Taking A Breather

Every now and then, we just need a rest from life. A day off.

I took one today, by accident, but now I realize how good it was for me.  I stayed home to await a delivery that required a signature.  I worked from home, but did some other things too.  It was the “other things” that helped remind me that we all need a break, especially when we are pouring ourselves into something.
So anyway, I thought I’d take a moment and update my blog.  Here are some tidbits about P90X,  Lady Gaga, and an interesting social experiment.
I started the  P90X exercise series about a week ago. My good friend Howard told me about it.  Wow, I didn’t realize how hard this non-gym stuff is!  I can bench 135 pounds at the gym, but can barely do a pull up.  I can see I have some work to do.  It’s so depressing in the beginning.  I even took photos for the b4 and after.  Thankfully, I have been through this before, and know that the outcome will be successful, as long as the commitment stays intact.  That’s the cool thing about diet and exercise – it’s a sure deal (unlike most things in life).  However, this time I am 13 years older, and don’t quite have the same drive.  One day at a time.
Father’s Day was yesterday.  When I was buying flowers for dad’s spot, there was a woman there buying flowers for her 14 year old daughter who died last August.  This was their first Father’s Day without her.  We shared stories – she told me her mom had died a slow death from complications dad had – and that he was lucky that he went quickly, even though it was hard to see him go. We talked about the H1N1 flu shot – she said when she got hers, it just took her out for 3 weeks.  I swear, there  is a problem with that vaccine, and we will learn about it over time.  There are too many people who say they had problems with it, and as we know, it was the tipping point in dad’s health.  He was healthy up until he got that darn shot.
Now for some general observations:  I saw in the news that Lady Gaga wore fishnets, and a long (open) shirt to some baseball game.   So basically she looked like she was at home in her bathroom.
These people who want to be celebrities really “get” me….. it’s one thing to wear outrageous (albeit entertaining) costumes when you are performing, but it’s completely another thing to do it when you are living “life”.   And prior to this “showing”, she was at some game where she flipped off the photographers.
But really, she’s begging for attention, isn’t she?  Can you shout “LOOK AT ME” any louder?  And let’s face it, she may be entertaining on stage, but she (and others like her) don’t “get it” that we (the public) are not all that interested in seeing their  “act” at the grocery store, at the ball game, or anywhere else.    Leave the performing to the stages.  If we want to see  your act, we’ll go see it.  But stop taking everyday life events and turning them into your photo-ops at our expense.  (BTW, the people behind her did not seem too thrilled to be sitting there.  Made me start thinking about how unpleasant it would be to attend an event, only to find that you are  stuck behind someone who believes their own press clippings so much that they have to take their “character” to the ball game).
They need to learn “It’s not about them”.
Did you see the story on the world class violinist who played in a subway station?  It was about a  violinist  who played in a subway station on a rare violin – as part of a study on behaviors.  No one stopped to listen.  It was a social experiment.  But people were busy, going to work…
While it’s sad but understandable that we rush a lot, people seeking celebrity status should take note – we like our lives, and don’t necessarily welcome  them in to it when they insert  themselves via non-performing venues (like sporting events, malls, etc)  If you are a celebrity, and we like you enough, we will find you without you having to be “in character”.  And believe me, once that happens, you may be getting more than you bargained for.  There is a reason it is sometimes  called “selling your soul to the devil”.


Since I could not say this any better myself, I will just re-publish this here.  Mort Zuckerman’s “The Crippling Price of Public Employee Unions”, posted May 14, 2010 in US News & World Report.

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The American public feels it is drowning in red ink. It is dismayed and even outraged at the burgeoning national deficits, unbalanced state and local budgets, and accounting that often masks the extent of indebtedness. There is a mounting sense that taxpayers are being taken for an expensive ride by public sector unions. The extraordinary benefits the unions have secured for their members are going to be harder and harder to pay.

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The political backlash has energized the Tea Party activists, put incumbents at risk in both parties, and already elected fiscal conservatives such as Republican Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey. Over the next fiscal year, the states are looking at deficits approaching hundreds of billions of dollars. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a liberal think tank, estimates that this coming year alone states will face an aggregate shortfall of $180 billion. In some states the budget gap is more than 30 percent. The result is a crowding out of the state role as the supporter of adequate infrastructure, education, and healthcare.

How did we get into such a mess? States have always had to cope with volatility in the size and composition of their populations. Now we have shrinking tax bases caused by recession and extra costs imposed on states to pay for Medicaid in the federal healthcare program. The straw (well, more like an iron beam) that breaks the camel’s back is the unfunded portions of state pension plans, healthcare, and other retirement benefits promised to public sector employees at a time when federal government assistance to states is falling—down by roughly half in the next fiscal year beginning Oct. 1.

It is galling for private sector workers to see so many public sector workers thriving because of the power their unions exercise. Take California. Investigative journalist Steve Malanga point out in the City Journal that California’s schoolteachers are the nation’s highest paid; its prison guards can make six-figure salaries; many state workers retire at 55 with pensions that are higher than the base pay they got most of their working lives. All this when California endures an unemployment rate steeper than the nation’s. It will get worse. There’s an exodus of firms that want to escape California’s high taxes, stifling regulations, and recurring budget crises. When Cisco’s CEO, John Chambers, says he will not build any more facilities in California, you know the state is in trouble.

The business community and a growing portion of the public now understand the dynamics that discriminate against the private sector. The public sector unions organize voting campaigns for politicians who, on election, repay their benefactors by approving salaries and benefits for the public sector, irrespective of whether they are sustainable. And what is happening with California is happening in slower motion in the rest of the country. It must be one of the reasons the Pew Research Center this year reported that support for labor unions generally has plummeted “amid growing public skepticism about unions’ power and purpose.”

There has been a transformation in the nature of our employment. Labor is no longer dominated by private sector industrial workers who were in large part culturally conservative and economically pro-growth. Over recent decades public sector employment has exploded and public workers have come to dominate the labor movement. These public sector employees have a unique and powerful advantage in contract negotiations. Quite simply it is their capacity to deliver political endorsements and votes for the very people who are theoretically on the other side of the negotiating table. Candidates who want to appear tough on crime will look to cops, sheriffs’ deputies, prison guards, and highway patrol officers for their endorsement.

These unions will naturally back a candidate willing to support better pay and benefits for their members, and this means as much as, or more than, the candidate’s views on law enforcement. The result has been soaring pay and the ability of state police and other safety officers to retire with pensions that place an increasingly unbearable financial burden on the states. In California, such retirees at age 50 often receive pensions at 90 percent of their pay; comparable retirees in most other states get about half their final working salary.



In New York, public service employees have received gold-plated perks for much of the 20th century, especially generous health insurance benefits. Indeed, where once salaries were lower in the public sector, the salary gaps in the public and private sectors have disappeared in the last two decades, or even reversed for most job categories. A Citizens Budget Commission report in 2005 showed that for most job categories in the greater New York City region, public sector workers received higher hourly wages than private sector workers. And according to a 2009 survey by the same group, this doesn’t even count the money that New York City pays in full premiums for comprehensive health insurance policies for workers and their families. Only 8 percent of workers in private firms enjoy that subsidy. Moreover, in virtually all cases, the city also pays the full healthcare premium costs for retirees and their spouses. And the city pensions are “defined benefit” plans, which are more expensive since they guarantee specific benefits on retirement.

On the other hand, private sector workers in the survey were mostly in “defined contribution” plans, which means that, unlike their cushioned brethren in the public sector, they do not have a pre-determined benefit at retirement. If New York City were to require its current workers to pay contributions toward health insuranceequal to the amounts paid by the employees of local private sector firms, the taxpayer savings would approximate $628 million a year. In New Jersey, Christie says government employee health benefits are 41 percent more expensive than those of the average Fortune 500 company.

What we suffer is a ruinously expensive collaboration between elected officials and unionized state and local workers, purchased with taxpayer money. “Scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.” No wonder the Service Employees International Union has become the nation’s fastest-growing union: It represents government and healthcare workers. Half of its 700,000 California members are government employees. More and more, it wins not on the picket line but at the negotiating table, where it backs up traditional strong-arming with political power. It spends vast amounts of money on initiatives that keep the government growing—and the gravy flowing. Similarly, for the teachers unions—with the result that California and its various municipalities, especially Los Angeles, face budget shortfalls in the hundred of millions of dollars. California can no longer rely on a strong economy to support this munificence. Its unemployment rate runs about several points higher than the national rate and its high-tech companies are choosing to expand elsewhere. Why stay in a state with such higher taxes and a cumbersome regulatory environment?

California is a horrible warning for the nation of how dreams can turn to dust. In most states, politicians face a contracting local economy and shortfalls in tax receipts. Naturally, they look to cut expenses but run into obstruction from politically powerful unions that represent state and local government employees, teachers, and healthcare workers who have themselves caused pension and healthcare insurance costs to soar. It is not an accident that in framing the national stimulus program, Congress directed a stunning percentage of the $787 billion to support public service employees.

The lopsided subsidies for pension and health costs are a large part of the fiscal crises at the state and local levels. The subsequent squeeze on education and infrastructure investment is undermining the very programs that have made it possible for our economy to grow—thousands upon thousands of teachers let go, schools closed, mass transit slashed.

Between New York and California, the projected deficits run about $40 billion—and that doesn’t account for projected billions of dollars in the operating deficits in the states’ mass transit systems or the multibillion-dollar unfunded liability in many of the state pension plans. New York is badly hit because it is being deprived of tax revenues by the government’s indiscriminate attack on the securities industry, which has been so critical to the economy of New York State and to the United States.


Click here to find out more!City government was developed to serve its citizens. Today the citizenry is working in large part to serve the government. It is always hard to shrink government spending. It is particularly difficult when public sectorunions have such a unique lever of pressure.

We have to escape this cycle or it will crush us. One way is to take labor negotiations out of the hands of vulnerable legislators and assign them to independent commissions. They would have a better shot at achieving a fair balance between appropriate salary increases and the revenues and services of local municipalities. The electorate won’t swallow any more red ink