Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Not Feeling the Bern

I know I haven't posted in ages, and I apologize, because I'm diving right into politics. So if you're just here for the yarn, you can skip this one.

Because tomorrow is election day, and I'm still undecided.

I think Bernie Sanders is a great person. But the closer I get to election day, the less likely it looks like that I will "Feel the Bern." And I want to. I really do.

And now I'm realizing the reason I don't feel it.

The phenomenon of  "feeling the Bern" seems similar to the fervor over Obama's "Hope and Change". Even though I liked him in 2008, I just couldn't believe in him the way other people did. I didn't believe in revolution.

I voted for Hillary in the 2008 primary, but I liked them both and had trouble choosing one. (Details here. Have I really had this blog for more than 8 years?)

Four years later, I was so thrilled with Obamacare (and other things, of course) that I volunteered for the Obama campaign for the 2012 election. And one of the things I did was call people who had previously volunteered. And over and over I heard the same thing. The previous volunteers were disappointed that everything they thought was going to change didn't. So they were going to begrudgingly vote for him, but they wouldn't be volunteering.

They honestly expected everything to be rainbows and kittens and sunshine from here on out. He was supposed to clean up the entire political system and change the world. And although the Obama administration made some amazing strides, things that made me jump up and down and volunteer my time, they saw it as a failure.

So if you're feeling the Bern, ask yourself, if he gets elected, what will you do in 4 years when the revolution doesn't happen?

And let's be honest, it won't. I'm not saying he couldn't make headway. But we don't have a monarchy in the country. We can't expect one president to solve all our problems, because he or she doesn't have the absolute power to make unilateral decisions. (Don't forget, the president's ability to make change has a lot to do with all those other races on the ballot.) And he may be up against a Republican congress.

But if he doesn't deliver everything he promises, if only manages to get the minimum wage up to $10.10, if college becomes more affordable, but not free, if he spends more time protecting the progress we made with Obamacare than moving toward universal healthcare, if congress blocks him at every turn, even if they agree with him, will you still be behind him? 

Bernie has gotten a lot of people to stand up and get involved. And if he accomplishes nothing else, that's something pretty amazing. But if you're one of those people who stood up, will you keep working for change? Will you keep his legacy going? Because the revolution won't automatically happen just because you elect him.

We don't like to talk about compromise, but that's what Obama did. And I think that's what made him a great president. He managed to make change despite the odds being against him. Think about it. It's been documented that the Republicans vowed to block his policies, even if they were policies their party agreed with. So even though I agree with term limits, I still wish I could have four more years of Hope and Change with Obama.

Back in 2008, I was expecting universal healthcare to be the big fix. But when Obama said in a speech that both sides would have to compromise, I remember deciding that I would be willing to compromise, and take an imperfect solution. I still want universal healthcare to happen, and I agree with Bernie's criticisms of Obamacare. But Obamacare has done so much good. He made a real difference, because he compromised.

I know Hillary is seen as the establishment. She is realism, while Bernie is optimism. And realism isn't as glamorous, but it may be a route for change. And yes, she has baggage. But she also has experience and ability. Which is why her beliefs have evolved, and her promises are more modest. 

As much as I want everything to happen without dealing with lobbyists and donors and making compromises, at some point you have to play the game before you change it.

I think Hillary has been unfair by implying Bernie would tear down Obamacare, but he has talked a lot more about the end solution and how problematic Obamacare is instead of talking about how we'll get to universal healthcare.

If I could ask both candidates a question, I would ask them how they would improve on Obamacare specifically. Would you close the Medicaid gap? How do you plan to do that? What is the next step? Give me just one thing.

Whoever wins, I will get behind. I hope I'll be able to phone canvas again. And if it's Bernie, I'll be excited. I feel hopeful about both candidates. I just don't believe that Bernie can change the world all by himself. But I'll be calling for him four years from now.

Don't forget all the congressional elections in November. A Democratic Senate would sure help Bernie out.

So there it is. You have until Tuesday around 5-ish to make me feel the Bern. Tell me about Bernie's belief in science (more on that below), his plans for health care, etc. Tell me that he will compromise to make change happen. Also, bad mouthing Hillary is unlikely to sway me.

Pandemic Flu and the Intersection of Science and Politics

A friend of mine, Gwyndolyn Jones, posted something very important on Facebook when voting started. Important enough to share:
Today begins early voting in Texas. As such, I have a friendly PSA that I would like to share. 
I want you to think about your most important issue in this election. Is it gun control? Taxes? Immigration? Whether or not Obama should nominate the next Supreme Court Justice? 
What I want you to know is, there is an issue much, much bigger than anything we can come up with. That issue is Science. We can worry so much about the economy over the next eight years or which people have healthcare or guns, but none of this will matter if we don't act now. In fact, if we continue down our current path, we will certainly cease to exist. 
There are so many problems that scientific study and research can solve, but we have to have the funding and resources to do so. I could spend this entire post just rambling on with statistics and facts, but enough people do that on the Internet as it is. Just think about climate change or overpopulation or taxing of natural resources or the end of fossil fuels. Not good enough? Maybe you think you won't be around when changes come to pass, so why care about it? 
Okay, fine. What about this? Remember how the dinosaurs died due to a pesky little asteroid problem? Well, it's a problem we still haven't solved. If we don't up our technology to the point where we can detect and deflect an asteroid, we will still go extinct. Nevermind the fact that we've created new ways to wipe ourselves off the planet - we haven't even solved a problem from millions of years ago! 
I can list a bunch of other issues, like superbugs or mutating strains of influenza or insect-borne diseases that have the potential to destroy society as we know it. The point is, there is only one solution. We must vote for candidates who are scientifically literate and friendly. We must change the face of science education so that our children are equipped with objectively verifiable truths, even if they do not become scientists themselves. Perhaps this means not voting for a candidate you like or one who is running in your party, but if you use your voice to tell the candidates that science is more important than any other issue, eventually they will listen. 
Before anyone gets mad, I'm not supporting any particular party or candidate with these statements. Both liberals and conservatives have done their fair share of damage to scientific research and innovation. We need lawmakers all the way from Congress down to the local officials who will make changes so that we can all continue to live on this planet. 
And if you think that scientists will just figure it out on their own and save all of you when something bad happens, remember that we don't yet have the flying cars or hoverboards we were promised in 2015. But we could have, had science been more of a priority. 
We have the chance to create a wonderful, beautiful world beyond all imagination, and I hope we can all agree to do it. Please, whatever you do, go vote. Thanks for listening to my rant. So much love!"
I have been thinking more and more about this. 

Popular Science called Obama a pro-science president. I'm not saying it's not true, but it doesn't take much to earn that title in this political climate. Just believe what the scientists say, instead of assuming they are part of a vast conspiracy. Then try to fund their work.

Gwyn says it isn't about the parties, but I think the Democratic party is the pro-science party, but we have weaknesses. We freak out over things that don't seem "natural", just because of a small amount of evidence. Taken to the extreme, we get people who don't vaccinate their kids.

Some recent anti-science stuff has been going around lately in places I didn't expect. A democratic friend I have a LOT of respect for, who normally doesn't go for these things, posted a video about a crazy conspiracy theory that involved lots of lying scientists. Another democratic friend talked about the health advice they got from a random stranger at the grocery store that they are more inclined to believe than their own doctor. (They haven't even talked to the doctor yet, but this stranger has convinced them not to take medicine if her doctor prescribes it.)

And all of this has made me reflect on my own little adventure with one of the science topics Gwyn mentioned, pandemic flu, a topic that hasn't been discussed much since the Swine Flu pandemic in 2009. 

I was going to save this stuff for the book I will someday write. But I think this is relevant to Gwyn's point. It amazed me then how little people understood about the science. I dread what I will hear when it comes up again in the national discourse. 

In 2006, they were saying that the Bird Flu was going to be the next pandemic. At the time I was a reporter in Florida, and I ended up doing several stories on Pandemic Flu, attended several meetings of the community and health department on the topic, and even watched a TV movie about a flu pandemic that still scares me when I think about it. They said we were overdue for a flu pandemic, and the next pandemic could be "the big one."

In all these meetings, they were warning us to stock up on food, water and medicine in case the big one stopped normal activities and forced the whole community to stay home. Stores would quit stocking food, schools and work would close, gas would be scarce. Basically, when the big one came, everything would stop because so many people would be sick, and they would be trying to prevent others from getting sick. 

The TV movie was about "the big one", which, for the record, has yet to happen. It depicted the end of civilization as we know it, and while I hope it was an exaggeration, it talked a lot about the things these health department officials were warning about. 

Ironically, despite all this education in 2006, I managed to get the flu twice in the three years I worked at the call center from 2007-2010. 

At first I still forgot to get my flu shot most of the time despite all my education about the importance of it. My family was really good about making us all get flu shots, so I hadn't had the flu since elementary school. But it wasn't until the I missing my flu shot resulted in me getting the flu, and dragging myself to the pharmacy with all the fever and aches to pick up my own Tamiflu prescription, and using my precious Paid Time Off, that I vowed to never, ever, ever miss my flu shot again.

In the fall of 2009, they were talking about pandemic flu again. This time the Swine Flu, H1N1. The pandemic we were overdue for. Now I remembered all those meetings. And like I had vowed, I got my flu shot nice and early. But that was the year everyone needed two shots, one for H1N1 and one for the regular flu. And they were rationing the shots because of the shortage at first. Babies and pregnant women only. 

During that time I got the swine flu, and I had trouble breathing. When I called my doctor, they were full because, well, there was a flu pandemic. And when they heard I had trouble breathing and a history of asthma, they suggested I go to the ER.

I was trying to protect my family, who also had not had their H1N1 shot. So I took myself to the ER. And then the next day I took myself to the pharmacy to get my own Tamiflu prescription, just like I had done before. And everywhere I went, everything I touched, I thought about that stupid bird flu movie that I had watched and how I was going to kill us all.

When I recovered and returned to work, I realized that ridiculous myths were going around the office along with the flu.

1. People talked about how they didn't need the flu shot because of their immunity. They were healthy and ate their broccoli, not weak like me. Everyone is overreacting.

Maybe you are a little less likely to get it, but you have a chance to stop the spread, and you're wasting it, even if it isn't a pandemic. If you don't take it, you are increasing the chances that babies, little old ladies and asthmatic knit bloggers will end up in the ER. 

I hope you get the flu, have to drag yourself to the pharmacy with all the aches and fever to pick up your own Tamiflu and use up all your own Paid Time Off.

For the record, I'm a big fan of broccoli.

2. Others said we should all be washing our produce with diluted bleach and healthy people should be wearing gloves and masks to the grocery store. Everyone is underreacting.

Diluted bleach on food? Is that safe? This is probably overkill unless you have a major issue with your immune system. And stuff like this is why so many people do nothing at all. It looks like hysteria, and they tune out.

3. Several said the flu shot gave them the flu.

Flu shots sometimes miss their target, but they don't give you the flu. You just remember the one year you got a shot and got the flu, and not all the years the shot worked.

4. They said the flu mist they had for kids was dangerous because the kids would inevitably sneeze or pick their noses and kill us all.

If you don't believe me, I'm sure we can arrange for some little kids to turn you into a human tissue at the next flu mist clinic. Then you'll see.

5. Worst of all, on Facebook, parents of newborns, for whom they had rationed the vaccine, thought it wasn't safe. I had the flu, so they could have vaccines for their babies (I don't remember the exact recommendations for babies) and they didn't want to get them.

You really think the CDC is lying about this one? That they would hold it for you if it were dangerous? Or if it weren't worth the risk?

I know it must have been scary having a precious delicate baby something that has so many myths surrounding it. But calm down and trust the science, for the sake of your delicate, precious baby.

So this is just one of the many science issues Gwyn brought up, and it could be the end of us all. Especially if congress believes the myths above. Then we won't be ready when it happens, and while it probably won't be the end of society as we know it, it will surely be a mess, and lives will be lost. 

And I can just imagine it. 20-30 years from now, we are heading for the next pandemic, and congress is holding up vaccines and refusing to make plans because they believe in the myths above, and surely others Rand Paul will come up (He's a doctor, you know.)

If the (non-existent) dangers of flu mist come up again, perhaps we can Rand Paul and some other Republicans to participate in my human tissue experiment.

And for the record, I haven't missed a flu shot since 2009.