February, 2011

There’re Real People at the End of That Stick

What’s going to happen next is going to be really awful.  The proposed Medicaid cuts in Wisconsin are going to cause pain to real people.  Not pain as in…”Oh, I wish we didn’t pay so much in taxes.”  Pain as in…”I don’t think I can walk to the bus stop.”  Pain as in doubled over – not from having to write a big check to the IRS or the Wisconsin Department of Revenue but from an untreated ulcer.  Real people will suffer.  They will hurt, they will do without, they will get sicker, and they will die younger.  That’s a fact.  Take it to the bank. 

I am often late on the logic quest.  Other people figure out stuff a lot quicker than me and possibly a lot of people have figured out how having thousands of people with no access to health care and hence more likely to use emergency rooms, miss work because of illness, and become unable to work because of preventable disabilities somehow saves money and makes Wisconsin a better state. 

I’d like to pair up 10 really sick uninsured people with 10 policymakers hot to cut Medicaid and ask each pair to spend an hour talking one on one.  No cameras.  No speeches.  One human being to another. I’d want to make sure that one of those 10 uninsured people is the homeless woman I met at a shelter whose illness had cost her a job, her home, and her independence. Now she is living in a room with another woman with a couple of hooks to put her clothes and a place to stow the rest of her belongings under her bed.

If Legislator X can listen to a diabetic explain how he has to wait to go into insulin shock to get insulin at the ER or Legislator Y can listen to a woman explain how she had undetected breast cancer that advanced to Stage 4 before she could afford a doctor and they can still advocate to cut Medicaid, I will then have to give up all faith in the basic goodness and charity of humankind.  Honestly.

My theory is that people who contemplate these punishing policies don’t know anyone who would end being on the end of the stick.  They don’t have a single face to associate with the issue.  They have never had someone in terrible straits ask them what to do or where to go.  They’ve managed to completely avoid personal interaction with the wounded. 

I wish the next demonstration in Madison about the proposed budget was a sea of crutches and wheelchairs and gurneys.  I wish there was a way that the thousands of people who are going to be at the end of that stick could show themselves to policymakers.  Make the deciders look them in the face.  And then vote.

Nothing Like a Good Fight

Right now in Wisconsin, we’ve got a good old street fight going.  What’s good about a street fight?  People come to watch.  They watch, they wager, they strategize.  They tell their friends, they stay up late talking about the new moves.  Consider new weapons.  Call in reinforcements.  Boast, brag, create new Yo Mamma’s, connive, and adrenalize.

We’re taught to be worried about conflict.  Avoid it.  Run away.  Social scientists, tsk tsking about central city kids, will bemoan that they run toward a fight rather than away from it.  And wonder why they don’t have the normal middle class instincts of submerged, indirect conflict and moves so subtle that codebreakers have to be called in to decipher – “was I just insulted?”

I love a throwdown.

A long time ago, I lived in Flint, Michigan, a city that was company (GM) and union (UAW) – either or – all the time.  City council meetings were raucous, risky events.  Broadcast live on AM radio, citizens would jump in their cars and drive to City Hall if the goings-on got real interesting, the name-calling at the right high decibel.  I remember pushing my baby daughter in her bassinet back and forth on a braided rug, getting so angry and exercised about what I was hearing on the damn radio that the bassinet’s front legs buckled.  Oh dear.  Calm down.  I remember a particularly hot meeting when the last vote against a bad city neighborhood plan came rolling in on a hospital gurney with an IV in his arm.  Yes, ma’am.  Throwdown.

So, yeah, there is a big part of me that wonders why the two sides of this issue can’t sit down and respectfully reason together, there’s another part of me that says, “Do it!  Draw a line in the sand.”  “Say what you stand for.”  “Don’t sit down and be nice.”  For once, have the sides of the issue be black and white so everybody can figure out how to choose a team.  Get rid of the backroom moves and the bureaucratic, budget balancing gyrations and put the whole steaming mess on the table.  Make it a good enough show that the old folks and the working folks and students and kids know there’s a ‘fer and agin’ and pick one.

I had been thinking that all this conflict was a bad thing for Wisconsin — it’s not.  Anything political that makes people’s blood boil is a good thing for everyone.  They might be mad.  But, boy, they’re paying attention!

Put That Damn Thing Down!

There are a lot of people I know – or know of – who  just can’t wait to get the hammer.  You know the type.  You’re sitting in a meeting, get up to sharpen your pencil, and by the time you get back, the nuclear option is on the table.  Times are tough, people not doing what you want?  Let’s knock ’em upside the head with something extremely heavy. 

Why talk when you can put a gun to someone’s head?  Which is, I think, the reasoning of the stick-up guy at the gas station who declines having a conversation about his personal unemployment issues in favor of jacking a guy out of $20 right now

There seems to be a lot of this hammerhead thing going around right now.  If I was a political analyst, which I’m not, I’d say that Scott Walker has made kind of a fast leap to the heavy tools.  What bothers me about this isn’t what you might think.  I’m not a big defender of public employees or unions for that matter.  Public employee pensions really irk me – probably because as an independent business person, I pay a huge amount of social security tax and have no pension.  But I realize that pension benefits were a negotiated benefit and that the government and the unions agreed to this stuff fair and square.  It’s not like the unions crawled through a window and stole these benefits off the kitchen table.

What irks me is this:  the hammer wielder’s presumption that his opponents are unreasonable, selfish, and unaware of the community (or in this case, the state’s) crisis.  Another shade of that is his presumption that he  absolutely knows the right thing to do and there’s no point in discussing it with anyone who doesn’t agree.  No dialogue. No listening.  No allowing for a spark of genius or creative solution.

I really can’t stand that.  It’s a level of arrogance and dismissiveness of other interests that irks me a lot more than enormously fat pensions ever could.  Not cool.  Not smart.  Not in Madison or right here in our fair city.