Scrapping the national safety net

I’m proud to announce that seeing this picture brought tears to my eyes. I was so touched that I went back online to see if I could track down the story. Apparently, it’s true.

The gentleman whose grave is so righteously decorated was a part of the Greatest Generation. That generation brought in and supported social security, national welfare programs, and the first federal intervention through business subsidies to ameliorate the catastrophic economic collapse that was in progress during the 1930s.

Right now, there is a big political fracas brewing about cutting welfare, social security, and any other obvious government programs. Those programs were used to set our nation back on its feet after an entirely laissez faire economic meltdown led to mass starvation in this country.

A lot of people want to deny that Americans were dying of malnutrition during the great depression. When I went to high school in the 1970s, I had teachers that remembered classmates in their U.S. elementary schools who had quit coming to class because they STARVED TO DEATH. Yes, Americans starved to death in the 1930s because their local charities and local governments and local social organizations fell down — because the local folks were all poor. It’s just that some of them were a little poorer than others. We want to deny that today, but my teachers in the 1970s still remembered their dead friends. American friends. If we follow down this line of “reducing government” far enough, and if this stupid economic meltdown continues to stretch the difference between the richest and the poorest of us, we’ll start to see starvation deaths again.

I’m agin it.

Turning it all over to private industry or to the fed? Are these really the only choices?

There are seven billion people on Earth this year or next, and although the demographers think that that growth rate will slow in upcoming years, they’re banking on an ahistorical trend when they make such predictions. Whether the rate of population increase slows or not, barring a die back that makes the Black Death look like a summer cold, Earth will double in population over the next century.

Lots of folks are using the internet to complain that the US Government has never done anything good for the country, and that everything good that has happened in America is purely the result of individual initiative.

The internet they complain about the Gubmint on was developed using both private and public funding. The auto industry is a good example of private development that then turned to the gubmint to protect themselves from brash interlopers taking control of their industries.

And lots of them, of private businessmen making this country a better place, but you can also find lots of examples of the government making this country a better place, and from Queen Isabella to JFK, you can find examples of governments financing exploration, technical development, and good science that no private agency would be likely to fund, because the chances of success couldn’t be easily calculated, or the source of profit would not be immediately identifiable.

I’m not trying to argue that the government isn’t full of self interested people, I’m pointing out that, regardless of venue, self-interest and power seeking are a part of the human condition. Publicly funded science has paid off for the country, and so has private research and industry. We, as a culture, can poorly afford to argue that either side of that equation can be done away with. You can complain about the U.S. Government and force it to shrink. But Royal Dutch Shell, Exxon, BP, Microsoft, and AT&T keep growing, and shrinking the government simply cedes power away from something that the tea-party can influence, and invests it in corporations that don’t care what you and I think, and often aren’t even American.

I think that the government has to stay large enough to maintain control over our corporate entities, which involves remaining large enough to oversee them.

I also think that the issue at argument shouldn’t be size of government, or how prophetic the founding fathers were when they framed the constitution, but how to put the voters in control of the country. Actual control, not just shifting the liar in the seat back and forth between two parties that aren’t answering the need. Our government has been getting smaller in relation to our population for fifty years, but I don’t think things are any looser, or that we’re getting adequate bang for our buck. And I do think that there is an effort afoot to define the country’s economic health without referring to unemployment, the millions of people who lost their retirement nest-eggs in the latest stock market crash, or the fact that a growing percentage of the GNP rests in corporate coffers, doing individual citizens no good at all.

The citizens of this country, whom I consider the only important part of the country, are ceding stakeholder status in the running of the nation when we call for deregulation and ignore the elephant in the room. The corporations grow more powerful and less responsible for their actions with every deregulation. They don’t give a fig about illegal immigration, which is profitable to them, or our opinions, which are absolutely insignificant to Royal Dutch Shell, Exxon, BP, Microsoft, or AT&T, even if several million like-minded people give up their phones or cars and boycott. They do care when we, as a people, force them, through our government, to play fair by our standards, rather than their own.

Pay attention!

Congress does not have a policy permitting retirement at full pay after one term. Congress critters are on FERS, which is the same federal retirement program as the rest of the Federal government. In 1984, congressmen were on another program, CSRS, and did not pay into Social Security. They also were not eligible for social security, so that is a wash. You can google congressional retirement plans any time you like. It’s publicly available information available here.

Congress critters do not exempt themselves from the health care reform legislation – check here. They have a valid health care plan, and that is all that is required. I’m on the same health care plan I was on when the legislation went into affect. The only impact it has had on me is actually on my children, since they will be covered by my plan for five additional years, thanks to that legislation. I’m not exempt from health care reform, I was already involved in a health care plan, so the new legislation had little impact on my life.

Hey! most of the federal deficit was paid to American Corporations.The money is still in the U.S, or at least held by U.S. citizens – most of it went to the U.S. military industrial complex. The bombs and bullets went away, but the cash is either here or in off-shore accounts. When are those trillions going to trickle down to us, the hoi polloi? Methinks they won’t. Never. Trickle down doesn’t work when the corporations are handing out record-breaking bonuses during years when their companies claim losses. I’m guessing that a lot of that money is going into off-shore accounts.

I’m not in the life-boat yet, so I’m kind of pissed that they’re pulling in the ropes.

Bill

Crit Group

Last night was the first meeting of the Eagle River (Alaska) Critique Group, which I’ll personally call Jitter’s Critters. We meet at a coffee shop called Jitters, and I don’t think any of my fellow writers are reading this, so I’ll continue to think of it as JC until somebody comes out with a better name than ER Critique Group.

Eight of us showed, and five of us are writing speculative fiction. Seven of us have already written a book length manuscript, tho one writes mysteries and another is working the great American novel of philosophy and naval gazing, uh, self-reflection. There is real hope in my heart.

I guess I started it, but my friend Mary has the more important role of secretary. She’ll probably run the thing until somebody else falls for her line of… I mean, until somebody interested in building their CV by running a functional writer’s group steps into the position.

This will be the first live crit group I’ve been in where the other writers are working at long fiction, and most are in my genre. I hope everybody finds value in this and comes back week after week, but I’d be satisfied if I could get four or five speculative fiction writers to bounce ideas off of, drink coffee with. I’m really hoping that this thing lasts, so worry that I’ll be the only one sitting at the table next Monday.

Bill

Believing impossible contradictions

We live in a weird political maelstrom. I cannot decide if it has been this way for as long as I remember, or if the current crop of extreme viewpoints is really boiling toward some sort of violence. The result is we all try to believe unreasonable numbers of contradictory things, and too many of us fall back on trusting the most sincere salesman in the room. Our right wing, which calls itself conservative, but does not believe in, or in any way support conservation (apologies to Ducks Unlimited; you are the exception that proves the rule, and you must be fairly aware of that), currently is up in arms that about 47% of the U.S. hasn’t paid taxes in the last three years. But that is caused not by people refusing to pay taxes, but by a campaign of lowering taxes, reducing the effectiveness of the IRS, and shrinking government in relation to the population of the United States, that has been underway, largely pushed by the conservative right, since Reaganrsquo;s era (oops, since his era ended. Reagan approved some pretty large tax increases to deal with federal deficits).span style=”mso-spacerun:yes”nbsp; /spanYet today, this largely conservative program is coming home to roost as a Democratic initiative gone wrong.span style=”mso-spacerun:yes”nbsp; /spanThe really sad thing?span style=”mso-spacerun:yes”nbsp; /spanItrsquo;s just another example of politicians directing attention away from the significant.span style=”mso-spacerun:yes”nbsp;br /!–/w:LatentStyles–br /That#39;s right.nbsp; When things were going well, Republicans gladly beat the drum loudly about lowering taxes to the poor.nbsp; Easy votes for negligible income, when you look at the federal balance.nbsp; Now, when the laws they lauded five years ago are actually providing relief to the poorest of us, but the political fires are burning hot in Republican Land to keep taxes off of the rich, the favoite complaint is that not everybody is paying a share.nbsp; This, in an era when the difference in wealth between the poorest and the richest in the US is larger than it has ever been.br /br /I#39;m gonna quit complaining after this next one.nbsp; I heard somebody playing up the idea that the poorest 20% of Americans makes more money than 80% of the rest of the world.nbsp; This is an almost meaningless statistic.nbsp; The piece of shit appartment I lived in when my wife and I first moved in together probably cost more per month than half the world makes in a year.nbsp; The cheapest of two bedroom appartments in Anchorage costs more than $1000.00 a month, or about $2000,00 every year more than the average person on earth makes,a href=”http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_GDP_%28PPP%29_per_capita” the worldwide income per capita being about $10400 each year./a/span/span Median is another deal.nbsp; The world median income was $1700 in 2005, and probably hasn#39;t done any growing since 2008.nbsp; That#39;s right.nbsp; The worst turd of a 2 bedroom appartment in Anchorage, AK, costs about $10300.00 more than the median income on the planet.nbsp;br /br /There are a lot of people in the US, whose personal weekly expenditures are 10 times what I make in a year, but who pay at a lower tax rate than I do, and the Republican part is ready to go to the mats for them, while screaming that people who have fallen beneath the poverty line should be taxed more heaviily before the millionaires consortium sees any increase./lj-cutbr /!–/lj-cut–nbsp; Yes, there is a class war going on.nbsp; Too bad us hoi poloi only just heard.nbsp; The march on that one was stolen years ago, and we#39;ve already lost.

Redneck boy makes good out there in the stars!

Ric Locke’s Temporary Duty (TDY) is a really solid read — one of the best I’ve had in several years. It’s about John Peters, a junior enlisted person in a believable near future US Navy, who volunteers to swab decks on an interstellar aircraft carrier/interstellar trading ship, crewed by aliens, Mankind’s first contact. Peters’ America is one where the poor don’t get school, the vote, or much chance to make something of themselves. It isn’t a glass ceiling, it’s more of an adamantium barrier. Wealth and privilege are birthrights of the wealthy and privileged, and American society has become a caste system in all but name.

But, all of that is backdrop, and Locke dribbles the info in over hundreds of pages of fun space opera. Peters’ adventures in space are engaging, his cynical attitude well earned, and his ability to rise to any occasion seems to flow naturally from the character. As a retired Coastie pilot, with a pinch of army warrant officer pilot in my past, I found that all of the human technical language was familiar to me, and the sort of interactions Peters has with fellow enlisted and officers generally rang true to the real world, with the exception that the behaviors Peters experiences in the officers of his story are behaviors that would have got me cashiered if I had acted that way during my military career.  This isn’t unreasonable, given the premise of a much darker, very hierarchical US social structure. Almost any of the worst behaviors the officers and senior enlisted personnel in Peter’s unit display are things I saw happen at some point in my career — but most of the time by people who got to experience civilian life within a couple years of doing whatever they did.

Another reviewer commented that this isn’t a military action book, and that is true. But fans of military SF, who know what they’re looking at, will really love this book. Fans of Andre Norton’s Interstellar trader stories will really love this book. Fans of Heinlein’s “Between Planets” or “Citizen of the Galaxy” and his other early adventures with sideline social commentary will really love this book. I even think that fans of the recent BSG will love this book. Fans of C.J. Cherryh’s alien worlds will really love this book, for its interesting alien cultures and environments. Fans of John Carter of Mars will love this book, especially the last half.  You’ve probably got my drift. One other thing — while this book reminds me of many things, it is uniquely Ric Locke’s creation. I’m really glad that I read it.

One of the things I love about TDY is the fact that it isn’t a simply premised adventure. Peters’ life changes, and the nature of his adventures change over time — a lot like real life. The man who we meet at the beginning is still there at the end, but is only a part of the whole. I think that the Gatekeepers of Modern Publishing can’t accept this thing because they can’t define it in a two minute pitch. Buy it.  Read it. You’ll probably tell friends to buy and read it.

rolling rapture

If the world ends tonight at 6:00 PM, my family will be swept in the rapture.  We’re taking our pets with us and going on a long vacation, because that’s the way we’ll want it to be.

As happy as that thought might be, somehow I refrained from calling my boss an old meanie, or giving up my work-plans for Monday.  I’ve just got this gut feeling that the only people who will disappear this weekend are Harold Camping and his friends, who will need to figure out where their math went wrong – this time.

Another health care rant.

I don’t approve of using the insurance industry to pay for health care reform. That’s thirty percent of our medical care dollars going into corporate coffers, and enough money each year to pay for healthcare for all the deadbeats the industry keeps telling us are out there trying to steal our hard-earned insurance dollars.

I think that the health care insurance industry is just another corporate Colossus that has managed to completely separate health care costs from market realities, and will continue blindly jacking up the price of health care costs until the system breaks down.  Not the value of health care, just the cost of it.

I think that the federal government should go into competition with AETNA, and set out to win. If laissez faire is so fair, if private business is so much more effective and competitive, then AETNA will win out in the end against those lazy bureaucrats in the public sector, and find ways to make sure private citizens can afford health care programs that won’t vanish when things get ugly, and the patient becomes too weak to hold his job.

I think that the federal government ought to be in the business of keeping successful and competent obstetricians from having to pay a couple hundred thousand dollars a year in malpractice insurance, because they have to protect themselves from desperate customers who’ve lost everything, and a loved one, paying for an unsuccessful outcome.  That is just plain sad and sinful.  The reason so many health care professionals want reform is because they aren’t getting the money we pay for our care. Insurers, boards of trustees, and lawyers are getting more health care dollars than many of our doctors are.  Let’s face it.  Americans spend 16% of the largest GNP in the world on health care. That is the largest percentage of the very largest GNP going, and we aren’t living any longer than any of the other first world nations.  That is probably because our medical care providers are paying half of their income into what amounts to a protection industry.  Call it what it is: a protection racket.

As individuals, we cannot control the collective might of the corporate insurance industry.  Medical Insurance invalidates the entire concept of market forces at work when it comes to controlling prices.  It’s time and past time to put our federal government to work sorting out the morass of insurance industry malfeasance that is slowly but inexorably making health care something that only the wealthiest of our children will be able to afford.