Writing about various topics as the mood strikes.

Time is marching on toward Donald Trump taking the oath of office to become the 45th President of the United States.

News and social media have been awash in a flood of angry statements, smug responses, explanations, excuses, calls to action on a host of issues, and so much more. These are our reactions to the election. These are our rationalizations for why things are the way they are. Not to hurry anyone along out of their bathtubs of alcohol, chocolate, and ice cream, but it is seriously time to stop reacting to this election and to start paying close attention to where we’re headed and who will be driving the bus.

NPR had two important interviews air this week. One interview was with Richard Spencer, who claims to have coined the term ‘alt-right’; the other was with journalist Joshua Green who writes for Bloomberg Businessweek. Green composed a lengthy profile on Steve Bannon. Both interviews contain significant bits of information that demand our undivided attention.

Starting with Green, I’m pulling some quotes. I highly recommend reading the full transcript.

Regarding Andrew Breitbart..

He worked for Matt Drudge who runs the Drudge Report website, so he’s someone who has a deep, deep understanding of kind of how the culture processes political news and how to shape news narratives by focusing people’s attention on certain stories or certain storylines.

Regarding the Andrew Breitbart/Steve Bannon connection…

…Breitbart essentially came storming out of the audience and gave him [Bannon] a big bear hug in a speech about how guys like them had to take back the culture.

Regarding Breitbart News/Bannon…

….[Bannon] said Breitbart is almost like a medieval guild where you’re passing on that special knowledge, you know. We learned it from Andrew who learned it from Drudge. We are going to carry on the banner and keep doing what Andrew wanted us to do.

Regarding Bannon/GAI….

So not only was Bannon executive chairman of Breitbart News, but then with some of the same financial backers, he started the Government Accountability Institute which is a nonprofit research organization based in Tallahassee…..But what really brought GAI into the forefront was that GAI’s president, Peter Schweizer, wrote the book “Clinton Cash” that became an unexpected best-seller back in the spring of 2015, just as Hillary Clinton was getting ready to launch her presidential campaign. It drove up her unfavorability ratings, and it raised all sorts of pernicious questions….

Regarding Bannon/Trump….

And if you look at how Donald Trump chose to run against Clinton in the general election, Trump was essentially channeling the same attacks that Bannon had conceived and pushed in the “Clinton Cash” book. And so – and, you know, so ultimately, you know, he succeeded in this years-long plan to plot and carry off the downfall of Hillary Clinton.

Regarding Bannon/Campaign Strategy….

And what he [Bannon] said essentially was that they are trying to reach an audience that doesn’t have an outlet anywhere else in mainstream media. I pulled up some of the quotes. He said, you know, we focus on things like immigration, ISIS, race riots, what he calls the persecution of Christians….Bannon is a guy who came out of the media world. He used to be a movie producer. He made documentary movies. He’s somebody, I think, with a pretty clear sense of narrative and also of the value of presentation and how you can seize the attention of the entire political culture if you push the buttons right…he’s somebody, I think, who takes Trump’s impulses and channels them into a more or less cogent worldview that fits into this right-wing populist ethos that Bannon is all about….I would argue that Trump in the final weeks of the campaign was, you know, mainlining the purest distillation of Bannon’s views out there on the stump. And, to my shock and a lot of other peoples, that actually resonated with a much larger segment of the electorate than we had anticipated.

Regarding the election results…

I think it’s important to remember what we’ve just witnessed and what Trump himself has just seen [is] that Bannon – and this is what originally attracted me to him as a profile subject – is a smart guy and a clever strategist who orchestrated this elaborate plan to deny Hillary Clinton the presidency that we’ve just watched work. It succeeded….Well, the plan being, you know, this multi-year, multifaceted effort to take down Hillary Clinton, right?

Take a breath and let all of that sink in. A “multi-year, multifaceted effort to take down Hillary Clinton” orchestrated by a man who has a proven mastery for seizing the attention “of the entire political culture if you push the buttons right.”

When you think you’re ready, go next to the interview with Richard Spencer.

Regarding identity politics…

….end goal is to have a white ethno-state – a ‘safe space’ for Europeans sometime in the future…

Regarding non-Europeans and citizenship….

…citizenship of the US is not something that can be changed right away; Europeans defined America, they defined what it is… European people were the indispensable, central people that defined this nation….I care about “us” more…

Regarding immigration…

…we need to get beyond thinking of immigration just in terms of ‘illegal immigration’. Illegal immigration is not nearly as damaging as legal immigration; we’re going to need to preference people who are going to fit in, who are more like us, that is European immigration…

Regarding policies hoped for from the Trump administration…

….what we want is influence…if we can get these ideas out there, i think we can change policy; opinions do change, paradigms are meant to be broken, that’s what the alt-right is doing.

 

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With the election finally over, there is one critically important conclusion that must be acknowledged, regardless of whether you believe the result was positive or negative. The popular vote is irrefutably an even split.

This means there is no mandate.

There is nothing that suggests the American people are overwhelmingly for or against the platforms put forth by either party. Of course there are some who are adamantly in favor of Trump and all he represents. There are others who were adamantly in favor of Clinton and all she represents. That leaves a large swath of people who very likely are concerned about many of the same issues, but saw two different paths to resolution. It tells me that there is still common ground. It tells me that if we are in agreement about what the major issues are, then we are halfway toward achieving unity as a nation, and that’s a good thing.

However, acknowledging that there is still an opening for achieving unity does not mean that anyone must or should simply accept any actions this president or this Congress may take over the next four years. There has never been a time when a government of the people, by the people, and for the people has been in such dire need of its people. There is work to be done, and the work will be hard. It will be inconvenient. It will be stressful, emotional, and at times painful. But it is work that is necessary, if this country and all of its founding principles are going to survive.

The single biggest mistake we could make from this day forward is to allow our elected officials the luxury of feeling comfortable. If this election has revealed anything, it’s revealed that we are not comfortable. We are concerned about many things. We worry about many things. We are fearful about many things. And that discomfort needs to be shared and experienced by those who have been chosen to represent us. It is not enough for them to know about our discomfort. It is not enough for them to be informed of our discontent. They must feel it, as we do every day.

Intense pressure must be brought to bear on every level of government. This means going beyond writing letters or signing online petitions or any other actions that allow you to sit comfortably at home and require no more effort than typing out a few tweets or emails or social media posts.

It means physically showing up for things. It means attending town halls or community meetings; it means volunteering for your local political chapter and helping to shape that agenda; it means setting up appointments for face-to-face meetings with any representative or official who is willing to meet with you. It means taking advantage of every opportunity to make your voice heard. It means being willing to quite literally stand up and speak out against racism, sexism, misogyny, and all forms of discrimination as it happens, when it happens, every. single. time.

It means supporting the committed souls who have the audacity to protest in person. If there is a march or rally or sit-in organized, attend it. Participate in it. Defend your rights. Defend your principles. Defend each other.

You will miss favorite TV shows. You may have to adjust your schedule. Your routine will be disrupted. There will be backlash that must be endured and overcome. It will be a pain in the ass, but it must be done because if you’re willing to make excuses for not being visible, vocal, and active in this government, then the government has excuses for ignoring you.

The founding fathers of this nation did not have phones, internet, cable, cars, highways, social media, or thousands of other conveniences that we take for granted every day. They left their homes, their families, their farms, their daily lives and invested all they had for the greatest possible cause – ensuring that a nation of people could live freely and determine their own fate. The time has come to recommit ourselves to that cause, and we must be as willing to sacrifice our comforts if we intend to preserve what they created.

 Our own Country’s Honor, all call upon us for a vigorous and manly exertion, and if we now shamefully fail, we shall become infamous to the whole world. … The Eyes of all our Countrymen are now upon us, and we shall have their blessings, and praises, if happily we are the instruments of saving them from the Tyranny meditated against them. Let us therefore animate and encourage each other, and shew the whole world, that a Freeman contending for Liberty on his own ground is superior to any slavish mercenary on earth.”
George Washington

 

 

Define “Affordable.”

After numerous attempts, today I was able to see my affordable health care options on the healthcare.gov site.

As a self-employed individual, I currently do not have health insurance. I could have continued coverage through COBRA when I left my full-time employment, but the premiums were about $700 per month, which was more than I could afford.

Unfortunately, because I run a moderately successful business, I make a decent living. It’s not exorbitant by any means. I pay a modest rent. I saved up enough cash to buy a used Ford Escape with over 160,000 miles on it. I have a ParentPlus loan to pay off, plus some old credit card debt, and I pay all of my own taxes. Even so, my income level is just enough to make me ineligible for the subsidies for the insurance premiums being offered through the AHCA.

(If it matters as you continue reading this, let it be known that I’m a registered Democrat, a moderate liberal, and given the current state of the Republican party, plan on staying with that designation.)

The coverage I had through my former employer was a standard PPO plan. I had a $500 deductible, $20 copay for office visits, $15 prescription plan, 80% of total costs were covered, and a maximum out of pocket (OOP) expense of $2500. No dental. No vision. Still, it was a good plan.

Let’s compare….

Under the former plan, had I continued it through COBRA, the annual premium would have been $8,400. Assuming I had a bad health year that made maximum use of the coverage and required an office visit every two weeks for an entire year, by the end of 12 months I would have shelled out:

  • $8400 (annual premium) + $500 (deductible) + $520 (office visits) + $2000 (max OOP minus deductible) = $11,420. Note this assumes that despite my clearly poor health, I did not need prescriptions.

Under the cheapest Bronze plan in my county/state, the annual premium is $5,844 with a $5,500 deductible, the maximum OOP is $6,350, and the plan pays 60% of the total health care costs. Where it gets tricky is that this particular plan does not use a copay. It uses a 10% coinsurance, but for the sake of comparing apples to apples, I’ll keep the $20 copay scenario. Making the same assumptions as above, that I’ll reach the limits of my coverage by the end of a 12 month period, I would pay:

  • $5844 (annual premium) + $5,500 (deductible) + $520 (office visits) + $850 (max OOP minus deductible) = $12,714. That’s $1,294 more than the coverage provided through COBRA and with a 60/40 split versus an 80/20 split.

Alternatively, I could assume that I have a typical year of reasonably good health where I only visit the doctor twice in a year, do not need any lab tests or other studies, and no hospitalization. In this scenario, I would make out better with the AHCA plan because no matter what, I’m paying $20 for the office visit, and I wouldn’t hit the deductible under either plan. But, as is true of ALL insurance of ANY type, I’m paying premiums for a service I will likely never use over the course of a year. Not saying this is a bad thing, i.e, I do want the auto insurance to be active the day my car gets wrecked or stolen, but it does factor in when determining what is affordable.

The reality of my experience thus far without any health insurance has been a visit to the doctor for a particular problem (not a free preventative care visit) with some needed blood tests and a prescription.

As a new patient with this particular physician, the first office visit cost is $160. However, because I was paying cash, the fee dropped down to $60. The cost of the blood tests at the lab was set at $135. Because I was paying cash, the lab only charged me $45. The reason both the doctor and the lab were able to offer me the lower cash rate is because 1) their overhead dropped considerably with no need to code the visit and submit a claim form; and 2) the cash rate already paid them more than they would be reimbursed by an insurance company. It was a win/win.

This is where I struggle with the whole concept of the AHCA. First of all, I appreciate the fact that for those who qualify for the subsidies, this is not a terrible deal. With a subsidy, my annual premiums would drop quite a bit. The monthly rate would be affordable. However, I’d still be looking at needing to put out $5,500 in a year to meet the deductible. If you’re living at income levels that qualify for the subsidy, this is a HUGE amount of money. On the other hand, I have also had the experience of spending 18 hours in an ER resulting in a whopping $16,000 bill from the hospital and this was over 15 years ago. Sure, I’m still screwed if I have to pay $5,500, but $16,000 would be insurmountable.

Therefore, I’m not saying it won’t help anyone. But I’m also not jumping on the “best thing ever to happen to this country since Social Security” bandwagon either. And here’s why….

What really bothers me about the AHCA is the default assumption that in order to get any sort of decent healthcare, you MUST have insurance. Why is that? Why is it a GIVEN that insurance companies MUST be involved at ALL levels of care in order for the average person to be able to pay for their health care?

Reconsider my recent experience. Assume I have to repeat this same visit next year, only this time, I’ll have my AHCA plan. Neither the doctor nor the lab will be able to offer me a cash rate because technically, I have insurance. They know I have insurance because it’s required. They MUST code my visit and submit a claim form, which means their overhead goes up. If I follow the actual rules of the cheapest Bronze plan (remember the coinsurance? that doesn’t kick in until the deductible has been met) I will not have met the $5,500 deductible, so I will bear the full cost of the visit. My OOP expenses will be:

  • $160 (doctor’s visit) + $135 (lab work) = $295

versus the $105 I paid out this year for the same services. And that extra $190? That pushes this visit into “not affordable” territory because the same month I’m paying for this visit, I’m also paying $487 in premiums. The total outlay for health care in the month I visited the doctor and had some minor blood tests done will be:

  • $295 (OOP expense) + $487 (monthly premium) = $782

Even with a modestly successful business and decent income, $782 in one month added to other monthly expenses such as rent, food, gas for the car, and utilities is not affordable. And the only thing that has changed about this visit – the only new factor not present in the original scenario – is the insurance. At the lower levels of health care, insurance IS what drives up the cost.

What really sticks in my craw about this (among many other things) is that with the mandate that requires me to make this purchase, I have lost any ability and opportunity to negotiate a better rate with my health care providers. Will health insurance coverage help me if I’m ever in an accident or am struck down by a serious illness? Absolutely. And I am totally on board with the idea that no one in this country should be kept away from receiving life-saving treatment based on their ability to pay.

On the other hand, when it comes to the average level of health care most people need, I’ve been painted into an unaffordable corner. It will cost me more to be treated for minor health issues with insurance than without. And now there’s nothing I can do about that.

(On a side note, while everyone is touting the 100% coverage for annual physical exams, everything I said so far would apply if the physician found anything wrong with you as a result of that physical. The 100% coverage is awesome as long as you come out with a clean bill of health. Once they discover you have diabetes or chronic hypertension, things get to be more costly.)

It seems to me that one way to make routine or typical non-preventative health care more affordable for more people is to get the insurance companies out of this level of care. There are ways to do this without putting physicians at financial risk and without lowering the quality of care. (What about pre-tax dollar health care savings accounts? What about sliding scale fees for non-emergent treatments?) In fact, I would suggest that the financial risks for physicians has become higher under AHCA as even mid-level income patients are no more able to pay for $295 in medical care plus premiums than they were without insurance, given the high deductibles associated with these plans. What troubles me is that no one seems to be interested in figuring out how to do it. How do you get the insurance companies out of the business of low-level health care?

There are other problems as well. Because I’m supposed to have the option of purchasing a separate insurance plan outside of the marketplace if I so choose, I went looking for alternatives. The first place I visited was the AARP website. AARP used to offer primary health insurance at group rates to its members. Now it does not. Instead, the site only offers a Medicare supplement plan and refers me back to the healthcare.gov marketplace if I want a full major medical plan. Why? Because the AARP doesn’t see the need to take on the expense of administering a group health care plan when someone else will pick it up. Is the AHCA plan better or worse than what AARP used to offer? No idea. They cut the plan.

I next went to einsurance.com, which claims it will help me find the best coverage available for the self-employed. The result? A list of the same AHCA plans available on the healthcare.gov site. There are no other options presented.

Finally, I went to the National Association for the Self-Employed website. I can’t look at their plans yet because first I have to pay $120 per year for a membership. I’m afraid to invest that money because I suspect the options for individual health care in my state will be exactly the same as the AHCA plans and there will be no other companies offering alternative plans.

I’m not seeing the promised options here.

My Significant Other works full-time for a small company. His company currently offers a health care plan and picks up part of the premium. His cost is around $100 per month. He has been put on notice that this plan will likely be phased out next year because the company is small enough to reduce its staff to less than 50 full-time employees, using part-time and temporary staff to pick up the slack when things are busy, which exempts them from having to offer health insurance to their employees. Again, the company does not see any need to bear the burden of administering a separate health care plan when someone else is willing to do it for them. Frankly, as a business owner myself, I can relate to this concept. Thus, my SO could potentially end up paying over $5,000 per year for a lesser plan when he’s only paying $1,200 a year for better coverage.

And as long as I’m ranting, I think it’s worth pointing out that companies started offering health care plans to their employees because it helped the company remain competitive. Plans were offered as an add-on to salary compensation to “sweeten the deal” to prevent desirable employees taking jobs with competitors. It was never suggested that companies had an obligation to take care of this aspect of the lives of their employees. In fact, many companies used the offering of health benefits as a way to control their salary costs. They could get away with offering a lower salary if the health benefits were better than anywhere else. Given that the trend has long since been moving away employees staying with one company for the full duration of their careers, the rationale for a company to invest in their employees’ long-term health is even less than it was 20 years ago and yet, suggesting a company not be required to offer comprehensive health care benefits to employees appears to be some sort of blasphemy.

As noted above, I definitely appreciate and support the notion of affordable health care for all. I’m well aware we have to start somewhere. What I don’t support is a model that keeps insurance companies involved at all levels when the evidence suggests it is their involvement that is specifically driving up the costs. What I also don’t support is the mandate that eliminates any impetus for anyone else, such as AARP or NASA, to offer other alternatives that may work better for my situation.

For those that are benefiting from the AHCA, I think that’s great; however, I also think we’re a long way off from actually solving the problem.

According to this recent article on LinkedIn, there are three things to do every day to support and expand your network.

One task is to “share your network” by selecting two people from your network who don’t know each other, but who may be “relevant” to each other and introducing them. The rationale is that this will show your network connections that you’re thinking about them and that you know what’s relevant to them. This is not a specific referral or because someone in your network expressed an interest in meeting people you may know. This is about perusing your connections, finding two people who may or may not have some interest in each other, and conducting an online introduction. Every day.

I am not convinced this is a good thing to do every day or any day. Almost everyone on my list of connections already shares a connection to someone else. If I’m connected to A, B, and C, chances are good that A already is connected to C and C is connected to both A and B. It would take a fair bit of effort to get through my list of connections to find two people who know me, yet don’t know each other. I would also find it very awkward to be introduced to someone who had not expressed interest in meeting me.

I would prefer to make introductions under two conditions:

1. Someone has asked me if I know anyone who [insert skill/knowledge here].
2. I have asked both parties if they’d be interested in being introduced.

To me, this not only shows generosity in being willing to share your network, it shows a degree of respect for other people’s privacy.

The second task is to share information by sending along an article that may be relevant to someone in your network. The rationale for this is to demonstrate that you are a learned person, someone interested in what’s going on in various fields, and builds social capital. Every day.

I am not convinced this is a good thing to do every day. Sending someone links to articles they may be interested in requires you to correctly assess what would be of interest to a person and presumes they have not already seen it and/or that they have time to read it. The problem with sending along links to articles or items of interest is that the recipient invariably feels obligated to respond, which means they feel obligated to read what you sent them, which they may not have time or very much interest in doing. It puts a burden on the recipient and if you do this often enough, your messages will get forwarded to the spam folder.

My preference? Be very selective about what you choose to share, how often you choose to share, and with whom. A well-placed article that is genuinely relevant to the recipient with a note acknowledging that a response isn’t required may score you way more points than looking for something to send to someone, anyone, every day. At least it will come across as genuine interest and knowledge about the other person and not that you have way too much time on  your hands, and it draws that fine line between “learned person” and “insufferable-know-it-all.”

Finally, you are to send out notes that make a personal connection, show a little compassion, empathy, and social intelligence. These are the notes where you’re not asking or offering anything – just a howdy-do-good-luck-congrats kind of thing. The purpose here is to demonstrate your humanity, your support for the well-being of those in your network. Every day.

It’s a nice sentiment and one promoted over two thousand years ago by someone who thought you should demonstrate your humanity for your fellow man for no other reason than they’re your fellow man and it makes the world a better place if we’re all a little nicer to each other. Tying basic human decency to a conscious effort to build one’s network makes it sound a little disingenuous to me.

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Building a network is always good and essential in today’s increasingly virtual workplace, but modern technology has not replaced the business basics: respect, courtesy, professionalism, kindness, and generosity. Offer them freely to everyone – in and out of network.

Abercrobmie & Fitch, known as much for its designer clothes as for its ability to offend, has been back in the news lately because the company’s CEO, Mike Jeffries, painted a clear picture of his target market – thin, attractive people with money. This is not really news. Most designer clothing is intended for thin, attractive people with money and what qualifies as “thin” keeps getting thinner. Somehow a woman’s size 12, which used to be considered “normal” or “average” and could be found in abundance in any department store is now “plus-size” in designer lingo. Take it from this genuinely plus-sized woman – size 12 does not qualify. Attractiveness remains what it has always been – a subjective assessment purely in the eye of the beholder.

The sin committed by the company’s CEO though was in baldly stating this fact about designer clothing and commenting that he did not want the clothing sold in his stores to appear on the backs of anyone who did not meet A&F’s definition of thin and attractive. It’s an interesting thing for a business owner to say, really, as most business owners tend to think the fat person’s money is as good as the thin person’s money. If a fat, unattractive, or uncool kid wants to pay an exorbitant amount of money to dress up like the thinner, prettier, cooler kids, so be it. Profit is profit.

But because he came out and stated that his vision for his company’s clothing line does not include a goodly portion of the population, people became offended and how dare he have the audacity to say that one person can wear these particular clothes and another person cannot.

Setting aside for the moment the fact that every other designer clothing store says exactly the same thing in their advertising with varying degrees of subtlety, let’s agree that this particular CEO is an elitist nitwit. Enter Greg Karber and his “Fitch the Homeless” initiative where he trolls the local Goodwill store, gathers up discarded A&F clothing, and gives it out to the homeless as a way of throwing Jeffries’ concerns back into his face.

Now a second offense has occurred as some see this initiative as making the homeless the butt of some sort of joke or classifies them as the lowest of the low and well qualified to become the big middle-finger to Jeffries’ elitist attitude.

That’s one way of looking at it although it would mean the homeless are pretty much screwed. Mike Jeffries doesn’t want homeless people to wear his brand because they’re not attractive enough; others don’t want them to wear A&F clothes because they see this initiative as further marginalizing the homeless. Sorry, homeless people. No clothes for you.

There is another way of looking at this. Karber asks people in his video to go through their closets, gather up their unused A&F clothing, and donate it to a shelter. This is a worthy effort to make as the shelters do need clothes to give to the homeless. If Mike Jeffries has anxiety over his brand being seen on homeless people, it’s a bonus. There’s no need to take the clothing directly to a homeless person and say, “Here. Would you please wear this so I can piss off a clothing company’s CEO?”  Drop it off at a shelter, picture Jeffries being offended and picture a homeless person happy to have a warm, clean pair of pants or shirt to wear.

If you’re really offended at the notion that you might be using the homeless to make a statement, go one step further. Gather up ALL of your unused clothing regardless of what label it carries and donate it to a shelter. Skip the part about making a statement against A&F and make the donation for no other reason than there are people who need clothes.

If you still want to make a statement against A&F, then go to a Goodwill or thrift store, find an A&F shirt you can’t fit into, support the organization with your purchase, and make a thong out of the shirt. Picture Mike Jeffries having anxiety over his logo being up your ass and picture a homeless person happy to have the warm, clean pair of designer/non-designer pants or shirts you just dropped off.

Everybody wins, most of all the homeless.

 

National Day of Non-Violence

In the aftermath of Friday’s shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, the reactions are similar to those expressed after other mass murders although this time, because the majority of victims were young children, the need to find some reason why feels even more urgent. The hope is that by finding out why this one person committed this incredible act of carnage, we’ll also find some way to keep some other person from doing it again.

Was it because the shooter had easy access to assault weapons? Then lets ban assault weapons.

Was it because the shooter had an untreated mental illness? Then lets make treating mental illness a priority.

Was it because there was something wrong in the shooter’s home life? Did the parents go wrong somewhere? Then lets provide more support and training for parents.

Was it because of a breakdown in society? Was it because prayer was banned in public schools? Then lets argue about God and proclaim superiority about what we choose to believe.

Any or all of the above plus more could be a factor that influenced a young man’s decision to express whatever pain or fractured mental state he was in by murdering 26 children and adults whose only crime was to go to school that day. It’s going to take some time to figure out all the reasons; it’s going to take more time to figure out what to do about each one.

Regardless of the reasons that triggered this action, there is a common thread that runs through all mass murders, whether they happen because someone used a gun or a knife or a bomb or flew airplanes into buildings. What these all have in common is the perpetrators ceased to believe that human life, including their own lives, is sacred. This is the line that stops the far greater majority of people from killing each other in fits of anger, during periods of hopelessness and depression, out of jealousy, greed, or despair. As bad as it may get, most people recognize that the taking of another life is not their right. Those who reject that sacredness of life, those who diminish another’s humanity to the point where it becomes nothing more than a disposable object, those are the ones who will kill using whatever method is most readily available.

Taking away the guns will reduce the use of guns as a means of murder, but it won’t restore belief in the value of human life. Securing our malls, our schools, our offices and public buildings may make it more difficult for a murderer to reach the target, but it won’t restore that critical boundary between right and wrong. There used to be a point where even someone completely out of touch with reality knew deep down that society would spit on their graves and their memories if they crossed that line. Is there anything left that carries that kind of weight anymore?

As the conversations continue about how many guns any one person needs to own; as the drive to improve access to mental health care picks up steam; as investigators continue to try to piece together the puzzle of this young man’s life, there is one thing we can all do right now. For one day, we can stop the rationalizing, the semantics, the arguing over hypothetical scenarios and agree as a nation that violence against another human being is wrong.

For one day, we can choose to turn off any TV show or movie that glorifies violence. For one day, we can choose to turn off any video game where winning requires shooting everyone in sight. For one day, we can look for areas where violence is seeping into our lives and choose to reject it. For one day, we can choose to offer an open, helping hand instead of a closed fist. For one day, we can practice patience in the face of every obstacle, however minor, and respond with a kind word instead of an insult. For one day, we can follow the axiom, “If you can’t say (or do) anything nice, then don’t say (or do) anything at all.” For one day, we can recognize each other as a fellow human being and acknowledge that no matter how much we may disagree, we are committed to getting through this life together.

If we do this together for just one day in as many small, seemingly insignificant ways as we can, perhaps we will begin to see each other from another perspective. Perhaps we will remember that life is a gift. Perhaps we will change for the better. And then, perhaps the violence will end.

By the time most people read this (assuming anyone reads this), it will officially be Election Day. I already have a bad case of post-campaign blues. Not in the sense that I’ll miss the political ads, the numerous political internet memes that have come across my Facebook newsfeed, or the river of political rhetoric that has spilled out of the speakers of my television and flooded my living room with as much force as Hurricane Sandy’s storm surge.

I won’t miss any of that. In fact, I’ll be grateful to finally be rid of it for a while.

My post-campaign blues stem from the fact that another election has come and will soon be gone and I can’t help but feel that once again far too many people have missed the opportunity to change the conversation from who we think lies less frequently to who we think will provide the best service to the country and how can we convince them to run for public office. We’ve missed the chance to talk about how to expand the pool of candidates so that we’re not so frequently left with a choice between the lesser of two evils. We’ve missed the chance to do some serious reflection on how we, as a nation, can talk TO each other rather than AT each other. We’ve bypassed important conversations about fear and how it’s affecting our decision-making. We’ve not had any in-depth discussion of what it means to think critically rather than react emotionally.

Instead, we’ve spent another campaign season listening to candidates try to condense complex issues into 10 second sound bites (which used to last 30 seconds) because our attention span grows shorter by the day. We’ve listened to political pundits speak loudly and often about their opinions, their perspectives, and their predictions for the future and far, far too many of us have accepted those loud opinions as gospel truths to be repeated and retweeted regardless of their accuracy or value.

It makes me sad.

I used to work in an office across from Independence Hall in Philadelphia. At lunchtime I would take a walk around the parks. There were quite a few statues of our Founding Fathers there and I would often marvel at the idea that a small group of men got together to hash out what it meant to be a nation. This conversation was so vitally important to them that they left their families, their farms, their businesses for days and days just to sit together and work out a plan for what they believed would be an ideal form of government.

They managed to craft a Constitution, a Declaration of Independence, and a Bill of Rights all without the benefit of fluorescent lighting, telephones, fax machines, or cubicles built with carpeted walls and furnished with putty colored desks. There were no cell phones, no free wifi, no Wikipedia, and no YouTube to record their epic fails or “like a boss” moments. They had to write these documents out by hand, scratching the words into history with nothing more than a jar full of ink and a quill from some nameless, forgotten bird of unknown origin. There were no copy machines, no laser printers, no text messages, no tweets, no blogs, no posts, no Skype, no “liberal media” or “right-wing media.” Hell, they didn’t even have a stapler or sticky notes although I like to think they did occasionally pull silly office pranks like switching wigs on members who had nodded off while someone else was speaking.

They were simply a handful of men with an idea and a common desire to build something that would unite a growing population. If one of them had an idea they felt the others should hear, they would have to laboriously write it down, give it to a messenger, and then wait. They’d have to wait days, weeks, sometimes even months to find out if the recipient “liked” their message or not. The process of writing and mailing anything was so laborious that writing a flip response or witty rejoinder was a waste of valuable time and resources. The receiver of their words had time to read and reflect on the message. There was plenty of time to ponder and craft an appropriate response. If the message made them angry, there was time to let that feeling pass and write something based on thought rather than pure emotion.

Looking through copies of these documents we still use to govern ourselves over 200 years later, I’m struck by the fact that there is not a single bullet point to be found. There are no accompanying PowerPoint slides featuring a soundtrack and illustrative stock art. There’s not one word or phrase abbreviated to a single letter or acronym. They’re all written out, letter by painstaking letter, with the understanding that even in the future, someone would have to read every word that’s in them.

I try to envision these same men trying to work together now to achieve the same goal. I don’t know that it could be done. I imagine the first draft of the Bill of Rights being posted on the “Independence for America” Facebook page and reading hundreds of comments that speak of “sheeple” and conspiracy theories and diatribes from those claiming there is no such thing as “self-evident truths” because there is no such thing as a “Creator,” and so we have been “endowed” with nothing except a false perception of reality based on a need to feel better about a world that essentially sucks ass.

Would it ever get off the ground? Would there be any Bill of Rights at all? Hard to say although I wouldn’t hold out much hope.

But it is what I usually think about when it comes time to vote. I feel compelled to stand back and consider the effort, the time, the risk, and the sacrifice others have paid for this right of ours to choose who will lead.

I may not be happy about the choice of candidates. I may be alarmed by the number of people who never take the time to get past the slick surface of the political campaigns of today and really think about the issues we’re facing as one country. And I will continue to hope that someday soon we’ll have those important conversations about how to find the best possible candidates; how to have civil discourse over the issues that affect all of us; and how to get past our fears so we can make rational decisions, but in the meantime, I will still be awed by the fact that over 200 years ago a group of men from diverse backgrounds understood there was enough common ground between human beings to make a government by the people possible.

And in honor of that commitment, I will gladly, proudly, vote.