Musings on connections…flights and friends

So, here I am flying across the American heartland, crushed into the cattle car that is modern air travel with the aggressive armrest using middle-aged guy beside me highlighting almost everything in a JAMA article, then going back and underlining about half of the highlights. Directly in front of me is the guy who moves like Stevie Wonder grooving to his music, yet this guy has no music turned on, he just randomly moves like that. Oh yeah, and Stevie Wonder thinks it’s cool to recline his chair all the way back and then flop around in it like an epileptic cow. Quality.

So as I’m sitting here updating my FourSquare locations with places like ‘Mile Marker 161′ & ‘Deserted On-Ramp’ in Kansas or ‘God’s Country’ (a farm) in Missouri, I’m completely amused that I can do that on the plane. So, now I get to dot my near mayorships of random shitty places in the US all the way from Dallas to Chicago amd then hopefully een Chicago to the Atlantic later (assuming that I make my connection in Chicago…the odds are about even on that one right now).

There is an absurdity about modern life. We share and post all kinds of meaningless shit in social media and think we’re keeping in touch with those we know or once knew (btw, asshole behind me is about three knee hands in my kidneys away from a stern ‘fuck off’ facial expression…and yes, my seat is in its upright position), but in a way it is kind of like being around them. Must of the stuff that happens on a daily basis is pretty much of the ‘hey, I took a huge dump’ quality and variety, yet that’s what we share with those most close to us.

So is the fact that this goes out to the couple of hundred people we know on Facebook and Twitter, some if whom we haven’t seen in 5, 10, or more years worthless? I don’t think so, especially for those of us who have moved around. Where we were once links by the places we live, now we’re more linked by the connections (good, bad, and ugly) that we choose to keep. Is this a good thing? Who the hell knows?

But at this point, I can amuse myself and maybe 10 others with bumfuck egypt updates and wait for the verdict on whether I’m going to make my connection to Manchester out of Chicago….

… a post script — I made my connection with 6 minutes to spare before they closed the plane doors to Manchester.

Audra:

And keep in mind, Forbes isn’t exactly known for being a part of the “liberal” media!

Originally posted on The Tribune of the People:

Then, comes the problem, the headache, or maybe its the head fake. No identification of a single loophole that will be closed. No concrete exposition about raising the capital gains tax on rich people. Our friends at the Democratic Party headquarters have estimated the savings for “ending all tax benefits for the wealthy” at $1.7 trillion; eliminating ALL corporate tax benefits to offset the corporate tax cut- $1.1 trillion and then another $1 trillion of middle class tax benefits to pay for the middle class cut=- another $1 trillion.

Imagine the chaos, the bitterness, the social unrest that would occur. But, then realize these measures only get back $4 trillion. There’s another $1 trillion to go.

via If Romney Cuts Taxes For The Rich By 20%, He Will Have To Raise Taxes For The Middle Class By $1 Trillion – Forbes.

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The first one to do anything loses…

Can you guess the context for the title?…………………Bureaucracy!

I recently found a quotation that summarizes the relationship between people and bureaucracy beautifully:

“Some third person decides your fate: this is the whole essence of bureaucracy.” ―  Alexandra Kollontai, La Oposición Obrera

Just by way of contextualizing Kollontai’s comments, she was a Marxist feminist who worked for and won significant advances in women’s rights in the newly formed Soviet Union.  Oh no, now I’ve gone and done it — I’ve identified the work of not just a woman but a Marxist feminist as a way to critique bureaucracy. That’s practically an abomination in the United States, but let’s get beyond the dogma for a few moments to realize that most of us have been hosed by some kind of bureaucrat. When most people think of bureaucracy, they think of the public sector and we know it’s easy to demonize the annoyances we have with government bureaucracies.  In fact, both the typical critiques and defenses of bureaucracy are always framed in terms of this false separation of the public and private sector.  Yet, these very boring and traditionally politicized debates about whether government is good or bad (yawn) really miss the underlying nature of bureaucracy — it is an organizational tool meant to separate work and accountability.

Bureaucracies can exist in any type of organization from public to private to nonprofit/ nongovernmental.

For example, several years ago I was trying to do research with an indigenous rights group and the structures of their organization were used to direct me from person-to-person and phone call-to-phone call. What I found out later was that because I was white, they were very nervous about letting me do any interviews with the members of the movement, but they were hesitant to actually say that. Now, in a historical context I can understand that, but it’s still a racist conclusion not based on the evaluation of me or my project. Yet, the organizational structure that was used in order to communicate the non-decision decision — bureaucracy. Ok… so nonprofit bureaucracy… CHECK.

Private organizations might have some of the most infuriating bureaucracies ever. We had Verizon Fios at an apartment and loved the fiber optic cable and internet — it was great. Then we moved to a house where we couldn’t get the Fios because it wasn’t available. We set up the new account, shifted our contract to a different provider but still using the Verizon packaging because we had the two-year contract. No problem, right? Yeah, until they charged us for early termination plus messed up a few other things. Here’s where the true bureaucratic craziness comes in — I spent 5 hours on a Saturday being passed from person-to-person, each claiming that it wasn’t their department, so by the time that I had spoken with several departments two and three times, each trying to scapegoat someone else, I lost my mind, used my sailor language, spoke to a manager and we finally got things straightened out — or so I thought. Three months later, while I was out of the country the television service was cut off and because it was in my name, I had to deal with it — my husband could not. After about an hour of sorting things out on the phone at international cell phone rates (yes, from Verizon as well), I just paid the whole bill only to be issued a full refund within 3 weeks.  Ok…so private sector bureacracy… CHECK

And, then there’s the obvious governmental bureaucracy (and no, this time, I’m not going to use an American example… there are too many fun ones here, but I’ll vary). The citizens of the UK, pissed off with the economy, Gordon Brown (and his unfortunate microphone gaffe), and the Labour party splits their votes between the Tories, Labour, and the Liberal Democrats (who as far as I can make out are the party that promises the world but seldom has the power to deliver).  Absent a clear majority, a coalition had to be formed and the Liberal Democrats decide to back a Tory government. And without a clear citizen mandate, they do as most conservatives do — move forward with the fervent conviction in their ideology behaving as though they have a mandate from the people.  So, now in the UK the bureaucracy’s response to a factory worker whose hand had been severed in an accident trying to get public assistance? You still have one hand, you can work in your career field. Then there’s immigration — an even bigger clusterfuck. Again,  absent a strong mandate, they rush 1,001 (no, not literally) rule changes about immigration through to be implemented in mid-July screwing up the system so long that the first of September a lot of those new rules had to be changed in order to even get international students into the country. For the rest of us awaiting news, it pushes our applications back months only to find that the rule changes have taken what was described in June as an easily supported application for settlement to a rejection but because they took so long, it screws up other avenues for visas in the short-term. Ok, so public sector bureaucracy… CHECK

So, let’s come back to the Marxist feminist’s critique of bureaucracies — third persons making choices for others (and often screwing up our lives). Now, when well used, these kinds of rule systems can be helpful. For example, even within Kollontai’s work, she wasn’t advocating doing away with the government bureaucracies that discriminated against women — her argument was that the bureaucracy must make better decisions for the people it governed.

In fact, that is a fair response to all bureaucracies — their existence isn’t the problem, their use to scapegoat owning uncomfortable decisions, to fleece consumers out of money, or to mess with peoples’ life plans (among so many other effects) are the problem. Too often, we see people in positions of authority in bureaucracy who have lost their humanity,  their minds, or just a basic grasp on reality that rules are necessary to keep things in society and life ordered but people cannot and should not use rules (or rule changes) to fail to do their job CORRECTLY.

It was not appropriate to use a bureaucracy to justify a racist argument against granting me research access just because it was more convenient compared to telling me that because I was white I wasn’t being granted access (later confirmed in a face-to-face). It isn’t appropriate to use an organization’s structure to hurt their consumers service or financially. And it’s certainly not appropriate to screw up existing (and probably already bureaucratically challenged) policies with even less clear and less sensible policies.

Like with most other Marxist critiques of capitalism and bourgeois problems, the critique is spot on. The challenge comes in what people can do about it, which is often the failing of Marxist critique — identifies the problems but doesn’t pose nearly as many solutions. With regard to nonprofits and private companies our recourse is often a bit limited because we can only indirectly affect them — unless enough people are pissed off like we saw with the mass campaign against Glenn Beck on Fox directed at threatening his advertisers with the loss of business.  Absent that, we can at least most affect government bureaucracies through the elections process.

Yet, that doesn’t even address the more fundamental challenge of bureaucracies — even when change is brought about, later bureaucracies can come in and fuck it all up (e.g., Stalin’s removal of many of the protections gained for women initially after the revolution in the USSR or Congressional removal of the protections of the Glass-Steagall  act protecting the economy from the financial industry–thanks to the GOP Congress and lack of advocacy from the Clinton administration).  Bureaucracy is necessary but it must be managed. It cannot be left to the lazy, unmotivated, and self-serving people that often self-select into these types of positions — protected from owning responsibility.

In the end — we should all become hyperactors — choosing to construct a new reality of bureaucracy.

If you build it, they will come! :)

Why honesty and ethics should matter

100 years ago when I was a collegiate debater, I didn’t really think that speaking style and charisma should matter because I was ‘right’ (i.e., I had the best evidence to support my position). I was firmly committed to this belief because dammit, I’d sat through my philosophy classes, read The Republic  by Plato, and believed in the pursuit of knowledge and ‘truths’ (i.e., verifiable facts).

Here’s the trouble with placing too much providence on being right and not enough on being persuasive — we live in a world with a lot of competing messages. So, when my coach asked me, “Would you rather be right and keep losing debate rounds or would you like to start winning?” I was like, “fuck, this sucks” because he annoyingly correct. My interest in being competitive made me see a new ‘truth’ — having the right information on your side doesn’t matter if no one believes you. That’s a rotten pill to swallow, but it makes a lot of sense. Once I realized that resistance was truly futile, well… let’s just say that my debate record improved and the trophies piled up.

So, as I abandoned my overly rigid interest in merely being right both because I hated losing debate rounds and because I was growing up enough to realize the absolutist positions that Plato advocated were equally undesirable (seriously, Gold, Silver, and Bronze people… leave the cave dude, just leave the cave) because they just didn’t make sense in the real world.  About that time, I was introduced to Jean Baudrillard who made the argument that our day-t0-day world was no more real than Disneyland… that both were just inventions of humans that the reasons why we go to work, live the lives that we do, and make the choices that we make are because we all agree to the rules of the game.

I thought that I had become one with the game of selling the right message to the right audience at the right time — hell, it’s what I study, what I do professionally, and what I sell in my classroom. But I just can’t get past this whole ‘truthiness’ thing. Now, let’s make a distinction here — I don’t believe that there is one way to view the world. That’s one of the bonuses of not being dogmatic and not believing in “one true” anything — people can reason from the information and come to different and equally legitimate conclusions. But this is what’s been driving me crazy in the Fox News, G.W. Bush, anti-intellectualism (i.e., the “Golly, if s/he is someone that I could have a beer with, that’s who I should vote into office” approach to life), bullshit era that we’re living in — it’s not that I am hearing people who simply disagree with the conclusions about life and government (e.g., Rick Santorum), it’s that I’m seeing people willing to say anything to get into office, to get their next promotion, or to just “be polite” even if it’s not true.

I get that the stakes are high and if you feel like you’re right that you’re going to try to win the game, but at what cost? This can’t be a perversion of utilitarianism, where all that matters are the ends because if we travel down a bullshit road, that’s what we have when we get to the end of it, so we get to where we’re going, but we can’t enjoy it because we stink. To me, this is what has happened to the Republican party. President Bush was elected, in part, due to the swift boat campaign during the 2004 election — an attack that was discredited by almost everyone. Yet, that seemed to open the flood gates for ‘facts’ themselves to be open to debate in the modern era. We saw an explosion of lies about then Candidate Obama emerge in 2008 — ranging from his status as a ‘natural born citizen’ (and let’s face it, the crazy train that rode was unbelievable as there were bullshit explanations for everything including the birth announcement… that it had been placed just to cover up that he was born out of the US) to his willingness to support terrorism. I mean these got so bad that an unfortunate Senator McCain had to stop his own rally to (honorably) defend that Obama was a patriot and an honorable man.

But the crazy kept going with conspiracies about Obama trying to brain wash our children because he wanted to give a ‘welcome back to school’ address in 2009, that the Democrats were trying to implement death panels to kill grandma with the health care reform, and it grew into a movement known as the Tea Party — whose supporters came from frustrated Americans hurting in the economic crash, but whose big lie was its purpose. This wasn’t a grassroots party like the popular mythology liked to say, this was a party developed funded and promoted by the incredibly wealthy Koch brothers and until his ranting became too crazy, front-manned by Glenn Beck. Yet, time and again, their assertions have been based in lies and they prey upon the same chronically misinformed demographic of Americans that watch Fox News and can’t separate fact from opinion.

Now we come to this year’s presidential campaign and what I cannot believe is that candidate Romney’s campaign seems to be based in lies and gross misrepresentations of reality. This is the point that I started this blog with because I could not believe what I saw in watching the first debate.  And then last night as I watched the second debate, fact checking and reading the fact check report, here’s my basic conclusion — telling the truth needs to matter to Americans. I’m not making the same argument that I made when I was 20 — that charisma and style shouldn’t matter, but that it matters whether we’re considering a leader who is willing to try anything to win.

Sure, every politician is going to cherry pick information — duh, it’s called presenting yourself in the best possible light. That’s not what I’m talking about — I’m talking about the reality that almost every substantive claim that Romney makes is another pile of bullshit on our road to the election. Whether or not his policy goals are “right”, whether or not anyone likes him, whether or not people are unhappy with President Obama, none of that should matter because we fundamentally cannot elect a man who is willing to say anything just to win. Mr. Romney is not a stupid man — quite the opposite and that is even more damning. This isn’t Sarah Palin who frankly didn’t have the background, the ability, or the preparation to be on a national political stage — this is a man who’s well-educated, highly successful in very complex fields, and has a heck of a resume behind him. He is neither naive nor stupid. Yet, in most of his campaign ads, substantive arguments in the debates, and political speeches bases his assertions on information that is simply not credible.

Mr. Romney is betting that enough of the American public is too ill-informed, too apathetic, too frustrated, or just plain too stupid to know that he’s greasing the wheels of his campaign with bullshit. Yet, based on our elections in 2004 and 2010 he’s got good reason to believe it could work. That’s what’s tough to reconcile… it’s not that Romney represents style over substance because most of the time President Obama is just darned elegant. It’s not that Romney actually represents the conservative right — hell, they know he doesn’t (but they’re just going on the premise that he isn’t Obama). So, it comes down to the people in the middle and whether they are willing to hold their nose to vote against Obama because Mr. Romney is no one that we should vote for — not because I disagree with his politics, but because I don’t think that we can allow someone in the White House whose support for his case can be disproved in a 30 second Google search.

Who do we want to be as a people? This time, the question isn’t about whether we want a world that ‘traditional’ conservatives support — one focused on low taxes, low government intervention, high private sector etc…. nor is it a question about whether we want a world that ‘traditional’ liberals support — one with a strong safety net, strong public sector in addition to private sector, etc. This time the question really is are we willing to be a people who will vote FOR a candidate whose primary goal is winning, not leading; a candidate who will change his arguments depending on what he thinks will be what ‘people’ want to hear; a candidate whose honest reflection on the American people is that 47% of us aren’t worth his time; and a candidate who is simply not ethical in his advocacy? Because ultimately, we’re voting for the person and not their policies because the policies change because of circumstances and events.

President Obama — even though people may not like his policies — is a fundamentally good man — he is the American dream personified. Mr. Romney may be a good family man and I don’t doubt that he also cares most of the time, but I just think that he’s too willing to hold his nose and do what gets him what he wants.

Tolerance in the US? Sure, if you’re white, straight, and Christian.

Yesterday, I see this picture of a man taken at an Ohio Romney/Ryan rally yesterday (October 12, 2012):

and today, I see someone I knew in high school post this status update on Facebook: “Today at noon local time in over 8,000 locations around the country, people are praying in public for our country and to preserve religious freedom that it was founded upon. Please join me in front of [deleted to maintain the anonymity of the person who posted it].

Have these people all lost their bloody minds?!

Apparently tolerance in the United States only matters if you’re white, straight, and ‘Christian’ — and only then if you are of a like-minded world view.

So, let’s deconstruct the inane bullshit for just a moment by beginning with Asshole #1 — ‘Putting the white back in the White House’. My reaction yesterday is and remains,  I think it does give us a glimpse into the racism that is still prevalent in the United States among the hard right folks.

This has been evident since the 2008 election cycle where we say Sarah Palin whipping crowds up into a frenzy about whether Barack Obama was an American who ‘palled around with terrorists’. We have seen this in the ridiculous ‘birther’ discussions that keep popping up (nice euphemism for the ‘black guy’, huh?). We’ve seen it in the discussions of whether the president is “for America” or whether he’s fundamentally destroying the country. All of these are thinly veiled and more socially appropriate arguments for what this dipshit thought was appropriate to wear in public — these folks can’t stand that President Obama is a bi-racial black man and he’s our elected leader (and by the way — elected without question and a Supreme Court case unlike President Bush… yet no one leveled the same claims in his direction).

Need proof? In 2010, there was a much discussed Daily Kos poll conducted by an independent research group measuring registered Republicans beliefs about the President and a number of political issues. Now, this poll has been critiqued by Republicans as not being representative and biased and all of that kind of stuff. So, let’s look at it from a demographic point of view…

  • The poll measured 56% men and 44% women. According to a CNN/AP poll of Republicans in 2006, 52% of all GOP’ers are male, so the Daily Kos poll is within an acceptable level of variance.
  • They measured 89% white respondents and other/ refused made up 11%. Actually, if anything it’s under-representing how WHITE the GOP actually is — according to the US Census Bureau in 2009.
  • As far as age goes, 18-29 Daily Kos 9% (32% Gallup, 2009); Daily Kos 30-44 21% (Gallup 30-49 were 38%), Daily Kos 45-59  33% (38% 50-64); and Daily Kos 60+ 37% (41+ 65+). So, aside from under-representing young peoples’ responses, it’s not too bad on the rest of the categories, so the Daily Kos could be said to be representative of older GOP beliefs rather than younger GOP beliefs.

Bottom line, based on demographic comparisons — it’s pretty representative for older members of the GOP. So, what did the Daily Kos poll reveal that was so damning about members of the GOP’s racism and intolerance?

  • A majority of those polled (i.e., 58%) either believed that President Obama was NOT born in the US (36%) or at the very least, they weren’t sure (22%).
  • A majority of those polled (i.e., 76%) either believed that President Obama wanted the TERRORISTS (43%) to win or at the very least, they weren’t sure (33%).
  • A majority of those polled (69%) believe Barack Obama is a racist who hates White people (36%) or at the very least, they weren’t sure (33%).
  • An overwhelming majority (73%) didn’t believe that openly gay men and women should be allowed to teach in public schools, and the majority of the remaining GOP’ers weren’t sure (21%).
  • A full 1/3 of those polled (34%) believe birth control is ABORTION and nearly 20% weren’t entirely sure — so over half even have a problem with birth control pills.

Were the questions loaded? Yes, but the wording on them should have prompted a social-desirability bias meaning that in normal civil society, no one should ever WANT to say that their President wasn’t an American who wants terrorists to hurt the US/ Americans. That suggests in normal social science research that a lot of those undecideds probably leaned more towards the “Yes” response, but knew that it was inappropriate for them to believe that way.

No other president has ever had to deal with these fundamental types of questions (ignoring the last two social questions). While many presidents and their policies have been well-critiqued, no other president has ever had fundamental questions about their citizenship and loyalty to the country they serve questioned. Yet, here’s a guy whose political beliefs are fairly moderate — why does his cabinet look like the Clinton administration’s … because President Clinton was a moderate liberal too. Why are those on the left dissatisfied with Obama? Because he’s not that damned liberal…he’s a political and social moderate.

I’m not one who sees racism around every corner, but we have a serious problem among a substantial proportion of our population with regards of fundamental questions of racial equality. In fact, new research suggests that racial prejudice is likely to negatively influence this election even more than we would have ever suspected. This isn’t limited to presidential politics either — the US Army is having to battle and purge White Supremacists from their ranks fueled by the modern Crusade against Muslims.

So, am I surprised? Absolutely not. Especially, when you bring back into the fold Asshole #2 who thinks that our religious freedoms in the United States are under attack. Now, keep in mind this person meant CHRISTIANITY is under attack in the United States. It’s a little early for the Christmas season, but this status update seems to be opening the store doors before black Friday for this one. Since when is it difficult to be “out” as a Christian in this country? Sure, columns on Al Jazeera are making the argument that religious fundamentalism is becoming more central to Republican politics, but an increasing amount of polling and academic research is suggesting that at least 20-30% of the American population view themselves as fundamentalist Christians.

So, when the Daily Kos poll reports that the overwhelming majority see gays as a threat to public education and an unsettling number even view birth control as abortion, I absolutely agree that religious freedom in the United States is at risk, but not in the same way that these people who wear their Christianity on their sleeve seem to think. The freedom to practice religions other than Christianity is at serious risk — just ask the 2.6 million Muslims in the US who are facing attacks on their ability to practice their religion in many ways from zoning problems for Mosques, facing job discrimination, and increasing violence. Jon Stewart has consistently attacked the religious right on their hypocritical views on ‘religious freedom’ identifying hypocritical and hyperbolic arguments on a lot of different issues (e.g., the ‘war on religion‘, or employment).

Freedom of religion is not only about the freedom to practice any religion that we want, but it is also the freedom FROM having any government sanctioned religious beliefs forced on the populace. Remember, the first amendment says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof“. That means that the government isn’t allowed to “establish” (i.e., endorse) any particular religion or religious beliefs as part of laws. That means that someone else’s religious beliefs regarding sexuality, marriage, etc. should never be forced on me (as a non-Christian) in the United States.

In some ways it seems like we’ve made progress on that front under the Obama administration — gays can now serve, DOMA was found unconstitutional, and more and more states are legalizing gay marriage. Yet, in others the growth of Christian fundamentalism has made it difficult to have conversations for women about birth control, about the government mandating birth control as part of insurance coverage, and about the availability of abortions despite Roe v. Wade establishing it as constitutionally appropriate. To me, it seems that where we’ve made grounds in some areas, we’ve moved backwards in others. In fact, the typical GOP stance as anti-choice has been expanded in the official 2012 GOP platform (which both Romney and Ryan defacto or directly endorse) supports the personhood amendment, which would not only outlaw abortions in the US, but would outlaw or limit access to birth control, in vitro fertilization, prevent doctors from treating women with life-threatening conditions, and certainly throw the US back another decade in stem cell research. This is a religious position that is being forced into a public policy context.

So, let’s put this into perspective — the growth of Christian fundamentalism in the United States is not only a threat to what America is — a secular nation created for anyone — but the Christian fundamentalists themselves are much more like the Muslim fundamentalists they claim to want to protect us from.

Yet, in this country the new and more radical religious right find it alright to question the President’s patriotism, heritage, and intentions for this country because not only is he a half-black guy, but his views happen to differ from theirs. There couldn’t be anything less American than the views articulated by the modern ‘conservative Christian’.

To be honest, I’m just tired of the bullshit. Why can’t we just call bullshit right now? In part, a lot of liberals lack the internal fortitude to laugh at the ridiculousness and call it ‘malarky’. I respect Vice President Biden because he can/does call people on this kind of stuff. We should all come out of the closet and start calling them — if we are squeamish about using the word bullshit (or just find it disrespectful to a perfectly good fertilizer) to talk about them, then use Biden’s word “malarky”. But it’s time that we started standing up for tolerance — expanding its definition beyond those who dominate the public sphere.

Is calling bullshit nice? Probably not, but fuck nice. I don’t care if there are racists (I’d prefer people to be more enlightened) because they remind us of the small-minded bullshit that is a threat to modern civil society. I don’t care if there are fundamentalists (though I wish there weren’t) because they remind us of the incestuous and dangerous nature of dogma left unchecked. What I care about is that these views are allowed to drive conversations and voting behaviors without social sanction.

When people try to claim that America is attacking the freedom of people to be Christians, we should laugh at them for being fucking ridiculous. If someone’s a racist or fundamentalist they should be a social pariah because they’re assholes. It’ll only be at this point that we can have meaningful discussion about policy and the path our society wants to take. Until then, we’re just going to keep using euphemisms and letting assholes get away with it.

Just some closing food for thought, I know whose side I’m on, do you?

American health care, great for the rich and old

My Dad is having a minor surgery today to repair a hernia. He’s 69 years old and on Medicare and I’m glad for it because since he turned 65, for the first time in his life, he’s had affordable access to medical care. You see, my parents have always been self-employed and there were a lot of years where proper regular medical care was a luxury they couldn’t afford.

And then in the years leading up to their eligibility for  Medicare, their health insurance premiums were about $650/month….EACH. So, for a family making around $65,000 per year, about one quarter of their income went to their health insurance premiums. Gold plan? I think not, they still had a $2,500 co-pay, plus cost sharing up to $7,500…each. One year, they both had to have surgeries, so they paid 47% of their annual income that year to medical expenses, and they had insurance. Fortunately, they were able to shoulder the expense, unlike the thousands of Americans each year who have to declare bankruptcy because of medical expenses (about 60% of American bankruptcies are a result of medical expenses).

Do you want to know the irony of it all? My Dad’s a lifelong Republican, who has spent his whole life voting against his own interests. He’s spent his whole life begrudging ‘government interference’ in education, health care, and life in general. Yet, my whole family are the products of public education. My grandparents and my parents (all faithful GOP members) have all taken more out of the federal system than they ever contributed. And yet, each and every one of them would’ve voted against any or all of these programs.

Thankfully, politicians have more sense than my family (scary thought) and have enacted policies designed to educate and help at least some segments of the American population in spite of themselves. But this is the problem… We have a political system that relies on voters and politicians to be sensible and focused on not only their own good, but what’s good for society.

So, now as we look ahead to the 2012 election, we face a fundamental question…do we want to live in civil society or “Deadwood”. While I’m pretty confident I’d make it alright in Deadwood, I don’t think most would. Yet, when you listen to the rhetoric of the right, I genuinely don’t think they understand the implications of their advocacy. I also don’t think it’s because they’re evil, I do think that they’re so isolated from where regular Americans live that they just can’t understand the lack of access absent shared costs through government programs (notice shared costs, not free).

As for the citizens of Deadwood, people like my family, they’ve all drunk the Kool-Aid, they fail to think, and they can’t see beyond their own fake world … one where people are fooled into thinking the interests of the wealthy are the same as the interests of the working class. See, that’s the big lie in America — the ‘American Dream’ sometimes happens, kind of like winning Lotto, but for the vast majority we just spend our $1 each week to be disappointed, and then get on with the rest of our lives.

So, as I’m looking around this waiting room, at a majority of old folks having surgeries, I’m glad they’ve left Deadwood… at least once they reach 65, no matter whether they vote their interests or are like my family, vote against their interest, their family’s interests, and the interests of average Americans. That’s one reason representative democracy is a heck of a lot better than direct democracy :).

No, please don’t vote

Unless you’re a responsible citizen.

It’s nearing the “big” election in the US — the one that rolls around every four years and where we still only have about a 60% voter turn out in a banner year (i.e., 2008). In a midterm election, like 2010, the figure drops to about 40%. Now, as we’re approaching the 2012 general election, the voter registration drives are in full force and honestly, I ask why bother?  Seriously — This is a question I ask anyone (liberal or conservative) who says, “but I’m not very political, so I go with what I hear around me…”… why vote? 

If folks aren’t political, then why vote if you’re not genuinely informed about multiple sides of an issue or multiple candidates? I’ve had a lot of occasions on local issues and local elections (e.g., judges) where I just haven’t cast a vote because I had no idea genuinely whether or not a particular candidate or issue was good, so I figured, why vote a party line when that may not actually be the best choice?

I think this is a challenge because we have this idea that voting is inherently good. It’s not… we can make bad decisions (anyone ever regretted someone they dated?), but we’re certainly more likely to make bad decisions when they’re not informed decisions. However, there’s this pressure that gets put on us to participate in our democracy because we think we have to… well… we should, but if we’re not prepared then why participate when we only know a part of the story? I’m all for people getting involved because the decisions that get made at the local, state, and federal levels affects us (e.g., health care, etc.) and because there isn’t anyone nor any party with all the answers, yet it seems like we don’t ask the questions to force an answer most of the time.

I’m also sick of hearing people bitch about government not doing what they wanted — not representing the people. Well, the majority of voting Americans are dumbasses — they either don’t vote (i.e., the 60% who didn’t bother to vote in 2010… even the 40% who didn’t vote in 2008) or they don’t know enough about politics to make a reasoned decision. If you are not political — don’t screw it up for the rest of us. If you don’t trust the rest of us to make your decision, then be a responsible citizen and learn something about history, politics, economics, and start following this stuff.

We get the government that we deserve and clearly in the last decade it’s been a dysfunctional government because our populace is too lazy, entitled, and self-absorbed to make critical and reasoned decisions about the things that actually affect us on a daily basis like education and foreign policy. Instead, we get so worked up by whether a gay man gets to marry his life partner or what a woman is doing with her body that we forget what government is supposed to be there for — to protect us from the state of nature.

So, ignore the media campaigns this year — if you’re not already registered to vote… don’t bother. If you haven’t been following politics — if you didn’t bother to watch any of the GOP primary debates, if you don’t watch/read multiple political news sources (with multiple viewpoints) on a regular basis, if you shy away from political conversations because it’s not ‘nice’ to disagree, or anything along those lines — save the rest of us the annoyance of your irrational decision-making and just don’t vote!

As the US was in its infancy, Thomas Jefferson argued, “An educated citizenry is a vital requisite for our survival as a free people.” He didn’t mean that we all had to have PhD’s or even bachelor’s degrees — he meant that it was a citizens’ responsibility to understand the world, the issues, and the politics if we were ever to protect the ‘freedom’ that so many Americans are so quick to talk about. We have failed and we should be embarrassed because we haven’t lived up to our end of the bargain.