THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING
Jeff Jacoby

Musings, random and otherwise

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Jeff Jacoby
Globe Columnist / May 18, 2008

SPEAKING in Jerusalem on Thursday, President Bush criticized the appeasement-flavored mindset of those who imagine that the world's worst tyrants can be placated with face-to-face chats. "Some seem to believe we should negotiate with terrorists and radicals," said Bush, "as if some ingenious argument will persuade them they have been wrong all along."

Though Bush didn't mention anyone by name, Democrats decided that his target was Barack Obama. The Obama campaign blasted the president for launching an "unprecedented political attack on foreign soil" - and insisted that if Obama is elected, "we're not going to sit down and engage Iran, unless or until they give up their nuclear weapons program."

Really? Obama's own website describes him as "the only major candidate who supports tough, direct presidential diplomacy with Iran without preconditions." When Obama was asked during a televised debate last year whether he would agree "to meet separately, without precondition . . . with the leaders of Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba, and North Korea," he promptly answered: "I would."

If Obama has had a change of heart, he should say so. Complaining of an "unprecedented political attack" when he hasn't even been named, let alone misrepresented, is peevish and pathetic, not presidential.

. . .

In 2006, Chicago aldermen voted to prohibit city restaurants from serving foie gras. At the time, Mayor Richard Daley called it "the silliest law the City Council has ever passed." Last week the aldermen came around to Daley's view, and voted overwhelmingly to lift the ban.

There are certainly good reasons to shun foie gras, which is produced by force-feeding ducks and geese through a tube down their throats, making their livers bloat to 10 times the normal size. But in a free society, government attempts to proscribe popular consumer choices are usually improper and ineffective. If I disapprove of foie gras on humanitarian (or other) grounds, I should be making the case against it in the marketplace of ideas, instead of lobbying Big Brother to forbid it.

Prohibition doesn't annul demand. Liquor didn't vanish under the Volstead Act; it moved underground, into speakeasies. Foie gras didn't disappear either; Chicago diners have had little difficulty finding "duckeasies" where chefs continued to prepare it. Happily, chefs and diners can come out of the shadows now, and animal-welfare activists can do what they should have been doing all along: Using reason, not force, to achieve their goal.

. . .

The Boston Globe recently reported that retirements are suddenly spiking at the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority. Why? Because a new law taking effect in 2009 slightly reduces benefits for workers who retire before age 65. The major change: As of next year, retirees will have to pay 15 percent of their health insurance premium. Current retirees get free healthcare for life. That's in addition to their pensions, of course. MBTA workers can retire with a full pension after just 23 years on the job, at which point they are perfectly free to find another government job and get right back on the public payroll.

Such double-dipping is common in the public sector, just like so many other lucrative perks that government employees take for granted and most private employees can only dream about. "The nation is dividing into two classes of workers: those who have government benefits and those who don't," USA Today noted in 2007. "The gap is accelerating in every way - pensions, medical benefits, retirement ages." According to the Congressional Research Service, the pension collected by the average private-sector retiree is worth less than half of what a typical government retiree can expect. If you don't have your snout in the government trough, you can expect to work ever-longer hours and pay ever-higher taxes and fees to support those who do.

Those, for example, like Michael Mulhern. He is the 40-something former MBTA general manager who "retired" in 2005, began collecting a $130,000 annual pension, then hired on as head of the MBTA retirement fund, a job that pays about $225,000 annually. Mulhern's total take: more than $350,000 a year. He is just one illustration of a huge problem growing more urgent by the day - the staggering sums that taxpayers are shelling out for the care and feeding of avaricious public employees. In Massachusetts and nationwide, a backlash is coming.

Jeff Jacoby can be reached at jacoby@globe.com.

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