Sunday, December 12, 2010

And More! Meet Joe, The Gift That Keeps On Giving...

This one speaks for itself, no intro necessary. I give you the estimable Joe:

"Dave has a vested interest in the poor, because they make up his livelihood."

Nice try. The ad hominem attack. Last resort stuff. Joe can't attack my facts, so he goes after my motives and integrity. Classic!

You don't pay attention, Joe. The poor do not make up my livelihood any more or less than they make up an oncologist's or primary care doctor's livelihood. I admit anyone with insurance and a psychiatric problem grave enough to force profit-driven health insurance companies to open their bulging coffers and squeeze out a few nickels for treatment. Unless the patient is blessed with Medicaid, a literal lifesaver for anyone lucky and poor enough to qualify for government-funded health insurance, and they get better care that costs less.

And BTW, I'm sure you didn't know this, but the companies administering not-for-profit Medicaid health plans are the same ones who run the fabulously lucrative private ones. There is no "government takeover of health care" underway. The difference is, a poor person's Network Health Plan has top medicine co-pays of $3. A middle-class worker's inferior, for-profit version of the same plan, using the same doctors and the same medication formularies, have top co-pays of $35. Take three medicines a month and you may be hit with a bill for over a hundred dollars, in addition to your hefty monthly share of your plan's premiums.

You don't listen, Joe. You just find the sources you need to back up your pre-existing, ill-informed opinion, then march into battle.

The people I serve are, I will say again and again, the same as me and you, and I've already said that, but you don't listen. Quote whomever you like.

I'm not Don Quixote. If you insist on being a windmill I'll just have to give up jousting with you.

Hey Joe, I Heard You Shot Your Argument Down (With Apologies To Jimi Hendrix!)

Joe has asked a very good question, straight out of the Gun-Toting Liberal's toolbox for analyzing social problems. He asks, "Who benefits by the existence of a permanent underclass?"

This merry-go-round is going to close soon, as I spent Saturday afternoon in a Quixotic attempt to joust with this human windmill and I don't intend to go around again today. I want to enjoy my weekend before the House Leadership repeals weekends outright as a communist government program.

Ok. Joe asks, so the GTL answers. Here goes:

Nobody, Joe, that's what I've been trying to say. There is no benefit to a permanent underclass, and we should do whatever we can to end it. Why do you always frame an argument in such a way that anyone who disagrees with you must obviously love social pathology and not want to end it?

I’ve been trying to help you, Joe, but you aren't listening. One big problem here is that sore-headed, poorly-defined, anger- and prejudice-based assessments of the problem are not the best starting point. They might work for making fame and oodles of cash for Glenn Beck, Rush Oxylimbaugh, and Bible Spice, but not in the real world.

Why are you getting your information about poor people from ultra-rich media head entertainers? Listen to people who know what they're talking about from first-hand experience. Like me. Hell, if you want a tour of the hated underclass to help you develop an actual first-hand opinion, I'll take a day off and bring you around to the world you have imagined, and you can decide for yourself if the imagined world and the real world align. That'll be up to you. I'll just drive.

Right-wing policies cause far more social problems than they alleviate. So let's solve them. I agree with you 100%. No one benefits from a permanent underclass, Joe, but Officer Krupke was right - no one wants a fella with a social disease.

So let's recalibrate your imagination to to allow a little oxygen and some facts in. Nobody in social services is benefiting like the businessman benefits, unless you consider shelter workers or AFDC social workers on low salaries to be benefiting.

These people don't lay awake at night laughing at the stupid taxpayer. They lay awake worrying if tomorrow they'll come home from the shelter carrying scabies, bedbugs, or worse, as a consequence of doing the right thing and helping not the wealthy and powerful, but the neighbor in need. That, and paying the bills.

I have a masters degree and am the clinical director of a psychiatric hospital program. My education and several thousand hours of training prior to licensing are at least equivalent in effort and sophistication to any financial management training program, but after a decade of success, the money man lives in Larchmont, and I live in Lowell. The finance man, BTW, is a stock character in my depression and anxiety program, and he agrees. What I do is at least as hard as what he does.

Now, I'm not complaining, mind you, and I feel lucky and blessed by the privilege to be trusted by so many people in need and their families. There is definitely a deep spiritual reward. But my Christmas bonus this year, as it is every year, was a ten-dollar Stop n' Shop gift card. Now, I know it'll take more than ten dollars to talk you in from a sore-headed rant, but if you want, I'll give the entire bonus to you if you'll simply acknowledge that you have no direct experience in any of the things you are talking about here.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Feed Me, Joe! (And Feed Me He Does.)

Damn. I really thought I was gonna convert Joe with that last post. Here's the last part of his reply:

If you're offended by my comparison to slavery, consider this. You are spending lots of other people's money on people who, rather than saying thank you, bitch that they want more, more, more. In doing so, you are teaching not how to fish, rather addicting them to your fish. This you call help. If that's help, I want no part of it.

Oh, Joe.

Joey, Joey, Joey.

You are talking about things you don't really know about firsthand. I am trying to help you see. I am reporting to you from the front lines, as a person equal in drive and intellect to yourself, who has taken the time to wade into the world of human misery and dysfunction firsthand.

Please understand: I know dozens of the people you describe, maybe a hundred, of the perpetually unfit. I know them by their names and faces, and by their medical histories, their family histories. By the luck, good or bad, involved in the conditions and situations of their birth. By their communities, their religions, their education. By their exposure to trauma. By their deepest personal fears, their weaknesses and strengths.

Hear me, O Israel! (I sometimes get grandiose. If you don't like it, read no further. I would NOT blame you in the least).



Or on satellites. Or in fiber-optic cables. Or in regular, old cables.

Or in print.

Or in texts.

Or in tweets.

Or maybe it's in all of them, all at once, day and night, forever and ever.

Maybe it's in the sources of information you choose to trust!

These people you talk about, the ones demanding more, more, more of our hard earned money. Produce one. Just one.

These gripes from the Right come over and over and over, year in and year out, but are based on no discernible facts. Lazy non-workers demanding more, more, more. Show me one. JUST ONE.

There aren't any hordes of whiners, and this is not the whiner's "mental recession" Republicans told us it was that we're living through. A million foreclosed homes didn't start with whining, but they sure ended that way. It might look like a mental recession from the front porch overlooking the eleventh hole fairway in Palm Beach. Hell, not only is it not a recession, it's boom times. Biggest bonus years ever down at the office, in fact.

They are even further away from the people they condescend to than you are, so why trust them? Trust a primary source.

Trust the Gun-Toting Liberal!


But you are right about this: there will always be people stuck on or clinging to public assistance. So I think we should address the exorbitant benefits you imagine they receive as they kick their carefree heels down the sidewalk to their Cadillacs.

Food stamps.
Low-income housing at "section eight" rates of a third of their income.
Disability benefits, a thousand dollars a month perhaps, if they can prove they're truly disabled. The system that is used to identify disability fraud, by the way, should be a balm to every conservative's heart. Obtaining disability benefits is extraordinarily difficult, not that Glenn Beck or Bible Spice will ever know that firsthand. I have personally filled out lots and lots of applications and supporting documentation for people who are most often denied "disabled" status. And so has everyone I know professionally. And the story is always the same.

Plus, they have to prove it every year, their disabilities, with written proof from physicians who, I assure you, have a lot more to protect from the consequences of committing fraud than you or I do. Rush Limbaugh probably hasn't hung out down at the social security office, where the people he despises and the programs he derides as wasteful are on public display each and every day of the week. He ought to. He would know what he was talking about, then.

And so would you.

That's about it. Free emergency telephone service, so they can call 911.

Free membership at the YMCA.

A bus pass. Maybe.

Each one of these sorry folks, these gamers of the system, these diseased beings swindling you out of your hard earned pay, is a financial nuisance. A fly. An ant on an elephant's backside. On the other hand, consider the costs of letting them die slowly in the streets, which, you may argue, is their due. And I don't mean the financial costs, which are negligible in a rich country like ours, I mean the costs to our self-respect as a nation.

Indulge me with this. Look at it my way for a moment: tell me about your job and I will trust your expertise, and listen with great due diligence to your insights about it. I will assume, as an intelligent and interested man, you are capable of achieving proficiency in your chosen field and have done so. Sincerely. I mean it. I acknowledge the likelihood that you are not a blight to society in any way, or a burden to the local constabulary, and so forth. An upright man. A Mensch.

Now, please accord to me the same respect.

I know my job too. As well as you know yours, if we're to be mutually agreeable. And there IS a professional field of people whose job it is to interact directly with precisely the people you describe. And I am in that field, and that field is social work.

I know my job as well as you know yours, if we're to be mutually agreeable.

But wait, no.

Come to think of it, you're right.

I'm sorry, Joe. You're right and I apologize.

There IS a seemingly intractable class of Americans who want more, more, more of our hard-earned money, who are never satisfied no matter how much of it they get, who never say thank you, who are "addicting us to their fish."

And you are RIGHT, Man, they're NOT like you and me. They are not hard-working, individually responsible, morally upright men and women like us.

They're out there, all right.

I'll name them shortly, but first I want to rest for a moment with the observation of a very wise man whose name I do not know, who was right when he described these greedy ungrateful, un-American Americans as having "no soul to save, and no body to incarcerate."




Now here it comes...

The images on your TV are just for show. The sound in your ears is a distraction. The fog, smoke. The real culprit is behind the curtain.

It's big corporations, you #@%&#&$%!

Not all of them. Maybe not even most.

But it is the insatiable greed of the wealthiest people and institutions we have that is killing us, not imaginary Welfare Queens.

Hear me from the front lines! Take my dispatch, Goddamn you!

Again, I know the people you are talking about personally. I bid a good weekend to several of them yesterday. Personally, face to face. And with great sincerity, I may add.

I will not stop trying to help you see, Joe.

I believe in you Joe, and all you other Joes out there.

I will not stop trying.

But this is so much fun, who would want it to stop?

Snappy Answers To Stupid Questions (with apologies to Al Jaffee!)

Okay. So. If you read my last post you have some understanding of the debate. Here is, in part, Joe's response to my ideas about fairness and wealth:

"Unhealthy societies cost money as well. Back two centuries ago, during the days of slavery, slave owners had a fairly healthy expense of keeping their slaves fed, clothed and housed. They managed to do it in such a way that the slaves had nowhere to go. Does this sound at all like anything that we're doing today with social programs?"

Well the short answer is no. But the GTL ain't about the short answer. Here's my reply:

Joe, I would find your comparison between slavery and a social safety net odious too, if it weren't so funny. Thanks for the laugh and for reducing your own credibility. That's mighty generous of you! Can you bake me a pie too? Boston creme, please. With lots of creme and chocolate frosting. LOTS of chocolate frosting!

Once again, I am talking about millions of people's lives, not what ought to be, in principle, in a theoretical society. I am a social worker and I understand, directly and firsthand in a way you do not - that is to say through direct knowledge and experience - that there IS a sliver of society that falls into an entrenched pattern of dependency, as you correctly identify. Slaves, if you will. Fine. And they sure are ugly to look at, and not just on TV where you see them. It's been my discipline's mission, and my life's work, to ennoble humanity and end that pattern, but not by throwing a drowning man an anvil and lecturing him on my superior swimming ability.

Here's where you and I differ: Because of these inter-generational failures, the obvious outliers of an imperfect system, a paltry fraction of a percent, you would throw out the whole safety net itself. If your stance is not ideologically-driven, why don't you also say we should throw out capitalism because of the free-markets' own sliver of bad actors, like Bernie Madoff, disgraced by his own greed and with the lifeless corpse of his son, dead this morning from suicide, at his feet?

Asking "should a rich man's dollar be taxed twice (or three times, four, etc)?" is a statement about principles. In practice, while the decision to place a higher tax burden on the rich might make them hot under the collar, it does nothing to their standard of living, though it raises EVERYBODY else's. When the rich were taxed at 90% it was still a fabulous ride, a hell of a lot better than being middle or lower class, and the rivers of champagne and fois gras flowed like water. There were Bentleys and blonde dames and fancy restaurants and vast bank accounts and world-wide jet-setting.

There was also infrastructure and good public schools for the rest of us. There was progress in realizing the nation's mission statement (see: Preamble, United States Constitution). That progress has now been reversed. And the tea baggers, the angry admirers of the Glenn Becks and Rush Limbaughs and Bible Spice Mama Grizzlies, are doing their dirty work for them. The only actual billionaires demanding attention without hiding behind PACs and front groups with names like "Free American Taxpaying Freedom-Lovers for Freedom" are begging the rest of us to take some of their wealth back, for the good of society.

You can't believe in fair play and equality without acknowledging that they are not possible without a level playing field. It's the corruption of that level playing field that the rich intentionally obscure with semiotic sleight of hand when arguing policy. They tilt the playing field themselves and then spend a lot of money to trick the players into sending the referees home.

Unless everyone starts at the same starting line, we should not be talking about the finish line; bootstraps and welfare moms and lazy beggars and so forth. The laziest man on Earth is the one who inherits vast wealth. Everyone knows that. Or more importantly, the rich man knows that, and wants us not to.

I'm tired of people using their government-protected rights to free speech to say government sucks. My government does not suck.

I have treated thousands of mentally ill people. Thousands. And most are not at the bottom of society at all, they're people with insurance cards, like you and me. The ones without insurance - in other words, those with incomes too low to afford it, but not low enough to be saved by the safety net - don't show up. They drink or coke themselves to death in quiet desperation in suburban tract homes that look as intact from the outside as the day they were built, while their owners' lives and our society have hollowed out from inside.

It might've been you Joe, who commented in Miguel's space, "what is it about Liberals and suffering?" If not, I apologize. If so, let's be clear: standing by doing nothing while others suffer is not a sign of high moral character. Worse, continually enhancing the wealth and power of the already wealthy and powerful while AT THE SAME TIME standing by doing nothing while others suffer is just... well... fucked.

Fucked, I say. How ya like my bathos?

Now how about that Boston creme pie?

For Joe, Who Loves Business and Opposes Government.

Joe, healthy societies cost money. You can't have a safe neighborhood, a stable bank account, reliable electric and telephone service, courts that give recourse to the law equally, schools that prepare kids to become responsible and self-reliant adults, clean water, safe medicines, untainted foods... without lots and lots of money. This is the case everywhere. And almost everywhere, people do NOT have these things.

People on the Right tend to talk about taxes in ideals, as in, "it's not the role of government..." or "people shouldn't rely on institutions..." These are legitimate thoughts and are of course true. They also tend to focus on government waste, inefficiency, lousy programs, etc. as areas to tap for needed funds for the legitimate purposes of government.

But in business, if an idea, a product fails, it gets shut down, changed, or the business as a whole fails. In government, there is no luxury of starting over - or failure, for that matter. You can start a business a thousand times. You can fire workers. Increase, decrease, or eliminate benefits. Change prices. Put profits in foreign bank accounts, thus improving the bottom line.

But we started our government once. And we did a damn good job.

A digression, if I may: I am a social worker. I work waaaay down on the ground where the stomachs and assholes (not the personalities, the actual body parts) dwell. It's not enough to say that government should create the conditions for free markets and then get the hell out of the way. We can't fire citizens no matter how poorly they work or how sick or dysfunctional they become. If we try, they end up costing us more, as social failure is far more expensive than even the most generous nanny state. Even the bottom line supports liberal social policies, when spun out over the long term.

The strong will always devour the weak, as in nature. Except that in nature, millions of years of evolution produced the conditions that prevent the shark from eating every last herring (or whatever), whereas in our business world, it's shark eat herring and herring be damned. Only government prevents the annihilation of the herring. You and I are the herring, BTW.

Jesus, can I beat a metaphor to death or what?

Unlike business, every adjustment in government has to be done while the populace experiences the effects of the failures or successes and vicissitudes of daily progress in real, live time. Also, the mission statements of businesses do not include protecting everyone from injustice or providing for the common welfare. It's hard to make a profit without losers as well as winners.

And it should be so. And it is good -- as long as the powerful are prevented from the outright purchase of government - which, I think we can agree, has more or less happened in America. Especially since "Citizens United," a case that was not about citizens but PACs, and no one was united at all.

The Right tends to think of wealth as achieved in spite of, not because of, government programs. If this were true the whole world would be as wealthy as we are, because the one things that separates America IS our form of government and its specific programs. The irony is that the very protections that keep capitalism from devouring itself and collapsing are the ones which the business class hate the most. If CEOs were mandated to consider a business cycle of, say, two generations, as opposed to tomorrow's stock price or next month's financial reports, the society would be healthier and there would be far greater sustainability. Greater equality and social justice would be a by-product.

The petroleum industry is a perfect example of the disconnect. Only by looking at the short term does it make any sense to pursue more and more oil. We know someday it'll be over, but the markets open at 8:00 on Monday and if the business is to thrive, it has to do so NOW. And, as in any war, in business you go to war with the Army you have, as Rumsfeld once said.

Creating a more perfect union and deriving a steady flow of profits are often in conflict. Which is why both the markets and the government have their own experts, their own proven methods. The canard that a successful CEO is by definition a qualified political leader is just that, a canard. Looked at another way, on December 4, 1933, Joe Kennedy was the greatest criminal drug dealer in America. On December 5, 1933, he was a patriarch of a majestic political dynasty. Quite a transformation, except that the only difference was the ending of Prohibition. The man's abilities and qualities were the same.

I have great sympathy for those on the Right, whose answers to tough problems are simpler and more viscerally satisfying. The problem is, as history tells us, when spun out to their logical conclusions, the strong will always exploit the weak until either revolution, monarchy, oligarchy, fascism, or totalitarianism prevail. Good policies that include a robust social safety net and vigorous regulation of business prevent revolutions of the unwashed masses, and keep the CEO safely and happily in his mansion and boardroom.

And that takes lots of money. Dillinger robbed banks because that's where the money was. We tax the rich for the same reason.