union coffers help pay employee salaries and other union expenses.

Yet no one disputes that this money ultimately comes out of teachers' pockets.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Angry Atheists

Rabbi Marc Gellman:

I think I need to understand atheists better. I bear them no ill will. I don't think they need to be religious to be good, kind and charitable people, and I have no desire to debate or convert them. I do think they are wrong about the biggest question, “Are we alone?” and I will admit to occasionally viewing atheists with the kind of patient sympathy often shown to me by Christians who can't quite understand why the Good News of Jesus' death and resurrection has not reached me or my people. However, there is something I am missing about atheists: what I simply do not understand is why they are often so angry.

So we disagree about God. I'm sometimes at odds with Yankee fans, people who like rap music and people who don't like animals, but I try to be civil. I don't know many religious folk who wake up thinking of new ways to aggravate atheists, but many people who do not believe in God seem to find the religion of their neighbors terribly offensive or oppressive, particularly if the folks next door are evangelical Christians. I just don't get it.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Marching with the Immigrants

Peggy Noonan marched with the immigrants who rallied in New York City earlier this week. She had fun and liked the people. But it still didn't change her opinion:
Does my feeling for immigrants, and my afternoon at the march, leave me supporting open borders, or illegal immigration? No. Why should it? To love immigrants is not to believe America has no right to decide who can come to America and become a citizen. America has always decided who comes here. That's why it all worked.

While the marchers seemed to be good people, and were very likable, the march itself, I think, violated the old immigrant politesse--the general understanding that you're not supposed to get here and immediately start making demands. It would never have occurred to my grandparents to demand respect. They thought they had to earn it. It would never have occurred to them to air mass grievances, assert rights, issue a list of legislative demands. Especially if they were here unlawfully.

I happen to think America in general has deep affection for immigrants, knows they are part of the dynamic, a part of our growth and our endless coming-into-being. But when your heart is soft, and America's is, your head must be hard.

We are a sovereign nation operating under the rule of law. That, in fact, is why many immigrants come here. They come from places where the law, such as it is, is corrupt, malleable, limiting. Does it make sense to subvert our own laws to facilitate the entrance of those in pursuit of government by law? Whatever our sentiments and sympathies as individuals, America has the right, and the responsibility, to protect the integrity of its borders, to make the laws by which immigrants are granted entrance, and to enforce those laws.

I think open-borders proponents are, simply, wrong. I think those who call good people like members of the voluntary border patrols "yahoos" are snobs. I think those whose primary concern is preserving the Hispanic vote for the Democratic Party, or not losing the Hispanic vote for the Republican Party, are being cynical, selfish, and stupid, too. It's not all about who gets what vote, it's about continuing a system of laws that has allowed America to become, among many other things, a place immigrants want to come to. And it's about admitting immigrants in a coherent, orderly, legal manner, with an eye first to what America needs. That's how you continue a good thing, which is what we've had. That's how you leave Americans who've been here for a while grateful for immigration, and immigrants, and loving them, and even wanting, sometimes, to kiss their hands.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Jobs

Mark Levin:
The unemployment rate is 4.7%. The liberals tell us that's because Americans are having to do low-skilled jobs. Are these the same Americans who we're also told won't do low-skilled jobs?

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Fundamentals of the Gay Marriage debate

This illustrates the fundamental argument in the gay marriage debate:
Jenn Steinfeld, co-chair of Marriage Equality Rhode Island, told committee members that marriage is essential. She said there are 435 state laws that relate to marriage -- covering everything from transferring a fishing license upon death to being able to sue for wrongful death.

'Nothing else -- not wills and powers-of-attorney, not private contracts, not even civil unions -- measures up,' Steinfeld said. 'Marriage discrimination hurts families. It hurts those of us who ache to celebrate our commitment to our partners by legally entwining our lives.'

Steinfeld's partner, Lauren S. Nocera, talked about growing up in East Providence and dreaming of being married at the Crescent Park carousel.

But instead of conjuring up 'images of wedding cake smeared on Jenn's face with the Wurlitzer playing in the background' Nocera decided to tell the committee how it feels to testify before them.

'It feels degrading. It feels like begging,' Nocera said. 'It's a burden. It is exhausting. I am tired of it. I am tired of coming here year after year, full of compelling stories, politeness and patience.'

'After 10 years, it's time for the democratic process to move forward,' Nocera said. 'This is a bill that should be voted on its merits. Both sides of this issue deserve it.'

The Rev. Bernard A. Healey, lobbyist for the Diocese of Providence, said 'the Catholic vision' of marriage is simple.

'Marriage is a partnership of one man and one woman who are joined together for their own mutual good and for the procreation and education of children,' Healey said. 'The institution of marriage, as the union of one man and one woman, must be preserved, protected and promoted in private and public realms.'

'Often those who call same-sex unions marriage suggest that such laws are needed for the protection of social benefits,' Healey added. 'Such a view reduces marriage to a mere bundle of state benefits and loses sight of the deeper meaning of marriage.
I've said before that I think a lot of the debate is about semantics. Jonathan Turley at least partially agrees. Though looking at the gay marriage debate through the political lens, his solution is:
For state purposes, couples would simply sign a civil union agreement that confirms their legal obligations to each other and any progeny. Whether they are married in religious ceremonies would be left entirely to them and their faith. The government's interest and role would be confined to enforcing the civil contract, as it would any other civil agreement.

Consenting adults should be able to assume the obligations of a civil union regardless of how their neighbors view their morality. As in other areas, adults should be able to follow the dictates of their own faith so long as they do not endanger or harm others, particularly minors.
On the face of it, I can agree to the "Turley plan," but the problem remains: what or who defines that which can "endanger or harm others, particularly minors"? Tradition and biology have pretty much established that the ideal family is composed of Mom, Dad and kids. Obviously, we don't live in an ideal world, but we should still be reluctant to put civil union on equal footing with "traditional" marriage when it comes to raising kids (adoption, for example). My argument is just about gay adoption. It also encompasses those single women (or men) who seek to have kids on their own. Insofar as it is possible, I would prefer that we as a society prioritize the old fashioned family structure. However, I also recognize that there aren't enough of what I would define as an ideal family around to take care of all of the children out there.

In "The Liberal Case Against Gay Marriage," Susan Shell wrote:
As for the having and raising of children--this, too, can be provided for and supported short of marriage. If two siblings need not "marry" in order to adopt a child together, neither need two friends, whether or not they are sexually intimate. Civil unions might be formed in ways that especially address the needs of such children. The cases of gay men who inseminate a willing surrogate mother, or lesbians who naturally conceive and wish to designate their partner as the child's other parent, can also be legally accommodated short of marriage, strictly understood, on the analogy of adoption by step-parents and/or other relatives. As in all cases of adoption (as opposed to natural parenthood, where the fitness of the parent is assumed until proven otherwise), the primary question is the welfare of the child, not the psychic needs and wants of its would-be parents. [Emphasis mine.-MAC]
There is a difference between regular marriage and civil unions. As Shell also explained:
Restriction of marriage to heterosexual couples gives reasonable recognition to the peculiar importance and solemnity of generation and a related complex of human experiences. It does not, in itself, constitute unjust discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. The liberal case against gay marriage becomes even stronger if the category of civil union is expanded to permit gay couples and others to enjoy certain privileges from which they may in the past have been needlessly excluded. Unlike some more radical proposals, however, it would do so without doing needless violence to the peculiar character of marriage as it has heretofore been understood and practiced with good reason. That such privileges can be provided for outside of marriage is both a potential boon to gay couples and a sign that marriage in a strict sense is not in most cases what is essentially being sought.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Which Comes First: Singularity or The Rapture?

Glenn Reynolds asks: "So is the Singularity just a new religion? Or is religion just the pre-marketing department for the Singularity?"

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

The Difference Between Guest Workers and Immigrants

Herbert Meyer at the American Thinker explains that immigrants aren't bothering Americans, it's the people coming just for jobs and not to be "Americans."

Air Guard Deployment

This is just a little "shout out" to my cousin SSGT Allison Comtois who will be in Iraq for a couple months with the Vermont Air Guard.

"The Wrong Time to Lose Our Nerve"

Peter Wehner responds to conservative criticisms (From the likes of William F. Buckley and Francis Fukuyama) on the War in Iraq in today's Wall Street Journal.

Critics of the Iraq war have offered no serious strategic alternative to the president's freedom agenda, which is anchored in the belief that democracy and liberal institutions are the best antidote to the pathologies plaguing the Middle East. The region has generated deep resentments and lethal anti-Americanism. In the past, Western nations tolerated oppression for the sake of "stability." But this policy created its own unintended consequences, including attacks that hit America with deadly fury on Sept. 11. President Bush struck back, both militarily and by promoting liberty.

In Iraq, we are witnessing advancements and some heartening achievements. We are also experiencing the hardships and setbacks that accompany epic transitions. There will be others. But there is no other way to fundamentally change the Arab Middle East. Democracy and the accompanying rise of political and civic institutions are the only route to a better world--and because the work is difficult doesn't mean it can be ignored. The cycle has to be broken. The process of democratic reform has begun, and now would be precisely the wrong time to lose our nerve and turn our back on the freedom agenda. It would be a geopolitical disaster and a moral calamity--and President Bush, like President Reagan before him, will persist in his efforts to shape a more hopeful world.