A New Face of Government Welfare…the drawing of a Senator

This story is actually tough to write, but it was not as sad as the political responses from those who claim to want to restore America to its former greatness.

What images come to mind when you hear the term “government spending?”  Do those images result in anger or frustration?  If you are able to look beyond the rhetoric, do you still feel those same emotions?  What public services provided by government are valuable?  Ever thought about having to build your own roads, create and transport your own power, use any funds saved or paid by your insurance to repair not just your property but to rebuild everything in your community following a hurricane, tornado, or flood?  Of course all private business people are there in times of emergency and providing their services at cost or usually a loss just to get you back on track.

Think about it some services are worth paying for.  If that service comes from the government we pay for that convenience with tax dollars.  To determine if the service is worth the taxes paid, we simply balance the benefits we as residents and the nation as a whole receives from these public services.

That’s true of our local, state, and federal government.  Local governments vary greatly in how and who decides on tax issues.  States vary as well in that some states allow the Governor more direct authority while others leave more of that power in the hands of the state legislature or assembly.  Our Federal government is quite simple in that Congress controls the spending, and the raising of revenue through new taxation rests in the only Federal Chamber where the Founding Fathers trusted voters to elect their representatives, the House of Representatives.

There are people who abuse systems, but there are others who get caught unintentionally by such systems.  Many today want their simple partisan solutions.  As long as my side gets what I want, anything going elsewhere is a waste, a travesty of justice.  Sad, however, that only cuts to others fall within that realm of good government or the “desires of the Founding Fathers,” but even a minute slice of the same cut levied upon your hand is a destruction of America or founding principles.

This example is most certainly not the norm.  It would be one of those outlying data points on practically any statistical graphing used to argue cuts or to justify expenditures.  It’s not a statistic though.  It’s a man.  A man who according to the rhetoric should be placed in that discarded bin and labeled as served its purpose but now expendable.

My question to the Honorable Senator;

The elected Governor who quit to turn reality TV celebrity;

The Honorable Member of Congress who receives Federal subsidies for a part ownership on a farm which earned a profit, Federal grant money for a clinic operated by her husband, and yet is under investigation for not paying campaign workers;

The writers and online political personalities who hark on everything wrong and evil with the current President, but yet offer only criticism and not alternatives;

Why are individuals such as this citizen either ignored or unaccounted for in the ideas and legislation you apply and paint as your vision of the United States of America?

Here’s another example of a Democrat from the South living off of good peoples’ tax money according to the rhetoric.

The gentleman was born in 1926.  Calvin Coolidge was President of the United States of America.  The gentleman was too young to remember specifics, but his family struggled, yet they survived the Great Depression.  Letters written by his older brothers working for the CCC provide clarification on the images he remembers.

There are no questions about his recollections a few years later because despite being only 15 years of age, following the attack on Pearl Harbor this teenager forged documents to enlist in the Army.  He was wounded, POW for a short period, returned to action, and remained in the European Theater until returning home after V.E. Day.  He admits that he took some government welfare at that stage in life in the form of the GI Bill and with that assistance received a college degree.  He then went to work in a factory until resigning his job to reenlist during the conflict in Korea.  Shortly after signing up for a 2nd tour, he had the misfortune of obtaining a souvenir which he keeps with him to this day.  It’s not dreams or nightmares of combat and captivity which have never left, but the souvenir is a small piece of shrapnel embedded next to his spine.  Removing it meant the likelihood of paralysis, but aside from the scar on the outside and occasional twinge, that souvenir only changed his preferred work position from standing and using his entire body to sitting behind a desk and handling that part of hardware business he purchased from a relative to run.

During his time as owner, multiple generations patronized that business which increased in size to be among the largest employers in the county.  More satisfying to him than the store’s growth was that multiple generations from several families had been employed there.  A high school lad, working after school and Saturdays as a stock clerk in the warehouse, was performing the same duties as his father had before him who had worked the same starting job as the lad’s grandfather many years earlier.  The gentleman lost count of the number of high school kids who started working part-time and later became full-time employees and worked their way up the ladder to more responsibilities.  A number of employees had never worked for wages elsewhere in their entire life.  The final retail manager started as a part-time cashier, left to go to college, and came back to be near her family when she rejoined “the family as an accounts manager.

He enjoyed pointing out those employees in person, but the real glow came when speaking about the wall of photographs behind his large oak desk.  All were former employees.  Some had been part-time while in school and others full-time as adults, but they had left hardware for other pursuits.  Medical doctors of different specialties, dentists, veterinarians, teachers of all levels, a couple of bank presidents, 6 high level managers in Fortune 500 companies, 3 guys who made the Major Leagues in baseball, and 1 girl who won a gold medal at the Olympics Games.  He had a pronounced sense of pride moving along that wall of memories to mention a young man who started a repair shop and a young lady who opened her own restaurant.  He sort of beamed as he chuckled that that young lady had her daughter work at his store for a year before the daughter worked in the restaurant.

He spoke of the one position he never hired at his store which was someone who specialized in advertising.  Every two weeks he placed multiple item sale advertisements in the local newspaper, and the school yearbook had a full page advertisement listing all the student employees for that year.  Other than that, you would find the store name on the uniforms of the youth baseball, softball, and soccer teams sponsored by the business each year.  He donated as well to other civic and community groups and causes, but admitted that while he might give more money to a dance recital or concert, he much preferred to watch the sports leagues and rarely if ever viewed the programs or advertisements.  If his wife, family, friends, neighbors, employees made the case that the cause was commendable and beneficial to community and participants, he would support it.

As he spoke about business, the bottom line of profits and losses became interwoven with stories of local history and world events.  When he first saw a new continent as a teenager and another as an adult, he never thought about how events thousands of miles away could cause the price or desire for seemingly unrelated items he carried to increase and decrease.  Still, he said that his simple philosophy of quality service and quality products to keep customers coming back was the key whether the year was boom or bust.

As he walked he looked inside the newspaper box and read aloud its headline story about Obamacare.  He really didn’t have an opinion because as he said he had not read the legislation for himself, he had only heard others speak of it.  The complaints, however, that he heard would not have changed his business in any manner.  Part-time workers were most often kids from the local high school or individuals who had retired but wanted something to do in retirement.  All the other workers were full-time.  He provided all of them with the same health insurance that covered him and his family.  He also had various retirement and savings plans for all employees.  The most difficult thing in his mind was that the number of choices for retirement and savings increased tremendously during a period a score or so years ago.  The reason for that was a former employee became a “hotshot” investment broker.  At that point different options became color coded as to the potential amount of risk involved if someone chose to participate in that particular plan.

The amount he spent on health coverage did increase throughout the years.  He always had someone monitoring different plans to get the most coverage for the least cost.  His deciding factor, however, was the quality of the plan.  If he did not feel comfortable with his family on the same coverage, he wasn’t comfortable giving that same coverage to his employees.  He could have saved money and increased profits by cutting some corners, but he viewed the decision as short term versus long term profits.

Over the years, very few employees quit.  Those who did leave for better opportunities most often did so in a manner which gave him time to hire a replacement and have that replacement trained by the employee leaving.  As he stated, he felt that loyalty and being able maintain a high quality of service and performance during these transitions more than offset any additional funds spent on better employee benefits.  Also at times of when employees had personal emergencies, their coworkers took on additional responsibilities without being asked or directed.  They knew that if the roles were reversed that he and the other workers would do the same for them.  He recited the Golden Rule, and added the credo of JB Books (John Wayne’s character in his final movie, The Shootist):  “I won’t be wronged, insulted, or laid a hand on.  I don’t do these things to other people, and I require the same from them.”  With business he said, treat others fair and insist on being treated fairly.  That applies to boss, employee, and customer.

The end of this local homegrown business is the story of some of the more recent practices in society.  He declined offers to sell from some well established big box chains.  When a couple located in the area, he could still compete in terms of pricing because his business had grown to a large enough level.  They could not compete with him when it came to quality and service.

The difference, however, was that he continued sponsoring activities in the community and as always paid his share of taxes.  The big box stores did not have the same tax obligations.  They received public services paid by tax dollars, but deals had been struck giving them both short and long term tax breaks to open stores in the area.  Officials felt that these stores brought enough additional financial incentives such as increasing the number of customers by getting those from outside the county to shop there.  The new stores created jobs as well.  For the officials, it was a win/win decision.

It was a little different for the established businesses, however, as they did not receive the same financial incentives.  Even those capable of competing with lower prices, could not afford to sell items at a loss as the big box retailers did.  The older businesses had that extra overhead in the terms of taxes to pay, while the outside chains did not thanks to the incentives.  Ever so slowly, businesses began to close their doors as the customer base shrank as it shifted to the lower prices.  The gentleman and his hardware enterprise were among the last.  Perhaps if he had been younger, he would have continued, but at this age he could not be certain that he could protect his employees who were family because they worked for him.

Leaving the business world, and a real, full, retirement approximately 20 years after becoming eligible for Social Security benefits has not been one of rest and contentment.  He has no resentment to the big box retailers or even to those who in his words “used the tax breaks as stink cheese on their fishing hooks to land some lunkers.”  He wishes that they had fished with worms or artificial lures and fished for either food for the table or for the relaxation instead of throwing “cheater bait” on the first cast to land the trophy fish with time left over for other things.  Still, he harbors no regrets about his business start to conclusion and everywhere in between.

The lack of rest and contentment is watching some of his former employees, the people who became his family, struggling.  The work ethic is there along with the necessary skills and knowledge.  He saw it first-hand for many years.  The pay and benefits of these employees is lower than when he initially hired them.  Most he argues are underutilized as the innovation and customer service which maintained his business has gone the way of conformity, following plan-agrams, worrying about punching a timeclock.

Still, he tries to maintain faith in the government.  He served his country as did many of his employees in the military.  Others may not have served in the military, but have worked dangerous occupations often as volunteers.  Both men and women have been firefighters and members of law enforcement for no or minimal pay.  Many others have assisted the elderly, the disabled, and others less fortunate because they believe that a community is only as strong as its weakest resident.

Why though is learning information about government services and programs becoming limited more and more to those who seem to have a special passkey or have the funds to obtain such information?  The talk is wasteful spending, and he has seen evidence of that his entire life.  The difference he sees today is that more is spent and given to those who already have and want more than to those who have nothing.  At one time, he could have received a preferred loan because of his military service to start his own business.  He chose not to take out that loan because he had other resources.  Still, his Congressman, both of the United States Senators, and elected officials at state and local levels made it a point to provide him with all options available.

Today, though, the idea of informing the public is apparently evil.  The argument is akin to that of the starving man.  If we give him fish, he will only desire more and will return for more.  What happened to teaching a man to fish and showing him how to use the tools so that he is no longer dependent upon another?  Some in the government talk that talk, but have yet to start making that walk.  Those in power and those with connections can justify their corporate welfare.  If that was the correct approach, wouldn’t the economy be in better shape?  Wouldn’t the jobs have greater benefits than before the job creators received these special incentives?

What kicks him in the gut and rattles the shrapnel next to his spine is how some want to spin welfare.

You may agree or disagree with this from the United States Senate Budget Committee.

He fought for that right to agree or to disagree.  The question, however, is when is teaching or informing those less knowledgeable an act of evil.  Here, is that reprehensible document cited in the report explaining how to “overcome the word ‘No’.” 

These are senior citizens.  These are the people who built their businesses and created jobs.  These are the people who treated their employees the way the felt people who employed them should act.  These are not the people blaming everyone else for the problems of society.  These are not the people reaping the profits from knowing all the loopholes.  These are not the people talking about America as a great country as long as they can continue to profit as a carpetbagger or scalawag.

A single tear fell from his eye as he remarked that he never thought the day would come when the only political figure in the United States who is willing to address the questions and concerns of people like me, this old man, is a President born in Hawaii who later lived in Chicago.  He probably disagrees with President Obama as much as he had every President he actually remembered for his lifetime beginning with the faintest recollections of Herbert Hoover’s voice on that box radio at the dry goods store.   Still, President Obama speaks but the opponents attack the words without offering something different.  They attack the President not for things he has or has not done, but for things made of air or constructed with straw and not bricks.  They may talk, but it is at this gentleman senior citizen, not to him, and definitely not for him.

Those espousing that rhetoric to fan the flames may regard this retired Veteran and business older as a good for nothing unpatriotic American.  The gentleman’s reflection, however, is that he sees in his own mirror.  A young man who served his country, a man in his prime who built a business and created job opportunities for many, a senior who learned that the government sometimes favored special interests over people like him.  If he was one the new faces of government welfare and what was wrong with America, so be it.  He’ll put his career against those who simply talk and point fingers because they are only concerned with enriching themselves and not leaving a United States of opportunity for all.  A second tear falls in that the nightmares of combat have been overtaken by the ingratitude and disrespect by a group of people who claim to fight for him.  At least he still respects the President, even though the President is not a native son to the South.

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