Well, the list of things I don't understand is REALLY long even at my advanced age, so I won't try to talk about all of it, but... there are some things I don't understand more than others.
Yesterday, at the advice of my friend Dianne, I visited a blog I've never been to before written by Matt-man. He had a discussion going in his comments about the bail-out and someone in the comments had said something along the lines of how all the people who are in trouble with their mortgages were just greedy and didn't deserve any help. That kind of statement kind of triggers something in me and I lost my usual (I hope) good grace and said a bunch of things ending by saying she was "heartless." This was not at all nice of me or fair to a total stranger who may have a huge heart and an opinion with which I strongly disagree. I got scolded by a bunch of people for that and rightly so. I wrote a big long response to their comments which went into some kind of blogger void and I didn't have the time or energy to try and recreate it.
But... I think there are going to be lots of buts today.... comments like all the people who got questionable mortgages are greedy and/or "why should my taxes go to help them even if they were just stupid and not greedy," really do bug me big time.
So... first item... this is going to be long and rambling and I apologize for that in advance.
I was lucky. I got my house three years ago when all this craziness was still running at full bore. I live in a part of New York State where the only protection renters have is that landlords have to provide heat in the winter. Otherwise you're pretty much at the mercy of whoever rents to you. My first landlord was a psychopath who got mad at me because I said a rusty wood stove was ugly and started trying to lock me out of the building, turned off my heat and told me he hoped I would "drive into a ditch and die." He threatened one of my friends (a petite and gentle woman) with a 2 by 4. I fled in fear... which got me to a place with a month-to-month lease and a landlord who was the country equivalent of a slum lord. Then I found what seemed to be a lovely apartment. A friend lived upstairs and for about a year, life was pretty peaceful. Then the landlady started drinking and life went from being peaceful to being very scary as she lived upstairs and began threatening my friend and me and with no reason or provocation told us she was evicting us. When asked why, she hissed, "YOU know." My friend, who grew up with a violent alcoholic fled. I had already moved 4 times in 3 years. Besides the physical and emotional strain of this, the financial strain for someone living on my miniscule disability stipend was not managable. It had never occurred to me that I could own a home. It became clear that owning a home might be my only hope of survivial. I held my ground behind my locked doors for 9 months while the crazed landlady raged. Luckily for me my neighbor across the street was home on disability leave after an accident so I had some protection and a witness to here behavior.
So anyway... I went househunting in a state of fear and desperation, with good credit but not very much money. It took me about 50 years to recognize this, but I'm pretty smart. I'm pretty cautious about most things. Until I got sick, I never ran any credit card debt. Ever. If I couldn't pay for something I didn't buy it. When I got sick, I had to buy groceries on credit. Angels watched over me there too, but that's a story for another day.
Even in the poorest - or one of the poorest (Sullivan County where I lived then and Delaware County where I live now both claim that title) counties in New York State, there weren't many houses that I could even conceivably afford. But I found one... I thought. On paper, the numbers added up. I've never owned a home before. I didn't really have a good idea of the added costs of fuel, maintenance, taxes, water bills.... the "little" things that add up. And the bank offered me a mortgage. Here's where my age maybe and my personality combined made me vulnerable. It never occurred to me that a bank would give me a mortgage on a house I couldn't afford. That would be stupid. Besides not being good for me it would be a bad business deal for them. One kind soul tried to warn me that I would be in over my head but I didn't really believe him. I knew it would be scary tight, but I was terrified and desperate. And the bank said I could do it. Why would they lie? Lucky for me, the owner had someone else he wanted to see the house to and I didn't get it. Again, lucky for me, I found a much cheaper (and nicer) house and was able to qualify for a SONYMA HOYO mortgage. I'm chipping (more slowly every month) away at the debt I accrued when I first got sick, and I'm getting through each month. There's no way I could actually have afforded that other house no matter how it looked on paper. I didn't have the life experience behind me to know that. The bank should have. I don't think I was being greedy. I think I was being trusting and I didn't want to be homeless.
So maybe that's why I get cranky when people say that all the people who got in over their heads were just greedy and stupid and lose my cool and call people heartless.
I'm as pissed off as anybody about what's happening in Washington, probably more pissed off than many. I feel like I've been angry for 8 years and longer. I hope and pray that Congress won't let Bush and Co. get us into yet another "sky is falling" abdication of sanity and Constitutional responsibility in which one man gets total control of $700 billion dollars and no oversight and changes the nature of the balance of power yet a bit more. I don't want to pay taxes to preserve the life-styles of the rich and greedy who besides robbing the rest of us blind and creating this mess have been spared having to pay taxes themselves. Huh? SURE you've gotten all the money that could have paid for health care and roads and schools. Take my grocery money too. And while were're at it, let's just screw all the people who got duped by you along the way and add them to the homeless population who has to live on public assistance. THAT makes great sense.
See that's what I don't get about the people who say they don't want their taxes to go to help these people out because they were either greedy or stupid. First, I'm pretty sure it's very do-able to weed out speculators - or at least most of them. Second... (and this may not be the logical order but it's MY order), I hate the idea of ANYBODY being homeless. I had a close brush with it. It's scary and it sucks even being on the edge of it. It shouldn't happen to anybody even if they were greedy and/or stupid and it certainly shouldn't happen to their children who are just innocent bystanders. Third, your tax dollars are going to bail many of those people out in any case. You can bail them out by helping them keep their homes or you can bail them out by paying them public assistance and by watching the economy tank even further because homelessness breeds joblessness and illness and a host of other expensive things that as people spiral into bankruptcy cost the rest of us not just money but the availability of people who might otherwise be productive citizens.
I don't get the "me and only me" view of life. I think the individual good is connected to the common good. I don't think we should be stupid or cavalier about helping others, but I think certain kinds of selfishness cost more in the long-run than generosity. It's one of the reasons I don't understand this country's resistence to universal health care. I don't see why we think having 54.5 million (as of 2006) people uninsured is ok. I don't see why we think that the time we might save on line makes it ok that 54.5 million people can't even get ON the line. I don't see why we think an even bigger percentage of the population not being able to get dental care is ok (the government considers it to be "cosmetic" despite the fact that dental illness can lead to heart disease and many other serious health problems). I don't understand why we think it's cheaper to have people end up dead or unable to work than it would be to make sure they got medical intervention when they need it. I don't understand how we can live in the world and think some of us are entitled to medical care and some aren't. And I'm going to say something really rude and inflammatory here - but it seems like in many ways it's the "what would Jesus do" crowd that most opposes this when based on the words I read in the Bible, universal health care is one of the many things Jesus would be right on board with. Didn't he say, "Even as ye have done it unto the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me?" Doesn't that cover feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, tending to the sick, turning the other cheek, leaving vengeance to God... among other things?
I don't understand why it's any of Sarah Palin's or anyone else's business that my friend's Nate and Dan - two of the kindest, gentlest people in the world - love each other and want to be married. I don't understand why it's anyone's business who anybody else sleeps with - male or female, heterosexual or homosexual. I don't understand why some people think they have a right to monitor everyone else's morals or to speak for their idea of God as though they had been appointed to do so by divine decree, when again, the Bible I read seems to pretty clearly state that God feels quite confident that He/She/It can handle that task Him/Her/Itself. As long as I'm in the theology realm, I don't understand why people who say they have unbounded faith in God seem to think the Devil is stronger than God and that God can't handle that battle either. My guess is that one of the reasons the Divinity suggests the "let me handle it approach" is because many of us see different devils. Islamic terrorists see many of us as "devils;" Christian fundamentalists seem to see almost everyone and everything as devils; I don't particularly believe in devils, but I see racism, fear-mongering, greed, killing under any circumstances, hate, cruelty, telling lies ("and I just said "thanks but no thanks to that bridge to nowhere") to be "devilish."
I know this is long but I'm going to try and get at least a bunch of stuff out of my system this morning. I don't know if it's a good roll, but I'm on a roll and I'm not stopping.
One of the really really BIG things that I don't understand - that makes me feel passionately nutty - is the Pavlov's dogs response Americans have to the words "tax cut," or the crazy belief that taxes are some kind of awful punishment or theft. I won't say that I don't hate paying taxes as much as the next person. Money is cool and having it is even cooler. I also won't say that I am happy with the way our taxes are being spent lately. BUT.... taxes are important. They are part of how society takes care of the common good. Or that's what they are supposed to be. Taxes are how we are supposed to keep the infrastructure maintained so that bridges and levees don't collapse or wash away. Taxes are how we pay to maintain schools and fund education for the children we all profess to love so much and who ARE in fact our future. Taxes are how roads are paved and maintained.... Taxes have a purpose and it's a good one. And if you think that the so-called tax cuts are anything more than sleight of hand, you are fooling yourself. And in the age of trickle-down crazy people like George Bush, they while you are being distracted by the sleight of hand (see the pretty tax cut), they are picking your pocket with the other. But back to the sleight of hand part. Those pretty shiny tax cuts are an illusion. The bill for them just shifts to your state and local government. Or it shifts to those collapsed bridges and untended water treatment facilities, to crumbling buildings, to cuts in school lunch and after-school and arts programs. It shifts to cuts in programs that support the poorest people in our country. It shifts to theft from the Social Security program. It shifts to huge debts run up in our name. It shifts to untended facilities for returning victims of the debacle in Iraq and to long lines and lack of medical care for the soldiers we like to talk so much about honoring.
Which reminds me of something else I don't understand and brings me kind of full circle as well. (I'm almost done ranting... really I am.... I promise.) Why have we been blithly willing to let our government create a private army of mercenaries and pay them something like 5x the rate we pay our soldiers... using our tax dollar - and yet we are outraged at bailing out our neighbors who might be in danger of becoming homeless. I don't understand. It puzzles me. It makes me angry. It makes me sad.
Kahlil Gibran in the Farewell Chapter of THE PROPHET (one of the most beautiful and wise books in the history of time) says "You have been told that, even like a chain, you are as weak as your weakest link. This is but half the truth. You are also as strong as your strongest link."
Which brings me to my close and the last thing that I don't understand. I don't understand why we don't all wish for the highest good of everyone, why segments of society horde more bounty in their banks and kitchen cabinets than they can possibly use and begrudge a starving child a bowl of rice. I don't understand our penchant for us and them-ness and for using that to justify blowing one another up. I don't understand using fear to manipulate people and to justify unspeakable behaviors. I don't understand why my country has become a place where people don't seem to stop and think, where we don't care enough to vote, where we are willing to let people die in our names and not expect to make any sacrifice of our own comfort and well-being beyond saying how noble and swell they are to put themselves in harms way. And I don't understand how we can let huge lies - that have set back our democracy and caused massive death of our own young men and women and those of other lands - go unchallenged and unpunished. (I guess I wasn't quite done.) I don't understand. What has happened to my country which I love. I want it back. I don't care if I have to pay some extra taxes to get it. I love it that much.
And now I'm REALLY, REALLY done - at least for today. I'm sorry this is so long. I'm not even going to re-read it. I'm just going to post it and live with the consequences.