The Bare Minimum

Inspired by: Prison Food” (2005) from the Ben Folds’ album Songs for Silverman


This is one of the songs that was on the list of songs that I didn’t really care to write about. I’m not a huge fan of the song, and the title or lyrics don’t immediately trigger something like a lot of the other songs. The song itself appears to be about the end of one of Folds’ many marriages and the isolation felt when something like that happens. Of being alone again.

I’ve written enough about that for now, so let’s focus on the abstract metaphor of the title. “Prison Food” is not about the food itself, but instead about something that is required to be provided but not required to be great. We lock folks up in prison and give them the bare minimum needed to survive, at least when it comes to food.

There’s a lot of parallels to this even beyond prison. A lot of our “politics” can be described the same way: we pay taxes for lots of things, but then the powers that be decide what is “enough” for us to receive in return. Whether it’s school funding, healthcare, Congressional lines… the list is endless. And we are told from a young age that if we don’t like something, we just need to vote.

President Obama famously ad-libbed in a speech “Don’t boo. Vote.” But that’s not fair. We do vote. More people voted for President Biden than any other candidate in history, gave Democrats the control of the House and Senate, and yet… we get nothing. What’s the point of voting when the people that claim to want to help refuse to do the bare minimum to do so.

I’m tired of voting. I just want to boo for a bit.

We are closely approaching the end of the second year of the COVID-19 pandemic. People have been greatly impacted by it, often in ways that are immeasurable. Officially, nearly 890,000 Americans have died from the virus, though I think that number is an undercount personally. Healthcare workers have been on the frontlines fighting the disease and they are tired. Retail workers have also beared the brunt from angry anti-maskers while being paid just above minimum wage in most cases.

Meanwhile, the “Democrat-controlled” Congress can’t pass anything that truly helps. Or extend things, like advance Child Tax Credit payments, that had a measurable impact on child poverty when it was a thing for all of six months. Student loan payments have been paused for nearly two years, but since the economy is “doing so well,” it’s okay to turn the payments back on in a couple of months, even though not having to make payments has been great! I’ve personally enjoyed not paying my student loans, thank you very much.

I’ve been fortunate to have a job that was mostly remote before the pandemic, and shifted to a posture that simply replaces time in credit unions with time at home. Not that I want to be out and about while the virus still rages, but I also miss the additional income that came from traveling, even if it was the $10 a day I’d make from driving down the street to a local credit union.

It seems that there is no additional relief coming, partly because it’s hard for Congress to do anything, but also because most of the people in charge don’t see things as being bad right now. But activists had to push to get an additional couple of months on the student loan forbearance, push to get the Biden administration to send COVID tests to everyone (after they initially said “just buy them and get reimbursed from your insurance” which is stupid because of the administrative burden of doing so).

So pardon me if I’m tired of being told to vote for Democrats to fix everything. They are so afraid of actually leading and doing things that help people that they are likely going to lose at least the House in November if not the Senate, making Joe Biden the lamest of ducks for the last two years of his presidency. Democrat losses in November also makes it more likely that the last guy will run again in 2024 and we’ll be aligned for even worse things.

I guess that’s what “Prison Food” is to me.

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