We are in the midst of a presidential campaign whose rhetoric is becoming increasingly acrimonious; it features distortions, half-truths and frank lies. We are also in the middle of an unparalleled economic crisis that also features half-truths, distortions, and unregulated greed. Who do you trust nowadays other than your mother? We are drowning in bullshit (half-truths, distortions, and lies) and are, sadly, growing accustomed to it. We accept the fact that people can say and do whatever they want to as long as they can get away with it.

This is not just about politicians and bankers; it’s about all of us. Last week I saw a man, probably in his late 60s, park his Cadillac convertible in a handicapped space in front of my health club. He got out wearing spiffy workout clothes and didn’t look handicapped in anyway that I could see. But he has a handicapped plate, so I asked him if he was handicapped. He raised his voice and told me it was none of my business, I didn’t know anything about his medical history, and to shut up. I said I couldn’t see any obvious handicap, and if he didn’t have one, he should stop abusing the privilege of the plate. He shouted at me to stop harassing him; I told him if he felt threatened by me to call the cops, but he ran away into the club instead.

To get a disability access license plate in any state you must have an impaired ability to walk. The criteria vary a bit from state to state, but they’re all quite detailed. You qualify if you are unable to walk 200 feet without having to stop and rest; need an assistive device to walk; have diminished lung capacity (as measured by a Forced Expiratory Volume of less than 1 L); use oxygen; have Class III or IV heart disease; or are severely limited by an arthritic, neurological or orthopedic condition.

It’s this last one that invites the most bullshit. Most people over 50 have some aches and pains, and most have anatomic changes in their bones and joints (a little arthritis, osteoporosis, narrowing of the disc spaces, sciatica, etc.) An x-ray, bone-scan and MRI are going to show something, and you can always find a doctor who will sign the requisite forms if you tell them you’re in chronic pain. But the guy in the Cadillac is running on the treadmill upstairs. He’s not disabled — he’s abusing the system.

The New York Times recently did a cover story outlining this disability scam (September 21, 2008). Virtually every career employee who retires from the Long Island Railroad after age 50 gets disability payments soon after their retirement. Can you imagine a workforce that would have a 90% disability rate? It’s not just the engineers, conductors, or track workers who seek disability payments; management is doing it as well. Most of these people were able-bodied before they retired, but the day after retirement they become incapacitated by their disabilities. The article had photographs of them golfing, sailing and working out.

The disability epidemic is simply another manifestation of a culture drowning in deceit. It has become virtually un-American not to try to get away with as much as you can and, if you get caught, to blame it on someone else. We need to stop gaming the system by lying our way out of our own responsibility, because this bullshit is disabling us economically and spiritually.