Celeste Headlee, The Takeaway
Celeste Headlee, is a former co-host of The Takeaway.
I read newspapers, blogs and books all day. I spend four hours live on the air, but much longer than that reading material from all over the world. While absorbing all that information, it's inevitable that I will make connections between seemingly unconnected data points.
And today, my mind is building a bridge between the Frito-Lay headquarters in Plano, Texas, voters in Arizona, and the now-demolished home of Gene Cranick in Obion County, Tennessee. In case you haven't seen this unbelievably story, let me recap: Gene Cranick lives outside the city limits of South Fulton and he's required to pay a $75 annual fee for fire protection. Cranick did not pay that fee. So when a small trash fire that his grandson started grew out of control and Cranick called 911, the fire department refused to help. And here's the worst part of the story: they came to the property to save his neighbor's home. From the MSNBC article: "Firefighters did eventually show up, but only to fight the fire on the neighboring property, whose owner had paid the fee. 'They put water out on the fence line out here. They never said nothing to me. Never acknowledged. They stood out here and watched it burn,' Cranick said.
Cranick and his family lost their home and everything in it, including their three dogs and their cat. A victim to a "zero tolerance" policy when it comes to city services. Believe me, my heart goes out to Cranick and I can hardly bear the thought that his pets died inside the home while firefighters stood outside pouring water on the fence next door. It's a senseless waste, and a horrible tragedy.
Looked at from a purely pragmatic angle, it makes some kind of sick, crazy sense: local budgets are strained and sometimes busting all over the country. From my limited research, it looks like it costs about $4500 for a city fire department to respond to a 911 call. The national cost of fire department salaries? Almost $37 billion. In light of that, $75 a year seems like a bargain for fire protection of your home. And perhaps the city can be forgiven for trying to teach people that public services cost real money.
That appears to be a message that Americans need to learn. Case in point, the second news story that caught my eye: the state of Arizona is in its third year of severe budget deficits. But a poll of voters says they don't want to pay more taxes to make up the difference, even though they don't want to see cuts in services. Basically, they want fire protection AND they want to keep their 75 dollars. Clearly, the city of South Fulton could afford to send firefighters, because they DID. There is no moral defense for the firefighters who watched the Cranick home burn to the ground. But many cities probably can't afford it, and at some point, Americans have to accept that we can't have smooth, safe roads, robust police and fire departments, and strong schools without paying for them. You can't eat the cake and keep it on the plate.
And speaking of eating... I'm now brought to that story from Frito-Lay in Texas. I was thrilled when I went to the grocery store last year and saw that Sun Chips were available in biodegradable bags, made from plant parts and not plastic. At last! A common sense solution to the environmental problem. Well, guess what? People complained so much about the noise the bags make, that Frito-Lay is going back to plastic (with the exception of original flavor, which will still come in plant-based packages). The company says they got thanks from people for the bags, but responded in the end to a flood of complaints about noise.
Noise. Really. In polls, most Americans say they're concerned about the environment, but they're not even willing to put up with extra crinkle sound? (Heaves heavy sigh.)
I realize that modern American society is based on a certain assumption that we can have all we want without sacrifice. But we can't. We enjoy one of the lowest tax rates in the world. Believe me, I understand how painful it is to see all those deductions on my pay stub, but the alternative is poor – or even non-existent – public services. Tight budgets are no excuse for punishing individuals unnecessarily, but tough times in the home are no excuse for not paying for the schools, roads, police and fire fighters that we depend on. And noisy bags don't mean we keep dumping plastic into landfills.
When you eat the cake, it's gone. If you want more, you'll have to pay for it.