On this Labor Day, the fullest definition of economic equality and fair wages is on my mind. While on the subject, I’d like to pursue a related issue that has lately been front and center. While we continue to debate the role of marriage and what it means to us today, I thought I’d contribute a different strain of discourse to the already deeply rutted road. Most prevailing trains of thought opposing same-sex marriage tend to see it in only one of its many incarnations over the eons. Opponents of marriage equality take a rose-colored glasses interpretation of an earlier era that probably never really existed. Imagination can be deceptive. The sacred institution was only as sacred as each individual couple regarded it. These arguments presume that the impetus and motives of marriage were basically the same across the board and throughout the centuries.
Sep 06 2010
Mar 01 2010
I again write today about what has become a completely inadvertent, but nonetheless growing series of personal anecdotes which reveal both the depths of our broken medical system and the shocking limitations and abuses of a system of social services designed to care for the poor and disabled. In so doing, I have uncovered a tremendous number of objectionable practices that would never be considered acceptable among the more fortunate. Established policies designed to assist and give comfort instead punish the genuinely needy. For example, in the process of applying for a variety of safety net programs, I have been threatened with complete termination of coverage if I didn’t follow every step exactly as requested and in a supremely timely, if not obsessively punctual fashion. In some states and municipalities this sort of conduct would be not just be bad form, it would also be against regulations. Not here.
In the District of Columbia, no one apparently sees the problem in treating low-income and disabled residents like criminals. To make my case once more, let me provide a bit of backdrop. The District is a very unusual place in lots of ways. Though technically it is merely the physical location for the seat of national government, it is governed as a kind of odd mix between a state and a city. Like most American cities, its population consists of an often uncomfortable combination of the affluent and educated, most of whom are relatively financially secure whites, and a core of heavily impoverished and undereducated residents who are usually black. If DC were a state, and much larger based on surface area alone, there would be more of a middle ground between the have-everythings and the have-nothings, but this is simply not the case here.
The District contains its own particular system of distributing food stamps, low-income medical insurance, prescription drug coverage, and providing disability benefits to those unable to work. In roughly six months of trying to work a system that is both ridiculously ineffective and unnecessarily complex, what I have come to realize is that it is also a system based on punitive retribution, which is neither fair to applicants nor particularly effective to everyone. With every step of the process, regardless of what it might be this time, the necessary paperwork I was provided screamed out in bold, block letters, often capitalized lest I overlook it, that I better fill this latest form out perfectly and as soon as possible, else I’d find myself without anything at all.
The existing system itself is so unwieldy that I have often been provided incorrect, or at best inexact information. I don’t fault those who gave me wrong information because learning all the particulars takes months, if not years, and turnover in social service agencies is often quite constant based on the fact that the job promises low pay and high stress. I was, for instance, told that I would only need to re-apply for food stamps once every six months. However, within two months I received a letter in the mail, one printed so cheaply and faintly that often reading the words was a challenge, specifying that I needed to re-certify how much income I was currently making, else I be denied next month’s allotment. The return envelope was just as difficult to read and after affixing a stamp to cover the cost of postage, I took the time to write out by hand the return address, else some postal carrier not be able to discern its destination.
The implication of this was quite clear. The instant I could be have my monthly allocation reduced, or even trimmed from the rolls altogether, the better. I do certainly recognize that we’ve all been hurting and will continue to suffer so long as this recession, or at least the lingering effects of it doggedly persist, but I hardly think the solution is in weeding out those who depend on these services, particularly since so many of them are the very definition of working poor with their own children and families to support. When I had the benefit of an increased income and decent benefits, no one ever made me certify that I still needed them. I was trusted, for the most part, to not abuse the system. Now, I am automatically suspect.
The low-income health care coverage I use via the District’s own program is sufficient, but hardly convenient. After filing for disability, I assumed once granted it that I would also receive Medicaid. Medicaid, while it certainly contains its own limitations, still provides a greater sphere of coverage than the DC program. Medicaid would allow me to have my prescriptions filled at a conventional pharmacy like a CVS, Rite Aid, or Walgreens, whereas the only way to get my medications via the other coverage plan is to visit the sole pharmacy in the District that stocks the drugs I require on a daily basis to maintain my health. It is located in a tremendously inconvenient part of town to get to, based on where I live, and it takes thirty to forty-five minutes via public transportation to arrive. Often I end up expending the better part of a morning from start to finish once one factors in sitting in a waiting room, trying to be patient while the drugs are filled. As it turns out, no one told me that according to District-only procedure I needed to apply for Medicaid separately and go through another time-consuming process. Of course, this is a means of saving money and reducing cost on their part, but in my opinion, it is silly to assume that someone who is DISABLED and has to subsist on a minimal monthly allowance wouldn’t need basic health insurance as well.
To chalk this up to something as relatively straightforward as racism, classism, abelism, or the like would only be confronting a small sliver of a larger problem. I fault those who set policy in the first place, whomever that might be. To return to my own struggles once more, I believed originally (and even wrote in an earlier entry) that one of my medications was available to be filled at the low-income on-site pharmacy, though there was often a substantial delay in getting it in stock. As it turns out, I was once again told wrongly. The drug is not stocked at all because with it comes the threat of a hypertensive crisis if very specific dietary restrictions are not adhered to exactingly. Obviously, no one wants the bad press or potential lawsuits that might transpire if a patient had one of these (or if, God forbid, he or she died as a result), and this goes for doctor and District government alike. But to be deathly afraid of litigation, regardless of how baseless it might be doesn’t so much reflect upon a problematic legal system as a complete lack of basic trust and compassion for our fellow beings. We could make sure that frivolous malpractice lawsuits were minimal, but unless we get to the reason why people file them in the first place, any legislation passed into law will not achieve its purpose.
Returning again to my medical situation, the particular medication I take is absolutely essential to assure my continued basic functionality and it works so well that the difference between not being on it and being on it is like night and day. That I am able to manage the restrictions competently speaks partially to my willful desire to stay healthy, but also that I am educated enough to recognize what foods I need to avoid and to do my research accordingly. The assumption in not stocking the med, regardless of whether or not it could really help someone in need, is that a person with barely a high school diploma, having grown up in utter squalor and with all the problems that result from it might not have the same capacity and level of personal responsibility as me. Yet again, here we have a punitive, blanket response when basic compassion and an examination of people on a case-by-case basis would be much more effective. Once more, we opt for the quick fix instead of really examining the full picture.
As for whether Congress will pass health care legislation, I’ll leave that never-ending speculation to someone else for today, at least. What I do know is that whatever reform measures we pass will need to take into account whether we treat fellow human beings as numbers, money drains, or as only waiting for the next opportunity to take a mile once we grant them an inch. We certainly don’t seem to wish to grant anyone who we perceive as other than us the most basic of trust, nor do we take into account that all humans make mistakes, are fallible, and aren’t perfect. We read about drive-by-shootings, petty crime, and drug deals and think that anyone born into such circumstances must be guilty by association. Fifty-two years after the film Twelve Angry Men was released, we’re still stuck in that same way of thinking.
Juror #8: Look, this kid’s been kicked around all of his life. You know, born in a slum. Mother dead since he was nine. He lived for a year and a half in an orphanage when his father was serving a jail term for forgery. That’s not a very happy beginning. He’s a wild, angry kid, and that’s all he’s ever been. And you know why, because he’s been hit on the head by somebody once a day, every day. He’s had a pretty miserable eighteen years. I just think we owe him a few words, that’s all.
Juror #10: I don’t mind telling you this, mister. We don’t owe him a thing. He got a fair trial, didn’t he? What do you think that trial cost? He’s lucky he got it. You know what I mean? Now look, we’re all grown-ups in here. We heard the facts, didn’t we? You’re not gonna tell me that we’re supposed to believe this kid, knowing what he is. Listen, I’ve lived among them all my life. You can’t believe a word they say. You know that. I mean, they’re born liars.
Juror #9: Only an ignorant man can believe that… Do you think you were born with a monopoly on the truth?
Oct 19 2009
I’ve recently relocated to the Washington, D.C. area. In so doing, I’ve recognized the vast amount of good that can be accomplished with a combination of concentration of wealth and an educated populace situated in one precise location. The all-important achievement of critical mass proves itself essential yet again. Still, I have to say that I won’t ever be inclined to take these gifts for granted, like so many in this town seem inclined to do. Growing up where I did, even in the suburban South, I was raised without certain benefits and expectations upon which residents in this city would pitch a fit in protest if they were ever not provided. For example, I did not have the ability to utilize adequate public transportation. Nor was I inundated with places to purchase organic produce or earth-conscious consumer goods. I was never reminded to bring my own reusable grocery bags to the supermarket. Walmarts were never banned, instead they were embraced. Republicans were the people one lawn over, not someone miles away far removed from the hustle and bustle of the city. Likely some family in the neighborhood refused to celebrate Halloween, leaving two bowls full of untouched religious literature instead of candy, thoroughly disappointing trick o’treaters in the process.
Every day on my way back and forth to do daily errands, I wade through a stream of college students whose parents must overwhelmingly well-off. I know the parents must be, because these students never seem to have to work and I doubt they could afford the things they have on a waiter or waitresses’ salary. Their privilege shows plainly, down to their expensive clothing, high-priced accessories, and nonchalant, dismissive attitudes. Despite my best intentions, I admit with no small discomfort that I find it hard not to resent them. In my own college days, admittedly still not that far in the rearview mirror, I recognize some slight similarities between them as they are now and the person I was a few years back, though the differences are far more glaring. In seeking to avoid building my own personal mythology upon a foundation of smug superiority or paternalistic moralizing, I instead share my own story.
Though I was a scholarship student, my full college tuition was awarded on the basis of my being disabled. Though there had been ominous rumblings ever since my birth, namely that I was a frequently sick child, the proper onset of my illness did not arrive until midway through high school. After frequent, lengthy hospitalizations and other disease-related distractions, my grade point average plummeted. Until then, I had been on track to go to more than a few schools whose very names themselves connoted mystical respect and unquestioned prestige. However, by the time college appeared on the horizon and emerged from my latest pleasant hospital stay, I only qualified for in-state offers. As such, I made my final decision purely on the sensible basis that I ought to stay close to my doctors, since it was highly likely I’d need extensive treatment in the near future. In hindsight, it was a wise decision, and one that proved to be correct, but to this day I have a hard time choking back my bitterness. How I would have loved attending a prestigious school in a solidly blue city!
At the time, I didn’t realize that often the quality of instruction and educational merit of colleges and individuals isn’t vast, especially since college success is directly proportional to what one puts into it, but what cannot be discounted in the least are the networking opportunities that arise from attending a well-connected school. What has made my recent job search difficult is that I simply did not have the opportunity to attend a noteworthy college or university. I do recognize that this fact is due to external factors upon which I had absolutely no control and, as such, it’s not like my own laziness or academic underachievement are to blame. Still, in this abysmal job climate, who you know, or who you know who knows someone who will go to bat for you is much more important than achievement or merit. This is especially true in politics and probably has always been.
For example, my tenth grade English teacher became Laura Bush’s press secretary based on having been in a sorority with someone’s daughter, whose father happened to be a well-connected Republican. On the Democratic side of the ball, I note that this past weekend I attended a huge house party held not far from Capitol Hill. Most of those who attended were Hill staffers, and though it would be a vast oversimplification to state that most of them clearly had not gotten their jobs based on their intellectual prowess alone, they did give every impression of being of the former frat boy persuasion. One could also safely wager that they had achieved their positions in much the same fashion as my former teacher. I need to point out here that those of us who believe in government’s inherent capability to skillfully, and competently solve a multitude of problems might have emerged somewhat less certain of it after spending a few hours uneasily rubbing shoulders and listening to conversations.
Andrew Jackson was the first President to advance the spoils system without any apology for the procedure, but I doubt he was the first to utilize it to reward supporters and well-connected constituents. A rather large and glaring discrepancy exists between the system as it is and the one upon which we place our full trust. Over the years, a multitude of reforms have been passed to level the playing field, which include everything from Affirmative Action to campaign finance reform, but regardless of intent, interpersonal connections or the lack thereof circumvent our best intentions. To some degree, it’s understandable that we function in such a way. Anyone in a management position will feel more comfortable hiring someone whom he or she knows he or she can trust or whose good name can be reliably vouched for by someone he or she knows personally. Even so, it’s people like me who never had the ability to make those sorts of connections in the first place who end up shortchanged. Nor is this a system that leaves out purely the disabled.
Many highly-qualified candidates get shuffled to the bottom of the deck automatically. If they do not have an in to the established network, then they are much less likely to make it past the very first step. Nor is this regrettable situation solely applicable to job seekers. It wasn’t until I moved here that I realized how overwhelmingly the Northeast corridor shapes so much of our national discourse and our national identity. I have observed that those in the news business at times express a justified consternation at the kind of unilateral narratives that are advanced by the Washington-to-New York pipeline at the expense of the rest of the country’s news agencies. Sometimes these mini-narratives hold water but often they prove themselves to be not quite as notable, nor as important as they’d like to believe. Even as a child, I recognized how even the stories and historical anecdotes found in the textbooks I read in elementary school focused heavily upon the cities of the East Coast, as though by implication they themselves were all of America. If the South, by contrast, was ever mentioned, one either read of a romanticized notion of chivalry and gallantry nearly a century out of date or as an invocation to hear again of the shameful history of a racist past—a past never allowed to be forgotten. At times I feel a sort of kinship with modern day Germans, since I imagine they are never allowed to forget about the Holocaust, either.
As for the problem between the favoritism we have and the meritocracy we believe we have, this is a disconnect that will not change so long as the existing power structure does not recognize the problem and does not make the needed internal reforms. Much like the entitled rich kids I file past every day, I doubt most even contemplate their own complicity in a system that, if they ever were questioned about it, they would wholly justify by saying that they were merely the latest to inherit it. Like so many institutionalized and enmeshed inequalities, few feel any compulsion whatsoever towards reform because few give it serious contemplation. If you’d like my unvarnished opinion, I think that until we get this particularly unfortunate discriminatory practice under control, we’ll run into complication after complication in every other reform measure we push. It has been my experience that the most virulent ills are not the ones we can plainly see, but the overarching underpinnings and framework that are common to everyone, regardless of identity group or leaning. The basic premise of preferential treatment is not necessarily unjustified, but when we assume that brand name, family name, or college name trump everything else, then we run into massive problems. The clothes do not make the emperor.
Dec 18 2008
Yesterday another Class Action Lawsuit was presented this time at the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, the previous was presented a few months back in California federal court on complaints from Veterans of OIF and OEF, and others, as to disability payments delayed and or denied.
When we returned from Vietnam many of the Vietnam Vets, needing care at Veterans clinics and Veterans Hospitals as well as attempting to file and receive disability benefits of already diagnosed Occupation Theater physical and mental ailments went through much of the same treatment. Those coming back and developing very serious ailments from coming in contact with heavily sprayed area’s of the Defoliants, mostly Agent Orange, were not only denied benefits and treatment the Government and Chemical Companies Denied they were hazardous to humans. We are going through the same All Over Again.
Oct 24 2008
With other recent news on Veterans and still active Military Personal following this Shout Out for not only Veterans participation but for those not Sacrificing, civilian population, to get more involved with the issues, it’s past your time, that face those who Serve You when serving in our Military and especially after Their Service is over!
Aug 13 2008
There are perhaps 15 or 20 moments in anyone’s life that are memorably perfect. This is about one of mine, which was made possible by a young woman I only knew for four weeks and whose name is Christine.
The college I was lucky enough to attend divided the academic year 4-1-4. We took four courses in the fall, and exams before Christmas break. After the holdays, we came back for four weeks for an intensive course in something in which we (and the professor who taught it) were really interested. The alternative (which we encouraged to do at least one year) was to spend those four weeks doing volunteer work. During my junior year, I traveled to South Texas to spend those four weeks volunteering at a state home for children and adults with significant to profound mental disabilities.
Jul 04 2008
I find it real hard to believe I am the only one this happened to. So please read. if it does not apply to you, and you have no comment, then please go ahead and enjoy the novelty of the problem. It’s long, but it’s fun, unless it’s you,
To preface, because it is now apparent that I owe these guys no Courtesy, the following has been sent for review to :
a/ My family and friends.
b/ The local paper.
c/ The local grapevine.
d/ Representative Defazio.
e/ Representative Conyers, via his blog.
f/ Senator Wyden
But it has not yet been sent to the Department of Education, because they won’t give me their email, and my printer is kaput. Tuesday the Library is open. Then I will burn two copies, one for the bad guys, the other for the local Senior and Disabled Services Office. This gives some time to change the letter, make it better. And that is why I am asking for input.
Thanks all, and with no further ado, on with the show !
May 05 2008
cross posted to Docudharma, Dailykos, Turn Maine Blue and VetVoice from Military Spouse Press, http://www.milspousepress.com/
I began writing a response to NamGuardianAngel’s article below this one, http://www.milspousepress.com/… and it became a MEGA comment.
I also realized that the information was too important to you as a military spouse to contribute as just a comment. I had to ensure it was read by the maximum number by making it a stand alone Editorial Page contribution.
Hopefully, what is discussed will never affect you personally but statistics, studies and history prove beyond any doubt that they will affect a high percentage of military spouses.
PLEASE do not wait. Take action. If not for your soldier, yourself, your family, then for the other military spouses who will be affected by this.
Mar 02 2008
What do those three words really mean in this ever so Rich, Powerful, and Patriotic Country of Ours, not to mention Supposedly Christian as well?
Is it just the mouthing of?
If a politician, which some call a profession, is it the wearing of a Flag Lapel Pin?
I have one I wear on my Veterans For Peace ballcap Turned Upside Down!!!
Is it little cheap Magnetic Yellow Ribbons that have those words printed on them, and seem to have rapidly disappeared?
We once had a conflict, we have ‘The Wall’ of remembrance of 58,000 lives lost in that conflict.
The one we, as a Nation, stated we should never forget the lessons of, and Quickly Forgot The Lessons Of!
Jan 22 2008
Instantly blocking All view out my windsheild and caking on my wipers. Turned around, as I was only a few miles from home, hit a few icy road spots on the way but made it back, I drive a Van loaded with tools, not great on icy country roads.
Temps still sitting at 32 so I’m going to post up the latest Veterans for Common Sense newsletter, it’s another Eye Opener.
Someone may want to take the information and give a more in-depth report, than again maybe not.
The VCS Release:
Jan 19 2008
Thursday was first day of classes, Day #2. School actually started on Wednesday, but of course we only met the students and teachers in our classes that meet on Wednesdays.
So I walked into my morning class…Computer Literacy at 10 am…and watched as my students slowly arrived, making myself useful by passing our syllabi.
I was not expecting anything out of the ordinary…such as, for example, all the students to show up on that first day of class. I was hoping for something bigger than 50%. In fact, ever single student registered for the class was in class and seated by 10:05.
The students helped me up from where I had fainted from surprise (no, not really). Then one of them called me over to her computer station and informed me of a problem. “I am visually impaired,” she said. “So am I,” I said. “What can I do to help?”
Oct 12 2007
Here is Dennis Shulman’s story about living as a blind man in a sighted world.
It’s a moving and honest account of his struggle to not only live with but transcend his disability.
And it’s about how and why his disability is leading him to the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives in 2009.
To learn more about Dennis check out Shulman for Congress.