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The Great American Shake-out

Original post made by Tom Cushing, Danville, on Nov 22, 2011

As the Congressional Super-Committee blunders toward stalemate, one has to wonder what this latest demonstration of the federal government's wretched inability to govern portends. Put another way: must a government of, by and for the lobbies be long endured? I'm guessing that the financial markets, at least, will once again show their impatience in a tangible way – meaning more tax money going into debt service. If Congress was going to deplete the nation's financial good will, couldn't they at least have dissipated it on an issue of immediacy and importance?

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Comments (7)

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Posted by Fred
a resident of Danville
on Nov 22, 2011 at 1:17 pm

Tom's concern is well-placed. We have lost our collective focus on the larger Community -- in our quest for greater material comforts and in our extreme emphasis on individualism.

We see this skewed image daily in our political dialogue and in our popular media. We say that we care about our neighbors. And in small ways, in personal ways, we do care and we show it. We can be very generous with our time and money -- especially when friends or neighbors are in a crisis.

But, we don't express that same concern enough in our politics. We elect leaders whose main focus is in serving and protecting their narrow constituencies -- often lobbyists for corporate or union interests. And the policies that we get from them reflect those narrow interests.

We shouldn't be surprised. Money talks too loudly in elections. We provide the votes. But, our elected officials don't belong to us. They belong to those who are giving them the cash for re-election.

And what kind of political world do we end up with? With the far right's capture of the Republican Party, it would surprise no one if the Republican Party formally changed its motto to, "I've got mine." And we see a Democratic Party far too timid to stand up for its supposed ideals.

We are in a severe and prolonged economic crisis. There is no denying that. And Tom is right -- no amount of blind faith in laissez faire market forces is going to pull us out of it. It is going to take some bold action -- likely by the government -- to turn this ship around.

But, in the meantime, what can we do to ensure that our communities large and small do not collapse and do not give up essential functions?

It seems to me that the larger question that we must grapple with is: "How do we come together as a community to make sure that we can continue to afford those services and features of our towns, our states, and even our country, that made us want to live there in the first place?"

We have to first change the political dialogue to include the notion that we are all in it together. That our collective fate depends more heavily on our shared interests than our separate interests. If we each focus only on our own needs and wants, we will lose those things that make it worthwhile living in a community (a Community) together.

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Posted by realist
a resident of Danville
on Nov 23, 2011 at 9:39 am

How much did Obama's recent trip to Indonesia cost the taxpayers? (Enough to run the Alameda animal shelter for.... how many YEARS?)

Start by removing all the perks. Our "representatives" should pay into Soc. Sec.- not their own fund, and on and on.

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Posted by C. R. Mudgeon
a resident of Danville
on Nov 23, 2011 at 2:57 pm

As noted by Tom Cushing in his article, the biggest issues facing state and local governments in California are the cost of the collective bargaining agreements for public employees, with their overly-lucrative pension plans being a major part of the problem. For reasons that are not at all apparent (when judged against the benchmark of "common sense"), it seems to be impossible to reduce or scale back the pension formula and/or benefits for existing public employees, even going forward.

Just to be clear what I am saying: I fully agree that it is inappropriate to reduce benefits already accrued by public employees, for years of service that have already occurred. What we are talking about here is benefits to be accrued IN THE FUTURE, but for existing employees. For whatever reason, at least some courts have ruled that while it is possible to INCREASE benefits going forward, it is impossible to decrease benefits going forward. For some reason, this seems to apply ONLY to public employees, as private companies very frequently cap or curtail the going-forward benefits of their pension holders, even for existing employees. (In the ever-shrinking number of private companies that actually offer pension plans....)

If pension reform is limited only to employees not-yet-hired, then cities, counties, and the state will not be able to dig out from under their bankrupt or near-bankrupt situations.

The inevitable result is continued reduction of services, firings of large numbers of public employees (to make up for the fact that the ones left have to be paid ridiculous benefits), etc.

As Tom said, the collective bargaining process for public employees is fundamentally flawed, when "the payer" (in this case, the taxpayer) is not at the table. Our state and local politicians are in the pocket of the unions (at least as long as the Democratic Party is running things in CA), and so there is no "opposition" to lucrative contracts. At least not until things fall totally apart....

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Posted by Rick Pshaw
a resident of Danville
on Nov 23, 2011 at 4:34 pm

What the California voter/taxpayer needs to realize is that we OWN the bargaining table! It's ours. We don't want merely a seat at this mythical bargaining table, we want to have the leather-lunged deciding vote.

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Posted by Hostage
a resident of San Ramon
on Nov 24, 2011 at 11:23 pm

We, the taxpayers, are mere hostages to the extortionists. We certainly need our own representation in the process. Officials in general are puppets for the unions.
Taxpayers assuming the hostage position, is why FDR said there should not be any PUBLIC unions, we are all hostages to union greed.
We must support San Jose's mayor, who is sinerely working to save the city from self-destruction...not the case with most other cities.

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Posted by Hostage
a resident of San Ramon
on Nov 27, 2011 at 11:50 pm

I agree with Tom's comments on Mayors, city services, libraries, collective bargaining, Alameda police and fire budgets, etc. etc. Then to end any furter discussion, Fred chimes in with his personal partisan attacks irrelevant to this discussion regarding paying for 'local' services. The 'I got mine' comment does not move the conversation forward...except that the unions "I got mine" attitude is locked into place and the brotherhood won't let one of their own act with honor or conscience. It would be nice if they wanted to be 'part of our community" and would negotiate in good faith moving forward, starting's up to them to save their community, or destroy it. Last week's benefits have been earned, they should renegotiated, but we won't. BUT, if they want respect or honor, they would do what is right.....starting FORWARD,next week. I hope San Jose doesn't fall on the auction block. That is the rare Mayor who cares enough to try what is right for the community.. Others sadly, are in the claws of the public unions. Taxpayers should be in on the discussion.

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Posted by Fred
a resident of Danville
on Dec 1, 2011 at 2:10 pm

Hostage -

In case you hadn't noticed, the rising costs of local services don't exist in a vacuum. Several years ago, we kept on paying for high pensions, etc., because the money was still flowing in. Now we are in tough economic times, with tight budgets -- brought on, in part, by the irresponsible tax policy of the Republicans during the Bush Administration (lowering taxes on the wealthy) and its abject failure to pay for the two wars that it chose to fight (the "credit card" approach). We would likely have more success (and more time) in solving public pension issues if the Republicans hadn't precipitated this economic depression and turned the pension issue into a crisis.

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