One Wrong Step

25 03 2010

Walk down your street. Cross the road. Step onto a sidewalk. Now step off the sidewalk. Oops – you’re paralyzed from the waist down.

Too extreme? Get into your car. Drive down a 40 mph road. Oops – you got a flat front tire, swirved into a ditch, and now you’re a quadriplegic.

This is how fast, and how randomly, it happens to people every day. A physical disability is just one step off a curb away from anybody. When it happens, you’re going to need help. Just don’t ask these guys.

“If you’re looking for a handout, you’re in the wrong part of town. Nothing for free. You have to work for everything you get,” one teabagger chided, bending over to get in the face of the seated older man. The next Tea Partier dropped a dollar in his face, saying, “Start a pot, I’ll pay for you. I’ll decide when to give you money,” in a mocking tone of voice. After some grumbling about “Communism,” an offscreen teabagger yelled, “No more handouts!”

Really? This is the best we can do in this country? Now I’m not saying you should never yell at someone with a disability. People are people and all people piss off some people sometimes – I think that’s a variation on an old saying – but yelling these remarks at someone who is peacefully rallying for health care reform that will help his situation is unreasonable at best.

First of all, you want to talk about handouts? AIG is now like Dick Cheney in that the name is a punchline in itself, no set up required. And you might not want to call it a hand out to someone who was a nuclear engineer and may have done more for our economy than a lot of us will ever be able to claim – that is until a degenerative disease started attacking his body through no fault of his own. Maybe he’d be your daughters’ physics professor right now had his life not taken a path that was totally outside his control. There is nothing humanly possible that anyone with Parkinson’s disease could have done to prevent it. Nothing.

The randomness with which disabilites occur is a terrifying idea to many people, which could explain why some try to control as much of their world as possible, sometimes rigidly. With that in mind, let’s address the “I’ll decide when to give you money” thing. We all pay taxes. No, wait – let’s start simpler. We all buy groceries. You go to the store and pick up your cage free, organic, vegetarian fed eggs. Someone else buys some toilet paper and paper towels. Yet another person buys some ground beef chuck for dinner tonight, maybe a nice stew. All of you are giving money to the same store, and the store gives you all that you need even though each of you needs different things. If you are a vegetarian you cannot stop someone from buying meat, even though you yourself are against it and would never buy it. Despite being a paying customer, you cannot stop the store from providing meat to other customers who want meat. Likewise, other customers cannot stop you from buying your brand of eggs, or butter, or milk, or veggieburgers. All customers pay money to the same store, and that store provides different things for different people. The store takes revenue from individual sales and pools it together to buy proportionately more of everything sold. There is a lot of overlap (chips, vegetables, juice, bread, gift cards?) for many people’s grocery lists, and the store puts its resources into those areas more than any other, but it’s the little items that make such a big difference to so many of us. I don’t need to buy pull-ups, but what would happen if my grocery store stopped carrying them? I bet my brand of such-and-such would eventually go away, because there wouldn’t be enough general revenue – pooled together – to provide for the idiosyncratic items that so many of us need. Same. With. Taxes.

You may never buy wheat-free soy sauce. I hope you never have to. However, if your daughter is diagnosed as allergic (not just intolerant) to wheat – watch how fast you start reading every single food label.

Shock aside, attacks like those at the Tea Party rally are dangerous not because anyone can develop – at any time – a physical disability, but because it sanctions the infantilizing of those who do need assistance from those who don’t (yet).

Ability is a funny thing. No one can predict, let alone control, their own needs in the future when it comes to disabilities, whether it’s at the grocery store or the doctor’s office. Not even a rocket scientist. What we can predict is that we will all be on the receiving end eventually – if we’re lucky.


The Fifth Estate?

15 04 2009

“What the hell is this Accounting and Auditing Act of 1950, 31 USC 714(b) stuff? I can’t find it anywhere!”

The news media has carried the reputation of the 4th Estate of the U.S. democratic process (1st, 2nd, and 3rd Estates being Congress, the Supreme Court, and the Office of the President – seriously, you should know that.) The idea is that news media kinda keeps the other three honest by reporting on what’s going on – so “they” don’t slip anything past “us” while “we’re” hard at work as doctors, nurses, electricians, sanitation workers, maids, librarians, plumbers, teachers, or “Senior Associates” at XYZ company.

With all the hoopla surrounding the Federal Reserve, Government Accounting Office, and T.A.R.P. (Toxic Asset Relief Program) which resulted from the crash of last October, a lot more light has been shed on how powerful the Federal Reserve is. Specifically, they really aren’t part of the balance of powers that hold accountable the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Estates to one another – nor are they truth-seekers for publications like (insert favorite newspaper or news television show here). In particular, the Accounting and Auditing Act of 1950 has been cited recently as a major part of why the Federal Reserve is so special. Unfortunately, THOMAS (the public online component of the Library of Congress) only goes back to 1982… so where are we supposed to find the AAA of 1950 that everyone’s talking about???

Well, here it is, straight from the Office of the Law Revision Counsel, U.S. House of Reps (which is why it looks like crap…):

    31 USC Sec. 714                                            
    Sec. 714. Audit of Financial Institutions Examination Council, Federal Reserve Board, Federal reserve banks, Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, and Office of Comptroller of the Currency
      (a) In this section, “agency” means the Financial Institutions
    Examination Council, the Federal Reserve Board, Federal reserve banks, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, and the Office of Thrift Supervision.
      (b) Under regulations of the Comptroller General, the Comptroller General shall audit an agency, but may carry out an onsite examination of an open insured bank or bank holding company only if the appropriate agency has consented in writing. Audits of the Federal Reserve Board and Federal reserve banks may not include – 
        (1) transactions for or with a foreign central bank, government of a foreign country, or nonprivate international financing organization;
        (2) deliberations, decisions, or actions on monetary policy matters, including discount window operations, reserves of member banks, securities credit, interest on deposits, and open market operations;
        (3) transactions made under the direction of the Federal Open Market Committee; or
        (4) a part of a discussion or communication among or between members of the Board of Governors and officers and employees of the Federal Reserve System related to clauses (1)-(3) of this subsection.
      (c)(1) Except as provided in this subsection, an officer or employee of the Government Accountability Office may not disclose information identifying an open bank, an open bank holding company, or a customer of an open or closed bank or bank holding company. The Comptroller General may disclose information related to the affairs of a closed bank or closed bank holding company identifying a customer of the closed bank or closed bank holding company only if the Comptroller General believes the customer had a controlling influence in the management of the closed bank or closed bank holding company or was related to or affiliated with a person or group having a controlling influence.
      (2) An officer or employee of the Office may discuss a customer, bank, or bank holding company with an official of an agency and may report an apparent criminal violation to an appropriate law enforcement authority of the United States Government or a State.
      (3) This subsection does not authorize an officer or employee of an agency to withhold information from a committee of Congress authorized to have the information.
     (d)(1) To carry out this section, all records and property of or used by an agency, including samples of reports of examinations of a bank or bank holding company the Comptroller General considers statistically meaningful and workpapers and correspondence related to the reports shall be made available to the Comptroller General. The Comptroller General shall give an agency a current list of officers and employees to whom, with proper identification, records and property may be made available, and who may make notes or copies necessary to carry out an audit.
      (2) The Comptroller General shall prevent unauthorized  access to records or property of or used by an agency that the Comptroller General obtains during an audit.

So, basically, “fuck off, I do what I want.” Sounds like Cartman legislation. “RESPECT my AuthORitEYE”…

What’s interesting is that section (c)(3) states that the Fed is NOT authorized to withold informaiton from any committee of Congress that is “authorized to have the information.” Not that they have to volunteer to help, just that they can’t withhold information, if asked by the right people.

That has to include the T.A.R.P. Oversight Committee I think, since it is stipulated within the T.A.R.P. document that every 60 days it has to check in with Congress and let them know how they’re doing.

So…what does any of this mean? Well, for starters, it means that the United States is going through a big financial shift. I know, “Shock! I had no idea!”,  but bear with me:

Financial “trouble” is what people with large financial losses are going through. The average Jane is going through something different. And that could be a good thing.

What this means, among other things, is that there is essentially less money to go around right now: less money to create jobs, less money to continue funding already existing jobs, and less money to spend on little things like a new TV or more clothes or weekend trips up the coast. What possible silver lining could there possibly be within this clusterfuck of a situation?

The answer: Boycotting will work better ever before.

Stay with me: boycotting products (for whatever reason you have) largely depends on the size of the impact grabbing the company’s attention. This is complicated by the fact that so many large companies that sell products in the U.S. (not necessarily U.S. owned/run/operated) retain WAY more customers than they lose week to week. But what this recession is forcing everyday people to do is re-prioritize their spending habits, which includes buying less of some of their favorite products, if at all.

In a financial climate where reliably long-term, repeat customers want to buy something but simply can’t, protesters of that product are uniquely positioned to strike at the company’s biggest weakness: their revenue. The recession will necessarily undergo a survival-of-the-fittest period during which giant companies like Coke and McDonald’s would “feel” ANY boycotting more than it has in decades. And that doesn’t mean you have to go without soda – just don’t buy THEIR soda. Giving to a competitor is even worse than not buying anything at all, because while the first company will suffer a loss of revenue, the competing company will gain revenue and thus tip the scales even more.

If you ever wanted to boycott a product for any reason, now is the time to do it. Every penny counts all the time, but right now every penny feels like a dollar to these companies. That is the power that a financial shift gives to those people with hardly a penny to spare.