Category Archives: politics

Why I think you should vote

The problem with what Capitalism has become is that we are now being told that the well-being of the corporate entity is the most important thing – more important than the well-being of the individual. We are being fed – in slow, measured, half-truth doses – the idea that if the well-being of the individual needs to be trampled upon in order for the corporation to thrive, then that’s what needs to happen. And I use the word thrive on purpose. No corporation is content to simply exist. It has to grow. And it has to grow more this year than it did last year. If something comes along that slows that potential growth, or threatens to stall it, the corporation fights back. And they employ us to fight their battles for them. This belief that we’re no longer important, that we’re no longer a considerable part of the equation, is so ingrained that we will now come to the defense of the same corporate entities that consider themselves our superiors, and consider us as just tools.
Take the new Health Care law. Take Cap and Trade. These things threaten the businesses that make up the insurance and energy industries. They respond by making the argument that these laws will lead to higher premiums and rates, and that will hurt the economy/struggling families/the recovery/America. This is all they need to do to launch an army of screaming voices, howling that the law or the rule or the regulation is the enemy. “Kill the Bill!” “This law is bad for America!”   Instead of holding the corporations and big businesses and mega-banks accountable for the indignities and injustices they pass down to us, we will loudly and righteously blame the law, and specifically the lawmakers for our predicaments. How can we not? Under this belief we’ve been fed that corporations (and of course shareholders) have an inalienable right to make a profit, we can’t possibly believe them to be the enemy. If we’re being burdened by high fees, or bills, or premiums – the fault must somehow lie with lawmakers. Lawmakers make businesses do these things to us. If lawmakers would just leave businesses alone, and not tell them what to do, everything would be just fine.
Everything would be just fine for those businesses. They rest of us can just pull ourselves up to the table for another serving of shit stew.
Big Businesses have no soul, and are guided by no morals. They are guided by profit only.  Businesses don’t give a damn if you’re safe at work. They don’t care if you get paid a decent wage. They don’t give a fuck what happens to you if you get laid off. They have no good reason to treat you fair, and every reason to abuse you in order to make a profit. The ONLY thing that prevents them from doing this is our government, in the form of the lawmakers we elect and the laws they pass for our benefit. Laws passed by our government are the closest thing to morals that a business can have.
You have absolutely no say in who runs Bank of America, or Exxon, or Goldman Sachs, or any other business. You can’t tell them what to do. They don’t have to listen to you. You don’t get a vote (except in the form of stock, which you can buy). You do have a say in who runs your government. You can tell them what to do. They do have to listen to you. You do get a vote, and you don’t have to pay for it.
There are no lack of those who are telling you that there shouldn’t be laws that restrict how much businesses can pollute, or charge in interest, or fees, or premiums. If they argue that a lack of regulation will benefit you, you already know that’s not true. So you don’t hear this argument very often. Instead, you hear that the regulation will cause the businesses to take actions that will harm you. They say the regulation will lead to higher prices, higher premiums, job cuts, new and higher fees. They essentially make the argument that the regulation will result in the same negative outcomes that the businesses would be completely free to impose on us without the regulation. Somehow, unimaginably, there are people who see logic in this.
Your government, the one you are freely able to choose, is the only thing standing between you and the businesses that see you as no more than the means to a bigger profit. Your guns won’t stop them. Your god won’t stop them. Your outrage will not stop them. The only thing with a chance of stopping a business from doing whatever the hell it wants, to you, is your government – your elected representatives.
Would you choose to let go of your raft and trust that the ocean will treat you fairly? If you choose to elect people who insist that businesses have your best interests in mind, and that your government has no place in regulating them, you’re doing just that. And frankly, you deserve whatever awaits you as you drift helpless, having voluntarily given away your only chance at survival.
The government isn’t your enemy. Big businesses are.
Vote wisely.

Both sides have it wrong

In one corner, the Republicans want  to “cut taxes, spend less” .  Is anybody even paying attention anymore? In order for the government to cut taxes, they have to spend more. It doesn’t matter who the hell is getting the damned tax cut: you, me, Richy McMoneybags, big businesses, small businesses….. the who is absolutely irrelevant from the standpoint of the dollars themselves. Every dollar in tax cuts is a dollar that the government would no longer have, and to make up that loss, they borrow. It’s no different than me taking a cash advance on my credit card and calling it a pay raise. It’s not. It’s a lie, even if you choose not to believe it.

It was my understanding that the government got its money from us, through taxes. I know now that that is a gross simplicity meant to distract us.  The government borrows the money it doesn’t have. When it can’t get it through taxes, or “gives it back” (read: doesn’t take it in the first place) though tax cuts, it simply goes to the FED and borrows it.

Spending is spending. Plain and simple. If I hand over $500 cash for a television, or write a check, or swipe the plastic – it’s all spending. You’re either spending money you have or money you borrow. It’s no different when the government does it. They would have you believe differently. They would have you believe it “more complicated than that”.

No. No it really fucking isn’t.

So when someone tells you that their grand plan to get our economy going again is to cut taxes and spend less, and you take a break from your beer long enough to give a “Damned Right!”, why don’t you go out and try it yourself first?  Sure. Tell your employer that you’re giving them a payroll cut – they no longer have to pay you as much. Then just go out and pay for everything else you need, or made promises to, or owe, or want – with credit. I’ll come find you in a few months and ask how much healthier your personal economy is doing.

In the other corner are the Democrats. The president wants a tax cut for the middle class. Brilliant! I’m the working class. That sounds like sunshine and lollipops. I haven’t heard them say anything about how much I might be getting (correction: keeping), but that doesn’t really matter, does it? Just as long as I spend it!

That’s right. Spend it. I need to spend it. I, and the rest of the middle class, are “the folks most likely to spend this tax relief”. Oh, oh thank you so much for letting me keep even more of what I make that barely gets us by so that I can go out and SPEND it. You will never hear anyone suggest that I save that money.

Again, there’s the ridiculous notion that if we spend, things will get better. Sure, things will get better for some people – namely those who own or hold large stakes in the companies with which we’re spending. All that spending we do will transfer directly to their profits. You know who won’t benefit? Almost every single person who works for any of those companies (and I mean real work. and you know exactly what I mean by real work.) Companies are not going to hire more workers because we spend more, not when they know that the money we’re spending isn’t real, or permanent. They’re going to continue to squeeze more work from the employees they have, and will probably cut benefits along the way. And for your belief that spending more will help make our situation better, you’ll be left with less, and no one will care.

Every single member of the working middle class should spend every last dollar of their tax relief on paying down their own personal debt. Granted, it’s really the government paying down that debt with the money they borrowed to allow you to keep your money – and that debt will come back to haunt us all soon enough. The best you can hope for right now is to have yourself in as secure a position as possible when that does happen. If you don’t have debt, (Ha! Right.) put that money in savings. Real savings. Not just in another checking account that you’ll use next month.

In the end, this is all about responsibility. Personal responsibility. Who the hell should be responsible for making things better? Are you going to lay that responsibility on your elected officials, or are you going to fucking OWN IT yourself? Are you going to believe the things they’re telling you, that you know don’t make sense, or are you going to use you own damned head and your own reason and do what you know will work? Are you going cry about the situation, or are you going to fight it?

Save more. Spend less. Live below your means. The way I see it, you can start now and do it on your own terms….

….or you can be forced to do it later on someone else’s.

Having an honest debate about health care. With myself.

Here I am again, after another week of absorbing information in the midst of the ongoing health care debate. I’ve listened to a very informative interview with T.R. Reid, the author of The Healing of America: A Global Quest for Better, Cheaper, and Fairer Health Care. In a nutshell he talks about his travels to other leading industrial nations to learn about how they handle their health care. Give it a listen.

What I’m trying to do is come to a common ground with myself about what my unified opinion should be on this issue. I doubt I’m going to hammer it all out tonight, but I’m going to attempt to get closer. I’ve been sharing opinions for months now with those who also enjoy an intelligent conversation, and it was this evening when I realized that I’m already beginning to contradict opinions I had at the outset. In particular I can still remember saying that we don’t need government run health care, that it will only be paid for by higher taxes down the road, and that the Social Security System (paid for in the same way) is headed for complete ruin – why would we want to set ourselves up for that? Now my opinion has shifted, and this evening I found myself making a case for government run health insurance. It would seem to make me a bit of a hypocrite, eh?

At face value, perhaps. But that’s the problem with this whole debate. Everyone is making judgements based on what’s right in front of them, on sound bites and catch phrases and scare tactics and dumbed down, distilled concepts. Very few people are bothering to discover the root of what they’re forming opinions on, and to a degree I am one of them. It’s analogous to making a decision based on what the last person in a game of Telephone told you, and not on what the first person actually said. My opinions now seem to contradict my beliefs. Well… “Contradictions do not exist. Whenever you think that you are facing a contradiction, check your premises. You will find that one of them is wrong.” (Any student of Jim Duquette wanna claim recognition of that one?)

I am willing to admit that I don’t have all the information, and that as a result I have come to contradictory conclusions. I am willing to admit that I have prejudices and pre-conceived notions that color my judgement. I am trying not to immediately accept ideas just because they are Democrat/Liberal based, or to wholly reject ideas just because they are Republican/Conservative based. Fox News is doing enough of that for all of us. 

I was against government run health insurance. The reason was that I didn’t agree with the assurances that it would increase competition. Private insurance companies can’t raise taxes or print money. The government can. That’s a fundamental inequality from the beginning. I also brought up that the government run Social Security system is failing, and hence we shouldn’t trust the same government with the health insurance system. Okay, fine. But so what? I’m doing what all those who are yelling hard against ANY change want us to do – arguing detains that are in no way central to the important issue at hand: how do we go about providing affordable health care for everyone? 

Here’s where I am now, and I think that it’s a place from which I can start to construct the larger set of positions I have on this whole health care issue. So, I believe that it should not be legal to make a profit on providing insurance for preventative or life sustaining health care. I am talking about health care that keeps you healthy or returns you to health. I am not talking about vanity or cosmetic medicine (physical augmentation surgery, botox, tattoo removal, etc). I believe that profiting off of the suffering of others is morally reprehensible, and as a citizen of the 21st goddam century I’d like to think that more people could get behind that idea. 

I want to say that I believe that the government should be obligated to provide it’s citizens with basic cradle to grave heath care (in return for the taxes we pay), that no citizen should die for lack of the ability to pay for needed health services. I’m not sure that that belief isn’t flawed, though.  I’m not saying that I think that it’s necessary for the government to actually own and operate the entire system, but they seem as good a candidate as any to at least administrate an entity who goal is non-profit. The current for-profit companies are making it quite clear they aren’t interested in that job, which is borderline insane considering that those who will benefit from such a change FAR outnumber those who cease to benefit from the current model.

Sleep now. More later. Stay with me.

So here’s MY rage on Healthcare Reform

Reform.

Ha.

I am not hearing a thing about how this current health reform bill is actually going to change (or reform) the quality or availability of health care.

When I say quality I am referring to the kind of hell my sister-in-law is going through right now –  where she is recovering from double surgeries (C-Section and aorta replacement)  – and is having to play stage director to a dozen specialists who all want to act as if they’re the only one treating her and not a one of them know about what any of the others are doing. The cardiologist prescribes a muscle relaxant that needs to be injected directly into the gut muscles, except that’s not possible because it the OBGYN says it will interfere with her c-section recovery. Both want it their way, neither want to back down, and who has to work it all out? The girls who’s on more medications at the moment than I’ve taken in my entire life. What’s quality about that? One specialist gives her an appointment for a followup visit that conflicts with one already made for an other specialist, and both insist that she has to find a way to be at both, cuz they both claim they have no other slots open. That’s in the best interest of the patient? Why is it that the bookstore I work at cares more for their customer’s entertainment than this health care system cares for it’s patients quality of life? 

And availability? Where’s the part where we’re going to educate more health care professionals and support? More nurses, more physicians, more surgeons? In every other industry, having more of a service makes it cheaper. In the health industry, you don’t even know what a trip to any doctor is actually going to cost you until you get the bill. I can go online right now and in half an hour find out who’s got the best price on a Ford Prius in the Valley. If I want to know who I can see about a sore back, I have to go to my insurance company for that. They’re not going to give me a list of all the specialists in my area, they’re only going to tell me who’s available in their network, and no one will be able to tell me what the price of a visit to any of those offices will be. Would you put up with that when buying a house? A car? Hell, a trip to the movies? No. But we’re expected to put up with it in our health care system.

The only thing I am hearing is plenty of reform about who gets paid and how much. If this is supposed to be about making healthcare cheaper, why the frelll is it going to cost a trillion dollars? It’s because this isn’t reform, it’s the biggest grab by health insurance companies in history. All the yelling and screaming going on about how we have the “best health care in the world” has nothing at all to do with actual health and everything to do with money. It’s a measure of the number of insured, not the health of those covered. For a trillion dollars we should be able to eliminate cancer, or heart disease. Instead, what we’re gonna get is exactly what we’re getting now, only the health care insurance industry will have the benefit of having a trillion more dollars and the legal right to call every citizen a paying customer. More likely, we’ll have fewer benefits because the reasonable sounding argument will eventually be made that with all the added clients, insurance companies will have to hire more people to manage claims, and well, that costs money. 

I want some God Damned reform. Change. Change that actually and truly benefits the patient. I want to see a system that is not allowed to make a profit by denying coverage. If I’m paying for an insurance policy and some day I get sick and they decide to either drop me or deny me coverage, they should have to PAY ME BACK everything I’ve paid them. More people should be encouraged to become doctors, nurses, and the like and if they make that commitment, they should not have a loan to burden them at the end of that journey. If I chose to, my medical history (and present) should be available to everyone who’s treating me, so that the circus my sister in law is performing in could be eliminated. You want to spend a trillion dollars? How about on prevention? Why are we trying to find a way to pay for treating diseases that are directly caused by smoking when everyone in the last three generations has grown up knowing what it’s effects are? You have to buy separate insurance to cover damages caused by flood if you own a house, why not have smoking insurance to cover damages caused by smoking? Even car insurance companies now offer reduced rates for safe drivers, why can’t I get a reduced rate for eating better and exercising? 

I fully believe that we can have a health insurance system that’s non-profit – that has employees and pays them real wages but who’s goal is not to make money for it’s shareholders. I don’t believe that such a system would in any way resemble the system we have now, and it certainly wouldn’t involve any of the people who are benefiting big off the current system. They will, though,  be the ones to yell the loudest that their death knell will certainly be ours as well. Don’t believe it for a second. 

We deserve something so much better. We’re gonna end up settling for something that’s simply different.

I’mma gonna git political up in here. Or is it social?

I can’t type nearly as fast as I can talk, and there are times when I can’t get words out of my mouth as fast as my mind is putting thoughts together. This is one of those times. No. That’s a close analogy, but I think I have a better one. What I want to convey is big, and complex, and interconnected, but it all fits together in my head. It all works. And I want to share it, as I see it in my head, but I just don;t have the tools to do it. It’d be like trying to show you the working intricacies of a Swiss timepiece when all I’ve got are rubber bands and thumbtacks. No matter how hard I try, it’s going to look like a mess.

But I’m gonna try anyway.

I think it was one of my college professors (from when I was a Communications major, before I became a Geology major, before I thought that an Earth Science Education major would probably be the best route, before I left college altogether to work for a living) who said something like “The most important piece of information is the one they’re not giving you.” Over time I wash in and out of the influence of that phrase. Right now seems to be one of my “in” periods. I’m finding it harder and harder and harder to listen to news of current events and not be incensed at what is NOT being said. The leaps of logic being used. The inferences being made. The stringing together of facts and statistics that are related but not connected, and worrying that people will make connections where there are none, and knowing that that was the intention all along.

And here’s where I build that woefully inadequate Play-Doh model of Michaelangelo’s David. There was a story, an interview, on All Things Considered on NPR this evening. You can listen to it yourself if you want. In it, Sen. Judd Gregg is talking about his opposition to the president’s $3.5 trillion dollar budget plan. He has a lot to say, and like I said, you can check it all out for yourself. I’m not going to run down the whole thing, just this part.

85% of the taxes are borne by the top 20% of income people, and you’ve got to remember who this 20% is. When you’re talking about incomes in the $250,000 range, you’re talking mostly about sole proprietors and people who run small businesses and maybe organize as a sub chapter S corporation where they are taxed on the income of their business. So, it’s a restaurant, it’s an automobile dealership, it’s a real estate agency. It’s the people who create the jobs. 70% of the jobs created in America today are created by small business people. So basically what you’re putting in place is a tax burden which is going to make it very difficult for those folks who are the entrepreneurs and job creators in our society to be successful. And what for? Well basically it’s being put in place to dramatically expand the size of the government.

(Yeah, I had to transcribe that one myself.)

This is just an example of everything I’m finding wrong with the information being thrown at us. Where to start?

  • 85% of the taxes are borne by the top 20% of income earners. Okay. Well, what percent of the wealth do those 20% make? As it turns out:

    As of 2001, the top 1% of households (the upper class) owned 33.4% of all privately held wealth, and the next 19% (the managerial, professional, and small business stratum) had 51%, which means that just 20% of the people owned a remarkable 84%, leaving only 16% of the wealth for the bottom 80% (wage and salary workers). -(http://sociology.ucsc.edu/whorulesamerica/power/wealth.html)

  • $250,000 is not a range. It is a number. In the context of this budget, it’s a cutoff amount for a higher tax bracket. Someone who makes $249,999.99 will not be affected by that increase. This is worded to suggest otherwise. It suggests that if you make something near that number, you should be worried.
  • Gregg doesn’t explicitly say that the top 20% of income earners make $250,000 or more. He also never says they don’t. He just mentions them back to back and lets you make that connection. This source shows that if you make $250,000 or more, you’re in the top 1.5%. I find it hard to believe that most of the people in that 1.5% are small business owners.
  • Going back to that $250,000 figure… what the hell is it? Is this a tax levied on business making that much, or on individuals? Or both? And even if a business of that businesses owner made $250,000, that’s not what they’re going to pay taxes on. We made $40,000 last year, but we only paid taxes on 14,000 after deductions and credits. Based on that and using some crude math, a business owner could make as much as $712,500 before ending up at a $250,000 taxable income. And that would be the salary of that business owner, which means the business itself could have done, what, a million dollars or more in business? Is that what we’re calling small business these days? Maybe compared to GE, but not compared to the pizza place down the street, which is the implication.
  • Finally, expanding government is not the purpose of this tax, whoever it affects. Granted, that may be an effect of the tax, but I debate that as well. This tax was not designed, created and implemented with the intent of expanding government. It was designed to raise money, however controversially. Gregg suggests that the goal here is to create a big government, and this tax is the way that goal is being achieved. It feeds into the fear of big government, and logically if big government is trying to make itself bigger, then you should fear it even more. Actually, you should fear all things big. Big equals bad, and small equals good. $250,000 is a BIG number. (That’s bad). But it’s comprised of small business owners! (That’s good!) 85% of taxes (BIG! Bad!) are borne by 20% of earners (small. They must be good! Oh, and they’re small (GOOD!) business owners, too?)

Oy. You see why I’m all worked up? You know, the simple solution would be to just stop listening to all this crap. But like I mentioned earlier… it’s what they’re not saying that’s most important. So I’m going to have to keep paying attention to not hear it.

I want a debate, not a goddamn discussion

I’m listening to the debates, not watching them, as I believe everyone should. But I digest….

I want to hear Obama unleash some gorram whoopass on McCain. I want to him to call him out.

I want him to say “John McCain loves to talk about the greed on Wall Street, but his policies gave it credence. He’s like the guy who left the barn door open and let the horses out, and now he’s made it his platform to keep the barn door closed.”

I want him to point out when McCain doesn’t actually answer the question asked.

I want Obama to say that he hasn’t ever “taken on” his party’s leadership on a single issue because they were right on the issue in the first place.

I want him to ask McCain if there’s anything he doesn’t claim to know how to do.

I want him to say that we wouldn’t have to “drill, baby, drill” if we just cut our energy consumption and invest in efficient technologies and renewable energy.

I want him to ask McCain what good his $5000 health tax credit will be to a family with a child that has a chronic health problem that no company will insure. Wait, he kinda just did.

I want Obama to ask McCain to stop using fear of the unknown as a tactic.

I want Obama to say “Yes, I haven’t admitted that the surge has worked, because that’s all you want to hear. I’m not saying that throwing more water on the fire isn’t the solution to putting it out. I’m saying that you never should have lit the match.”

I want McCain to stop speaking in a hushed tones like he’s letting me in on a secret.

And I’d just like to say, sure nuclear power is clean. I’m clean, too. The difference is that there’s a process in place to deal with my waste.

Then and Now, and maybe Later

You all know by now how the Clan is trying to make this the year that we turn our finances around: pay off bills, spend wiser, save more. I thought of something today that made me even happier that I’m depriving myself and my family of two large pan pizzas from Pizza Hut every Friday night.

Let me take you back, oh, 10 years. In 1997 Sara and I were living in Athens, GA. I was going to school full time, we were renting an apartment and we both worked 40 hours a week. For the record, I’m still not sure how I managed to work full time and have a full class schedule, because much like a traumatic physical event (like a car crash) my brain refuses to allow me to remember it all. I do remember this much – I did do it, and still had time for a marriage. So anyone who claims it can’t be done can suck it.

At the time we were renting a 2 bed, 2 bath apartment in a complex (The Parthenon. East Siiiide!) for $600 a month. I can remember routinely paying only $1 a gallon for gas, and I was getting paid more than a Wal-Mart employee of my tenure should have been thanks to a friend and one-time supervisor, Doug. We weren’t saddled with the debt we’re currently trying to get out from under; instead, we were just beginning to saddle ourselves with it) We didn’t have much, but we still paid our bills and had a little extra to have fun with.

Now today. As of my latest review (which went very well, thank you) my pay has increased just a bit more than 100% in 10 years. Not bad. Heh. Maybe. Today I pay a $1000 mortgage on a 2 bed, one bath house that I believe is actually smaller than the apartment we used to rent in Athens. Right there’s a 66% increase in expenses (and 50% decrease in available toilets). Did I mention we’ve had 2 kids? So, yeah. That 100% population increase makes the 50% toilet decrease an even bigger issue. Gasoline? This weekend it hit $3.20 a gallon. That’s a 220% increase. In just the last 10 years.

Ten years is a long time you say? How about 5 years? In December 2001, just after we moved into your current digs, we paid 99 cents a gallon for home heating oil. One year and two months later we paid… 99 cents a gallon for home heating oil. This week, we paid off our outstanding balance on our winter oil bill so that we could get a refill. More correctly, we shelled out $450 for the privilege of being billed for another $1050. Joy. It didn’t end up being that much – we used far less oil since January than I’d feared. But what we did have delivered we paid 3.89 a gallon for. A 289% increase in just 5 years.

By all measurements, we could be fighting for our place on the median strip by the Home Depot with a sign detailing our misfortune and asking for your spare change. My sign would be awesome and you would totally want to give me change, but you wouldn’t because you’d need it to heat five minutes of water to do dishes or to buy gas to make it down your driveway.

We’ll survive, but not by luck, or because Dubya is giving us a $1600 rebate that I know (I KNOW) is going to count as income on next year’s taxes. No, we’ll survive because we’re smart, and we’ll be as ready for what’s coming as we can be. If we have to, we’ll take another 100% toilet decrease.

I’ll compost that shit.

Literally.