Wednesday, September 22, 2010

On Calling for Help and Giving the Keys Back

One of my neighbors died the other night. I don't know any details, who it was, the cause, any of that. I just know that one of my neighbors, I believe a woman, died. I heard her daughter calling for help late last night; she was at the far end of the building across the street, and I only heard her because I was sitting next to an open window. After debating a few moments, I put some sandals on and went over to see what was going on. I was half-way there, didn't see anything and didn't hear anyone calling anymore, so I figured it was just an argument or something that would be better off without my interference, and headed back. I was crossing the street when the cop car pulled in, and a few minutes after returning to my apartment, an ambulance arrived. The police left shortly thereafter, so I assume there was no foul-play, but judging by the hysterics of the young woman calling for help, then crying after the police arrived, her mother had died.

I doubt there was anything that I could have done to help, but I'm bothered by the fact that I got half-way over and decided to head back. I admit, I was nervous, I wasn't sure what I would find or if it would be something that I should even be poking my snout into. I wasn't even sure if there was a problem at all.

I live in an apartment in a development, in a small-town suburb outside of York, PA. It's a pretty quite place, but there are still a fair number of people around, and the building across the street is one of the larger apartment buildings. As anyone who has ever lived in a large town or city or a similar development community or apartment complex knows, part of that means that you hear a lot of sounds from a lot of people that you block out. A screaming child is more likely a group of kids chasing each other around the yard, or a child throwing a tantrum to get what he or she wants, or because his or her parent didn't give them what they wanted. Screaming and shouting adults are more often two people having an argument over some silly or immature issue that is only significant in the context of their relationship or the moment of argument, that is nobody else's business and that sticking your snout into will only be a bad thing.

Which brings into question how effective a cry for help really is. I got only half-way over before calling it quits, after hesitating for several minutes, and I saw no one else heading over to investigate. Even if a desperate cry for help is heard, how many people chalk it up to nothing, or some personal dispute that is none of their business?

Now, I don't think this is a sign of the degradation of society; this is an issue that has plagued civilization since the formation of the very first cities. People in large groups have to filter out 99% or more of the noise from their fellows just to be able to function in their day, and calls for help are going to get caught in that.

Technology may actually hold a key or two to helping with that. Before long we'll be wearing headset/ear pieces that give us little high-def screens over our eyes, and miniature HD speakers in our ears, with high-clarity microphones and video recorders, doing all the functions and more of the greatest smartphones and PDAs of today. We may even have full-blown neural implants in the next few decades. Such devices, in either form, could help us filter the noises around us and be programmed to recognize and highlight calls for help. Such devices may even be able to facilitate calls for help, allowing for voice amplification, or an emergency radio beacon or broadcast, with pre-programmed emergency codes for fire, mugging, rape, car crash, heart attack, etc. Even a more traditional smartphone or PDA, a bit more advanced than what we have now, could be programmed with an app to do all of that.

I was originally going to address Authoritarianism in today's politics, but another issue has pushed itself to the forefront. On Authoritarianism, if you have not read The Authoritarians by Dr. Robert Altemeyer, you should. It is available free online in PDF form. Dr. Altemeyer is an Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of Manitoba, and a highly-respected expert on authoritarianism, which he has been studying for over forty years.

The issue that pushed itself forward is the popular Republican argument that the Democrats have had their chance, or that they've blown their chance, and now it's the Republicans' turn again.

Excuse me? Excuse me?!?!

Every time I hear this line, in any form, I want to smack the person saying it in the head. With a large, heavy, spikey blunt object.

Let's lay this out, shall we? We have a $13.258 trillion hole to dig ourselves out of right now, all thanks to the Republicans. The Republicans controlled Congress for twelve years. They controlled the White House for eight years. They controlled the Supreme Court for I don't know how many years (and still have a 5-4 majority). They controlled Congress and the Supreme Court for at least a decade, and all three branches of government for six solid years until the Democrats unseated Republicans across the board in 2006. The policies that they were pushing during that time, and that they have been pushing even harder of late, have been the same policies that they have been pushing for the last 30 years, since Reagan took office if not before. Over thirty years of general policy pushing, and 12 years of focused policy implementation, and 6 years of total government domination, the Republicans dug us into a $13.258 trillion hole. $13.258 trillion dollars.

When Ronald Reagan took office, national debt was around $900 billion, ~33% of the GDP. Prior to Reagan, the debt had been steadily declining from it's record WWII high of 120% of the GDP (save for Ford, who left with the debt at a slightly higher GDP% when he left office, all presidents prior to Reagan, back to Truman, left office with the national debt lower than when they entered). After Reagan took office, the national debt skyrocketed. Under both of Reagan's terms and Bush the Elder's term, the national debt climbed at a steady and alarming rate. When Clinton took office, he managed to curb that climb and thanks to his policies (and the tax increases the democrats managed to push through in '93, at the cost of the '94 election), the national debt leveled off and started to decline.

Bush took office with a national debt of just under $5.63 trillion, 58% of the GDP. Under the following 6 years of total Republican reign, we saw a trillion-dollar tax cut pushed through (with the same consolidation legislative 'trick' the Republicans are so decrying today after the Dems used it to push the healthcare bill through), two foreign wars that have cost us a total of over $1.2 trillion (and climbing), and deregulation and enforcement policies of the banks and Wallstreet and the oil industry, and money-down-the-toilet, zero-bid 'emergency' contracts with companies of friends and family, or that they used to be members of before taking office that cost us over a trillion dollars in wasted pork, a devastating economic collapse, and the catastrophic failure of a deep-sea oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico. Not to mention the everyday operating costs of the government, the massive military budget (we outspend the entire rest of the planet, literally), healthcare and medicare (which have been steadily increasing in cost), education (also steadily increasing in cost), wellfare (massively increased in cost thanks to the recession), etc. etc. etc.

In short, the Republicans took a $5.63 trillion national debt with a budgetary surplus of $236 billion on top of a steady 8-year run of budget surplesses and a booming economy, and in six years of unrestricted free reign turned it an increase in national debt of $7.628 trillion dollars, a budgetary deficit of $1.413 trillion dollars, and a wrecked economy.

The Democrats have been in Congress for 4 years, and have had Congress and the White House for two. In that time, they have enacted plans to stave off a complete economic collapse (the much-hated TARP bill aka "wallstreet bail-out", and the loans to major companies like Chrysler and GM, keeping the stock market and banking industry from completely crashing and keeping major companies like Chrysler and GM that directly provide tens of thousands of jobs each in business and providing jobs), and put forward a stimulus package (much gutted by Republicans) to try and restart the economy.

In that short time, we've stopped digging. The TARP bill and loans to Chrysler and GM kept the economy afloat; they might not have been the best solutions to the problems they targeted, but they got the job done and we are going to recover 90% or better of the money loaned out (most of the $700 billion TARP pay-out has already been recovered, and the government could possibly even make a positive return). The stimulus package, 2/3s of which was targeted lower-class and middle-class tax cuts and not actual stimulus funding, has greatly exceeded all expectations of the final package's performance, but was still only enough to keep us treading water.

In terms of the economic crisis, in just 4 years (and really, primarily only 2 since the Dems didn't have that much control in Congress in '06-'08) the Democrats have managed to level off the death spiral the Republicans worked hard for 6+ years to send us into. More is needed. Another stimulus package, increased taxes on the high-class, the richest 1% that can most afford it and has been the least hit by the recession to help pay for the spending programs that are needed to get us back on track and to combat the mounting national debt, and increased regulation and supervision of a free market economy that has very clearly demonstrated that it cannot be allowed to have its way without competent supervision.

But the Republicans would have us believe that the Dems blew it. That because the Dems haven't cleaned up the GOP mess that was 6-30 years in the making overnight, they aren't fit to rule and that the Repbulicans need to be put back behind the wheel so they can take us back down the very same road that got us here in the first place.

It's like a teenager taking the keys to daddy's T-Bird, going out and getting wasted, blowing daddy's paycheck, and totaling the T-Bird, and then two weeks later demanding the keys to the Corvette because daddy hasn't replaced the T-Bird yet.

The sheer gall and ignorance and stupidity is insulting, and I am rapidly approaching the limits of my ability to resist the urge to smack anyone who suggests the Republicans should be given the keys to the Corvette because the Democrats haven't replaced the T-Bird yet upside the head with a very big stick.

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