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.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

The Ill Wind Blows Nobody Good

A bitter wind was blowing through the canyons of Downtown Columbus yesterday morning. Winter is calling. The headline news was horrible for Ohio, layoffs for 30,000 and plant closings by General Motors, speculation as to how many others will lose jobs in Ohio among the subsidiary manfacturers supplying GM, and a bus strike looming in Columbus--a terrible prospect for many of us who are "working poor" and simply shut out of automobile use. If the busses do not run, many of us will lose our jobs, too.

Another step in the slow devolution of American economic life is taking place, and still more ordinary Americans are being reduced to permanent peonage.

Not that it matters to me personally. I am two steps down from where those 30,000 people have been kicked to. They are just starting with Unemployment Compensation [half of salary in my state] and COBRA insurance coverage, where they will now pay all of their health insurance premium, instead of sharing it with GM, and they will be able to do this, if I remember rightly, for just 18 months. A bit steep on a salary cut in half, but they will just have to get used to it.

I, myself, am perhaps six to eight weeks from being homeless, and I am very lucky to be a part of a charity care coverage arrangement by a consortium of Columbus doctors who got tired of donating evening hours to the Free Clinic. For every patient your family doctor recommends to the consortium, he or she must agree to cover another patient. I am also on a sliding fee scale at my Mental Health Agency. They are about one fiscal year behind on the supplemental tax levy payments that they receive for their sliding scale consumers, and they are no longer taking any new ones.

I have no real prospects for being much further from homelessness than six to eight weeks for the rest of my life. My lawyer [who takes on disability cases for a % of back due benefits alone] has started the process of fighting for my disability status with the Social Security Administration. Virtually all mental health disability cases, who are not actually in the Bin and are making efforts to be partially functional in the world, are rejected by Social Security. SSA rotinely contracts out the medical evaluations to certain doctors who are notorious for bias against the claimants.

One of these doctors evaluated my capacities to work full-time based upon his watching me climb up and down a single flight of stairs one time. Another who evaluated me was [I kid you not.] playing Rush Limbaugh, on a boom box behind his desk, in between appointments.

This last fellow was an interesting case. Doctor X's "medical office" was two windowless rooms squirreled away in the darkest corner of the basement floor of a nondescript office building, with neither a name for him on the building directory, nor on his Suite door. The "waiting room" furniture contained of only a two person love seat and a single, framed, Medical Office Impressionist picture on the wall facing the couch.

There was no receptionist, nurse, or file of medical records. His "consultation room" contained only a desk, a desk chair, a straight chair, and the boom box on the floor behind him, plugged into the wall. He worked entirely from a Macintosh laptop as he asked me a standard set of evaluation questions. Not a scrap of personal memorabilia was anywhere on his desk--no clock, no picture calendar, no family pictures, no wise little sayings from Hallmark Cards, no fancy pen set from last Christmas, no placard with his name, nothing. It was as bare as a windswept prairie.

And the only thing on the walls was an irregularly torn piece of newsprint with the telephone number for the Columbus Police Department and This Is a Zero Tolerance For Violence Zone, hastily hand scribbled in ball point pen. Needless to say, he was about as personable and courteous to me as Armadillo road kill.

If my lawyer actually wins me a favorable disability ruling, the total maximum income I will be able to make yearly will probably be somewhere around $12,000. The figure is inexact because my disability stipend will depend on the actual number of SS quarters I have paid into the system. Since I face the constant possibility of a mental health relapse from trying to do too much in too short a time, [I have come quite close to this once or twice and had to pull myself back from the edge] there is no way I could sustain that level of income solely on my own efforts with full time work and no disability stipend.

Moreover, if I were to find a temporary job of a couple of weeks duration, suited to one of my many skills and paying a realistic wage for my level of education [I have taken on such a job once or twice], I would make too much money in a given month and I would risk having my disability stipend yanked, even though now I could never do such temporary work full-time.

So, as I say, the GM layoffs do not mean much to me personally.

Abstractly, though, I can consider the sufferings of those 30,000 people and empathize with them. I once was where they will be now, and their worst suffering of all will be the terror of falling to where I am now--with no assets, no credit, and no prospects. It's not as bad as they think, if you can live simply and be content. This is perhaps the only plus of reaching this level, for the fall down is terribly painful.

I am lucky. I reached the conclusion as far back as 1983 about why this frilling away of the American Dream has been going on. I have followed with great care the economic mismanagement of the United States by Reagan, Bush, Bush & Co., who are a wholly owned subsidiary of the energy industry and a consortium of stockbrokers. I have also fought it, off and on, these past 20 years. Because of this, in my travel down to penury, I have never lost my self-respect.

I doubt this will be the case for many of those 30,000. They are far more likely to stigmatize themselves for their narrowing prospects. I'm sure they will be taunted by the vision of easy luxury in the parallel universe of the television ads--which will resonate in them over and over as, "You didn't make it. You weren't good enough. You are a loser." Such things are the typical and irrational American psychological responses to unavoidable work loss.

For most of them have been sleepwalking through the reign of Reagan, Bush, Bush & Co., oblivious to the long term damage being done, glamored by the tough talk ["strong on defense", "resolute against terrorism", "determined to return America to Family Values"], deceived into looking anywhere else but Republican Washington for the slow demise of American manufacturing and the American middle class, whose wealth and opportunities have been systematically pillaged, and redistributed upward, through the process of bad energy policy combined with unchecked stock speculation.

I idly wonder how many of the 30,000 belong to the white male working class base which is well recognized as the the hard core support of the modern Republican Party.

I idly wonder how many of them, or their wives or daughters, are part of the softer core Republican Social Conservatives (i.e. Christian rightists) which is predominated by women, and for whom certain social agendas are "non-negotiable", no matter what other damage this country sustains.

And I idly wonder how many of them are part of the "War On Terror" part-time and fluid feminine supporters of the Republican policy, who have made their decisions out of unfaced fear and unprocessed anger, preventing them from evaluating those same decisions based on the quality of the results. Even the anti-terror results.

They will all soon be standing in the Unemployment Line, encountering the sticker shock of how much health insurance really costs every month, and re-entering a world where the majority of the decent jobs no longer even appear in the hard copy Want Ads of their newspaper. And where those same jobs are just not available to anyone with some grey in their hair. God help them if they've been putting off buying the computer or getting Internet savvy. God help them if they don't realize quickly that both their resume and their personal appearance must make them out to be as young as possible.

How will they explain to themselves what just happened to their income and their lives? What will the parallel universe of easy luxury in a perfect world now have to say to them?

They will have plenty of time to consider it, after they filter into being Wal-Mart associates, Target team members, or grocery baggers. And if it takes them long enough to do this, I'll be waiting for them, two levels down, and ready to greet them as warmly as I can with, "Welcome Home!"

A bitter wind is blowing through Columbus this afternoon. It is spitting snow. Winter is calling.