I Have a Gripe

February 24, 2011

Christie’s Proposed Budget Pits Neighbor Against Neighbor

Filed under: Economy,government,Healthcare,New Jersey,Politics — alvb1227 @ 7:02 pm

So earlier this week Governor Christie released his proposed budget. Now that my headache has dulled and my eye has stopped twitching, I can now give my opinion. In two words: it stinks.

The Governor has successfully pitted neighbor against neighbor by tying tax cuts to more give-backs by state employees. Now, regardless of which side of the fence you are on, I think I can make some solid arguments, so I ask you hear me out.

First, I believe most reasonable teachers, police officers, EMTs, fire fighters and the like understand that they need to make contributions for their long-term healthcare. However, what Gov. Christie is asking for is completely unreasonable. Thirty percent? In one year? I’m sorry, but that is not realistic. Just like other “non-union” families, the economy has hit union families hard and many are barely hanging on. This would certainly put them over the edge of financial stability.

Many who do not do these jobs complain how “easy” they have it by either not working the summer, writing tickets unnecessarily, or my personal favorite comment I have ever read, “he never pulled his weapon,” have no idea what is involved in serving and protecting New Jersey communities.

What politicians have done successfully is create a civil-war-like atmosphere across the state, and now, across the nation.

In a previous post, I discussed what unions have done for the working public at large. Now, unions have added to the trouble, but right now, I believe it is Gov. Christie who is creating the large majority of animosity.

Now, in the interest of fairness, I supported and voted for Christie after Steve Lonegan lost in the primary. I agreed with a number of the plans Christie had for the state at the time of his candidacy. Since then, he has turned into a one-trick-pony in my opinion – beating up on state workers, and more specifically, teachers.

Some may say, “he has never specifically gone after teachers; just their union,” and that is true. However, his constant barrage has trickled down into general hostility towards teachers. If this keeps up, people will not want to do these jobs. Where will that leave our state then?

Ultimately, I think everyone needs to take a deep breath, go back to their corners and regroup. Come back with some realistic and sensible solutions that can work for everyone. Because in my opinion, this budget surely isn’t it.

February 22, 2011

The American Labor Movement – A Brief History

All that seems to be on television lately is the “war against the unions” and how they are bankrupting our country. I thought I would take a moment to remind everyone about what unions have done in the past and continue to do now.

Now in the interest of full disclosure, I have several family members who are in a union. I am not and was actually turned down for the typographer’s union after graduating college because I wasn’t a “traditional typographer.” I believe the unions have done and continue to do a lot of good, however, at the same time, they have not kept up with the times. My rejection is a perfect example.

The first labor law to protect working children was first put into law in Massachusetts in 1836. Massachusetts’ chief justice, Lemuel Shaw ruled in 1842 that a strike for a closed shop was legal. By 1886, the Knights of Labor was a champion for the unskilled laborer and encouraged and fought for its African-American membership.

Since then, unions have fought for safe working conditions, the eight-hour working day, supported equal rights and equal pay in the workplace for minorities and women, a minimum wage, healthcare and more. The concept of the “weekend” is because of unions. The entire country celebrates “Labor Day.” Whether or not you participate in, or agree with, the union and labor movement, you have benefited from it.

That is what they have done right. Unfortunately, there are plenty of things they have done wrong. I don’t believe that a majority of dues should pay for supporting political candidates. They have not kept up with the times in areas of education and training, technology, accepting membership from technology-based changes in the industry (like me) and of course, contributions to healthcare and pensions.

What is going on in Wisconsin, Ohio and my beloved New Jersey is shameful. I would think most reasonable people understand they have to contribute more to their pensions and healthcare benefits. It is disingenuous, however, to expect unions to give up collective bargaining or make a union member make a huge jump in contributions in one year when so many families are already hitting tough times and barely hanging on.

These Governors don’t understand that their hateful comments about “union management” ultimately hurt those who actually do the work every day. I guarantee, this is the new class warfare.

So both sides are right…and wrong. All this back and forth isn’t helping anyone. To quote my Grandmother: “fight nice children.”

February 16, 2011

My Perspective on the Budget

So the President released his budget plan this week and of course the GOP has their own plans. Of course, this lead me to want to jot down my thoughts on how to handle the budget.

Now first and foremost, I am far from a financial genius. I do, however, have a brain and on occasion, have been known to use common sense. To me, this is a common sense approach to spending.

First, can someone explain why the budget is still printed…on paper and ink? Anyone ever hear of a secure sharepoint? They definitely need to look at Congressional/Presidential printing. I would think that could save a nice chunk of change.

Next, look at all the places around the world where we have military bases. Do we really need all these different bases? Close some of those bases and reassign those troops stateside. That would both save money and bring home our wonderful military so we aren’t spread so thin.

Third, address illegal immigration. Now, before you go off the deep end on me, hear me out. Illegal immigration goes beyond an immigration policy or national security. It sucks up valuable resources, such as public education, ER care and other social resources. This all costs money. If we get our act together by resolving our illegal immigration policy, it will solve multiple problems at once.

Now, let’s address Congress. First, they should stop automatic pay increases. Whether or not they vote on the increase, they get it. Additionally, in order for Congress and the President to get what we “common folk” have been dealing with, they should each take a five percent paycut. Additionally, everyone is complaining about public employees, their benefits and other so-called perks. In order for a member of Congress to be vested FOR LIFE, they must serve for five years. New Jersey teachers must teach for 25 consecutive years to be vested. How about some outrage on that? Five years? Seriously? Also, upon retirement, they receive 80 percent of their salary as a pension. For starters, drop it to 70 percent. Finally, they should contribute three percent annually to their healthcare coverage both while in Congress and when they “retire.”

Moving on to the Department of Education. Cut it out completely. It isn’t needed and all it does it use its funding to stick its nose into local affairs. It just makes things more complicated.

Next up, Social Security. Let’s face it, more people my age believe that Area 51 exists than they believe that they will get what they have paid into Social Security. And to be clear, Social Security, like unemployment, is not an entitlement. An entitlement is a gift from the government. Welfare and Medicaid are entitlements. Our taxes go to social security, therefore, it is not an entitlement. The President should follow the recommendation from his debt own commission and raise the retirement age. Additionally, you should be allowed to “opt out” of Social Security. I would rather have that money in my check and decide how to invest it than leave it to the government.

Finally, move to a flat tax system. This way there are no loopholes, everyone pays in, regardless of their income level and has a vested interest in what happens to our nation. Currently, two percent of the wealthiest individuals pay over 40 percent of the taxes and will never use any of the services they support. Everyone, regardless of income level, should pay taxes. Otherwise, it is just a handout, which prevents people from feeling the pride of providing for their well-being. Additionally, just think of how many jobs could be cut. And let’s face it, who wouldn’t want to see a smaller IRS?

Well, that’s where I would start. I think these cuts would provide a solid start in getting federal spending on a real cost-cutting plan.

What would you do?

February 15, 2011

2010 Medal of Freedom Recipients and the Arts

Filed under: General Annoyances — alvb1227 @ 7:48 pm
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For roughly the last hour, I have been watching the coverage of the Medal of Freedom ceremony. It honored many different individuals that have made great contributions to our nation and our world. I did find one point interesting; the number of artists being honored.

Artist recipients included Yo Yo Ma, Jasper Johns, Maya Angelou and Jean Kennedy Smith, founder of VSA, an organization that provides educators, parents, and artists with resources and the tools to support arts programming in schools and communities with a focus on disabled individuals.

What great contributions to the arts from these people.

Now, those of you who read my blog regularly know where I am going with this. Without the arts in our schools, would Yo Yo Ma be the musician he is today? Would Maya Angelou have found her voice? Would Jasper Johns be such an inspiration to so many artists? I wonder.

Again, the arts and music play an important part in a child’s development. When these programs are eliminated in the schools it not only robs the students of an opportunity to explore their artistic abilities, it potentially robs us all of the future of an artist.

I hope this gives many pause that feel the arts and music in schools is nothing more than “fluff.”

February 14, 2011

Teacher Suspended for Blogging About Students – A Different Perspective

Filed under: Education — alvb1227 @ 12:36 pm
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Last week, a Philly teacher was suspended for blogging about her “rude, disengaged, lazy whiners” of a classroom full of students. Of course, everyone is quick to beat up on the teacher. Now in the interest of fairness, I don’t know about her exact situation fully, but I thought I would provide a different perspective.

Many expect schools to provide both education and parenting. With schools providing in some cases three meals a day, after school care, full day kindergarten and more, I can understand how teachers can get easily frustrated. Parents expect the schools to do more and more…that is, until the schools attempts to reprimand students or correct poor or unacceptable behavior. Then they often step in.

From what I heard in an interview this morning, the teacher did not user her real name and did not use student names while blogging. Out of the 80-something entries over two years, about 20 were related to her job.

What really burns me about this whole story is that you have widely used websites like RateMyTeacher.com where students blog and openly complain about their teachers with no questions asked.

I hate to sound like one of those people, but when I was a student and came home to complain about a teacher, my parents would say “well, what did you do?” Now it is “what did the teacher do to upset you?” The roles have reversed and not always for the better.

Are there bad teachers? Of course. Just like there are bad accountants, police officers and office workers. Should those bad teachers be dealt with? Absolutely. But I ask where do the parents step in and, well…parent?

On Friday I saw an interview with a former student saying “she didn’t respect us.” Well my young man, respect goes both ways and is earned. It doesn’t sound like you and your classmates respected your teacher.

February 11, 2011

Mubarak Resigns (Finally) – What’s Next?

Filed under: International News,Security — alvb1227 @ 5:17 pm
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It appears the protesters in Egypt have won. It has just been announced that Mubarak has resigned.  As I watch the news and read posts on social media, I am seeing mixed emotions. Just like everyone else, I feel compelled to put in my two cents.

What country can preserve its liberties if its rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance?-Thomas Jefferson

I know many worry that this is going to be an opportunity for extreme groups, like the Muslim Brotherhood, to take over and yes, that is possible. But I have to tell you, I don’t see that happening. Let me explain why.

In my opinion one of the reasons Iraq has become such a nightmare is because you can’t just hand someone their freedom. Freedom needs to rise up from the people, just like it did here in the U.S. over 200 years ago. I really believe they are going to watch diligently to see who tries to rise to power and will not allow extremists to take over.

This rise up in Egypt has came from the people. They have taken control of their neighborhood with checkpoints and watches. They have protected the elderly. They fought back thugs sent in by the government. They have created a “tent city” which could almost be considered a microcosm of a new society.

It also seems that the Egyptian people trust the military, so I think for now, the people will be comfortable with that while change is taking place.

So what should we do as Americans to support this change? First – pray. Pray for the people of Egypt that they will stay diligent and understand that this is the beginning of a long process. Second, as K.T. McFarland put it, “one election does not a democracy make.” Like we did when the wall fell, we should send individuals, not to dictate, but to advise only. Let the Egyptian people know we support them and will help them through this. The U.N. should send in people to help, but we all know they are useless and corrupt, so it is probably best they stay out of it.

So who could rise to power? I think Google Exec Wael Ghonim might be a good place to start. He was a major factor in the “social media uprising” and seems to have a calm and even head.

We can only hope that this is a first step for those who have been suppressed, especially in that part of the world, will see all of this as an inspiration that they can be free as well. Ultimately, this will make the world safer, if successful, because it could potentially minimize the influence of extremists and let the “common man” take control of their own destiny.

God Bless the people of Egypt.

February 7, 2011

NFL Players Union vs. Owners: The Ultimate Nonsensical Showdown

While the football season is over by less than one day, reports on the news about collective bargaining have already begun. Some are already even talking about a lockout for the next season. I’m sorry, but if you ask me, both sides need their heads smacked together like Moe.

So most of these team owners are billionaires and most of the players are millionaires, plus the  millions they make in endorsements. The NFL wants to extend the season by two games, the players want more money (big shock) and the owners don’t want to share (again, big shock).

So, let’s make the assumption that everyone doesn’t play nice and they go to the lockout. Who is this really going to hurt? The guys who sell the hot dogs, the people who take the tickets and all the other people with jobs related to the games, but don’t play in them. I seriously doubt that any of these individuals are millionaires.

So what is this really all about in my opinion? One word: Greed! The median salary for an “average” player is roughly $700,000. The median salary for the “average Joe” is $46,000.

Also, let’s think about the prices of tickets for a game. In 2010, Giants tickets increased 26 percent to $111 for an average ticket and Jets increased 31.8 percent to $114 on average according to an article on the New York Post website. So, when a father wants to take their child to a game, when you count up two tickets, parking, a couple of hot dogs and sodas and maybe some kind of souvenir, we are up around $500 for the day. Seriously, who can really afford that?

So while all the boys posture for position, I suggest they remember who their fans are and what it costs for them to attend a game. Ultimately, if they go to lockout, it will hurt the NFL big time. In today’s society of high unemployment and making tough family budget decisions, I think the fans will retaliate and just like the last lockout,  it will take a long time to win back the fans.

Trust me, the NFL, the owners, the players; they will gain sympathy from no one. They all need a dose of reality.

It is Our National Anthem – Don’t Embellish

Filed under: Celebrity,General Annoyances — alvb1227 @ 12:15 am
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So today is one of the unofficial American holidays – the Super Bowl. I love watching football. As a kid, there was nothing like Sundays in my house. We had fans of the Giants, the Steelers, the Redskins, the Niners (me), the Houston Oilers (yes, that’s how long ago I’m talking), the Cowboys and probably more that I am forgetting. While we are a proud Jersey family, there were three Giants fans in my house throughout my life.

I have to say I really enjoyed the pre-game Fox did this year. The reading of the Declaration of Independence was great. What bugged me was the National Anthem.

First of all, it is our National Anthem. There should be ZERO embellishment. If singers want to embellish or put their own spin on something, then do that with your own songs. Not the song of America. I know some of you are thinking “this is America, we are all about individualism.” Yeah, well, not when it comes to the song that defines us as a nation.

Second of all, KNOW THE FREAKIN’ WORDS! Yes, this is a huge venue. Yes, I’m sure there is pressure. But you know what? You’re supposedly a professional – act like it. If you can’t handle the jitters, then don’t accept the gig.

So, what do we take away from this Christi–uh–children? Play is straight and know the words. You’re an American after all.

Yes, this makes me nuts. This is why…I have a gripe!

February 2, 2011

Shame on you President Hosni Mubarak

Filed under: International News — alvb1227 @ 10:32 pm
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I have watched the protests in Egypt of the last week with both hope and sadness. Today, I feel disgust.

What President Mubarak doesn’t seem to understand is that he needs to go…NOW. Not in the fall. This is the only thing that will help stabilize Egypt. Today, I watched with horror as so-called “pro Mubarak” protesters magically appeared right when the Internet was turned back on and country-owned media just happened to be on the scene to cover it. How shameful and obvious.

I personally love how many of the Egyptian people are starting neighborhood watches, conducting spot checks, working to protect Egypt’s priceless antiquities and checking in on their elderly neighbors. They are doing the best they can do to keep order in their neighborhoods. This speaks much to their hopes for the future.

Yesterday, Neil Cavuto ended his show with his usual “Common Sense” segment and he wrapped up the issue perfectly. I join the many voices urging President Mubarak to resign for the good of his nation…NOW.

February 1, 2011

The Arts & Music Should Still Matter in Our Schools!

Filed under: Education,Finances,General Annoyances,New Jersey — alvb1227 @ 12:43 pm
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As all my readers know, I am a great proponent of the arts in our public schools. I have said repeatedly I am the person I am directly because of my involvement in my school’s music program growing up. I even married a band director!

Well, yesterday I read an article on NJ.com about a string teacher that was laid off in Paterson, but he still comes to the town on his own time on Saturdays to continue to teach his kids at a local church…for free. He uses his unemployment check to buy instruments and he makes his own instrument repairs. This makes me proud, sad and angry all at once.

First, I am so proud of this teacher. He personifies all that is right about New Jersey education. A large majority of teachers in New Jersey (as well as around the nation) take their role very seriously. They look at their position in the community as a true calling and understand the responsibility of shaping a child’s future.

I am sad that such a good teacher lost his job. You can just tell what he does is so important to him. He gave up a lucrative career playing music around the world to teach in a district with at-risk youth. He should be applauded instead of laid off.

I am angry that, as usual, the arts and music are considered fluff in schools today and are often the first thing to be eliminated from a district. There has been study after study that the arts and music have a direct impact on how well a child does in school. If we are trying to make such a huge push on math and science, you would think that schools would everything in their power to have their students succeed. Those tools to succeed should include programs in the arts and music. But no, it is much more important to do standardized test after standardized test. Yeah, that really makes a difference.

While it is a movie, if you have ever seen “Mr. Holand’s Opus,” this actually has some very true moments. While I love this movie, it makes me angry because hits a little too close to home. There are two quotes from this movie that really ring true to me:

“Well, I guess you can cut the arts as much as you want, Gene. Sooner or later, these kids aren’t going to have anything to read or write about.”

“The day they cut the football budget in this state, that will be the end of Western Civilization as we know it!”

Today in our society, we are too quick to cut the arts and music over sports. We value professional sports players who are often terrible role models for our children. Just look at Michael Vick, Ben Roethlisberger, Kobe Bryant, Dante Stallworth…I could go on and on. The real role models are our teachers, police officers, fire fighters and members of the military. But they are just considered “ordinary,” so they really don’t count. Teachers are mocked more than revered. And while our New Jersey Governor claims to not be in the business of bashing teachers, his constant assault on the teacher’s union has trickled down to an even lower opinion of teachers by the public than before.

I was never a “sports kid.” I was a “music kid.” I understand sports have an important place in today’s schools, however, music and the arts should not be immediately cut as a cost saver. All too often sports are one of the school’s “sacred cows.”

So, I say shame on your Paterson school district and all the other schools around the nation that are so quick to cut the arts and music without fully understanding all that music and the arts do for their kids.

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