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Well, the 2020 election season is starting to fire up, and here comes the predictable chorus saying the same thing we always hear.  When it comes to people who actually want to transform the system we live in–people who support things like a single payer health care system, a higher minimum wage, affordable college…

You want free stuff!

Lazy moochers.  You want a handout, don’t you?  You want to be given something for nothing.

Let me just stop this tired old song before it even gets started.  I’m not a moocher.  I’m certainly not lazy.  I drag myself out of bed and work my ass off every single day.  I don’t want a handout–I just want what I’m rightfully owed for my hard work.  A decent wage.  The ability to see the doctor if I’m sick.  A roof over my head.  Working people should be able to have access to these basics.

Conservatives twist this into the idea of class envy.  If you want these things, it must be because you’re envious of what other people have and want to take that away.  I don’t envy the rich their lifestyle.  I certainly don’t envy Donald his garish, gold-covered absurdity of an existence.  I’m not asking for what belongs to anybody else–I’m asking for what is already mine.  The fruit of my hard labor.

Most Americans I know are like that.  I’ve known a couple of people over the course of my life who I could genuinely describe as moochers, but they were a small minority.  The majority of people I know in this country work themselves to the point of burnout and exhaustion, and they get screwed over in return.  It amazes me that so many of these working class Americans still support Trump.  The man has done his best to weasel away even more from them–everything from overtime pay to the ability to file a workers compensation claim for an on-the-job injury, and he certainly hasn’t helped with the tax situation.  Yet they continue to love the guy who robs them of what little they have.

So no, I’m not interested in “free stuff.”  But hey, getting treated with some dignity by the country I’m investing my life and work into?  Now that actually sounds like a good deal….

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I have sadly, sadly neglected this blog.  However, I have continued writing and editing for my local Democratic party chapter.  I posted this over on their blog, and thought I would share here, as well.

As I look at pictures of women and children getting tear gassed at our border, my mind can’t help but drift back to a time when I was a frightened little kid.

Back in the 1980s, my parents made a brave decision which a lot of Americans on both sides of the political aisle would have approved of. They stood up to the Communist government of our native Poland. They became active members of Solidarity, the trade union movement which fought against totalitarian oppression and for free speech, fair elections, better working conditions. Because of this, my parents were blacklisted by the government and unable to find employment anywhere. The threat of arrest was always looming over them. There were contingency plans for who would take care of me if they were taken away.

My father decided that, for the good of the family, we would leave Poland.

My parents managed to obtain visas for a six-week vacation to Holland–our suspicion has always been that the government was happy to get rid of us because we were troublemakers. Nobody who saw us leave would have been fooled by the vacation bit. Our little Volkswagen bug was filled to the brim with sheets and pillows, clothing and books, so much so that it almost broke down at the border between East and West Berlin. After many adventures, we made it to Groningen, a town in the north of Holland which would become our home for the next few years, and there my parents made their next brave decision.

We overstayed our visa.

Yep, that’s right–we broke immigration law. It was our only chance at a new life, since there was no way the Communist government in Poland would have officially allowed us to move elsewhere. As weeks and then months went on, the realization hit me that this really wasn’t a vacation and I really wasn’t going back home. I suffered from intense homesickness, but in time, I got used to Dutch culture and I grew to like living in Holland.

And I’m so grateful that the Dutch government didn’t just immediately kick us out.
I’m even more grateful that they didn’t arrest us, or separate me from my parents, or attack us with tear gas. The Dutch understood that we were asylum seekers and they put us through the normal asylum appeal process. In time, the Berlin Wall would fall, and with it Communism–much sooner than we thought it would–and at that point, our asylum claim was denied due to the changed political situation. But we were given a fair shot.

And while, yes, we had some scary times in Poland, what we went through is nothing compared to what some of the refugees trying to get into our country have experienced. The families from Central America who have seen family members get kidnapped and killed. The Syrian kids whose homes were bombed into rubble. And we can’t extend a helping hand to them? Because these people are “illegal”? Since America is supposed to be such a devout nation, I will speak in a language it might understand–like the Pharisees in the New Testament, you are obsessed with following the letter of the law, not the effect it might have on the life and spirit of your fellow human beings. Jesus would not be proud.

When I have brought up my family immigration history to Trump supporters who are all about keeping the migrants out, I get only silence in return. People literally don’t want to discuss it. I can guess why this is–there are only a few options for how one can respond, none of them very pleasant. One would be to admit that you’re wrong about the refugees and maybe we should allow some of them in–not something a MAGA fan would be willing to do. Another would be to tell me that yes, Holland should have deported us back to Communism–again, not a point that a conservative would enjoy making.

And then there’s the worst possibility of them all–that if the Trump supporter were being honest with me, they would say “Well, we would be okay with you coming in as a refugee, because your skin is white. You’re European, so we can empathize with your fear and pain. But these migrants–they’re brown-skinned, they’re Latino, they’re Muslim. It’s just not the same thing.”

I suspect that this is what’s behind the silence, and that is a painful conclusion to reach.
To those who think that way, I would say this: You’re not only hurting the migrants, you’re hurting our country, too.

Immigrants make this country stronger and better. We work hard, we’re innovative, and America is enriched by including many different cultures, religions, traditions.

My family has been incredibly lucky. I can’t simply turn my back and close the door on other desperate families, other frightened kids. Let’s give them a chance at a new life, too.

Time for a little update about my midterms activities here in the Portland region.  I have been insanely busy canvassing and phone banking, as well as editing and writing articles for my local Democratic Party.  In particular, I have been spending a lot of my time volunteering for the re-election campaign of Kate Brown, our kickass female Democratic governor.

This race is the perfect example of why the midterms are so important.  It’s very easy to get complacent in a place like Oregon.  This is a blue state–the Democrat will win, right?  But while we were being complacent, this has suddenly turned into a very tight race, with polls showing Governor Brown and her opponent to be very close.  Not least thanks to Republican Knute Buehler cleverly portraying himself as a moderate, since he knows that’s the only way he can possibly win the Portland metro area.  Knute says he’s pro-choice in his ads!  He’s liberal on social issues!  He’s got an independent streak!  He criticized President Trump that one time!

While Knute does his “I’m really not a conservative!” song and dance, the Democrats are stuck with the problem of having a competent and hard-working incumbent who doesn’t get any exciting PR for being that way.  I frequently hear voters say “If only Kate had done something impressive!”  After I’ve done some deep breathing and lowered my blood pressure, I direct them to this list of accomplishments.

Some of my favorite highlights include:

She approved a minimum wage hike for the state.

She mandated 40 hour paid sick leave for all Oregon employees.

She set up a state-run retirement fund for any workers who are not provided a retirement plan at work.

She signed a bill which ensured that all Oregon kids receive health care.

She increased funding for the Oregon Promise Act, which helps low-income students attend community college.

She signed legislation to enforce universal background checks on gun purchases.

And she helped pass the motor voter bill, which makes any Oregon resident with a state ID automatically registered to vote.

My climate activist friends are rooting for a carbon pricing bill which is currently working its way through the state legislature.  If Governor Brown is re-elected, she is likely to sign this bill.  If Knute Buehler is elected, bye-bye carbon pricing.  Likewise, Knute claims to be pro-choice now, but before he started his centrist run for the governor, he voted against a bill expanding abortion rights.  A Governor Buehler would be much more likely to restrict reproductive rights for women.

Has Kate Brown’s leadership been ideal? Has she done everything I would like her to do? Nope, but I don’t expect that, because I inhabit reality and not a fantasy world. But…have the things she has done had a real effect on people’s lives? Absolutely yes. I would say she’s made a difference to the kids who were able to get health care, the women whose ex-boyfriend stalker wasn’t able to buy a gun, or the people who will get paid a higher minimum wage.

The problem is that all these things take hard, unglamorous, daily work.  And that kind of work is much less likely to get attention than, say, somebody sitting on his ass and sending out offensive Tweets, or heavily armed dipshits coming to our fair city and hoping to cause trouble.  And chances are even higher that a hard-working and qualified politician will get overlooked or criticized if that politician happens to be a woman (I can think of someone that happened to not that long ago, ahem).

Hopefully voters will take Kate Brown’s achievements into consideration in November. (I know, I’m asking American voters to actually think…that can seem like a stretch sometimes.)  Or, maybe Portland progressives will do what they do best…let the perfect be the enemy of the good, and thus snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.  Aaaand months from now all those political purists will be complaining about something the Republican governor did which they don’t like.  Hey, don’t come crying to me…I was out here trying to prevent that from happening!

Speaking of which…the weekend is almost upon us, which means time to lace up my canvassing shoes and get out there.  Hope all of you are getting ready to fill out that ballot.  Only two and a half weeks left until the election!

First of all, from what I understand from doctors, that’s really rare. If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down. — Todd Akin

The facts show that people who are raped — who are truly raped — the juices don’t flow, the body functions don’t work and they don’t get pregnant. Medical authorities agree that this is a rarity, if ever. — Rep. Henry Aldridge

Yeah. Remember these geniuses? Republican politicians trying to claim that women cannot get pregnant from rape, including Rep. Stephen Freind who theorized that when a woman is being raped, her body “secretes a certain secretion” which kills sperm.

I recall hearing about these statements and being amazed by them. I attributed them to a certain kind of ideological dishonesty. These politicians were trying to appeal to a voter base which would like to outlaw abortion–but even those who are pro-life will feel some sympathy towards victims of rape and incest, and it’s harder in those situations to trot out the standard accusation of “Well, she chose to have sex, so…” What better way to dismiss that twinge of compassion than by suggesting that a woman is not physically able to get pregnant from rape?

It still slays me how naive I am sometimes. No matter how cynical I claim to be, I don’t look to use and attack other humans, and so it doesn’t penetrate my thick skull that others do, and how easily they do it. I assumed that these quotes had to do with how these conservative men felt about abortion–but what if they also had to do with how they felt about rape? What if at least some of these men want to believe that they can sexually assault women with no consequence?

After all, they still think of women as objects to be used, whether it’s as sex toys or obedient wives. What could be better than to think that you could rape a woman without having to worry about unwanted pregnancy or the sin of abortion? Really, it might be enough just to make other people believe this. If she got pregnant, she secretly must have wanted it…the slut.

This puts a lot of insane Republican comments about rape into perspective. Like when Rick Santorum said women who did get pregnant from rape should “make the best of a bad situation.” Or when candidate for Texas governor, Clayton Williams, suggested that rape victims try to “relax and enjoy it.” Right! Relax and enjoy it when we assault you…after all, this is your job. Your role in life. Seriously, you should be thrilled this is happening to you.

Every time I peel back another layer of how these “virtuous” and “moral” people think about the world, it causes a wave of nausea to come over me. I will never completely understand where they’re coming from, and I probably don’t want to.

What I do understand: ­­­­Women absolutely have to vote this November. If we don’t want to live in a world in which rape is acceptable and tolerated, we need to speak up. Let’s, in Todd Akin’s words, shut that whole thing down.

I write all day at work. Lucky! you might say. And yeah, it’s the kind of work I’m good at. But it’s not that simple.

You see, I work for a health insurance company, and my job is to write correspondence, all day long, letting doctors and hospitals know why we’re not paying them for treatment–or not paying them as much as they thought we would be.

There are all kinds of reasons for why a medical provider might not get paid. They didn’t jump through the hoops of getting the treatment authorized. They did not sign a contract with us. Our medical experts have reviewed the treatment and deemed it to be experimental.

I can take some slight comfort in the fact that most of the time, when the insurance coverage is denied, the provider is required to write the charges off–so they are not allowed to bill the denied amount to the patient. Still, I’m sure the extra costs are passed on in one form or another.

Why am I telling you all this? Well, just to let you know that I am, in fact, what Sarah Palin and the Tea Party warned you about back when they were screaming about Obamacare. I am the bureaucrat who stands between you and your health care.

Of course, Republicans are strangely silent about people like me. Apparently, the fact that I’m getting paid for my health care denials by a private corporation rather than the government makes them more acceptable. On their end, medical providers have to create entire departments to deal with insurance billing and authorization rules, time and money which isn’t being spent on treating patients. Once again, though, the same conservatives who abhor extra government regulations are very capable of turning a blind eye to those same regulations when they are created in the name of private profit.

The truth is, health care costs will need to be controlled, no matter what the system in place. If we ever do have a single payer system, it will be funded with taxpayer money, and that taxpayer money should be treated with respect. We will still have to determine that the treatment being prescribed is reasonable, and that providers aren’t recommending unnecessary procedures (and by the way, providers trying to charge patients for fraudulent or ineffective treatment is something which happens frequently in our for-profit health care system). Republicans try to paint a scary picture of a single payer system in which you will be restricted from getting the care you want, whereas they claim that in a privatized health care system you have the freedom to choose any doctor and treatment you like. That is simply not true. Sure, you are free to choose any service you like–if you can pay the sky-high uninsured costs for it, which the vast majority of people can’t. You need health insurance to help pay for your care, and when you have insurance, the insurance company restricts what care you can get.

Of course, in our system the very wealthy do have the freedom to pursue whatever kind of medical treatment they want–and travel to get it wherever they like–and these are really the only people the conservatives in Congress care about, anyway.

My fundamental point is that single payer health care is nothing to be scared of. Your health care options are not going to be any more restricted than they are now, and you will be able to get treated for your illness or injury without having to go bankrupt in the process. Not a bad idea at all.

Take it from a health insurance bureaucrat.

I rarely ever post non-fictional political blogs anymore, mainly because everything is just too depressing.  And it’s not just the scandalous tweet of the day….it’s all the stupid little things.  Today I was once again reminded that we left the UN Human Rights Council a couple months ago, and felt another little pang of regret for another stupid decision.

Sure, the UN is mostly a rambling deliberative body and isn’t capable of stopping war and conflict in the world.  But it’s the symbolism of the thing.  The Human Rights Council continues speaking out on rights violations in Myanmar, Sudan, Syria.  The United States is not a part of that anymore, only confirming the suspicion that it didn’t care much about this stuff in the first place, anyway.

Is it a coincidence that we’re leaving the Human Rights Council just as our country is on a not-so-subtle slide down the road to fascism?  Legal residents are having their passports taken away.  Journalists are condemned as the “enemy of the people.”  Many refugee children torn away from their parents have still not been reunited with them.  What other human rights violations would the Trump administration love to be able to get away with?  What violations is it planning to get away with in the near future?

Anyway, there are my sad musings for the night.  For what it’s worth, another reason I have less time to blog is that I have been phone banking and canvassing like crazy for my local Democratic Party.  Will there actually be a Blue Wave coming in November?  I have no idea.  I’m the wrong person to ask, because I’m naturally a pessimist…about everything.  But I will keep working for it, whatever the chances of it happening may be.  Lord knows we need someone different than the people in charge right now.

 

 

One fine day, I decided that I, too, would build a wall. It would be the most beautiful wall, the best wall. It would keep all the scary stuff out. I would put the wall in my front yard. I didn’t like how my driveway was open to everyone. Way too many random drivers were using it as a turnaround spot. And more and more people were moving into my neighborhood. God only knows who all was coming in these days.

My fantasy was to make the wall out of gold and pink marble, like one of President Trump’s bathrooms. Unfortunately, I wasn’t rich–in fact, I could barely afford my retirement. So I would work with what I had. I started stacking old cans and beer bottles up to form the foundation of my wall. A few of my neighbors gave me strange looks, but they just didn’t understand what going after the American dream is all about.

My next door neighbor came over to chat with me. She was one of those do-gooders who have to stick their nose into everything. She said she loved my art project about recycling. Annoying old witch. Soon, I would no longer have to see her. Once my wall was tall enough, I would no longer have to see anyone. I wouldn’t have to see the kids running down the sidewalk, screaming “Hi!” at me. If I made it soundproof, I wouldn’t have to hear the crazy dog across the street barking its head off. Or the cars driving by with their rap music turned up way too loud.

Over the next couple months, I kept building away. I brought whatever junk I could find to my construction site, and taped and glued it together. But it still wasn’t enough to make a truly intimidating barrier. I even tapped into the emergency food and water supplies I was saving for the inevitable war against the government, so that I could add the emptied packaging to my wall. I took the old newspapers piling up in the guest bedroom and ground them up, using the paste to plug holes in my structure. I hesitated for a moment when it came to my books–but, really, it was a no brainer. Defending my property was far more important than reading.

I stood back and surveyed my work with pride. It was beautiful. But something was missing. Something big.

How could I have not thought of it earlier? All the idiots on TV hated the President. Watching it was a waste of time.

It was just as I was pondering how exactly I would make the television a part of my masterpiece that the mailman drove up.

“Hello!” he called out with a smile. I could barely see him from behind several feet of wall material.

“What’s all this?” he asked.

“It’s…a new security system.” I tapped my fingers nervously on a rusting can. “Gotta be careful. All kinds of people out there. I know it doesn’t look like much right now, but I’m working on building more layers.”

“Oh. How are you going to pick up your mail?”

Good question. I hadn’t thought that through. It seemed that his voice was tinged with a little sadness. We always used to talk whenever I was out in my yard. He was a real friendly guy. But we were living in the end times, and I couldn’t let myself worry about that.

“I’ll leave a crack for you to slip the mail into,” I ventured.

Once I had nailed the TV down, hacking the rest of my furniture to bits was the next logical step. I didn’t have any sentimental feelings as I methodically destroyed my home. The dining table–I never had any guests over for dinner. The chest with my childhood toys. The shelves, the chairs, the bed. I didn’t mind sleeping on the floor. It was best for me not to sleep too comfortably anyway.

My wall–my baby–kept growing. It was now far taller and thicker than I had ever envisioned, blocking out the neighboring houses and the late sunset skies. I even managed to make some DIY barbed wire to decorate the top.

One evening, as I sat in my gutted house sipping a glass of water which had been carefully filtered through my sock, I heard sirens approaching. I paused and listened. Yep, they had come to a stop in front of my place.

I went out to greet them. I liked cops, for the most part. It wasn’t their fault that they worked for a corrupt government. Of course, that didn’t mean I wouldn’t take a weapon out there with me.

I heard the cop’s voice coming through the makeshift mail slot.

“Good evening! We’re here because someone gave us a call about a structure which violates building and safety codes…”

That stupid woman again.

“You know how it is–we had to check it out. That’s quite a fence you got yourself there.”

“Did what I had to do. This neighborhood isn’t what it used to be. You understand what I mean, officer.”

“Hahahaha…sure do, but don’t say that too loud, or some of your neighbors will get even more offended. You armed?”

“Yeah.”

“Good. We need armed citizens like you. You keep an eye on things. Or an ear, I guess.” He chuckled. “Excuse me…there’s some punk in a hoodie walking around here. Gonna go take care of that.”

“Thank you for your service, officer.”

The sirens sped off again.

Even though the police had been so reasonable, the incident made me even more paranoid. All my suspicions were confirmed–I couldn’t trust my neighbors. They were out to get me.

Well, fuck them. I was a maker. Unlike them, I did not spend pathetic evenings staring at one screen or another. They might think I was ridiculous, and everything about me might get wiped away, but my wall would remain. A tribute to my ingenuity and hard work. A tribute to America.

*****

From the Gentry Village Times website, dated August 20, 2018:

Fire sadly claimed a fatality today, reminding us of the dangers of our unusually dry weather. The Gentry Fire Department responded to a call about a blaze consuming a local home, and found the body of a Mr. Alexander Jones at the site. The way his charred corpse was positioned indicated that he died while making a futile attempt to climb a giant wall of trash stacked up around his house. It is unclear why the wall was there, but neighbors say Mr. Jones was a hoarder and in need of a mental health intervention. Numerous complaints had been lodged with the community homeowner’s association.

One anonymous neighbor was quoted as saying: “Somebody should’ve probably told him that he was acting completely bleeping insane. Before the wall got out of control.”

“But we never expected the fire.”

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