Congressional Pay Raises Without Merit

by David T. Bruce

With the economic uncertainty of the past two years, we should not be surprised that our highest elected officials find the need to broach the topic of pay raises.  A recent blog highlighted the misgivings that at least two representatives have with their lot in life, citing the struggles that they are have making ends meet with their relatively miniscule salary. As Steve Southerland points out, health insurance is not free for representatives either.

This may be true; however, according to the premiums of Aetna’s HealthFund HMO, federal employees only pay $186.91 a month for HDHP (High Deductable Health Plan) family coverage.  The remaining cost of the premium – $560.72 – is covered by the government.  The average American who does not work for a company that offers health insurance, or a citizen who is unemployed, must shop around for their own insurance, paying premiums that are equally as expensive yet are not subsidized by the government.

In regards to salary, Mr. Southerland suggests that his annual salary is not enough, considering his personal sacrifices and risks associated with his job. Yet $80 an hour for 50 hours a week would probably have many of us willing to trade places, assuming such risk and sacrifice as necessary to secure such pay and benefits..

In regards to the risks of getting shot at, I suspect that those American who work in any mining industry at the wage of $18-$28 per hour realize a greater risk in their profession that that of an elected official.  In fact, many jobs exist that are far riskier than that of a representative or a senator.

Arguing back and forth, though, about who works harder, who gets paid less, and who has the riskiest job, leads us away from the point regarding raises for our elected federal representatives.

Everything is relative to the reality we choose to live in. The typical American lives within his or her means.  In other words, if we do not have the money to afford an expensive house, we do not buy an expensive house.  If for some reason, a twist of fate forces us to sell an expensive house for a house that is not quite so expensive, then that is what we do.

For many Americans over the past several years, foreclosure has been an undesirable yet often unavoidable consequence of the fiscal turn of events in our country.  The fact that some of our elected representatives in the House and the Senate find that voting themselves a pay raise is a viable option grossly demonstrates their pompous demeanor and a total detachment from their constituents who do not have the same luxury. I think I speak for everyone when I write that not one person exists who would not vote themselves a pay raise to avoid losing their home or living beneath the poverty line. We simply do not have that option available to us.

This is why, when a person opts to run for political office, a certain amount of altruism should exist. The idea behind holding a political office is to serve your country.  On the contrary, the majority of those currently holding political office behave as if they are owed a debt for their sacrifice.

We all have families, we all take risks, and we all must assume the consequences of said risks.  Should $174,000 annually not be enough to cover your cost of living as an elected official, then you face the same option as the rest of working-class America: you cut back.  You do without.

If you do not like your job or feel that the sacrifices outweigh the benefits, then you find a different job.  You can quit.  If you cannot find another job, then you can join the other 9 percent of Americans who do not have work or insurance.

Giving yourself a raise is not an option.  Your boss gives you a raise based on your performance.  Can you venture a guess as to who your bosses are and how we might measure your performance?

Will the Real Rick Perry Please Stand Up?

by Shadra Bruce

Rick Perry announced he was dropping his hat into the large ring of Republican presidential candidates on August 11. Since then he has worked diligently to position himself as the perfect choice for the Republican extremists, currying the favor of the Tea Party at the expense of all other Americans. But then, this is the man who, as governor of Texas, vetoed a bill that would have prevented the execution of mentally retarded inmates.

If he doesn’t care for those most marginalized citizens of his own state (preferring instead to be the governor who has presided over the largest number of executions in Texas history), why would we ever believe he would care about the populace of the United States?

At one point, Rick Perry could have probably given many Democrats a run for their money. He was initially elected to the Texas House of Representatives in 1984 as a Democrat. He supported Al Gore (not George Bush) in his 1988 presidential bid, serving as his Texas campaign chair. He pushed for increased healthy funding; he increased funding for education. He actually pretended, there for a minute, that he cared for the PEOPLE (you know, those he would lead, serve, and protect as President).

What happened?

As Billie Joe Armstrong sings in “Holiday,” he found out the money was on the other side.

In 1989 Rick Perry joined the Republican Party. Perry went from the champion of health care and education to cold-hearted, counterfeit authoritarian overnight because it made not sense, but CENTS.

According to a report in the Los Angeles Times, Perry’s entire campaign has been backed by a small group of very wealthy individuals and couples who have bought Perry’s favor with more than $37 million in donations over the last ten years. In exchange, many these donors have been granted contracts, been given tax breaks, or have been appointed to positions in the Texas government.

Are a group of elites trying to buy their way into the oval office?

Combine this with the fundamental changes Perry wants to make to the constitution – changes that shift the balance of power considerably, attack equal rights, and further benefit corporations, big business, and big oil – it is clear in my mind that Perry has been bought and paid for.

The real Rick Perry (the son of a staunch democrat and laid-back partier who could barely eek a 2.5 GPA out of his animal science degree) is now a puppet on the string of the wealthy elite who care little for anything but themselves.

As citizens, we must carefully examine Perry’s job performance as governor of Texas and weigh the risks associated with giving this man power as Commander in Chief of the United States.  He will most certainly create a country in his own image.

You Don’t Have to be Rich or Blind to be a Patriot but It Sure Helps

by David T. Bruce

As a fan of the rock band KISS and as one who respects what Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley represent in terms of the American dream and the power of the individual to succeed, I have to rebut Mr. Simmons’ recent essay published in August 17, 2011 edition of The Washington Times.

Mr. Simmons tells us that being patriotic has become politically incorrect, referring to the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance and the singing of the national anthem.  On the contrary, being one who is often politically incorrect, to be so risks being branded as unpatriotic.  To raise a voice against any of the military choices of the past several years (wholly unrelated to the attacks of 9/11) and to suggest that maybe some of the billions of dollars spent on the military in support of not-less-than three conflicts opens the person behind such remarks to verbal assault and public scorn.

I am genuinely pleased that other immigrants have found success in America, as have many citizens of this country.  However, the achievements made and enjoyed by Mr. Simmons in particular are without argument the exception and not the rule.  According to statistics compiled by Jim Hanas, a person’s chances of becoming remotely famous are 1 in 62,986.  In comparison, the chances of lightning striking a person are found to be 1 in 83,930, and your chances of being legally executed are 1 in 58, 618.

Undoubtedly, the odds of a person achieving the level of notoriety that Mr. Simmons has is statistically far more remote.  Yes, he has worked hard for what he has earned.  At the same time, we have to admit to ourselves that luck plays a part in success.  As well, once a person has money, it becomes easier to make more money.

Very little effort is required to find valid, irrefutable statistics that support that the minority of Americans make the majority of the money in this country.  My regards go to those that have found the right combination of ancestry, education, skill, and luck to bring them to the top of the financial heap.  I do not think many of us desire to strip success away from anyone or show disregard or disrespect for those that work hard for their triumphs.  At the same time, I take great exception to being told how I should feel when the America Mr. Simmons describes is indeed a dream when compared with the America that most citizens are familiar with.

Many of us are born into a country in which you must have a diploma to prove that you are competent in a given field.  Having paid for this document, you may or may not find employment.  Such is the America many people live in now.  If a person happens to be elderly or disabled, you may or may not qualify for adequate medical care.  You may or may not enjoy healthy food in an America where it costs less to eat fast food and junk food than it does to eat fruits and vegetables.  This is the reality of the twenty-first-century America.

Mr. Simmons, I respect you and your accomplishments in many ways.  At the same time, you represent a part of America that is either blind or refuses to see beyond money.  Money does not represent the foundation of America; people do.  Those people are forgotten or ignored unless money is somehow involved.  I am proud of my country, for what it is supposed to stand for.  I am forever proud of our soldiers, those that do sacrifice their time, their families, and their lives for the American dream.  I am as equally ashamed of our government, and of those representatives who care for no one or no thing unless they see dollar signs.  They have not sacrificed a damned thing.

All of Our Elected Officials Need a Time Out

by David T. Bruce

politics_1_tnbWith the recall elections in Wisconsin complete, the Associated Press reports that the “Democrats managed to seize two Republican state Senate seats [. . .], but fell short of the three or more they needed to take control of that legislative chamber.”  The article cites that both sides claimed victory, yet some would continue to pursue recall elections in the coming year.  This redundant, reprehensible rhetoric is representative of how our elected representatives conduct themselves, and this demonstrates the political mentality of our elected officials, not only in the state of Wisconsin, but in every state in the nation as well as on Capital Hill.

Kiplinger forecasts that our nation is potentially on the verge of another recession, and while business spending is up, retail sales are not half of what companies are spending.  Companies may be enjoying some breathing room as the government raises the debt ceiling, continues subsidizing oil companies, and focuses on the upcoming election year.  The millions of Americans who remain unemployed and the millions more Americans who are on a fixed income enjoy no such relief, as we verge on a double-dip recession.

The United States downgrading by Standard & Poor’s rating agency is yet another graphic reminder that our government is living and spending beyond its means.  The knee-jerk reaction from our representatives is to eliminate what they refer to as “entitlements.”

How perverse and insulting to attach a negative connotation to a word that is supposed to reflect what citizens have earned over the years.

After many years of representing the backbone of what has kept the United States a viable global entity, you are damned right that most Americans trapped at the lowest economic level of the United States economic echelons are entitled to at least basic medical care, a safe home, and food!

Millions of dollars were spent on campaigning in the recent Wisconsin recall elections.  What would have been a better use for those monies?  Yet these elected officials care little or nothing for the neediest of their constituents unless they are able or willing to vote in their favor.

The behavior exhibited by those politicians closely involved with the recall elections in Wisconsin illustrates how very little they care for the people that are responsible for employing them and for the potentially disastrous fiscal crisis we border on in the coming months.  As soon as they are elected, they look to the coming election or to unseating their opponents.

How pathetic.

Children behave better than those who bicker and argue over the simplest of agenda items.  Were we to survey members of White House Nannies, I would suspect many might suggest (off the record, of course) that little difference exists between the behavior of some of our elected officials and that of young children.  As citizens, we have the right – we are entitled – to expect better behavior from those that we charge with representing our interests.  Both Democrats and Republicans may claim victory in the latest playground brawl, but all of us are the losers.  All they care about is taking control.

We need to remind them that the control is ours.

Family Values Are Private, Not Political

by David T. Bruce

familyWe hear so much discussion regarding the sanctity of the family unit and the importance of family values.  With a presidential election soon to come, the rhetoric surrounding the sanctity and legitimacy of same-sex marriages will be talked about more so.  The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines family as “a group of individuals living under one roof and usually under one head.”  In this sense, a family can be what we typically envision, in which a man and a woman marry, raise children, and make a life for themselves.  Businesses, schools, and communities may also be considered families.

As a music lover and a fan of many bands, I read and hear arguments that any given band is no longer the band it once was without a certain singer or without all founding members on board.  This doesn’t seem quite fair.  The band may be different following personnel changes, influenced by the new member’s inspiration and talent, but the name carries on nonetheless.  Similarly, the family unit can morph and develop over time.

Family names carry on with the birth of a baby.  Parents are divorced.  A family member moves way or passes away.  The family unit changes, yet the family name carries on.  This concept of the family is not necessarily difficult for us to grasp.  If a family can be blended, changing over time, then can our definition of the family and of marriage change as well?

Granted, much of the controversy surrounding same-sex marriage is faith-based.  Presenting statistics is not necessary, however, when we begin to recollect in respect to how many times we have read of or heard of domestic crimes that occur within the traditional family unit.  Family values are not inherent to a marriage solely between a man and a woman, and the sanctity of the family unit is tarnished in the light of violent crimes within the family.

With these ideas in mind, I struggle to understand why same-sex marriages must be the platform of anyone’s political campaign.  With over 14 million Americans unemployed, over 69 million Americans on Medicaid, and a record 44 million Americans on food stamps, we have more to be concerned with in this country than two people falling in love, regardless of the genders of the couple.  A 2009 analysis published in the New York Times illustrated that the approval of same-sex marriage would improve the economy in New York City and New York State.  The same may be said for other states.

If our goal is to create a family unit with positive family values, then perhaps we need to reflect on our individual values that compel us to fear or hate two people because their vision of family skews our preconceptions.  A family can have value and realize love whether the family is guided by a mom and a dad, a mom and a mom, or a dad and a dad.  We need to put our resources and our energies to better use this election season.