Category Archives: society

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.

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.

The best things in life are apparently tax free this weekend

“…but I can give her what she needs to feel good about herself, without breaking my budget. That’s why I go to Wal-Mart.”

Yeah. You know what else you can give her that won’t break your budget?

Confidence.

Self-Esteem.

A mind of her own.

Go to Wal-Mart for your laundry detergent.

Airing it for all to see (not a reference to my junk)

I believe that I’m about to cut my electric bill by a quarter.

What? No no no. Not a commemorative state quarter. I mean 25 percent. One fourth. A factor of point two five. Or, at least twenty five American dollars.

Some recent gallivanting on the internets led me to this great website, and some very useful tips on how to save electricity. Not surprisingly, the largest single consuming appliance in the house is the clothes dryer. Who knew that something that provides so much warm and dry and fluffy would also be raping me in my wallet? After some quick (time consuming) and unobtrusive (I made my family sit in the silent dark for an hour) measurements and calculations I figured out exactly how little lube was involved in the aforementioned violation.

This family of four generates a good 7-8 loads of laundry a week. I have no idea how that even happens. It’s like the kids are just taking half of their clean laundry at putting it back in the dirty clothes hamper so they don’t have to fold and put it away. Hold on a holy second… they may actually be doing that! Now I’m gonna have to install cameras. Which reminds me of another almost completely unrelated story. Back in college at Hofstra University, I worked for the Facilities Department. Every afternoon myself and a crew of 3 other guys would report for work and be handed a list of 10 or so items of furniture that needed to be taken out of storage and delivered to various dorm rooms across campus. This list was taken from the master list that was compiled from the furniture request forms taped to the doors of all the RA’s in all the dorms. The thing was… the master list wasn’t very long. If we delivered all ten pieces of furniture everyday, we’d be out of work before the end of the semester. To quote from Blazing Saddles, we had to protect our phony baloney jobs. So we enacted some job security measures. Everyday after leaving the office we’d cross the first 5 items off the list. We’d deliver the final 5 items in record time and spend the rest of our shift playing pool at the Rec Center. Then we’d turn in the entire list as completed at the end of the day. The moral of this story is that we never got caught and cheating your employer doesn’t make you any better at pool.

Where was I? Right. At 93 cents per load to dry all our laundry, I could be shelling out between $26 and $30 a month just for the convenience of dumping dry laundry on the couch sixty minutes after it comes out of the washer. It’s just gonna sit there unfolded for a week, so what’s the big rush?

Since this discovery I have re-erected our inherited clothes line (it came with the house) to reap the benefits of the free 5-10 MPH winds out of the west, and the sun. It’s been two weeks now since I started letting time, solar radiation and geographic temperature and pressure variations do to my laundry in an afternoon what the dryer used to do in an hour. Frankly, I’m just a little bit addicted. I look for excuses to do laundry just so I can hang it out to dry. I’ll hang out a full load at 10PM if it’s windy. Who am I kidding, it doesn’t even have to be windy. To me, this is contest to see how much money I can save, and I’m gonna win.

Then my wife points me to this article. In it, the author weighs the pros and cons of drying his laundry on a clothesline, but despite the obvious financial and green benefits, he decides not to. Why? Because “clotheslines are one of those items that are often associated with poverty and the appearance of such items gives an impression of poverty in our neighborhood.” You should read the whole article.

The prospect that I could have a neighbor who would dare to insinuate that my clothesline was dragging down their property value just… just… gets my goat. It just walks right into my yard, picks up my goat and says “I’m gonna take this”. There is SO much wrong with this perceived outdoor clothes drying stigma that I cold rail against it all night long (just like Lionel Richie). You want to point at something that’s gonna drag down your property value? How about instead of the guy who’s saving a buck by drying his clothes outdoors you look instead at the guy who you know is living a year beyond his means, because when he defaults on his mortgage and the bank repossesses his house, you’d better bet that’s gonna bring your property value down. Or are we so blinded by consumerism that we honestly believe any attempt to hold onto hard earned cash (instead of pissing it away) is an act of blasphemy? Are you fucking kidding me? (My favorite saying at the moment, by the way.) I don’t hang my laundry out to dry because I can’t afford to use my dryer, I do it because I choose to afford something else.

The consummate jackasss in me knows how he would respond to a neighborhood attempt to end the use of my clothesline. He would first obtain a derelict vehicle and place it on blocks in the front yard. To the roof of that he would bolt a used upright cast iron bathtub, cover the inside with tiny pieces of blue glass and mount the gaudiest Virgin Mary you’ve ever been scared to dream about inside it. He would place dozens of plywood figures around it, painted to look like fat little ladies bending over so you can see their bloomers. He would cover the entire thing in Christmas lights that would stay on all year round, and flash in time to songs by ABBA. Then he would weld the umbrella clothesline to the top of it all. After that, he would only ever hang his underwear on it, skid marks out, and would blow an air raid siren whenever he hung them up or took them down. Oh, and if he saw his neighbors while doing this, he’d totally flip them the bird.

I’m saving that jackass for a day that I really need him. For now, I have a far more reasonable solution. Buy me out. That’s right. This is America after all: everything is for sale and you don’t get anything for nothing. If you want to “guarantee” your property value, then you can pay me to dry my laundry in my clothes dryer. I stand to save as much as $30 by drying my clothes outside, so we can start there. Assuming 10 minutes to put up and take down each load of laundry I figure that I’m investing roughly 5 hours a month to save that $30. At my going rate, that’s $75 of my time you can buy as well. So lets say that for $100 a month (cash), I’d be absolutely ecstatic to refrain from using my clothesline.

What do you mean you can’t afford that? You’re not… impoverished… are you? Yeah, we need to talk. You might be dragging down my property value.

It’s not what they say, it’s what they don’t say.

This was inspired in part by the news I was listening to on my drive home. They were talking about the memorial services being held at Ground Zero in New York today, and how efforts have always been made to try and keep them non-political, and the issue that has created this year with Rudy Giulianni showing up to make a speech, him being a presidential candidate this year and relying heavily on the 9/11 tragedy.

But enough of that. What it got me thinking about was something a professor said to a Communications class of mine once… “The most important thing is what’s not being said”. And that brought to mind my impression of oh so many political debates I’ve managed to see. Have you ever paid close attention to these things, to what’s being asked and what’s being answered? A debate is just an example. Just turn on the news. Somewhere, someone’s bound to be asking someone else a simple pointed question. Go check. I’ll wait.

It continues to astound me how we (and by we I’m referring to the media, our voice to politicians) continue to simply accept the answers we’re given, when more often than not we aren’t even given an answer to the question asked. There is a difference between a response to a question and an answer to a question.

This is an answer:

“Is the sky blue?”
“Yes.”

This is a response:

“Is the sky blue?”
“That’s a great question. A lot of people are concerned about the sky these days, as I am. In fact, just this morning I was talking to mother in Amherst and she was asking me about the sky and I’ll tell you what…she was concerned. Concerned that sometimes it’s blue and sometimes it’s black and sometimes it’s gray. But does that put food on her table? Does that provide quality daycare for her children so that she can work? My opponent would have you believe that it does. He’d have you believe that his plan for revitalizing this community will lead to more jobs and lower taxes but that facts are that his numbers just don’t add up. Who’s going to end up paying for all his programs? You are, that’s who. He’s mortgaging your future against a giant gamble that’s never going to pay off. Just consider that.”

We get fed a steady diet of responses dressed up as answers, but we can rarely get a direct answer to a simple question.

Just listen some time. You’d be surprised at what you don’t hear.