Category Archives: venting

What are we doing wrong?

I work 40 hours a week in retail pseudo-management (pay is somewhere between full management and average employee). My wife works 20+ hours a week in customer service and 10+ hours a week teaching various crochet classes. In her spare time she does crochet design work to bring in more income. In the Spring I make maple syrup and fight to make more money selling it than I put into the effort. So far all the wood for the evaporator has been obtained for free.

We have a smaller home than anyone else we know, but it’s still a $1000/mo. mortgage. Three years ago we disconnected the cable TV. Then we ditched the home phone service in favor of an  internet based phone that cost less per year than we had been paying monthly. We have the smallest bandwidth internet package our ISP offers. We do not own smartphones. We each have pre-paid flip phones, for contacting each other and for emergencies. The kids don’t have “their own” phones, media players or computers. No iPhones, no iPad, no iPod. No Nook, No Kindle. The two laptops we’ve had were both secondhand gifts. We have a Netflix streaming video subscription. All the rest of our video entertainment we find for free online and watch on our single desktop computer and 24″ monitor.

We hang out our laundry whenever we can to avoid the unnecessary cost of running the dryer. There is not an incandescent light bulb left in our home. The lights we use everyday have LED bulbs, all the rest are CFL’s. No light comes on in this house during the day, and at night, only the ones needed. We upgraded our windows to energy efficient units. In the winter, we keep the thermostat at 60 and opt for electric blankets on the beds over heating the entire house while we sleep. I installed a timer switch on our oil burner so that it can only run when we need it to, not all the time, needlessly keeping a tank of water hot. (This act alone saved us an entire tank’s worth of oil a year.)

We have a garden and raise chickens to save on food costs. We manage to feed this family of four for about $100 a week, and we eat well. (I am losing weight for the first time in 8 years, just from healthier food choices, and it hasn’t increased our food bill.) We sell our excess eggs. It largely covers the cost of feed, allowing us all the fresh, free eggs we can eat. We grow more in our garden than we can eat, and put the rest up for storage. In the last 2 years we’ve purchased and planted 5 apple, 2 pear and 2 cheery trees as investments in our own food and financial security.

I have sourced thouands of dollars worth of goods and materials through Freecycle, Craigslist, salvaged from worksites and accepted used from friends and family. From the building materials alone I’ve been able to build (instead of buy): all the raised bed planters in the garden; the clothesline; the permanent and mobile chicken coops; an apple press; benches for the yard; the gate to the chicken yard; a solar air heater; a food storage pantry; storage racks for my lumber; stairs, walls and ceiling in the garage; and at least 75% of both the sugar shack and deck. Other things we can enjoy that didn’t cost us one penny: the propane grill, all the lawn furniture, the stove, the dishwasher, roller blades, hoses, the exhaust fan, the tomato cages, fencing, and more that are too trivial to name.

I have taught myself to do my own plumbing, electrical and automotive work when needed.

While the kids still get injections of newer secondhand clothes from various sources, Sara and I wear clothes until they’re just this side of decent. I will often wear mine longer.

Sara and I will routinely trade vehicles so that the person who has to drive the farthest on any given day will take the most fuel efficient of the two.

We do not own a single credit card. If we want or need something, we have to pay for it, or we have to save for it.

We have successfully paid off a ten year old rolling personal loan. We own one vehicle and are borrowing another.

When gas prices go up, we hurt.

When heating oil prices go up, we hurt.

When electricity prices go up, we hurt.

When food prices go up, we hurt.

When my tax burden goes up, we hurt.

When I don’t get a raise, we hurt.

When my earnings are capped, we hurt.

When the cost or need for childcare increases, we hurt.

When banks add fees, we hurt.

When fees for things I am required to participate in by law go up, we hurt.

When I must by law purchase medical insurance and then its cost goes up or its coverage goes down, we hurt.

I have done every gods damned conceivable thing that is in my power to do to control my costs and expenses. We live as lean as we can. Every single cut we’ve made or increase in income we’ve squeezed in the last few years have done nothing more than maintain a net zero. We hang onto the vaunted middle class by our bleeding fingernails.

You tell me what I’m doing wrong, because I don’t see it.

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.

I am voting YES on Question 3.

That pretty much says it.

But tell me, what exactly is the difference between casting my vote for a politician who promises to lower my taxes, or casting my vote to actually lower my taxes? I think you know as well as I do. The first vote only puts somebody in office, the second vote actually lowers my taxes.

The difference of course is that if the politician lowers my taxes it will be done by borrowing money to pay for it, which only makes our situation worse. If I lower my taxes I’ll do it by just keeping the money I’ve earned. Will it mean that Beacon Hill will have less money to work with? Sure ’nuff. They can step up and deal with it, or they can borrow more money and blame me for making them do it. I can live with my choice. And from what I’ve seen, apparently so can they.  So, let’s do this thing.

Unless you believe that a politician is the only one who can make a decision about your money, you should be voting YES as well. I can make my financial decisions just fine, thank you, and by my measure I’ve been doing a much better job of it than they have. I’ll bet you can, too.

It’s your money. Keep more of it, and do good things with it.

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.

These are the things I need to know

The Beetle is finally in the body shop, getting repairs for the damage that was done FOUR FRELLING MONTHS AGO. Don’t get me wrong. I’m happy. No… relieved. No, both.

Why has it taken so long? Ha! Well now, that question has a long and interesting answer. I’ll give you the short answer and still try and keep it interesting. In short, we’ve been waiting all this time for Met Life (the company representing he girl who redecorated our rear-end) to agree to pay for the rental car that we’d need while the Beetle was in the shop, getting un-decorated. They in turn were waiting for paperwork from Hanover Insurance (our company) detailing the costs of damages done during the aforementioned redecoration. They claimed they needed it before they could determine who was at fault. They asked us for the same info three months ago and my response at the time (to the voice on the answering machine) was “Why don’t you go frak yourself you sonsabitches?!? You don’t need to know the bill for the creative vision of your driver in order to accept that she was responsible for the piece of installation art in the trunk of my car.” Or something wordy and creative like that. The fact that they were asking for that info from us instead of from our insurance company just felt like they were giving us the reach around (yeah, I said it) – asking us for info that they knew that Hanover would never give them.

Actually, they were asking us because Hanover wasn’t giving it to them, not because they weren’t supposed to have it but because Hanover repeatedly never sent it after repeatedly being asked. (It reminds me of trying to get our kids to do something.) We found this out two weeks ago when someone from Met Life contacted us about a rental we were due and hadn’t yet used. Uhhhhh… What? So all this time we’d been cursing Met Life and it was our own insurance company that had been screwing us? How… unpleasantly ironic.

See, from Hanover’s point of view, they were paying for the repairs. Case closed. Job well done. Let’s go get a beer. From our point of view… I don’t care who the frak is paying for frelling what. I just want my car fixed!! We should have caught the hint way back in February when our agent suggested to Sara that she call Met Life to get the rental issue rolling. Right. We should make that call. Of course. (sigh) I expect just two things from my insurance company in exchange for my premium: coverage and some GODDAMN SERVICE. I already have a job. Forty hours a week. My job is to manage a bookstore receiving room. Their job is to GET MY GODDAMN CAR FIXED. If the only issue here was cutting a check, a machine could do that. The Social Security Administration has whole rooms full of ’em. Finalizing an insurance claim, though, involves significantly more than that, which is why I have an agent, which is why she gets paid to do the non-check-cutting-machine tasks, which is why I expect her to get on the GODDAMN phone, or put a stamp on a GODDAMN envelope and GET MY GODDAMN CAR FIXED!!!

So yeah, the Beetle is finally in the body shop, getting repaired. And the girl from Met Life even extended our rental (a PT Cruiser, actually) to a full week, instead of the standard one day. (That’s right. One day to completely dismantle the back end of a compact car, determine the extent of the damage, order the parts, wait for the parts, receive the parts, re-assemble the whole thing and give it a final paint job. One day.) You can imagine then that when the body shop called to update us on the repairs and said that they were going to take about a week longer than expected, our response was, well, to freak out. The body shop’s response to our response was: “Don’t worry. Keep the rental for as long as we have your car. But, we’ll end up having to pay for it, we insisted. No, they said, you won’t. They then went on to explain that they’ll just bill the insurance company for it, and that yes, they will pay for it. (Why? Because the body shop has someone who’s job it is to make sure they get paid for getting my goddam car fixed.) In fact, they said, if something like this ever happens again, just bring the car directly to us. We’ll start work on it right away and bill the company of the person who hit you.

You… You mean…. We could have had our car back, repaired, like nothing had ever happened, complete with a complementary rear view mirror hanging thingy (cococnut scented, possibly) FOUR MONTHS AGO?

Yes. We totally could have.

I endured 12 years of a public school system education. I graduated 14th in my class. I can say with absolute certainty that nobody ever taught me THAT. And that’s something I definitely needed to know. I think I’m going to go burn my diploma. No, compost it.