Sunday, March 25, 2012

Has partisanship ruined our government?


What has happened to the world we live in over the last twenty years or so? I ask myself that question often. It seems like there’s no room for common ground to build alliances to work together for the common good of all. It sometimes seems that everyone thinks that anyone who disagrees with them is the enemy. We need to be more tolerant of opposing views in order to meet somewhere in the middle and attempt to get things accomplished.

I believe in the motives behind the ACLU – protecting everyone’s civil liberties as guaranteed under the U.S. Constitution. I believe the ACLU is right in defending the rights of a black young woman being denied entrance to an institution of higher learning based on her race. I also believe the ACLU would be right in defending the rights of a white man being denied employment based on the color of his skin simply to reflect diversity, however desirable the result might be, in the workplace.

I do not believe that the ACLU should be taking on cases of individuals who claim to be bothered or embarrassed by public displays of religious beliefs or cultural pride simply because it makes them feel different. Everyone is different than the majority in some way. Everyone is uncomfortable with others’ actions or words or displays at some time. Get over it. We are supposed to be a melting pot. People are embarrassed in the process of life. There are not only winners…there are also losers. This politically correct world we’ve begun to create for ourselves is hurting our future generations, not helping them.

There are more sides to issues than simple black and white answers can convey. The opinions expressed above are my own. You may agree or disagree with them but that doesn’t make one opinion right and another wrong. We should be allowed to disagree and peacefully discuss the issue and, hopefully, meet somewhere in the middle.

The same is true for political party affiliation. Gone are the days when most people would go to the voting booth and pull the single lever of Democrat or Republican. Most of us like to look at ourselves as independent voters. In spite of this the partisan divide in federal and state government has never been so wide, at least in my memory.

I believe that most voters vote for a candidate (or party) based upon his/her worst fears. So to, the candidates seem to pander to those fears when politicking for an office. The immigrant community, especially those who are undocumented or have loved ones who are undocumented, will vote for any candidate that promises that anyone caught being here illegally will be given an opportunity for citizenship. These individuals pretty much don’t care what the candidate’s other views are.

The rich, so-called 1%, of wealthy Americans are looking for a candidate who will continue the Bush tax breaks and be friendlier to big business and Wall Street so that they can keep more of their investment portfolio. These individuals are usually touting the evils of big government and the benefits of a free market society. Any candidate who assures them that these are his priorities also will get their vote.

The capitalists, and so-called job creators, want business restrictions lifted to allow them to make better profits in their business. Any politician who promises to ease the limits on outsourcing jobs overseas or allows them to skirt some of the environmental laws to increase their bottom line can count on their vote.

People who are part of the entitlement minded Americans who believe that the government should take care of them and their families with free housing, food stamps and Welfare checks every month do not want the government to abandon them. Many of these families are multi-generational recipients of social handouts. If a candidate threatens to investigate Welfare fraud, cut benefits and reduce the number of social programs these voters will rally around his opponent.

Many of our elderly citizens vote on the single issue of protecting their Social Security payments and Medicare coverage. Any candidate who threatens the security of these systems will face their wrath at the polls. They are scared enough regarding such proposals that virtually anything else the candidate stands for is disregarded when they are at the polls.

Many working people, especially those in unionized labor, are deathly afraid of the latest trend in anti-labor policies – the breaking of contracts and abolishment of collective bargaining. They would rather vote for someone who holds opposing views on almost every other issue than allow someone who is anti-labor be elected to public office.

And finally, the conservative Christians will only vote for someone who has the same views on the sanctity of life and when life begins. Most favor marriage being only between a man and a woman and will penalize a candidate who believes in marriage equality proposals.

While there are a multitude of factors that influence my vote the biggest factor to me personally, at this point in my life, is how a candidate feels (and will vote) on labor related issues – especially with the battle lines being drawn all around the country regarding this. Also, I could never find a candidate who would have beliefs which completely echoed my own. And I certainly couldn’t find a candidate who would vote the way I would like him to vote on every issue, because my beliefs are scattered on both sides of the political divide.

I believe that illegal immigrants are just that – illegal. They are costing the taxpayers millions of dollars in tax revenue and taking jobs from U.S. citizens. They are also cheating those would-be immigrants who are attempting to enter this country in the proper manner. When we (our government agencies) encounter illegals they should be detained and deported.

As far as the Bush tax cuts are concerned I believe that they should be repealed and set back to where they were under the Clinton administration. If you look at our country’s history the highest tax bracket has risen during or directly after our nation has faced economic hardship – after WWI, the Great Depression and WWII. Also, the tax breaks have not had the effect that they were intended to bring about. There has been a substantial loss of jobs, not job creation.

I think the Welfare system is completely broken. There are, however, many citizens who could not survive without some sort of assistance. The answer, I believe, is to temporarily put more money into investigation of fraud along with swift and substantial penalties for those who are guilty of this. Also, anyone capable of working should be required to work at least part time in order to remain qualified for Welfare payments, food stamps or subsidized housing.

I also truly believe that the Social Security system must be protected at all costs, or at least until another system is fully funded and operational for future retirees. Too many Americans rely on SS to survive and as therefore the integrity of the system is a matter of the government’s responsibility to keep that promise.

What we desperately need is a renewed era of bipartisanship to fix the present stalemate in government. Either that or a sufficient enough number of Independent representatives in government that would represent the swing votes on any pending legislation.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Can We Ever Trust Politicians Again?

Are there any politicians out there who actually stand for something? Are there any out there who actually keep their word?

Case in point – Governor Chaffee. He campaigned by stating he was behind the working men and women of the state, including state and municipal union workers. He was labor-friendly, he said. Although there were tough times ahead the sacrifices would be shared, not put squarely on the backs of state and municipal employees. He pointed to his record as the Mayor of Warwick to show that he was a fair negotiator.

Case in point – Mayor Taveras. Not only did he propose a new era in joint communication and cooperation between the City’s labor unions and his Administration at City Hall, but he actually renegotiated and signed contracts which brought about further concessions by the unions which seemed fair to both sides. Also, he was left a financial mess by his predecessor.

Case in point – Congressman Cicilline. Enough has been said about this clown. Everyone knows by now that he never tells the truth. He is a lost cause, and I hope someone runs against him in the Democratic primary.

As far as Governor Chaffee is concerned, he better wake up very quickly. Organized labor put him over the top in the last election because he promised to treat us fairly. Contrary to public opinion labor was not looking for someone to roll over and give away the candy store. We realized that times were tough all over and not getting better very quickly. We knew that there were difficult decisions ahead and that we were going to have to sacrifice just like everyone else. We wanted, however, to be treated fairly in the process. Instead, this governor is proposing what is tantamount to stripping labor of our collective bargaining rights. Giving employers (whether government or private) carte blanche to refashion the employee and retirement benefits of their employees is morally and ethically wrong. It is also probably illegal. He (the governor) is setting the stage for drawn out legal battles which will benefit no one.

Mayor Taveras. Ouch! As a longtime employee of the City I had very high hopes that Mayor Taveras would change things for the better. Indeed, I voted to approve a contract re-opening that gave away some of our benefits in order to help the City through a tough financial crisis and as a good faith gesture that we and the Administration could work together in an atmosphere of mutual respect and trust. What did he do? He decided to attempt to strip my retirement benefits as well. Everything he has done over the last few months has been to steer the City toward the brink of bankruptcy in order to get out from under contractual obligations. While some may applaud him for doing that, I believe he has been negligent in exploring all other reasonable options. There are a couple of options with regards to the pension system which would save as much, or more, than his present plan.

The problem seems to be that if he were to get the concessions required or simply instituted the needed changes and fight the legal fight regarding those changes he wouldn’t be able to get “all” the changes he wants. From what I understand, the meeting he held with retirees to explain the changes he was proposing is one of the things he needed to do if he were to request a judge to let the City out from under the burden of the contracts of retirees (and employees). There was no way he believed that he would be able to forge closer to an understanding with retirees by explaining his proposals at that meeting. Also, although the meeting was said to be about the Mayor explaining his justification for temporarily halting the COLAs, he got up on stage and explained that he also wanted additional changes to their retirement benefits. He wanted them to begin paying 20% of their health care and wanted to require them to join Medicare at 65. These are all costly items to a retiree and the Mayor wants all three of them! That would be a hardship.

I’m speaking about 90% of the retirees facing a hardship by these concessions. The media always points to the 10% of City retirees who receive outlandish pensions due to years of 6% COLAs. Many of these retirees collect a bigger retirement check than the active workers on their old job receive! That’s completely ridiculous.

That would be the first place I would attack if I were the Mayor. I would propose and push a City Ordinance that capped ALL Providence pensions at the current base pay of the individual performing that job now. This is going forward, as well as being applied to current retirees. This would mean a dramatic reduction in a small percentage of pensions but it would be considered, by most reasonable people, a fair solution. No one should ever receive more in retirement than the person working today at the same job!

I would also propose that no employee of the City be able to collect a service pension until he/she were 50 years old. I believe that this could be negotiated into every Providence union’s contract without too much trouble.

These 2 changes would solve the long-term problems of the City’s pension system. It wouldn’t immediately replace the hundreds of millions of dollars the City has neglected to pay into the system overnight, but it would create a sound and sustainable pension system. This crisis wasn’t created in a day, so why would we think we should fix it in a day. This is a long-standing crisis which requires a thoughtful and fair, long-term solution.

Tom Kenney

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Quick & Fair Resolution to Providence's COLA Dispute

While reports seem to always showcase the City’s “top 25” retirees, no one seems to want to talk about the average (the majority) retiree from Providence who is making somewhere between $20K - $40K – in many cases for 30+ years of service to the City.
Taveras’ plan does nothing to separate the financial burden of these two groups – and that is just plain wrong.

While most of us (if not all) would agree that making more in retirement than a current employee in the retiree’s old job is wrong, Taveras’ proposals do nothing to correct this imbalance. The mayor should consider making a single proposal, capping all current and future pensions at 100% of the current active employee in the position from which the pensioner retired. This would be a “fair” solution to the unfunded liability problem for the current and future stability of the system, even if not a popular move to some of the current retirees who would be immediately affected.

I would like to see a savings projection if this were to be implemented. My guess is that it would be substantially more than Taveras’ target of $29 million.