Thursday, December 30, 2010

Life Continues Past Infancy and Being Pro Baby Doesn't Count as Pro-Life

When you travel around the holidays, you will be bombarded in the Midwest with signs telling you how much you should love fetuses. You should love them because they burp, hiccup, and have heart beats. Spend time around infants and it's easy to see why pro-life people want you to believe that infants are involved rather than potential infants. They're cute, they coo and make adorable faces. But they all do something else that the prolife movement forgets time and again.

They grow. And grow. And pretty soon, they aren't cute and cuddly. They are adults with all of the problems that come along with being adopted. Here is where they will shirk their responsibility every time, and where the rest of us, often those who can't afford it, end up paying. If I hadn't donated my entire childhood to raising my family while my two mentally ill parents were functionally unable to do so, maybe losing my adulthood to a neglectful society would be so damn irritating.

One such adopted adult is a good friend of mine born before Roe vs. Wade. Her evangelical Christian parents picked her up from the hospital during the cute, cuddly stage. Now that this always depressive, troubled person has turned into an adult with a serious mental illness, WHERE ARE THEY?

I know where they are not: 1) helping her to make arrangements for an adulthood on disability or negotiating the system to help her get some kind of income so she's not homeless; 2) getting any materials from the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill to understand why their daughter has been in the hospital more than once for lack of functioning and suicidality; 3) arranging for her hospitalizations or need for periodic short-term; 4) making sure that she doesn't lose all of her friends from overstaying her welcome as she crashes from home to home penniless, morosely sad, multi-symptomatic, and mostly, 5) paying $5000 for their daughter's belongings to be kept in storage as she drifts from friend to relative to friend. They let me do that. They know that I had to struggle my way out of poverty, that I remain deeply in debt arguably still steeped in poverty, and that we are struggling while they hang out on retirement in Arizona. Yet, they feel very comfortable letting a college friend of their daughter incur high interest payments to take care of something that is their responsibility.

Listen carefully, those are crickets from the loving prolife parents with regard to the state of their daughter's life. Do they even care about her currently transient lifestyle drifting without health insurance, without a job, often incapable of simply showering regularly? They try to blame her; just as though they would actually tell someone with schizophrenia to go speak with an exorcist about ridding themselves of demons, they tell someone with diagnoses akin to this obvious mental illness that she just needs a little more Bible time. They probably vote for people who cut the mental health system, too.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Deployment Time Again

The dreaded phone call came last night. After enduring a relatively short 9-month deployment to Afghanistan last time, our family is now prepping for the longer 13-month deployment of one of our own at the beginning of January. The little boy I rocked to sleep; the adventurous child who came to me crying with injuries including a seriously bleeding head wound/hospital visit; the teen I consoled when girls were more cruel than I knew they could be; the adolescent who never seemed old enough to drive, but I taught him manual shift anyway; the young man I proudly saw face responsibility as a husband and father by joining the Army to provide health insurance for his family.

Most parents will know immediately what I mean when I say that it would be easier to go oneself to the war front than send the child they raised. If I told the truth, there were few moments that he wasn't on my mind during the first deployment. My stomach constantly clenched; chronically talking myself down from worry. Every single report of American casualties means waiting to breathe until he manages to make contact, and reassure us that he is okay.

What breaks my heart the most is the impact on his 6-yr stepdaughter and 2 1/2 year old son. His stepdaughter has grown up with my brother as her father, and when he deploys, she acts out in school and her performance declines. Almost everyone knows that the first five years of life are crucial for child development, so his son missing his father's presence a second time during those critical years has an unknown and negative effect. It is a child's sacrifice seemingly largely unappreciated by the nation.

The casual nature of most Americans' everyday lives, oblivious to war and its consequences, often feels callous and unconcerned, even in the face of all those "Support the Troops" magnets. When people think about supporting the troops, I hope they remember their often forgotten family members.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

I'm Crying Too, John Boehner

Despite pursuing the American Dream since childhood, I am not as fortunate as in the incoming Speaker of the House, John Boehner, who weeps with pride and sense of patriotism that a person can achieve so much in this great nation. When I shed tears about my current life situation, it is not because I have achieved anything like said American Dream. It is because the policies put in place since at least Nixon, and definitely since Reagan, have favored the rich and wealthy, not working or middle class folks.

Therefore, I keep working and working, and barely treading water; debt more a constant than home ownership or picket fences. I put in my time in the nasty, low-paying jobs Mr. Boehner says he worked along the way to his success. I'm 40 years old, and there's no end in sight to the tears.

Where is my American Dream?

And why, Speaker-Elect Boehner, do you only care about preserving that Dream for the people who already have it?

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Truth About Public Sector Pay

As an employee of a federally funded program run by the state, I am technically working for both the federal and state governments. Lately, all I hear is that public employees are overpaid, their unions are getting them ridiculously luxurious benefits, and someone needs to stop them before they grift again.

Since I grew up on welfare, I grew accustomed to having to turn in *monthly* income reports to the government. There was no such thing as privacy about income, and I never developed the same sense of anxiety about sharing such information common to most Americans. Therefore, I am posting a link to my paystub. (I'm sorry if it takes a bit to load. It's a .pdf). As a person in mid-career with a Ph.D., I don't think the totals will draw envy.

Just for comparison purposes, here is an income payscale for Ph.Ds

My husband is not as open with his paystub, but was willing to let me share that his salary is $35,500 as a social worker with a Master's degree working full-time at a non-profit. His agency was so "unhealthy" as a group that no insurance company was willing to insure them without massive contributions from the employees. He is covered by my job, so his only benefit is a 401k.

P.S. Tease me about the website if you like. It's primitive, because my skills at such things are primitive. My electronic paystub was hard to share. It would not paste into Powerpoint as I had hoped to put it in viewer. So, I had to resort to .pdf, but hopefully it is okay to open, as I used the less memory option.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Jon Stewart is Wrong: Left and Right Are Everything in the Heartland

During a bleak childhood in poverty where extended family expressed their disgust that our family needed government services (but did not step up to solve my parent's serious mental illnesses or pay for their survival), there was one bright light: my mom's older sister. Not only did she refrain from expressing judgment within earshot, but in an environment where sexism was the norm, where woman only went to college to get their M.R.S., she became a cop. She was the first woman deputy sheriff in our Iowa county, and eventually retired after many years serving in Las Vegas jails. While the Mormons were having me work through their steps to womanhood, "My Personal Progress," a guide to cooking, sewing, and obeying men, she was mailing me her used copies of New Woman and Cosmo magazine. When I was completing my PhD, she moved in with me for a couple of months to help transcribe interviews I completed for my dissertation.

As I got older, I realized that her feminism was limited by her conservative upbringing. She was hardly Gloria Steinem or Naomi Wolf. She had not attended college or read dirty liberal interpretations of womanhood. Nonetheless, when every other message I received was to grow up and find a good husband, she was a career woman who gave me the impression that woman could be more than mothers.

Two days before the election, on Halloween, I was catching up with a backlog of mail, and opened a letter from my favorite aunt, now 71 years old. She enclosed many newspaper clippings where she wrote short screeds along the side accusing Obama of everything from coddling immigrants to creating death panels via the appointment of Dr. Donald Berwick. The articles, while in standard Las Vegas daily newspapers, were from people representing the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons. I looked them up, and they are a radically conservative group that has lied about everything ranging from immigrants bringing leprosy into America to saying Obama hypnotized the public to get elected. called them "Glenn Beck with an M.D."

Realizing that she had fallen into a right wing news vacuum, I gave her a call. I had no intention of arguing. I just wanted to remind her that I was a semi-expert on healthcare policy (remember that PhD) and during my 2 years of postdoctoral training, I had read literally every article Dr. Berwick has written, and he was no boogeyman. I expected a reasonable conversation, because we love each other. Instead, here's how it went:

Me: Hi, there, it's your favorite niece. (We both laugh)

Aunt: How's your health? (Typical catch-up)

Me: I got your letter and the newspaper clippings. Can I tell you what I know about Obamacare? Remember that I studied health care policy in depth?

Aunt: I'm not so sure, liberals get too emotional when you talk politics with them. You can't reason with them.

Me: Excuse me, that's kinda rude. And recall, you sent me the political materials, not the other way around. Don't I get to respond at least?

Aunt: Did you know that your 24-yr old, married cousin is now being covered by her mother's health insurance just because she is still in college?

Me: Huh, I knew they were covering young people up to age 25 if they were in school, but I didn't know it applied if they got married.

Aunt: Well, while she's getting her health insurance, I lost mine.

Me: Don't you have Medicare?

Aunt: Yes, but my Medicare Part B insurance was cancelled due to Obama.

Me: Obamacare had nothing to do with your insurance company dropping you. They probably were doing it before Obamacare made it illegal to do it.

Aunt: Why didn't they drop me until healthcare reform passed?

Me: They may well have been thinking about it. You have already had cancer, and you've been a lifelong smoker.

Aunt: They paid for my cancer expenses last time. They dropped me because of Obama.

Me: When did they drop you?

Aunt: This summer.

Me: I don't think healthcare reform law was even in effect that soon.

Aunt: (in a distressed tone) Well, apparently you don't care about me. I have a new lump, and it's probably cancer, and I have no insurance now. And you can't tell me that's not Obama's fault.

Me: That same situation has been happening to millions of people for years now, and healthcare reform is intended to stop it.

Aunt: And he's coddling immigrants. You know I don't mind Mexicans or any other people, but immigrants are taking jobs, and getting free healthcare.

Me: This doesn't sound like you. You were so proud of being the one compassionate person at the jails, the one who gave the junkies a spoonful of sugar to help with their withdrawal, while the other cops laughed at them.

Aunt: Well, I have been learning a lot from the news. Have you heard about the beheadings that happened?

Me: Oh, that actually didn't happen. It was a myth.

Aunt: I guess I need to send you the article.

Me: There are more news sources out there, and that story was debunked. Oh my goodness, I assumed that you were not voting for Sharron Angle, since your very own nieces were sexually molested by their biological father and could have gotten pregnant, I thought her views on abortion would be upsetting to you. But now, I'm scared to ask, are you voting for Sharron Angle?

Aunt: The liberal media is lying about her views on abortion. They say a lot of things about her political views that are just false.

Me: I heard her say with my own two ears that she doesn't believe in any exceptions for abortion, not even rape or incest. Not only that she called people on unemployment spoiled. And she denied the existence of autism. Oh my gawd, you were the woman who influenced my views on abortion, on feminism, on women. How can you support her?

Aunt: Well, I don't know about all that, but Sharron Angle is my girl. (said with joyful emphasis)

Me: (click)

Here in the fly-over states where conservative thinking still pushes people to hate gays, Muslims, and liberals, where culture stifles women, and the freedoms of New York City and Los Angeles are caught only in clips on TV, the left-right divide splits families apart.

When I was six years old, I spent a few months on a fundamentalist, polygamist, Mormon compound in Canada. I did so, because my parents were brainwashed by a self-declared prophet (Robert Crossfield, worth a google). In other words, I don't know why I keep ending up with my loved ones being brainwashed, but it's frightening and overwhelming to see right wing media push lies that brainwash otherwise rational people. A few weeks later, Jon Stewart told Rachel Maddow that there is no Left and Right battle in our country. He dismissed the culture wars as meaningless. Meanwhile, my aunt worships Glenn Beck, Fox News, and their falsehoods more than she loves her niece.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Unemployment Benefits are Pro-Family

It's been 30 years since state authorities discovered my unemployed parents had unsuccessfully taken their five children to live off the land after being laid off from their minimum wage jobs with no benefits. My conservative, deeply religious parents had run out of options after their savings was depleted, and neither was eligible for unemployment benefits. In 1980, they applied for the Aid to Dependent Children in Two-Parent Families program, and received a meager monthly payment and food stamps, the same year they both pulled the lever for Ronald Reagan. Within a year, changes in federal grants to states resulted in the elimination of the social program that had been keeping our family afloat.

Despite applying for jobs on a daily basis, no one was hiring in Iowa during the Farm Crisis. With no government money, a few dollars a week from a paper route, and a heavily used credit card, there was a lot of praying, but they still couldn't make the rent on our apartment. My grandfather's abandoned farmhouse was rent-free. There was a lot of open land, so we could plant several gardens for food. We were lucky to have this option available rather than living in the car.

It went well until winter when the lack of electricity and frozen water pipes made keeping ourselves clean a problem. The winter of 1981 was very cold, and the farmhouse was 32F inside when the authorities measured it. It was the teachers at school who reported that they suspected child neglect, because we came to school dirty and took food from other students' plates at lunch time.

The State of Iowa resolved my family's situation by dividing up the children between two foster care homes. They paid $1600 a month for our care, $800 to each foster family. These figures stood out to me, because the monthly payment my family had received under the federal welfare program was approximately $500. It would have cost less to keep our family together.

Listening to the debate about extending unemployment benefits brings it all back. The stigma of laziness and the belief that getting a fixed-term benefit is a disincentive to seeking a job. The assumption that there is something wrong with the personality of people who are out of work. The complete invisibility of the children affected by economic downturns. When Alan Grayson pointed out that children were being hurt by the failure to pass additional employment benefits, it was refreshing to finally hear them considered. May God have mercy on the hard hearts, indeed.

However, there is a wrinkle to my family's story. One that has allowed many a conservative to dismiss it as "outside the norm" and not applicable to average unemployed people. My father had a form of schizophrenia, diagnosed while he was enlisted in the Air Force in the late 1960s. My mother has bipolar disorder. "Aha," they say, "benefits for healthy, unemployed people should be treated differently than those for people with serious mental illness."

The generosity of American conservatives toward social programs for people with serious mental illness has never been manifest either. Services available for unemployed people with disabilities are slightly more numerous than they were in 1980, but not substantially more effective at overcoming employer bias against hiring this category of worker. If people think it is hard to get a decent job during a recession, add the spotty work history common with serious mental illness, and watch that resume disappear down a black hole. The solution to the high unemployment rate (estimated between 70-80%) for this group has been to push them onto Social Security Disability or Supplemental Security Insurance-SSI. Had either of my parents realized that they had a mental disorder in 1980, perhaps our family would have stayed together under one of these programs. However, it can take years to be deemed sufficiently disabled to receive these benefits.

No matter what form the social program takes, the fact remains that there was nothing there to keep our family together, and 20 years later, little has improved in the social safety net for families, regardless of who heads them. Social programs are pro-family and it would be worthwhile to articulate this point to Americans broadly as we debate the priorities our spending should take.

Friday, March 26, 2010

How Conservatism Harms Family Relationships

Sadly, I have been told by Family Link, a program on Facebook that I have about 100 relatives that I could connect with, but I cannot because they are Christian conservatives, judgmental of people on government assistance and they value their taxes more than their blood. They've spent years telling my mother, and by extension, her children, that they are worthless people for needing government aid.

I am tempted to publicly call them out by name for the hypocrites they are by supporting anti-government and anti-health care stances while their relatives live on government programs. They have at least one family member who has been dependent on the government because of her disability for years now. ... and in the case of at least one other relative, their family now lives off the government since the accident, the tragic accident that should make them grateful people to those have fought to have such government disability programs available to them. They helped to prevent this from taking them down to indigence as they were content to see happen to their own family many years earlier. Or perhaps they need to recall that their great conservative paternal leader lived out his end of days on Social Security and Medicare... admitting to me that he ended up taking far more from the government than he ever paid in.

The saddest thing is that many people could be productive if we restructured our notions of how work has to happen. My mom has been one of the best senior companions Iowa has to offer since she joined a program they have which takes low-income people like my mother and has them work with seniors who would otherwise end up in nursing homes. They are flexible employers, because her mental illness requires flexibility in schedules. In this way, my mom is one of the most productive, money-saving members of society today, because nursing home care costs the government a ton of money that she is able to help save. Good thing we fed her thru the non-productive years. (tongue in cheek).