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Out of Order (Forever?)

Photo by Andrea R (flickr.com)

Claire Robertson* is one of the strongest people I know. She survived a kidnapping as a child and a sexual assault as an adult, and fights Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder as a result. She worked as a nurse, but a serious accident meant back surgery and physical disability. During the surgery, doctors discovered that she has a rare congenital connective-tissue disorder that will only get worse.

She fought for several years through multiple denials to procure Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). When she finally received it, her monthly payments were $650 per month—nowhere near the $1,000 per month she had been told.

Her husband Brian holds a Master’s degree in history. However, the downturn in the economy has eliminated all hiring in his field, vacancies only coming when someone retires or dies. He looked into going back to school to teach junior-high or high school, but a change in the curriculum meant that he would have to work for a semester in a full-time unpaid internship, with no time to earn an income. He works from home as a medical transcriptionist, a field in which wages have plummeted over the past several years as more and more of the work has been outsourced to India.

Claire and Brian have two children, both of whom have autism. Their daughter Alexis graduated from high school a year ago, but presently lives at home as she struggles with major bouts of depression and suicidal ideation, as well as with the same connective-tissue disorder Claire suffers. Alexis hopes to go to college to study veterinary medicine. She has been trained as a PCA and serves in this role for their son Ethan, but the work is only sporadic—Alexis made less than $4000 last year. Ethan is nine. A bright and loving child, he nonetheless battles severe autistic symptoms. He is enrolled in special-education courses and requires various rehabilitative services.

Brian averages $1400 a month; however, his income can vary greatly because it depends on how much work he is assigned. Sometimes he earns nothing in a pay period. On rare occasion he gets paid overtime. When Claire started receiving SSDI, the family lost their food stamps entirely, and Ethan’s monthly SSDI payments dropped from $641 to $350—not really enough to pay for Ethan’s medical needs. All but Brian receive medical insurance through the state of Minnesota, which has one of the most generous state-insurance programs in the United States. When Claire began receiving SSDI, she was automatically moved to Medicare insurance (she had no say in the matter), for which she must pay $101 per month out of pocket, on top of high copays on her dozen-plus medications. Brian was dropped from state insurance entirely because his employer offers insurance—never mind the fact that the premiums in the employer’s program exceed Brian’s entire income. Thus Brian has no way to treat his own multiple medical issues, which include high blood pressure, sleep apnea, and depression.

Two years ago, the Robertsons were kicked out of their home illegally by a new landlord, and didn’t have the resources to fight it in court, so they found themselves temporarily homeless, living out of a motel. They found one house in their price range and bought it, but it has major structural issue, including a roof that needs to be replaced, for which they lost their homeowner’s insurance and now must pay for the roof out of pocket. Moreover, the house does not have a ramp for Claire to use her wheelchair, and the Robertsons cannot afford to build one on their own. They have requested assistance from Habitat for Humanity, but that organization must wait for funding approval from the government before they can proceed. They hope to have the ramp installed sometime next year.

The Robertsons just received a letter stating that, because of the handful of checks for which Brian was paid overtime, not only have they lost Ethan’s $350 monthly check entirely, but Social Security has declared the loss retroactive—the family must pay Social Security $1400 to repay the SSDI payments they had been receiving since May.

I write all of this for two reasons. First is to bring awareness to just how severely broken the assistance system is in the United States. It operates on a binary structure—either one is entirely on the System or entirely off. Furthermore, the income threshold at which one is kicked off the System is well below what one can afford to live on (unless one is in subsidized housing, which, because of long-standing application freezes nationwide, for all intents doesn’t exist unless you’re already living in it). Almost anything one can do to move oneself into safe financial straits is prohibited. Some people “know” the System is broken (and even more broken now because of cuts to poverty programs like Head Start and public housing, thanks to Congress’s sequester). But knowledge often is not enough to prompt one to action, which is why I asked Claire if I could share her family’s story. I wanted to put a face to what is going on in America.

The other reason I am relating this story is because I wish to serve notice to anyone who would dare write off the Robertsons as “lazy” and would tell them to “just get a job”. If you think that, first off, you haven’t read a damn word I’ve written up to this point.

And where do you suggest they “get a job”? Jobs are scarce, and the ones that are available are part-time and/or pay next to nothing nothing (thanks in large part to profit-hoarding and a refusal to invest in the country’s infrastructure, education, etc.).

If you had the gall to express such ideas to my face or to the Robertsons’, I wouldn’t blame myself or them if I/they slapped you—and I’m a pacifist. But folks never express these ideas face-to-face. They do so from the safety of blog comments sections, ballot boxes, and legislative office.

Finally, if this is your response, I’m going to question how you were raised. I was raised not to judge any human being until I had walked a mile in their shoes, and if you were raised differently, then I would ask you to make up for your poor parenting and re-educate yourself. If you don’t, you’re the lazy one, for not exercising your brain or your heart.

*Names changed to protect identity.

Ugly Truths and Pretty Lies

An article has been running around Facebook that raises my hackles. The article, 21 Pictures That Will Restore Your Faith in Humanity, includes two pictures that really take away my faith in humanity.

From the article “21 Pictures…”–the first photo in the blog entry.

I’m going to make a bet that the author of the article doesn’t know the full story behind the pictures. They just saw something that looked inspiring and then posted them. But looks can be deceiving.

The first two photos feature a “hug-in” by the Marin Foundation. (Founder Andrew Marin is on the right side of the first photo.) The organization is best known for attending Pride celebrations and hugging people (mostly, it seems, young males in their underwear), “apologizing” for the harm the Christian church has perpetrated on the LGBTQ community, and asking for donations to help them with their “cause”. The Marin Foundation officially claims to be “neutral” regarding their stance on whether being gay is okay. The foundation’s cause, though, requires a Rosetta stone to decipher, as it consists of a never-ending stream of vague platitudes.

Let me be your Rosetta stone.

Beneath the milquetoast smiles and lukewarm niceties lies a much darker reality. Please watch this video, created by Andrew Marin.

If you’re not familiar with the language, let me unravel it for you. Basically, Marin is saying that to be attracted to the same sex is not sin, but to do anything whatsoever in keeping with those attractions–to date, to marry, to have sex–is sin, what he calls “the sin portion”. The man has a lot of gall if he thinks this constitutes “neutrality”.

Let me be blunt. I’ve had it up to here with a church that says, “Oh, we have to love the homosexuals, they’re sinning just like everyone else.” There is a bloody world of difference between a conscious act (murder, pedophilia, or anything else that gets lumped in with homosexuality) and a state of being. I could never have a date or any physical contact with a man for the rest of my life and it would still not change my orientation one iota.

Ah, you may say, but to date, have sex, etc *is* a conscious act of will. May I simply remind you that Jesus spent a heck of a lot of time telling people that, when it came to matters of personal morality, to hold oneself to a high standard, but when it came to matters of others’ morality, to mind your own damn business.

So, back to the photos. They may look good, they may look pretty, they may look inspiring. But those two photos represent a very consciously perpetrated lie. And an ugly truth will always be more beautiful than a pretty lie.

Bachmann

On Facebook, I am that guy–the one who scrutinizes memes and articles for the faintest whiff of bovine excrement. I’m the one who replies with links to Snopes.com –even if their determination is that a story is partially true. I’m the first to point out that the Borowitz Report, Daily Currant, Landover Baptist Church, and Christwire are all satire sites.

They aren’t true. They make stuff up. They’re making jokes.

I don’t point out these errors because I want to be a high-and-mighty know-it-all, out to humiliate anyone who makes the slightest mistake in judgment. It is simply that I believe in the value of truth. I’m all for a good joke, but if the joke is being spread as actual facts, then it behooves me to set the facts straight before the lie is taken by all to be the truth. And it’s nothing that I don’t expect others to do with me–if I am wrong, I want to be called out and shown what is true.

But the fact remains that the satire gets passed on as truth. Most of the time, it eventually gets called out and everyone can get back on board with truth. But there is always the risk that a lie can perpetuate, and the consequences are too dire to allow that to happen.

There’s actually a rule of thumb, almost as old as the internet itself, called Poe’s Law, that explains why we fall so easily for these satire stories. The rule, simply put, is that, unless the writer goes out of his way to show that a satirical depiction of extremist views is indeed satire, it will be impossible to distinguish the satirical work from actual accounts of extremism. And, to be sure, sometimes when someone posts something that I think must be satire, it turns out to be true.

I ran into this issue a few weeks ago. A day before Governor Mark Dayton signed same-sex legislation into law in the state of Minnesota, word spread across Facebook that Representative Michele Bachmann would move out of the state if the Minnesota state senate passed the law, which Dayton had already vowed to sign.

This made a lot of people on my friends list ecstatic. She is not their favorite person, nor they hers. She has maintained her Congressional seat for six years, not because of her skill and prowess (her faux pas and outright lies are the stuff of legend), but because she benefits from a ridiculously gerrymandered district drawn specifically to include people who are guaranteed to vote for Not-The-Democrat.

But something just felt off about the story. I spotted the error almost immediately. It was published by the Daily Currant.

And so I spent a good chunk of time debunking the source as the article cropped up over and over and over. And over. Eventually, I had to just back away from the computer and get out of the house to actually celebrate the legislature’s passage of the bill. I went across to the street to a gay bar for a bit of conviviality I was to share with a friend, but our signals crossed and she ended up elsewhere. No matter–the mood was most celebratory in the bar, strangers singing and dancing and parading a rainbow flag around the bar.

Then someone brought it up: “Michele Bachmann said she’s going to move now!” And now, offline, I was stuck having to explain yet again that this was simply not true, without the benefit of linking to the articles that were already debunking the story. It was just little ol’ me, a stranger, my word against what “everyone” had told the guy.

And when I awoke this morning, I thought I was going to have to go through this all over again. I hopped onto Facebook, and the first news I saw was that Bachmann was not going to run for re-election. Here we go again, I thought.

Except that it’s true. And now, as she likely fades from the public eye, the bizarre relationship I have had with the woman draws to a close.

Now, I’ve never met Congresswoman Bachmann. She doesn’t know me. And I don’t live in her district. I live in the district next door to hers, whose representative is Keith Ellison, perhaps the most liberal member of the House of Representatives–in other words, nearly her diametric opposite. She has made all kinds of vile statements about gays–and thus, about me.

And yet, her outrageous lies about me and my friends (never mind other lies she’s told) brought about a pivotal point in my life. Here was someone who, though never having met me, hated me. She saw me as subhuman, as not her equal. And I saw all about me people whose response to her hatred was hatred. The notion was that they would stop hating her when she stopped hating them.

And this made absolutely no sense to me. It put the responsibility for one’s own actions on another person. That’s not how responsibility works. And because this other person–Bachmann–showed no signs of letting up on her views, it created a never-ending cycle of hatred.

So I decided that I had to be the one to make the first move in relation to her. I had to treat her as my equal even if she didn’t believe I was equal. I had to love her even if she hated me.

Look at the alternative. All around the world we see cycles of hate creating endless wars, putting us always in peril of making ourselves extinct. (A previous post gets into this idea further.) And the only way we can avoid this is if each of us makes the move to disrupt the cycle.

And so I have found myself repeatedly defending someone who hates me. I’ve received no small amount of flak in doing so. But I cannot escape the idea that she and I are inherently equal, and to insist she is inferior to me accomplishes no good, even as she declares me inferior to her.

She and I are equal–just as I am equal to my other seven billion siblings.

This is truth. And I must speak the truth.