When someone has the exact words for what’s going on.
Some election years I carefully map out who I’m voting for and carefully research the issues long before the ballot is due. Other elections I rip open my ballot at 6:40 am on election day, shriek at how many things are are to vote for and start flipping frantically through the voters guide.
My first election was in 1992. I had turned 18 only a week or so before. I was able to register, even though my birthday was past the deadline, because I would be 18 by the time the election happened. I put off registering for a long time, mostly because I was afraid of voting. At that time, I thought I would have to carefully research each and every candidate or issue and come to firm conclusions so I could defend my choices when people asked my reasoning. It seemed like a really big deal.
Voting is a big deal. But it’s not quite the big deal I thought at 18. Some years, I come close to approximating how I thought voting would be. Other years, I make some decisions by moving the pencil back and forth between two candidates and then going with the one who didn’t push poll me. I follow politics in general, which I think is important for spur-of-the-moment voting, but this time I wasn’t super nuanced in my reasoning. I felt a bit frantic all day, but it felt very good to drop my ballot in the box.
“Public Employees Get Free Ride” is the supposedly clever headline in the Metro section today, and the rest of the article isn’t much better. The gist: taxpayers are paying for some downtown public employees transit passes.
You know what? Taxpayers pay not only for that, but the public employee’s dental insurance, medical insurance and I would guess, life insurance and disability policies. Taxpayers are paying for public employees entire salaries! You know why? They are public employees.
I happen to be one taxpayer happy to contribute my probably three cents per year towards Joe Public Employee’s All-Zone Trimet pass. As far as I’m concerned, 80% of the people working downtown should have their employers subsidize the full price of their TriMet passes. Our downtown was purposely designed to be gotten to easily by public transportation. Why shouldn’t government lead the way by adding the benefit of a bus pass to the benefits available to the average public employee?
What gets me about articles like this, is that you never see its obverse about the business world. How about this sample headline: “WalMart customers subsidize WalMart executives’ five billion dollar fleet of corporate jets.” Businesses waste all kinds of money on things that I find unnecessary. The redecoration of executive offices being right up there with the inability by said executives to take commercial flights. But when business spends money wantonly, it is okay, because they need to spend the money to run their businesses efficiently, and besides, it is none of “the public’s” business because we don’t subsidize it.
But we do. We buy their product. You can’t tell me that some amount of pennies per item at WalMart doesn’t go to support WalMart executives’ travel habits. And you can’t tell me that business doesn’t receive public money. They do. From tax breaks, to zoning changes to build their business, to out-and-out bailouts for failing “essential” companies, we all pay.
The view in the US seems to be the following: taxes are squandered on superfluous items requested by overpaid employees who do nothing for their bloated salaries and taxpayer subsidized medical insurance. There is a huge disconnect, it is as if no one can see that the minuscule amount they pay in taxes actually gives them back amazing things, like infrastructure, social services police and fire departments and yes, transit.
A few years ago, unable to find a job, I took a “public employee” position in Washington County. I made just over $9.00 per hour and took transit an hour each way to get to my job. I paid for my transit pass myself, which was just over 5% of my monthly budget. My office was less than a mile from the Max line, serviced by three buses and I was the only employee in my sixteen person office who took public transportation to work. Every morning and evening I walked across a vast expanse of empty parking lot that was available for free to all employees, but cost visitors to park. Often, I wondered how much of a benefit this free parking cost, and why no one was throwing me any money for not taking up a space. I know why, of course, but it still made me mad.
Including TriMet passes in downtown public employees benefits package is a good deal for the employees and a good deal for the taxpayers. It’s not a free ride.
If no professional, semi-professional or student athlete game in any sport was ever played again, I would not be sad. I’m not into sports. I am, however, into equity in sports and these signs frost my liver. What century are we living in?
Though not team-sports oriented myself, I have always been thankful I came of age after Title IX passed. These signs show that there are still miles to go before we have true equity.
How do I think the signs should be worded? How about:
Viking Men’s Basketball
Viking Women’s Basketball.
If you are going to put the qualifying possessive adjective on the women’s sign, the men’s sign needs it too.
I strongly believe that this country needs much more vacation time. Much. However, the powers that be in this country think that having no national standard for vacation time is entirely acceptable. “People can negotiate for the amount of vacation time that is right for them.” some clueless executive said once on a radio program I was listening to once, completely ignoring the fact that a lot of Americans don’t get to negotiate their vacation time at all, and that for most people the amount of vacation time that is right for them is not an amount that is acceptable to the company.
But I digress. Because of our severe lack of national holidays, I think you can make up your own. Here is one for the end of February. Watch the Oscars. During the Oscars they usually show a lot of clips from many decades of film. I usually find myself thinking something along the lines of, “You know, I’ve never seen Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.” Make notes of all those movies you have never seen. After the show is over go to the video store (oh, alas East Coast people, the video store has closed. You’ll have to make do) and pick up a bunch of those movies. The next day, call in sick to work and watch them. You won’t be sorry.
I think we should call it Oscar Day.
I picked up my race packet for the Turkey Trot today at the World Forestry Center and came across Les Aucoin Plaza. You can find it yourself by taking the Blue or Red line to the Washington Park stop and taking the elevator to the top. I wondered as I walked by, if Les Aucoin was a person, or a french name of something. It could go either way, so I took a picture to remind myself to check.
Ah. I see he was the first Democrat congressman to represent Oregon’s first congressional district since statehood. He also spells his name AuCoin. If the plaza sign wasn’t in all capital letters, that would be more obvious. He gets a plaza named after him because he and Mark Hatfield worked their congressional magic on the east and west side light rail lines. How lovely.
And now I know.
Well, Clinton’s terms in office remain a marker in my political development. As those eight years passed and I started college and finished college and began to make my way in the work world, I learned that even when the presidential candidate of your choice wins (twice) it can be a profoundly disappointing experience.
But that was nothing compared to the last 8 years.
I’ve been sensing something in this country since 9/11. I think as a whole, we are dissatisfied hearing over and over again that all we can do is shop to prop up the economy. We know that there are big problems to deal with on so many fronts: health care, the national debt, the trade imbalance, homelessness, poverty and that god-awful war. In my mind, the American public can be symbolized as a spotty, flabby adolescent, holed up in his room playing video games. We are willing to set aside our dark room and video games and to stand up for our country, to work hard, to make a difference, but we have only been told, again and again, to consume.
After 9/11, we were ready to stand as a country and do what needed to be done. The message we got then was to hole up inside our homes and buy new things to decorate it. We did, but it was unsatisfying and seemed to only result in a fatter and poorer public. So, President-elect Obama, don’t be afraid to ask us to stand up for America. Don’t be afraid to ask us come out of our homes, to sacrifice, or do our duty, or have uncomfortable conversations. We’re more than ready for it. We often look back with awe at our parents and grandparents and all they overcame during the Great Depression and World War II. We have that same grit and I think we are ready to use it.
Don’t be afraid to call on us to help solve those problems. And don’t forget us.