The Compartmentalist

boxes in the warehouse of my mind...I open them, and write what I find.

Posts tagged US

Happy Birthday, America. You’re Getting Old…

No, not in the numerical sense. In years, this place is still a baby in the established country game. We’re old in the sense of how we see society, what passes for an acceptable standard of living nowadays.

Slowly but surely, our nation is inching into modern society, with increasingly diverse cities, respect for various cultures and lifestyles, and hey, we even voted for a non old white guy to be President! But, as anyone will tell you, change doesn’t come easily. The push forward has some of us so scared, there’s clamoring for things to go backward, worshipping the time of an actor-turned-President that seemed to give “America” everything it needed. The man’s been dead for 8 years. Sorry, Gipper — I’m more than ready to let you rest in peace.

President Barack Obama was handed quite the crappy hand, and has been expected to perform Jesus-level work in reviving our stalling economy. He’s had to reach back and get into Grown Ass Man Mode over the last year or so, once it seemed clear that the job would only get harder. And yet, his team has pulled off three huge victories — ridding the world of Osama bin Laden, saving General Motors, and passing the Affordable Care Act. Those in opposition have found reasons to devalue his actions, and paint him as an ineffective leader (and person, on occasion).

But where are we as a society when we’re more concerned about paying a “tax” (that isn’t really a tax if you give a damn about being alive) than we are about keeping a large part of our population healthy? This isn’t the government meddling where they shouldn’t — this is the powers that be asking the people to help keep the people strong, and the people saying, “Eff that! I’m not paying for anyone but me!“

The freedom of the people is dwindling, and hard work won’t get it together like it used to. We blame those who are dependent on state and federal assistance for being leeches; unfortunately, those on the bottom of the ladder are modern-age slaves. They work, and everything they work for goes up the ladder. It’s much more than life choices at this point — and yet, teachers are being asked to take less to educate the next generation. How are kids supposed to be encouraged to learn when the resources and positive influences are few and far between? Their parents are working more than ever, and their teachers are discouraged by the lack of options, and find it hard to give students the direction they need. Young adults want to work, and can’t work. We’re still waiting for someone to teach them, and no one wants to.

The man who wants to become President, Willard “Mitt” Romney, appears to be a rich guy who doesn’t quite understand how good he has it. That, of course, is very much in context; I believe he realizes he can make moves with the Big Kids, but I also believe that he, as well as his wife, Ann, may be completely inept when it comes to making moves with anyone who doesn’t qualify as a Big Kid. From observing his interactions, he doesn’t appear to be very comfortable in “mixed company” (in multiple contexts — take it how you will), which is not a good sign for a country that desperately needs to continue on its path of increased diversity and integration. Unrelated, but related: why didn’t he go with his first name, at least for political purposes? Will would go over a little better with the majority of his support base. Unfortunately for him, Mitt has “business” written all over it.

The meat of it is, we’re not treating each other very well. If you need and example, look no further than Walmart. The company just celebrated the 50th anniversary of the opening of the first store in its current format, and should be lauded for its longevity. But, here’s where the story gets sad: the handful of Waltons currently in charge of the company are currently four of the richest U.S. citizens, checking in at no less than $20.5 billion in net worth. Apiece. And yet, somehow, those stockroom employees pulling the graveyard shift at your favorite 24-hour Super Walmart can’t seem to earn more than minimum wage, if they manage to get to that point. So, to recap: Rob Walton, the oldest of the Walton clan — $20.5 billion earned last year. That stockroom employee? In Illinois, $17,160. And that’s if they’re working full time (which is becoming increasingly unlikely…don’t want to pay those pesky benefits). The federal poverty line is $14,570 (for two people). Minimum wage isn’t enough for an Illinois citizen to thrive on, God forbid they any closer to being impoverished. There’s a six-zero gap between the bottom and top of a company that prides itself on making things better for the people. Cheap groceries and electronics isn’t treating each other right.

And, just so we’re clear…we’re celebrating the birth of a nation that came from: a couple boatloads of Europeans sailing over to escape a douchebag of a monarch, only to be total douchebags to the Natives they met once they got here. Odds are, if not for a very nasty outbreak, the Natives would have sent the Europeans back across the pond, given that they’d destroyed the Vikings at earlier points in time. instead, they got cornered into small circles in Boo Foo, and the Euros “claimed” the land. The Euros decided they needed more help building it up, and shipped in a few Africans wholesale to take care of the menial labor. A few of us figured out we were screwing up, we fought with ourselves, decided things *were* screwed up; the guy that led the charge to change the screwed-up-ness gets shot (and becomes a recurring theme in history). The Euros (with some others sprinkled in, having decidedly established themselves as The Status Quo at this point) couldn’t sell humans anymore, but made no point to respect the existence of anyone not like them — this one has kinda stuck, and the government has had to scrape off parts of it using the law of the land. The prosperity gap that was created and allowed to grow during the first 100 years of our nation’s existence is far and wide, leading to our current situation.

The Status Quo still exists, simply in a different form…the CEOs, the bankers, the mediators. They’ve managed to convince the people that if you make them pay *less* back into the system, they’ll be inclined to do *more.* Nah, homey. Our government had to pass laws to persuade some of their people to respect the fact that people not like themselves had the right to live as they did. And plenty of people still aren’t on that boat. What makes us think that The Status Quo would do what it would take to restore a semblance of balance and positive evolution?

So, here’s to you, America…Happy 236th Birthday. Let’s try to keep growing up — 250 is right around the corner!

- The Compartmentalist

The Affordable Care Act, The Economy, and Me

Damn…why y’all hatin’ on me?! I’m just a Bill…

Fair warning: This is a LONG read. But stick with me!

Yesterday marked quite the step in government policy, as the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that key components of the Affordable Care Act, mostly referred to as Obamacare, were indeed constitutional. What does that mean for anyone not involved in the realm of politics? Included in the fun, courtesy of Yahoo!:

- All Americans will be required to have some form of comprehensive medical insurance by 2014, or be subject to a non-compliance tax. Don’t want insurance? Pay up. Don’t need insurance, you say? Still gotta pony up. Can’t afford it? It’s not as bleak as you think — read the bill for more info.

- If you’re under 26, you can use the medical insurance that your parents use. I got lucky on this, as my parents happened to be federal employees. This instance, however, is highly dependent on whether or not a young adult’s parents are employed, and employed with a company that offers health insurance.

- If you’re on Medicare, you can get free mammograms. Yes, breast cancer is a huge deal. And apparently, the cost of health care for women can be higher in some parts of the country. Yes, women have specialized needs, but those specialized are usually essential to, oh, ya know, the advancement of the human race. And besides, who doesn’t like boobies, and wouldn’t want to save them?

- If you have a “pre-existing condition,” you can be insured. This one’s a fully loaded one, folks. I think people truly underestimate what can be established as a “pre-existing condition,” and therefore, not covered by the insurance company. Never mind the congenital ailments — if you start out life with something, you’re pretty much boned. Survival of the fittest, and all. If you make it, good for you! But, you’re going to pay for it for the rest of your life. But, here’s a fun one that people experience, too: let’s say you’re working somewhere and you develop cancer. Not only do you run the risk of getting dropped by your current insurance company, but if you try to go to a new company, they’re going to look at it as a “pre-existing condition,” since you haven’t been with them before. Sounds fun, right?

- Insurance companies can’t deny you if you get sick, or you screw up on your application. Yes, typos can get you kicked out the insurance door, and God forbid that damn prostate cancer doesn’t wait until the policy clears. Here, you have people who are willing to pay for services, and being denied because life happens. So, you either knock down doors until you find a company that might cover you, let the hospital take your money for the next however many years, or accept your fate and play out the string.

The big question that remains is, naturally, “who’s gonna pay for all this?” Well, unfortunately, like our good friend Ben Franklin once said, the only things that are certain in this world are death and taxes. Yes, taxes suck. They all do. But, we need them. Why? Because you can’t trust humans to do the right thing. Mind you, “the right thing” includes getting smooth roads, making sure there are officers serve, firemen to keep you from losing all your stuff, teachers to educate your kids, making sure the streetlights are on, and *so* much more. It took legal measure to get companies to pay people enough to be fully functioning adults, and that’s still something we struggle with. Set up the process so everyone is taken care of, and everyone is rewarded accordingly. But, you’re always going to have someone that wants to keep all the toys for himself and not share, or maybe have the other kids pay him to play with the toys.

The problem establishes itself very quickly — the kid that’s not so inclined to share continues to add to his pot, and only doles out some when it becomes apparent that he needs other people to help him grow. But, those other kids aren’t doing as much, so they don’t get an equal share of the pot. As time goes on, it takes more to get things done; the kid on top realizes this, and does whatever he needs to do to not only make sure he keeps his pot, but keeps adding on to it. Every so often, the kid on top goes too far, and tries to add in as many people as possible. Thing is, since the kid on top has so much, there are going to be kids with not enough to contribute to the pot. But, all the kids strive to be the kid on top. Why? Human nature. So, they toss in everything they have, and hope for the best, the best being that the kid on top can make good things happen, add to the pot, and in turn, help their pot grow. Nuh-uh.

That “human nature” thing is some tricky business. In the grand scheme of things, sharing is a learned trait. Essentially, if you don’t hunt, you don’t eat. The reason the welfare system exists is because a few wise humans got together and said, “Hey, maybe we shouldn’t let our friends and loved ones die simply because they can’t hunt as well. We can hunt, and we excel at it; there’s more than we could possibly keep for ourselves. Let’s spread some good will, and they’ll be grateful.” Unfortunately, it does take advantage of the inherent lack of effort in the hunt by some. They become domesticated by the other hunters, and resentment brews. The hunt is dangerous, and we risk a lot to make sure we eat; it looks real shady when some ol’ Scar looking ass dude lays up, but still gets to eat with the group. Back in the day, dude would just get the business from the higher ups and get cast out (if he were still alive at that point).

What does that have to with the main story here? Being healthy has a good bit to do with your biological makeup, but a big part of it has to do with the environment you grow up in, the food that you eat, and the options you have to take care of yourself when life happens. You have plenty of hunters, but everyone’s not eating the same way. But, the guys on top are still trying to add to their pot, even with less hunters. So, they cut corners, and push to get more with less. Same productivity, less people to pay, more for the big kids. And with the push for more productivity, those who are still working get stretched thin, and eventually, their bodies betray them. Maybe a couple bruises here and there, a strained muscle, or flat-out fatigue from busting ass to make sure they eat.

And at this point, how long has it been since the big kids have done the hunting? Or, have they done any at all? But, in the eyes of so many, they’re doing it right. They’ve managed to get to a point where their individual workload is minimizing, yet they’re eating better than everyone else. At this point, however, is when we forget  that when the big kids eat more, someone has to eat less, or not at all. And everyone who falls in between — and that’s NOT just the “middle class,” the “working class,” but EVERYONE who isn’t a big kid — is in the same boat.

But every day, I hear some mess about how so-and-so works so hard for their money, and they don’t want to give up more for people who don’t want to work, and are “abusing the system.” Now, this is something I have to give the big kids credit for; not only have they managed to minimize their workload, they’ve also managed to find a way to turn the discontent of the rest of the boat downward. As we’ve established, there are still plenty of Scars around, but they’re at *every* level of the boat, not just the bottom. Very few people have managed to notice that bitching at the bottom of the boat does nothing but breed discontent.

Also, someone decided at some point that with the advancement of medical technology, the cost of having the “privilege” of being able to stave off death should increase accordingly, since, ya know, we’re playing God and everything. No biggie, right? From a historical standpoint, it has always been tough for some to take care of themselves and their loved ones when medical emergencies arise. But now, the situation has reached a point where some of us simply cannot go to the doctor when illnesses strike, and we pray that we can avoid major emergencies. And those emergencies are now life/”living dead”/death situations, with the “living dead” still physically of this earth, but saddled with thousands, possibly millions, of dollars in debt, to the point where they’re no longer a viable member of society. Everything that they call theirs goes to the big kids.

The most damning aspect of the whole situation is that the United States, by far, spends more on health care than anyone else in the world. Some numbers, courtesy of the Wiki (and before you discredit the source, there are linky links all over the place, so feel free to dig deeper):

- The U.S. spends $7,437 per person on health care, takes up 16% of the GDP, as well as 18.5% of government revenue spending. The government only spends about 45% of all heath costs, which is far below the percentages paid by other major countries worldwide. The primary difference? We’re the only ones without universal health care.

- Then, our already-bitched-about tax system: we have federal, individual, payroll, and general goods. The first two are split between the whole government and state governments. The general tax is a combination of state and local taxes. The most the government taxes corporations is 38%; the individual, 35%. States hit them for up to 12%; individuals, 11%. Also: among the countries of the world that levys taxes on corporations, the U.S. is one of only five (and the only major) that allows corporations the possibility of paying no taxes. The payroll tax takes anywhere from 2.9-15.3%, and up to 2% by state. The sales taxes are the simple killer we tend to fuss about most often. It varies from product to product, and state to state. As a resident of Illinois, our tax structure is seriously complicated and needlessly expensive (and yet, we’re broke as hell…go figure). A little chunky.

- But, for all the money we’re paying into the tax system, and all that goes into the health care system, we’re slacking in the life department: our average life expectancy is 78.1, good for 38th in the world. That puts us behind such fun places as Cuba, Costa Rica, and Iceland. There are 2.4 doctors for every patient, and 10.6 nurses for every 1,000 people, which isn’t terrible. But, there are 6.8 infant deaths for every 1,000 born, and mortality rate of 96/100,000, amenable to health care (short explanation: people who died prematurely as a result of something that could be prevented by timely and affordable care). Both of those are worst among world powers.

Now, let’s use a new example. Say, Japan:

- Japan spends $2,750 per person on health care. The costs cover 8.2% of the GDP, 16.8% of government revenue is used, and 80.4% of health costs are covered by the government.

- All of Japan’s corporations are taxed at 40.69%. Each individual is taxed between 5-50%, as a combination of national and local taxes. Payroll tax is at 25.63%, and a 5% consumption tax on general stuffs.

- Japan’s life expectancy clocks in at 82.6 years, only bested by Macau and Monaco. There are only 2.1 doctors for every 1,000 people, 9.4 nurses. The infant mortality rate is at 2.6/1,000, and the MAHC is 61.

So, the Japanese pay a healthy bit more in taxes (including some not listed for both examples), and have their fare share of disparities between haves and have-nots, and spends less than 40% the amount that the United States spends on health care for each of it citizens. And yet, their people live longer, and have equal access. (Please note: there are more numbers, taxes, and examples than those just listed here. If you’d like to know more, or challenge anything here, dig in and share what you find. Knowledge is power!)

If there’s one thing Americans love to complain about, it’s the idea that we pay too many taxes on too many things. But, as complicated as our structure may be, we still have it better than some places worldwide. The question becomes, if we’re spending so much money on health care, why are underperforming at keeping *all* of our citizens insured and healthy? Even if you happen to have insurance, if you have to get to the hospital ASAP, that ambulance ride is gonna cost you at least $400. Uninsured? You’re looking at $1,100, before they even start to patch you up. And showing up to anyone’s ER uninsured is a crap shoot, unless you’re about to die within the next 30 minutes. Many of us have heard stories of friends and loved ones spending hours in waiting rooms after their complaints were deemed not serious enough for faster service.

So, what’s the best way to get better medical service? Pay up. If you can’t afford it? You’re boned. Unfortunately, those who can afford it don’t realize that there are people not in their section of the boat. And those who do will often shrug their shoulders about it, or ever so kindly inform those below them on the boat to “get their lives together” and “become more productive members of society.” As per human nature, once again, the issue becomes one between the Hunters and the Scars. Only difference is, the modern human dynamic also includes the Big Kid group.

In the collection of resources, the ability to live longer gets grouped in, and doled out by the Big Kids. Those who have more aren’t as concerned, and those who have less are pissed at those who have little to none are because it appears that they aren’t doing enough to move upward, as is the way things are supposed to be. Or at least, that’s the picture we’ve created. And yet, we hear about how time and again, someone’s worked so hard, and just can’t seem to get by. How long will it be before we realize that for all the hard work, there’s more to the puzzle?

Allow me to introduce The Compartmentalist, in real life…

I’m 27 years old, fortunate to be born and raised in a major American city. I’m still doing the college thing, 10 years after high school. Had a few bumps in the road, ran out of money, took a two-year break, got back into it. Got one degree, working towards two more. I’ve been working in the same capacity for the past 4 years; I work anywhere between 36-39 hours a week. I’m only scheduled for 32. My employer won’t schedule me for more time, even if it’s better for business — doesn’t want to pay overtime, doesn’t want to pony up for health insurance. I’m uninsured, and while I have some options, none are overly viable. I’m confident that what I’m studying will translate into a cozy place in the technology world, and the game of life will get a little easier. I take no issues with friends and loved ones that have experienced greater successes in their lives, and look forward to what will happen in mine.

I’ve managed to keep myself mostly healthy, but I’ve also gone through the stress and drama that is intertwined with being uninsured. I spent over 12 hours in the county hospital for what was determined to be a minor back bruise. I’m sure spending several hours in steel chairs in the waiting room didn’t help matters any, as well as having asthmatic lungs working at 75% of normal capacity. There were softer ones at some point, and got replaced by “easier to clean” steel ones. This particular area did host a lot of less-than-desirables (which tends to be the most profiled among the uninsured), but there are quite a few not-so-clean places in the place that NEEDS to be clean. The offering of medical services to the uninsured is nothing short of a meat market, and the lack of attention to detail is a definitive measure in terms of making sure everyone understands the position that they’re in. Do better, get better — but we’re not gonna show you any better.

The rabbit hole is long and deep on this one, guys…the political left is excited about the possibility of new opportunities in medical access, and the political right is upset that there will be new taxes and less jobs to be had. But, here’s the thing: for most major companies, if their tax rates are increased, and they choose to lay off employees because of it, it’s not because they can’t pay them — the people the company owes gets paid first (usually other Big Kids), then the Big Kids, then everyone else. If the Big Kids get paid, and there isn’t enough money left over, guess who gets cut? It’s not a matter of not working hard enough, and it isn’t the case nearly as often as we think. It’s all a matter of protecting what we’ve gained.

It takes a special something to not live in the shadow of Ayn Rand, and give a damn about other people as you’re doing your own thing. Like saying goes, teach a man to fish instead of giving him one. Give to someone enough, and they become dependent, unwilling to do on their own. But wait — if the Big Kid needs people to do for him, so his work stays minimized, and his pot huge, what does he do? He makes people dependent on him. He gives, but stops teaching. Or, he teaches at a cost. Give them hope that maybe, just maybe, they can be a Big Kid, too. Slowly, but surely, it works.

Also, for a few new thought bubbles, giggles, and “did he really just say thats,” check out this post by one Fred Clark:

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/slacktivist/2012/06/28/poor-people-will-die-just-because-they-are-poor/

This is bigger than being able to go to the doctor for that sore throat you’ve been nursing for a week now. This is about whether our society has reached a point, again, where many of us are struggling to hold on to what we have, and starting to care less about who lives or dies, who perishes or prospers. We may not ever live on the exact same plain, but if you don’t think we all should get an equal shot at health and happiness, you’re walking down a lonely path. All the hard work and money in the world won’t help with that.

- The Compartmentalist