September 19, 2012
“There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. That that’s an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what…These are people who pay no income tax…[M]y job is is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.” —Mitt Romney
I am actually not one of the people whose character you insulted the other night at your private donor event, in footage now made public by Mother Jones Magazine. You see–and this may come as a shock to you, as it does occasionally to people when they learn how much money I actually make, or who think that freeloading is easier to do than it actually is–I pay federal income taxes.
I mean, sure, I can barely afford my rent, my health insurance, the steadily rising cost of public transit, and the $300 in unexpected repairs that my computer needs, and may be applying for food stamps this month because even though I worked steadily all summer, the work was chronically underpaid and I’ve run through my savings…but I still pay federal income taxes. I say this not for your pity or anyone else’s; this is just how it is. I pay federal income taxes, and I’m very, very happy to do so. I have a fondness for the trappings of civilization, I think the social safety net is a good and moral idea, and I’m glad to be a contributor to those things.
But let’s take a look at some of the people who you did call entitled victims with no interest in taking responsibility for their own lives. Because I don’t think they are who you want us to believe they are.
People who find themselves exempt from paying any federal income tax may include, but are not limited to: People who receive tax credits for dependent children, or for being the sole head of a household; people who buy their first home, or an environmentally friendly vehicle; who suffer an initial loss in the course of starting a new business, or who make improvements in energy efficiency to their home or business. People with more than one income source who can deduct half of the self-employment tax they pay on freelance work, or charitable contributions, or the costs of private health insurance or health care if they don’t get insurance from their employer. They include students who still manage (or need) to work part-time during high school or college. They include people who survive primarily on disability or Social Security, or are financially supported by their families, but who volunteer or do other informal work in their communities.
They include people who work full-time, and yet still do not make enough money, particularly if they also have children, to be legally liable for federal income taxes under our current tax code.
Do these sound like people with no interest in taking care or responsibility for their own lives to you?
But no, I have a feeling that images like these, of people who are benefited by the tax code because they do economically or socially advantageous things, are not what you meant to evoke to your donors. People who in fact are doing the opposite of not taking any care or responsibility for their lives.
You meant to evoke a bogeyman image of a lazy bum who purposefully refuses gainful employment and would rather sit around collecting government benefits, mooching off the hard work of the rest of us just because they can, and who will vote for anyone just to protect that status.
And those people do exist–I’m sure they do, because wherever there is any system of benefits or safeguards, there are people who will figure out how to take unfair advantage of it, among the rich as well as the poor. But that is really, really, really difficult to do these days, in our current system of welfare benefits, if you are a non-disabled adult with no dependent children and no work history. (Hell, it’s difficult to get benefits if you are legitimately disabled, generally requiring more than one appeal no matter the validity of your claim.)
This leaves about two possibilities that I can think of. Either that, one, you don’t know very much about how our tax laws work and how responsible, working people can benefit from them to the extent of winding up owing no federal income taxes, and you don’t know the difference between people who reap tax advantages by working and people who choose not to work, and you don’t know the difference between people who work full-time (or more) and still don’t make enough money to pay taxes on and people who think that the world owes them everything.
Or, two, that you do know these things, but you thought that you could win some advantage or approval with a few rich and powerful donors by smearing these people, and so you did.
You either know nothing about the lives and economic situations of nearly half of our citizens, or you see them only as pawns for your own advancement, whose character, work ethic, and well-being mean nothing.
Either one leaves you unfit to be President.
I, on the other hand, believe that if we don’t hang together in times like this, we will surely hang separately, so non-freeloader that I am, it doesn’t help you to tell me that nearly half of my fellow citizens are economically or morally disposable moochers.
I believe, unlike you, that the vast majority of our citizens and not only a little over half of us, both desire and are capable of doing something worthwhile with our lives and making this country a better place, and that valid ways of doing that are not confined to occupations that wind up making you an arbitrary amount of taxable income.
And this is the reason that I will vote for Obama and not for you. Not because I’m a freeloading entitled victim who pays no taxes and just thinks the government should provide for me. But because I don’t like how you treat people.
September 17, 2012
I both enjoy and pride myself on my good memory. It’s very good, very vivid, and very detailed. To the extent that it often freaks other people out.
So, as my roommate and I were doing a little fall cleaning on this lovely afternoon before class for her and work for me, I am a little confused to find a harmonica of which I have no memory.
It was in my nightstand. It has been for several years. I have never and cannot play it, though I did try to teach myself briefly. I almost tossed it right into the thrift store donation bag without a thought, before I noticed that it’s labeled “[My Full Name]–ASM,” in my handwriting, in pencil on the bottom of the box.
It is a Bluesband Hohner International, in the key of C.
So this was a harmonica involved with a show, and one that I assistant stage managed. Which should narrow things down considerably; I can count on one hand the productions I’ve ASM’d. Either it was given to me for the opening or closing of a show, or, I’m starting to vaguely suspect, it was mine to begin with (but why?) and I loaned it as a rehearsal prop to a production.
But still no solid recollection of which of my shows even involved harmonicas…to the extent that I would’ve been given one, or loaned one to the show. Possibly one was in a show briefly but was cut early in rehearsal, explaining my negligible memory of it.
I’m going through old props lists now….
September 9, 2012
So apparently school started again this past week, and (in)appropriately, I ran across this article on Salon.com (Americans Want Sex Ed), summarizing a report from the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy. The report presents the seemingly paradoxical findings that while a solid majority of both adults and teens in the United States believe that teenagers should be taught about birth control, and also that anti-abortion leaders should support the availability of birth control, and also that they (teens) themselves have the information they need to avoid unplanned pregnancy…a somewhat scarily large percentage of teens then go on to report knowing little to nothing of contraception methods.
But I suspect that the discrepancy obscures, at least in part, a disconnect between the fairly binary way in which we conceive of what “sex education” can and should be–either abstinence only or abstinence plus safety and contraception–and the nuances of students’ real lives, or how well what students are taught about contraception does or doesn’t match up with how they really need or want to be educated about sexual relationships.
If, for instance, you’re a 15-year-old lesbian, it may be true that you know what you need to about contraception at the moment even if that isn’t very much. Or if you’ve genuinely decided to wait for sex–till marriage or just till you’re older–you might not be wrong that you don’t need to know everything about possible contraception methods right this minute. Or if you’re on the asexuality spectrum and not seeking a sexual relationship…this information might not be taking up space on your hard drive, but you know where to find it if or when you want it…or if, like some students taking this survey, you’re 12 years old.
Or imagine how profoundly unhelpful a group role-playing game full of scare tactics about the dangers of promiscuity is to someone desperately trying to figure out how to have one good, safe, physical relationship.
It’s also easy to mistakenly think you know everything it’s possible to know, when what you don’t know is what you aren’t being taught.
I was, probably unsurprisingly, one of the kids who thought that I knew what I needed to know. I’d been through fairly decent classes on what to expect from puberty. I’d been given information on available contraception. (In a totally brilliant move on my mother’s part, one day she had picked me up Seventeen magazine’s Environment Special Issue, which she said she thought I’d enjoy, environmental activism being my primary obsession at the time. It also had Your Complete Guide to Contraception in the back of the issue. It was years before I realized that handing that over had probably been deliberate and not an oversight on her part.) I was a biology wonk and already knew more about disease transmission and risk than what was in the health class videos and graphic slide shows.
And, for reasons that turned out to be a good deal more complicated than I even thought they were at the time, I’d taken a stance that I was delaying sex…pretty much indefinitely.
In this state of affairs, I wound up, despite my protestations that the requirement was insulting, in my school’s “Health and Family Wellness” class. In which I somehow managed to be continuously stigmatized for the very choices that the class purported to be encouraging, because the ways in which I’d made them did not comport with the core presumptions of What Teenagers Are Like or How Dating Works. At the same time that I did indeed think I knew what I needed to, as far as what I saw available, I felt this gaping absence of anyone anywhere accurately describing how I actually experienced myself or my desires, and how to build a life or be safe and respected in those things.
Now I look back and know that I cannot have been the only one experiencing this, because people who were not represented as having sexual or romantic relationships worth talking about included gay people, queer people, trans people, disabled people…so also disabled queer people…any kind of gender fluid or gender variant people, people on the asexuality spectrum, or now that I try to think of it, very many people of color or of cultures other than Normal American Teenager. Let alone any of those people having relationships with each other.
What worked for other people was clearly not going to work out for me, but there were no examples of what would. Or of how to talk about what was true for you, if that wasn’t what was presumed to be the default.
There’s a quote from Adrienne Rich that I think of more and more often: “When someone with the authority of a teacher, say, describes the world and you are not in it, there is a moment of psychic disequilibrium, as if you looked into a mirror and saw nothing.”
So…not getting pregnant was actually not my biggest problem. The ways in which our school’s sex ed didn’t have much to offer me went way deeper than “I already know all about contraception, this is a waste of my time, and I’d rather be taking art.” But that was all I was able to express—in no small part because of the poverty of education or language available about relationships, sex, and gender that went beyond the very superficial. And so I sat in class day after day, feeling more and more alienated from my peers and from how adults presumed I should be treated based on the fact that I was 15 and not much else, being told by unqualified teachers “I’m sorry you think you’re too good to be here,” rolling my eyes at badly produced educational videos, and learning most of what I really knew about love and respect from Mulder and Scully at home alone on Friday nights. (And I’m not the only person I know who says that I learned what love was supposed to be from those characters.)
How would I have answered a survey question “Do you feel that you have all the information you need to prevent an unplanned pregnancy at this time?” Yes. But it would’ve been a stand-in answer for the fact that the question didn’t address anything real in my life.
I can well imagine that if you go to a school in which the name of your sexual identity is literally a bad word (“Don’t say gay” bills have been introduced in both Missouri and Tennessee), or a subject that faculty feel forbidden to address, up to and including when you’re being violently victimized for it, that you might reasonably feel that your ability to name risks and benefits of five different kinds of contraception is a little bit beside the point.
It isn’t that we shouldn’t teach comprehensive information about birth control, obviously, or work to ascertain whether kids feel they have the information they need about it, but I think in the common conception of what sex education is, this is widely thought of as the ultimate question: whether to teach abstinence only, or whether to teach risk management methods. But even the seemingly right answer to that question is misleading and even counterproductive when contraception as risk management is taught without a bedrock of positive and healthy attitudes about sex, real-life examples of all types of healthy sexual and romantic relationships, a vocabulary to describe what’s true and desirable for yourself individually, and knowledge and respect for your own sexual identity and those different from you.
Without that kind of knowledge, which should be basic and not controversial, I suspect it may be hard for students to draw easy conclusions about whether the health information they have matches up to the realities of their lives.