Government Employees Bear the Burden of Cutbacks

Government Employees Bear the Burden of CutbacksWhen I was in elementary school, and teachers would ask us what we wanted to be when we grew up, the answer was usually “an astronaut!” and then we would get asked what ELSE we would want to be in case the space career didn’t work out. Then the responses were fire fighter, police officer, or teacher.  All of which are government employees. When we got older and realized there were a whole lot more choices out there, it was still understood that a job with the government would provide good pay, good benefits, and a good future with job security.

Government Employee Salaries

Things have definitely changed. A career in law enforcement and elementary school teaching will require a degree and hold average salaries of $52,374  $53,842, respectively. The average salary for a fire fighter is $43,208, with need for specialized training and/or a degree.

The benefits that used to accompany public sector jobs can no longer be taken for granted. When the government needs to save money fast, they tend to aim for the low-hanging fruit: government employees. Whether they are laid off, their wages are frozen for years, or they are furloughed, it is now understood that government employees tend to be the collateral damage of political maneuverings.

Overlooking Government Employees

Taxpayers tend to forget that a large part of their taxes go toward paying government employees’ salaries, who may be sharing in their own hardships when times get tough. However, chasing away talented employees from government jobs is a recipe for substandard service, as is demoralizing those who choose to stay.

When companies defend the exorbitant pay of their CEO’s, they say they need to offer these large paychecks to stay competitive and attract the best talent. It’s really the same with any job: in order to attract and keep good employees, companies need to pay them well, offer good benefits, and make it a job that people will want to do.

Now consider police officers. We have municipalities that can’t afford enough officers for the number of people they are expected to serve and protect, and those they can afford won’t get raises so governments can meet their budgets. What kind of morale do officers have when they cannot get the equipment they need, are overworked, overstretched, and haven’t seen a decent raise in years? What happens when the people they are sworn to serve and protect do not support them on a basic level of fair compensation for what is expected of them? Don’t we want to attract the best candidates to this career?

Teachers’ starting salaries are terribly low, yet the competition is fierce. The profession attracts those who want to make a difference to children. There is always talk about how a good teacher makes a difference in a child’s life and a bad teacher can be devastating. Imagine the candidate pool if a teacher’s salary would actually be enough to begin to pay back a graduating student’s loans? Imagine school districts with budgets big enough to afford more teachers to make the student to teacher ratio more favorable?

Government Employees Keep America Going

When we worry about pollution, what is in our food, about climate change, about our health, do we realize our taxes go to pay salaries for employees of the EPA and FDA? That scientists make breakthroughs due to funding from government grants? Private companies cannot regulate or provide oversight to private companies. Oversight must be done by a neutral party, and the government is the only choice to administer to the public good.

No matter the political affiliation, it is important to remember the people who may be affected most by government cuts ultimately is ourselves: standing in line at the DMV, sitting dazed at the side of the road after a car accident, scared and confused after a robbery, sitting in a restaurant wondering when it was last inspected by the Health Department, and sitting with our child’s teacher at parent-teacher conferences.  When we cut taxes, to the detriment of government employees, we are hurting ourselves.

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Chris Christie is the Right Kind of Right

people-politico-obama-christieNew Jersey Governor Chris Christie has displayed the type of leadership that every state would love. But after Superstorm Sandy, I’m sure that New Jersey is glad he is their leader. The Governor doesn’t hesitate to put the needs of his constituents above his own political aspirations, and after the horrific damage the disaster did to his state, their needs are many.

When President Barack Obama went to New Jersey to see the damage for himself, the Governor had high praise for the GOP’s Public Enemy Number One. He was appreciative of the President’s work to help the state prepare before the storm hit, and was grateful for the President’s compassion for the people of New Jersey afterwards, along with his pledge to help.  President Barack Obama returned the admiration, assuring the people of the state that Governor Christie was doing everything he could for his state.

So when Republican House Speaker John Boehner put off an end-of-the-year vote for a $60 million aid package that the Senate had already passed, the Governor was understandably upset.

Governor Christie pointed out that Katrina victims received aid after only 10 days, but residents of New York and New Jersey had been waiting 65 days as of January 3, 2013. Governor Christie blamed the House Republicans and John Boehner for the delay, and for playing politics with disaster relief. He pointed out that the American people are tired of partisanship in Washington, and he is right, we are overtired.

His backing of Mitt Romney’s candidacy for President did not stop him from giving credit to the Democratic leader of the free world when it was earned, and his sense of duty to the people of his state is quite admirable.

If there is a leader in the US today who embodies the no-nonsense, do-the-right-thing leadership that is sorely lacking in this country, it is Chris Christie. It is baffling; however, why a leader would have to fight for what is right.

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Politics of Regulations – Product Safety

congress3I recently found myself standing in the body lotion aisle at the store recently, realizing that my search for a paraben-free lotion was going to be more difficult than I originally thought. Parabens are preservatives that are widely used in personal care products such as makeup, moisturizers, hair care, and shaving. There has been some speculation that these preservatives’ estrogenic activity may be linked to an increased cancer risk. Until more studies have been completed, I decided a “better safe than sorry” approach was warranted. Our family lives in a dry climate and we use a lot of hand and body lotion. We use it so quickly that shelf life isn’t really an issue.

While researching the issue online, I came across EWG’s Skin Deep Cosmetics database. If you really want to become depressed about the chemicals we put onto our bodies, enter your favorite products into the database and see what they may be doing to your health! And keep in mind; women aren’t the only consumers of these products. Anyone who uses hand lotion, soap, shampoo, etc., can look their favorite products up on the database.  I, like most Americans, have been lulled into complacency, thinking there was some governmental agency that regulated the ingredients in anything that goes into our bodies. However, the FDA’s own website verifies that the Food and Drug Administration isn’t authorized to approve cosmetic ingredients. The FDA also cannot require companies to test their products for safety, and manufacturers are not even required to report problems to the FDA.

I started reading the ingredients on the products in my bathroom: shaving cream, lotion, hair gel, shampoo, conditioner, etc. I realized that without some sort of advanced chemistry degree, I was in way over my head.  How was I supposed to make an informed decision on the safety of these items based on the ingredient list? Especially since companies are not required to list all of their ingredients on the package. And a search of the internet didn’t help me with a list of safe products from an unbiased source.

I understand the call for less governmental intrusion, but do the American people understand that corporations are the ones deciding what I put into and onto my body? Some of these chemicals make their way into body tissues; some are inadvertently ingested or inhaled (lipstick, face powder, hairspray…).  Corporations exist to make money. If they can make a product cheaply, and no one knows that a certain ingredient (or combination of ingredients) is harmful, what incentive do they have to replace that ingredient with something safer?

Without some sort of oversight, corporations will do what is in the best interest of their stockholders. The best interest of the stockholders is profit.

Do the politicians calling for more deregulation realize that they themselves and their loved ones are all putting themselves at the mercy of companies for whom greed is their main purpose? Regulation serves a very real and very important purpose: the protection of the American people.

 

 More Reading on Regulation and Product Safety

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Martin Luther King Jr Day and the Occupy Wall Street Movement

martin-luther-kingMartin Luther King Jr. Day is coming up, which gives us a chance to reflect on how far we have come as a society, and remember those who worked tirelessly for the betterment of us all. Martin Luther King Jr. is probably the most recognizable figure in the American Civil Rights movement. He brought attention to race issues in the 1960’s, rallying citizens to end racial segregation by use of non-violent protest. He also worked to end poverty and bring about an end to the Vietnam War, before he was assassinated in 1968.

Dr. King’s contribution to civil rights and equality is undeniable: trying to explain to kids that in America, it used to be expected that you would treat other people differently because of the color of their skin, just results in puzzlement. Slowly, Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream has come true—our children are basically colorblind. His work is not yet completed, of course, there is still more to be done to accomplish true equality. But this success shows the effectiveness of peaceful activism.

His goals to end poverty and inequality are echoed in the Occupy Wall Street Movement, whose protest method is based upon Dr. King’s nonviolent activism. Dr. King’s methods were based on Mahatma Gandhi’s philosophy of non-violent civil disobedience. The Occupy Wall Street movement’s actions are based upon the prior successes of both Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi, and are protected by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. The Bill of Rights allows for peaceful assembly and freedom of speech.

There are a large number of homeless protesters involved in the Occupy Wallstreet movement. After all, the economic downturn was fueled by just the types of issues the Occupy Wall Street movement is trying to bring to light: economic inequality and the corrupting power of major corporations. The homeless and jobless, most obviously affected by the recession, are the most bitterly appropriate people to represent the rest of the 99%. And as the states and the protesters began having differences about how public areas should be used, it brought to light the age-old issues of homelessness and poverty. Now that more people are at serious risk of becoming homeless and impoverished, some of those who already hit the bottom are speaking up to try and prevent the rest of us from sliding down.

In several cities across the nation, on the same November night, the protesters were evicted from public areas, effectively ending the Occupy Wall Street movement in its original form. However, the movement has grown quite large, gaining media exposure because of a popular lament, an abiding inclusiveness of varying points of view, and because the protesters insisted upon nonviolent protest. They have a breathtaking new tool in technology and social media, and have received the world’s attention.

Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy has rippled across generations. His method gained results and changed the world. Indeed, large numbers of people in countries all over the world have engaged in unarmed protests, demanding to be heard, and have seen results from their tireless activism. Although change is measured in years and not months, preventing the horrors and loss of life that result from violent uprisings is worth the wait.

People Politico Sources

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Presidential Candidates: We Are ALL Americans

sw_fake_ballot_sa03045If you’ve been reading this blog, you know that the contributors share a disdain for the current political climate, especially the lack of respect that politicians, pundits, and others have shown in their conversations.

What is really disturbing is the lack of respect and outright mockery that some of the men and women vying for the Republican Presidential nomination have been directing toward voters.

This behavior is perplexing to me…why alienate so many people in the country? Don’t you need their votes?

Herman Cain said stupid people are ruining the country, and “the objective of the liberals is to destroy this country”. I’m pretty sure the 72 million people who are registered Democrats in this country would find this insulting.

Newt Gingrich enjoyed his brief surge in the polls with comments about the Democrats’ agenda, comments which were out of step with his prior reputation as a bipartisan. His actions were often contradictory during the Clinton administration. In 1994 he put together a helpful list of words to use with Republicans: “Moral”, “Family”, “Freedom”. And an accompanying list to use with Democrats: “Failure”, “Traitor”, and “Waste”. Gingrich himself is often held to blame for the extreme partisanship evidenced in politics today, after bringing ethics complaints against Speaker of the House Jim Wright.

However, in the late 90’s, he worked with President Bill Clinton on big projects, including welfare reform and working toward a balanced budget. As recently as 2008, he expressed his support for action on climate change, in an ad in which he appeared with Nancy Pelosi, who was Speaker of the House at the time. However, when asked about the ad in November of this year, he said it had been a mistake.

For some reason, it’s now gauche for politicians to be seen working together for the common good, so Mitt Romney called the ad an example of Newt Gingrich being “an unreliable conservative and an unreliable leader”. Gingrich didn’t attempt to defend the ad, which to me is unfortunate, because I view the ad as a shining example of how it IS possible for Democrats and Republicans to work together on an urgent topic. It is constantly perplexing to me that the environment is a Democratic issue. After all, the consensus in the scientific community is that global warming is occurring and that human action is contributory. We all live on the same planet, so it seems like a global issue to me.

By now Rick Perry has enough bizarre YouTube videos to hopefully put him out of the running as an actual contender for the Republican nomination. His debate gaffes occurred after his comments about doubting the science behind climate change. In November, he signed a pledge to uphold the legal definition of marriage between one man and one woman, and appoint “faithful constitutionalists” to the federal bench. Michele Bachmann also signed this pledge. In December, he released what has been dubbed his “anti-gay” ad. This kind of stance doesn’t sit well with 53% of Americans, who according to a new poll, think the government should give legal recognition to marriages between couples of the same sex. A candidate who vows to deny anyone’s basic rights is shocking to me, as is a candidate who will not consider a potential judge’s merits if that nominee doesn’t fit neatly into a pre-specified category.

I hesitate to consider Michele Bachmann an actual candidate for the Republican nomination, but since she has been involved in the debates and is as much a candidate as Rick Perry, I can definitely include her comments. She has said that Barack Obama and the “people he associates with” are Anti-American. Most of her other noteworthy comments are not specifically aimed at Democrats, but she is very good at alienating very large chunks of America. She has stated that she is for eliminating minimum wage, being a submissive wife, and introducing legislation to ban same-sex marriage. She is apparently against a vaccine against cancer (!) and all 11 million illegal aliens living in the United States.

Until recently, Mitt Romney seemed to be the only major Republican candidate whose aim wasn’t to alienate half his future constituents. Indeed, the main attacks from the right and left focus on how his comments on the issues tend to change. I’m not against a candidate changing his or her mind with a little more knowledge, but not being able to pin down the views of a possible future President make it difficult to decide if you want that person representing you. It’s nice of him not to call me anti-American, but I’m afraid his indecisiveness may be leading him down the road the way the other candidates came: He said recently he’d back a ban on same-sex marriage. In October he said the Supreme Court should reverse Roe v. Wade, a clear indication of his opposition to reproductive rights. However, he refused to sign the limiting pledge that Bachmann and Perry both signed.

Whomever the Republican nominee for President should turn out to be, I hope they understand the need for flexibility, bipartisanship, compromise, and that they will not only be governing the red states, but the entire United States of America.

 Political Information Sources

 

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Just Tax People Equally and Fairly

congress3Remember the debate about the stimulus measures, enacted to prevent our economy from falling into another depression? Those that were against the stimulus didn’t want to add more debt because we would be saddling the next generations with paying it back. Now that we’ve avoided the worst-case economic scenario and are clawing our way out of the recession, the federal government and the states find themselves with billion-dollar budget shortfalls. When the opportunity arose to return more of a tax burden to the wealthiest Americans and close tax loopholes for corporations, our representatives decided they would rather not risk their campaign funding from those corporations and wealthy Americans who want to hang onto every last dollar. So instead of getting more income to pay for the things the government pays for, they have decided to cut education funding. States across the union are having to enact deep cuts in funding for public schools and school programs in order to meet budget shortfalls.

So apparently the best thing for our future generations is a bad education for everyone but the elite few who can pay for a private education for their kids.

And education isn’t the only thing that’s suffering. The newspapers are full of cities and towns that are having to cut their police and fire department budgets, with some municipalities doing away with their police and fire protection altogether. All sorts of government services are finding themselves under a microscope, and losing their funding. It’s only when a choking child dies because of an unmanned fire station that people realize the gravity of the situation.

I myself happen to be a fan of things like police and fire protection, libraries, safe roads and bridges, and a good education for all children, not just those lucky few with wealthy parents. And the way we fund those things is with taxes. The entire point of taxation is to spread the burden of paying for the services we all need amongst us all. I can’t pay a teacher’s $30,000 annual salary by myself, but I can have a few bucks deducted from my paycheck, along with my fellow coworkers, to ensure that the kids in my neighborhood are in school and learning and preparing to be productive adults.

My family’s budget is stretched thin. The thought of discretionary income is laughable. But if those of us in the middle are the only ones willing to pay for government services and our children’s education, then I say, quit slashing the budget for services our community needs. Go ahead and tax the %&#* out of us. Maybe we can open our eyes in the next election and elect people who understand the government runs on money, and there are just some things the government has to pay for. And if we’re really lucky, our elected officials will have the guts to ask EVERYONE to pay their fair share.

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