In Europe, Prosperity on Vacation

Boy, our friends in Europe sure know how to vacation.

If they get sick while taking their employer-paid vacation, their employer now has to pay them to take another.

According to The New York Times, all 27 countries within the European Union, and all employers within them, must abide by that recent vacation ruling by the EU’s highest court.

My hat goes off to my vacationing pals overseas.

Take the French. Their government mandates that every employee get at least five weeks of paid vacation. The French average 37 days of vacation every year — and 22 paid holidays on top of that.

Virtually all European countries have government mandates that require employer-paid vacation of four to six weeks — whereas America has no government-mandated vacation requirements.

European employees enjoy all kinds of additional workplace perks and benefits, too.

Canadian weekly Maclean’s reports that:

• “Spanish workers get an extra two weeks off for honeymoons, and 20 days of severance even if they’re fired with cause.”

• “In France, companies must give extra paid leave to staff who work 39 hours per week instead of the statutory 35, even if the workers are paid for the overtime.”

• “In Italy, firms that lay people off during an economic downturn can face years of costly legal proceedings. … Rome is proposing a law requiring employers to pay laid-off workers a whopping 27 months in wages.”

Vacations are way different in America. CNN says the average employed American worker got about 18 vacation days in 2011, but only used 14 of them.

And unlike our European counterparts, we never really “leave” work. Fearing for our jobs, with the economy still in the tank, we stay in touch with the office.

According to Rasmussen Reports, 72 percent of Americans use email, smartphones and other electronic devices to keep themselves accessible to their employers 24 hours a day.

It’s even worse for America’s small-business owners. According to Business News Daily, fewer than half take a week off during the summer. With the economy so uncertain and revenues down, many are afraid or unable to hire. They are picking up the slack by working two or three jobs themselves.

But we Americans are workers, I suppose. We’re so different from our European friends.

In tough times, we are happier working hard and keeping revenues coming in, rather than spending lots of dough at hoity-toity resorts.

We don’t like our government telling us or our employers how we ought to conduct business or how many vacation days employers must provide.

Heck, if our Supreme Court ruled that employers must not only provide paid vacations but pay for them all over again if an employee gets sick while vacationing, many Americans would take to the streets in protest.

Americans protest loss of their freedoms. Europeans tend to protest meddling with their government-mandated benefits.

At least that used to be a distinction between America and Europe.

Our government has been so busy handing out goodies to citizens, it’s just a matter of time before the freedom lovers are overrun by the benefit lovers.

It will be a sad day when that happens. We’ll have an even more anemic economy, just as most EU nations do now, and all of us will struggle to pursue happiness and wealth.

Oh, well, at least our employers will have to pay us for another week off if we get sick while we’re on vacation.

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Tom Purcell

Tom PurcellAfter an eight-year tour in Washington, D.C., where he worked as a writer and communications consultant, Tom Purcell returned to his home town of Pittsburgh, PA, land of friendly, down-to-earth people. He spends his days in blue jeans pecking away on his laptop in a coffee shop. Purcell's weekly column, now in its 15th year, is syndicated by Cagle Cartoons to hundreds of publications and Web sites nationally and internationally. It has been featured on the Rusty Humphries Show, the Laura Ingraham Show and the Rush Limbaugh Show, as well as other radio programs in Canada and the U.S.

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Plenty of G-20… and Sangria

Photo courtesy of Jeremy Brooks

And now, your report from the front lines of the G-20 summit recently concluded in Los Cabos, Mexico. And the good news is… no knife fights. Very little broken furniture; and for the very first time in recent memory, the proceedings were judged to be more boring than watching varnish harden, which is considered a huge coup for the host country. So, Viva Mexico!

The G-20 meets once a year and is made up of 15 or 16 of the top 20 countries with the largest economies in the world, excluding Norway, the Netherlands, Spain and a couple others, but including the European Union and some other countries with special ties to the organizers. You know, like in high school. If you help decorate Prom, you know who’s compiling the guest list.

Of course, Spain is allowed to crash the festivities every year even though they’re not actually members. Like the quarterback who gets suspended for the food fight in the cafeteria, everybody loves Spain and will sneak them through the back door of the party. Besides, they always bring the Sangria. And come on: they’re Spain!

An important thing to remember is the huge, intractable distinctions between competing governmental conventions. The G-20 has absolutely nothing to do with the G-8, which is made up of eight of the world’s top 10 economies excluding China and Brazil. And once in a while, the European Union wanders by, but that’s about it. Don’t even think of letting Spain in. We have our own Sangria, thank you very much. And we call it gin.

Like the G-20, the G-8 also meets once a year and was originally known as the G-6 and then G-7. So it would not take that great of a leap to put a couple of Euros down on another eventual name change to G-9. G-Double Digits, right around the corner.

And, as everybody knows, the G-20 replaced the G-33, which itself superceded the G-22, leading to speculation that the G-8 and the G-20 will someday merge and produce a mutant love child to be known as the GG-28, which will meet twice a year and hopefully be as boring as Day Three of hospital pudding.

This was the seventh meeting of the G-20, and the politics involved were breathtaking in a stupendously vapid way. Then nothing happened. And for nothing to happen on a global scale, with markets around the world as precarious as a glass sculpture above a nuclear test site located on an earthquake fault in a sandstorm, is exactly what everyone was praying for.

An official declaration recognized that agreements may very well be forthcoming but not until a framework can be forged to accommodate international justifications to absolve interested parties of any blame and/or responsibility. And Greece and Spain were never mentioned by name. But we all know who they are.

Internally, it was heartily agreed that decisive action will definitely be required. Someday. By someone. But not now. And definitely not by anybody here. Then Asia and Latin America quietly bailed out Europe, and nobody commented on the ignominy of it all, and they all retired to the big balcony overlooking the sea to dance and smoke and drink Sangria.

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Will Durst

Will Durst is a political comedian who has performed around the world. He is a familiar pundit on television and radio. E-mail Will at durst@caglecartoons.com. Check out willandwillie.com for the latest podcast. Will Durst’s book, “The All American Sport of Bipartisan Bashing,” is available from Amazon and better bookstores all over this great land of ours. Don’t forget to check out his rooftop comedy minutes at: http://www.rooftopcomedy.com/shows/BurstOfDurst.

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The Best, Most Disgusting Reporting on Food Safety

The recent brouhaha over pink slime (and other lovely mass meat production processes) is only the beginning. Here’s our roundup of some standout reporting about the food on your plate.

This is a multifaceted, perennial topic. If you think we missed any, we’re happy to hear suggestions. Please email a link to MuckReads@propublica.org or tweet it with the hashtag #muckreads.

Safety of Beef Processing Method Is Questioned, The New York Times, December 2009 A look at the development of Beef Product Inc.’s “novel” method of meat production that later became known as the infamous “pink slime.” Reporter Michael Moss won a Pulitzer Prize for his investigations into contaminated beef.

Our Dwindling Food Variety, National Geographic, July 2011 Our dwindling food variety, in a stride-stopping infographic. Contributed by @kleinmatic

What the USDA Doesn’t Want You to Know About Antibiotics and Factory Farms, Mother Jones, July 2011 The U.S. Department of Agriculture appears to have repeatedly removed a report by a USDA-contracted researcher that summarized recent academic work, from “reputed, scientific, peer-reviewed, and scholarly journals,” on possible links between antibiotic-resistant infections and factory farm animals. Mother Jones got a permanent PDF of the researcher’s report, dubbing it the “document the USDA doesn’t want you to see.” Contributed by @foodinteg

Asian Honey, Banned in Europe, Is Flooding U.S. Grocery Shelves, Food Safety News, August 2011

Some of the biggest U.S. honey packers knowingly bought honey of questionable quality so they could sell it on the cheap. Much of it was likely smuggled from China (honey the European Union has banned) and may have been laced with lead and illegal animal antibiotics — if it was really honey at all.

America’s Dangerous Food-Safety System, The Daily Beast/ Newsweek, September 2011 A shortage of inspectors in the U.S. food-safety system exposes Americans to the risk of illness and death. Contributed by @StepShep

Nation’s Food Anti-terror Plans Costly, Unwieldy, Associated Press, September 2011 An AP investigation into the United States’ $3.4 billion food counter-terrorism program found that progress had been slowed by a complex web of bureaucracy. Contributed by @joannalin

On The Menu, But Not On Your Plate, Boston Globe, October 2011 A Globe-organized DNA test revealed scores of mislabeled fish in Massachusetts restaurants, grocery stores and seafood markets. Often, “local” fish was actually hauled from thousands of miles away, and while some chefs and store owners seemed to have no clue, others admitted to knowingly selling mislabeled food to boost profits. Experts said it reflects a nationwide trend that causes diners to unwittingly overpay, may make people sick and results in overfishing.

Contributed by @JoeYerardi

Dispute Over Drug in Feed Limiting U.S. Meat Exports, MSNBC, January 2012 The controversial drug ractopamine has sickened or killed more pigs than any other livestock drug on the market, leading the EU and China, which together produce and consume about 70 percent of the world’s pork, to refuse meat imports raised on the additive. The U.S. pork industry wants to change their minds. Contributed by @NaomiStarkman

How Washington Went Soft on Child Obesity, Reuters, April 2012 The food and beverage industries have more than doubled their spending on lobbying in Washington in the last three years. And now Congress has declared pizza a vegetable. Contributed by @mariancw

A History of FDA Inaction on Animal Antibiotics, ProPublica, April 2012 Everything you ever wanted to know about the Food and Drug Administration’s actions, or lack thereof, to keep antibiotics out of your food.

As Beef Cattle Become Behemoths, Who Are Animal Scientists Serving? The Chronicle of Higher Education, April 2012 A growing number of animal scientists employed by public universities are accepting payouts from pharmaceutical companies. They’re often hired to persuade farmers to use antibiotics that fatten up cattle but haven’t necessarily been proven safe. Some have been banned in the E.U. and China. Contributed by @MelodyPetersen

Bonus points: In 1968, Nathan Kotz of the Des Moines Register and Minneapolis Tribune won a Pulitzer Prize for reporting on unsanitary conditions in meat packing plants, which, according to the Pulitzer site, helped ensure passage of the Federal Wholesome Meat Act of 1967. Anybody have an online copy?

 

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Blair Hickman, ProPublica

Blair Hickman, ProPublicaBlair Hickman is ProPublica's social media producer. Previously, she led online editorial and outreach strategy for Dowser Media. Prior to that, she was a multimedia assistant for the PBS series "Women, War & Peace" and a writer for Mediaite, focusing on news and emerging media. She's contributed content to a range of publications, including Jezebel, the New York Daily News and Patch. Hickman is a graduate of NYU's Journalism's Studio20 and Brown University's Nonfiction Writing program.

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