All talk, and no game…

united states currency seal - IMG_7366_web This has been a very frustrating political year. All of the candidates seem to have managed escaping answering real questions, once again. The so-called media seems to have no interest in the truth any longer. Where does that leave us?

I have been asking that very question for some time now, and I think I have an answer. We need to stop listening to Fox News, CNN, MSNBC, PBS; stop buying The New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, etc… Stop giving them our business until they stop trying to play politics themselves. All we see is a non-stop barrage of spin from one side or the other (depending on the source.)

Romney

Maybe, if they see that we are no longer willing to put up with them talking circles around the issues, we can get them to actually start reporting the news and informing the public properly. Tonight is the first presidential debate for the 2012 election season, and I can’t help but wonder if it’s all just a waste of time. There’s no question what Obama’s intentions are, we can simply look at what he started and know that he will continue that agenda. Romney’s lack of personality shows us that he will say whatever it takes to get in, and then follow the party line.

We don’t need party lines, and we don’t need empty shells. We don’t need Obama-style spending, and we don’t need his kind of future. America is broke, and lost. We need to focus on getting the people back to work, freeing the education system from all the restriction that reward apathetic teachers. We need to have a little less talk about religious issues like abortion and gay marriage, and a LOT more talk about fixing our budget crisis.

Barack Obama

Today I was watching a morning news program (national, not local) and they asked people to tweet what they were looking to hear the candidates discuss tonight. Once again, people are too worried about OTHER PEOPLES’ LIVES, and asked for more of the same! Is it any wonder why the parties never get anything done? It’s because they spend so much time bickering over things they shouldn’t be legislating that they can’t stop for ten seconds and talk about what really matters right now. Leave social discussions for when the economy is booming.

We (as a society) will never agree on social issues completely, so why do we expect our government to force our own ideas on others for us? Does it really affect YOU if some woman in Florida gets an abortion? Does it really affect YOU if a same-sex couple in Idaho wants to get married? The answer to both questions is NO! A truly faithful Christian would not judge, and would not try to force their will on others. So let’s all get over it and move forward so that our country can move forward.

Money

I fully expect the time to be wasted on such issues, and allow the party-drones more time to spin the lack of economic growth. We need to hear about how they are going to do the following things, in order of importance:

  1. Get Americans back to work by bringing manufacturing back to America
    • We cannot provide for the needs of a middle class with service industries that pay barely over minimum wage
  2. Reduce government spending!
    • We don’t need to be building bike-paths, funding research on the mating habits of termites, or making bridges look pretty. We need to minimize to help reduce the cost on the American public that has already taken so many hits through a terrible economy and lack of jobs that pay living wages.
  3. Balance the federal budget!
    • This should not require raising taxes! Reducing spending will do it.
    • Make the tough decisions that will anger a lot of people, but be better for the country as a whole. You CAN keep your office if you do this, look at Wisconsin and how Gov. Scott Walker managed to stay in office through a recall campaign that seemed relentless in it’s desire to vilify a man who was actually doing his job!
  4. Restore our rights that were taken away in the name of “fighting terrorism” (both sides took part, so this is NOT a partisan issue)
    • “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.” -Benjamin Franklin, 1775
  5. Restore the American image abroad, to what it was before we started trying to tell the whole world how to run their own governments
    • Our government needs to understand that what we think is “just” or “right” here, may not be seen the same way in other places. Just like it’s not our place to run an individual’s life, it is not our right to run a sovereign nation.
  6. Get America back to the top of the education pile.

Best Television Ever.

I just finished watching the first episode of “The Newsroom,” which is an HBO original series about a somewhat asinine (yet likable) news anchor named Will McAvoy. Will, played by Jeff Daniels, had allowed himself to become one of those Anderson Cooper types who nobody really seems to dislike… Until he did this, within the first 9 minutes of the show:

College Girl: What makes America the greatest country in the world?

*Some talking-head crap responses from all involved, and then the moderator (professor) tells Will that he wants a “real human moment.”

Will McAvoy: “It’s not the greatest country in the world professor, that’s my answer.”

Professor: “You’re saying…”

Will: “Yes.”

Professor: “Let’s talk about…”

Will: “Fine.”

*Turns to female news-anchor to his right*

“Sharron, the NEA is a loser. Yeah, it accounts for a penny out of our paycheck, but he gets to hit you with it any time he wants. It doesn’t cost money, it costs votes; it costs air-time, column inches. You know why people don’t like Liberals? Because they lose. If Liberals are so fucking smart, how come they lose so God damn always.”

Sharron: “Hey…”

Will (turning to face Conservative Anchor): “And with a straight face, you’re going to tell students that America is so star-spangled awesome that we’re the only ones in the world that have freedom? Canada has freedom. Japan has freedom. The U.K., France, Italy, Germany, Spain, Australia, BELGIUM has freedom. Two hundred and seven sovereign states in the world, like a hundred and eighty of them have freedom.”

Professor: “Alright…”

Will (turns to student asking the question): “And yeah, you, sorority girl. Just in case you accidentally wander into a voting booth one day, there’s some things you should know; and one of them is there’s absolutely no evidence to support that we’re the greatest country in the world. We’re seventh in literacy, twenty seventh in math, twenty second in science, fourty ninth in life-expectancy, a hundred and seventy eighth in infant mortality, third in median household income, number four in labor force, and number four in exports.

We lead the world in only three categories: Number of incarcerated citizens per capita, number of adults who believe angels are real, and defense spending where we spend more than the next twenty six countries combined… Twenty five of whom are allies.

Now none of this is the fault of a twenty year old college student, but you, none the less, are without a doubt a member of the worst ‘period’. Generation ‘period’. Ever ‘period’. So when you ask what makes us the greatest country in the world, I don’t know what the fuck you’re talkin’ about… Yosemite?!

Sure used to be. We stood up for what was right. We fought for moral reasons. We passed laws, struck down laws for moral reasons. We waged wars on poverty, not poor people. We sacrificed, we cared about our neighbors, we put our money where our mouths were, and we never beat our chest. We built great big things, made ungodly technological advances, explored the universe, cured diseases, and we cultivated the world’s greatest artists AND the world’s greatest economy.

We reached for the stars. Acted like men. We aspired to intelligence, we didn’t belittle it, it didn’t make us feel inferior. We didn’t identify ourselves by who we voted for in the last election, and we didn’t scare so easily.

We were able to be all these things, and do all these things because we were informed. By great men, men who were revered.

The first step to solving any problem is recognizing there is one. America is not the greatest country in the world any more.”

Now, if you didn’t want to read all of that, that’s OK. We can move on to my commentary without you knowing anything at all about what I’m trying to say…

This is one of those subjects that gets people angry, and then they react brashly, as if someone has just come in and raped their mom, or killed the dog with a blazing hot fire-poker. Everyone has a lot of things to say, while they have no idea what the facts are.

English: Map of the geographic regions of Wisc...

We live in a country where more people would fail a basic geography test, of their own state, than would actually be able to accurately tell you what our rights happen to be. This is not the symptom of being the greatest country on Earth, it’s a symptom of having lost that spot, but not the attitude that goes with it. Do you think that the Chinese people are standing about wondering what some gold-digger in Beverly Hills is doing? No. They are working their asses off to continue building the world’s NEXT greatest country. I wish them all the best, honestly. I just hope they learn from our mistakes and don’t let it all drop out from under them after they’ve had it for a decade or two.

I’m not going to go on about the show’s writer, because you have other blogs for that. What I am going to do, is recommend you watch the first ten minutes of this show while it’s available here on YouTube. It’s not available in all parts of the world, but if you’re clever with Google, you can get a copy that works. It doesn’t matter that it’s a TV show, or that it’s written by a very clever (if not preachy) Hollywood type. What matters, is that it’s one hundred percent, completely, without argument…

The truth.

Can we face this? Can we admit it? Can we fix it?

I think we can, but we have to care less about Hollywood than we do about Washington. When I say Washington, I mean D.C., not the state where petulant teen-dramas about stupid sparkly vampires get filmed.

Too much? I think not.

The Cost of Living…

When you first look at the graphic above, you will focus on your own state, we all do. Upon taking a closer look, you will see that no part of the United States allows a person, who is single, to live on their own with just a minimum wage job. This data is based on rent consuming 30% of your income, which is rather fair considering taxes and health insurance now take around 25% for someone on minimum wage.

20 Dollars art5

This means that in order to pay rent, in Wisconsin, you will need to work 79 hours a WEEK. Otherwise, you will be using one full paycheck (at 40 hours a week) just to pay rent, and the other to pay the remaining bills associated with having an apartment (heat, electricity, water, sewer.) This leaves nothing at the end for things like food, gas (automotive,) phone, or internet. Now, internet may be a luxury, but I firmly believe that a phone is a necessity as one can’t keep a job if they cannot be contacted by phone.

Part of the problem is that landlords are increasing rental prices every year, regardless of their costs rising or falling. I can’t fault them completely, because if they have prices that are far below the average, then they will attract a certain type of tenant that is not exactly desirable. Another major factor is the number of retired people who are now taking up a lot of the living spaces in more rural areas. Wisconsin Rapids, Wisconsin, is home to the highest population of people over the age of 65 (per-capita) in the state. This means younger people, who do not have the savings or jobs to afford to compete with life-savings accounts, are being pushed out and forced to move.

Adapted from Wikipedia's WI county maps by Bumm13.

The young people then have to have multiple roommates to survive, or are forced to move back in with their parents. It’s not at all uncommon to see many homes becoming multi-generational family dwellings these days. This is where an entire young family moves in with their parents, often placing three (sometimes 4) generations under one roof.

The demand on housing is costing young adults the ability to even get started with their own savings to send kids to college, let alone retirement. You may have noticed that I have taken a bit of an ageist tone with this post, but I am just calling it as I see it. The aging population of this country is suffocating the younger generations out of housing, and is the single largest reason why such high salaries are demanded here.

We need to find a way to bring the prices back in line with starting wages so that people have a fighting chance. Perhaps if some of the retired folks moved to traditional retirement locations, instead of small communities which are already struggling, the prices could relax.

retirement

I don’t blame the retired people, I blame the civil servants who enacted policies that favor one group over the other. We would not have such a huge influx of older people if there were not incentives put in place to encourage it. The city council here has been so focused on providing for the needs of the elderly, that they forgot the needs of the people who still work, and the needs of the people who are just starting out. When all you have is elderly people and their support staff, you guarantee that your community has an expiration date. Once the older population passes away, the support staff will leave, and you’ll end up with another Flint, Michigan, only you won’t have a mega-corporation like General Motors to blame for it.

Politicians need to stop worrying so much about elections, and instead they need to actually do the job they volunteered to do.

Political Head-Spin…

The state capitol of Madison, Wisconsin

I am not going to turn this into some grand post advocating for Democrats or Republicans because, let’s be honest, both sides are exactly the same. They bicker until after elections, all the while, accomplishing nothing. Then (after they are either going home anyway, or are safe) they try to push things through right before the end of the term. The only other thing they seem to love doing is hiding stuff in bills that “must” pass, so we don’t notice or at least can’t tell them not to do it.

So… No, I don’t really like any of them.

Today I am going to focus on an article that was brought to my attention yesterday. It’s an old article, but the headline is rather shocking.

“The Wisconsin Lie Exposed – Taxpayers Actually Contribute Nothing To Public Employee Pensions.”

In the article, you will find that semantics are what we are actually discussing. The headline is a sensational one, which is very misleading. Let me break this down so that we can all grasp it a little easier (that’s not meant as an insult to anyone, but I am assuming that most people who will see this are not financial planning experts.)

"Teacher Appreciation" featured phot...

Unions don’t bargain for wages, they bargain for “Packages.” This includes: Wages, Health Care Insurance, Vacation/Holiday pay, Retirement/Pension plans, etc… The sum of all those costs are wrapped up in a “Compensation Package” that the employee receives. Some of this will show on a paycheck, some will not. Wages are simply the money someone receives on their paychecks; hourly or salary pay. All of that money comes from the taxpayers, regardless of how you want to define or categorize it, and WE DO pay ALL of it. What Walker’s plan is doing is this: Recover some of the fringe costs by deducting that from the salary portion of a teacher’s pay, then return the saved money to the general fund. It is a pay cut, spun to sound nicer.

I will use a fictional, but realistic example to demonstrate how Walker’s plan works.This is NOT an argument for or against the plan, just a realistic breakdown involving truth, and no spin or rhetoric. If you want to skip it, just skip the blue section.

First, let me explain my compiling and give my source: Wisconsin DPIOn that site you will find an excel spreadsheet giving key financials for every school district in the state of Wisconsin: 2011 Average Salary Report for Teachers. That is a direct link to the excel file, so if you cannot open .xls files, you may encounter problems. I do believe OpenOffice can open these files with little problem.

In that document you will discover that there are 424 school districts in the state, and the following sort-able metrics: Low Salary (actual), High Salary (actual), Average Salary (total of all salaries divided by number of salaries), and Average Fringe (no data provided for actual fringes.) There are many other ways to sort the data, but these are the ones that matter for what I am doing here.

I averaged each category, and here is what I came up with:

  • Low Salary: $32,721.25
  • High Salary: $64,274.30
  • Average Salary: $50,627.00
  • Average Fringe: $27,052.76

So, now I can make a fictional school district with those metrics. I took the three salary numbers and averaged them, which gives me $49207.52 per year. I will make the district employ 73 teachers, all making that rate. They all will receive $27,052 in fringe.

 

Before new “contribution”

After new “contribution”

Base Salary

$49,207.52

$49,207.52

Total Contribution

$2,952.45

$5,412.83

Salary – Contribution

$46,255.07

$43,794.69

Fringe

$27,052.00

$27,052.00

Package cost                   (Base + Fringe)

$73,307.07

$70,846.69

District Total Pay      (Package * 73)

$5,351,416.11

$5,171,808.37

State Total Pay**              (Package * 59,552)

$4,363,383,420.54

$4,219,062,082.88

The difference is $179,607.74 just in my fictional district where everyone receives the same amount of compensation. If we expand that to the entire state, the savings are $144,321,337.66… Yes, almost one hundred fifty million, which works out to about $25 for every man, woman, and child in the state***. The savings are a little different when you use the real numbers, but this was an exercise that everyone should have been able to follow.

Tax

The bottom line is: no matter how you want to word it, taxpayers DO pay for public employee “fringe” packages. We pay for every cent the government pays out, no matter how or where it goes. While the CONTENTS of the article, and the one it got it’s information from, are technically true… The headline is  a ridiculous sensationalistic attempt to sway people to one particular side of the argument. The writer of that article knows full well that most people will only see the headline, and then spread it around without ever reading the contents therein.

Using a headline like that is not reporting, it’s misleading.

**According to Teacher Portal there are 59,552 teachers in Wisconsin. ***According to the US Census Bureau.