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The public sector and my grandchildren

Posted: December 22, 2010 2:41 p.m.
Updated: December 27, 2010 5:00 a.m.

Jack is 6 1/2, and Frances Anne just turned 4. I will not burden you with tiresome anecdotes about how funny, quick and special they are. Just take my word for it: They are.

Like all grandparents, I want them to grow up safe and healthy, which got me to thinking about a few of the things we collectively, as communities and as a country, do to make that possible.

The air they breathe and the water they drink are cleaner, safer and healthier because of federal laws than they were when their grandparents grew up. The cars they ride in, because of government regulations and public law, which mandates seat belts and child safety seats, are a lot less dangerous.

They will get an excellent education at superior public schools in a county where 45 percent of the residents are African-American, Latino or Asian. The schools are integrated because their federal government ended racial segregation and guaranteed civil rights, including the right of all to public accommodations, to vote and to buy property. 

Jack and Frances Anne have fun playing on the public playground. They expand their imaginations at the public library. Someday they will visit the national parks and swim on a national seashore. They are fascinated by the Internet, the original version of which was designed in the 1960s (no, not by Al Gore) at the Department of Defense.

If either child falls sick and the family doctor prescribes a medicine, we know -- because of the Food and Drug Administration -- that the prescribed drug will be safe. Thanks to the Family and Medical Leave law, a parent, if necessary, can take time off to nurse a sick child/

When they come to visit us, we know -- because of the labels required by law -- the exact nutritional value and calorie count of the food we feed them. We also know, because of legal requirements, that the food we buy for them at the market is safe and has been federally inspected.

Because public law insists, we know that the buildings and the workplace conditions where their parents earn a living are neither unsafe nor unhealthy -- and that any creative product either of them authors will be protected by public law, copyright and the courts. We are confident that in the workplace they and their co-workers, because of federal law, will never endure discrimination based on gender, religion, national origin or disability.

Any airplane the family flies in will have to first meet federally imposed safety standards and will be guided from its takeoff through its flight and to its landing by professional air traffic controllers who are federal employees. Relying upon more than 140 million weather readings from satellites, ships, aircraft, land sources and balloons, the National Weather Bureau is able to alert us to sudden storms or worse.

Our public safety is maintained by local police, prosecutors and court system, as well as by state and federal officers. Our national safety is protected by the men and women of the United States armed forces.

The preceding is just a terribly abbreviated sampling of what government at all levels does every day to help make the lives of our children and grandchildren, of all of us, healthier, happier, safer and more prosperous. Everyone seems to know firsthand the shortcomings of government -- the too frequent indifference, even incompetence or arrogance -- but, especially at this special time of the year, we would do well to remember, even to appreciate, what government does do for those whom we love.


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