A Straight Shot of Politics

A blog from a gentleman of the Liberal political persuasion dedicated to right reason, clear thinking, cogent argument, and the public good.

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Location: Columbus, Ohio, United States

I have returned from darkness and quiet. I used to style myself as "Joe Claus", Santa Claus’ younger brother because that is what I still look like. I wrote my heart out about liberal politics until June of 2006, when all that could be said had been said. I wrote until I could write no more and I wrote what I best liked to read when I was young and hopeful: the short familiar essays in Engish and American periodicals of 50 to 100 years ago. The archetype of them were those of G.K. Chesterton, written in newspapers and gathered into numerous small books. I am ready to write them again. I am ready to write about life as seen by the impoverished, by the mentally ill, by the thirty years and more of American Buddhist converts, and by the sharp eyed people [so few now in number] with the watcher's disease, the people who watch and watch and watch. I am all of these.

Friday, December 31, 2004

The Characters In My Travels

I have written before of my bipolar illness, and one of the unequivocally good things about my last two years has been the people I have encountered because of it. The mentally ill, the poor, the old, and the disabled have little to hide and generally have given over the burden of trying to "fit in" in the interest of timidity or worldly ambition. They are who they are. So there.

They also have generally had to confront circumstances which erode the capacity to lie to oneself. In consequence, even the slowest among them often has more street smarts than the brightest who work in offices, computer cubicles, or classrooms. None of them talk the absolute self-centered nonsense of the ambitious and the well-fed, and what they have to say when they speak is always of interest even when it is mistaken.

The mentally ill, the poor, and the disabled also have real faces and real personalities rather than the desperate visages and personae most Americans try to create in the image of their favorite television show host or newscaster. No intellectual or moral botox exists which they can afford to use to cover up who they are or why they got that way.

Consider "Big Dave" (not his real name, of course) the ex-biker from the Bronx who pulled himself up from drug abuse and a crippling anxiety disorder which first confined him to his room in utter terror and later had him sleeping in churchyards so the police couldn't legally move him on without complaint from the churches themselves.

Six-one and 345 pounds Dave is, despite constantly bicycling all over town (he is a vision perched on a spidery cycle) and working out regularly in a local gym. He used his NYC chops, which he retained intact, to land a gofer position with my mental health job placement agency DIVA (no, the letters are not quite those).

He is really a big sweet teddy bear in his grey locker room t-shirt and graying fu-manchu mustache, ever ready to tell you that he is a "reformed thug" (he has the sharp and constantly moving eyes of one) and to sing the praises of his kindly professors (he got support to get a BA in recovery) as he shows you how to re-do your resume on the DIVA computers. Father was a German-American doorman, taking bribes from the wiseguys for little "services", and Grandfather was a Hitler Brownshirt, so, as he says, he came by his thugdom honestly, despite doing well in the private high school the bribes paid for.

Now he worries how to keep his African-American girlfriend's teenage son working, and on track, rather than on the street, and how to keep focused enough to hold the anxiety disorder at bay when the world is not so nice to him, as it is occasionally not so nice to us all.

Then there is the "Reverend". I don't know his real name, but he stands at the bus stop across from a prominent State government building. He is my height (medium-short) or just a little shorter, a little more rotund than I am, African-American with a fine grey head and grizzled beard, and "ministers" to a small congregation of fellow pensioners in the group home where he lives.

He will hand you a Xerox announcing the services of his "church" and asking you for a donation to help, and will pray over you if you are troubled. He also has a fine singing voice and is frequently in the mood to serenade all on the sidewalk with good old gospel praises of his Lord. Sometimes, when the mood strikes him, he wears a clerical collar and black shirt, but mostly he dresses in his suits of thirty years ago under a broad brimmed fedora if the weather permits.

He is a happy man, sure of his Salvation from God's love, and generally liked by everybody from the State Highway Patrolmen and badged bag-peekers doing terrorist building security, to the bemused bureaucrats copping a smoke outside the revolving doors. I give him a wave of my cane and greet him by his title whenever I see him, and he just beams.

I wish the next man were happier. He deserves it. He is a very ordinary fellow in his early forties with straight black hair and very pale, almost translucent, skin whom you would never notice on a bus except for one thing--his right hand is tiny, functionless, and eight inches from the point of his shoulder. He's the right age for a thalidomide baby, and I suspect he was one.

He has the right, by federal law, to sit in the first seats on the bus, and he will if they are empty. But if full of healthy people, he will swiftly walk by without looking and park himself in the regular seats. He never meets anyone's eyes and you can see in your mind's eye a shimmering carapace all around him from years of being stared at rudely, or not looked at equally rudely and trying to maintain his dignity in consequence. And you can see in your mind's eye that the shell which surrounds him was excreted like an oyster's pearl--in response to chronic emotional discomfort and pain.

Then, of course, there is old Joe Claus, who is as much of a character as any of these others. He gets smiles from many this time of year for reminding them of Big Brother Santa.

And when you see him with his antique cane, the handle wrapped in leather shoelaces, his battered RealTree Camo boonie hat with the Howard Dean button and the blue-jay feather on one side and the Amnesty International button on the other, the off-striped rugby shirt, and the green polartec fleece vest, you might see why Maggie, the receptionist at DIVA, always thinks of him as "my little Leprechaun" (though the small ceramic pot, filled with gold-wrapped chocolates, that I gave her for her birthday might have contributed to it).

When you watch him, on the bus or in front of Starbuck's, quietly reciting Buddhist mantras while telling a mala of bodhi beads with the silver counters on the purple yarn dangling, you might wonder as much about his story as you do about the other eccentric characters who have caught his eye.

The quiet and self-effacing Muslims, like Ali the jolly little African janitor of the building where Starbuck's lives, in the interior court, across from the bank branch, always introduce themselves, ask about his dikhr (the Muslim prayer you count with beads), and always have a friendly wave for Joe when they see him again.

And, of course, there are the smartly dressed lawyers; lawyerettes; brokers; brokerettes; bank loan officers; security guards manning the black marble and polished steel console, with Fox News on the plasma monitors; and the middle-aged secretaries headed out the door with their Virginia burley cigarettes, Bic lighters, and bulletproof faces, passing by as Joe drinks his latte. All of them, without exception, do their very best to pretend that Joe Claus really isn't there.

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How Many Deaths Will It Take 'Til We Know...

...that too many people have died.

The enormity of the Sumatran Tsunami defies comprehension. I have not written of it until now because I have a slow and reflective mind, and the right words in a row do not come to me easily or facilely when confronted with appalling facts, instead of appalling ideas.

It is both a calamity and a tragedy. The calamity is that an immense, unpreventable, and uncontrollable natural disaster has killed, and may still kill, tens of thousands of people. The notion that a "warning system" would have made that much difference is mere whistling in the dark. Forewarned of something on this scale is in no way forearmed. The calamity requires our prayers (if they are sincere) and our help (whether it is sincere or not). Pray, if you believe in prayer, and give, whether you believe in anything or not.

The tragedy is how all of the world not directly impacted by it is responding to it. The calamity is so vast, so terrible, that it should have been treated by all on this planet as a universal catastrophe dwarfing any national or ideological considerations. It really does not matter which country is "stingy" or not. It really does not matter who "takes the lead" in coordinating the relief effort. It does not matter that the private person known as George W. Bush took days to say something about it. And it does not matter that the private person known as Bill Clinton said something about it immediately. It is beyond all that.

But it does matter that several days passed before the President of the United States officially commented on the calamity. It matters a great deal. And what matters about it is what used to be known as "leadership" and "government".

In the past, the moral authority of the United States in the world came from both doing and saying the right thing in a timely manner, without being prodded to do so. This is "leadership".

In the past, the President of the United States and his inner circle were ready to lead on a moment's notice, both saying and doing the right thing in a crisis, conscious that the world depended on that immediate response of leadership. The cabinet officers, the diplomats, the "presidential advisors", and the speechwriters down in the basement were as ready and primed as the Air Force was to get the planes up on 15 minutes notice. This is authoritative, full-time, "government".

Neither of these conditions obtains today. We have a part-time and lackadaisical government without the moral authority to lead the world. And there is one sole cause for this: the United States made war in Iraq without adequate reason and has left it an unmanageable shambles which allows no serious attention to be paid to anything else outside of our borders. I am, of course, giving the current government the benefit of the doubt that they are actually interested in paying attention to anything else.

The tragedy of world-wide bickering over the Sumatran Tsunami has one source: the policies of the United States Government over the past two years. A majority of the world considers us, to some greater or lesser degree, bad neighbors and not moral leaders. I happen to think that they are justified in doing so. But even if you don't, the bad odor in which this country now subsists around the world is a fact, the fact has causes, the causes are in Washington (when they are not in Texas), and the cure for it could be in Washington: full-time government.

The Bush Administration was given a golden opportunity to lead last Sunday, to give immediate evidence that America really is a good neighbor and a moral leader. They blew it. Period.

After being prodded, the United States government will do its best to help, and by bickering over the prodding we will probably prod other governments to do their best, too. We have proved that the world can get along without our moral leadership, and, therefore, without any moral leadership whatever. But it is a lesser world for it.

Maybe in a few years we can fix this problem. We can always hope.

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Thursday, December 30, 2004

So Why Wasn't Christmas That "Merry"?

We Buddhists do not have "holidays" in the same sense that many cultures do. The special days, such as Saga Dawa--the traditional day of the birth, death, and enlightenment of Shakymuni Buddha--are viewed as particularly auspicious days for practice of Buddhist rituals, or of any other wholesome activity, where the merit of so doing is multiplied. But we think of both the New Moon Day and the Full Moon Day in the same way, and an auspicious day to us implies a day where we do more of our real religious work than usual, rather than one where we rest from our labors.

What this means, practically, is that I am one of those pernicious folks for whom "Happy Holidays" means the same thing as "Merry Christmas". One of those folks, in fact, against whom many Christians are "fighting back" (at least on Fox News!) to stem the tide of our innate propensity to bulldoze chreshes in public places and ban Christmas Carols referring to Christ, leaving a parched American savanna of nothing but 50% Christmas Eve sales, Burl Ives singing "Have a Holly, Jolly Christmas!", and department store Santas with particularly cheap and tacky red plush and spectacularly unconvincing false beards. Oh, yes, and one of those folks trying to substitute Kwanzaa in its place!

Now if this seems a little exaggerated to you when applied to jolly old Joe Claus with his real beard and his Buddhist cohorts, you're correct. It is a little exaggerated. It is even a little exaggerated when applied to the other supporters of John Kerry in the last election, who, the pollsters and pundits tell us, believe overwhelmingly that religion should be "a private matter."

But it is a fact that our Christmas this year was far from Merry. And it was far from Merry even on my three favorite Conservative Religious Blogs: The Anchoress, One Hand Clapping, and La Shawn Barber, all of whom, one would presume, are in the vanguard--"muscular Christians" as they used to be called, "fighting back" on Fox News, The Washington Times, and Town Hall, and spreading the Good News of Incarnation and Salvation.

I even noted this to Reverend Sensing of One Hand Clapping:

I cannot forbear remarking that I see very little in the way of "good tidings of great joy" even on the blogs I read that are overtly Christian. They frankly seem subdued even in your Sermons for Advent.

The good Reverend was far too busy to reply, but his Christmas Eve sermon was on the dark, foreboding, and mysterious opening to the Gospel of John, rather than any stories of the Babe in a manger or Wise Men bearing gifts. There are no Christmas carols which I remember on the Word being made flesh, and decking the halls with boughs of holly or burning a Yule Log about it seems a little lese majeste, as if one were to put miseltoe above Christ Pantocrator.

The Anchoress is in the middle of slowly losing a brother to illness and coping with her own stress and grief, and her family's, as a consequence. She suffered what she called a "crash and burn" on the day after solstice--a massive abreaction of tears and guilt in the middle of overwhelming Christmas chores that, were it commonplace for her, I would diagnose as the symptoms of a Holiday Depressive. (For the record, I am inclined that way myself, so such abreaction is not unfamiliar to me.) This has been followed by a bout of bronchitis.

And it did seem to me a cautionary tale of how so many in America work themselves far too hard to "enjoy" Christmas, and have no psychological reserve left if by chance something arises which is not enjoyable.

In Ohio we were lucky, the usual and conventional yearning for a white Christmas was spectacularly fulfilled with a Level 3 snow emergency on Christmas Eve, and I strongly suspect the forced home-bound seclusion by candlelight which this induced prevented many a Holiday Depressive abreaction. There is an old saying--a green Christmas fills the churchyards--which, if no longer literally true, still has profound psychological meaning.

La Shawn's immediate pre-Christmas message and its Merry holiday spirit can merely be quoted without comment:

When liberals lecture the rest of us about helping "the weak and the downtrodden," they're referring to increased funding for social programs, not unborn life. Real charitable. Who could be more weak than a growing baby dependent on his mother for protection and sustenance?
Why does such a profane and perverse "right to choose" trump that? This is the result of backward and muddled thinking in our post-modern times, but so exquisitely human! Back in the day
people were killing babies; today we're still killing babies. People will always kill babies. The reasons vary. Sometimes it's population control or child sacrifice to the gods, etc. Today women cry, "Our bodies, our decision!"

There is poison in all our veins, the poison of a politics which cannot compromise. There is no concorde that maketh merry among the poisoned. Too bad. It would be very nice to have it back.

In 2000, my primary teacher, the Ven. Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche, abbot of the Karma Triyana Dharmachakra monastary in Woodstock, New York, inaugurated a regular ceremony for the new millenium called First Light, which makes the traditional Tibetan offering of many butter lamps, with the merit dedicated to the cause of world peace. He'll be doing it again on January 1, 2005. If you'd like, light a candle and join him. I will be.

Happy New Year.

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Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Of Red America, Wal-Mart, and Starbuck's

I live in one of the towns of the Blue Archipelago, Columbus, Ohio. In the now famous map of the counties that gave a majority to John Kerry, Columbus, Dayton, and Athens, Ohio are forlorn little Blue islands in a sea of Red. Lately, much has been made about the Red America surrounding towns like mine--they call them the exurbs and they are supposedly the growing tip of what used to be called the Emerging Republican Majority.

Whether it is really very Republican or very much of a majority (except in the obvious sense that Republicans have successfully emerged as a majority in national political office) is a matter of debate. But it is unquestionable that the exurbs exist, that they are growing, that they gave critical support to George W. Bush, and that they are definitely different than the town in which I live and from most of the places which we now call Blue.

I go to them to shop at Wal-Mart, because that has been part of the success story of Wal-Mart--build your stores where land values are cheap but rising, like the exurbs. And Wal-Mart is the best metaphor I can find for the Red Half of what is a genuine, but ambiguous, cultural divide in this country and is now playing out in our politics. When I shop at my particular Wal-Mart, in the exurb of Lewis Center, Ohio, just across the Franklin County line from Columbus, I generally get a vente latte and a cinnamon scone at the Starbuck's across the highway.

Starbuck's is the best metaphor I can think of for my Blue little island. For the Starbuck's success story has been to embody the urban values of the Blue, commercially. Starbuck's are everywhere, like tiny Blue consulates and embassies doing diplomatic business (with hip Blue music in the background) in the vast sea of Red.

And it is the fact that Wal-Mart and Starbuck's are both purely arbitrary, commercial, and capitalist fantasies designed to sell goods and make money, and also are, in so many ways, identical, but still delineate our cultural divide, which makes them so interesting and useful as metaphors both of what unites us and what divides us.

I will compare them momentarily, but first I will speak a little of what I (definitely Blue and urban in attitudes and opinions) see in those Red exurbs. I've driven through them quite a lot over the past decade, for they are fascinating, and the most prominent thing about them, defining their character and the people who live in them, is the Dream Home.

The Dream Home is usually on a major state or federal two-lane highway and conveniently near enough to an expressway exit that to reach Columbus takes no more than one hour's commute. It is on a parcel of about 1/4 acre with a corn or soybean field at its back and it is a monument of one family's success in achieving a "quiet" and "rural" lifestyle while still connected to all of our modern urban toys.

You can watch over time as the Dream Homes begin to cluster into two's and three's, the first subdivisions move in, then the first new churches, the Shopping Mall is built (with a Wal-Mart), new strip malls spring up (often with a Starbuck's), and traffic finally congests enough that the old two lane highway is widened to four with more traffic lights, or a new spur of the expressway is built to serve the newly grown exurb.

The people in the Dream Homes (and the exurb itself) are overwhelmingly White. And the motive for the Dream Home is flight from all the diversity of darker skin, non-English speech, clashes of lifestyle and values, and commercial uproar that makes a city. It is a quest for "peace and quiet" which it ultimately futile, for we carry the city with us wherever we go and the Dream Home is destined to become just another house or, because of it's nearness to the main road, the offices of the top real estate agent or insurance agency in the new exurb, which will itself someday be a suburb.

The exurb is a self-defeating prison, with all the minuses of urban life, such as traffic congestion, and none of the pluses, such as interesting people, history, and particular culture. We can see the prisoners of the exurb in both Wal-Mart and Starbuck's. They are paternalistic companies, both, and working or shopping in them is about the work discipline of "service" in uniform.

This is one of the reasons I find murmurs of "boycotting Wal-Mart" among my fellow liberals a little silly--you can no more boycott corporate paternalism and its "padrones" than you can boycott Chinese goods in favor of American ones. In case you hadn't looked, America doesn't make goods anymore.

Whether we acknowledge it or not, we are a country of "associates" and "customers", to give us our names in Wal-Mart, or a country of "baristas" and "turistas" in Starbuck's. This is what is our common denominator beyond the Red and Blue cultural clash, and it is that common denominator, and its criminal waste of resources in pursuit of profit, which is slowly, but surely, destroying our countryside, our country, and our world. And all for a flight from the city and its conflicts which can never succeed and can only impoverish.

The uniform of Starbuck's is one with it's commercialization of the values of the city. Baristas must wear shirts of either black or white or official and logoed red for the Holidays (think of urban, hip, Liberal, "art vampires" at a big city gallery) against which the Starbuck's green aprons will not clash. The discipline is as rigid as Wal-Mart (which it must be for commercial success--nobody "off message") but it is presented in a way which mirrors "socially responsible values", along with the good health insurance and the "support of Fair Trade coffee growers" somewhere in the Rainforest.

The Progressiveness of the paternalism is real, but so is the iron fist of being "on message". It is a pleasant, comfortable place for the Red or the Blue to eat or drink. For the Blue urbanness of its message is satisfyingly low key, the quality of its music is so good that it almost makes you forget that the music itself is "forced entertainment", like the soap operas you are compelled to watch in your doctor's waiting room, and the presence of the rougher and more conflict ridden parts of the city are minimized. Ray Charles is there, but not the culture that made him The Genius, or the private pain of the life and times that put the soul into the music.

The uniform of Wal-Mart is a blue vest, on the back of which is the slogan, "How May I Help You?" It gives me chills every time I see it, and makes me want to spit on the person who thought it up. It is everything that is implied in the words "wage slavery" and is as blatant and nasty as the old practical joke of a "Kick Me" sign in the same place.

Work discipline is work discipline, "on message" is "on message". But in America, I at least, am used to the polite fiction that there is some part of my private person (such as my back) which is not completely purchased by the minimum wage, the polite fiction that I am actually a unique and individual citizen, whose culture and diversity matters in human terms, and not an interchangeable part in a machine, or a robot so automatically servile that "How May I Help You?" comes out of it's squawk box whether anyone is there to address the question to or not.

The Wal-Mart uniform is a complete abrogation of the polite fiction, which Starbuck's conversely attempts to cultivate, that the wage slavery and iron discipline of the service relation is voluntary, humane, and enjoyable.

Think I am overreacting? Then ask yourself how many times you get into polite chit chats with the Wal-Mart "associate" as the regulars like me always do with their favorite Starbuck's "baristas". And how many times do you heave a sigh of relief at having made it into the presence of the doddering "greeter" by the stacked up grocery carts, as you do in anticipation of the treat the barista is about to hand you over the polished marble oval or wood kidney bean at the end of the espresso machine?

Neither of these are the true values of the human beings in Red America or Blue America. And, in fact, logoed Christmas red in Starbuck's shirts and tasteful blue in Wal-Mart vests is an apt detail of the Transvaluation of Values in America. But there is no boundary between the Wal-Mart and the dreary exurb in which it stands and the point of the fiction of Starbuck's is that very boundary. And the true values of Red America are there despite the exurb, while the true values of Blue America are there because of the city.

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Tuesday, December 21, 2004

What Might Be Done

I feel a trifle overwhelmed at the response to the mental illness post immediately below. All of the issues raised, and kindness expressed, cheers my heart and augments my personal hope for recovery. Of the comments below it seems to me that the most useful to develop further was the polite request of "Sherry" that I offer some notions about solving the difficulties we have with health care.

The difficulties as I see them stem from the fact that medical care is a relatively inelastic demand, so what I would call "faith based" free market ideology simply does not result in a pattern of care and costs that further public health, or serves the public interest, as a whole.

We must firmly grasp that we cannot expect the relations between the public and health care to behave, economically, like competing retail grocery chains where consumer demand has some real leverage on long term prices. This is why I think that some degree of unilateral government intervention in the health care market is inescapably necessary--the real question is where, and how much.

Medical care is comprehensive service over time, which is NOT purchased line item by line item, even though a bill can be itemized that way. It is also a service for which the demand is, as I said above, relatively inelastic. When you need it you need it, whatever the price, and when you don't need it, you don't purchase it for fun and pleasure.

As consumers we are divided into two broad groups, the generally sick and the generally well. The paradigm for the generally well is the college population, who are not "insured" while in school, but have access to the minimum medical care they usually need through the school health center, which is funded collectively just like the school library. The paradigm for the generally sick are the folks on Medicare, the elderly and the disabled. Most of the rest of us alternate between these two populations, as our luck inclines.

The generally well can get by with little or no care. But the vast majority of Americans would be bankrupted by being generally sick and having to pay out of pocket for the expenses. This is what "medical insurance coverage" is all about: getting the generally well to pay collectively for what the generally sick cannot pay for out of pocket individually. So what politicians and press persist in mislabeling a "health care problem" is actually a health insurance problem: as American consumers we have the best health care that nobody can really afford.

The cost of insurance to consumers is actually driven up by the intensity of the competition among carriers in the presence of inelastic demand for care. The function of insurance is to cover a big enough pool of consumers to successfully defray the average cost to each. Competition has fragmented the coverage into smaller and smaller pools, with every business, no matter what it's size or capacity, trying to merely insure its own employees, and constantly being duped with premiums that are deliberately made lower than costs in the first year of coverage to entice business, then steadily raised beyond costs to defray the carriers' first year losses.

As more and more people lose health insurance through this process, the amount of "charity care" steadily increases. And this is not just a matter of people with NO health insurance. The number of expense types systematically excluded from health plans as "non-covered expenses" to "cut costs" has steadily risen, as has the pressure to reduce the so called "allowable expense" limits of the services which carriers will pay, and, finally, the benefit percentages themselves have declined. This is at its most dramatic with Medicare and Medicaid, the primary carriers for the part of the population which is generally sickest--the disabled and the elderly. These people also receive a tremendous amount "charity care" of non-covered and "non-allowable" expenses, even though they have some medical coverage.

In my view, this is where government intervention has the most promise. If the government amalgamated all "primary" insurance coverage into a 290 million person pool, funded with tax revenue, with a relatively low benefit percentage (60%-70%), the private carriers could, still, competitively write "secondary" coverage for the balance of expenses at much lower cost to businesses and even at a greater profit to themselves. This is most important. The last thing we want to do with government intervention is to drive the private carriers out of business.

I am much less supportive of government attempts to actually organize the medical care itself. My friends on the conservative end of the spectrum point out repeatedly (and truly) that state-run medical systems experience routine shortages in care supply and long delays in care delivery.

Moreover, the intractable American demand for "choice" in caregivers has to be taken into account. "Free choice" is a part of our culture which, as Liberal as I am, I am loath to lose as any Conservative. It is a deeply emotional American need which all American lawmaking simply must take into account. We might attempt some overall coordination of medical care, but I don't think that, culturally, "national health" systems such as Europe has are for us. Any coordination attempted must proceed slowly, conservatively (with a small "c"), and only AFTER consolidation of the insurance pool has been accomplished and we have seen its effects.

But until we organize matters so that ALL of the generally well pay equally for ALL of the generally sick then the basic problem will not go away: the costs of "charity services" will be shifted unfairly onto those lucky enough to work for companies and institutions that provide health coverage, and shifted unfairly onto those progressive companies and institutions themselves. And this is the major reason why health insurance coverage for ALL of us is slowly, but steadily, contracting.

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Saturday, December 18, 2004

The Reality of Mental Illness and the War against the Poor

I am mentally ill. The particular condition I have is a bipolar disorder, what used to be known as manic-depression. Over the past month, noted in passing with alarm by the Anchoress, one of my mutual commentors, I have been adjusting to a new medication cycle and not posting.

I try to be as open as possible about my disorder. The lingering stigma associated with a mental health condition in our culture is merely fed and made stronger by trying to conceal it from others. What so few really understand is that there is a gradient of what we in the mental health system (I also now work in the system on a consumer-staffed phone line) call both "disorder" and "recovery".

I personally think that my disorder has been with me from childhood, present but undiagnosed, and it did not prevent me from stable participation in society for half a century, until now. It is important to understand such things, and not to respond to mental disorder in oneself or in others with irrational fear.

For the last two years I have been struggling with the fact that my condition has become more troublesome and, finally, openly diagnosed. Three things made this happen, I lost a job in the recession at an age (50) when it is hard to find another, lost my health insurance in consequence, and two other latent medical conditions which both mimic and reinforce mental disorder, Type II diabetes and hypothyroidism, caught up with me in these same two years as a result of advancing age.

The inner experience of the disorder is, for me, the key evidence that the condition has always been latent. I have an iron and unshakable intellect, zoned in the direction of order and organization, a mind that functions in permanent outline form, constantly separating the world into topics and subtopics, major and minor items in a hierarchy. Obsessively so, in fact. And I have noted over the years both that this particular form of intellect is not very common and that most very intelligent people whom I know have minds that do not usually function precisely in this way. Nothing ever disturbs this "outlining" process. It is like some nautical instrument aboard a sailing vessel, a barometer or a GPS, which functions independently of whether the seas are choppy or still, recording data impartially in a calm or in a gale.

My childhood and youth was full of uncontrollable emotional storms, and I think that my intellect developed as it did to compensate for and manage this fact. The evidence is clear and unequivocal, these days, that such uncontrollable emotional affects, far beyond the incidents which elicit them, are due to biochemical imbalances in the brain. And my inner experience of bipolar disorder is one of a rock solid intellect trying to sail my brain and body in an unrelenting emotional gale.

The medicines help, but even these, as they wax and wane in the body, and as their power to damp down the biochemical imbalances expands or contracts, create independent interior changes of mood for which my intellect is constantly compensating. Medicated, I experience my brain and body like someone who drives different company cars every day, with each change of make, model, and year altering the acceleration, the speeds at which the gears change, and the precise location of many of the peripheral controls.

It's a good thing my intellect is stable. I really need it. As an unemployed and/or underemployed mental health client I have had to fight a constant guerilla war with the social service agencies in my town and my state. I am a paradigm case of how the frilling away of the social service safety net under 25 years of mostly Republican rule has been an undeclared war on the old, the sick, and the poor.

I subsisted these past two years, with a serious mental health condition, unable to see a medical psychiatrist who could properly diagnose and prescribe for it. I started out with health insurance, the kind called COBRA where, on unemployment (which is HALF your former salary in my generous Republican state) I had to pay the ENTIRE cost of the insurance which my employer carried. That's right, on COBRA both my premiums AND my employer's contribution suddenly became my sole responsibility on half of what I had been making.

How did I manage to carry it? By running up thousands of dollars in debt on my credit cards, as well as using the left over money from a home improvement second mortgage, while I was searching for work until (having been completely unsuccessful, probably in part due to my undiagnosed and worsening mental condition) the unemployment ran out and I defaulted on both the cards and the mortgage.

Did having health insurance help me? Not a bit. Every private psychiatrist in my town stopped taking private insurance long ago. They now do strictly a cash-and-carry business at $125.00 a session. My entire weekly unemployment check was about $125.00. And then I lost it.

That left me with the social service agencies in the public mental health system. And also the social service agencies that deal with the fact that you can't pay your utilities and you can't afford to buy food while your house in forclosure and you can't afford a lawyer to fight for it.

If I had tried to commit suicide, or lost my wits and started taking my clothes off in a public street and howling at the moon, I could have, finally, seen a shrink--after having been incarcerated for some time, and then booted out on the street fully medicated, but a homeless wreck, whose meds would shortly run out. Then back to crisis center for more incarceration, another round of medication, and another bout on the streets.

I am not exaggerating. On my phone line work I deal with such cases routinely.

By clinging as much as I could to my intellect, I have managed to avoid this. My home is gone, I rent from the man I sold it to, and I have managed to obtain part-time work while I hide from my other creditors (I still don't have enough cash flow to even bankrupt cleanly.) And by persistently demanding care, over and over, I finally managed to get it.

I had to lose one counselor to funding cutoffs, change care agencies, and pull every social service bureaucrat I met into the fight. And I had to cope with the fact that my feelings and my body from day to day, and sometimes from hour to hour, would be an unceasing roller coaster ride from utter exhaustion and suicidal despair to manic motor-mouth wittiness with a high as complete as anything on crack cocaine or crystal meth. But it has finally happened.

I write this blog because it helps relieve the pressure of constant emotional pitch-and-toss in my private life. And I write on politics because I KNOW from personal experience that my political adversaries, whether they admit it or not, are part of a deliberate and calculated war on folks such as I. A war which they cannot win, but which I and my fellow targets can completely lose.

And a war which, in the end, will turn this country into a spiritually bankrupt desert.

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