Tag Archives: Congress

The Monday Fits: The Wannabe SuperHero Syndrome

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“The lies we tell other people are nothing to the lies we tell ourselves.”

Derek Landy, Death Bringer

Superheroes are not real. Tragic heroes are not real. Yet, we love them. It’s as if there is a new superhero movie rolling out every month. But why do we love them? Is it because we want the power, or are their inner battles compelling to the human spirit? To be super in one area, but completely devoid in another. Often a superhero, is really just a tragic hero, and in that moment of weakness, that brush of defeat, we are just like them, we can relate to the superhero, but ultimately they win. Our desire to overcome, is that it?

Maybe.

Or it could be much simpler than that. It is our urge to save, fix “things”. Whether we are saving people or fixing other people’s problems, we like to take something that is broken and make it better. DIY projects, self-help books, and the fascination with How-to YouTube videos. We even like just the “feeling” of trying to fix things, even if we ultimately can not. This obsession of fixing things has a created a fantasy, hence why superheroes, tragic heroes were ever born, right? To fix or handle impossible situations, that in our human form we are utterly incapable of fixing. The problem is when something is desperately in need of fixing, and IS in our reach, we say that we are going to fix it, over and over, but we do nothing…. enter the Wanna Be Superhero Generation (or pretty much Congress). ”

I find myself falling into this trap too. I tell myself, others, maybe even post on social media my intentions of getting so and so done and then I don’t meet the finish line. I desperately want to, but I lie. I lie to myself, and then to others. And I think that worst part of it all, I do it over and over again; to the point the attempt is addictive. And sometimes we reward ourselves for simply trying.  There are times that I AM successful, but more times than not, I bite off more than I can chew, and I still want a pat on the back for trying. I think this is no different than what happens to many of us. We have wants and desires, even if they are often unhealthy or irrational. It’s like Michael Jordan, the greatest basketball player in history, who will likely never be surpassed, yet it’s not enough, he wants to save a franchise as a general manager/owner too.

But reaching for happiness, success is not a bad thing, but we need to be realistic in  our efforts. Because if we do not, there are things in our reach that we convince ourselves that we can not reach, when they totally are. The failures have convinced us that the attempt is good enough. At some point, we have to realize that things that are most important, and then DO them.

Enter tax reform.

Saying that we want tax reform has become good enough, the attempt, the talk of trying, has satisfied our desires. Tax reform, is one item that is always on the list of items that we need to fix, yet, we are not trying to fix it all. I mean, there are people who have tried to fix it, like previous legislators Dave Camp or Max Baucus, but most of them are lying to themselves, and most of all, to us, the electorate, and we believe the lie every time. I wish for 1 day, every American would care that they are lying to us about fixing the tax code; Republicans, Democrats, Independents, so then we can hold them accountable, but we don’t really want to do that now do we? We want them to stop lying to themselves, but then so would we.

Last week, President Obama, introduced tax policy that could do some good, but also showed the continual reality there will be no real discussion or compromise on tax policy; there were more items that Republicans will fight against; more of the same. Everyone is guilty of not getting it done, but I am just tired of us acting like it’s a top priority when that is a total lie. This quote explains that explains the U.S.’s approach the best, “Tax reform is dead—long live tax reform”.  We live in a perpetual paradox.

The last time we, America, enacted a comprehensive tax reform was 1986. Yet, many of America’s major competitors have been actively reforming their tax laws in recent years. Even our closest neighbors are getting ahead of us. Canada has already reformed its tax laws and Mexico is doing so right now. If Congress doesn’t take action, the U.S. risks falling further behind.(source) This was from a Wall Street article from Dave Camp who introduced legislation last session for comprehensive tax reform. So why do we give ourselves false hope? Why do we have good intentions, but not exactly execute?

“Policy wonks have long dreamed of simplifying America’s tax code. Hopes soared after 2012’s election, when Barack Obama and John Boehner, the Republican Speaker of the House of Representatives, both suggested that tax reform could be part of a grand bargain that raised tax revenue, curbed spending and cut the deficit. (source) . Will the next two years be any different? Are will it be a huge part of the 2016 campaign fodder, again? The countries surrounding us are doing it, why are we failing?  If you just google the last five years of articles concerning tax reform, you get a million and one articles, about what it is the most important thing that needs to help the long term health of the economy and it is tax reform.

The reality is that we like to lie ourselves. The truth: “Congress lacked (and continues to lack) the willpower to take on such a behemoth task that required serious examination of many financial sacred cows – whether to trim the mortgage interest deduction, how to tax the earnings of private equity firms and hedge funds, what the the top income tax rate should be.” (source).

So we are ultimately unwilling to do the things that we need to do, to get where we need to be. I know that I lament about the lack consensus in most issues, and in areas where we have consensus, we still lack the ability to take action. Tax reform involves both of these components. There are items,  President Obama mentioned like expanding the earned income tax credit (EITC) for workers without children, because it will reduce poverty. (source). But there are other policy initiatives that are just going to cause legislators to get ready for the next campaign season and choose stances that is an advantages to one’s self.

And that’s the real lie, we are not superheroes, not even close, we are not going to engage in efforts that don’t benefit ourselves, so maybe we need to stop expecting people (politicians) who don’t have the same interests to do something about it, or if we choose to vote for them, we should hold them accountable and make them.

There is More Good, Than Bad or Ugly

Words will always retain their power – Alan Moore

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I rather enjoy writing social commentary week in and week out, and most of the time, the commentary always seems to sound negative even if the point of the message is steer the general population into positive action. So I was overjoyed to realize that this post was actually going to be a positive critique of today’s society. Plus, the way the news and media portray life at times can also make you feel like we are in dire straights. Well, if you’re a democrat who did not cross the aisle and vote Republican in the 2014 midterms, you may feel that America has reached dire straights after the Republicans took over Congress. After the Iowa Senate seat was taken by a Republican, I saw so many, “The apocalypse is happening” type posts than I have ever… oh, wait, since 2008, when the Republicans had the same reaction, maybe even a little stronger, when the Democrats took the White House, and both chambers of Congress; I mean the results then propelled the Tea Party Movement to what is today because people were so upset. In reality, this is what happens. But it’s not a bad thing. I promise, I have not gone mad.

Just like David Letterman jokingly said in his monologue the day before the election, “Take a look at this: gas under $3 a gallon – under $3 a gallon. Unemployment under 6%, whoever thought? Stock market breaking records every day. No wonder the guy is so unpopular.” (source).  He was referring to Obama. And he’s right, gas and unemployment is down, and the stocks are doing the best since the recession. But if you ask a different American the lack of action involving immigration or the gaffes in foreign policy, they may have a very different opinion of the President. Why all of this makes me so happy, is that even though we disagree so fiercely these days, the election reminded me, to thank God for this freedom. Even though some family members absolutely hated each other on election night, the opportunity to go to the election booth and vote, and then be mad at the results the next day is a freedom we should still cherish.

Because even in 2014, there are so many people who still do not “have the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint”; or “the ability to express their thoughts and feelings is just simply not allowed”.

If we look at Eriterea, which is on the horn of Africa, it is the number #1 country on both the Committee to Protect Journalists and Journalist without Borders list as the most censored country. (source). There are no foreign reporters allowed and the media is entirely controlled by the government. And if you’re wondering who is second, it is North Korea, followed by Syria and Iran. In Eriterea, there is no other voice than the government, and this government commits human rights abuses continually, and maybe the abuses are only alleged (which many would find hard to believe), there is no one else to report anything different. Think about that for second, and not just on the national level. Think of injustices in our country that have been uncovered by journalists who were just doing their job or chasing a story. Or imagining always having one side of the story, because that is the only story you get and questioning the story can mean death. Currently, this would mean everyone at FOX would be wiped out! But there are times MSNBC, The Daily Show, Bill Maher have critiqued the White House, they would be banished too.

In Uganda, over the last year, they have passed a few repressive laws in their country that conflict with freedoms. They passed the Public Order Management Act (POMA) which places restrictions on freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly. And do you want to know why they did that? It was “in response to increasing challenges from anti-corruption campaigns led by civil society groups and from popular senior party leaders with presidential ambitions”. (Source).

Can you imagine the lack of anti-corruption after the bailout in 2008? Even though the CEOs did not get convicted, and the fines may seem like a drop in the bucket in our country, at least the banks, like JPMorgan Chase were challenged, sued and “reached a $13 billion civil settlement with the Justice Department for its mortgage lending practices”, for corruption. Just imagine after the 2008 bailout, if absolutely nothing happened to the banks, or better yet, the blame wasn’t placed on the banks, but a different truth was given. Imagine if the response by Occupy Wall Street was more violent, and people died from the police, rather than the deaths that were caused by unrelated people who were being mischievous.

Now some people may not be convinced that the freedom of speech is even important in this day and age. But we really should be thankful for the opportunity to speak up. In fact, more people should speak up at times when it is necessary. Even if it doesn’t seem like anyone is listening, the reality is that you still have the option to speak out, and it’s free and doesn’t have consequences, (well, unless you say something racist or homophobic on national television). The reason there are countries that limit speech is to prevent the creation, the creativity, and the self-awareness that comes with developing real opinions; the use of language, words, and vocabulary is so fundamental in our being.

If you look at the atrocious, and tragically correct letter by Willie Lynch, although authentically disputed, this excerpt reigns true to me when you think of slavery:

 “You know language is a peculiar institution. It leads to the heart of a people. The more a foreigner knows about the language of another country the more he is able to move through all levels of that society. Therefore, if the foreigner is an enemy of the country, to the extent that he knows the body of the language, to that extent is the country vulnerable to attack or invasion of a foreign culture. For example, if you take a slave, if you teach him all about your language, he will know all your secrets, and he is then no more a slave, for you can’t fool him any longer, and being a fool is one of the basic ingredients of any incidents to the maintenance of the slavery system.” (source)

Do you see the connection? If you are not able to express yourself freely, to deliberate, and to argue, there is a part of our language, that you are missing; discourse is a part of OUR language. Language IS “the method of human communication, either spoken or written, consisting of the use of words in a structured and conventional way”. More pointedly, “it is the system of communication used by a particular community or country”.

Therefore, we should embrace discourse and have more of it. It does ourselves a disservice to not be proud and happy with our freedom of speech, it’s more of a tragedy when we do not use it, because we convince ourselves that nobody cares or is listening. To question is awesome. If you missed it a couple weeks ago, the discourse between Jon Stewart and Bill O’Reilly is telling of the positive nature of exercising your right to speech, and we don’t see it quite enough. I admire that Jon and Bill, people who have drastically different ideals take the time to argue intelligently (to some that may be up for debate), and it’s not just bickering back and forth as many news shows often deliver to us. (Check out the video: Here)

As I stated in the beginning, we should be thankful for our freedom of speech. Even though the vitriol that is spewed at times can be maddening, and wondering how certain people formulate ideas may be perplexing to the point that thoughts of violence seem like a good idea, but at the end of the day, we still have the freedom to express yourself. So no matter how bad or ugly it gets, there is still more good, because the choice is yours in what you do with your voice… so use it.

You Really Don’t Know, What You Don’t Know

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“True wisdom is knowing what you don’t know” ― Confucius


I am a firm believer that with hard work and dedication you can accomplish just about anything that you set your mind to; it’s that optimistic gene. Optimism is just one of those things that you are born with or you’re not. You kind of can’t help it, and although, a pessimist never annoys you, you don’t quite know what their issue is with just about everything. Don’t Worry, Be Happy, right? Not quite.

What I mean to say is that I am firm believer that with hard work and dedication, the right resources, tools, and mindset, you can accomplish just about anything. See the slight difference? A lot of people choose to believe that hard work and dedication is enough to overcome obstacles such as poverty and a very difficult background, and I’m going to take a little time to disagree.

In a NBC News/Wall Street Journal Poll conducted in April 23-27, 2014, asked, “ Do you agree or disagree with the following statement? Because of the widening gap between the incomes of the wealthy and everyone else, America is no longer a country where everyone, regardless of their background, has an opportunity to get ahead and move up to a better standard of living.” (source) 

The majority of the poll (at 54%) agreed with this statement. Do you know why? “After adjusting for inflation, the average income of the top 5% of households grew by 38% from 1989 to 2013. …By comparison, the average real income of the other 95% of households grew less than 10%.” (Source). This is a direct quote from Federal Reserve Chairwoman, Janet Yellen, from about a week and a half ago in her somewhat untraditional speech as the Federal Reserve chairperson. “Ms. Yellen offered extensive evidence of increasing income and wealth inequality, offering a number of figures to support her case, including lots of data from Federal Reserve’s triennial Survey of Consumer Finances. The report began in 1989, and was most recently conducted in 2013 and published last month”.(Source).

I understand why she used her platform to address such an important topic, because there are too many people who don’t believe the widening income and wealth disparity has the potential to hurt the economy. Yes, people should care and help the poor and impoverished, because it is the right thing to do. BUT we are also reaching a point, not helping the less fortunate reach a modicum of success, will affect the middle and upper middle class. And every one at least agrees that America cannot survive without the middle class.

One of the ideas that continue to the current climate of the wealth/income disparity is the notion that anyone no matter where you come from in America  can reach a certain level of success; those golden days are gone. What I find surprising is that many of the people who over emphasize that anyone can take the road out of poverty are people who themselves, pulled themselves up from their bootstraps, and don’t understand why everyone else or others are struggling more and more in the current economic climate.

What people fail to understand is diversity or more plainly is that WE ARE ALL DIFFERENT. But Americans can be rather selfish and egotistical. If I can do it, so can everybody else?

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People are different and come from different backgrounds, have different parents and experiences. Two children from the exact same parents, with similar upbringing and experiences, can end up very different. I think it’s insulting, as if people want to stay in a place where they cannot do better for themselves. Now wait, there is a segment of the population that is lazy, doesn’t care, and wants others to do for them forever, I AM NOT TALKING ABOUT THEM. But people who don’t understand the nature or nurture of raising a child miss the point.

A few years ago, I was a mentor in the Big Brothers Big Sisters program, and my little sister in the program told me one day that she wanted to be a teacher, but that she was only going to work for about 3 years, because she has this back injury from when she was 9. That girl was A okay. Here I was talking to a ten year old who already knew that saying you have a disability (even though it’s not a real one) could get you out of work was disheartening. The harder part is not being able to explain to her that this “mindset” that she was taught by someone she so desperately loves and tries to win their affection is wrong.  In that capacity, I felt helpless, all I could do was try to show her a different way.

Why is this important? As James Piereson and Naomi Schaefer Riley wrote, in their Washing Post opinion piece, “Getting more poor kids into college won’t fix income inequality”, they make that the debate by the time kids make it too college, it’s too late. The major problems plaguing the K-12 education system are hurting our children’s possibility of overcoming income equality. (Source). Now, I agree that the kids cannot be raised by the school system, but if you’re surrounded by laziness, lack of hope, or simply have parents who don’t know how to help, school may be the only point of access to provide a child with a light to want and dream of more. So if our school systems are ineffectual then the possibility of changing generational curses of poverty seem to get further and further away from us. I only saw my little sister twice or three times a month, I could only show her so much; our schools have to better for our youngest children.

I am a daughter of an amazing teacher, she would be amazing by the world’s standards, because she literally won almost every teaching award possible, but what makes her truly amazing are the things she did, and continues to do are outside of the classroom (and she’s retired). I would call my Mother, the “Queen of Social Capital” for poor and underserved populations. What people fail to realize is the lack of social capital that a person/child has, can make a difference where they end up on the totem pole. The definition of social capital is the networks of relationships among people who live and work in a particular society, enabling that society to function effectively. But it is so much more than that, you have to first know the relationships and the network before you can begin to use it, and if you don’t know, you cannot function properly and succeed. I call my mother the Queen, because she grew up poor and reached a certain level of success, so she can relate to others who are born in a similar background, and help navigate them through the difficulties of being poor, making it through the K-12 school system successfully, and eventually college.

Now do I think it’s possible think all teachers have the capacity to do this? Not one bit. And in some communities, like Austin where I live, there are great non-profit organizations that help kids and their families obtain access to help their kids succeed. But in my mind, we need to better arm adults to improve themselves, recreate ways in America where you can improve your situation and pull yourself up from your own bootstraps, because I like that idea, but we can’t say pull up, if the bootstraps are not there.

I’ve mentioned in other posts about the never-ending, never-seems-like-they-are-going-to-fix it public assistance programs, or minimum wage problem. Not enough Americans are sitting down to discuss their differences and find a solution to this problem. But I think there’s more to it than partisan politics, I mean no one would be a loser for fixing social programs, and I believe that at the end of the day the democrats and republicans are not as far off from each others as they think are. Maybe they are, but the real truth is that “the policy preferences of the wealthy (average income over $1 million annually) vary widely from those of the general public.” – (source) . Money has seeped so far into the political system, interest groups drive many of Congress’ decisions. But pointedly, most legislators, judges, or people with influence are all rich. So unless they are truly empathetic, what is their real understanding for creating policies or reform for social policies that could really make a difference for the people. The way elections work it is hard for a person from the middle class or upper middle class who is educated to run for office.

A person who struggles to overcome the hurdles of poverty sometimes just doesn’t know exactly what to do during that journey is the same to me as a rich bureaucrat who doesn’t really know how to actually IMPROVE the system and combat wealth inequality. So please go vote, but in the next two years, let’s see if we can bring REAL change makers to the ballot.

M/P

Please comment and Share your thought! Let’s get the conversation started.

America – What is our Problem?

 

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“I like to listen. I have learned a great deal from listening carefully. Most people never listen.” Ernest Hemingway

Everyone is born with a perspective. The list of variables that affect our perspective is endless, from our parents, lack of parents, social status, race, religion, educational opportunity, etc. These variables shape us to bond with people of similar backgrounds, and every now and then we bond with those from very different perspectives, and this in my opinion, is real progress.

Yet, more and more Americans seem to grow further and further apart based on our personal perspectives on issues in politics, economy, and national priorities. However, there is at least one area that most Americans agree, and at an alarming rate (but not surprisingly): CONGRESS’ APPROVAL RATING. According to the Gallup Poll, 83% of Americans disapprove of Congress’ actions, and only 13% approve of their actions. This is bad. It’s like really bad, I always thought of Warren Buffet’s suggestion to make all congressmen ineligible for reelection if there was a deficit of more than three percent of the GDP, should be real and apply to other issues. While Americans agree that our lawmakers are failing at their job, there are NO other major issues in which we are more passionately in agreement. But aren’t they just a representation of the people? Is that not their role, to represent us? So why we hating on them for doing something right?

Now this is not a new concept, so what’s missing, why am I bringing this up today? Emotion.

Americans have become such emotional beings to the point that reason and logic do not work anymore, even for the greater good. The conversations during the recent Ferguson police incident are proof enough. There are too many white Americans who are completely devoid of the idea that racism still exists or that this incident was racially motivated. In the same breath, there are too many Black Americans who speak as if the white people who care about black people advancing or getting justice are a very small minority. A month ago, I would have said these were extreme sides of the spectrum, but after reading the news, social media, and talking with people the old fashioned way, I am truly amazed by the perspectives that I hear. There are quite a few people who really do feel this way, and you wonder are you out of touch or are they? Or maybe could the conversations just stick to the script of change, justice, and real community improvement in authentic terms instead of sound bites and jabs that continue to widen the gap. No, because Emotion sells. And is selling at large numbers. But are these emotions genuine?

The last time Congress’s approval rating was at 90%? It was after 9/11, and the ratings stayed at 80% for two months following one of the most damaging tragedies in American History. Pure emotion. No one can forget the unadulterated, raw patriotism, and pride that transformed the nation at that time, but it was based on a true emotion. Today, our emotions are pulled and prodded for money, likes on Facebook, fame, etc. And every issue that we agree or disagree about today is focused on bringing out our emotions so the deepening divide continues. It’s as if we don’t want to work together, compromise or listen, but America like all other great powers can waste away, except it won’t be by the hands of others, but of our own hand…

“Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness….” – Declaration of Independence

So what needs to be altered or abolished, maybe our close-minded perspective? Instead of reaching over to the other aisle, maybe, we should start from within, and look in the mirror, and challenge our own perspectives.