01 October 2009

Bet Red

If I have to say anything “good” has come from the mighty uproar from the conservative right since the election, I will have to say that fiscal awareness seems to be growing. It’s good to know where your money comes from and where it goes. Though I wish the fervor had come, say, 8 years ago, I am glad to see people finally starting to care about where their tax dollars go. I would also like to encourage everyone to examine where the rest of their money goes, especially charitable donations.

When you donate funds to “good causes” how aware are you of where your money actually goes? When you tithe, do you know whether or not you are funding a new gym, the salary of a deacon, or a new car for the pastor? When you buy candy from your kid’s school, do you know how much of that money actually goes to fund the school and how much goes to the sponsoring company? When you buy those Girl Scout cookies in bulk, do you know how much of that actually helps out your local troop and how much funds new cookie recipe research, packaging, and marketing campaigns? If you do, I commend you. If you don’t, I encourage you to at least think about it—even if you don’t change your charitable habits, at least be aware of the overhead involved.

One way to ensure that your charitable dollars go to exactly the cause intended is to donate to DonorsChoose.org. Essentially, the site lets you help fund school projects. As education funds are continually being cut, and debates go on about the level of federal and local involvement, school kids bear the brunt. Donors Choose helps kids get the education and experiences they need. And the best part is that you know exactly where your money goes. If you choose to donate, you get to choose not only what school, classroom, and specific project you are helping fund, but you also get to decide if all of your donation goes to fund the program or if a portion of it can be designated to help Donors Choose administration costs. The donation page breaks out all the costs associated with each project. There’s never any doubt where your dollars are going. As an added bonus, depending on the amount you donate to a project, the classes will even send you pictures and thank-you notes when a project is fulfilled.

For the past several years (save last year when we were buying a house) my boyfriend and I have donated to Donors Choose through Sars’s Tomato Nation/Donors Choose Contest. Every October, loyal readers chip in to see just how much money we can raise and how many projects we can fund. Two years ago my boyfriend and I helped fund classroom dictionaries and a reading table for two local Indiana schools. The thank-you notes and pictures we received are priceless.

We’re pitching in again this year. Please consider adding Donors Choose to your charitable giving list. And hey, if now is a good time (you know, before the Christmas gift money gets sucked away), you could always donate through Sars’s challenge and add to that total as well.

In giving even just a little you can be part of something so big.

21 September 2009

By Way of Explaining

I often tell my boyfriend—and I’m pretty sure he believes—that I am a snob. I tell him that I am better than other people because I am smarter and make better decisions. I tell him that I have little respect for people who complain about their life when they control the circumstances that put—and keep—them there. I am better than they because I got myself out of bad situations. Instead of complaining and malingering, I tugged on my bootstraps and made the hard decisions, embraced humility, and made myself something more. I alone was responsible for bettering my situation and, thus, I am better than they.

It’s a nice illusion. That illusion is often the only thing I have to focus on, especially when I am feeling my lowest. The thought that I climbed out of a financial and emotional hole when other people can’t is about the only thing I feel I have going for me. Because the one life lesson I have learned and learned well is that I am easily dismissed.

It’s tough being dismissed. Dismissed because someone thinks you are hyperbolic, uneducated, or invalid. It is hard to believe the dismissal isn’t personal. It’s difficult to consider the person dismissing you and wonder if they are just insecure in their own beliefs or are scared of the ramifications if your feelings really are valid. The sting of dismissal usually overshadows all that is rational. Instead, your self-worth diminishes; your value decreases. After all, why would anyone listen to you if all you do is over exaggerate? What worth do you have if you are always wrong? Why should you keep offering if you are only ever ignored? What can you bring to the conversation if you are invalid?

Granted, some dismissals are easier to take than others. I realized a few weeks ago that my boyfriend’s mother had summarily dismissed me. Nothing I said would have had any effect because I had already been dismissed as someone trying to steal away her son. I can handle that dismissal only because her son (the most important factor in that equation) reassured me that he did not agree with her.

Other dismissals, though, are much harder to handle. When your own mother calls you selfish for not wanting to go shopping because you have the flu. When you have a physical, palpable fear of someone and it’s dismissed as ridiculous. When you are specifically asked your opinion and your reply is dismissed as judgmental. Or when you see someone you care about struggling and you offer advice to make it easier and are dismissed as interfering or demeaned as an insufferable know-it-all. Constant dismissal chips away at any reserve of strength.

My boyfriend always commends me on my ability to seek help from store clerks, or to be able to call customer service to ask questions, or even to go out and do research on topics I find interesting. He thinks it’s confidence. In reality, it’s self-depreciation. When you have been considered incompetent, wrong, and dismissed often enough, it doesn’t matter if you ask others for help or seek guidance elsewhere. It’s assumed that you need to. You don’t have the confidence to believe you know the right answer or that your ideas might be valid. Seeking others’ help or advice is a given. Otherwise, you are just an insufferable know-it-all. As a result, I am never confident in anything anymore. I am always qualifying answers, double-checking facts or figures, and admitting that I could always be wrong. Those qualifications then enforce the idea that I really don’t know anything, that I am, in fact, dismissible.

It’s exhausting living this way. Always justifying and rationalizing. Trying to find reference outside of myself in order to prove myself. I don’t even know why. I try to tell myself that others’ opinions don’t matter, that my self-worth is not defined by them. That no one can make me feel inferior without my permission. But when all you see is dismissal, when all you get for trying to be strong is rejection, it wears on you. You begin to believe it. You begin to think that if so many others believe the same thing, then you must be the problem. You must try harder to be strong, to be right, to be valid. You must find something outside of yourself to prove that you are not dismissible.

So, I have this space; this corner of the web where no one is obligated to visit. Where no one is obligated to read or respond without their choosing. Here, I can try to find myself. I can attempt to figure out what I believe and why. I can choose to support my views or not. I can write as much or as little as I want. Here, I do not have to see the dismissal. People can click away and I’ll never know. People can dismiss my views and ridicule them on their own blogs, to their friends, family—even to my friends and family—and I never have to know.

Outwardly, if pretending to be a snob causes people to dismiss me, I can handle that because I know, deep down, it’s a front. They are only dismissing an illusion. And for now, I’d rather be dismissed as a snob than as someone who is invalid. I’d rather pretend to think too much of myself than have to admit that I feel as though I am nothing at all.

14 September 2009

Repeal DOMA Now

According to The Hill, Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) will be proposing a bill this week to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). DOMA was passed during Clinton’s presidency in 1996. According to H.R.3396:

‘No State, territory, or possession of the United States, or Indian tribe, shall be required to give effect to any public act, record, or judicial proceeding of any other State, territory, possession, or tribe respecting a relationship between persons of the same sex that is treated as a marriage under the laws of such other State, territory, possession, or tribe, or a right or claim arising from such relationship.’

‘In determining the meaning of any Act of Congress, or of any ruling, regulation, or interpretation of the various administrative bureaus and agencies of the United States, the word ‘marriage’ means only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife, and the word ‘spouse’ refers only to a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife.’
The purpose of part the first is to make an exception to the “Full Faith and Credit” Clause of Article IV, Section 1 of the United States Constitution that states:

Full faith and credit shall be given in each state to the public acts, records, and judicial proceedings of every other state. And the Congress may by general laws prescribe the manner in which such acts, records, and proceedings shall be proved, and the effect thereof.
This article makes it possible for other states to recognize civil issues from state to state, like marriages, drivers’ licenses, judiciary rulings, and property ownership. If you are civilly married in one state and then move to another, you don’t have to be remarried in your new state. DOMA was written to specifically exclude that right for same-sex marriages. Whereas the Constitution specifically ensures these rights, DOMA rejects them. In most legal circles, this would make H.R.3396 unconstitutional.

Merriam Webster’s Dictionary defines discrimination as “1 a : the act of discriminationg b : the process by which two stimuli differing in some aspect are responded to differently.” If you read further, you find, “3 a : the act, practice, or an instance of discriminating categorically rather than individually.”

“Categorically.” Same-sex marriages are a category to be treated differently than hetero marriages. No matter how you choose to read it, the bill discriminates against a group of people, much like blacks were discriminated against in the 1960s. There is one major difference though, blacks were not specifically discriminated against in the Constitution, they just weren’t mentioned as a category. So the nation fixed it in 1870 by ratifying the Fifteenth Amendment granting everyone the right to vote without regard to race, color, or previous condition (i.e. slavery). That wasn’t enough, so the nation took action again with the Civil Rights Act of 1964, that banned discrimination in employment practices and public accommodations; the Voting Rights Act of 1965, that restored and protected voting rights; the Immigration and Nationality Services Act of 1965, that dramatically opened entry to the U.S. to immigrants other than traditional European groups; and the Civil Rights Act of 1968, that banned discrimination in the sale or rental of housing.

It amazes me that with such a history of inclusion that the nation would suddenly decide to reverse its progressive action and instead of passing laws to be more inclusive, it decided to be specifically exclusive; and with overwhelming numbers. In the Senate, 85 (53R, 32D) voted in favor with only 14 (14D) against (one senator abstained from voting). In the House, 342 (224R, 118D) voted for and 65 (1R, 65D, 1I) voted against (24 abstained).

A full 427 lawmakers in this nation felt justified in stripping away the rights of citizens—for no other reason than “gay marriage” made a bunch of people uncomfortable. Same-sex marriage has not been proven to be indecent—or laws would have already accommodated that. It hasn’t proven to be criminal—or, again, laws would have addressed it. Religious justification is out because the First Amendment screws up that. Black people made a bunch of people uncomfortable, too, but rather than specifically exclude black people, the nation made its vague laws more pointed to specifically include them. And 30 years later, the nation decided to specifically exclude gay people. And not even gay people, just gay married people. Oh, being gay is fine because we apparently haven’t yet found a way to make that illegal, but in the meantime, until we figure out a way, we’ll make it illegal for your marriage to be just as valid as any other couple in the nation.

It’s not illegal to be black, just illegal to be black and vote. Oh, wait.

The Hill article indicates that repealing the act won’t gain much traction as it might distract from greater LGBT rights legislation (specifically employment rights and federal benefits for domestic partners). To that, I say you can’t forge ahead with any rights legislation until you repeal DOMA. You can’t delineate specific rights for people until you give them back the right you unlawfully took from them in 1996—the basic right to be treated just as any other citizen in the nation.

Call, email, and/or write your representatives and senators today. Tell them that the first step in regaining freedoms for all Americans is to repeal DOMA.

07 September 2009

A Point Missing in the Healthcare Debate

The other night, my boyfriend (I’m going to have to come up with an online nickname for him), was chatting online with someone from Canada. He said he went ahead and asked “The Question” about whether or not she liked her healthcare. Her answer was, “Yes!” and they went on to discuss it for a little while.

The US has been having this debate all over. People are comparing a “public option” with the Canadian and British National Healthcare systems. In trying to find some good links to research on this topic, I came up short. Oh, I found plenty of articles. I found just as many articles on how the Canadians and Brits hate their systems as I did about how the Canadians and Brits love their system. The main problem with most of these articles was that they were either supposition or personal experience.

Supposition articles don’t work because they aren’t backed up by solid facts. Even the ones stating how the Canadian system is running out of money don’t have solid reports from the Canadian government to back them up – just “trends” based on poll data. Poll data seems to be most of the basis for being “anti” nationalized healthcare when the comparison debates crops up. Personal experience is just as poor as poll data as it relies on few individuals to represent the whole. Personal experience does not equate to statistics or whole numbers.

What finally occurred to me, as my boyfriend was relating his online conversation, was that none of the articles I’ve found online address what I think is a HUGE point in comparing nationalized healthcare to the current US system: All Canadians and Brits have health coverage. People can write hundreds of articles vilifying nationalized healthcare. Opponents can trot out hundred of Canadians or Brits who had poor experiences with the nationalized system. However, even the person who hates their nationalized healthcare the most, even the Canadian or Brit who finds nothing redeemable about having nationalized healthcare still has one thing over 42 million Americans: They actually still *have* healthcare. 42 million Americans don’t.

42 million Americans don’t have long lines to complain about because they can’t even get into the lines to begin with. 42 million Americans don’t have months-long waiting periods to moan about because they can’t even get a doctor to wait months for. They don’t have to file arguments with the government about whether or not their cancer treatment is covered because they can’t even get the cancer treatment in the first place. As bad as any nationalized healthcare system is, the people still get health coverage. 42 million Americans don’t.

Do I understand that if we as a nation want to tackle this problem we should make sure we can implement the best system possible? Yes. Do I think that any solution that helps get people health coverage is better than no solution at all? YES. What infuriates me the most is that the proffered “public option” still isn’t even a nationalized plan – it’s not an expansion of Medicare or Medicaid. The public option is just trying to get people a better price for the same health insurance that most employers provide. The “public option” isn’t guaranteed health care. It’s not even guaranteed health *coverage.* Even if we were to implement the public option, there would still be millions of Americans who couldn’t afford even the deeply-discounted plans and would still not qualify for Medicare or Medicaid and go without.

People are wasting so much breath arguing against “nationalized” healthcare when that isn’t even on the table (despite the millions of Americans who believe it should be). Instead of concentrating on trying to get more people covered for health care costs, opponents will obfuscate and misdirect. Point out the problems with nationalized healthcare! Even if that’s not what’s happening, people will be so afraid they’ll vote “no” on whatever is actually put in front of them. Make them afraid of it! Tell them that their own health care is in jeopardy (without pointing out that their current health insurance is actually pretty darn bad). They throw out words like “socialism,” “fascism,” and “Nazism,” without even regarding their meaning. Just to stoke the fires of fear.

The “Teabaggers” at the health care town halls only think they are trying to protest the –isms. Shout in anger and tremble in fear at the nasty –isms being thrown around! When in actuality, they’re protesting my friend getting prenatal care because she has high blood pressure and can’t qualify for health insurance. They’re protesting women getting breast cancer treatments. They’re protesting men getting treatment for prostate cancer. They’re protesting children getting vaccinations. They’re protesting against 42 million Americans getting health coverage.

100% of Canadians and Brits have health coverage.

42 million Americans don’t.

31 August 2009

My Love/Hate Relationship with Twitter

I’m a talker. People who know me in person know that I can talk, talk, talk, talk, talk. I have a million reasons I blame, but it still remains that I. Talk. I started this blog to specifically talk about things that are Deeply Important™ to me. Because I sincerely want to speak out and a blog is just one way I can write down and refine my thoughts, and be challenged and challenge right back. It also helps out my boyfriend, as I mentioned in the first post, because he has enough to deal with on top of my personal crusades.

But even so, this blog only gets out a little bit of the dialogue running through my head. I’ve recently joined Facebook, too. It’s neat, that Facebook community thing. I can keep in touch with my family all over the country. I can see pictures and video from them. I get to hear from my brother in Atlanta more than twice a year. I can witness my Marine cousin’s decline into complete assholery while he’s stationed in Iraq. On Facebook, I can even get out a few more of the thoughts in my head. I can moan about the Redwings signing Todd Bertuzzi, or make fun of myself when I screw up something simple (like, you know, trying to print a document and continually hitting the “Save” button instead). With all its features, though, Facebook is still limiting. It’s not a place where I feel comfortable posting a running dialogue. Instead, I have to save up those issues and spew them all over my poor boyfriend when I get home from work. “And then, oh then she had the nerve to say she was in line first, when clearly, I was.” Mind you, my boyfriend is a champ at putting up with my incredibly long-winded tales. I know it’s not easy.

As a result, I considered Twitter. 140 characters seemingly built exactly for the commentary running through my head daily. I looked into it and was discouraged for a long while. There seemed to be two Twitter camps – those who simply posted the tweets about their thoughts, day, etc., and though Twitter does have direct messaging capabilities, people still use regular tweets a sort of community instant messenger, re-tweeting and commenting on every other tweet they follow. If you’ve ever “followed” a person on Twitter, you’ll find that the twitter streams from those in Camp 2 can get awfully annoying. You can have a twitterer post a dozen “tweets” on their feed responding to other people they follow and thus their twitter stream becomes a bunch of one-sided comments to comments about which you have no clue. For example, from twittergeek’s twitter stream (all, completely fictitious names, by the way):
@twittergal: Right on, sister!
@twitternut: I know! I can’t believe that happened either!
@twitterbum: Have you tried honey and toilet paper?

An on an on. And if you’re like me, you’re like, dude, what on earth was happening that they suggested honey and toilet paper? So you click over to see @twitterbum’s feed, but it’s been a few hours so twitterbum’s feed is exactly the same!

@twitternerd: Purple and itchy!
@twitterpal: I think that’s tomorrow.
@twitteruser: That’s what @twitterdoctor said!

Gah!! It’s an endless click-through maze and you’ll never get to know for what condition you would use honey and toilet paper. What’s worse is that twitterers can also automatically update their Facebook pages with their twitter steam. One of my FB friends did this and my Facebook homepage ended up being 50 daily tweets from them and I couldn’t get to the *actual* Facebook updates from my other friends and family. Sadly, I had to block that person’s posts just to restore sanity to my Facebook page. Based on this phenomenon, I pretty much left Twitter alone for a while.

Recently, though, I found a few twitter feeds that seemed more like Camp #1, just a running commentary on thoughts and interests of the day. The longer I followed those twitter feeds, the more I liked it. The more I thought I finally found an outlet for my daily commentary. It’s a place where I can post the updates of my saga with Home Depot’s online service program. I can spew about the ridiculousness of how I walked the short distance to the cafeteria for only two things and forgot one of them by the time I got there. A place where I can bore everyone or no one at all with the fact that today there were three dead birds outside my office window and what the heck is up with that?

Oh, Twitter, will you help me move my vocal verbosity to the interwebs instead of to the ears of my patient, loving boyfriend? I promise I won’t use it as an IM feed and stick to the really boring 140-character updates of which no one but me cares. And when I see articles like the one about Kentucky, I’ll save it for my blog and not Twitter.

24 August 2009

A Letter to the Current RNC Chairperson

Dear Mr. Steele:

I read your article today in the Washington Post about the RNC’s “Health Care Bill of Rights” for seniors. A large portion of the argument you present is that in reforming healthcare (to at least provide a public option for people who otherwise can’t afford healthcare) is that Medicare shouldn’t be touched. Medicare is a socialized medical care program for senior citizens who otherwise can’t afford private insurance.

Please, re-read that last sentence. Or, here, I’ll re-type it: Medicare is a socialized medical care program for senior citizens who otherwise can’t afford private insurance.

Let’s rewind the clock, to say, oh, 1995. The GOP stance during the last Democrat president was the exact same thing being proposed now. Go read this archived article from the NY Times. Note, also, that because of a new “redesign,” the RNC website no longer holds archived material for more specific fact checking. Interesting timing, no? Because the 1995 article quotes Clinton as saying that the Republican’s proposed plan would “…increase premiums and other costs for senior citizens,’ he said. ‘It would reduce doctor choice. It would force many doctors to stop serving seniors altogether. It threatens to put rural hospitals and urban hospitals out of business. Brick by brick, it would dismantle Medicare as we know it.’”

In trying to find details of this 1995 Republican plan, I have come up short. However, did find this nice timeline provided by PBS of the whole issue (though still no links or specifics to the 1995 plan). Highlights of which are:
  • February 1995: “[Republicans] propose reducing more than $250 billion from Medicare and more than $175 billion from Medicaid.”
  • September 21, 1995: “He and other Democrats complain that Republicans intend to force a vote on their plan -- still not fully disclosed--after just a Single day of hearings the following week.”
Surely the RNC isn’t flip-flopping. Because looking at today, you say: “These types of ‘reforms’ don't make sense for the future of an already troubled federal program or for the services it provides that millions of Americans count on.” You’re right, because according to the Medicare website, as of 2008, 45 million Americans counted on Medicare.

At first I figured you didn’t actually see the irony, and then I remembered, in 1995, you were 14 years farther away from retirement. You haven’t served more than 5 years in federal government either, so you and many of your private-citizen cronies at the RNC don’t qualify for the government’s pension plan like the Senators and Representatives. Unlike back then, now you’re staring retirement in the face, aren’t you? Gosh, what would you do if your insurance costs got too high? What if your retirement funds get sucked away by a bout of prostate cancer or a particularly virulent mutation of the swine flu? What if your wife is stricken by osteoporosis or even breast cancer? How on earth would you pay your medical bills?

I could almost justify the switch if the financial issues surrounding Medicare had actually changed over the last 15 years, but alas, it has not, as you yourself point out in calling Medicare “an already troubled federal program.” Could I please request an update of the RNC views on subjects? The U-turns are giving me whiplash.

Oh, and one other minor quibble, might I also suggest a further edit on your new website? On the “Republican Principles” page, the first two principles are stated:
  • “I BELIEVE the strength of our nation lies with the individual and that each person’s dignity, freedom, ability and responsibility must be honored.
  • I BELIEVE in equal rights, equal justice and equal opportunity for all, regardless of race, creed, sex, age or disability.”

You should really amend those to “unless you are not like us, in which case our viewpoints and perspectives trump said dignity, freedom, ability, and responsibility. Most especially with regard to religion, sexuality, marriage, health care, and reproductive issues.”

Completely-Heterosexual-Platonic-Love and Kisses,

10 August 2009

Speaking of Things Sometimes Better Left Unsaid

There are many rules for general society, mostly about manners, politeness, and respect. Usually, these are drummed into us from childhood. We are taught to respect others through our actions and words. Shake hands, speak politely, modulate our voices, eat neatly, dress appropriately all as to not make others uncomfortable. Don’t be rude. When we are confronted with rudeness or poor manners from others, we are told to rise above it, not to stoop to it. We must take the high road as to appear more civilized. We certainly “know better.” You cannot force someone else to see your reasoning. Better to let them alone lest you yourself be seen as arrogant.

But there is also the old slang definition for doormat.

I write this post conflicted. Manners have been so ingrained in me that pointing out rudeness in someone else is just not done. Miss Manners would agree emphatically. I know, logically, that you cannot change the beliefs or actions of others. That you only can control yourself. But lately, I’ve come to realize that sticking up for yourself doesn’t have to be seen as arrogant or rude. That virtual slaps from other people to your character or beliefs do not have to be taken without a response. And when those slaps occur in front of other people, you should be able to defend yourself without worrying about being rude or impolite.

Last week, I had an email exchange with my boyfriend’s mother regarding the new healthcare plan. It sounds all cordial writing it that way, but in reality, it wasn’t. Her initial points were in all caps and full of anger and lies. My response was not much better, though I did at least use factual sources and provide citations. At the crux of it all, it was politics, simply politics. She shouted her opinions and I shouted the opposite. I thought it was over when she sent me a very brief, but respectful, email stating that she did not want to discuss politics as she wasn’t interested in my opinions and for me to not email her any more, thanks. I was more than happy to let it go at that. I’d said my piece.

Imagine my surprise when 3 minutes later I received another email from her, this one decidedly not cordial. In addition to reiterating that I not email her again, she said she “knew sooner or later [I]'d find a way to separate [Boyfriend] from his family and [I] have succeeded in doing so.” This one sent me reeling. None of my previous messages contained any personal attacks on her or even referenced my relationship with her son at all. And as I was pondering where that accusation could have possibly come from, she sent a third email—a single line: “Please don't email me again. I won't read them. I'll just delete them.” Three emails, each less cordial then the prior, all within 14 minutes.

It was clear that she had read more into my email than intended, if she was making judgments about my intentions with her son. And as her son and I have been together for almost 9 years, this belief of hers was news to both me and him. With this escalation, I was even more certain that I would not reply and simply let it go. She had escalated it well beyond what I thought was reasonable and logical and it was best to not engage any further. Until.

You knew there was an “until” didn’t you? Less than an hour later, I received another email from her. She had forwarded my original email to five other people with an added message saying (among other things):
She obviously feels the need "to straighten me out on the facts", which we all know are untrue. I think this says alot [sic] about her character. I have no idea why she feels the need to attack me. We all knew she'd find a way to separate [Boyfriend] from his family.
Of the names visible in the “To:” line, most were my boyfriend’s siblings, and the others were names neither my boyfriend nor I recognized. Strangers. This is where she crossed the line. I had no qualms about "shouting" responses to her directly, but when she involved other people it changed the game. I could not simply reply to everyone. They likely had no care whatsoever about what was happening and did not deserve to be placed in the middle of an argument clearly between the two of us. She might have attacked my character in public in a way the manners would dictate I not respond, but that didn't mean I had to let it go. Until now, my blog had remained fairly anonymous. I’d not advertised it and rarely included a link to it when I’ve commented elsewhere on the web. But now, it’s public. I’ve announced on my Facebook page that I have a blog and that this post is the reason for it. I cannot politely refute her to the people she emailed, but I most certainly can defend myself on my own public space. I will not be a doormat.

Through this whole exchange, I couldn’t help but compare it to the current political atmosphere. Since the election, critics have been yelling from the rooftops about how the current government is unfit. They have criticized every voice in government that is in opposition to their own. They’ve screamed lies and tried to instill fear in anyone who thinks differently than they. They’ve attacked and insulted people’s characters in forums where politeness dictates that the attacked should not stoop to their level. When the attacked do have a legitimate chance to respond, they counter rationally, using facts and providing sources. They keep their tone modulated and polite. They allow that they cannot force the opposition to believe the truth; they can only provide them with facts. They even provide the facts again and again, even as the voices of the opposition get louder, less truthful, and more disruptive.

It’s time someone stood up to them. It’s time we stopped tolerating the rudeness of the opposition and begin treating them like the lying, bratty children that they are. It’s time to override their boorishness and remind them of respect. If we continue to let them shout from rooftops, that’s the only message that will be heard. It’s time to confront them and silence their tantrums with honesty and facts. Louder does not mean truer. And I, for one, am no longer taking it, not from spoiled angry conservatives, and especially not from my boyfriend’s mother.

03 August 2009

The Foundation: Empiricism

I do not believe in deities. I don’t believe in the Judeo-Christian God, the Hindu Vishnu, the Muslim Allah, the Greek Zeus, or the Roman Jupiter. I have beliefs of the world and how it exists, but my beliefs don’t fit into any recognized—or even heretical, for that matter—religious pot. When it comes to day-to-day living, I base things on observed knowledge as much as possible. Though empiricism has been debated for a long as debate has existed, I’m still pretty comfortable that there are shared observations among people and that as long as we understand those shared observations, we can make decisions. Religion, by its very foundation in personal belief therefore cannot be “shared” observations. At least, not for everyone.

For example, most people around the planet can recognize the animal known to Americans as a cow. We all use different words to name it, and we all have different views on what to do with it, but we all recognize a sentient being separate from ourselves that walks on all fours and eats grass. These are empirical facts. Whether or not the cow is tasty to eat or a divine animal meant to be worshipped are non-empirical facts. There is nothing inherent in the cow itself that says “eat me” or “worship me.” Those ideas are placed upon the cow from external sources – people. Any subjective ideas placed upon other things by people are going to vary by as many people that you have. But even if a large number of people agree with an idea does not make it fact. Just because a large portion of Americans like the taste of beef does not automatically make a cow “tasty.” Conversely, just because hundreds of millions of people hold a cow to be sacred and refuse to eat a cow does not make beef “not tasty.”

It is the empirical ideas by which we must do our best to make laws when governing a large group of people. Not everyone feels this way. Many people believe in the “majority rules” way of government, in that whatever the most people in a given group decide, that is how they will act. Don’t get me wrong, this idea works fine when deciding what restaurant to go to or what movie to see. Because if a group picks a restaurant or a movie that one particular person is definitively against, that person is not obliged to go. When a governing body is trying to make laws that suffice to cover all people equally, opinion then has to be discarded and something more tangible must be put into place. And the best way to appease all people is to base laws on empirical truths. Let’s look at some examples.

Murder. Empirically, murder ends someone else’s life without their permission. Whether or not the murderer believes the killing was justified, they are placing their beliefs on another person, ergo, it should not be allowed. The same holds true for rape, robbery, arson, destruction, assault and any crimes against persons or objects. Any time the alleged assailant imposes their will on another person or thing that is not their own, they are at fault. This can be summed in the phrase, “Your rights end where mine begin.” Fraud also fits here. Lying to someone is the same as imposing your will on their actions or property. If you takes someone’s money under false pretenses, you are imposing your will on someone without their knowledge and permission—robbery.

Some other laws on the books are justifiable because they are essentially lease laws. The government builds roads or buildings and thus the people then are free to use these under rules set up by the owners (government). These rules tend to be less empirical and rely more on majority or ¾ rules, but try to maintain some relations to protecting civil rights. All people will be driving on roads, therefore rules are imposed to help increase the safety of all people. Does driving 70 mph impose your will on someone else? Singly, no. But if other people are sharing that road, the increased speed could put the other motorists in danger. And for the privilege of driving on the government-owned road, you agree to abide by government-set rules. If you own 100 acres of land criss-crossed with a variety of roads, you get to set your own speed limit, or obey none at all. If a corporation owns a building and hires employees, the corporation gets to set the rules. If the employees don’t want to comply, they can choose to leave the company.

Then there are some even trickier laws, like gun laws. People are free to own guns. But when a gun’s purpose (for sake of this specific argument) is to kill other people, imposing the shooter’s will on another person, things get sticky. The same goes for labor laws and religious laws. If a company gives employees paid time off for Christmas, why should someone who does not celebrate Christmas not get to take off Chanukah or Kwanzaa instead? (Of course, it’s not so sticky for me. My answer to those quandaries is that no laws should be made. We already have laws against murder, proven empirically; therefore, if a gun owner kills someone, they face the consequences. Period. Companies are also free to establish their own time-off schedules, and the employees can comply or not.)

I understand that this logic is also not without its flaws, but there are very few. It all boils down to simplicity. Let’s keep the laws simple, base them on something empirical, and then they are much easier to obey and to enforce. Keep government strictly for maintaining order for the group at large and protecting the whole from outsiders. This way, it also makes taxes a lot easier to sort out because the only “government programs” would be defense, civil order (e.g., roads and healthcare), and law enforcement for the empirical laws.

I maintain that this is what the Founders were thinking when they set up the Constitution. Freedom from persecution, no matter what your beliefs, was paramount. Personal property rights and personal freedoms were at the heart of the Revolution (especially against tyrannical rule and nonsense taxation from abroad). The Federalists papers and notes from Constitutional Congresses bear this out. The Constitution itself is bare bones, dictating the minimum rules by which to govern, keeping it simple. And the diversity of the colonists was just as varied then as it is today. With a smaller populace and land area, I think it was easier to maintain that ideal. But as the population grew and opinions became more varied and groups of like-minded people decided to band together, it got more difficult to remember that main empirical principle. If an entire state of people agreed to outlaw something, it was easier to enforce because there was no (or very little) opposition. Laws were passed without reaching back to the empirical basis. As the country grew, so did government. And here we are today.

I wonder how any political issues would disappear today if we could revert to the empirical-based governing upon which we were founded.

27 July 2009

Personal Responsibility

5 Facts:
  1. You always have a choice. Even if your choices are only crappy ones, you still have a choice.
  2. Choices come with consequences.
  3. Not all consequences are good.
  4. Not choosing is still a choice.
  5. “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” Eleanor Roosevelt.
I didn’t learn about personal responsibility until well after I graduated from college. My father died when I was young and my mother wasn’t so good at it herself and thus not a great role model. My siblings were all older by many years, but to her credit, my sister (closest in age but still 4 years older) I think occasionally tried to point out responsibility for actions, but I think she tried more by example, and me being so much younger couldn’t quite make the leap without explicit instruction. Needless to say, it wasn’t until I was out on my own, defaulting on my student loans, drowning in credit card debt, losing my driver’s license, and almost getting evicted from my apartment did the whole idea of responsibility start seeming like something I should become familiar with.

Recognizing my inherent luck, I did actually start figuring it out. It wasn’t easy, and it wasn’t without humility. Explaining wage garnishment to your boss is never a pleasant conversation. Handing the BMV clerk your certificate from Traffic School and proof of payment for the outstanding speeding tickets is embarrassing. Getting lecture after lecture from credit card companies as you’re trying to work out affordable payment plans for overdue balances is tedious. You become very practiced at admitting your fault and negligence and promising that you are trying to fix your mistakes. But I did it. I admitted making mistakes and started making a plan to fix those mistakes and start taking responsibility for my actions.

It might be because of these hard lessons that I tend to have little sympathy for people when they refuse to hold themselves accountable for their actions. It’s one thing to not realize you made a mistake, and for that, I have all the sympathy in the world, because, well, see above. But when these mistakes become apparent and you leave them as such and prefer to wallow in misery and complaining or just keep the status quo, that is when my sympathy ends. You have a choice. You always have a choice.

Sometimes the consequences are hard. Yes. But sometimes choosing to not make decisions leads to harder consequences. And sometimes those consequences lead to more decisions and more consequences. But you always have the choice. There is no other force at work destroying your life. You make the decisions. You decide. You.

People make hard choices every day. People decide to turn off respirators. People decide to undergo chemotherapy. People decide to quit chemotherapy. People decide to take second or third jobs. People decide to get sober. People decide to take medication. People decide to abandon their families. People decide to get divorced. People decide to swindle others out of millions of dollars. People decide to cheat, steal, and murder. And people decide to listen, help, and heal. People choose to try. People choose to give up trying. People choose. You choose.
And the only person to blame for your mistakes is you, because you chose. Maybe you didn’t know it was a mistake when you made the choice, but you made it. But the best thing is that you can make more choices, choices to fix the mistake, choices to lead you somewhere better. You get to make that choice. And there are always choices.

A class on personal responsibility should be a requisite before graduating high school. We learn cause and effect in physics, bull and bear markets in economics, and good versus bad in philosophy. But we never get that explicit lesson in how that relates to us. Just words on a chalkboard or characters in a book. These don’t work because we are real people. Real people making real decisions, with real consequences.

No matter what it is, it’s always about our own choices. I hope America can remember that and preserve that.

20 July 2009

Job Performance

Most employers have some sort of standard job expectations and an appropriate performance review/management system. For example, I started my current job one year ago next week. I was told upfront that the first few months are a gradual ramping up process—even even though I was familiar with my actual job responsibilities, learning the new company’s preferred methods and standard operating procedures would take some time. After that, there were to be regular performance reviews to assess my ongoing performance. Unless you are hired for a specific task in a specific timeframe (such as consultants, contractors, freelancers, or designated “fixers”) you are given a reasonable amount of time to reach reasonable goals. However, even some of the aforementioned short-term project employees are still monitored throughout the performance. I expect my landscaper to be making sufficient progress on our new patio within the reasonable time he has estimated. If not, I’m allowed to consult with him to figure out what’s wrong and how we’re going to address it—and only if it’s not addressed appropriately (per our contract) can I start thinking about monetary repercussions or firing him if the work isn’t satisfactory.

Where am I going with this? The White House, that’s where. Seven months in and I’ve already heard several people exclaim about Obama being the “worst president this nation has ever had.” One person, who I thought was actually a bit more moderate, even said about Obama, “I used to say this country wouldn't see a Prez worse than Clinton - wish I'd been right….” Now I get that opinions are going to be skewed by core beliefs, but if your boss came to you after only seven months on the job and told you that you were the worst person he’s ever seen doing your job ever? Especially if it’s a job you’ve never held before? Don’t you think you’d want a chance to say, “Hey, boss, I’m new at this, let’s talk about it and maybe give me some more time to figure it out?”

All that aside, wouldn’t you also want your performance to be based on what you were actually hired for? Whether or not you agree with the policies, Obama was elected to do a specific job based on his campaign. Based on actual job performance standards on accomplishing the task he was elected to do, he’s still above 50% in overall approval rating (and according to Dick Cheney in 2004, anything over 51% is a "mandate"). I absolutely loathe George W. Bush, but looking at his first 6 months in his first term, he did exactly what he was elected to do, I will never argue that. Do I hate that he was elected by people with diametrically opposite opinions and values than me, of course. But he at least followed through with his goals. Unlike, say, Arlen Specter.

So, ask yourselves, oh people pissed off at Obama… would you be happier if Obama turns out to lie to more than half the nation and begins acting on a more conservative agenda? Because when Clinton lied about the Lewinsky issue (an issue that had absolutely nothing to do with his responsibilities as president), conservatives felt that was an impeachable offense. After all, if he lied about this, what was to stop him from lying about important matters concerning The Country?!?! But, well, now, when liberals complained about how the Bush administration lied to the country about reasons for going to war—a matter actually affecting the entire country—the the conservatives figured that was OK because Saddam was bad anyway, so it didn’t matter that the nation’s leader lied. Maybe lying isn’t really that clear-cut an issue for the conservatives after all?

I wish they would admit it, what really pisses them off is not that Obama is “bad” president it’s that people who believe differently are now getting their way. Clearly they aren’t concerned with his actual performance as commander-in-chief, because 1) he’s doing what he was actually elected to do, and b) because he’s only been in office for seven months, not near long enough to see what his actual presidential legacy will be. He hasn’t even had time lie about anything, for crying out loud!

I remember when people complained about George Bush, they were told “love it or leave it!” Basically, if one couldn’t embrace the policies, then they should pack up and move to another country. My boyfriend responded once that he’d rather have Option C: Work within the system to affect a desired change. Of course, what the liberals didn’t realize back then was that “leave it” could refer to entire states. Though, we all know how that turns out. And because you can’t force anyone to love something, that only leaves my boyfriend’s Option C. How do you think that turned out?

13 July 2009

In Support of “Universal” Healthcare

5 Facts

  1. People with emergency medical needs get medical care, regardless of their ability to pay.
  2. The government is already involved in healthcare – individuals and families that are at a certain income level or meet other requirements are eligible for Medicaid, and people over 65 and with certain medical conditions or disabilities are eligible for Medicare – systems paid for with taxpayer money through income taxes. You cannot “opt out” of paying this tax.
  3. Health insurance coverage is not federally regulated, it’s left to the states to determine what, if any, regulation is placed on health insurance companies.
  4. Health insurance companies are private, for-profit businesses.
  5. The US government is made up of people elected by the people, for the people.

My political beliefs trend toward the constitutionalist/libertarian track. I feel government – local, state, or federal – should have an extremely limited role in my life and only focus on the matters affecting the group of people as a whole. I firmly believe that your rights end where mine begin and vice versa. Your ethics and morals should have no bearing on my ethics and morals except when it comes to affecting our collective rights. That said, I do believe one of the roles of government should be to uphold the Constitution in providing – for all citizens – the basics of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. And pursuant to that right to life, medical care is essential. The Constitution of the United States makes no direct guarantees to the freedom of healthcare, but it does uphold the right to “life” as stated in Amendment 14 (bold for emphasis mine):

1. All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

To the point – no one can prevent someone else’s right to life. The AMA Code of Ethics also says, “A physician shall support access to medical care for all people.” From the Constitution and the AMA Code of Ethics, it is clear that the right to medical care is granted to all people – and there is no restriction or clarification regarding the ability to pay for such services. Hence, the argument for the government and physicians to provide, at a minimum, access to healthcare for all citizens is in place.

The problems develop when we try to figure out how to implement and pay for that that healthcare. Right now, the debate is between the current privately-funded insurance industry versus a government-run healthcare plan. So let’s take a peek at them side by side. Remember, though, that the US has never had a government-run plan, so that side of the equation is still based on other countrys’ models with a healthy dose of supposition.

Table 1. Stacking Up: Private vs. Government Healthcare Plans
ConcernPrivate IndustryGovernment-Funded
Decision MakersPrivate citizens who are elected board members by shareholders (also private citizens); no influence on these roles by individual patients unless patients happen to be shareholders.Public officials, elected by the voting public or appointed by elected officials elected by the voting public.
EligibilityVariable. In some states, companies that provide insurance are required to provide it for all employees regardless of their health status or ability to pay. In other states, only those who can afford it can purchase it. For individuals without access to a company plan, coverage can depend on health status despite ability to pay, etc.Everyone.
CoverageVariable. Each insurance company decides what services will be covered for which plan and which people can be covered under which plan.Fixed. The government can set the minimum services covered for all US citizens.
CostVariable. Premiums are dependent on a multitude of factors varying from company to company, plan to plan, and service to service.Fixed. The government can set a single standard price for all services for all people.
Responsibility of PaymentIndividuals with health insurance pay premiums, co-pays, and deductibles per their specific plan. Individuals who pay taxes also cover the cost of the current government-funded healthcare programs covering those who cannot pay themselves. Essentially, individuals with health insurance are paying twice – once for their own coverage and a second time for the government programs. Those who pay taxes but cannot afford health insurance are still paying for the government-funded programs – for which they might not even be eligible, thus paying for healthcare they themselves can’t even access.All taxpaying individuals will pay only once for healthcare – covering themselves and those who cannot pay. All people, however, will have access to care, period.

Am I oversimplifying? Maybe a bit, but even in trying to simplify, look at how complex the explanations are in the Private Industry column. Almost every answer can be “it depends.” Because everything is variable, there are not standards or regulations. In doing research, I found a site that lays out the pros and cons for government healthcare and it provides a good summary of the “con” arguments. Go read 15 reasons to NOT support government healthcare. But read them carefully. Then, go back and re-read the list and ask yourself this, “Is this already happening within the private healthcare insurance industry?”

Argument against (and this one is so good I’m quoting directly): “Profit motives, competition, and individual ingenuity have always led to greater cost control and effectiveness.” Seriously? With the oft-reported “soaring costs of healthcare” people are going to argue that the current system leads to “greater cost control?” And where, exactly, is the competition when people need emergency healthcare? Or in fact, when their choices are limited based on their “network?” I can’t believe this argument even makes the list.

Argument against: “Government” will decide what is elective and what is necessary; or restrict drug access. Private insurance companies already do this. Ask women who have need breast reduction for health reasons – some get it, others don’t. Or IVF, some companies cover it, some don’t. There’s even a push to legislate that all companies be required to provide IVF coverage. If we’re trying to legislate that already, why not just legislate it all? As for drug access or availability, maybe you should look closer at your insurance materials. I’m certain you will find a “formulary” – a list of what drugs are covered by your insurance and which ones aren’t.

Argument against: Government runs slowly, it could take months to get anything done. How long does it take for the average health insurance reimbursement? How long does it take to go through the red tape with your insurance provider to have a procedure approved? Health insurance companies often delay processing claims and requests on purpose, hoping you’ll forget about it or get fed up and give up fighting so they can save money. And don’t forget that some insurance companies – even after approving a procedure – can change their mind and force you to pay after all.

Argument against: Slippery slope – the government will implement “sin” taxes or limit our personal freedoms. Health insurance companies already do this. People can be denied coverage for smoking or for being obese. And the government has already instituted taxes on cigarettes and alcohol. The thing is, if it’s legislature, citizens have the right to voice their concerns and vote against such measures – and elect officials who will vote no on those measures. If your health insurance company tells you that if you gain more than 10 pounds in a year they’ll drop your coverage, you don’t get to vote “no” on that.

Argument against: Soaring costs – with one system paying for everyone’s care, my taxes will go through the roof! Maybe. Maybe not. Remember that you elect officials who decide those tax issues. Unlike with private insurance, if your rates go up, you have no recourse (you can try to change plans, of course, but you are still at the mercy of the companies). With the government system, you do have a say in the rates and who decides those rates. And yes, consider that your current taxes for Medicaid, Medicare, and your private insurance premiums would then go away and become one single healthcare payment. And because the government officials are elected by you and represent you, if that cost is excessively prohibitive, you *do* have a say in getting it changed.

And let’s not forget my favorite argument, the one I hear constantly – “I don’t want to have to pay for other people’s care. They should have to take care of it themselves.” Well, sorry to break it to you, but you already ARE paying for other people’s care. Your taxes pay for Medicaid and Medicare. Your premiums go up every time someone else in your health insurance group incurs too much cost. You are already subsidizing other people’s care, period, both through the government AND through your health insurance company. Under this argument, at least with government-controlled care, you’re only getting screwed once instead of twice.

And those are just a selected few of the arguments. Almost every single one of the 15 reasons can be refuted with “it’s already happening (either in the private industry or government already)” or “if government controls it, citizens will at least have a say.” Opponents to government-run healthcare like to assume that the government acts as a “private” industry and that they can just institute rules and make decisions in a vacuum. Even though that is exactly what the health insurance companies are doing right now. The real argument is that the healthcare industry employs thousands of people, and those people don’t want to lose money, and politicians don’t want to lose campaign contributions. I’m sorry, but my healthcare is a heck of a lot more important than an insurance company fat cat’s greed. People also don’t want to be held responsible for their own choices and become active in government to help shape those healthcare policies. It’s easier to say you “have no choice, the insurance company does things their own way” than step up and take responsibility yourself. After all, if you don’t make your voice heard and Congress acts against your wishes, you only have yourself to blame. But if you do vote and Congress still acts against your wishes, you still have recourse to keep trying to change things.

I am suffering no delusions that there is a single “magical” answer to the problem. But I also know that the current system is not working. The CDC recently published a report on the increase of people without health insurance coverage. When the current system is not meeting our needs, and in many cases is abusing our freedoms already, we have no choice but to take action. We are guaranteed life by the Constitution. And our government is set up “by the people; for the people.” I think it’s high time the people started demanding what is their right and start taking care of it ourselves.

06 July 2009

Less Cowbell

The world seems to have gotten awfully complicated lately. There’s just so much more than there used to be. More people. More entertainment. More places. More food. More music. More news. More More More More. Sometimes, it’s hard to find the truly meaningful things in that sea of “so much.” That’s what I want to do here on this blog, sift through that noise and see if I can find the simple – the kernel in the melee that is solid. (I'm not immune to the irony of adding more noise to the world by adding this blog.)

I’m not saying there isn’t a place for the complicated, because there is. In a country of more than 300 million, there are just some things that aren’t simple no matter what. But even the complicated things can still have simplicity, a simple goal, simple idea, or a simple result or feeling. A simple truth. Sometimes people get carried away with the complicated and it becomes overwhelming and stressful. And simple doesn’t always mean easy, either. Sometimes, a simple choice can lead to very complicated results. But the simplicity itself holds something mysterious and beautiful and even terrifying at the same time.

And also, my “spousal equivalent” already agrees with about 90% of my beliefs and though he is 100% supportive of me and will listen to me justify my beliefs repeatedly, it would be nice to give him a break occasionally.