To Dollar General's credit, it provided health insurance - albeit after six months' employment. That's why Carolyn worked there. And, possibly, it was the high cost of that insurance that got her canned.
Now, like millions of others, Carolyn's between that rock and that hard place: too young for Medicare, too old to suit most employers.
I advised her to run for Congress. It's a dream job, with the best health insurance in the world.
"Yeah, right." She was underwhelmed.
I continued my pitch: The pay is good. About $160,000 a year. With guaranteed increases, an unlimited expense account and a pension plan that beats the sultan of Brunei's. Not to mention an army of sycophants, a big office, a limo and government-subsidized everything.
"Don't you have to be a lawyer or something?" she asked.
Qualifications for Congress are less stringent than Dollar General demands for its minimum-wage jobs.
Be at least age 25 and a citizen.
Have two facial expressions: a smile for corporate contributors and a look of concern for constituents.
No lifting. No stocking. No robberies. And you can't be fired for being too old.
Carolyn shook her head. "Of course," she replied "it helps if you lack conscience and heart."
She would have to work on that.
I'm so old that I can remember when our representatives in Washington sometimes cared about citizens. Back when we had a democracy, Congress often voted with their constituents in mind. Now with most all congressional seats gerrymandered safe - voters don't count. Today's constituents are the corporations that fund campaigns.
In today's Congress the rules have changed.Rule 1: The voter is an idiot
The beauty of the new "Corpocracy" is that even if no one runs against you, corporations give you tens of thousands of dollars. And all you have to do is vote their way.
"What about real citizen problems?" Carolyn asked. "Like medicine for the 14-million seniors without coverage? I'd have to be seriously sleazy to ignore that, wouldn't I?"
Not in today's Congress. Members of Congress once had to listen to seniors moan about how they must choose between eating and taking the medicines their doctors prescribe. As a representative of the people, they weighed the benefits of providing life-saving drugs to seniors against issues such as budgetary restraints, patent policy on taxpayer-developed drugs, free trade with Canada.
"And today?" Carolyn asked.
You wouldn't have to bother your little Congressional red head with such complications. Instead, you simply apply
Congressional Rule 2: Give business what it wants; make it sound like a citizen benefit.
Carolyn seemed perplexed.
In the case of drugs for needy seniors, there's the Medicare Prescription Drug Improvement and Modernization Act of 2003. Sounds wonderful, doesn't it? Who'd guess that it benefits the pharmaceutical companies with a $300-billion windfall profit?
Carolyn winced. "That's terrible!"
No, honey. You've got to think like a member of Congress, and to him, that's wonderful! The 300-billion buys you and your party millions in legal bribes from the high rollers at Big Pharma. Everybody wins.
"Except the voters," Carolyn said.
That's the beauty of the system. Voters get frustrated, feel impotent and stop voting. Already half the country has succumbed. And with every nonvoter, business and its congressional toadies grow stronger. It's the new America.
"Sounds more like America Lite," my wife grumbled. "Geez! To run, I'd have to have any sense of decency and shame surgically removed." She thought for a second and said "Heck, if I do that, I might as well run for president."
What a great idea, I thought. I'd vote for her. Think of the health benefits I'd get as First Guy.
Frank Kaiser is a nationally syndicated columnist who lives in Clearwater. His Web site, www.suddenlysenior.com includes nostalgia, trivia, senior humor and 111 Best Senior Links. Write Frank c/o Seniority, the St. Petersburg Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
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