Mega Billions

There is a billboard on my morning commute that I can’t help but notice every day.  It’s new, only put up a few weeks ago, and its timing couldn’t have been planned better.

It’s not this one, but it looks just like it.

It’s for the Mega Millions lottery, and it updates at least a few times a day with the current jackpot.  This morning, it stood at an absurd $1.6 billion.

(Aside: nobody’s even thinking about the PowerBall, which is also at an absurd $620 million.  But who cares about that when there’s over a billion right over there…)

I hate thinking about money.  The more I do, the more unhappy I feel about my life.  It’s dumb.  I make a decent wage and live comfortably.  But every time I drive by that gorram billboard, my mind starts to wander.  I don’t need a billion dollars.  Hell, I don’t want a billion dollars.

But what if?  I could solve a lot of problems immediately.  What could I do with that kind of money?

First of all, pay off my immediate outstanding loans — student loans and my car.  I don’t have credit card debt because I’m a responsible millennial.  Now I’m only down a couple tens of grand.

Secondly, I’d have to buy a house.  Looking forward, that’s the only major expense that’s ever on my mind.  If I had a couple million (thanks San Francisco), I could have nearly any property I wanted, mortgage free.  Of course, I live pretty humbly, so I’d probably just buy a house near where I live now and renovate the shit out of it.  I don’t need a mansion on Pacific Heights or Sea Cliff.  No thank you.  In my neighborhood, a beach bungalow will still cost almost a million.  Yeouch.

Thirdly, I’d probably pay off any debts my family has.  I mean, why the hell not?  I’m not going to use a BILLION dollars.  Who knows what that number is — let’s just say it’s a million dollars for simplicity’s sake.  (I’d hope it’s not…)

After those three things, it gets complicated.  Should I continue working?  Probably, if only to keep my mind active.  Find something and do it for the love.  I could cut back on hours, spend more time improving myself.  Maybe I’d even go to the gym since I could afford a membership!

I’m getting off track.  With that sizable a sum of money, I could continue to live well within my current means off of capital gains and interest alone.  Find some promising investment funds and throw down a few million.  Then put half of the remainder in accounts for my potential children.  Even after taxes (which is estimated to be around 66% of the total), by my count I’ll still have, oh, just a few hundred million dollars left over.

I can’t even fathom having that much money.  It feels like more of a headache than its worth.  Once I reach the threshold for a comfortable life in this wildly unrealistic scenario — with major future expenses accounted for and a decently large travel fund, plus the ability to live off of interest, basically — I think I’d have to give the rest away.  Build a hospital.  Fight climate change.  Maybe buy a few persuadable politicians…

That kind of money will corrupt a person.  It’s perhaps the greatest problem afflicting our society at the moment.  I’d like to think I’d be as responsible as I’m claiming to be, but I can’t be sure.

I hope whoever wins this jackpot is more prepared for their fortune than I am.

Vote

Elections are the cornerstone of democracy.  The right to vote is a privilege enjoyed by too few in this world, and exercising one’s voice in society is a duty of which too few who have the right take advantage.

I voted for the first time in November 2008, for Barack Obama as president.  I don’t recall for whom else I voted; hell, I’m not even sure if I was registered at my parent’s home in Western New York, or at one of my college addresses Upstate.  Given that I clearly recall filling out my absentee ballot in a thrilling statistics lecture, I’m going to go with the former.

In November 2010, I was a few months into my senior year of college.  I did not vote.  Midterms were simply not on my radar, and I had college senior… stuff to do.  But midterms aren’t on most people’s radars, and those of us on the more liberal side of the political spectrum are these days paying dearly for our abstention that year.  Two long long years later, having moved to and registered to vote in California, I stood in a short line on a chilly Tuesday morning at an apartment complex just up the road from mine.  I again voted for Barack Obama, as well as for Dianne Feinstein as my senator.  (I am appreciating the hell out of both of them these days…)

Looking back, I’m amazed at how much my life changed from 2010 to 2014.  I was graduated from college, gained a job, moved across the country, lost a job, gained another, and finally settled into an illusory stability.  What didn’t change, though, was my habit of not voting in midterm elections.  2014 came and went: California (re)elected a Democratic governor, the House of Representatives stayed Republican, the Senate swung extremely far to the right, and again, we on the left are paying for our abstention.

2016 was hell.  Politically, things felt different for the worse, and the events of that excruciatingly long year marked a major change in my own perspectives.  I voted not only in the general election for President (as was typical), but also in the primaries in June.  It felt good.  I felt powerful.

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Making history. #Vote #ImWithHer

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Then the results rolled in that night.

Now we’re in the sunken place.

From now until forever, I’m voting in the midterm elections, as well as state and local elections in odd years.  I cannot afford to abandon my civic duty any longer.  As a Californian, my vote doesn’t matter much on the national stage — my senator is guaranteed to be a Democrat (and likely to remain Dianne Feinstein), and my representative here in San Francisco will no doubt continue to be Nancy Pelosi.  What I can do is run up the margins on national Democratic candidates, as well as keep the state governorship and legislature in the blue, not to mention support ballot initiatives and elect local representatives to continually improve California and the Bay Area.

If there are a few thousand more people like me, people who’ve never voted in midterms before but are so shaken now that they’re 100% permanently done being on the sidelines of democracy, then come one month from now we’ll be saying hello to a Democratic House, and, maybe if we get a miracle, a Democratic Senate.  That’s the only way we can hope to begin to get out of this every day existential nightmare.

Staying home is not an option.  The deck is stacked against progressives, liberals, minorities, women — basically anyone who isn’t a white man.  As a white man myself, this is completely unacceptable.  Fortunately, the best way to unrig the system is to overwhelm it with progressive turnout.

I’ll be doing my part on November 6th; I hope you will too.