Catching up on being thankful

When I was about 5 years old, my parents went through a terrible divorce. None of my hazy memories from that time period are particularly good. All I know is that there was a lot of fighting and screaming and slamming doors.

After a nasty legal battle, my sister and I eventually ended up living with my mom. She didn’t have much money, and we even spent some time on food stamps. For a while, we didn’t have beds to sleep in or a dinner table to sit at. The first year, I remember being upset about not having a big Christmas tree to decorate.

What’s most important, though, is the fact that I still got to live the life of a normal little kid. And I didn’t fully understand just how thankful I should have been for that, especially given the circumstances.

I had friends and I idolized Batman and I traded Pokemon cards. I fought with my sister and played little league baseball and watched Disney movies. Summer nights were filled with games of backyard hide ‘n’ seek and winter was filled with bottomless mugs of hot chocolate.

These are simple things that many of us experienced when we were kids. At the time, we don’t think much about them. But as I get older, the more often I find myself catching up on being thankful and thinking about those days with such gratitude, wishing I had understood how lucky I was back then.

Just being given the chance to experience the basic things that life has to offer is an amazing blessing, even if you’re going through some struggles, and we should all be thankful for having those chances.

If you ate dinner today, you should feel blessed. Millions upon millions of people around the globe are living on an empty stomach as we speak.

If you woke up in a warm bed or under a roof, you should be grateful. Too many people wake up under bridges or on city streets.

If you spent time with a loved one or gave someone a hug today, you should be thankful. Loneliness is something that far too many people suffer from every single day, and we shouldn’t take for granted the people that are close to us.

Just remember, there are families everywhere who will sit down at the dinner table tomorrow and have to endure the pain of seeing an empty seat that a lost loved one left behind.

So, all these years later, I’m starting to understand just how thankful I am to have this life. It may have taken some time, but it’s never too late to catch up.

Happy Thanksgiving.

A few comments on Ferguson

I just want to make some quick comments about what’s been unfolding in Ferguson and across this country. This is mainly for all those people who keep saying, “If Michael Brown was white and Darren Wilson was black, we wouldn’t even be hearing about this right now.”

I agree with you; we wouldn’t be hearing about this right now if that were the case. But in saying that, you’re missing a more important point: Why wouldn’t we be hearing about this if the races were reversed? And the answer to that is simple: A. This rarely – I mean rarely – happens to white teenagers (black teens are 21 times more likely to be shot by the cops than a white person of the same age); B. In the rare case that it does happen, justice is almost always served; the shooter either goes to jail or faces a trial. If you don’t believe me, take a look at the racial make-up of our country’s prisons; it’s clear who has the advantage when it comes to dealing with the law, and that’s something that needs to be fixed.

So, please, stop whining about how white people don’t get the same attention when something similar happens. You might be right, but the reason why you’re right is simply because the system works well when white people are the victims, meaning it won’t attract much media attention.

Most of you reading this are probably white, and that’s fine. I happen to be white myself. And I certainly don’t condone violence of any sort. But we have to understand that racism still exists, particularly racism that’s built into our institutions. If you’re white and you kill someone, you just need mental help or it’s somebody else’s fault. If you’re black and kill someone, you’re an animal or a thug who needs to be put away for life.

We might not understand the extreme reaction we’re seeing in Ferguson, but we also don’t understand what it’s like to deal with the pain and frustration of having to live in a country whose justice system is constantly putting you at a disadvantage.

That’s all for now.

End the war on Thanksgiving!

Target recently announced that it would be opening its doors at 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day, joining Sears, Kohl’s and Macy’s, who all open at the same time on Nov. 27. Last year, these stores opened at 8 p.m.

Not to be outdone, Best Buy, J.C. Penney and Toys R Us will be welcoming shoppers at 5 p.m., just as your drunk uncle finishes carving the turkey.

This has been a trend over the last few years: instead of keeping their doors shut for the holiday, many stores decide to open them in the evening on Thanksgiving – or even stay open most of the day – in order to cash in on consumers who just can’t wait one more day for the big sales. And every time an open sign flashes to life on Thanksgiving Day (an angel loses its wings?), the holiday loses a little bit of meaning.

So, can we all just suppress our addiction to shopping for 24 hours? Because if we don’t, more and more businesses will respond by keeping their doors open, essentially removing any meaning this holiday still had left.

We live in a world that dishes out increasing amounts of stress on a daily basis, leaving people less time to stop and catch their breath. The least we can do is preserve the few days that still exist, so everyone can hit the pause button and catch a home-cooked meal with the people they love.

Sure, the stores are partly to blame, but do we really expect any better from cash-hungry corporations? They are in the business of getting as much of our money as possible, and they wouldn’t open their doors on a holiday if there wasn’t a sizable demand coming from us, the sheep who think a cheap plasma screen TV from K-Mart is more important than spending a day with family.

One day. One meal. Honestly, you don’t even have to smile.

What we can blame the stores for is forcing their employees to work on a day when they should have the choice of being with their families, or even just lounging around at home in their pajamas. There was a time, I believe, when holidays weren’t commercialized out the wazoo. Heck, people actually enjoyed driving to grandma’s house on streets lined with empty parking lots and unlit open signs.

Oh, the good old days.

There is more to Thanksgiving – and any holiday, really – than getting together with the family for a big meal. What makes it even more special is that mostly everyone is celebrating it, just like you, with the people they love. If this trend of commercialization continues, it won’t really be a holiday at all. It might as well be any old Thursday.

So, for goodness’ sake, stay home on Nov. 27. Argue about politics with your racist uncle or pretend to enjoy the peculiar-looking jello your great aunt insisted you try. Above all else, spend time with your family and keep the annual tradition of Thanksgiving alive. You might not think it’ll make that big a difference, but you never know.

Because if we keep going in this direction – if we keep rewarding businesses who decide an extra buck is more important than an American tradition – Thanksgiving Day will become just another day. That is something none of us should want.

Veterans deserve more than empty words

Saying “thank you” to a veteran who has served or is currently serving in the military is a good thing to do on Veterans Day. These are people who put their lives on the line to protect our freedoms, and they deserve nothing but our endless support and gratitude.

But we can’t just forget about our veterans once the calendar flips to Nov. 12. There is still much more we can and should be doing for them.US-Troops-R_jpg_600x345_crop-smart_upscale_q85

We can start by electing leaders who understand that it isn’t weakness to show restraint when it comes to using military force. As a former president once said, “We should lead by the power of our example, not the example of our power.”

Politicians who think it’s cool to constantly suggest sending American combat troops to war – I’m talking to you, John McCain – probably don’t have a son or daughter who may get shipped off into battle.

We have a moral responsibility to make sure we only send our troops into danger as a last resort – and when we must send them, we should give them clear objectives and an ultimate plan to get the hell out.

The other side of the equation, caring for our veterans when they come home, is just as important.

One example of just how much our leaders have failed our returning soldiers continues to be seared into my memory. In 2012, a jobs bill specifically designed for veterans came to the floor of the U.S. Senate. The legislation would have provided funding for communities to help returning soldiers find work. It was estimated that 20,000 veterans across the country would find employment as a result.

What happened? Republicans, determined to block any legislative accomplishment for the president weeks before the election, filibustered it. It was a blatantly political vote.

A more recent attack on our veterans comes in the form of GOP-demanded cuts to food stamps, which took effect in Nov. 2013. There are 900,000 low-paid, active duty members of the military who receive these benefits, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Before the cuts, the average recipient received about $4 a day for food; that number is now less.

Republicans and their sheep certainly get their rocks off whenever they have the opportunity to label food stamp recipients as “lazy freeloaders.”  What they seem to forget, or at least conveniently ignore, is that nearly a million of those “freeloaders” are men and women who have fought or continue to fight for this country.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t stop there.

In February of this year, Senate Republicans blocked a bill that provided funding to expand health care programs for our veterans. It would have created 27 new medical facilities to help boost health services for men and women returning from conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan.

What’s so striking about this is that many of the same people who voted to send our troops into a misguided war in Iraq also voted to block these measures. Essentially, it’s okay to send our soldiers into a quagmire in the middle east, but it’s not okay to help them find work or afford food or receive the proper medical care when they return home.

These politicians can wrap themselves in the flag and talk about how much they appreciate our veterans until they are red, white and blue in the face; their, however, records prove otherwise. Over the course of the past several years they have shown just how empty their appreciation is.

So while saying “thank you” to our veterans is a great thing, it’s far from enough.  And it certainly doesn’t give any of us an excuse to ignore how poorly our veterans are being cared for every other day of the year.

We all have the ability to put some meaning behind our words, and it starts by electing leaders who support our troops as much as they say they do.

Because our veterans deserve more than words, and right now they aren’t getting it.

 

(This is an updated version of a post from one year ago)

 

Republicans will win the Senate. Or they won’t. Honestly, it makes no difference.

Put away your polls and your graphs that try to predict the performance of a certain political candidate or party right down to the decimal point. No scientific formula is going to figure out exactly what tomorrow’s election results will be, particularly given how many states are within a few percentage points of swinging toward either party.

But, here’s the beauty of this election: we don’t need to know the outcome of these individual races in order to have an understanding of how things will change afterward.

I’ll tell you very clearly what will be different after this election: nothing.

Right now the current U.S. Senate consists of 53 Democrats, 45 Republicans, and 2 Independents. Since both Independents vote with the Democrats, it’s essentially a 55-45 Democratic majority. You might think this majority means something, but you couldn’t be more wrong.

A subversion of Senate rules by the GOP has basically given Republicans the power to block any piece of legislation they don’t like – and all they need is 40 votes.

Since 2010, we’ve basically had a Senate controlled by the minority party.

A good example is when the Senate voted last year on a proposal to expand background checks to cover all firearm purchases in this country. A majority of Senators (54-46), including some Republicans, voted in favor of this legislation – a proposal 9 out of 10 Americans support – and it still failed to pass.

How could this happen? Because Republicans use their filibuster power to block any bill their extreme base won’t support – which is just about anything the president breathes on, no matter the actual merits of what is being proposed.

This tactic has been used by the GOP to block everything from health benefits for 9/11 first-responders to paycheck fairness to ensure men and women earn the same money for the same job.

If the Republican Party wins a slim majority in the Senate, which many pundits predict, they will bring us an extra helping of this gridlock, which they have heaped on our government since 2010. In other words, the results of this election will bring us no beneficial change in our personal lives or in the way our government operates – just more of what we’ve already seen.

No jobs bill. No minimum wage increase. No help for students with mounting college debt. No equal pay for equal work. No legislation that will do anything to improve the lives of those Republican-leaning folks who will inevitably make up a higher percentage of tomorrow’s midterm election voters.

If I have to make a prediction, sure, I would say that Republicans will make gains in both chambers of Congress. They may even achieve a slim majority in the Senate. Historically, this is normally what happens. It’s especially the case this year, since most of the contested seats are in states that always lean heavily toward Republicans.

But, as conservative columnist George Will said yesterday, this is the Seinfeld election; an election about nothing. The outcome just doesn’t really matter. Barack Obama will still be president, and Republicans will still work their tails off to ensure that nothing productive happens while he’s in office.

Yes, you should vote; there are still many important races and issues on your ballot, wherever you are, especially state and local elections.

Just know that the probable results of this year’s national elections will bring you nothing but more of the same gridlock we have seen for the last four years. Denying Republicans a chance to officially control another portion of our government would be positively meaningful – and it’s another major reason why you should still vote – but there will be continued political stalemate nonetheless.

For an election with a little more meaning, stay tuned for 2016.

Common sense: Michael Wager for U.S. Congress

I voted for Republican David Joyce in 2012, when he first ran to represent Ohio’s 14th district in U.S. Congress. I met him in person and attended some candidate forums where I heard him speak. Joyce tried his best to convince folks that he would go to Washington D.C. with the same common sense approach that his predecessor, GOP Congressman Steven LaTourette, was known for having – so I gave him the benefit of the doubt.

The problem with Washington – particularly the House of Representatives – is that more politicians are interested in obstructing progress and gumming up the machinery of government than actually doing their jobs. Ohio’s 14th district is full of voters, Republicans and Democrats, who favor cooperation over gridlock, and I thought Joyce would be mindful of that when we sent him to Congress.

Photo from Michael Wager for Congress Facebook page

Boy, was I wrong.

One of the first votes Congressman Joyce took was a vote against disaster relief funds to help those affected by Hurricane Sandy, which was rightly met with bipartisan outrage. He also voted to shut down the government last year, a decision that affected hundreds of thousands of workers and countless military families. Joyce has also cast a number of meaningless votes to repeal the Affordable Care Act, a law that most Americans believe should be implemented and improved, not repealed.

Zero votes on a jobs bill. Zero votes to increase the minimum wage for working people in his district. Zero votes to give relief to debt-burdened students. Zero.

He may talk like a moderate candidate, but the truth is that Congressman Joyce has done very little over the past two years to suggest that he cares about appealing to any voter who isn’t a right-wing ideologue.

Joyce’s challenger, Michael Wager, hopes to address issues that Congressman Joyce and his GOP colleagues have avoided since they took control of the U.S. House of Representatives after the 2010 election:

  • Investments in our infrastructure, which will not just repair our deteriorating roads and bridges but will stimulate the economy, create more jobs and boost consumer spending
  • Tax credits to help small businesses hire more workers and increased funding for banks to lend to those businesses
  • Minimum wage increase to help those who work full-time but still struggle to get by
  • Legislation to ensure that men don’t make more money than women for doing the same exact job
  • Reforming the way campaigns are funded so undisclosed special interests can’t just buy our elections

These aren’t partisan ideas or ultra-liberal proposals; they’re common sense. Poll after poll shows that a vast majority of Americans support them.

The hardworking, independent-minded voters of Ohio’s 14th district deserve a representative who doesn’t just blindly follow the most extreme elements in his/her own political party. For two years, that’s what Congressman David Joyce has given us, even if he’s doing his best to tell you otherwise.

Michael Wager is my choice to represent Ohio’s 14th district in U.S. Congress. He should be yours, too.

(Note: Ohio’s 14th district contains all of Ashtabula, Lake and Geauga Counties, in addition to eastern Cuyahoga County, northern Trumbull County, northern Portage County, and northeastern Summit County. Click here if you’re unsure of your congressional district.)

Outbreak of stupidity, not Ebola, is sweeping the U.S.

One person has died of Ebola inside the U.S. border. One person. One person, by the way, who contracted the deadly disease in Liberia, not here in the United States.

Two nurses who worked on that one person have also been diagnosed with Ebola. Two nurses, in one hospital, in one state where protocol doesn’t seem to matter, from one man who recently traveled to West Africa.

CNN: Crisis! Outbreak! Armageddon!

Fox News: Obama’s fault! Enact counter-productive travel ban!

MSNBC: Nobody watches MSNBC, so I honestly couldn’t tell you how their coverage has been.

Add all of that to an overreacting, frankly stupid, social media freak-out from the general public, and I’m starting to think contracting Ebola would be a better outcome than having to listen to all of this.

Unfortunately, we’re all more likely to get struck by lightning and eaten by a shark simultaneously than get this disease, so it looks like there’s no choice but to endure this torturous, freak-show of a response from a dimwitted populace and an even more foolish media.

I can just imagine that when Shepard Smith, a Fox News anchor, was making his much-needed comments about the media’s terrible response to all of this, he really just wanted to shout into the cameras, “Morons! Morons! All of you!”

If you think I’m being harsh, fine, but I don’t think I’m being harsh enough.

We live in a country where we overreact about everything except the things we should overreact about.

When twenty first grade students are gunned down in a classroom, we all shrug our shoulders and say, “that’s just the price of freedom.” Yeah, the media and the sheep who tune in pretend they care for a couple days, but there’s no real attempt to, say, reduce the amount of gun deaths in this country, which currently stand at over 30,000 people every year.

If you’re keeping score at home: Guns – 30,000+ (per year); Ebola – 1.

Obesity, just as American as guns and apple pie, is related to 300,000 deaths per year. No, that’s not a typo. Literally, one in five American deaths is related to being morbidly fat. Oh, but our First Lady suggests that our schools offer more veggies and less corn syrup and suddenly people are shouting, “Communism!”

“Stop talking about obesity and just get me a side of gravy and the 90 oz. bucket of Mountain Dew, please! ‘Merica!”

Obesity – 300,000 (per year); Ebola – 1.

If you think I’m just cherry-picking two examples, then I’d like you to do an exercise for me:

  1. Close your eyes
  2. Spin around 10 times
  3. Point at something
  4. Open your eyes

Whatever you just pointed at has killed more people in the United States than Ebola has.

The list of these deadlier things is endless, from malaria and influenza to diabetes and mosquitoes. Any of them are more deserving of a national outcry than Ebola. So either start caring about those things, too, or stop freaking out about a disease you’ll never catch.