Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Class Warfare. Again.

Republicans have their kickers in knots because noted Socialist Warren Buffet has advocated raising taxes on the super-rich. “Class warfare!” is the rallying cry from Fox News and its ilk. (Is there any way for “ilk” to sound complimentary? Certainly not when used in conjunction with “Fox News” or “Tea Party” or “child molester.” Not saying Fox news and the Tea Party are child molesters. I just tried to think of the worst thing I could call someone, since “Fascist” lost all meaning when Obama was declared one by Lyndon Larouche’s acolytes.)

Apparently the Right believes class warfare can only happen by pitting one class against the rich. This is not true, though that is traditionally how it has been done, primarily because the poor do not have anything anyone else wants. Ah, but this is the Twenty-First Century, where Brave New World is as passé as “See Dick run” and Ayn Rand has replaced Thomas Jefferson as the paragon of rational political thought. Conservatives have found one thing the poor have that’s worth taking.


Taking money from people who don’t have any is not just hard to do, it’s hard to advocate. We’re not quite ready for the Al Swearengen approach of “hit them over the head, take their money, and throw their bodies in the creek,” though we’re headed down that slippery slope. No, for this we have to resort to a tried and true conservative meme: these people are screwing you, and we’re your only friend.

Conservatives have a revered tradition with this approach. For years blacks were the enemy, taking white jobs, sleeping with white women, and looking better with shaved heads than any white man. Immigrants had their day, but vilifying them has lost its sheen since the economy became so bad even Mexicans don’t want to come here anymore. Now it’s the poor’s turn, except no one can say “let’s take money from the poor” without invoking Dickensian images even from those who think a Dickensian is someone whose work pants aren’t Levis or Wranglers.

“How can we take money from the poor and get the middle class to think it’s a good idea?” Oh, how this must have tortured many a conservative soul late into many sleepless nights. Then some 60-watt bulb noticed that almost half of all Americans don’t pay income tax, and boom! Inspiration.

All real Americans hate freeloaders, and in tough times everyone (except the rich) are expected to contribute. Never mind that most of those non-taxpaying goldbricks are seniors living on Social Security who don’t draw enough benefits to pay tax. Most of the others either make so little money the standard deductions wipe out their Gross Adjusted Income, or programs like the Earned Income Credit or Child Tax Credit bring them under the line. (Note: Republicans repeatedly vote for these programs, and have expressed no interest in undoing them.)

While the poor don’t always pay income tax, they do pay Social Security and Medicare taxes. (If they’re lucky enough to have jobs.) These are regressive taxes, especially Social Security, thanks to the cap, which means there are poor people in this country who pay no income tax, yet still pay a higher percentage of their wages in overall taxes than do the rich.

Conservatives have no sense of irony. They fail to realize a flaw that is implicit in their argument: we now live in a country where almost half the people don’t make enough money to pay income tax.

Does that bother anyone but me? Of course, I’m one of those who still thinks the banks and financial institutions were responsible for the current mess, and refuses to blame the public workers and unions because it was their unreasonable salary demands and lack of work ethic that caused mortgage-backed securities and credit default swaps to lose their (perceived) value and become exposed for the Ponzi schemes they always were, thus precipitating the Great Recession of 2008. Silly me.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Top Ten Things That Were True the Last Time I Didn’t Have to Wear Glasses

10. The Pirates played in Forbes Field.

9. The Steelers had never made the playoffs.

8. The only penguins in Pittsburgh were in the zoo.

7. John Boehner had human-colored skin.

6. The Beatles had never been to America.

5. Elvis was thin.

4. We only had “advisors” in Vietnam.

3. Mitch McConnell had a chin.

2. There was no such thing as Gatorade.

1. The United States could only put one man in space at a time. (Now we can’t put any.)

A Matched Set

The cataract in my right eye was removed on Wednesday, with The Sole Heir once again in attendance. (No photo this time; just hold the previous one up to a mirror.) This nurse anesthetist was a little more heavy-handed than his predecessor, so I slept through most of this one, including snoring, much to the amusement of the doctor and TSH.

The first thing I noticed when I finished my three-hour afternoon nap was that my glasses, without which I had been lost for almost fifty years, were no longer of use to me. I couldn’t see anything through them. Yesterday’s follow-up exam showed my right eye better than my left—as expected—with my overall vision when using both eyes at 20.25. I only need glasses to read. (I’ve hung nothing off my ears or nose to type this.)

Having good vision after a lifetime of Magoo Syndrome requires some changes. I bought a cheap pair of readers and keep pushing them up my nose when I look up from making a note, only to realize I can’t read the screen through them; I have to look over.  I ran a couple of errands yesterday with the vague feeling I was forgetting something, and was regularly surprised when I’d reach up to scratch my face and could do so unimpeded.

The best was last night. As I went to turn out the bathroom light on my way to bed I passed the dresser where I have always kept my glasses for easy retrieval first thing in the morning. Without thinking, my hand went up to remove my glasses. I laughed out loud.

To me, seeing well meant I had my glasses on. That was the only way it could happen. I was never vain about glasses. I’m not sure whether I look better with or without them, partly because my self-image is so closely associated with “with.” To me, it’s not how I look; it’s how I see.

It’s a liberating feeling. The Beloved Spouse found a crack in her glasses a couple of weeks ago, and had to resort to a pair of loaners while her progressive lenses were re-ground. Had I broken my glasses a month ago, I would not have been able to drive to Hour Eyes for a replacement. I break the readers, I just get my dead ass off the chair and go to Giant or CVS or Target and buy another pair.

What I notice most are things that never occurred to me when I thought about it before having the bionics implanted. An ability to shift focus without having to move my head to look through the proper area of the progressive lens. My peripheral vision is no wider, but there’s no blurry edge where my eye scans beyond the edge of my glasses. My vision is clear all day. No smudges or dust gets on the lens.

In a small way I almost feel disloyal. I’ve not been able to leave the house without glasses for as long as I can remember. Now they’re not only not helpful, they’re counterproductive. I couldn’t wear them if I wanted to, as my “corrected” vision is much worse than it ever was uncorrected.

I’ll get over it. Outdoor activities will be easier . I’m going to get myself to a batting cage in a couple of weeks to see how that goes, and might consider looking for a 55-and-over softball league next spring. Looking out the window, it’s startling to see the backyard in three dimensions, how far the limbs of the pine tree reach away from its trunk.

My most sincere thanks to Dr. John Grundy and everyone connected with his practice and with the Snowden River Surgery Center, where the procedures took place. As life-altering experiences go, only the birth of the Sole Heir and meeting The Beloved Spouse surpass the work these folks have done.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Another Example of American Exceptionalism

Ezra Klein's blog refers to a new report from Building America’s Future, “Falling Apart and Falling Behind,” which details the sorry state of America's transportation infrastructure. Here is a salient point for those who still think America is the world leader in everything.

The United States, the report notes, now has the worst air-traffic congestion on the planet, with one-quarter of flights arriving more than 15 minutes late. One reason is that U.S. air-traffic control still relies on 1950s-era ground radar technology, even as the rest of the world has been shifting to satellite tracking (the FAA has begun the transition to a satellite-based system, though it’s moving slowly and future funding is a big question). According to recent World Economic Forum rankings, even Malaysia and Panama now boast better air infrastructure.

American exceptionalism used to refer to this country's willingness to do everything better. Now too many people think it means everything here is best just because it's American. 

As anyone who has been paying attention already knows, this is a recipe for disaster.

Still on Silent Running

Last night I tried to explain to a friend why I haven't been posting here much lately, except for fuzzy bunny cataract stories. (Eye Two gets done a week from today, after which I will likely be totally and irreversibly insufferable.)

The explanation I offered to my friend was, alas, unsuitably erudite for this forum. Fortunately for me (and you), John Scalzi has covered this exact topic in his excellent blog, Whatever.