Trump Immigration Policy Hinders PTSD Treatment

On a separate track from the medication issue (unresolved), I met with a new therapist who does EMDR, which is one treatment for PTSD. She seemed good and thought I’m a good candidate for it based on initial screening. She did her master’s at Case Western, so we’ve both lived in Ohio. The catch is that she’s foreign, and the government rejected her visa application, so she has to leave the country. I don’t think many capable health providers with advanced degrees were kicked out of the country under previous presidents. I apologized. Treating low-income trauma patients isn’t exactly a job Americans are clamoring to do. In fact, this would be my first treatment for PTSD after more than 3 years seeking it in at least 4 different clinics. 
She’s the only clinician at Rainier Beach who does EMDR, so she’s referring me to Renton or Des Moines to see another one. I think those are accessible from the 106 and A Line, though Des Moines is probably a long trip for weekly appointments. I’ve never really been there. I’ll see this therapist again after I get back to follow up on the referral. 
I also got my passport application printed and photo taken, but they stop processing them at 4:00. So I’ll come back tomorrow or Monday to finish that, then I can take my Scandinavia trip. Trying to keep the productive momentum going. New couch coming tomorrow before a night watching Bella and Milo.

Food Stamp Fraud? Yeah, Right!

I’m doing paperwork to get food stamps back. There’s a 1 page form I had to partially fill out then forward to the temp agency so they can sign that I haven’t worked for them since February. Monthly bank statements January-April 2016 for both my credit union (8 pages total) and my online bank (12 pages total). DSHS wants my self-employment income separated by month for the last year, so I’ll have to gather and print lots of PayPal records. Or perhaps my 17-page tax return for 2015. Then they want a copy of my new lease showing my rent (which I just found out today isn’t done). Each document has to have your Social Security number or Client ID number.
You can’t just email them PDFs–they don’t use email yet. You can fax them, but the free online fax services only let you send 1 page per day each, then you start paying. So I end up using slow, tree-killing snail mail.
All this to get a paltry benefit that doesn’t cover a month’s groceries, with a card that stigmatizes you as a food stamp recipient, heavily restricts what you can buy and where, isn’t getting a security chip, and doesn’t work in mobile/virtual wallets.
AND THEY’RE WORRIED ABOUT FRAUD??? It’s long past time this bureaucratic, complicated, uncoordinated, slow, inefficient, ineffective, classist, demeaning rigamarole got replaced by a simple guaranteed basic income for all.

Impossible Decision Point

The Social Security Administration limits disability applicants to earning $1130/month for 2016.
If you make any more than that in a calendar month, you’re automatically disqualified from getting disability. 
Well, by working at Taco Time doing boring mindless work for a lower nominal (let alone real) wage than I earned in 1999 before I had any professional work experience, and which I had to commute 75 minutes each way to get to and from, it turns out that my February earnings were…$1131.27. Of course, I’ve since lost that job for being sick too often (embarrassing, stigmatized health issues like PTSD with no coverage to speak of from Medicaid), but that extra $1.27 does me in. After 20 months of bureaucratic nightmare trying to get disability, including a trumped up arrest dismissed by the prosecutor (only arrest in my life), and their loss of my birth certificate for 7 months and claim it was my fault, my application is now automatically disqualified. This is the great vaunted social safely net in America. I can’t hold a job but can’t get disability. I can’t have a stable home, pet, girlfriend, any of the physical or mental health treatment I desperately need–no matter how hard I fight for it or how many times I seek it out. Or how clearly and certainly I know exactly what I need–the poorer and less powerful you are, the less anyone bothers listening to you. Including friends and family, if you have those. I have nothing but inadequate food stamps, which will be taken away soon–because under their standards, I’m an able body adult w/o kids. (Since I’m not approved for disability) 
The only thing we do for people in need in the US is blame them, judge them, ignore them, castigate and excoriate them, and pretend everything bad in their lives is their own fault. Never mind systematic classism. Because we can’t possibly admit that the US is not a perfect meritocracy which deliberately and systematically exploits the poor to feather the nests of the Super-rich just a little more–in fact, no advanced nation is as anti-meritocratic or anti-utilitarian as the US. We make sure to maximize the number of people suffering and the depths of their suffering–see Where to Invade Next. It doesn’t have to be like this at all–we choose it consciously. But pretty lies always trump ugly truths in our land of denial and magical thinking. It’s far easier to blame victims and cast them as immoral, lazy, weak, undeserving, etc. than to acknowledge or fix problems. 

Is it worth trying yet a third time (with another 18-24 month wait) to apply for disability anew with all its impossible endless bureaucracy and total lack of guarantee you’ll get a fair hearing, let alone benefits? Is there any job I could possibly get and keep–one with a reasonable commute that uses my “huge Aspie brain” and lets me advance social justice in some way, paying well enough not to need help from poverty programs, but rather let me enter the middle class for the first time in my life at 39? Am I truly better off killing myself, since that’s clearly what every institution of any power or significance in the US really wants of us? Or is there any plausible way for me to emigrate to the vastly more advanced, fair, humane, egalitarian, happy, functional, democratic countries of northern Europe where people are treated with dignity and opportunity? My inclination now is suicide, unless emigration gets simpler, faster, and more feasible in short order.

A Look at Inequality from a Temp Job in Payroll

I had a temp job today that was kind of cool. It paid more than the mailings they’ve sent me on before, though it’s in Renton with an hour commute (would be 90 minutes on 2-3 buses from the building SHA wants to put me in). It was at a payroll company whose office suggests they’re new or expanding. The other temp and I had to enter a bunch of payroll data for about 100 employees at a yacht club. I was slower and clumsier than usual with my cast, but numbers and data entry are up my alley, as temping goes anyway. Memorizing random numbers is easy for me. My coworker was bored to death by it, and I think made more errors than I did. It’s not as meaningful as social justice work, or as exciting as a lot of other jobs, but I found it at least tolerable–if I kept doing the same thing and got in a groove, it’s something I could do while listening to podcasts or audiobooks. I was tempted to offer that I’d be happy to return if they wanted. There’s a lot of making sure numbers on the page match what you enter(ed) in the computer, then some less fun reconciliation when they run the aggregate report, and you have to hunt down various errors. (In one case, we were a penny off on someone’s Medicare deduction, but we didn’t know whose) They had 3 rounds of paychecks to enter for this client, and they didn’t seem to know how far we’d get. We finished 2, the second one much more quickly.

Of course I’d never heard of the client or any of the employees, but it was telling, validating, and disconcerting to see up close what we already know and experience of the larger economy. The pay, benefits, and I think job security were very pyramidal–lots and lots of people at the bottom, very few at the top far above them. This place must not be in Seattle or SeaTac based on many of the wages. They had a bunch of sailing instructors earning what struck me as a surprisingly or dangerously low wage considering the importance and safety issues involved in sailing (I assume–I can’t even swim). These people earn above the poverty line but definitely not enough to live on in Greater Seattle. Lots of $10-15 an hour. A few servers/bartenders make low wages and rely more on tips, but they still don’t come out much better. A few people make about $15-22 an hour, which is better but still too little, and too few workers make that. Then there is the small handful of more professional workers on salary. They might start around $35,000, but what jumps out at me is the very few people who get almost $100,000. Or the guy (you can’t be surprised it’s a man) who makes ~$125,000. I don’t know their family or financial situations of course, but that kind of money strikes me as having it made. They can afford all kinds of things and not have to worry about money. They can basically afford the best of everything this country has to buy. But I have a hard time understanding how a couple people deserve 6 figures while many more of their workers are barely above minimum wage. It shows up in the deductions too, which must hint at their qualities of life. The low-wage people mostly just have workers’ comp at about $1/paycheck, and federal income and payroll tax. As you get into the white collar people and highest earners, they have those plus 401(k)s–Roth and conventional–health insurance premiums, medical savings accounts, bonuses, 401(k) loans, probably more vacation time… Not only is their pay better, but their benefits are much better, and with the ability to save or invest for different purposes or lengths of time (in tax-advantaged instruments!), they’ll also remain secure in the future. It’s as economically myopic as it is morally wrong and cruel. Part of me is tempted to redistribute numbers from higher to lower paid workers. Of course, your job in payroll is just the opposite; total accuracy. The one partial comfort is the progressive income tax, where poorer employees have little withheld, and I feel safe assuming that when someone has a lot of withholding, it’s because they can afford it and deserve to pay that. But ultimately, we need Bernie Sanders. At this point, as fucked as we are, he is this country’s last best hope.

11 Year Old Girl Raped, Disbelieved, Arrested

This girl was a crack baby abused as an infant. She was raped twice when she was 11, but the police never investigated either because her story–confused by trauma and mental illness–had inconsistencies common to trauma survivors. Instead, they arrested her and had her convicted for filing a false report. More than a decade later, justice has not been served. There should be no surprise whatsoever that rage at the police in this country has been brewing for a long time and is finally rising to the surface.

The Ongoing Quest for the Missing Birth Certificate 

Social Security caseworker left me a message saying my “document” (birth certificate) is available at their office in the dreaded federal building for me to pick up. This seems odd given that they repeatedly told me they’d sent it to me in the mail. Perhaps they discovered it had been sitting in their office all along, lost. But “security” (police state) wouldn’t let me in since I had a small pair of gardening clippers with me. The county administration building lets you check prohibited items to claim when you leave. The federal building not only does no such thing; they told me I had to take them off federal property “meaning across the street”. So apparently federal security now thinks the street and sidewalk belong to them and not the city. 

Also, I looked carefully for any sign saying photography isn’t allowed in the building. I couldn’t find one, unless it’s included in the huge sign with tiny print listing the conditions of entering the building. That would’ve taken a good 10-15 minutes to read, which would assuredly make the cops suspicious. 

So the quest for the missing birth certificate continues. I’m thinking I should recruit a round table of Knights to assist me in The Multi-Year Quest for Disability Benefits I Need and Paid For. American social programs must make Kafka blush in his grave. 

Post-Election Musings

Some general and random election thoughts–

Four of the last five federal elections (2006, 2008, 2010, and 2014) have been wave elections, when one party makes major gains at the other’s expense. This is unusual historically. Before 2006, the last wave election was 1994. Before that, it was 1982. 1980 and 1974 were also waves. But two of the recent four were Democratic, and two were Republican. The nation isn’t moving steadily in one direction, nor is it responding to single clear events like Watergate; it’s moving back and forth between two parties it doesn’t like. We’re sort of playing hot potato. This has to be understood as a broad and deep dissatisfaction with the status quo (which, let’s be honest, hasn’t really changed much through all these recent elections). It’s as if voters are finally throwing the bums out every cycle, and we’re seeing the predictable result of low seniority and high churn.

But separate from candidate elections, issue contests seem to be going in a progressive, libertarian, or populist direction. Even yesterday; voters raised minimum wages, legalized marijuana, imposed gun restrictions, mandated paid sick leave, and steered clear of abortion and marriage equality.

At the same time, voter turnout fell between the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections, was very low in 2010, and I suspect may have been even lower in 2014 (41% in WA is shocking to me). Part of this could be the effects of strict “voter ID” laws. But it may also signal a different phenomenon. Like so many things, you can have too much voter turnout, or too little. When it exceeds 90% or 95%, it tends to signify major problems (e.g. fraud or authoritarian “elections”). Likewise, consider how in many other nations; candidates, parties, or other groups often boycott elections in protest because they find them rigged or unfair. Maybe this is what many Americans are doing. They’re fed up with having to choose between two bad options. They see the government is incapable of addressing our most pressing problems, like gun violence, climate change, or mass poverty. They know that if corporations are people and money is speech, their status as humans without money makes their voices irrelevant–the system has gone through the looking glass and is just too absurd to participate in anymore. Low turnout favors elitists and corporate power, who then make the system worse and more absurd, and it spirals out of control. Maybe people want some populist and democratic solutions they aren’t seeing.

I obviously can’t be sure I’m analyzing this correctly or considering all the necessary factors. I’m eager to mull it over with you. I do strongly recommend reading David Sirota and Chris Hedges.

*If 2016 brings a Republican president with a Republican Senate, will the people who supported filibuster reform come to regret it? Imagine replacing Ruth Bader Ginsburg with another Alito.

*Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is up for election in 2016, when he’ll be 76. He was first elected to the Senate in 1986. He says he’ll run again, but politicians often change their minds about that. In addition, for all his faults, Mitch McConnell has proven he’s a talented legislator. He’s assembled several major compromises that passed Congress and became law. With Reid presiding over yesterday’s loss of the majority (in fairness, he also presided over the reverse in 2006), will he also be proven an inferior legislator to McConnell? Will the combination of the two lead Democrats to pressure him to retire? That would presumably lead Dick Durbin and Chuck Schumer to compete to succeed him as Democratic Senate leader.

*In WA, there’s much attention on the state Senate. Hardly any on the House. Top notch state government reporter Austin Jenkins raised the prospect this morning that Dems may lose enough seats to bring back the 49-49 tied House (Co-Speaker Dan Kristiansen?). That’s unlikely, but their majority will definitely be smaller. That could give a few rogue progressives the leverage to force the House leftward. Or it could lead House Republicans to follow their Senate colleagues by persuading a few conservative Dems to join them and form a bicameral Majority Coalition Caucus.