Opinion

Gregg Easterbrook

Politicians should stop crying “fire!”

Oct 27, 2011 20:52 UTC

The Senate just rejected President Barack Obama’s proposal to raise taxes on millionaires in order to “create or protect 400,000 jobs for teachers, firefighters, police officers and other first responders.” Whether the country needs more teachers and police is a fair question for debate. But firefighters? Firefighting is already featherbedded.

With stricter building codes, built-in sprinkler systems and the near-universal use of smoke detectors, incidence of structure fire in the United States has declined dramatically in the past generation. In 1985, there were about 2.5 million reported fires in the U.S. Since then, fires have declined steadily, down to 1.3 million last year. The report also shows that fire deaths are down from 6,000 in 1986 to 3,100 in 2010. That’s a 48 percent decline in both fires and deaths caused by fires.

Over that same period, the number of career (not volunteer) firefighters has risen from 238,000 in 1986 to 336,000 in 2010. That’s a 41 percent increase in publicly paid firefighters during the same period that safety technology has been able to decrease the occurrence of fire.

Yet national politicians keep advocating for more firefighters. During the 2004 presidential campaign, a standard aspect of John Kerry’s stump speech was a call for federal funding for 75,000 more firefighters. Now Obama has joined this fray despite the fact that pay and retirement benefits for firefighters are high on the list of what’s causing local-government financial trouble.

What’s going on here: where’s the fire?

We all fear fire, as we should. Having more firefighters sounds like a good precaution. One factor at work is that the public does not know about the decline in fire incidence. National leaders may not know it, either. That many fire departments are overstaffed is rarely mentioned, especially by firefighters’ unions. Local politicians who bring this up — most firefighting employment is by city or county government — may be perceived as attacking motherhood and apple pie.

An election to anticipate

Oct 20, 2011 15:13 UTC

Tired of cookie-cutter political contests between hauntingly similar candidates? Then you’re going to like the upcoming race for one of the Senate seats in the late Ted Kennedy’s haunting grounds. Elizabeth Warren, best known for creating and fighting for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, is hoping to challenge Republican incumbent Scott Brown. They’re both qualified, but they couldn’t be more different — personally or politically.

Brown, a former member of the Massachusetts state legislature, won a 2010 special election to complete the remaining term of the Senator Edward Kennedy. He is well-known for having been named “America’s Sexiest Man” by Cosmopolitan magazine, this distinction coming in 1982, when he was 22-year-old law student at Boston College. Brown spent many years in the Massachusetts legislature, and before that was the New England equivalent of a town councilman. He is well-qualified to represent Massachusetts in the Senate. Brown is conservative on most issues, calling himself a “Reagan Republican.”

Warren, a former Obama administration official, has declared for the Democratic nomination and is the favorite. She has been a law professor at Harvard and at the University of Pennsylvania, and is the author of a highly regarded book about middle-class living standards, The Two Income Trap. Warren is also well-qualified to represent Massachusetts in the Senate. She is left-wing on most major issues, to the left perhaps even of much bright-blue Massachusetts.

The former governor factor

Oct 13, 2011 20:25 UTC

If you’re thinking the jumbled Republican presidential field does not matter because whomever gets the nomination can’t win – think again. A Republican could well take the White House in 2012.

At this point in the 1992 election cycle, the elder George Bush held an 89 a 66 percent approval rating (update: on October 13, 1991, according to Gallup data on the Roper Center website). Back then, Democratic figures including Mario Cuomo did not enter the 1992 race because they thought the elder Bush was “unbeatable” – just as today many Republicans are not entering the race, thinking Obama is unbeatable.

But Bush was defeated by Bill Clinton, who, a year before his victory, was a low-name-recognition outsider with personal baggage.

A realistic Dream Act for all

Oct 10, 2011 18:32 UTC

Only in the bitter partisanship of our moment could Texas Governor Rick Perry be denounced because he expressed compassion. In the most recent Republican presidential debate, Perry was hammered for supporting a Texas law that allows illegal immigrants to receive in-state tuition discounts at public universities. Now he has apologized for saying those who oppose helping illegals attend college “have no heart.”

Perry was right the first time! Anyone with a heart should support the idea of allowing illegals to qualify for in-state tuition aid – generically, Dream Acts.

California Governor Jerry Brown just signed his state’s Dream Act, putting the far-right Perry and the far-left Brown on the same side of a major issue. Now, the nation’s two largest states will allow illegal immigrants to attend public universities at subsidized tuition rates.

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