Saturday, January 29, 2011

Just how bad is it?

So just how serious is unemployment?
For those without a job, it’s darned distressing. For those who have jobs, it’s a matter of thankfulness and hope they don’t become a tick on the unemployment rate. But what’s the economic impact?
As reported by the Texas Workforce Commission this month, there are 1,133 people in Palo Pinto County who are unemployed. In addition, the workforce has declined, people moving away to find work elsewhere.
Just for the unemployed, figured at the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour, the loss in income adds up quickly. How about $8,214.25 per hour? How about $65,714 per day? How about $328,570 per week?
That’s the wages that go unpaid, only marginally offset by unemployment payments. From that would come federal income and other taxes, with the balance being spent locally, money that would be used for necessities — food, gasoline, utilities and even sales tax. And that is only one county among 254 and one state among 50.
While Texas focuses on the increase in jobs, the lower unemployment rate compared to the nation and the better economy in Texas — all true — the reality is this county and probably many others are seeing the very real effects of fewer jobs.
What’s the answer?
We wish we knew — and even if we did, who would listen? Congress can take steps to ease the tax burdens on employers, eliminate the stone that hangs over the heads of small companies by rescinding the health-care overhaul that will hurt employers and others and ease cumbersome and worrisome regulations.
The state can balance its budget, but it should not be at the expense of taxpayers who will be required to pay higher fees and higher local taxes to fund mandates from the state Legislature. Gov. Rick Perry has stated he wants a balanced budget with no new taxes, but the last time that happened legislators pushed requirements on counties and cities that required tax increases there.
Perry can say the state didn’t raise taxes, but the reality was more taxes were required to pay the bills locally.
While lower taxes are wonderful and beneficial, the reality is services will have to be cut. It is already happening with the Texas Department of Transportation as roadside parks are being closed unless county governments or other entities agree to maintain those facilities. More cuts are likely to occur, not just there but with other agencies as well.
It would seem reasonable to assume lost wages because of unemployment play a large part of these shortfalls.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

A question answered

I had asked the question of my friend some 30-plus years ago.
“Oh, just a little hand-to-hand,” he responded and said no more.
He had been one of only two people in our field who had been awarded the Silver Star for action in Vietnam. And, as with most people who receive awards for heroism in combat, he was not willing to talk about it — until last week.
The Silver Star is the third highest medal given for heroism and may be awarded to any person who, while serving in any capacity with the U.S. armed forces, distinguishes himself or herself by extraordinary heroism.
“Vietnam, huh?” he responded to my question.
“Only if you want to,” I answered.
He paused for quite a while before he began. He had been in country for four weeks, stationed at Pleiku. His unit supported Special Forces bases by responding to calls for destruction of unexploded ordnance and booby traps. A Special Forces camp had been attacked by North Vietnamese and needed help removing unexploded rounds.
They flew in, he and his NCO, the camp still receiving fire, he told me. The pilot told them he couldn’t land but would get about 10-feet above the ground. They would have to kick out their equipment and drop to the ground.
“The ground was covered in body parts,” he reflected, his eyes focusing on that faraway place.
They made their way to the command post to find that only seven Americans were still alive. The rest were South Vietnamese, some Montagnards.
They continued to receive fire for two weeks.
He said he was in a mortar hole when the Special Forces lieutenant said he and his team were going to the top of a hill to their right. When it was secure, the lieutenant said he would fire a green flare and they could follow.
“I could see green tracers coming across from the hill to the left,” he recalled, his voice subdued.
When the men stood to move forward, machine guns opened up from several directions, killing three men immediately.
“I looked around and the Vietnamese were all hiding behind sand bags,” he said. “I slapped one up side the head, grabbed his M-60 (machine gun) and some ammo.”
His voice began to break and he struggled to control his emotions as he relived that day so long ago. It was the first time in over 30 years I had seen him struggle so — it broke my heart.
“At the end there were 70 dead,” he said quietly, adding that they were men, like him, doing for their country what he was doing for his.
“I didn’t want the Silver Star,” he said. “I told my captain I didn’t want it.”
Special Forces had nominated him for the award and his commander convinced him to take the few minutes to accept it.
“Have you ever talked about this before?” I asked.
“No,” he said almost inaudibly, nearly sobbing.
I know he didn’t tell me everything that happened that day, but he told me all he could.
Nor has he forgotten returning and the people at Seattle who spit on him as he came home from a war he did not start but one in which he served his country.
He has spent his life serving his nation, continuing even after retiring from the U.S. Army — no bitterness, just the memories of a man who asked for nothing yet gave so much.
Including his name is not important — it is but one story of courage — like so many more rememberances of veterans who still struggle with the memories of a time long past, yet the events remain so fresh.
There are heroes among us, those who give their all for their comrades and their country. Their stories often go untold, their deeds forgotten by others. But their memories of the horrors of war linger long after the ceremonies and honors they so richly deserve.
God bless them one and all and may they find his peace.