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Posts Tagged ‘government’

Teach a man to fish

You know the saying, I’m sure:

Give a man a fish, he’ll eat for a day
Teach a man to fish, he’ll eat for the rest of his life

Well, there’s another benefit of teaching a man to fish, and it isn’t the peace and quiet that comes while he’s out of the house, sitting in a boat and drinking beer all day.

Teach a man to fish, and he’ll teach his daughters and sons to fish. Then he’ll feed his elderly mother. Then his brother will take note and want to learn. Then the neighbor kids will want to come along. Next thing you know, you have a fishing community – a whole group of people who have a marketable skill and the ability to be self-sufficient.

This is why education is so important, especially for minority and immigrant communities. When one individual is lifted out of the devastating cycle of poverty, the ripples spread to others around them. When one person finds a way out, many others can follow in their footsteps. But someone has to be first, and they generally have the worst time of it.

What can help them? Scholarships. Mentors. Support groups. Public transportation. Business incubators. Advisors. Apprenticeships and internships. Anything and anyone who can inspire, encourage, educate, and hold them accountable as they develop their dreams into plans, and then into reality.

So let’s quit pretending education is a cost that we should cut, and let’s start treating it like an investment in our future.

Election Night Message

I’ve kept (mostly) quiet about my political preferences this year.  Not because I’m ashamed, and not because I don’t want to discuss them or the issues at hand.

The reason I haven’t put them out there is that most of the people who do want to (I shall put this politely) “engage me in discussion” on political matters are actually only interested in two things: 1. beating other people over the head with their beliefs, and 2. hearing the sound of their own voices.

I have a handful of friends who I’m sure would have loved to actually discuss these matters rationally and calmly, with respect and appreciation for each other’s views, and with an openness of heart that would allow the possibility that not only could I be wrong, but they just might be wrong themselves.  These are unfortunately not generally the people who respond to my Facebook posts on religion, politics, or any other subject that might possibly engender disagreement.  The people who generally respond to such posts do so with personal insults against me or the person I support, ignorant statements that demonstrate a complete unwillingness to find the truth, thinly veiled talking points regurgitated straight from the source without any personal analysis, and lousy jokes on the level of, “That’s what SHE said!”

In short, I keep quiet ’cause I don’t want to feed the trolls.

That said, I do have something to say to those who supported Governor Romney this election season, and I figured I’d go ahead and say it.  In fact, this specifically goes out to the angry and frightened people, some few of whom are now expecting Armageddon to descend upon all of our heads in the form of hordes of undocumented illegal immigrants and flaming, tutu-wearing, glittery ‘mos who will steal their guns in the middle of the night and force their daughters to have abortions.  (Most of you are not that extreme, but some of you – please admit it to yourself if not to me – are actually afraid of the next four years.)

Okay, I’ll allow that you’re worried.  In fact, if you feel that your candidate was the best choice for the country, and the guy who won does not have the right answers, and therefore you are concerned with where the country is headed, then I actually applaud you.  People who think that way are concerned with the state of our nation because they want to see America succeed.  They want to not only be proud of our past, and proud of many things we have done and are doing, but to also be proud of our present.  They want to stand up and say, “We’re doing things right.  We have our shit together.  We take care of ourselves and each other, and we make this world a better place.”

Guess what?  I am 100% with you on that.  I want America to be a great and powerful and strong and well-run country too!  I want our citizens to be healthy and have the opportunity to succeed too!  I want a nation that is both safe and respected around the world too!

We won’t always agree on how that can happen or what we need to do to improve things.  We may not even agree on what “improved” means!  But I want you to know that, just like you, I want a strong and safe and healthy and successful America.  I also think that we have a great foundation and we do a lot of things right.  And I also think that we face a lot of challenges because we do a lot of other things wrong.  So we should be able to sit together over a drink or some coffee or a meal and talk about it like civilized humans.

Now let’s deal with this fear issue.  In 2004 I was afraid that Bush would be re-elected.  I didn’t like what he’d done with his first four years (I voted for him the first time!) and I was really worried about what a second term would do to the country.  Well, we found out.  It screwed us up, big time.  It left us with a huge national debt and no way to get out of it, bad blood with other nations, regulations that are friendly to corporate entities and the richest of the rich, and policies that drain the average worker of their life’s blood.

I don’t like these parts of our nation.  I don’t like the callous way our poorest and neediest people are treated.  I don’t like the way money can buy you damned near anything while the have-nots suffer indignity and privation.  I don’t like the way our elections go to the people who spend the most or the way our ballots themselves aren’t protected at the most basic levels.  (I’m looking at you, states with unverified electronic machines, and at you, Wisconsin that doesn’t let the military have their absentee ballots in time.)  I don’t like the attacks on women’s rights or the way a certain religious tradition has (since the ’50s) been legitimized.

Several of my friends and family members have talked about leaving the country if Obama lost.  Several different friends are now talking about moving because he won.

Don’t run away, people!  Stay here and work to make the country a better place!

Don’t like the way your Congresscritter voted?  By god, pick up the phone!  Take two minutes of your life and tell them why you thought they should have voted differently.  Or better yet, call them before they vote and tell them the following:  “As your constituent, I expect you to represent me.  I expect myself and my fellow constituents to be your highest priority and your most important so-called interest group.  I expect you to do what is right for the people of this district.  And I expect you to vote for/against this issue.  I and my neighbors are watching you, and we’re watching who contributes to your campaign, and we’re going to know if you throw us under the bus in favor of deep pockets.  We’re watching.”

Yes, people, I am telling you to get involved.  Once a month, sit down and look up a pet project or cause or idea.  Are you from a military background?  Do you ride a motorcycle?  Do you have kids?  Are you worried about the number of homeless you see on the streets?  Did you hear about a methadone clinic going in down the street from your favorite store?  What is on your mind?  What is bothering you today?

Look it up.  The entire internet lays before you – LOOK IT UP!!  Find two articles that support your position and two that oppose it.  Read all four of them.  Think about them.  If they spark any questions, look those up too.  Get yourself some answers.  And then – you guessed it – make that call!  Call your Congresscritter, call the President, call the Mayor, call your City Councilperson, call your County Commissioner, call the Governor.  Call whomever is in a position to do something about the problem – and tell them you want them to do something about the problem!

Or you can write a letter.

Or you can send an email.

Or you can show up on their doorstep (perhaps on Lobby Day with a bunch of your like-minded friends?) and tell them to their face.

Or you can wait till they do a town hall meeting in your area and tell them to their face then.

Are you catching on to my theme?  Find some issue that pushes your buttons, learn about it, and do something!  Voting is an important part of our civic duty, but if all we ever do is vote and then bitch about the results, we are not doing enough.

We.  Can.  Do.  More.

Please, don’t be afraid of what the next four years may bring.  Don’t focus on getting away from America, don’t focus on what might go wrong or what might happen later.  Focus on what’s happening now.  Focus on what you can fight for, or fight against, or change.

Six years ago, when the REAL ID Act was being discussed, I was able to go to Olympia for a Lobby Day.  I was able to meet with Rep. Eickmeyer and sit in his office discussing the bill with him.  We talked in particular about the technology used and the security problems it poses.  I will always remember the satisfaction I felt when I was able to teach him more than he already knew about it, and I will always be proud that I influenced his vote by talking to him that day.  That’s right, my visit changed the way my representative voted.  It’s an incredible feeling.  It’s powerful, and it’s humbling at the same time.  Because you feel like you’re part of the process, part of something bigger.  You start to own your government.  You don’t feel so much that the government owns you.

That’s a feeling every American should have.  In my personal opinion, the apathy and low voter turnout and acceptance of crappy results or poorly written legislation and its unintended consequences and all of that garbage would disappear if we got involved in the process.

So write a frikkin letter already!  Make a bloody phone call!  If you’re upset by the result, now is not the time to grab a beer and bitch with your friends about how bad it’s going to get.  Now is not the time to go to church and pray for the country to miraculously be saved.  Now is not the time to put all your life savings into gold bars and hide them in your custom bomb shelter with forty years’ worth of canned foods and bottled water.

Now is the time to roll up your sleeves and go talk to the people in power.  Now is the time for you, my Joe the Plumber Republican friends who work for everything you have and worry about the future your children will inherit, to step up and get involved.  Now is the time for you to tell your elected officials that you are paying attention to them.   Now is the time to learn more about the people on the other side of the aisle, to figure out what they want, and to push forward in those areas where your interests coincide.

Now is the time to make a better America.

Because people, we are all being played against each other.  And those who sit on the sidelines are exacerbating the problem, letting the people who pull the strings keep doing what they do.  So get on the field and start playing the game.

Class Warfare

I just read an article quoting (yet another) wealthy Republican politician on tax policy.  As usual, he claimed that raising taxes on high earners ‘class warfare,’ and cited his own proposed policy of flat taxation, meaning that everyone would pay the same percentage rate.  He made the claim that it’s fair because there are no loopholes and “Everybody gets treated the same.”

So apparently all the tax credits and tax deductions that make our tax code so complex should be removed.  Okay, let’s run with this for a minute.  Families with low incomes and multiple children will no longer get tax credits.  Homeowners would no longer be able to deduct mortgage interest payments.  Students would no longer get tax credits on their student loan interest.  That’s pretty much telling the middle class to bend over, as far as I’m concerned.

Now, I guess I’m too lazy (and too fed up with political doublespeak) to read a bunch of this gentleman’s talking points and suss out what he would answer to my objections.  But I think most folks who buy into this bilge would respond that rich folks wouldn’t be able to reduce their income either.  So everybody would pay 9% (according to this particular plan) of their income in taxes, across the board, right?  Eminently fair, right?  Puts everybody on the same playing field, right?

After all, none of us really pay the 15% or 28% or 33% that the IRS tax tables start with, do we?  We all use every tax break we can get our hands on to reduce that bottom line.

Except that most of the wealthy who avoid taxes don’t do so the same way low- or middle-income people do.  Low income earners pay less in taxes mostly because they’re in lower tax brackets, a nod to the fact that they barely make enough money to survive in the first place.  Middle income earners can reduce their tax bills somewhat because of certain types of spending they do, on homes or student loans or medical bills – and because those are deemed necessary but burdensome costs, the tax code (again) is set to give them a break where they need it most.

High income earners, on the other hand, aren’t eligible for many of the tax breaks available to their poorer counterparts.  When they reduce their income to avoid taxes, it’s usually done by offsetting business or investment losses.  That’s right, they make bad decisions that lose them money (money they don’t actually need to survive) and they get rewarded for it with tax breaks.

Saying that all the “loopholes” are equal completely ignores the reasons for each of those “loopholes.”  They do not exist for the same reasons and they do not have the same effects.

Tax breaks for lower-income families result in more spending.  Why?  Because these are people who already have to spend every penny they get to survive, and each of those pennies has a half dozen places it could go.  So pretty much any tax refunds they get are spent right away.

Tax breaks for middle-income families result in more spending and a bit more saving, because these folks usually have most of their needs met, but they still have a lot of wants.  Not to mention, they are able to plan for the future, so they are more likely to put tax refunds toward things like retirement and their kids’ college tuition.  So again, this money either goes right back into the economy or is saved to be spent later on specific, planned things.

Tax breaks for upper-income families, however, don’t generally take the form of annual refunds.  They take the form of lower taxes paid, and they don’t help anybody but the rich themselves.  They don’t boost the economy, they don’t offset government assistance that would otherwise be needed.  The only moral reason to keep them is the argument that the government should get anybody’s money.  And even the Tea Party isn’t ready to say that yet.

So all this talk about class warfare is actually the pot calling the kettle black.  The rich and powerful (who make the rules) are scared that the rest of us (who let them) will require them to pay their fair share.  Take one for the team.  Get a little skin in the game.  However you want to put it, the same idea remains.  Contribute something of value that will help this country survive.

Face it, trickle-down economics does not work.  That theory assumes that people at all socioeconomic levels spend the same way, which is patently false.  We need to discard the idea that the rich will save us all, accept the uncomfortable idea that those of us who are able to do more are going to have to do more, and get on with it already.

‘Cause things are getting ugly and the American public is getting real tired of this.

Cited article can be found at http://news.yahoo.com/blogs/ticket/cain-nearly-quit-campaign-florida-straw-poll-says-115734617.html

Good news for swimmers…?

The Kitsap YWCA has agreed to take over the City of Bremerton’s Jarstad Pool for three consecutive 10-year periods.  This means that the pool will not have to be closed, as many residents feared.

The city’s budget shortfall left them few options fort he pool, which was built and operated (until last month) with city funds and private donations.  It opened in June of 1979, thanks in no small part to the efforts of then-Mayor Glenn Jarstad and his tireless efforts to secure the funding for the facility.  (It opened under the name Bremerton Municipal Pool, but was renamed in 1996.)

Some citizens have asked why the public facility is being turned over to a private organization to run.  After all, we’re talking about millions of dollars in public funds over the past several decades that have built and maintained the pool.  A private group is now in charge; a group that is not in fact accountable to the public.  Is it right for the city to hand all that over to a third party, even one as reputable as the YMCA?  And this private group now controls the access to our publicly-funded facility?

Others believe that it’s better to let the YMCA run the pool because the alternative is closure.  The $1 family swim times are a low-cost and healthy family activity that can help fight the obesity epidemic we’re suffering from.  The senior aerobics program gives our respected older residents a low-impact way to stay in shape.  The city council and the mayor have to prioritize there their limited funds will go, and if (for right or wrong) the decision has been made that the pool is not as important, then isn’t it better to let a private organization take over, even if it does mean all that public money goes into private hands?

These and other questions have been discussed for months.  (You can read minutes and watch video from City Council meetings.)  But the decision has been made, and the good news is that though the pool is presently closed for annual cleaning, it will reopen on September 13th.

According to the Parks Department’s presentation in the 9/1 City Council meeting, the programs for seniors, present YMCA members, and area schools will continue as they have been run by the Parks and Recreation Department through the end of the year; also they will offer free access to the entire YMCA facility (pool included) once per quarter to each county resident.  The YMCA will be responsible for providing many upgrades, such as changes to the pool filtration system that will prevent a child being trapped underwater; lighting upgrades; and cosmetic changes that will bring the outdated pool design up to a more modern standard.

Implied in the statement I watched was the possibility that rates will go up and services will be cut after the first of the year.  However, according to Bob Ecklund, the President of the Kitsap-Pierce YMCA organization, part of the YMCA’s vision plan includes increasing pool access and building more pools throughout the two counties.  Mr. Ecklund committed to keeping pool access available for all local residents, citing the importance of water safety and swim classes as well as the exercise benefits.

Hopefully the YMCA will be able to uphold that commitment.  It’s a shame that the city couldn’t afford to maintain the facility themselves; publicly funded facilities belong under the care of the public and their duly elected representatives.  But given the circumstances, I’m glad that the pool will at least remain open.  As for the continued access…  We’ll have to see what happens.