Friday, November 25, 2016

Watching Slums Burn: Why Privatization Can't Fix Our Fire Departments (Or Our Schools)

Our new town has a serious problem with the fire department. 

It's poorly managed, morale is dangerously low, and the most important needs -- training and equipment -- are consistently under-funded. In reviewing last year's budget, an obscene amount of public funding is wasted on an elite firefighter sports league, which even included a new athletic complex (ironically, closed to the public). 

One councilman likes to point out that the new bird-watching trail in The Woodlands received more public support, campaigning, and funding than a much-needed upgrade to the city's original Fire Station #1 built over 100 years ago, and still serving our downtown neighborhood. 

Rather than replace the fire chief and a few captains, and rather than support our firefighters by paying a solid livelihood, several community special interest groups successfully pushed legislation that diverts public funds toward private fire safety initiatives.

Below are four case studies from the new program: 

1. The most interesting story to come out concerns the 24-acre estate of an oil exec just inside city limits. He applied for (and received!) public funding to set up his own personal fire safety system. 

To his credit, it's a very innovative and already successful automated advanced warning system. The nearby fire chief (whose station had its budget cut to help fund these private grants) said the estate's fire safety system would be an ideal addition to any home, but homeowners would need a significant amount of personal capital, in addition to the fire safety subsidy.

2. In an unsurprising outcome of this new program, the gated community a few blocks to our north hired private firefighters and built their own station by combining neighborhood HOA funds with a private grant from the newly established public fire safety fund. 

Within the first two months of establishing their own department, the community lost a house to fire, because it was delinquent on HOA fees, and therefore not eligible for coverage by the private station. 

In a calamity of unfortunate events, the nearby city department responded in plenty of time, but a hose malfunctioned, and firefighters could only pull the family to safety, as the house burned. An investigation is pending, since the defective hose failed inspection two months ago, but has yet to receive approval or funding for replacement.

In an irate statement to the press, the city fire chief blamed private fire safety initiatives for siphoning funds away from basic supplies and staffing needs for his public stations. 

The neighborhood HOA president is stepping back from candid remarks made to a local news crew covering the fire: 

"While it is unfortunate to lose a house in our neighborhood, we are thankful everyone is safe. I really believe this fire is a blessing in disguise for this family. I mean, now they are free from those HOA fees that they couldn't afford anyway! And it's probably for the best that they just move to a neighborhood that's, um, more affordable for them. They'll still have the public fire station any time they need it! I mean, the public station didn't help them this time, with that hose problem and all, but um, I'm sure they'll be fine! It's just so important for people to understand their financial responsibilities when they move to a neighborhood like this, even with a publicly-funded private fire station. It's such a special neighborhood, and everyone just cares for everyone else in such a special way."

Needless to say, plenty of YouTube tribute videos are already satirizing her comments over a slideshow of burning infernos, with much social media criticism for the pillaging of public safety funds for private neighborhood safety programs.

3. A volunteer fire department formed in one of our middle class neighborhoods. They used a grant from the public safety fund to daisy-chain hoses and splice into nearly every spigot on the block. While the fire chief has openly condemned their methodology as outdated and ineffective, this neighborhood's response time and success rate far exceeds the public fire stations.
Unfortunately, neighbors with disabilities can't participate, since the co-op system depends on a base of participants with the physical and mental capacity to actually fight fires. 

Also, any family with two working parents isn't allowed to participate in this style of public-funded fire protection, because someone must be home at all times and available to fight fires as they occur.

4. Finally, there's a very devout Christian community on the far east side of town. The city built a special fire station to service this area, but since it was a government building, the firefighters couldn't put up religious articles or host Bible studies on site, so with a grant from the new public fire safety fund, the community built a secondary "Christian" fire department nearby. It actually serves as a very popular community center as well, in addition to their neighborhood church.

With necessary budget cuts to the public program, to allow for the funding of these private fire safety programs, the original fire station servicing this area needed to close. It wouldn't have been a big deal, but some livestock were just killed in a barn fire last weekend, because the Christian fire department is closed on Sundays.

By Kpahor (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons
Just to clarify, I fully support letting people in our town take whatever personal measures they feel are necessary for fire safety, whether it's a private, co-op, or religious solution. 

I just can't understand why we're funding their private endeavors that are incapable of serving the safety needs of everyone in the community, instead of investing in the personnel and infrastructure we already have to fairly distribute fire safety services to everyone. 

Alright, I'm not talking about fire departments. I'm talking about schools, and the popularization of a national voucher program allocating public funds for private or homeschool education. 

An education voucher system diverts money from fixing a good and necessary program into an inherently unequal distribution of special interests. It ignores -- and worse, dismisses -- the needs of the most vulnerable:  children of extreme poverty (who can now get a voucher to a more exclusive school but still can't afford the transportation across town, uniforms, supplies, lunch, or after-school care), and those with physical and mental disabilities who are regularly turned away from private school options. 

As a final thought, the voucher system does to education what Obamacare did to healthcare: provide government subsidies to private companies in an attempt to provide basic services for everyone. Prices skyrocketed, services fell, and while the elderly and poor could fall into safety nets of Medicaid and Medicare, and the rich could get by as the rich always gets by, the middle class loses. 

Thursday, November 10, 2016

In Defense of Therapy Dogs, Peaceful Protests, and Millennials In General

Here we go again with overly dramatic protesters who can't seem to let things go and somehow twist everything into a personal attack against themselves. We've raised a hyper-sensitive generation who can't even handle one of the most basic tenets of our republic. A legitimately-elected new president has sent young people whimpering into safe rooms, clamoring for support groups, and wandering city streets en masse in protest. My God, they're so fragile! 

You know who I go to when I've had a bad day? Millennial friends. You talk about people who get people. 

Far from being the self-centered dysfunction of their generational stereotype, millennials are adaptable, sympathetic, and driven for a good cause. They volunteer, they give, they collaborate, they prioritize people over productivity (and usually accomplish both). 

Most of these "ridiculous" millennials aren't protesting the legitimacy of the election. They recognize President-Elect Donald Trump is our new, duly-elected commander-in-chief. 

But we raised this empathetic, young generation to identify with the fear and insecurity of others. With the anti-bullying movement of the nineties, we taught these children to befriend an outcast on the playground, to stand up for the weird kid in the neighborhood, and include everyone when they play games. 

And now we're shocked that they grew into young adults with the same ideals? 

Many of my friends and family voted for Trump, and among these good people, I cannot name a single one who actually represents ideals of misogyny, racism, or homophobia. 

However, there were plenty of crisis moments throughout Donald Trump's campaign for president when Muslims, women, immigrants of Mexican and South American descent, and those who identify as LGBTQ, all had legitimate reason to fear a Trump presidency. 

And while I do not condone any of the violence that has accompanied a small number of the mostly-peaceful protests across America, I applaud millennials for reaching out to those who feel marginalized, and standing with them in solidarity. 

Yes, maybe we're cultivating a "soft" culture in a young generation that doesn't have the wherewithal to "suck it up and move on," who want to cuddle with therapy dogs, who crave group support, and who need to process feelings instead of feigning strength.

To me, this is both hopeful and wonderful. 

Our participation-trophy culture of helicopter moms softening every blow, and anti-bullying propaganda from Pre-K has produced the most empathetic, peaceful, generous people, and they fill me with hope for the future of our country. 


Wednesday, November 9, 2016

President-Elect Trump: He Was Not My Candidate. He Is Now My President.

He was not my candidate. He is now my president. 

And even though my heart isn't in it, and my mind is exploding, he has my support. I would expect the same from Mr. Trump's followers, if we were addressing, instead, a Madame President in two months.

I strongly disagreed with President-Elect Trump on much of what he said, regarding both policy and people. 

While some of his policies were appealing, I questioned their motivation and feasibility. 

Now we see if the promises can be accomplished:

- He will clear out unnecessary bureaucracy and cronyism in our government.

- He will replace Obamacare with "something better."

- He will bring jobs back to our heartland.

- He will ensure religious freedom. [For all: not just Christians.]

- He will work to make abortion illegal.* 

- He will secure our borders to make us a safer nation.** 

I hope our country grows stronger under President Trump. I hope our country does not become strong on the backs of the weak. I fear for those who are immigrants, Muslim, LGBTQ, single mothers, and especially, children in poverty. 

*To those who joyfully await the legislative end of abortion in our country: please, I beg of you, do not walk away once we flood our nation with babies in poverty and disability. Yes, they deserve to live. But they deserve to live in loving homes with quality healthcare. Every child deserves this. Please support legislation that protects children once they're born.

**I understand national security. I do not understand punitive deportation for those who are here peacefully with hope for a better life. I don't believe the Bible supports blanket deportation either. 

Deuteronomy 10:18-19 – “For the Lord your God...loves the strangers, providing them food and clothing.  You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”

Let's move on, united. 


By Max Goldberg from USA - Trump CAUCUS, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=47178138