Your Health Insurance Policy Doesn’t Cover Broken Promises

by David Bruce

insurance_claim_formTwo and one half years ago, we elected a man to the office of the President of the United States.  Today, I am as disgusted with his job performance as I was elated that he was elected office in the first place.  “Change,” a word often perceived as cliché, was a sigh of relief when President Obama took office.  The citizens of our country had been manipulated by a man and his cabinet who lead us into two wars (one under false pretenses), eroded a federal surplus, destroyed an economy, and raised the unemployment rate to levels which have yet to see any significant improvement.  President Obama boldly inherited a mess he vowed to clean up by uniting Republican and Democratic parties.  We wanted to believe that Obama would kick some collective, conservative ass.

We should not blame President Obama necessarily for his failure to clean up the mess left by his predecessor, nor should we blame him for being unsuccessful in uniting the two parties, who rarely agree on any policies or ideals anyway.  On the contrary, his efforts at the beginning of his term were admirable. What I do blame him for is his lack of ability to demand a consensus among our Representatives and Senators, and in lieu of that consensus, an ethical line should be drawn that does not get negotiated.

The most recent compromise made by the President has permitted extensions of tax cuts awarded by former President George W. Bush and the erosion of Medicaid and Medicare benefits for the poorest of America’s populace.  Instead of summarily rejecting the 2012 budget proposal, President Obama gave in on the threat of a government shut down.  President Obama is demonstrating that he is still running for office instead of fighting on behalf of the people that elected him to office on the promise of “change.”  This is not change; this is business as usual.

The time for compromise is over, and time wasted holding out for a consensus is over.  This is clearly a case of knowing what is right and what is wrong.  Additional tax beaks for companies that already benefit from a plethora of tax loop holes are wrong.  Risking the health coverage for elderly and disabled Americans is wrong.  Yes, tough decisions need to be made.  Taxes need to be raised.  We can afford an increase in taxes.  We have found a way to live with exorbitant gas prices, and we can do the same for health care.

Of course, our representatives will promise us that taxes should not and will not be raised; they want their jobs.  At the same time, these are the same representatives that categorically state that there is no free ride.  Well, there is if you are an American company with lobbyists and votes to spare.  Let the government shut down.  The government is broken, and isn’t doing anyone (but the wealthy) a damn bit of good.

Si j’étais Président… (If I were President)

Even if it requires an across the board tax increase, you do what you have to do to take care of the people. Of course, if we would stop launching Tomahawk missiles that cost $1.41 million into foreign soil to protect our oil interests, we wouldn’t even have to worry about the state of our social programs. It’s time to focus our resources on the home front.

America – A Dream to Some, A Nightmare to Others

by David T. Bruce

dc-3My family and I just returned to our small village after spending four days visiting Washington D.C.  During our visit, we enjoyed the exhibits of a few Smithsonian museums, and we toured the obligatory streets and malls of the district in which resided the various presidential monuments and federal buildings, to include the Capitol and the White House.

Admittedly, I felt a sense of awe as we entered the District of Columbia via the George Washington Memorial Parkway and saw the Washington Monument behind a screen of haze and setting sun.

During our stay, I rekindled fond memories of the Apollo lunar program, satisfied the child within by exploring decades-old pop culture artifacts, and explored the history of the area that is our nation’s capital.

As a parent, I patted myself on the back for fostering the development of my children, introducing them to a history they had only skimmed in a text book or glimpsed in a Hollywood movie.  At the same time, as a citizen, I became more cynical as each day passed.

While the architecture is beautiful, the streets are clean and well cared for, and the transportation system is exceptional, I became increasingly sensitive to the disparity between what the District of Columbia represented versus what the reality of America is for the better share of the population of this country. While our family toured a region of America symbolic of freedom and democracy, our Representatives and Senators, perpetually embroiled in a debate over how to spend tax payer dollars, were gridlocked to the point in which the government is at risk of being shut down.

As I conclude this writing, the two disparate halves of our government have somehow come to a consensus that allowed for the budget to be passed and the federal government to continue doing business. Of highest concern, however, are those items that contributed to the heated debate: budget cuts that most affected elderly, disabled, and low-income Americans.  At the same time I and my family contribute tourist dollars to the District of Columbia economy, as our elected representatives and their families enjoyed the luxury of private schools, exceptional transportation, and an environment in which money is obviously no object, at least half of our nations representatives had the impudence to propose cuts to Medicaid, Medicare, and Planned Parenthood programs, directly affecting those who have little or no means to help themselves.

While the federal government proposes that funds be cut from the budget that, funds that support the elderly, disabled, and low-income citizens of America, and as the federal government proposes that states and the private industry (entities who are already in financial distress and have shown themselves to be incapable of providing adequate, affordable services) take over programs for the same, our government has exhibited little or no concern for these that have, as I say, no means to help themselves.  Those representatives that have raised their hand in support of such measure should be ashamed.

As an American and a father, I too feel shame, as I lead my children around a part of American they should be proud of.  Instead, these monuments and museums become mere shadows of what was and what could have been.  Today, there is to evident truth that all citizens are created equal.  Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are for those fortunate enough to be young, healthy, and God-fearing.  As a nation, we must come to grips with the reality that we will not survive as a nation divided.  At some point in time, we must all realize that “live and let live” means we must embrace our neighbors and offer a helping hand regardless of where they come from or where they are born.  Our government must begin to set the example by cutting the budget for everyone, by living within their means (as families do across the country), and by showing compassion for those who do not enjoy a fraction of the American dream that they do.  If America can spend in excess of $100 billion per year to take away lives in Afghanistan and Iraq, then perhaps they can spend at least that amount to help promote the health and welfare of America’s elderly, disabled, and low-income families.  The American dream is becoming a nightmare for many.

Students not a Collective Bargaining Right

by David Bruce

tenureThe recession that the United States is not in, according to government and business officials who want to keep their jobs, is forcing the hand of Wisconsin officials in respect to budget cuts for the coming fiscal year.  These budget cuts, among other details, eliminate collective bargaining rights for many state employees, teachers among them.  This particular event adds fuel to the debate of whether or not teachers are paid what they are worth.

This argument can be levied against any career.  Certainly those people who work any hours and many hours for retail operations would say that they are not paid what they are worth, and many would argue that sports and entertainment icons are paid far more than they are worth.  The issue in the instance of educators and in respect to the profession of teaching in general is in regards to the quality of education that we should be giving to our children and how we may accomplish that task.

Most teachers may argue in favor of labor unions to promote competitive pay and benefits and to secure their jobs.  If this is the impetus for teaching, then why teach?  The students are the focus.  No, services should not come for free.  Teachers provide a service than can never be measured in pay stubs and benefits, and teachers that perform admirably as measured by their superiors should be compensated accordingly.   Unions, however, are another level of bureaucracy that benefits those at the top more than those people that they were originally chartered to protect.

Unions are another layer of government and business that takes the focus away from the students.  Eliminate unions.  Eliminate tenure.  Resources may then be used to hire and promote teachers who do want to teach, and those that teach well should be paid their worth and prosper.  Those that do not teach well can learn something new.  This approach is not fool proof.  Administrators have been known to take advantage of employees, but a level of trust must be established for the best interests of all parties.

Ultimately, the goal is to promote learning.  The best teachers are a product of education and an innate desire to engage with students.  This is not necessarily accomplished or fostered by labor union and government intervention, as is evident by the failure of No Child Left Behind and the ongoing feud between school districts and teacher unions.  Students who learn, regardless of demographic, are good for and to themselves, their communities, and or country.

The Reality of Change

by David Bruce

minwageCitizens of Egypt asked for change and then demanded change.  When change did not come, the citizens of Egypt forced change and forced former President Muhammad Hosni Mubarek from office.  In turn, and almost in unison, other countries in the Middle East and northern Africa demanded likewise of their leaders.  Protestors in Libya seek to remove Colonel Muammar el-Qaddafi from power, opponents of Yemen President Ali Abdullah Saleh are demanding that the leader relinquish his power, and thousands of protesters march in Jordan to affect political and economic change long planned for and summarily forgotten.

Meanwhile back in the United States, the Democratic and Republican parties continue their ongoing political sparring at the expense of the American people.  Current legislation threatens to eliminate funding that will ultimately lead to the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs.  Proposed cuts threaten job training for unemployed workers, teacher training, community health centers, and assistance for low-income families and children.  The billions of dollars saved are coincidentally offset by the extension of the Bush Administration tax cuts.

Across the states, the impact of government intervention, spending (or lack thereof), and legislation affects citizens to one extent or another.  People are still losing jobs, homes are still being foreclosed on, and food and fuel prices continue to rise.  At the same time, the government is proposing cuts that will threaten those least likely to compensate for the rising prices.  The changes proposed by the Obama Administration over two years ago have not come to pass, either as a result of political obstruction or executive incompetence is immaterial.  The end result is the same and affects the lower- and middle-class citizens of the United States adversely and often irreparably.

At what point do we get so fed up with the dogmatic assurances of change and the continued erosion of hope for a future that at least allows for the average American to maintain an unpretentious existence that we march in the streets in front of our state capitals, demanding from our governors and representatives a true change that works in favor of the citizens of the country and not the political and business empire that dominates our nation?

We have become so focused on reality shows that we have overlooked the reality outside of our homes.  We have become so enraptured with the latest electronic toys that we forgotten what the idea of freedom is, having become slaves to advertisements, big screens, and bright lights.  We are mesmerized and hypnotized, becoming blind to what our leaders are doing.  Will we wake up when it is too late, or will we take a page from the book of those peoples in Egypt, Yemen, and Jordan who have said enough is enough.  The change must come from us, or change will not come at all.

Our Most Powerful Right

…we are oblivious to what the government is doing in terms of promoting corporate rights over individual rights. We ignore government policies that do little to curb deterioration of the environment. We ignore the federal government’s lack of response in answer to unemployment, poor health care, and inflation.

by David T. Bruce

usa-1327105_1280The Second Amendment to the United States Constitution will soon be the subject of debate again in the U.S. Supreme Court.  The amendment stating that “a well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”  Following the decision that prevented Washington D.C. from legislating gun control within that district, the Supreme Court endeavors to determine if individual states can legislate gun control.

The issue of gun control is regularly and hotly contested.  Proponents vehemently uphold the Second Amendment, and opponents catalogue lives lost as a result of a person who lawfully owned a handgun and used that handgun unlawfully.  I argue that we do indeed have a right to own a gun, but we do not have a right to take a life as we see fit or endanger our neighbors and communities.  How do we balance this right with reality, though?

Essentially, Second-Amendment advocates demand that they have the right to own a gun because our forefathers said so.  Yes, the forefathers did state in the amendment that “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”  However, the amendment also reads that it was and is necessary to have “a well regulated Militia.”  What well regulated indicates is that in all likelihood, the militia should have leadership.  The intent was not for everyone to have a weapon and shoot as they please.  In the twenty-first century, this is precisely what we have.

As well, the intent was to prevent the government from impeding on the individual rights of a citizen by entering the home without just cause and to prevent a foreign militia from detaining United States citizens.  While we can argue that the likelihood of the latter is possible, we can also argue that the lack of the aforementioned well regulated militia would prevent any one person from being reasonably successful at deterring such an attack.  In respect to the likelihood of a government official entering a home without just cause, that too is remote.

Of all the challenges we currently face in the United States, I am often amazed at what comes to the forefront for debate.  We seem to put a great deal of emphasis on these “rights” that were handed down to us over two-hundred years ago, yet we ignore what our local, state, and federal officials are doing to our rights one day at a time.  We seem so worried about what the federal government is doing to trample on our Constitutional rights, but we are oblivious to what the government is doing in terms of promoting corporate rights over individual rights.  We ignore government policies that do little to curb deterioration of the environment.  We ignore the federal government’s lack of response in answer to unemployment, poor health care, and inflation.

The most powerful right we have as citizens of the United States is the right to vote, and maybe . . . maybe . . . one-half of our population exercises that right at any given time.  The rest of us don’t even pick up that weapon, let alone pull the trigger.  We can minimize or eliminate blatantly corrupt officials from the government by paying attention to what these officials are doing, paying attention to how they are voting on pertinent issues, and voting them out of office when their term is due.  In extreme cases, we have the right to remove corrupt officials from office before their term is over.  Yet we dismiss this right every single day. Our voice is as strong as any weapon, if we collectively choose to use our right to vote.

Religion Does Not Equal Morality

I am troubled by that kind of willingness to pass judgment based solely on religious differences.

by Shadra Bruce

love-1221444_1280Our daughter is a college student and a part-time employee at a fast food restaurant. While at work the other day, she and a co-worker somehow got on the subject of religion. My daughter is an atheist. She does not believe in any god; she does not go to church. When one of her co-workers heard this, he confronted her and told her that her choice was wrong, that one had to be religious in order to be moral.

We have raised our children to have open minds and to be tolerant of others no matter what kind of belief system they have. We have taught them that they need to make good choices, be honest, and treat others kindly—not because their god demands it, but because that is what human beings do. While we have not raised them with a specific religion, we have encouraged them to explore all religions and to choose a path that is most meaningful to them, and we support whatever path they choose to follow as long as they are truthful to themselves and others and treat people with decency.

Kira may not always consider herself an atheist. She is only 19. She has a lot of life experience yet to gain. Luckily, her co-worker is also young. Hopefully he will learn that people are more than their faith.

The hypocrisy of this situation is that the message of Jesus was one of tolerance. My daughter is not immoral. She does not treat people badly or judge them for having a different set of beliefs than her own. She treats people with kindness, making friends easily and helping others in times of need.

I am troubled by that kind of willingness to pass judgment based solely on religious differences.  I believe that this willingness to judge those who are different from ourselves is what has brought us to the point of warring against each other instead of treating each other like global neighbors. Regardless of individual belief, we are all one society of human beings, sharing one small planet.

President Obama Wants All of Us to Learn

I am equally concerned that a growing number of citizens are being spoon-fed their opinions from the likes of Limbaugh, Hannity, and Beck.

by David T. Bruce

obama-2009America has been divided for some time in terms of political agendas and in respect to opinions governing in what direction our country should grow, with Republicans and Democrats (and their constituents) often reaching an impasse, accomplishing nothing.  Yet the recent clash over President Obama’s scheduled address to school children is infantile at best, showing a lack of concern about issues that truly affect the nation as a whole.

I honestly doubt that the speech is an attempt to inject the federal government too far into public school business.  No Child Left Behind was such an attempt (and on many levels, a failed attempt), and other than school faculty and administration, I do not hear or read of the general public being outraged about that dandy piece of legislation.  In all likelihood, the opponents of the President’s address would say nothing, if the Commander-in-Chief were Republican, and vice-versa.

One woman interviewed by CNN stated that she is very scared to be in this country with the current leadership.  Was the administration of the past two terms satisfactory?  If so, then I am concerned about the population of this country who follow blindly, and I am equally concerned that a growing number of citizens are being spoon-fed their opinions from the likes of Limbaugh, Hannity, and Beck.  The President is not forcing anyone to watch his address at school, any more than citizens are forced to watch an address at home.

Are students compelled to watch; are they a captive audience?  Perhaps. Still, the Obama administration is making the speech available prior to the address for families to preview in advance. Doing so gives families the opportunity to discuss the speech and decide how the message relates to their values and beliefs. Damage control, for lack of a better term, may be initiated before the address. Making the speech available prior to the address also is a show of good intention by the administration, a gesture that seems intended to alleviate concerns that some socialist plot to brainwash our children is not happening without our knowledge.

Can we take the President at face value? I think we should try. Can we, for a moment, put our politics and biases aside, and imagine that a father of two daughters with the ability to positively affect the lives of all children might avail himself the opportunity? To those who would choose to raise hell over this one moment in time, please get a grip and get over yourselves. With the unemployment rate just shy of 10% and an economy knee-deep in recession, with a poverty rate at about 12% (according to 2007 statistics), and with over 15% of our population without health insurance coverage, our country is challenged with issues that affect us all far more than words of inspiration from of a man trying to put a positive spin on the future for our children.

Love It or Leave It

For whatever the reason, we the people have been negligent in upholding our end of the Constitution. We have a right – and a duty – to speak out. When we become fearful of doing so, we need to take a long look at our leaders and how they govern. We need to reestablish jurisdiction over our elected officials.

by David T. Bruce

dissent_fb_picThe American Revolution resulted from the efforts of the British government to subject the colonists to taxes and commerce polices that would help the government pay for the costs associated with the funding of the French and Indian War. These taxes and policies were an attempt to raise revenue by taxing colonists for such items as legal documents and tea. When the colonists objected, boycotted and revolted, the British government sought to take away the rights and privileges once afforded to the colonists. The two sides went to war. The colonists had the fortitude to say what the government was doing was wrong, and following a yearlong struggle, the colonists sent the British home. The United States was born of these events.

Comparable to many countries in the world, we have prospered as a nation. The United States has the largest economy and one of the highest incomes per capita. Compared to other nations, we lag behind in terms of health care with the highest obesity rate in the world and a mortality rate that does not even rank in the top 20.

During the Bush/Cheney administration, our nation became one that condoned torture, wire-tapping, and racial profiling. Were we to ask for a show of hands from individuals to determine who would support the aforementioned behaviors, few would do so. However, by our show of apathy, almost all of us are guilty as charged. As citizens, we have watched while justifications for war were concocted; we have silently stood witness as unemployment and inflation have increased at the same time as the salaries of government officials and corporate CEOs did the same.

Those that dared to speak out against improprieties at the beginning of the Bush/Cheney administration were often labeled unpatriotic. Those who disagreed with the wars in the Middle East were told love our country or leave it. What has changed in more than 225 years? Where is our outrage over a government that systematically chips away at the freedoms the original colonists fought to secure?

The colonists loved their new home; they fought and died to acquire the rights we now enjoy, rights that we seldom take advantage of for fear of being labeled unpatriotic. To stand up for the rights of an individual is to be patriotic. To bring attention to behaviors of government officials that go beyond the boundaries established by the Constitution is patriotic. We – the people – govern, and while anarchy is not desired, we, as citizens, have every right to defend our rights from those who might impede them, whether the perpetrators are foreign or domestic.

During the 2008 election year, many Americans spoke out against the policies of the Bush/Cheney administration by electing Barack Obama. As poignant and noteworthy this national epiphany was, a measure of frustration remains in that we, as a collective group, did not voice our opinions sooner. Some of us may have indeed been fearful. Others may have believed they had no choice. Still others may have looked the other way, lost in their day-to-day routines. For whatever the reason, we the people have been negligent in upholding our end of the Constitution. We have a right – and a duty – to speak out. When we become fearful of doing so, we need to take a long look at our leaders and how they govern. We need to reestablish jurisdiction over our elected officials.

Physical attacks – a literal revolution on the scale of the American Revolution – are certainly not the answer. Yet like those colonists willing to sacrifice their lives for what they believed was wrong, we must be able to sacrifice a part of us (whether that be a lifestyle change, time, or money) to change what we believe is wrong. We cannot continue to watch our government make ludicrous, expensive decisions on our behalf and then beg forgiveness and ask for our vote later. For the love of our country, we must speak out.

To love our country does not mean that we should follow our leaders as the country loses respect around the world. To love our country does not mean that we should remain silent as the government and business leaders of our country lead us to financial ruin. We must practice tough love. We should not have to leave because we disagree. We should hold our leaders accountable, make them pay for their choices, and send them packing when they don’t do their jobs.

Politics in Social Media

… we forget the rules of civil engagement when we can hide behind our screen names and computer screens and lash out.

by Shadra Bruce

facebook-1558618_1280The other day, a friend of mine posted a short message on Facebook that said simply, “Rest in Peace TK” in reference to the passing of Senator Ted Kennedy. A mutual acquaintance of ours on Facebook used that message as an opportunity to respond to the comment with a politically motivated (and insulting) message about Ted Kennedy, the Kennedy family, and Democrats in general.

The general belligerence of the message resulted in this man being removed from the friend list.

I don’t have a problem with political sparring. In fact, I think it is a healthy way to prevent myself from becoming so determined to keep my own point of view that I fail to see others. I love debating issues and learning new facts while defending my own beliefs and helping others understand why I believe the way I do. I thrive on the conversations I have with friends and family, no matter how differently they believe than I do, because we are all celebrating the freedom we have as citizens of the United States to have a voice.  I will even change my opinion based on new information.

Unfortunately, the Internet, particularly social media sites, has allowed us all to become insulated from the real people that exist behind the messages and icons we all have online. We forget that the people we talk to (or have on our list of friends) are more than just their daily comments, and we forget the rules of civil engagement when we can hide behind our screen names and computer screens and lash out.

If you feel passionately about something, engage people in discussion about it; volunteer with your political party or spend time being active in your community. If you have better solutions than the ones being offered, run for office or contact your representatives and make suggestions about ways to improve society.  But we need to stop this form of online guerilla warfare, in which one sneaks in, does what damage can be done and sneaks out without any real engagement, stripping us of the ability to have meaningful dialogue about important issues.