Sunday, November 30, 2008

Campaign Pause: Part 3

What good is starting early on a presidential campaign if one cannot take time out from dictating policy to be a complete and total goof. You see, part of me is taking this quite seriously. I have no idea how a nearly complete unknown can possibly gain the big chair, but as far as I can tell, there are no laws preventing me from doing so. I'm a natural born citizen, been in residence of the U.S. for 14 years, and over the age of 35. My disabilities? Well, if I were completely incapacitated or unable to make an executive decision, then I could be removed from office and the Vice President would step up. But look at my posts on this subject. Do I seem incapable of doing the job?

Not yet...although looking at the responsibilities of the President, I wonder how I'll manage some of them. Like the State of the Union Address. I imagine myself turning into one of a variety of characters.

First, I could become a political suck-up. "My fellow Americans, I am here to report on the State of the Union, and things couldn't be better. That is, it's great for everyone except the 15% living in abject poverty, and they don't own televisions. As long as we keep lying to them, we'll stay in great shape. That my speech was written days in advance to suck up to the majority should be overlooked. I am being medicated by my true masters, and am reporting like a good puppet should." Uh huh. That'll happen.

Or I could come on television and be Mr. New York. "My fellow Americans...We are so fucked. The goons making up the whole of Congress are making every effort to stop every plan I have to make America a better place, mostly because they're a greedy bunch of jackasses. And so I am dipping into my own pocket to pay a large group of crackheads five dollars each to make the House and the Senate miserable places to work. Once they've gotten my message across to Congress, it's rehab for the whole group...Yes, that includes Congress."

Better yet, take the Captain Comedy route, and give the people at home something worth watching. I mean, let's face facts...most people are bored out of their skulls when they know the State of the Union is due. All of their favorite shows have been bumped, and tuning in to listen to the President requires adrenaline shots to stay awake. That's why I'll be ducking down behind the podium and address the nation via a sock puppet, using one silly voice or another. "My fellow Americans...Welcome to the President Rob Show!" Then I'll step up and sing a little song about the status of my Social Security reform, complete with Vegas dancing girls that will at least make it look like I'm dancing up a storm.

Now that would be great. The State of the Union will be made late at night, with the camera focused on strippers. Those at home that have tuned in will be thoroughly distracted, and I'll just spew nonsense for an hour. "My fellow Americans...We have been invaded by neon pink dinosaurs and aliens with bright yellow feathers that can only speak in Shakespearean verse. The artichokes have successfully killed everyone named Arty, and I've been running around the Presidential residence naked, pretending I'm a moose."

Then there's the task of negotiating treaties. "Play nice, or our satellites will start broadcasting 'Never Gonna Give You Up' into your country on a loop until you agree to my terms. That, or 'The Llama Song.' I haven't decided yet."

Yes, my faithful followers...evil has a new name!

Then there are some of the jokes I've been making with my buddy, Thanatos. "I don't wanna become President to help the masses. I'm just doing it to pick up chicks." In fact, for all females I deem attractive, I will be implementing a new dress code in the White House. All whom I deem "hot" will be required to wear bikinis. Trust me when I tell you it's "the will of the people."

There's also the annual checkup. The Press Secretary gets in front of the gathered media and reports on the President's current medical status. I can see it now as whoever becomes my PR Rep announces, "The President is thoroughly medicated and happy with bright shining things. He had a disco ball placed in the Oval Office, and he's been staring at it for over a week without sleep for the entire time."

Actually, on a serious note, I imagine my health improving while in office. The President doesn't sit in a clinic for hours, waiting his turn for that five-minute visit with the doctor. And instead of looking for a doctor, doctors will be looking for me, just so they can proudly say at dinner parties, "I got to check the President's urine today." No more running to the pharmacy late at night when I run out of syringes; there's probably an entire pharmacy somewhere in the White House.

And, of course, amidst all of the silliness in this post, I'm reminded of my screenplay once again, Anyone Can. When asked how he was going to increase the job market in the States...

GARY: Well, I’ve considered nuking all other nations into the Stone Age so that we’re the only people able to produce technology, but I was told that wouldn’t be...Ummm...What did you call it, John?

JOHN: Nice. It wouldn’t be nice.

GARY: Yeah, it wouldn’t be nice.

But all of this...is really me being silly. That's it. Sure, I find it amusing to think that I can order up a tank so I can take it to a drive-thru at McDonald's. Would I actually do it? Well, so far I'm rather big on the way the government wastes time and money. Do you honestly think I'd use government funds and military personnel for a prank? Do you think I would abuse the power just to get things I want? "Hello...Is this NCSoft? Good. This is the President of the United States. I'd like you to give me the next four years of game credit for City of Heroes because...well, I'm the President. That work for you? Good. Have a great day!"

No.

No, this is starting to turn into the time I taught myself how to write a screenplay. Now that I have full-time Internet access, I won't have to run to the library all the time. Each and every post thus far where I've started mentioning changes I'd like to see happen has required me looking up a bit of data. Each bit of data makes me realize I have more reading to do. I haven't been talking about programming the time on a digital clock; these are complex systems of government, and believing in the changes I want to make and actually being able to make those changes may well be two very different things. So instead of learning how to write a screenplay, I'm learning how to help people on a national level. I may stand only the slimmest of chances at gaining the office. I am, most literally, a complete unknown to a majority of the masses.

How would I really use my power on a personal level? Well, if my Dad is still around, I'll probably move him into the Presidential residence, along with my step-mom. My brother, Stu, can also move in with my nephew and sister-in-law. According to current figures, the President earns $400,000 a year. Surely I can offer some support some family members with that money, as I won't have much to buy while I'm busy running the country. No rent or groceries to worry about, so I'm sure I could do at least that much.

I'll also be able to handle a few debts that have built over my lifetime. So many people have come to my aid in so many ways over the last few years. Without using government resources, I'd be able to start paying some of them back.

The fantasy...is that I be given four years to try and help on a grander scale than what I've been doing. Today, I lend an ear to a friend, stop a child from running off from parents, and hold a door open for someone on crutches. In four years, I'd like to find ways to stop the government from pissing away money, keep Americans from starving to death in their homes, or people dying homeless on the streets. Then give me four years to enact those changes. If those four years aren't enough, and the people see I'm truly making an effort, perhaps they will give me an additional four years to finish the job.

And here's the goofy part...I won't be running in the traditional manner. Look at me now. I don't have the money to tour the nation and make any of my points at a rally of any kind. Either I'll catch on via word of mouth over the net, or I won't. If I make it into office, my second term will be based solely on popular opinion. I will waste no money on commercials that tout my ideals while slinging mud at other candidates. Oh, I might do some touting if someone started throwing money at me, but they had best not expect anything in return, other than my vow to try and fix the broken parts of our nation. Sorry, but the only pocket I'll be in is that of the people, not some special interest group.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

"Bor for Prez in '12": Part 6

And so we come to Welfare Reform. Here is a system of the government that has been in need of fixing for decades. I was a child when I first heard about welfare, and it was along the lines of people having more kids so they could get more benefits out of the system. It's a backward way of thinking, because welfare gives less than what's needed to survive. That I know of, they offer four main services: medical insurance, cash assistance, rent assistance, and food stamps.

In NY, I knew them as the Department of Social Services (DSS), and here in AZ it's the Department of Economic Security (DES). Whatever it's called, welfare in general should be needed strictly on a temporary basis. It should not be a system used "forever," as is the case with me. I've already covered Social Security reform, and with such changes would come my escape from perpetually needing State aid. So let's look at the three kinds of people who need welfare on their side and how it should work.

The first is the person who has waited until the last minute after the loss of employment, and is having a hard time finding work again. "The hardest job you'll ever have is finding a job." This is the kind of person that is accustomed to working, and things have simply gone sour for them. The job market has dried up. They have been selling off their possessions to get by. For this person, heading to the welfare office is a last resort, and takes some swallowing of pride.

For this individual, there is more than the standard benefits. There is also a referral to the nearest State Employment Office, which includes classes that help them gain employment. They spend a couple of hours in a class where they learn how to conduct themselves in an interview. The employment office would also provide this person with a professional résumé, as well as a log sheet that potential employers would sign to prove they're on the job hunt. Need something specific for work? The employment office will have a worker on hand to take someone shopping for work attire, and provide passes for mass transit to not only do the job hunting, but also make sure the individual is capable of getting to work until that first paycheck rolls in. In a way, this is an expansion of benefits.

However, while it seems more money is being spent, this person has three months to get a job. At the end of that time, if work hasn't been found...Well, one of two things happens at that point, and it all depends on a physical and psych evaluation. Government appointed health officials will decide if perhaps this person is beyond the point of finding gainful employment. If the person is found to be physically and mentally sound, then it can be assumed their "job hunting log" was filled in by friends, that the applicant has merely been lazy, and their benefits come to an immediate end. Sorry about that. In my system, we gave you every chance in the world to get a job, going as far as to try and help you find one. Unless there are some extenuating circumstances, your free ride is over. If, however, the person is judged to be physically or mentally ill, they become the next kind of applicant.

The next is the person who has become ill rather suddenly and needs benefits to get by until they heal up. Since SSD will grant benefits to anyone who is expected to be ill for 12 or more months, this applicant can receive up to nine months of benefits, as long as their doctor's office fills out a form updating the welfare office on the status of the applicants health. If at any time this person experiences complications or the onset of a new illness that would leave them permanently disabled, they become the third person. Otherwise, it is assumed that this individual will still have a job awaiting them when their nine months are up, or, as they recover, they are referred to the employment office for aid in finding a new job when their time is up.

The final party is the individual that has become disabled and is filing for other benefits. Either they have been deemed disabled by someone else, or government appointed doctors have made that decision. Either way, this person is going to have a potentially long fight ahead of them until such a time as they start receiving SSD. These are the only people who can possibly be on welfare for more than a year. In fact, they can receive benefits for years. If the judgement of medical professionals is that this person will be unable to work due to physical or psychological issues, then they have an all new fight to begin, and it shouldn't be with the welfare office.

If anything, the welfare office should send the person who fits this third scenario to an agency that can assist in filing for SSD benefits. The disabled party will be handed a series of self-addressed stamped envelopes, with which they will be required to mail in signed paperwork about the status of their SSD case. Oh, it could be done by whatever worker is assisting with the case, but by sending the paperwork in themselves, the client is saying, "I am trying to get off welfare as quickly as possible. Here's where I stand." Failure by the applicant, or a legal third party representing the applicant, to submit these papers means an end to welfare benefits. (Legal third parties would be established at the welfare office, as whatever the disability is may prevent the applicant from using their hands.)

This, like many of my ideas before, and those to come, is just off the top of my head. I'm likely missing details, and changes in my ideas are bound to occur. There could be a fourth kind of applicant. But the ones I'm trying to cut down on are the irresponsible parties that have kids they can't afford. Just because you want kids doesn't mean you should have them, especially when you can't afford to care for them on your own. Sorry if I seem too strict in this regard, but it's a fact of life. Can't afford your children? Put them up for adoption. Terminate the pregnancy early. Learn to use some kind of birth control. But don't think that because you have the kids that the government is going to hand out more and more on a perpetual basis. Be a responsible adult and provide for your children, or don't have the kids.

Ah, yes...I forgot about the mandatory, surprise drug tests at the welfare office. Yes, boy and girls...I'm putting a small medical station in each welfare office that will take samples to run a thorough drug screen. You'll never know when you'll be called down to the office to provide those samples, but it will be an early morning call, demanding you give a sample within the next few hours. Almost no excuse will be acceptable to avoid this. Don't show for a drug screen, and your benefits end the next day. Getting high on the government's dime is over!

Welfare should not be a free ride in any way. It is there for the unfortunate parties who cannot make ends meet for short periods of time. When entering the welfare system, there should be the idea that eventually you plan on getting out of it.

I certainly have more to say about how different States run the program differently. This should be a nationwide system. But I'm going to save that for another time. I'm awake at an unseemly hour due to feeling sick. Now I'm going back to bed because I'm feeling sick.

Be well, my loyal followers.

Friday, November 28, 2008

"Bor for Prez in '12": Part 5

I wanted to go into welfare reform, but I have to address a previously existing condition I can go down that road. That means today's problem is Social Security.

First, let's define them. Ummm...You go first. Okay, I can't hear you, so I'll tell you how I understand it. SSI is actually Supplemental Security Insurance. SSD is Social Security Disability.

How these systems work exactly requires a degree in economics, and possibly a law degree. Politicians say Social Security will be bankrupt in the not so distant future. Call Social Security's 800 number and a pleasant recording explains that your contributions to the program are not saved separately, but applied immediately to those receiving benefits. If the program is perpetually receiving funds, how is it going bankrupt? Don't point to a growing population; that should mean more money is coming in, because there are more employed folk than retirees. If anything, the disabled even the scales out. My inexpert opinion is that the system should be doing fine.

Now, according to what I know, a person earns "credits" while employed. When disability or retirement comes along, your SS income is based upon how many credits you've earned. It almost seems reasonable, right up until the point where you start receiving benefits. That's when you discover that relying strictly on SSI for retirement is a mistake. My father, if he was living alone, would be struggling. Luckily, he fell in love in his senior years, married, and now has a dual SS income coming into his home.

Medicare, the medical insurance attached to SS benefits, covers only 80% of medical expenses. Those who earn over a certain amount have to pay for this benefit. According to current data, poverty level - that is, to actually exist in poverty - is $1o,400. (I've been off previously by $200, citing $10,200 as being poverty level. My bad.) Because I was declared disabled at 33, and was earning close to $700 at the time, I will use that rounded figure. Had I been 65 at the time, and earned a full lifetime of credits, I would be earning approximately $1400/month, or $16,800 per year. Not only would I be paying out to receive Medicare, but would also require some kind of supplemental medical insurance. At that level, I wouldn't qualify for welfare benefits. Thus, I would need to find an insurance company that accepts people with pre-existing conditions, and likely have to pay extra for said conditions. That, or pay out of pocket for doctors, medications, and all other medical needs. Suddenly that $1,400/month isn't looking so great.

But I don't earn that much, and so become reliant on the State to handle that 20% not covered by Medicare. Thanks to Governor Bush, (that poser in the White House), the Medicare and State aid have been linked together. Wow, did I have adventures with that, especially when the State offices goofed and marked me down as female. The wrap-around system had Medicare paying for my prescriptions, but the State refused to pay for some woman claiming to be me. Even stranger was being unable to correct the error by phone. Despite my arguments that there were few, if any, women named "Robert," they insisted on my coming down to the DES office and wait for hours to just make an appointment, then come back and wait for hours on the day of the appointment, all to change "F" to "M". Because I earn so little, the State also pays for me to receive Medicare.

Okay...Let's start with "poverty level." I don't know what statistical dolt is working these numbers, but I don't know a soul that can survive on $10,400 today. It's an inorganic system that doesn't flow and change with the times, instead of being an organic system that recognizes changes in the economy and the needs of individuals. When food, all by its lonesome, sees a 20 to 50% increase in price, with a few products actually having doubled in price, the level of poverty is a lie!

Even if it wasn't a lie, Social Security should start at poverty level. Using current figures, that's $867/month. Then apply the credit system. It needs to be revamped, but let's assume it sees a 33% decrease. Had I retired at 65, that would mean SSI would provide $867 + $938, bringing in $1,805/month. It's still not living in the lap of luxury, but it's no longer a position where retirees don't have to beg for help.

This, of course, applies to the majority. Then there's the multi-million dollar minority. They probably won't even apply for SSI benefits. On the off chance that their money is all gone come retirement, they can certainly apply, and the credit system will probably see them quite comfortable without the "poverty level stipulation."

Next, we have Medicare. To someone at my level of income, even the small fee looks like a lot of money. Well, now that we've adjusted the system to have people living at poverty level at the minimum, the fee for Medicare shouldn't be as scary. Those who have no employment credits still get the benefit for no cost. The government will absorb it. What's more, either Medicare should start covering 100% of the cost of medical care, or doctors should start accepting the fact that their clients are on SSI and accept 80% of the fees being paid. I would prefer the latter. Accepting 80% is far better than the client that doesn't pay at all, and those are rare. It would also take a lot of the financial pain out of the State and Federal budget. The same applies to drug companies. Relax their collective grip on their greed and realize that people on Medicare are the ones in greatest need of medical aid, and accept what the system can handle.

If the system can be redesigned for those who need this kind of help, then these same people wouldn't need to go down to welfare to apply for benefits. I am trapped as a permanent part of the welfare system because I only receive so much money and can't afford that 20% not covered by Medicare. Welfare, when I get into it, should be needed strictly on a temporary basis.

Ugh! I think I'm becoming sick. Writing about such heavy topics isn't easy when your body is starting to ache beyond its norm. It'll be much better when I'm in office, because I won't have to write like a madman to get ideas across. Instead, I'll be in the Oval Office, and say to my minions, "You. Yes, you, slave! Bring me the head of Alfredo Garcia, and send in my Social Security team on your way out!" So forgive the big errors that may change the entire meaning of the sentence. Your future "Dread Lord Emperor" feels like crap.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Campaign Pause: Part 2

I actually have a serious post all scribbled out and ready to post, but I've decided to give it a rest for the holiday...Well, maybe not completely. I may post tomorrow, anyway. Still, I wanted to entertain a bit, rather than focus strictly on making a point. Thus, I have decided to share a bit of Anyone Can. Please keep in mind that the rights to this material are protected, so behave yourselves out there.

Now, in this story, Gary Leiberman has decided to run for President. He hasn't spent so much as a dime on advertising, and instead has let the press make his name known. President Xander McNeal decides the best way to silence this upstart is by way of a debate; kill the annoying fly before taking on the real beasts, as it were. Xander makes the challenge publicly, and Gary accepts. (The other characters that speak are, John, is a member of Gary's campaign, and Mr. Nolan, Xander's Chief of Staff. You might also want to note that the formatting here is all wrong for a screenplay, and appears longer than it really is due to my efforts of some kind of format. (The word count is 1642, not including what's before and after this portion of the script.)

INT. A HIGH SCHOOL, GYMNASIUM - DAY

The bleachers are crowded with people of all ages. There are no podiums. There is only a sound system set up. Several news crews line one wall.

Secret Service Agents guard the doors.

Gary and his party stand off in one corner, taking in their surroundings, occasionally waving to people in the crowd. Gary doesn’t seem to be prepared for this at all, specifically his attire; he wears jeans and a tee shirt.

McNeal and Nolan, in suits, stand at the opposite corner.

MCNEAL: This is ridiculous. No podiums. No makeup. No moderator. Whose idiot idea was this.

NOLAN: Yours, Mr. President. As the challenger, you were forced to accept his terms.

MCNEAL: And a high school gym, of all places. If this man has a professional bone in him, it’s small, well-hidden, and probably broken.

John approaches.

JOHN: Mr. President, if you’re ready, Mr. Leiberman would like to get things underway.

McNeal is instantly all smiles.

MCNEAL: Of course.

John turns and gives the thumbs up.

Gary walks to the middle of the gym, a wireless microphone in hand. He waves his hands downward, trying to calm the cheering crowd.

GARY: Hello, folks. Welcome to my first Presidential debate. While I am accustomed to such chaos, my guest is not. I ask that you give the man his due respect, and welcome the President of the United States, Xander McNeal.

McNeal, a mic of his own in one hand, comes forward and shakes Gary’s hand. His political smile plastered solidly in place.

MCNEAL(softly): I’m here to crush you, you little peon.

It takes a moment to realize that the microphones have picked up what was said, and the crowd is stunned into silence.

GARY: Hmmm. On behalf of the President, I’d like to say, “Oops.”

McNeal is now off to a terrible start and looks extremely uncomfortable.

GARY: But let’s face the facts, people. One doesn’t enter the political ring to become drinking buddies with his opponent. And if I win, I think Mr. McNeal will call me much worse, just as I will if he wins.

Nods and smiles greet this response.

MCNEAL:I...uhhh...must confess I’m a little stunned at my own gaff. Please forgive me.

GARY: Not at all, Mr. President. Happens all the time when a politician hears honesty from his own mouth.

Gary gives one side of the gymnasium a gaudy wink.

GARY: Now, before we go on with mud-slinging, name calling, and other expected fun of that sort, I would ask that we be on a first name basis. I think you calling me Gary and me calling you Xander will speed things along. Agreed?

MCNEAL: Sure thing, Gary.

GARY: Thank you, Xander. Now, as you issued the invitation, and I established the forum, why don’t you ask the first question.

MCNEAL: Danny Stormfeather, dishonorably discharged Captain of the Marine Corps. Can you explain why you think he would make a good Defense Secretary?

GARY: Are you aware of the circumstances of Dan’s dishonorable discharge?

MCNEAL: I am.

Gary starts addressing the crowd, more than McNeal.

GARY: Well, I’m sure most here don’t, so let me give a brief history. He’s a Native American that was dealt racial slurs by a superior officer. Being oddly human, Dan, as he’s called, lashed out, broke the officer’s nose, and was kicked from the military. The offending major was wrong, and Dan even more wrong for striking the man. But that’s what I like about him. He’s fallible, acknowledges it, and doesn’t let such a thing stand in his way. I want real people on my staff, not creatures of the political machine.

MCNEAL: Interesting. I suppose it’s your turn to ask a question, then.

GARY: Yes. And I have a good one. You see, my friends and I have been looking over the tapes of your campaign before you earned the office. You said something about raising the minimum wage. In fact, I believe you promised that it would happen. Yet as we come to the close of your four years, the minimum wage hasn’t budged. Why did you break that promise?

McNeal grins.

MCNEAL: You see, this is where you don’t understand politics. That bill was all set to pass, when suddenly many opponents started attaching riders to it. Suddenly millions of dollars were tacked on to a bill that would have brought the minimum wage up by a dollar and ten cents over a three-year period. All of that government spending could not be justified, and so I was forced to veto the bill.

GARY: I see. What kind of riders were they?

MCNEAL: Excuse me?

GARY: The riders attached to the bill. What were they asking to do with the money?

MCNEAL: Well, road repair. A major upgrade in a mass transit system. Money to increase FAA staffing.

GARY: So fixing roads, improving buses or trains, and more people to watch the skies...These were bad things?

MCNEAL: Well, when you put it like that -

Gary hustles to one of the bleachers and holds the mic to a MOTHER holding a toddler in her lap.

GARY: Would road repair, better buses, and safer airways bother you? Would you be willing to take a small tax increase to see these things, as well as the minimum wage increased?

MOTHER: They wouldn’t bother me at all.

GARY: Forgive me, Xander, but I want to ask this woman one more question. (to Mother) Does it bother you that those living on minimum wage live at or near poverty level, and can barely feed themselves, or that it’s even worse if they have a family?

MOTHER: Well, yes. That does bother me.

GARY: Well, Xander vetoed the bill. Try not to let that bother you too.

MCNEAL: Now hang on a minute. It’s not that simple.

GARY: And that’s the problem, Xander. It’s not simple. The man on the street doesn’t understand the complexities of the political machine, nor does he care. The man on the street only wonders one thing: where’s his money? And as you sat in the Oval Office and eliminated the bill that would’ve put more cash in American pockets, you did nothing to explain why.

MCNEAL: Do you have any idea how many bills I have to discuss, pass, or veto in a week? Or in a day?

GARY: Nope. No idea. And I don’t care.

Gary motions for the Mother to scoot over a bit, and he sits next to her.

GARY: Look at me, Xander. Look carefully. I’m one of them. I dress like them. I worry like them. I want my nation to care about me the way I care about it, just like them. And if the President can’t get Washington to clean up its act, or at least try pushing the great machine in the right direction, why take the job?

MCNEAL: I took it because I thought I could serve my country.

GARY: You could’ve done the same thing, one person at a time, by becoming a waiter.

MCNEAL: You really have no idea how this game is played, do you? No idea how laws are enacted, or what makes this country tick.

GARY: People make this country tick. But beyond that, you’re right. I have no clue what I’m going to do if I actually make it to the White House. But I do have an idea of how to approach the job.

MCNEAL: This should be entertaining. Please, by all means, share your grand idea.

GARY: Thanks, Xander. I will. I’m going to approach it the same way I would when fixing a car. I’ll take it for a test drive, if I can get the engine started. I’m going to listen for strange noises, and wait to feel something like a shimmy in the wheel. Then, to the best of my ability, I’m going to fix what’s broken. Maybe it’ll be completely beyond my skill, like an auto mechanic trying to repair the space shuttle. Then again, maybe I’ll be able to get it running as smooth as a mint condition government should. It’s why I have yet to make any promise, other than, “I will do my best.” But you made promises, Xander. And you broke them.

He stands and approaches McNeal.

GARY: That minimum wage thing was just the start. If you want, we can keep going, and we will examine all of those specific promises you made. Along the way, I’m sure we’ll get into why, over almost four years, you broke most, if not all, of those promises to these people.

He gestures around the room.

GARY: Or you can return to the White House and think a little harder on whether or not you want to call me out again.

McNeal gives him an ironic smile.

MCNEAL: You do realize you basically told the world you aren’t qualified for the job, and that you plainly stated you have no idea what you’re doing.

GARY: Refreshing, isn’t it? That kind of honesty from a would-be politician?

MCNEAL: No. It just shows a lack of knowledge and skill.

GARY: If you’re an example of what the required knowledge and skill can do in the White House, then perhaps we need a ten-year-old in the executive office.

That’s it. McNeal’s had it. He drops the microphone and storms off in Nolan’s direction.

Meanwhile, the crowd is on its feet and cheering wildly.

Gary moves to stand with the members of his camp.

GARY: Think I was a little harsh?

JOHN: I think you just thoroughly embarrassed the most powerful man in the world.

He points. The cheers cover whatever McNeal is saying, but he’s red with rage and handing out a verbal beating Nolan will probably never forget.

The crowd goes on, cheering Gary’s brazen speech against the President.

I seem a great deal like my Gary character, don't I? Maybe that's where my "campaigning" is coming from.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Campaign Pause: Part 1

The founders of our nation made a mistake. You see, they gave use the right to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." Then they imposed death sentences and imprisonment, which made plenty of people unhappy. There are those who take these words literally. These same people would likely want to live a hedonistic lifestyle. "Let freedom ring" would become "Let chaos reign."

The thing is that everyone likes to stand upon their rights. Even I stand upon the rock and shout, "I have a right not to live beneath poverty!" What a lot of people fail to realize is that those rights need to be earned. The government's response to my shouting is, "Well, who told you to flunk out of college? Who told you to work lower-middle class jobs? Who told you to make yourself sick as a teenager, only to become disabled at 33? We didn't tell you to do that. You get back what you put in, and the pittance you surrendered is all you get."

Okay...That's not exactly how the system works, but it's a close example.

There is only so much a government can do. It can't force people to make better decisions, or hold their hand on the road of life and warn of every danger. As much as a government can pour into an educational system and attempt to teach right from wrong, it cannot make people wiser.

No...That falls to parents. There are all kinds of laws and agencies in place to protect a child from abusive parents. But it can't protect kids from lazy, ignorant individuals that sired them. While Morbid Wombat makes a good point that schools should not be teaching a slew of things to kids, parents have come to rely on the educational system to do just that. You hear it come the middle of summer across the United States, "I can't wait for school to start up again." The epitome of laziness...waiting for a school to get your kids potty trained! I have seen it. Parents would rather throw away countless dollars on diapers and wait for someone else to teach their kids how to use a bathroom than do it themselves. It's just...sad.

That's why I have two different categories for parents. (Follow along, kids. This'll be fun!)

Mother/Father - These people keep their kids fed, clothed, and housed. That's about it. They're idea of helping with homework is seeing that it gets done. Once it's complete, they let their kids out to play, and for all they know, the kids are running down to the nearest railroad tracks and playing "Chicken" with oncoming trains. When a child shows behavioral problems, these adults want to know who else can solve the problem. Does it require therapy? How about a pill? Maybe, if they do nothing, it'll go away. I have new neighbors who apparently fall into this category, because their toddler wanders the complex free, staring at the sky and screaming at the top of her lungs. She's not even saying anything, just releasing shrieks. No one comes to stop her. If I did that, someone would call the cops. (And believe me, there are days when I consider screaming at the sky an option.)

Mom/Dad - Actually cares about their children. They show love and affection. They teach various moral values that help a child get along with the rest of the world. They go the extra steps beyond food, clothing, and home. Sports, creativity, exposure to other cultures, all evenly mixed with love and caring. Despite whatever fills mom or dad's busy day, they make time for their kids. No matter the age, mom and dad are there when their offspring is in tears.

Put simply, a father would tell the kids to shut up because he's watching the game, while a dad invites the kids to watch the game with him.

And then we turn around, becoming all sensitive and contradicting. Look at the group that started out in this nation as "niggers." Eventually, they became known as "blacks." When no one was paying attention, they became "African Americans." Almost a century and a half after they were granted freedom here in the States, they are now greeting each other, "What up, nigger?" If I walked into a temple and said to a congregation member, "Wassup, kike," there would be such an uproar as to make the news as a hate crime. AND I'M JEWISH!

A President of the United States may well be able to establish various programs, allowing for more work and better education, but we cannot enforce common sense. The fact is, common sense is dead. I even found the obituary on the net:

"Today we mourn the passing of a beloved old friend by the name of Common Sense who has been with us for many years. No one knows for sure how old he was, since his birth records were long ago lost in bureaucratic red tape. He will be remembered as having cultivated such valued lessons as knowing when to come in out of the rain, why the early bird gets the worm, and that life isn't always fair.

"Common Sense lived by simple, sound financial policies (don't spend more than you earn) and reliable parenting strategies (adults, not kids, are in charge). His health began to rapidly deteriorate when well intentioned but overbearing regulations were set in place. Reports of a six-year-old boy charged with sexual harassment for kissing a classmate, teens suspended from school for using mouthwash after lunch, and a teacher fired for reprimanding an unruly student only worsened his condition. It declined even further when schools were required to get parental consent to administer aspirin to a student, but could not inform the parents when a student became pregnant and wanted to have an abortion.

"Finally, Common sense lost the will to live as the Ten Commandments became contraband, churches became businesses, and criminals received better treatment than their victims. Common Sense finally gave up the ghost after a woman failed to realize that a steaming cup of coffee was hot, spilled bit in her lap, and was awarded a huge settlement.

"Common Sense was preceded in death by his parents, Truth and Trust; his wife, Discretion; his daughter, Responsibility; and his son, Reason. He is survived by two stepsisters, Mai Rights and Ima Whiner.

"Not many attended his funeral because so few realized he was gone."

With his demise, I'm afraid there's little the government can do. While I may agree or disagree with numerous aspects brought up by my friend, Morbid Wombat, it is ultimately bad when a government says, "You will pay a legal price for making poor life choices, such as taking a low-paying job or having kids before you're ready."

I probably have more to say in such rants, but unfortunately I have things to accomplish this day. I appreciate all the people...ummm...that is, the few people showing interest in my wanna-be political ramblings, but arguing moral values is tough. Trying to get laws in play to enact morals tends to backfire, as it did when Prohibition existed here in the States. (Laws that originated from the concept that "there was a clear consensus that while alcohol was a gift from God, its abuse was from the Devil"? Separation of Church and State, anyone?)

I'm going to leave it at that. I hope this was an entertaining read, as well as...educational.

Monday, November 24, 2008

"Bor for Prez in '12": Part 4

As much as I would like to avoid "money, money, money," it seems hard to escape in every topic that comes to mind. Take education. Schools are understaffed, overcrowded, and make no room whatsoever for the individual child that thinks outside the box, (like me, as per my post 30 October 2008). Not only does the system need restructuring, but in some cases, schools need to be completely rebuilt. And it's gonna cost, folks. It's gonna cost A LOT!

As I go on, understand that I'm speaking about a majority of teachers and students. A good deal of my perspective comes from having a teacher for my closest friend in the known universe...(whom I've not heard from for some months).

Most American children will attend public school from the ages of five to eighteen. During close to a third of their formative years will be spent in the care of complete strangers that you can only hope will teach them more than what's in the books, but proper manners and caring about other people as well.

Teachers earn a decent wage, ranging from $36,000 to $56,000 in public schools. It almost looks like little to cry about, until you realize what the standard educator has to deal with. Let's look at that, shall we?

Let’s start with classroom overcrowding. There aren’t enough teachers in this country. A classroom that should, at the most, have about 28 kids suddenly has over 30. If you’re a parent and think you feel harassed at having to watch over your two or three kids for their selective hours of consciousness, imagine being a teacher having to watch over 30+ kids for anywhere from six to eight hours.

Mixed into those crowded classrooms are kids that have special needs. From genuine learning disabilities to various emotional difficulties, these are the children who will require some extra educational time. If the child is lucky, there is a separate staff on hand to meet those needs. If the child is unlucky, then the teacher already coping with a few dozen kids will somehow have to squeeze in that extra time to address the child’s unique needs.

The workday is done. The kids have come and gone. To the imagination of the uninitiated, the teacher packs his/her suitcase and goes home to a life of quiet television time.

If you're a teacher, you may giggle here.

Teachers have tests to either prepare or grade. They also have lessons to plan, as their initial lessons plans were likely blown out the window when the class proved to pick up too quickly on material, or, more likely, need more time to get the lessons drilled into their little minds. Little Johnny is also having a hard time reading, so Mrs. Teacher will spend an extra hour after regular school hours to sit down with Johnny to help him with that. Little Sally isn’t grasping math so well, so Mr. Teacher will sit with her for an extra hour and go over the grand mystery of fractions one more time. It would be nice if there was time during regular class hours to do this, but the 30+ kids kept the teachers a bit busy at the time.

As the sun dips below the horizon, our heroic teacher realizes that it’s probably time to head home…to continue preparing tests, grading tests, et al, ad nauseum.

Let us now take a few moments to add a few wrinkles to what already seems like a difficult task.

Not only are there not enough books for the entire class, but many books are outdated. The school has already cut band and art to meet their respective budgets, so here’s hoping that the sports program will survive a little longer before the school board realizes they need reading material more than cultural exposure for the kids. Luckily, teachers have come to realize that such shortages are common. So what does the teacher do? It’s something you probably don’t realize, but they, themselves, get the materials they need.

“Crayons are not that expensive,” you say? Uh huh. Tell you what…First, pay your rent or mortgage. Now fill your cupboards so you and your family can eat. You have to pay those utilities, or you’ll freeze in the winter and dehydrate in the summer. Now we’re imagining that you’re a teacher, and your day is already full, so that computer in your home office isn’t a luxury, but a necessity. There’s no time to run to the library to search their outdated material for lesson ideas. The computer has come to save you! That means paying for Internet service; and no matter how inexpensive that can be, it’s still a dig in the wallet. Amidst all of these expenses, you must also keep in mind that you will likely receive nothing during the summer months in the way of a paycheck. Yes, some of the more intelligent school systems arrange for annual salaries to be spread out over the entire year…but not all of them. Got your car payment, car insurance, and gas money all set up, too? Good. Now go buy crayons for your entire class of seven-year-olds. Oh, and don't hold your breath for reimbursement. The school budget has no room for your request. If it did, you wouldn't have had to buy the crayons at all.

Let’s make another addition. It’s blessedly rare, but does happen. You see, it’s "show-n-tell" today, and little Billy has decided his dad’s 9 mm semi-automatic pistol with the hair-trigger would make something really cool to talk about. As he pulls the gun out of his backpack, Mr. Teacher notices that there’s no trigger lock, and G-d only knows if the safety is on. The job of teacher falls by the wayside as Mr. Teacher becomes Mr. Hostage Negotiator.

Our schooling system is failing our teachers, which in turn fails our students.

Schools should be palaces of education. I mean that almost literally. Let there be Roman columns and busts of famous explorers and scientists throughout the halls. Beneath each bust is not only a blurb about the person it represents, but references on where the industrious student can learn more. Storerooms should be filled to the point of bursting with materials needed in the classroom. If Dr. Academia comes along with a realization that some piece of history has been wrong all along, and has proven it beyond doubt, the first priority should be to replace every history book.

A serious cutback on the bureaucracy would help, too. The teacher already has enough on his/her plate to have to deal with a boatload of red tape. Now they practically need to carry rapiers to be armed for the fight against the very system for which they’re working. Personally, when presented with even more paperwork, I feel teachers should take the aforementioned rapier and run the messenger through.

The lack of educators is due to many things, but one of them is the lack of reward. What incentive does anyone have for becoming a teacher? Certainly none of the garbage above qualifies. It's rare to find the truly dedicated teacher that is in it for the kids. That's probably where they started, but after a few years of dealing with overcrowding, diminished budgets, and their free time impeded upon, most teachers burn out.

The foremost incentive should be a salary worth their time and effort. Off the top of my head, each and every teacher should have a starting salary of $100,000. If you think that figure is outlandish, try putting a dollar value on the lives of each kid they have to look after. There is no such number! If you even tried to calculate a child's monetary worth, a teacher would become a millionaire after the first month of work. More money equals less stress for the teacher, which means the kids can become the point of their concentration once again.

Extend or rebuild the schools. I honestly don't care about the cost. We're talking about future generations here. With the larger salary incentive, we should have more teachers rolling in. More teachers means less overcrowding in classrooms. But we need more classrooms to accommodate the increases in staff and students. The money isn't being wasted if it's going toward getting something done.

I would also like to see a new position appear in each county across the U.S., and that's the Educational Executor. He and his small staff educate the educators, updating them on changes in the system, new teaching techniques, and assisting teachers keeping their accreditation up to date. The teacher already has enough on his/her plate, and chasing after such things can absorb a lot of their free time. Once a month, the kids get a half day off, while the other half of the day is spent in a meeting with the Education Executor. If there's nothing new in the pipeline to share during a particular month, that's okay too. A round table meeting to shoot the breeze and share experiences in the workplace isn't such a bad thing. If it's a gripe session, that's fine. Better to take it out in a private meeting than take it out on some poor kid in class.

The Executor would have one other key responsibility, and that's to report to the Secretary of Education on Capitol Hill. Instead of trying to stay in touch with the people by way of reading statistics, an actual representative will be out there, reporting on what's working and what's not. People talking to people, instead of numbers talking to people. Can you imagine?

A lot of this is coming from some things I've previously written, and these are just ideas. My ramblings in such posts are very much like a character I have in a screenplay entitled Anyone Can, in which a very common man runs for office. Perhaps that's where this is all coming from. It's fiction turning to real life. I doubt a guy rules SMI by the courts can make it into office, but who knows? Some part of me is actually starting to take this seriously.

That said, those reading who have questions and feedback, I welcome your communiqués. That includes our nice, Irish, President Elect, Barack O'Bama. (Insert silly emoticons here.)

Oh...and if our educational system were a wee bit better, I would be better with one of the cardinal rules of grammar. "A preposition should never end a sentence you've been working on."

Sunday, November 23, 2008

"Bor for Prez in '12": Part 3

After my last presidential post, it seems that yet another person has jumped on the bandwagon of me running in 2012. This person isn't just any morbid wombat; it's THE Morbid Wombat.

The things MW said in the comments for the last post are the kinds of things I want to hear. Not the cheering me on parts, but, "Here's what's wrong, and here's my idea to fix it." That's the exact kind of feedback I want.

Like "pork barrel spending." Oh, this is one that I just love. (End sarcasm.) For those who don't know what this is, it goes like this...

1. A bill is introduced to improve...something. Let's say it's health care specifically for children.
2. Politician A sees the bill, and decides he won't sign it into action unless he can add a few things. He wants a public park for one of the cities in his State, and 1.3 million dollars to build it.
3. Politician B also wants something. A major highway in his State has been patched dozens of times; the time has come to rebuild. He was 50 million to repair it.
4 to 105. Similar nonsense. The bill addressing health care for children is written approximately 105 times, with each politician adding his State's needs or desires.
5. The bill that was established to spend 50 billion dollars ensuring each child below the age of 16 was taken care of has climbed to 70 billion, which includes road repair, public parks, a new monument to some obscure historical figure, a clean air program for a particularly polluted city, and countless other things that have nothing to do with child welfare! And all of these politicians refuse to sign the bill unless they get what they've added.

Everyone wants to add a bauble to the Christmas tree, eventually making the tree unrecognizable. By the time the bill reaches the Big Chair for signing, it's thousands of pages long, and the part about health care for children has been hidden amidst a great deal of selfishness. I mean, 1.3 million dollars to build a public park?!? One of the saplings you plant had better be made of solid gold for that money!

Appropriation bills like this see this kind of nonsense all the time, which is sad. The initial goal is one thing, and everyone wants a piece of the financial pie. Unlike my "thing park" idea, everyone wants the money up front, and they will decide how to spend it. Fifty million to repair a road may see only 45 million to the repairs, while the rest of the money goes to something completely unrelated. Oh, the politician doesn't pocket that money, but he/she ends up spending it on a park, a housing renewal program, or some other need. While those are fairly legitimate uses for the funds, it's not what the money was for!

That's why President Rob is going to introduce the concept of a "Whaddaya Need Bill." The first day Congress is back in session, the bill is going to hit the floor. "This bill is to finance the needs and/or desires of your particular State. Stop and think about what your people need or want, not what you need or want. Then go ahead and add it to this bill. By amending this bill, you agree to put an end to pork barrel stupidity, and start cutting the nonsensical red tape that has held up thousands of other bills before this one. The current spending on this bill is $0. Whaddaya need?"

It'll be like Christmas all over again! "Oooh! Presents from the government! I want a pony, a rocket ship that can fly to Mars, a singing dinosaur that isn't Barney, a pet monkey..." Go nuts, but stay reasonable. The governor's house needs repair? Fine. The governor's house "needs" remodeling? Not fine. Let's see the restoration of historical buildings, road repairs, public housing, housing renewal, clean air programs, waste management programs, a smattering of public parks, and all sorts of other things that would normally get appended to bill that have nothing to do with such programs. Get it out of the way at the start of the congressional session, and let's move on.

Oh...Bit of bad news, though, for you politicians. You see, we're going to use the voucher system again. No, no...That's okay. We can keep your money right here on Capitol Hill. When the vouchers arrive from contracted companies doing the work you need, and an inspector sees that the work is being done, and then they'll get paid.

There is, of course, a little snag in that whole voucher system. Contracted individuals and companies will need materials to start their work. Odds are pretty good they don't have a few hundred thousand dollars lying around to start work and pay employees. I suppose I'll need a starter voucher program. Once bidding for the work is complete, and it's ready to go, the starter voucher will allow 10% of the appropriated funds to go out. "There ya go. Show us the work from here, and you get more."

Anything left over from all of this political spending is put away for a rainy day. And it seems we have lots of rainy days here in the States. Hurricanes, wildfires, earthquakes, etc. If we manage government spending with increased control, we wouldn't have to scramble for the money when such disasters strike.

Money, money, money. It seems to be one of the things I stand on the most, but that's probably because I'm so danged poor. Me and millions of others. It's that fact that makes us stare in the direction of the Capitol and wonder how the heck they can spend money the way they do. To myself, and countless others, the actions of our government equate to taking billions of dollars and flushing it down the toilet.

It makes one wonder where our country gets its arrogance. According to comedian Lewis Black, we are the only country that announces to the world, "Look at us! We're great! Aren't we great? Of course we're great! There is no one greater than we are!" Well, we're certainly better than some nations out there. No one is going to jail for speaking their mind or having a specific religious belief. Mr. Black, however, pointed out that if you were working in an office, and someone walked in every morning and announced how wonderful he was every single day, by week's end you'd want kill him. The longer and more painful his death, the better. When do we shut up and get down to business? When does the talking end and the action begin?

Don't get me wrong. I'm proud to be an American. Born in Brooklyn, reared in NY, now living in AZ. In the mid 1990's, I drove across our nation to get to AZ, and I saw some truly beautiful vistas. When my car broke down in Shamrock, TX, I met a salt-of-the-earth mechanic who saved me from becoming one of the approximate 2000 people living there. I stayed in a motel where the wake up call was a knock on my door at 6:00 AM instead of an actual call. I have been homeless, and experienced both the caring and the uncaring of a government system. While my government is still caring for me, they are not caring enough; I am swallowed in a sea of red tape before I can meet my needs. So I love my country, but also recognize that it's severely broken in many ways.

Again, I won't say I have all the answers. I'm not some know-it-all who will make any such claims. You see, I learned a valuable lesson while working as a movie theater usher in my teens. "I don't know" is a terrible way to answer any customer's questions. If you're going to say it, you have to complete the statement and keep the promise held therein. "I don't know, but I'll find out." Then go find out! When people see you actually doing something, that's when they start nodding their heads in approval.

I'll even make a promise right now that I know I can keep. It's actually a very important promise. It is something that will define my Presidency, and hopefully become a legacy to those that follow me. Written on the mirror in the presidential bathroom in permanent marker will be the following message: "You are not just the leader of a nation, but an employee of its citizens. They elected you to this position. You answer to them as a whole. While you cannot address every individual, one person may represent the opinions of many. Find out. Take action. Keep your collective bosses satisfied with your work, with a goal of making them ecstatic with your commitment to them!"

Ahhh! I can see it now! The headline? "President makes promise in the bathroom!" And in thousands of newspapers across the land, a picture of the daily reminder to myself. It seems like a simple vow, and yet one that Americans will be watching for me to break every single day. It's a balance, however, that a lot of Presidents have ignored. You are the big boss and an employee, all in one. If you can't exist in that state of balance, you should at least be seeking it every day you're in office.

Note to self: You should start talking about Social Security, National Defense, and Foreign Policy. This "money, money, money" thing is getting a little old.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

The Suicide Game

Okay...I've abbreviated this tale in a previous post, but with a thread now on GitP about some poor young man committing suicide while broadcasting live on the web, I think perhaps I should tell the tale of Pete's death with a bit more detail.

I met Pete while living in the first boarding house of which I've spoken. He was, in short, an idiot. For the most part, even the most mentally ill people know when to walk away from something, and this guy never knew it. What he did know was everything else, and if you didn't believe that, all you had to do was ask him and he'd tell you. He was the kind of person who could talk for hours and never say anything of worth. What's more, almost every other word while he was speaking was "fuck." I once told him to stop using the word until he knew its origin, and he responded with, "What the fuck are you talking about?" Because I do my best to avoid using such language on a regular basis, using it only in stories or to make a point, I found the guy's vocabulary limits nauseating.

Because Pete knew everything, he would insist upon trying to force his "knowledge" on others. He got into an argument with another housemate, Tony. Tony, realizing his anger was on the rise, chose wisely to walk away from Pete. Pete wouldn't give up, and actually followed Tony into his room. Tony kicked Pete out. Pete forced his way back into Tony's room to continue sharing a now thoroughly unwanted opinion.

At this point, I saw the fight coming. We didn't have a phone available to us at that hour, so I walked the 50 yards to the end of our driveway to the payphone there and called the cops. By the time I got back to the house, it was over. Pete's eyes were swelling shut, and he was bleeding and bruised at several places. Tony, for his part, was regretting that his anger had gotten the best of him (again), and was afraid of going to jail. Lucky for Tony, I was there to tell the cops that Pete had pursued Tony to the point of basically deserving the beating he got. When someone walks away from a fight, you don't keep pushing. Pete did.

I was basically the most levelheaded person in the house, which is a scary statement unto itself. One evening, Pete wandered into the kitchen, grabbed a HUGE knife, and retired to his room. Panicked housemates came running to me to resolve whatever it was going on in Pete's head. Well, Pete was feeling suicidal, and I eventually talked him into handing me the knife. I also offered to call for help if he needed it. He declined, and until he actually did something to harm himself or others, emergency folk would do nothing.

But Pete was of the habit of playing "the Suicide Game." This game, for him, involved taking overdoses of whatever medications he had on hand and landing in the hospital. He always chose something that would just make him sick, but had no real chance of killing him. It was all about attention. This was an every other month event.

One other scary aspect about this guy. When he was asleep in his room, with the door closed, you could hear him snoring on the floor below. He couldn't even be quiet while unconscious.

For those who have come to know me, you would find it hard to believe that I would become completely uncaring of another human being. If someone is mentally ill, I as empathetic as one can get. Pete, however, managed to push me to my limits and beyond. No matter what suggestion I made to help Pete manage his life more efficiently, he knew better, and would maintain the same stupid habits.

Then...Well, I got kicked out of the house. The new landlord was more of a slumlord, and I snapped. Bad Rob. (See my 24 October 2008 post for more details.)

I was living in a new boarding house for about a year, when I learned that Pete was going to be moving in. Knowing entirely too much about the guy, I said to the house manager, "Put him in my room and I'll kill him." (Oh, how those words would come to haunt me later!) Of course, having voiced my concerns, the house manager, a vindictive SOB, purposely arranged for Pete to be moved into my room!

There were three of us in the room. On the second night here was there, I had been playing a game on my laptop. My other roommate was asleep. I personally didn't care what Pete was doing, as long as the large piece of furniture between us kept me from having to look at the guy. Alas, I found myself having to answer the call of nature, so I got out of bed, and...Gods above and below! There was Pete, watching a porno on his television set, and engaging in an act better suited for complete privacy! The house manager was stunned when I reported it the next day, to which I said, "I tried to warn you about this guy, but would you listen?"

Two days later, I ended up in the hospital. I had a case of cellulitis in my right foot, and required 10 days of IV antibiotics. The scary part for me during that hospital stay was that my roommate had just lost his left foot to complications of diabetes. He was on a morphine drip, and so he slept peacefully most of the day. Compared to Pete, whose snoring sounded like bears fighting for territory, this was a quiet respite.

The day I returned to the boarding house, Pete was already asleep. It was mid-day, and he was already snoring up a storm. According to others in the house, Pete had been making remarks before I got home about committing suicide. I explained his little Suicide Game, and suggested someone call an ambulance just in case. "Nah," said the house manager, "he seemed okay, except for stumbling around a little bit." From my experience, that was whatever pills Pete took, and he would wake up feeling sick as a dog and ask for an ambulance on his own.

Pete kept sleeping, snoring. My other roommate and I would occasionally look in Pete's direction, look toward heaven with a silent prayer for quiet, look at each other, shake our heads, and go back to what we were doing. This hourly ritual went on until around 1:30 AM, when Pete suddenly stopped snoring. We were elated, and whispered that we should try to get to sleep as quickly as possible before he started again.

As mentioned, I have PTSD. Because I was attacked in my sleep, when I am awakened by someone touching me or a loud noise, I jump and scream. This is what happened at 9:00 AM when my other roommate touched my shoulder and told me to wake up. "Pete's not breathing and he's cold as ice," he said.

We exited the room and waited for the police. An ambulance arrived, but the EMTs were quickly leaving, shaking their heads that it was way too late for them. I asked the cops for only one favor, and that was to return to my room so I could get my insulin, which I'd been unable to take. They allowed me to do so, and seeing Pete's pale, lifeless face only made me shake my head with more disgust than pity.

Of course, the house manager just had to mention to the detectives that eventually arrived about my little threat. The only time I'd ever raised my hand was to defend myself or a loved one. Now they were making me squirm as a murder suspect. I was off that hook almost instantly. Pete had been asleep before I'd gotten home from the hospital, and he'd never woken up. The detectives also found Pete's medications, and that's when they found something truly screwy.

Pete had had neck surgery years before, but the damage was permanent in such a way that he was always in extreme pain. Thus, he always had a lot of powerful narcotic painkillers on hand. Three days prior to his death, he'd picked up a prescription for 90 tablets. There were only around 10 tablets left in the bottle. Pete had apparently played his suicide game with the wrong meds.

The other roommate and I were creeped out completely. After taking time with the cops and putting all of the events together, we came to realize that when Pete went silent the night before, he had died. Unknowingly, we had chosen to sleep with a corpse in the room.

People say you shouldn't be disrespectful of the dead. Unfortunately, I have nothing nice to say about the guy. He made no effort whatsoever to improve himself or his life. He was a loathsome combination of arrogance, ignorance, and selfishness. The game he played with medications was bound to backfire on him at some point. I feel bad that I have nothing good to say about the guy, other than I never really wished him dead. I just wished he would go away.

Well, away he went. And wherever his soul went, he's talking off the ears of all the souls around him.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

"Bor for Prez in '12": Part 2

Well, with that unseemly bit of drama behind me, the time has come for me to continue with my campaign for President in 2012. My health issues make it impossible for me to actually take office, or even actively campaign for office. Still, I get to vent my ideas of how I'd run things if I were to somehow manage to make it into "the big chair." Today's topic? Health care!

Ummm...I got nothing. That is, I have nothing that'll work. There are over 40 million Americans without health care, meaning that they can't get so much as a wellness checkup annually. That includes children. But this, of course, is based on census data, and when people refuse to get involved in the census, the data comes up short. There are people who are afraid to answer the door. There are the homeless. There are countless people not included in this vital information, so we can assume that all of the numbers are off.

The issue is so complex that tackling it is going to take a team of experts and your heavily medicated President weeks, holed up in some basement room in the White House, with them using diagrams made using crayons for me to even start grasping the issue as a whole. How do we ensure every American gets the care they not only need, but to which they have a right?

Joe Uninsured trips in his home, falls, and breaks ankle wrist. He doesn't know it's broken. He waits and hopes the pain goes away. The break heals improperly, and the pain becomes something that plagues him to the point that he musters the cash to see a doctor. The doctor now says surgery is required to fix the problem. Joe can't be turned away from a hospital due to an inability to pay, and so he is hospitalized for corrective surgery and intense physical therapy to get him going again. Even though he cannot be denied care, and the hospital knows he cannot pay, he is sent a bill that he is expected to pay. At a price of $20 per Tylenol he's given to relieve pain, you can imagine what the rest of the bill looks like. Poor Joe will need a second mortgage just to pay his hospital bill. Facing that bill will probably introduce hypertension to Joe's list of medical problems, and all we can do right now is wish him luck handling the bill for his upcoming heart attack.

I don't have one, but two insurance programs. I have Medicare from Social Security, which covers 80% of my bills. I also have ACCHS (called "Access") to cover the other 20%. I am covered 100%...on only those things both insurance companies are willing to cover. I still need an MRI of my left shoulder. My insurance companies insist on me going through an administrative dance before I can get it. First they want me to have x-rays. Then they want me to have physical therapy. Then they want a CAT scan. Then they want more physical therapy. Then, maybe - just maybe - they'll grant me the MRI. Everything before the MRI will cost thousands of dollars. Instead of coughing up maybe $1,000 for the MRI, they seemingly want to spend three or four times that amount before having it done.

My insulin has been another adventure. I should be on Humalog. This insulin starts working in 30 minutes, and is the best of the best when it comes to a short-acting insulin. They won't pay for this. Instead, they will pay for Novolin, which takes an hour to start working, and is not nearly as effective as Humalog. There is a test done on diabetics every three months called a Hemoglobin A1c. Optimally, it should be at 6, with seven the highest. Six months ago, I was a 10. Three months ago, I was 8.9. Recently, I was 8.3. When I was on the Humalog back in NY, I was a 7.2 at my best. In other words, when I'm on the insulin I need, everything improves rapidly. When I'm on the only garbage my insurance is willing to pay for, I'm in a perpetual battle for control.

I'm covered and still can't get what I need!

Quite oddly, we are an embarrassingly boastful nation. We declare ourselves the best in so many areas, and yet we can't organize national health care. "Hey, world! We have 15.3% of our people without health insurance, and we're the...uhhh...best? And those with insurance still can't get what they need! Yay!"

What's broken? Too many things to get into this one post. How do we fix the broken things? Too many options, many of which remain unknown to me. How would I fix the problem?

Well, that's why I'd need to sit down with the experts. From liberal to conservative standpoints, I'd listen to everything they have to say. If they have to bust out pie charts and break out their best monosyllabic vocabulary for me to understand the issues, so be it. Whatever the solution may be, it will likely be the one that is most cost effective and doesn't require yet another tax hike for the American people. Even when the economy is at its best, people gripe about money. Offering them medical aid at the cost of higher taxes is not really helping; it's just a new way to bring more health problems, like increased blood pressure.

What astonishes me is that there are countries out there providing national health care for ages, while we've maintained a white-knuckled grip on doing anything but what they're managing. Surely there must be a model out there we can follow, and perhaps improve upon. What are their pros? What are their cons? What are they doing right that we're doing wrong?

I have some ideas, but they probably belong in Mr. Rogers' Land of Make-Believe. I mean, one of the reasons it costs so much to see a doctor is that they have to cover the overhead of malpractice insurance. Okay...If a doctor is sued for malpractice, and is found guilty of it, then the government will pick up the tab for the payout. Get sued three times, guilty or not, and their license to practice medicine is revoked. Good luck with your new job at McDonald's.

Hmmm...I don't see many doctors voting for me.

Another reason doctors charge so much is the cost of their education. Well, provide my administration with an economic background, and if a doctor came from a poverty-stricken background, we'll pay out 50% of whatever loans you took out to become a doctor. Show a willingness to reduce your prices to see patients, and it's a done deal. Raise your prices after we pay that bill, and we'll be charging you that money again.

Okay, maybe some doctors will vote for me.

This is all coming from the imagination of a guy that never completed his education. I only have so much knowledge, and this particular issue has more facets than a diamond with a complex cut. What I recognize is my lack of knowledge, the fact that there's a problem, and that something needs to be done. Instead of standing on a platform with an imagined idea of how to fix it, I'll be the guy on a soapbox shouting, "I have no idea how I'll fix it, but I'm going to bust my butt trying to do so!" This is infinitely better than a guy coming along with a supposed plan that has no chance of working, or the guy with a plan who has no idea what's going on, but pretends he knows.

A promise made is a promise kept. The least I can do is promise to try. The most I could do is find a way to make it work.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

While they celebrate...

Well, the Floor Huggers seem quite pleased that I vanished from their roster, thereby winning the war. They are...WRONG!

When I first contacted NCSoft about what was happening, I wanted all sorts of thing. I wanted all of the other players banned from the game. I wanted everyone in my SG kicked out of the group. I wanted a ton of in-game money so I could go off and start my own group with a membership of one.

And then what? Stay on a server where my name was being smeared and a group of people were on the lookout for me? We would cross one another's paths often enough before this war. What would happen when next they saw me?

There was only one way to escape what they were doing, and that was to move two of my characters. At $10 a pop, that would be throwing money away that I need for goofy things like food. Thus, I pleaded with NCSoft to give me a one-time-only, two-character transfer for free. Their ongoing argument was, "We cannot grant free character transfers just because you don't like certain people."

Wow. Could these dimwits be a little less understanding?

I braved a call to customer service, and spoke with billing about some way to grant me credit for the transfers. The rep I spoke with couldn't do it. I had him check with his supervisor. Word came back that even the supervisor couldn't do it. While some may think the rep simple put me on hold and waited a minute, the proof he spoke to a supervisor was that he came back with a new suggestion. They would upgrade my case to an in-game customer service supervisor to see if they could do anything.

Well, I had been calm throughout the entire call, right up until I was once again being told, "Nothing we can do." How was that possible? First I present them with written proof of code of conduct behavior, and the people attacking are still happily playing. Every company in the world that I've done business with is capable of giving credit or a refund. Their system is deigned for character transfers. How could they not do the transfers without it costing me?

With my frustrations now at an all-time high, I told the rep to do whatever he wanted and I hung up. That was Monday.

Yesterday, while using Skype to chat with a friend, I jumped online to check e-mails. Not that I intended to read anything, because splitting my attention is not a skill I engage well with my meds. I just wanted to see if anything was waiting for me. But there was an e-mail from NCSoft, apparently written by a supervisor, saying that I would be granted two free character transfers due to extenuating circumstances! Because I was on Skype, the following chat took place:

Me: Oh my G-d!
Friend: What?
Me: NCSoft is granting me two free character transfers to put an end to this drama!
Friend: Woohoo! Wine and hookers for everyone!

I was greatly amused, and ultimately relieved. My only question remaining was how to initiate the transfer. I replied with where I wanted my two characters to go, and began to wait.

Meanwhile, back in my e-mail, there was a message from one of the defrauders, pleading with me to be reasonable. My response was less than polite. No foul language, mind you, but I did do a lot of pointing to the truth, as opposed to what was being said on their forums. So I gave him three ultimatums, knowing all the while that I had already gotten what I wanted. 1: NCSoft will grant my wishes. 2: They buy me out of the SG. 3: I stick around until the next major update, remaining a thorn in their collective sides until I can kick them, or they can kick me.

Oh...Then I went and reported their forums for TOS violations. Yeah, I can be a vindictive SOB.

So I woke up...this afternoon...(Gah! Did I really sleep 15 hours?!?)...to find an e-mail saying my characters had been transferred, and would require renaming once I logged in. Huzzah! I won!

Back at Floor Hugger HQ...Here is part of a post that appeared today:

"Noun and I settled this. I do not want to go into details but I did my best to reason with him and I think it worked.

"I know that Noun did a lot of damage and basically burned every bridge that he could which leads to our SG but please, do not harass him, send him tells, etc. It is over. I made an appeal on a personal level and he saw fit to exit. I promised that this would end upon his exit and now that he is gone, it is over. Please, no one bother him. Don't make me look bad."

Ummm...Did he even read the e-mail I sent? We didn't settle this at all. They burned the bridges; I just threw more fuel on the fires. Far too late on the harassment front. This person did make an appeal on a personal level, and I thanked him for what he'd done in the past. I saw fit to exit? Uh huh. Because his e-mail decided that factor, right? He made no such promises that this would end in his e-mail; he was just pleading with me to go away.

"Don't make me look bad." Oh, it's too late for that. You see, the original Paragon Floor Huggers existed on Justice server. I saw some truly outlandish behavior among them, the worst of which was one guy boasting about how verbally abusive he was with his wife. After expressing my outrage at such behavior, I quit. They were very much the clique, where most of them knew each other in real life. When I created the New Paragon Floor Huggers on Freedom server, one of my key rules was that we not become a clique. All are welcome. Sadly, looking over the current rules for the group, that one no longer exists, and I have no idea when it vanished.

We used to be a great group. It was a happy accident that made the Huggers so successful. When what was meant to be fun became a virtual business is a mystery to me. I will always miss what the Hugger were, and in no way miss what they have become.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

I need anger management...

...AND FAST! I am so overwhelmed by the betrayal of my "friends" that I can't think straight. My REAL friends have been begging me to give it up. Let it go. But it's not that easy. Letting go of something you've been able to claim is yours for over three years is tough.

There is a difference in CoH between a player's in-game funds and the SG funds. The player carries "influence." The SG holds "prestige." You can buy 2,000 prestige for 1,000,000 influence. Because I have earned my group over 10,000,000 prestige, that equates to FIFTY BILLION INFLUENCE! (10,000,000 prestige / 2,000 influence = 5,000 times I would need to invest influence to reach that prestige sum.)

So, last night I sent an e-mail to FS. (Oddly, I'm still respecting them and not using their real names.) Of all the players attacking me, six have focused their efforts on attacking me and making me miserable. I told FS that if they want to buy me out, it will cost 250,000,000 influence per person, with my price going up another 250,000,000 for a rude response. So, instead of demanding the 50 billion influence I'm due, I asked for only 1.5 billion total. (6 x 250,000,000 = 1,500,000,000) What's more, I offered to hand back all the materials I'm carrying so they could rebuild the base, and I would muster the funds to leave the server altogether. They would be rid of me. I would be rid of them. It would be the end of the fight.

His response was an essential message that I should drop dead. (A distinct possibility considering how this whole bit of stupidity is making me so ill.) He also claimed to have added me to his spam list so I can't reply...because, G-d knows, I can't jump on AOL and make thousands of new screen names to send more mail. At least he was stupid enough to not send a civil response. Now my price is 1.75 billion to be bought out.

For them, the stupid part is that it will cost them almost that much to regain all of the materials to rebuild the base I dismantled. I have what they need, and offered it as part of the deal, as well as being rid of me; something they seem to desperately want. Instead of agreeing and putting an end to all of this, he maintained his malicious attitude.

Another thing that gets me is the lying. They've been altering the in-game SG screen with some truly amazing stories. My time in the Huggers included two three-month breaks due to a lack of finances. But they set it up as a public announcement that I disappeared for a year without warning. Well, each time I left, I made sure to post in advance that I couldn't afford the game. I told them I would keep an eye on the forums while I was away, and did. When problems arose, I ironed them out. I was also the one who took days crafting the SG rules, with the other leaders making suggestions along the way. They all deferred to me when it came to executive decisions. And when I was away, and mentioned when I hoped to be back, I was always told that I was missed. Now they're saying I haven't been needed or wanted for years.

Out of the blue, FS decided to stage a coup. I still can't get my head around this. I offered to step down! I was going to walk away with nothing. No fight, no mess, no slander. They BEGGED me to stay! The moment I was gone, I was kicked from the section of the forums where the leadership would discuss issues, and FS arranged for my immediate demotion.

Oddly, though they paint me as the bad guy, I remain the most honest of the group. I don't see any of them admitting that they made serious mistakes along the way. Well, not entirely true. FS believes it a mistake that he didn't actually get around to kicking me from the group long ago. I'm the only one sitting back and say, "Wow, did I screw up!" They are apparently the only one's permitted righteous indignation, and their shit smells of roses.

And what's most distressing is that I'm trying to bet an emotional handle on this, but short circuit every time I try. There are people who need my aid on GitP, and I'm utterly useless right now. I'm too busy being mired in hatred, despair, and self-loathing. I keep telling myself "It's just a game." But to rebuild something alone, when they have an entire group that can rebuild together...to have been with this group since 8 November 2005...to think that I wasted so much time on people who claimed to be my friends to my face, when they actually thought otherwise...It pains me to no end.

Maybe it really is time I gave this up. I'll blow $10 and move Adjective Noun elsewhere. No one else is about to help me, and these people are likely making an effort to smear my name all over the server my character is currently on. Once I've left, perhaps I'll calm down and be able to focus on my TRUE friends.

And to my true friends, I say, "Be well."

Friday, November 14, 2008

Wasting time

It's funny what changes occur when a falling out takes place. Was I completely wrong? No, but I'll own up to taking my part of the blame in this. But let's look at some of the characters in this little war.

FS (before): VERY opinionated. Angry at people in his life, and the way his life has gone thus far. With his severe family issues, specifically pertaining to his brother, I spent hours empathizing with him. His roommates are very sickly, and I would occasionally ask after them. I tried my best to be a friend.

There came a time when I was unable to pay into the game. I told people I was unable to pay, and that I would be taking a little break for a while. FS took up the slack, nominating various others into positions of leadership to help out. Upon my return, it was T who came running to me, saying that FS was trying to take over, and was making changes to the SG that she didn't understand. So I spoke to T, who said he would never, ever try such a thing. The SG was mine. When he explained the changes, I approved and then explained it to T.

FS (now): I took another break because of finances, as well as being completely stressed over the fact that my life just seems to suck. I offered to step down, but the leadership of the SG said, "No! Take a break! We'll be here for you when you get back!" Once I was gone, FS altered the demotion time in the group. If a player is gone for so much time, they drop in rank within the SG. He set it at its lowest with the intent of kicking me as soon as he got around to it. But - OOPS! He forgot. Thanks to my stimulus check in Sept., I was able to return. Had I waited much longer, I probably would have discovered I'd been kicked from the group I created! And I know this because HE TOLD ME! (He included a lot of name-calling in the process.) He fully intended to stage a coup in my absence. On the post where I demanded everyone vacate my SG, he used his moderating powers to edit my post, filling it with various fabrications and slander. (Oops. In print, it's libel.)

T (before): Came running to me to constantly chat, especially about the issues of her no good ex-husband, and how her son had no male role-models in his life. She also complained that when her son played without our SG, he was basically ignored. So I spent time in a group of two with this 12-year-old, helping him get on in the game, as well as making the offer that if he ever needed to talk, and was uncomfortable talking to his mother, he could come to me. T also constantly complained about FS. He was mean, selfish, megalomaniacal, and on and on. I couldn't take her constant complaints, so I played mediator and got the two of them to play nice.

T (now): She is perpetually demonizing me on the forums, as well as in-game. I'm the most evil creature to wander the planet, and she has chosen to refer to me as a "whiny bitch." There was a time when she was loath to speak FS's name. Now she claims he is the reason she stayed at all. I am evil incarnate now.

D (before): One of the nicest guys on the planet. He was the very first person, close to three years ago, to hear my pleas for aid, especially when I was facing eviction, and he sent me a check to cover my rent. At one point, when I was afraid I was going to have to leave the game, he mailed me $30 and a game card. I was stunned and amazed. He was a true hero in my eyes.

D (now): I'll quote him from the forums. "PLEASE do not move your toons to new SGs. We have a plan in the pipeline and as soon as we nail down the details, we should be up and running within 72 hours. He then added: "One other thing...I don't know about all of you but this is the first time I have ever witnessed the birth of a supervillain. I mean, most of the great ones were born during the 60s but never have I seen someone just go bad."

GM (Before and now): Nice guy. Is worried about me. He went to the forums and pleaded with the rest of the group to pack up and move on without me. When I explained that I was becoming PHYSICALLY ill over this, he tried to get me to calm down. No such luck. I'm taking enough insulin to kill an elephant, and Xanax is becoming my medicinal M-n-Ms. I'm desperately trying to stay out of the hospital, and he seems to be the only one who gives a damn out of my old "friends."

Now, in an effort to resolve this through the powers that be, I contacted NCSoft and explained that these people were making an obvious effort to harass me, and I included the fact that the whole thing was literally making me ill. I didn't ask them to punish anyone, other than to simply remove everyone from my group's roster, with the exception of myself. Here is one of their typical responses:

"I sympathize with your position. I understand there is some dispute within the supergroup about its direction and leadership, as well as a substantial level of prestige attached to the group. We would prefer that the matter be settled amongst the supergroup itself, as it is assumed that players would generally prefer to run their own affairs within City of Heroes. We are not equipped to be arbiters of internal supergroup affairs."

In other words, despite having rules about harassment, they plan on doing nothing at all. I wrote a frustrated reply, which apparently was ignored. But of the three complaints I made against these people and their continued attacks on me, I received a hopeful one:

"We are sorry to hear about what happened. At this time, we are unable to change the rank of any supergroup member or remove any characters from their supergroup. Bear in mind that the upcoming Issue 13 should introduce a new supergroup feature that will create a new leader rank that only one character can inhabit. So if your character really is the founder of the supergroup, you should be able to perform demotions of other leaders after this Issue is patched to live servers. Issue 13 is up on the Training Room server for open beta right now, and although we don't have an exact release date, it should be coming soon."

Well, this certainly changes things. I am, in fact, the founder of this group, and I am assured that ultimate high rank. Because only one player will be granted this power within the group, my estranged "friends" are going to discover that they have wasted their time, effort, and real money trying to kick me from the group. Upon this major update, called "issues" because the game is meant to be styled like a comic book, I will be able to take matters into my own hands.

And still, ever the attempt at being the nice guy, I posted a warning on the SG screen-in game that they would be smart to leave now. Go somewhere else and start anew. Leave me alone. That I would be a supergroup of one is sad enough. They need not gloat nor attack. Just be on their way. Instead, the continued their attacks on me.

I never changed. I was always a mentally and physically disabled man who had one joy: his MMO. It's still a terrible strain. To discover the people that were friends were wolves in sheep's clothing is a shock. I understand that they feel this group belonged to them, and that their time invested into the group makes it theirs. But they chose not to tell me they would like me to leave, even when I offered to do so. They chose to go behind my back and take action against me, and I'm EXTREMELY hurt. I blew a fuse. I acted rashly. The problem, however, is that I'm unaccustomed to people acting so maliciously for reasons that only surface after the fact.

They've already lost this fight, and don't even know it. They are wasting time, while I am working on calming down and waiting for the day when I can take action and be done with this.