Paul Broun: The Sugar Plum Tea Bagger

The average American’s concept of government workers is that they lounge all day on comfy divans while being fanned by servants who peel grapes in return for fabulous riches and a retirement plan bigger than Bill Gates’. Oh, and they have guaranteed lifetime employment and don’t have to pay taxes either.

In other words, with the taxpayers all snug in their beds, visions of fairy tales dance in their heads.

Government Slackers
Where do the fairy tales come from? Why, from people like Tea Bagging, “Stupidest Member of Congress” nominee Rep. Paul Broun. In his words:

“We’ve got to stop the outrageous spending that’s going on. We hear the CBO says, well if we don’t raise the debt limit, it’s going to put so many people out of work. I don’t remember the number, I think it’s 250,000 or something, are gonna be put out of work. Well, those are gonna be government employees that are put out of work.

There aren’t many people who’d argue cuts are unneeded. Private sector workers – who apparently have “real jobs” -  are losing them, unlike their company’s top executives. It’s only fair that true inefficiencies in government be rooted out and with it, unfortunately, their jobs. Sharing the pain at moments like this can’t be helped.

However, choosing the “250,000 or something” candidates based on the assumption they’re goldbrickers is arrogant as hell. Who exactly are these people and does Broun know one damn thing about them or their jobs? Well, if he can’t remember whether there are 2 or 250,000 lazy government sponges it seems he’s maybe a little fuzzy on the details.

Broun apparently thinks cutting government is easy – as easy as pulling out his trusty chainsaw and going all Paul Bunyan on it. He could come up with the whole deal by simply cutting the military. They have 3 million troops, what could be easier? Hey, needlessly getting your ass shot off to protect some crapulent Afghan thieves and Congressional goobers is about as cushy a federal job there is. Just ask the troops. But, make sure they’re unarmed first.

DIY Flowbeeing
What about the personal Congressional staffers and Capitol police? We can do without them. I don’t have a staff and still have enough time to watch Broun embarrass himself on C-SPAN. Hey, just for good measure lets can the Capitol barbers and lazy ass Congressional Dining Room staff too. I’m sure Broun’s hoi polloi would be more than agreeable to Flowbeeing their own hair, bussing their own tables, and washing their own dishes. They might even have enough time to take calls from lobbyists when they’re done with their effortless tasks.

But perhaps the greatest savings would be to cut just one supremely indolent government employee. I believe his name is Paul Broun. The savings on his perks, free healthcare, and better than private sector pension could finance the Global War of Error for about 6 minutes. His free franking privileges are probably worth a couple thousand, easy. Besides, he and his cronies have control of the purse strings and are clearly honest enough to make these mandatory cuts. I trust ‘em, don’t you?

I know it’s a lot to ask of politicians these days, particularly one bagging so much tea the Lipton Tea Taster would get a hard-on, but could they please understand what they’re saying before they say it? I imagine government employees would really appreciate it.

And, so would the rest of us.

Cross posted at The Omnipotent Poobah Speaks!

 

 

 

Government Service: Is the Pig Really So Fat?

In times of economic stress, government employees are heavily scrutinized, just as many people in the private sector are. But sacrificing a person’s job on a bean-counters’ altar should be the course of last resort, not the first, and not based on the fact employees belong to a union. However, as the scrutiny goes up, so do many of the famous myths of the “easy” life as a government employee.

Many believe unions bear the bulk of the problem regardless of the fact that some employees can’t strike. A union without the prospect of a strike, is pretty toothless. I believe I can speak with some authority on the issue because I was once a federal worker.

In my unionized shop, pay rates weren’t set by collective bargaining. The feds set them by comparisons with “equal” private sector jobs. I was a fully licensed aircraft mechanic. I rebuilt state of the art Navy F-14 fighters, engines, and components. My “equivalents” were unlicensed, low-skilled, and low-compensation floor workers at a local Mrs. Smith pie bakery. At the time, salaries for private sector aircraft mechanics were about 3X what the Apple Dumpling Gang got.

And fabulous benefits? Boy howdy! New workers received 1 week of vacation at the end of their first year. If illness or family emergencies left you short of time for the mandatory “vacation”,  you paid for the time you “wasted”.

In the Shallow End of the Social Security Pool
At the time, there was a de rigueur defined benefit pension similar to the private sector’s. During a hiatus in my government service, the pensions died and replaced by Social Security without benefit of a 401k style plan. Although I was grandfathered under the old pension system, the government required me to pay the equivalent amount of Social Security paid during my hiatus. Fair enough, but they’d only take a lump-sum payment and if you couldn’t pay that you went straight to the shallow end of the Social Security pool.

Health insurance? Proportionally, I paid far more for roughly equal insurance than I do today. So much in fact, I had enter the private sector when I got married because we couldn’t afford the insurance on a pie maker’s salary.

But perhaps the biggest issue was the work conditions. And even there, the union didn’t hold much sway. Employees were routinely subjected to treatment that would’ve guaranteed strikes, or big lawsuits, in the private sector.

For example, management removed doors from toilet stalls so they could see anyone with an unusual number of bouts with the squitters. In some shops, employees had to raise their hands and ask permission to take a dump like a third grader. Managers also attached magnets to bits of string and randomly tossed them onto people’s shoes to make sure they were steel-toed. But the last indignity was downright dangerous working conditions.

I worked mandatory 10-12 hour shifts, including many Saturdays, for months on end. My shop was a non-air conditioned, poorly ventilated room with outside temperatures running in the upper 90s and live steam pipes running under the floor. The average summertime temperature in the room averaged about 120 degrees. The government’s method for stemming the number of heat-related injuries was to offer salt pills served in open buckets.

We also inhaled atomized heptane and Freon. We were protected from the heptane only by an unsealed plastic baggy over the equipment and our skin with nothing at all (including gloves). Although told we needed no safety equipment, hazmat workers pumped out the waste tanks wearing full protective gear and oxygen masks (not simply respirators).

In the end, the union had no real effect on pay or any of these bizarre workplace rules.

American Jobs Fly Away
Eventually, I left government for the private sector. It was a good thing too. All but one of the Navy’s similar facilities closed shortly after I left and the work turned over to private companies. Oh, and maintenance for those F-14s? Much of it went off shore, leaving a potential wartime capability gap while exposing high-tech airplanes to easier espionage attempts. The decision lost tens of thousands of American jobs too. And unions? They couldn’t do a thing about it.

Yes, my government service was long ago. I’m sure much has changed, but the union wasn’t the sole problem then and it’s not the whole problem now. It’s a mistake to think every government worker lives in the lap of luxury or that mean unions harass and stymie the government at every turn.

Government workers are like workers in the private sector. They work hard. They sometimes put up with squalid work conditions and bad management.  They find themselves increasingly ill-equipped to live the middle class American dream, because the dream costs money. They understandably want to keep theirs – just as non-unionized workers aren’t flocking to front offices to voluntarily sacrifice their jobs to a CEO with bulging pockets who screws not only the taxpayers, but the workers as well.

I approve of examining spending cuts – clearly we need some. But, I’d also ask that the examination not be run by those with far better compensation and agendas far beyond rational budget cutting. I want a fair assessment, built on truth and honesty, by people who don’t have unreasonable demands and minds made up before they even look at things. I expect unions to recognize the challenges of deficit spending too. And if we need layoffs, we shouldn’t carry them out with a crude butcher knife in place of a good, sharp scalpel.

To do otherwise isn’t good for workers or the country.

Cross posted at The Omnipotent Poobah Speaks!

Government Service: Is the Pig Really So Fat?

In times of economic stress, government employees are heavily scrutinized, just as many people in the private sector are. But sacrificing a person’s job on a bean-counters’ altar should be the course of last resort, not the first, and not based on the fact employees belong to a union. However, as the scrutiny goes up, so do many of the famous myths of the “easy” life as a government employee.

Many believe unions bear the bulk of the problem regardless of the fact that some employees can’t strike. A union without the prospect of a strike, is pretty toothless. I believe I can speak with some authority on the issue because I was once a federal worker.

In my unionized shop, pay rates weren’t set by collective bargaining. The feds set them by comparisons with “equal” private sector jobs. I was a fully licensed aircraft mechanic. I rebuilt state of the art Navy F-14 fighters, engines, and components. My “equivalents” were unlicensed, low-skilled, and low-compensation floor workers at a local Mrs. Smith pie bakery. At the time, salaries for private sector aircraft mechanics were about 3X what the Apple Dumpling Gang got.

And fabulous benefits? Boy howdy! New workers received 1 week of vacation at the end of their first year. If illness or family emergencies left you short of time for the mandatory “vacation”,  you paid for the time you “wasted”.

In the Shallow End of the Social Security Pool
At the time, there was a de rigueur defined benefit pension similar to the private sector’s. During a hiatus in my government service, the pensions died and replaced by Social Security without benefit of a 401k style plan. Although I was grandfathered under the old pension system, the government required me to pay the equivalent amount of Social Security paid during my hiatus. Fair enough, but they’d only take a lump-sum payment and if you couldn’t pay that you went straight to the shallow end of the Social Security pool.

Health insurance? Proportionally, I paid far more for roughly equal insurance than I do today. So much in fact, I had enter the private sector when I got married because we couldn’t afford the insurance on a pie maker’s salary.

But perhaps the biggest issue was the work conditions. And even there, the union didn’t hold much sway. Employees were routinely subjected to treatment that would’ve guaranteed strikes, or big lawsuits, in the private sector.

For example, management removed doors from toilet stalls so they could see anyone with an unusual number of bouts with the squitters. In some shops, employees had to raise their hands and ask permission to take a dump like a third grader. Managers also attached magnets to bits of string and randomly tossed them onto people’s shoes to make sure they were steel-toed. But the last indignity was downright dangerous working conditions.

I worked mandatory 10-12 hour shifts, including many Saturdays, for months on end. My shop was a non-air conditioned, poorly ventilated room with outside temperatures running in the upper 90s and live steam pipes running under the floor. The average summertime temperature in the room averaged about 120 degrees. The government’s method for stemming the number of heat-related injuries was to offer salt pills served in open buckets.

We also inhaled atomized heptane and Freon. We were protected from the heptane only by an unsealed plastic baggy over the equipment and our skin with nothing at all (including gloves). Although told we needed no safety equipment, hazmat workers pumped out the waste tanks wearing full protective gear and oxygen masks (not simply respirators).

In the end, the union had no real effect on pay or any of these bizarre workplace rules.

American Jobs Fly Away
Eventually, I left government for the private sector. It was a good thing too. All but one of the Navy’s similar facilities closed shortly after I left and the work turned over to private companies. Oh, and maintenance for those F-14s? Much of it went off shore, leaving a potential wartime capability gap while exposing high-tech airplanes to easier espionage attempts. The decision lost tens of thousands of American jobs too. And unions? They couldn’t do a thing about it.

Yes, my government service was long ago. I’m sure much has changed, but the union wasn’t the sole problem then and it’s not the whole problem now. It’s a mistake to think every government worker lives in the lap of luxury or that mean unions harass and stymie the government at every turn.

Government workers are like workers in the private sector. They work hard. They sometimes put up with squalid work conditions and bad management.  They find themselves increasingly ill-equipped to live the middle class American dream, because the dream costs money. They understandably want to keep theirs – just as non-unionized workers aren’t flocking to front offices to voluntarily sacrifice their jobs to a CEO with bulging pockets who screws not only the taxpayers, but the workers as well.

I approve of examining spending cuts – clearly we need some. But, I’d also ask that the examination not be run by those with far better compensation and agendas far beyond rational budget cutting. I want a fair assessment, built on truth and honesty, by people who don’t have unreasonable demands and minds made up before they even look at things. I expect unions to recognize the challenges of deficit spending too. And if we need layoffs, we shouldn’t carry them out with a crude butcher knife in place of a good, sharp scalpel.

To do otherwise isn’t good for workers or the country.

Cross posted at The Omnipotent Poobah Speaks!

Small Business: Are Some Too Small to Survive?

It doesn’t matter if you’re obscenely wealthy, living under a bridge, own a Mom and Pop business, or are the most mega of mega multinationals, you want a tax break. Regardless of how much your lobbyists can con out of legislators or how much the country can afford to give, everyone promises to rush right out and stimulate the heck out of the economy, thereby single-handedly putting everyone back to work.

Of course, if this were possible we’d have avoided the financial collapse and licked unemployment before the first CEO could skim his bonus off the top. Truth is, if someone’s paid 2 bucks a year in taxes, they’d complain it wasn’t a buck.

Such is life in a capitalist society.

One of the most repeated mantras in the political/economic wilderness is that small businesses create jobs like an alchemist creates gold from base metal. I suspect that’s true because Big Corporations are a lot better at creating jobs in Bangalore than Bangor and it’s not like they have sterling track records to contradict that. But, if Big Businesses aren’t “too big to fail”, aren’t some small businesses “too small to survive”?

Small Biz Owners Have Bigger Balls Than Me
I have a lot of respect for anyone willing to work themselves silly trying to make a living out of the ether. They have bigger balls than me. But if the sole criteria for success was hard work, coal miners and garbage picker uppers would get the gazillion dollar bonuses.

Likewise, if the only criteria was the ability to take huge risks, corporateers would still come out in the lead, notwithstanding they took the risks with someone else’s money, doing something an imbecile should know better than to do, and tripling their compensation for failing to do what they set out to do. The only difference is the size of the risk that caused the business’s implosion.

Many, many more small business fail than survive. There are a variety of reasons. Some people never thought running a business was so tough. All they wanted was to escape some domineering middle manager of a boss. Others got loans no sane bank should’ve given them. Still others lacked a flair for the creatively entrepreneurial, somehow thinking the world needed one more pizza place or boutique shop selling dried flowers and “crafts” they wouldn’t keep in their own homes.

On a cost/benefit ratio, small business is a dicey way to create jobs. Most of owners end up on the unemployment rolls alongside anyone unlucky enough to work for them, while simultaneously stiffing creditors and their poorly paid serfs because they couldn’t pay the bills. That’s at least 4 jobs lost right there. One step forward, for steps back.

And, the jobs small business does create aren’t usually the skilled machinist, shipbuilder, electronics technician kind. Most are pizza delivery guys and high school kids twisting dried flowers into malodorous bunches for minimum wage – no vacation, no sick time, no retirement, no health coverage, and in some cases, not enough to buy the pizzas they deliver. The economy can’t aford to create many more jobs like that, regardless of who creates them.

Small Business Says It Can’t Pay
Small business and their lobbies routinely complain they can’t afford the minimum wages already set. They say they have to reinstitute a de facto indentured servitude system to make ends meet and what they say is true. In Big Biz, they call this under-capitalization.

But then, McDonalds and Pizza Hut claim the same thing because burger prices will have to move from Dollar Menus to Two Dollar Menus and that’ll cost the shareholders 2 cents per share. Neither would pay any more than absolutely necessary because every dollar going to employees is a dollar not shown on a profit sheet. They aren’t, as they often remind people, charities.

I believe in small business. They are an important part of the economy and shouldn’t be trivialized. They can create good, quality jobs and improve the economy. However, we can’t afford to incentivize the weak any more than we can afford to foot the bill for all the oil BP can spill or all the slave-labor jeans Levi’s can make in Bangladesh.

Like it or not, everyone – Big Business, small business, low-middle-and upper income taxpayers – have to give something up. What everyone really wants is a no-pain fix and that ain’t gonna happen.

So let’s be honest about the ability for any single segment of the economy to fix this problem. Small business is not the only option. If they can’t raise the capital to compete, they are too small to survive. If daft bankers make bad investments, they aren’t “too big to fail”.

Big corporations and their larger stockholders have to stop living like warlords in Afghanistan and not expect a return on investment is a God-given right. And the rest of us probably won’t miss a $100 a year tax break anyway. If we can’t, it’s cheaper for those who can to help those who can’t, regardless if you think it’s unfair, or socialism, for free marketism at its finest.

Just as not all jobs are equal, not all businesses, or taxpayers are either.

It’s a fact, get over it.

Cross posted at The Omnipotent Poobah Speaks!

The Road Ahead on Jobs and Income

Two new government reports illustrate the complex and troubling state of opportunity in America, but also the right way forward.

The first set of data, by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, found that the gender pay gap is at a historic low, with women earning almost 83¢ for every dollar earned by men—compared with 76¢ a decade ago and until fairly recently.  The change is due in part to young women’s progress in the workplace—they increasingly are better educated and out earn their male counterparts—but also to depressed wages and, especially, more rapid job loss by men.  

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