Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Tea Party's "Purification" -- and how it could affect me (if no debt-ceiling extension)

I want to take a few moments to reiterate my own plans and draw some lines in the sand as to how I would respond to future challenges.

It is my intention to develop my “Do Ask Do Tell” materials into a film, and to remain engaged in the debate on a number of issues regarding “social equality” and the whole panoply of issues that follow “free entry” on the Internet.  (A likely challenge to Section 230, as well as Protect-IP/COICA, are but two examples.)  This requires maintain an active presence on the web, which I am restructuring.

It is very important to me to remain focused on this in order to do the best possible job with the materials.  And it is important to keep external issues from derailing me.

I have covered, intermittently, the eldercare situation that I had for a number of years, and the passing of my mother in December 2010. There is an estate, and I should benefit from it, and have some considerable leeway, at age 68, to do “what I want” for a while, without being paid all the time, in order to contribute what is uniquely mine to give. And that is the creation of content.

In the midst of all the uncertainties of the past, I did take a part time job last year with Census. While I cannot discuss the details, I can say that there is an issue of the amount of time that the intermittent job takes (particularly how it affects my “calendar”), and a question of whether I should go full time, or whether I would have time for it at all given my other plans.

In the past ten years or so, I have repeatedly been “challenged” by others to consider work that requires much more social bearing and assertiveness, than being a programmer-analyst in IT had.  These “opportunities” have involved some well-known career options like teaching or agenting life insurance, and a number of others, some of which could have sounded questionable and even scammy.  These sorts of opportunities would be compromised by my writings or the attention they could attract.  In fact, there has been a trend in the past few years for people to be expected to manipulate their online presence for the sake of their employment and not their own views, which was not the case when all this started in the 1990s.

Since I instantiated myself as a “public figure” by entering the debate on the military gay ban (“don’t ask, don’t tell”) and then other issues in the late 1990s, and perhaps drawn attention to myself, I’ve become struck by something. That is, if you are out in “public life” (to quote “Hannibal” from a notorious film) people tend to expect you to have your skin in the game, to be responsible for other people, to be able to provide for and protect them personally.  I senses this “intellectually” in the 90s as I worked on the book, but I experienced it with the long eldercare episode ending last year, when I “landed as I landed”.   This is true even if you did not have your own children, but it is even more daunting, because you don’t have your own personal “domain” the way others do.  And that is very difficult for me to take, since gender-related interpersonal relations when I was younger became a source of humiliation.  I became able to go off on my own, somewhat almost in an “Ayn Rand” fashion, and now I find this resisted.

So for me, the “threat” of external disruptions, when otherwise I would be able to pursue my intentions, is a very real issue. At the moment, the most serious issue is the possible ramifications of the failure of Congress to extend the debt ceiling, which I have discussed in detail on my Issues and my Retirement Blogs.  How could this affect me?  There are a few ways. First, remember that there is a small risk that the debt crisis could be very prolonged, and that the nation could descend into disorder and chaos.

What are the specific risks?  (I know, “holler before you’re hurt”.)  One is that social security payments could be reduced or stop entirely.  I won’t have an immediate problem paying bills if they are delayed, but my plans do count on receiving income that was promised. The same is true of my ING pension from my major employer (which appears to be stable).  From a legal point of view, I think I might not be entitled to receive income that isn’t justified by my past FICA tax contributions, but I believe that about 85% of my benefit is indeed justified.  The biggest fear is that if the payments were delayed, they might never be resumed.

Another is to the estate, which has some stocks but a lot of bond funds. These could quickly become worthless if the federal government is not able to pay its own bond debt, which affects municipal bond funds. Perhaps I will learn that bond holders will be paid first.  But otherwise I could have to pull everything out of the market in the next two weeks and put it in cash. I’m not above doing that if I have to.  (What if everyone else does this?  A run on the markets.  It makes 2008 look like child’s play)  But then, will the FDIC be sound?  No wonder some people talk about buying gold.  Our currency system could collapse completely.

These "threats" may be remote, but I do think that some Congresspersons in the Tea Party are playing with fire. I think that they believe they have the political mass to bully others into submission, which they could do.  (I suppose Barney Frank would say, “if I can’t get my way, punish the country.”) History shows that this kind of thing has happened before, that certain populations get targeted to make the “sacrifices” for others.

It’s also true that the spending cuts in the future could have a much greater effect on me.  I have not used Medicare very much yet. But, after a period of stopping most Medicare payments to providers, Congress could means test all Medicare service immediately, and require a “spend down” similar to Medicaid (putting seniors and their families into a death-or-poverty choice, perhaps refusing treatments). It might even contemplate going after adult children with new filial responsibility laws, perhaps even retroactively (although that could run into constitutional questions – ex post facto).   All of this could happen in the effort to restore the ability of the federal government to function with no debt ceiling extension, and a refusal of Congress to ever do so in the future.

But there are numerous other calamities that could lead to “purification”, such as another major terrorist attack, maybe with nuclear weapons or EMP blast, or natural cataclysms like huge geomagnetic storm (EMP and power grid, again), pandemics, or even something like an Atlantic tsunami from the Cumbre Vieja in the Canary Islands.   A world that remains is not good for someone like me, who does not like to be forced into personal relationships to be effective. 

It’s useful to remember that the heart of conservative “moral thinking” is that families (and local communities) take care of their own and do not depend on the outside world (government) to provide for weakest members.   Family responsibility (connected to gender in older moral systems) belongs to everyone, not just those who have children. In fact, having children within marriage confers the power to mold the relationships of others in the family and provide backup responsibilities. (Although it didn't happen explicitly in my case, inheritance often comes with a "dead hand" of attached strings, to use money to promote the interests of a family lineage and not just one's own goals.)  It seems, in retrospect, that during my own coming of age in the 50s and 60s, young men rather understood this and felt that heterosexual encounters were an earned privilege – they would have the responsibility anyway regardless . I really recall this sort of thinking from dormitory and Army environments.  The idea of localizing responsibility to the consequences of choices (like sexual intercourse) seems like a more modern idea (at least since the 1970s). In any case, one consequence of the “Tea Party’s” thinking is that someone like me ought to be required to be responsible for a family anyway. The idea of "mandatory socialization" may in the future go farther toward reducing the need for government than at times in the past; the Tea Party social conservatives (Bachmann) may have a point here.   

Where do these grim possibilities lead me?  I can only say I am determined to follow the “let’s do it” mentality of my own plans. I hope to be judged by my own work, not by external circumstances that force socialization on me.  After I have gotten to where my new career really “pays”, I could take on a “family” with some sense of “pride”.   (With a successful film, I could support a family on my own, without dependence on inheritance or other income.) But I simply cannot allow anyone to plunk other people’s problems (especially “OPC” – “other people’s children”) into my lap as if I were supposed to make them “all right” (something that happened especially during the substitute teaching a few years ago). 

I am 68, maybe in the last act of my own life, and yes, a major catastrophe could take me out.  What is going on is serious.  One simple fact of logic, or perhaps physics:  when one person takes from another or doesn't pay what is rightfully owed, both parties are permanently harmed.  Litigation doesn't erase wrong.  And sometimes harm is irreversible enough to take someone out for good. I was never so impressed with that until the past few years, at least after 9/11. 

It seems strange that it is the unpredictability of “The Event”  (aka “The Purification”) beyond one’s control that provides so much of the moral justification for survivalism and forced socialization, and that tends to make the hidden dependencies on others of many people into moral issues.

The Wall Street Journal, Saturday July 16, has an article on p B1 "The Debt Crisis: If treasury bonds aren't safe, what is?"  Answer, in part, look at overseas investments (not cash in US $). It also has an editorial, p A12, "What about the Trust Fund?" explaining why it may be difficult to extract money from it in a default environment, and on p A4, in a sidebar box, it explains that the McConnell/Reid plan has the best (maybe good) chance of avoiding default.  

No comments: