Monthly Archives: September 2016

Meet a Truly Awful Presidential Candidate

Former New Mexico governor Gary Johnson is in the news again today for showing off his profound ignorance on national television. But the more important story is why anyone cares about him at all.

Johnson is polling at near-double digits nationally, the highest such showing ever at this point for a Libertarian Party candidate. Johnson’s numbers are also sharply up from his showing when he was the LP presidential candidate in 2012. In that race, he was in the neighborhood of two percent in September, but in the end got 0.99 percent of the vote – still the most votes for a Libertarian presidential candidate in that party’s history.

This year, he’;s doing far better, as you’d expect with such a controversial and flawed Republican nominee. But that’s not the only reason Johnson is receiving record support. A mid-September New York Times poll had Johnson getting the support of a staggering 26 percent of young voters – the same voting block that overwhelmingly supported Bernie Sanders in hi Democratic Party primary campaign against Hillary Clinton. Rather than support Clinton now, many of them are turning to Johnson.

This is, in large part, a testimony to the weakness of Green Party candidate Jill Stein. Like Johnson, Stein was also her party’s presidential nominee in 2012. Unlike Johnson, Stein is doing the same or a little worse this year than in September 2012 polling. Given Sanders’ record-breaking performance for an explicitly socialist candidate who shares many of Stein’s positions, this is an inexplicably bad showing on her part. But having that support shift to Johnson is even more inexplicable.

Gary Johnson is a fairly standard-issue Libertarian on policy stances (though appallingly ignorant on some issues – more on that in a moment). He has largely built his campaign on gun fetishism and on pot legalization. The latter stance (which Stein also supports) seems to be a big reason for his support for millennials. And Johnson, like many Libertarians, is also good on civil liberties and on scaling back American militarism.

But Johnson isn’t the type of Libertarian largely motivated by social issues – he’s cut from the (now dominant in LP politics) Ayn Rand-worshipping of the party that emphasizes corporate freedom to do whatever and shredding what’s left of America’s social safety net.

Mother Jones’ Kevin Drum helpfully compiled a list recently of some of the Johnson policy stances that ought to be anathema to a Sanders supporter. Among them:

He supports TPP.
He supports fracking.
He opposes any federal policies that would make college more affordable or reduce student debt. In fact, he wants to abolish student loans entirely.
He thinks Citizens United is great.
He doesn’t want to raise the minimum wage. At all.
He favors a balanced-budget amendment and has previously suggested that he would slash federal spending 43 percent in order to balance the budget. This would require massive cuts to Social Security, Medicare, and social welfare programs of all kinds.
He opposes net neutrality.
He wants to increase the Social Security retirement age to 75 and he’s open to privatization.
He opposes any kind of national health care and wants to repeal Obamacare.
He opposes practically all forms of gun control.
He opposes any kind of paid maternity or medical leave.
He supported the Keystone XL pipeline.
He opposes any government action to address climate change.
He wants to cut the corporate tax rate to zero.
He appears to believe that we should reduce financial regulation. All we need to do is allow big banks to fail and everything will be OK.
He wants to remove the Fed’s mandate to maximize employment and has spoken favorably of returning to the gold standard.
He wants to block-grant Medicare and turn it over to the states.
He wants to repeal the 16th Amendment and eliminate the income tax, the payroll tax, and the estate tax. He would replace it with a 28 percent FairTax that exempts the poor. This is equivalent to a 39 percent sales tax, and it would almost certainly represent a large tax cut for the rich.

Johnson’s actual record as New Mexico was very much along this vein, especially on taxation: he issued more vetoes during his time as governor than the governors of all 49 other states combined, and they were mostly revenue and spending bills. He is not in any sense progressive, except where it happens to involve government interference in personal behavior.

As a presidential candidate, Johnson is running to make an ideological point, not to win. Neither of them makes a plausible Commander-in-Chief. (I’ll write more Stein’s anemic candidacy later.) But Stein, at least, does her homework; Johnson has shown repeatedly in interviews that once he’s separated from his favored issues and talking points, he’s lost.

That’s why today’s headlines, after an MSNBC town hall in which Johnson could not name a single foreign leader – nobody. Johnson himself referred o it as “another Aleppo moment,” referring to n MSNBC interview earlier this month when a question was asked about the devastation of Syria’s largest city. “What would you do about Aleppo?,” the host asked, andJohnson replied, “What is Aleppo?” (Or, alternatively: “What is a leppo?”) That’s the response of someone who not only flunked world geography, but isn’t even paying casual attention to the news – something of a prerequisite for a s presidential candidate, and another indication that Johnson simply isn’t a serious candidate – even though he’s now run for the office twice.

None of this should matter. Johnson’s support among millennials, and especially among Sanders supporters, wouldn’t be happening if Hillary Clinton were a stronger and more progressive candidate. It also wouldn’t be happening if Jill Stein were a stronger candidate or were running a better campaign. Either could name a dozen foreign leaders without hesitation. Both have detailed plans about what to do about Aleppo.

But it also wouldn’t be happening if anybody were actually paying attention to more than a few cherry-picked examples of Johnson’s beliefs. Because there’s bad, there’s awful, and there’s truly awful. Either Clinton or Stein, for all their flaws, would make a far better president than Gary Johnson.

2016: The Year of the Bureaucrats

Or, The Play Samuel Beckett Couldn’t Get Published, Because It Was Too Absurd

This has been a strange and infuriating year for me so far. Last week, I recounted the whole sordid story to a friend over lunch, and she suggested I write it all out so it could be shared around.

This is also a pretty good summary of why, as I write this on September 22, Revel and I between us have about $20 to our names. Take a deep breath, and break out your funhouse mirrors.

First, some context: the last couple of years were already difficult. In 2014, my 20-year marriage ended. I began a new relationship, with Revel Smith, but within three months we were both dealing with serious new health challenges on top of our existing ones. That resulted in seven months of homelessness and pretty much the destruction of both of our savings and credit.

In 2015, we finally found housing in February that could accommodate our health issues. Alas, the next month I landed in the hospital with an infection in my right ankle, one of the risks of my chronic immunosuppression. It got into the ankle joint, went septic, and I got very, very sick. It would take eight months, three hospitalizations, and two long periods of home IV abtibiotics. At one point they were talking about amputation. Thankfully, that didn’t happen.

Enter 2016. Believe it or not, this is the short version.


With a new term and some changes to the staff, the consulting work I’d been doing for city councilperson Kshama Sawant’s office comes an end, leaving me effectively unemployed. This will become more important again in July.

My wallet is stolen, including my drivers license, Medicare and Social Security cards, and a bunch of other cards.

My old, trusty VW Jetta finally gave up the ghost, and a friend generously sold me, at nominal cost, a 1988 Ford pickup truck as a replacement.

When I go to the Department of Licensing to get a replacement drivers’ license, they inform me that it’s been suspended due to failure to provide a visual exam. (This has happened to me before, and to other friends; the DoL seems to be very sloppy about notifying people subject to this requirement as to when it’s due.) As a result, they won’t issue a new temporary license until I get a form filled out by my ophthalmologist. Because of my transplant-related issues, I get my eye care through UW hospital, and the next available appointment isn’t until March.

When I go the next day to get the title transferred for the truck, I’m told I can’t do it without a drivers license. Which I can’t get until March. I’ll have to pay more for transferring the title late, but at least it’ll get done before the truck’s tabs expire at the end of March.

In December, the home IV antibiotic course I’d been on had seemingly healed my long-running ankle infection, but it erupts again and I land back in the hospital. On the third day, hospital admissions asks me if I have new insurance, because my secondary health insurance after Medicare is no longer valid. This comes as a surprise.

I had switched from my long-time credit union to a new credit union closer to my new home in December, and I had notified the health insurance folks so that their monthly automatic payment would move to the new account. Instead, it turned out, they’d tried the old account again in January. When that didn’t work, rather than notifying me, they “assumed” I no longer wanted coverage and cancelled my policy without telling me. I found this out while I was in the hospital. Moreover, I needed another round of home IV antibiotics upon discharge, and without that coverage the home health care company responsible for setting it up and supplying the antibiotic wanted payment up front. I couldn’t be discharged until the home health care was in place.

And, so, I spent two extra days in the hospital, working the phones. The secondary health insurer grants my appeal of its policy cancellation in record time (since it was their fault…), but wants two months’ payment up front to restore my policy. The new premiums for 2016 are $643 a month, or, sans work, about 60 percent of my monthly disability income.

The home health care outfit agreed that if I gave them $600 to hold for the first week’s services, they’ll refund it once the health insurance policy is restored. In order to get discharged from the hospital, I scramble to borrow money from friends to pay off the health insurance and the home health care – because, being newly unemployed, this is $2,000 I simply don’t have lying around. Only in America.

With everyone paid off and the insurance restored, I finally get discharged. The final hospital bill is $31,000. The home health care outfit doesn’t refund the $600. Eight months later, I’m still waiting. More on this in June.

That was January.


Thankfully, the home antibiotics actually heal my ankle for good this time. The central line I was using for the IV treatments gets taken out.

While in the hospital, I’d applied for Medicaid as a way to avoid the insanely expensive premiums I’m now paying for secondary insurance. That comes through, retroactive to January 1 – this will be important later. My spenddown – essentially, the money I need to spend out of pocket before Medicaid coverage kicks in – is $1,100 for the period January to June – more money I don’t have, payable up front – based on the Sawant income I’m no longer getting. The previous insurer says they’ll refund the three months’ premiums, totaling nearly $2,000, in March, but only after I pay the March premium.


The insurance refund doesn’t show up. I need that money to repay my friends. I borrow more money instead.

My 91-year-old mother, living in rural Georgia, has a stroke. It’s dicey for a while, but eventually it’s determined that there’s not much permanent damage. I’d visit, but I have no money for air fare and no drivers license to rent a car anyway, so it would be logistically difficult to get there from the airport in Atlanta.

My ophthalmology appointment gets postponed. Twice: once because she goes home sick an hour before my appointment, and a second time when a clinic staff meeting gets scheduled for the same time as my appointment. (At least they called me on that one.) I’m now scheduled in April, meaning I can’t get either a drivers license or the truck’s title transferred before then. At the end of the month, the tabs expire.


My building doesn’t have parking; I can park on the street, though, because my disabled placard exempts me from the meters that line every street in the neighborhood. So I don’t get parking tickets for that. I can, however, get tickets for failing to display current tabs. Those begin, every day or two. The first dozen or so, at $47 a pop, are from the same parking enforcement officer. I request a hearing on each to explain the circumstances.

I finally get the ophthalmology appointment. I pass the state-mandated visual exam. The results, per DoL instructions, are faxed to Olympia, where they will take another two weeks to process.

Meantime, the exam itself turns up problems. My immunosuppression means I’m prone to cataracts. I had surgery a few years ago when one developed. That left me with an artificial lens that can’t get cataracts. However, now I’m starting to get a cataract in the other eye. Plus, the eye with the artificial lens is developing a membrane underneath it; now I’m told that this, too, is a common complication. My vision is still OK in each eye, but they’ll require surgery. Surgery can’t be scheduled until July, but I’m assured that this is just about perfect, because by the membrane and cataract will be bad enough to need the surgery anyway.

In the last week of April, the $2000 from my previous secondary insurance finally arrives, a month late. I use it to pay back some emergency loans and to cover May rent.

I continue trying in vain to get my $600 back from the home health care company.


The visual exam form is finally processed in Olympia, so my license is no longer suspended, I’m valid, and I can finally go into the Department of Licensing to get a replacement drivers license.

However, the clerk noticed I was limping when I walked into the office – a longstanding balance issue that has nothing to do with my ability to drive. No matter; she decides I need to pass a field test to show how I “compensate” for, um, uh, my difficulty walking while I’m operating a motor vehicle. And she schedules me for a test – in Everett, because the two closer offices are booked out for two months, longer than the period in which I’m supposed to take the field test. And even though my license is perfectly valid unless I don’t complete the field test by a given date, she won’t issue me the replacement card for the one lost in my stolen wallet four months previous.

Moreover, you have to supply your own vehicle for the field test at a state office, and I can’t legally drive mine. The net effect is that the DoL is insisting I get the vehicle tabs before I can get a drivers license, and the DMV says I can’t transfer the title and get current tabs until I have the drivers license. Got that?

The magistrate at he first of what will be four separate hearings for batches of parking tickets hears all this and laughs. The result is that I have to pay one $47 ticket, and she throws out the other 19. Seriously.

I put the printout from the hearing of a full page of “dismissed with prejudice” lines under my windshield, along with a short “to whom it may concern” note. It doesn’t help. I keep getting tickets. The second and third hearings will go pretty much like the first; #4 is coming up in October.

My mother lands in the hospital again with extremely high blood pressure. She’s got medication for it, which she remembers to take, sometimes.

The good news is that my overall health is much better. The function of my non-native kidney, transplanted 22 years ago, is declining over time, though, and so with the ankle infection resolved we can start checking the different boxes and getting the different tests and exams and hoops completed to make me eligible for the transplant list. Which has a four-year wait list right now.

My parasitic friends in the health insurance industry are quiet. Too quiet.


I cancel the Everett test rather than risk driving 30 miles illegally. I reschedule for a closer office, in the hopes that I can find a friend’s car to drive at that time, but now the membrane in the eye I already have an artificial lens in is getting markedly worse – to the point that I shouldn’t be driving until after my surgery in July. I voluntarily surrender the license I don’t have a copy of anyway for medical reasons, which will make it cheaper to reinstate down the road than if I hadn’t completed the field test in time.

Remember the home health care company that owed me $600? They still owe it, but out of the blue and four months late they send me a bill for another $4,000 for the other weeks of treatment. I’d given them the information that my secondary insurance switched to Medicaid, retroactive to January 1. Apparently Medicare won’t pay for my particular antibiotic for home infusion, and rather than billing Medicaid to recover it, they bill me. Many fruitless phone calls ensue.

Medicaid has a midyear “eligibility review” due June 15. They’re backed up processing the paperwork by a month, meaning that my secondary insurance will be cancelled for the first half of July and then, presumably, reinstated once they get around to processing my form.

I also want to get the spenddown reduced or eliminated, since I stopped working for the city in January. This requires going to the city’s HR office three separate times to get the paperwork successive DSHS agents insist is required to prove it. This is finally done in early July. Fortunately, my eye surgery isn’t until the end of July. I’m now essentially blind in one eye – the other one still seems fine – but at least I won’t have to pay for the surgery out of pocket. Probably.


July 1 comes and goes, and with it, my Medicaid coverage. They reinstate me three weeks later, with a different spenddown amount that reflects my lost incom: $2800 for six months, or 250 percent more than what it had been. So much for having greatly reduced income. This means I’m supposed to pay all of the my three months of disability income up front to buy the immunosuppressant drugs that keep me alive. That’s without paying for, I dunno, food, rent, transportation, or anything else. This is insane. I immediately appeal.

Three days later, I get a notice in the mail with a new spenddown total: $4800, or nearly twice the amount I already appealed as insane. Both Revel and I burst out laughing at this, because, well, what other rational response is there? I’m supposed to spend nearly $5,000.00, or five months’ income, up front, on the drugs that keep me alive, before I can get coverage. It’s terrifying. It’s a problem.

DSHS schedules the appeals hearing for mid-September, meaning I need to cover those costs for two and a half months (retroactive to July 1) even if it turns out that they were completely wrong.

I have another court date with 15 or so parking tickets, which are similarly reduced to near-nothing.

The main impediment to my getting on the transplant list is that I need several thousand dollars (at least) of dental work done, which Medicare doesn’t cover unless it’s in the emergency room. Medicaid, however, will cover it. But now I’d need to spend that several thousand up front first. So that’s on hold, too.

My ophthalmologist decides to do the two eye surgeries separately. The one that’s gotten bad is first, and it’s successful: membrane gone, and once it heals I’ll finally be in business again for the truck/driving nightmare, too.


Are we having fun yet?

I get the clearance from the ophthalmologist once my surgeried eye has healed, and the DoL’s licensed private agencies include a driving school that’s both bus-accessible and allows you to use their vehicle for the field test. But what with the lack of secondary health insurance, on top of everything else, now I can’t afford the field test until September.

The other eye surgery is scheduled for October. So far, the vision in it is still good.

My elderly mother lands in the hospital again. She badly needs to move to assisted living, but can’t do it. She’s still waiting for her long-term care insurance to reimburse her for the home help she needed after her stroke in March. At least we have that in common. At this point it doesn’t seem likely I’ll ever be able to afford to visit her again.

Home health care is still sitting on my $600, and I stop pressing them on their $4000 bill for fear they will bill Medicaid, Medicaid will turn them down as less billing an amount less than my insane spenddown, and then I’ll have no hope of avoiding responsibility for the bill. Short of bankruptcy, which I should probably do at this point but I don’t have the bandwidth. I’m too busy trying to raise money for prescription drugs, food, and other assorted luxuries.

And this brings us to…


I pass the field test.

I go to the DoL office, which informs me that I need another visual exam form filled out by ophthalmologist.

After chasing her around Harborview and UW for three days, I finally get it, so now I should be in business, right? Get the drivers license (after eight months), get vehicle tabs, all set.

The DoL informs me that since it was a “re-test” – because I cancelled the Everett test back in June – I can’t use the state’s own contracted private agencies for the field test. It has to be a state office. The earliest date for one of those is about exactly the same time as my other eye surgery.

And it doesn’t matter anyway, because the city tows the truck. At some point one afternoon (I’d checked it at 10 AM, and also the previous night), the street parked on most days sprouted “no parking 6 PM to 6 AM” sandwich boards for that night, and when I looked that evening, the truck was gone.

Dunno how much the ticket is for – it went to the previous owner, I imagine – and while I’ll fight it, I’ll likely lose since it involves proving a negative. The city has to post those signs at least 24 hours in advance, but somehow I didn’t think to take and time-stamp a photo of the sidewalk with no signs earlier that day.

And I can’t get the truck out of the impound lot, since 1) I still didn’t legally own it, 2) I can’t drive it off the lot with no drivers license, and 3) I can’t afford the towing and impound fees. It’s gone to auction now.

Next up, ironically: parking ticket hearing #3. This time, noting my poverty, the magistrate offers me minimal community service hours instead. I agree.

The morning of the DSHS appeals hearing, a Tuesday, arrives. I call early to confirm. “Oh, we don’t do hears on Tuesday any more. Now they’re on Monday. Yours got moved to next week.”

Meantime, I’d changed the spenddown period to three months from six, making the upfront costs less if something catastrophic (like, say, two days in a hospital) happened. That means I needed to apply all over again by September 15. Done – though I had to walk the application into the DSHS office because I couldn’t afford to fax it. I chatted sympathetically with the female security guard, who was gently trying to usher a seriously disturbed, apparently homeless woman out of their office.

Six days after its originally scheduled date, I have the appeals hearing. It goes reasonably well – I went pro se, but it helped that the DSHS attorney apparently hadn’t bothered to read the 80 pages in records they’d sent me ahead of the hearing. I had. (It included nuggets like a using a random and much higher number for my self-employment income, rather than the documented figure I gave them.) However, I won’t find out a decision until early next month, and I expect that most of the insane amount, but not all, will be upheld.

By then, I need to decide whether to go back to my old $643/mo secondary insurance – expensive, and it doesn’t cover dental, but they respond to problems in a timely way and the policy does cover everything else, including essential drugs a lot of plans won’t cover; apply existing health debts (like the home health care) to the 4th quarter spenddown, which is only a temporary fix and leaves me on the hook to a bunch of additional debtors – or see if I can find some sort of charity program to help with the drug costs.

That was Monday. It’s now Thursday afternoon, and between us Revel and I have $20 to last us until we get our monthly disability checks in ten days. Between my fruitless efforts to save the vehicle (so that, once legal, I could sell it to help with other expenses), the insurance nightmare, the health challenges, and a generous helping of random bullshyte, I’m broke and beyond frustrated.

Shortly I’m planning to launch a new media project – because there’s a need for it, because it has the potential to at least partly help defray some of these expenses (and I’m as tired of begging my friends for financial help as you are of hearing it), and most of all for my own sanity. I’ve spent far too much time this year dealing with all this absurdity – believe it or not, this is the abridged version – and far too little tine doing things like reporting and commentary that I enjoy and am good at.

If you’ve read this far, thank you for caring and for your forbearance. If you can help financially it would help, of course. (There’s a PayPal button at lower right, or PM me directly.) The less time I spend on all of this, the more I can spend writing about things more people care about.

But even more, this is a cautionary tale. When I hear about lazy poor people, or plans that will, say, magically house all the homeless if only they follow these 630 simple steps, the first thing I think about is that people who’ve never had to navigate these systems assume that they work the way they’re designed to, and that if people aren’t helped by them it’s the individual’s fault. Sure, in hindsight, I would have handled some of this year’s situations differently, but only because I wasn’t cynical enough. Which is saying something.

And I doubt it would have helped much. These are systems designed to appease the consciences of those who design and fund them, not to meet the needs of those who need them. As our wealthy local and national economy leaves more and more of us behind, the only real security we have is each other.

Execution Fatigue

OK, well, the propensity of law enforcement personnel to kill unarmed black men is back in the news this week, with the inevitability that comes with chronic, systemic, and unaddressed problems. There was the motorist in Tulsa whose car broke down, and when police came to help, the dashcam and helicopter (!) videos released this week show, he was instead gunned down for no apparent reason. There was the guy in Charlotte sitting quietly in his vehicle in an apartment parking lot, reading a book and waiting for his son to come home from school, who got shot instead, leading to two nights and counting of riots in that city. And a young mn in Baltimore County whose fiance called 911 last weekend to report his erratic behavior apparently had to be “subdued” by police before and even after he had been put in restraints, with a beating so vicious that he died yesterday of heart and kidney failure due to his injuries.

Beyond the immediate tragedy of these incidents, what has stood out to me this week has been the relative lack of interest in them by national media and much of the general public – by which I mean white America. The Tulsa killing barely made national media, gone after a news cycle. So far, the Baltimore death has primarily been a local story, buried in national coverage by the riots in Charlotte – which have also eclipsed the original death there (and another shooting in last night’s riots which witnesses insist was also at the hands of law enforcement, not another civilian as the police claim). It takes riots in places like Baltimore, Milwaukee, Baton Rouge and now Charlotte to get national media attention now. A grisly and seemingly unprovoked death of a black man captured on video isn’t enough any more, for exactly the reason it should matter even more: we’ve seen it all before. Black lives, it turns out, really don’t matter, at least not if there’s insufficient entertainment value.

I would now write that these cities join the long gazetteer of American places made famous in the last two years for law enforcement killings of unarmed black men – names like Ferguson, Brooklyn, Cleveland, Dayton, Milwaukee, Baton Rouge, Falcon Heights, and many more – but Tulsa and Baltimore were already on the list. Somewhat improbably, a 71-year-old reserve Tulsa County Sheriff’s deputy was convicted this past spring of second degree manslaughter. He’d claimed he confused his Taser with his service weapon. That’ll be a hard defense to mount this time, since police used both. And the Baltimore death was eerily reminiscent of the death of Freddie Gray, who also succumbed to injuries inflicted while in police custody – and whose killers were acquitted after a prosecution that generated a furious backlash from law enforcement allies and groupies.

The chances are still relatively low that the killers of this week’s victims will face prosecution, let alone conviction, for their killing. The immediate reaction in Charlotte was to release the wholly irrelevant details of the victim’s previous police record. Denigrating the victim is a standard part of the official playbook in cases like these – to the point where even 12-year-old Tamir Rice, gunned down on a Cleveland playground, was initially portrayed by officials as a miniature, budding thug.

In Washington state, prosecution of law enforcement murders, no matter how egregiously random, is nearly impossible due to our state’s absurd standard for convicting law enforcement officers for killings committed in the line of duty. I-873, a statewide initiative now gathering signatures (SIGN IT!!), would change that standard. But it’s been over two years since Michael Brown’s death in Ferguson, Missouri provoked national outrage. In that time, the #BlackLivesMatter movement has raised awareness, but that has not, to any significant degree, resulted in changes to actual law enforcement policy or practice. People of color are still being shot without provocation, in if anything increasing numbers.

It’s a national problem Congress can’t and won’t do anything about, and it’s hard to imagine the Justice Department of Hillary Clinton (let alone Donald Trump) being any better than Obama’s has been on the issue. And still, corporate media interest in these killings, and for that matter interest among the general white public, has been declining for at least a year. It pretty much takes the novelty of a riot or killings of police to pique their interest now.

I’m old enough to remember the 1980s, when Reagan de-funded the mental hospitals, one of the major factors in creating a sudden new generation of homeless people where few had exited before. For about two years, this was considered scandalous. How could people not have homes in the wealthiest nation on Earth?

Then it got normalized, which was excused by something called “Compassion Fatigue.” Worrying about the fates of less fortunate people is waaayyyy less interesting than worrying about the fates of MORE fortunate people. And so, today, we have a multi-billion dollar celebrity-watching industry and, in Seattle as in many other cities, ten times or more homeless people than when homelessness was newly visible and unthinkably scandalous.

I fear something similar is happening with baseless law enforcement killings of people of color. The novelty of shocking video is wearing off. The complexity of fixing the problem has become more obvious, as has the fact that much of the Trump-supporting majority of white US citizens likes the status quo just fine. The shootings of cops in Dallas and Baton Rouge took a toll. So too, honestly, has some of the more inflammatory rhetoric by people claiming to speak in the name of #BLM.

But mostly, it’s a failure of imagination. Abstract principle and altruism only go so far. If you can’t imagine that you’d ever find yourself living on the street, you’re less likely to care about the fate of those who do, and more likely to simply want them gone. If you’ll never be stopped for driving while black, you’re less likely to think such shootings really could be unprovoked, and more likely to assume the victims were somehow responsible for their own deaths and to think protesters are totally out of line. (Or, in Charlotte, fitting targets for your vehicles.) And eventually too many of us will lose interest in the shootings at all, as the next shiny thing grabs our attention instead.

There’s a reason some #BLM activists have expressed distrust of white allies. There’s a day-in, day-out context for these shootings that most white people don’t know about, understand, or care about. We don’t have to care. Too many of us don’t.

Call it Execution Fatigue.

The Big Announcement is Coming!

For the last several years, I’ve taken something of a break from writing – first, with political work on a number of campaigns (including helping pass Seattle’s new city council district elections system and working to elect progressive council champion Kshama Sawant), and for the last couple of years as I’ve been consumed with health issues and the chronic poverty the Health Industrial Complex, especially the insurance arm, has left me in. That in itself has been a full time job.

My health is thankfully much improved now, and it’s time I got back to doing what I do best and love most: writing and reporting on local and global issues of importance. In particular, our city is in the process of remaking itself into an enclave where only the wealthy are welcome, and local media needs a voice for the rest of us, a voice that resists that tide.

And so, I’ve been hard at work on a new project that is intended to help fill that void. It’s long past time I started writing full time again. Watch this space in the coming days. In the meantime, I’m still struggling with a secondary insurance provider that has decided my deductible should be about 80 percent of my monthly income, leaving me financially exhausted as I’ve been scrambling to pay for, among other things, critical and criminally expensive medications.

I’m also hoping this project can draw community support to help defray those expenses. If you can help, use the PayPal button at the lower right of the home page, or write me at geovlp(at)earthlink(dot)com for details on how to help.

The less time I need to spend dealing with that, the more journalism I can do instead. Thanks for your help, and watch this space!

The Thick Veneer of Liberal Compassion

With winter approaching, there’s a new clarity to Mayor Ed Murray’s approach to our homelessness crisis. Sadly, the only lesson learned from our city’s last great bureaucratic campaign on the topic, the ludicrously failed Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness, seems to be that The Plan cannot fail. The plan can only be failed.

High-priced consultant Barbara Poppe’s long-awaited recommendations, delivered last week, were thick with vacuous corporatese, but this helps explain the only truly useful part: She notes that homeless services in Seattle have been a disjointed mess. In other words, it was an implementation problem.

Unfortunately, coordinated implementation of a catastrophe is no improvement.

How does the mayor’s new plan, justified by the same recommendations Poppe has given literally dozens of other cities, throw even more people on Seattle’s streets? Let’s start to count the ways:

1) Abolishing transitional shelter and turning it into permanent housing – assuming the city can find appropriate buildings to purchase and convert, already a problem in our hot real estate market;

2) Not funding emergency shelters that, as with most such shelters in Seattle, don’t require that guests be placed in the city’s “housing first” track;

3) Not serving homeless people who are unwilling or unable to sign up for a housing first track; who are unwilling or unable to complete the various programs required to get housing vouchers through the program; or who have obtained the vouchers but are unable to find appropriate private market housing, in an extremely competitive market for lower-cost rentals (I would say “affordable,” but that’s a gross misnomer), before the vouchers expire;

4) Not even serving the lucky few who complete the program and use it to find that rare housing if they are unable to sustain their overpriced rentals and become homeless again;

5) There are far more people currently at risk of homelessness than
there are homeless, and they’re all already competing for those same lower-cost private market housing units. The recently passed housing levy still comes nowhere near meeting the demand even after new units are built out over the next seven years. Putting currently homeless into that same market with vouchers will simply take other, at risk individuals, who would have been renting those same units instead, and throw them on the streets;

6) That increased private market demand also exacerbates rent increases, leading to still more homelessness;

7) Because its full-service case management approach is far more expensive per person than simple emergency shelter, the city will need to either sharply cut funded shelter beds or allocate far more money for them, something the mayor’s plan does not provide for; and

8) The plan also narrows the city’s definition of homelessness so that others scrambling to find shelter and housing don’t receive city services.

I could go on – the plan does nothing, for example, to help all those at-risk individuals as rents continue to escalate and existing affordable housing continues to be torn down, guaranteeing still more people without homes. The entire program rests on placing people in private market affordable housing units that simply DO NOT EXIST in Seattle.

Ironically, Murray and his surrogates based their strident opposition to the sweeps legislation now before city council on a provision that bars most sweeps of unsanctioned encampments unless the city can place their residents into housing. That would tie their hands, they specifically say, because…wait for it…the housing doesn’t exist.

That admission tells you plenty about the cynicism of a plan designed to look good in reports and re-election ads, no matter how destructive it is in practice.

Somehow, according to the hype, this is even better than the Ten Year Plan, which involved a lot of the same people. Now, Poppe claims, the homeless will be gone in five years.

Where exactly are they going to? Even if the city magically finds the will and the money, it can’t possibly generate that much newly affordable housing. It’s several magnitudes away from penciling out.
So where do they go? The answer, according to this plan, seems to be: “Away. Please.”

This isn’t a plan to help the homeless; taken with Murray’s insistence on aggressive sweeps, it’s a plan to rid the city of them. From an administration that also seems to be doing all it can to purge Seattle of our working and middle classes as well, I suppose this shouldn’t be a surprise. But the thick veneer of corporate buzzwords and liberal compassion it’s being sold with makes me sick.

Meanwhile, back on the streets, at least 41 homeless people have already died this year, at an average, much too young age of 48. Almost all died outdoors. With the weather cooling again, 2016’s homeless deaths in Seattle will likely set a new local record. With this approach, 2017 will be worse, because there will be more homeless than ever and fewer city-funded shelter beds available to them. But those deaths won’t get their own column in the new, numbers-based metrics. In all likelihood, they won’t even get their own footnote.

It shows.


Disaster Capitalism Discovers the Homelessness Crisis

Ed Murray’s high-priced homelessness consultant, Barbara Poppe, presented her long-awaited recommendations to Seattle City Council this afternoon, and Murray has simultaneously released his own plan for implementing them. It’s all just as bad, if not worse, than homeless advocates expected.
The Stranger’s Heidi Groover does a nice job of translating the meaningless bureaucratese (which came complete with slogans and hashtags! The Mayor sure got his money’s worth! Lots and lots of money!). The thing is, none of this is new. Among other battle fronts, it will look painfully familiar to anyone who follows education policy, where for years in the name of “reform” big corporations have been deploying consultants and nice-sounding mumbo-jumbo to lure bureaucrats and elected officials into giving some of the billions of dollars spent on education each year to Wall Street and to big private companies and investors like Paul Allen.
Essentially, in modern America, no sizable pot of dollars is safe from the covetous grasp of Big Business.
It’s been evident ever since Murray declared a “state of emergency” on homelessness ten months ago that his declaration had two purposes, neither of which necessarily help the homeless. The first was to look good, Lots of meaningless words unaccompanied by action since then have reinforced that motive. Hence this week’s drama over who gets to make homelessness sweeps policies.
But the second motive is that the mayor’s declaration is a legal maneuver that makes the city eligible for several new pots of state and federal money, providing the money is used in a way that plausibly relates to the “emergency.” And that’s where today’s report – which as Groover notes, is sure to be cited endlessly in coming months to justify all manner of nonsense (and that, above all, is what Murray paid for) – is truly significant.
Poppe urges moving money away from transitional housing into private housing market vouchers, and to only fund shelters that put homeless people on track for these vouchers.
It all sounds very good until you realize that such an approach only serves a small fraction of the people who are now homeless, does less than nothing to prevent additional homelessness, and even for those lucky few homeless who get any help at all, that help centers on issuing vouchers for housing that DOES NOT EXIST in Seattle. It doubly screws people who are now homeless by defunding existing help in favor of a mirage, but guarantees they’ll have more competition for scrap cardboard. Meanwhile, Poppe says nothing about how to create her nonexistent housing; I’m sure she considers THAT outside her mandate.
Existing subsidized housing in Seattle is completely inadequate to the demand; the number of people who need it is about ten times the existing number of units, and rising rapidly. At almost every subsidized housing location, waiting lists are either years long (long after Poppe’s vouchers would expire) or frozen entirely. That leaves the vouchers, a pot of public money, to be given to private landlords, who these days are frequently national and global companies, offering Seattle’s insanely priced market rate housing. Just as with “education reform,” the whole point of the charade is to create a large pot of taxpayer money and then transfer it into private hands.
In this case, the approach will help a relatively tiny number of homeless, far fewer than are being created each year; add to that number by making the low-end private market’s competition to rent such units more competitive, meaning that for every person helped out of homelessness, another is almost by definition thrown into it; incentivize management companies and their clients to raise the rents still further on such units; and meantime, by defunding both transitional housing and emergency shelters, leave even more people living on the streets than are there now.
This approach doesn’t address the homelessness “emergency” at all, as most people across the political spectrum understand it. It simply exploits that crisis, in the finest tradition of disaster capitalism. Murray’s overall approach to actual homelessness is to play an endless, expensive game of whack-a-mole while breeding large numbers of new moles – that is, real human beings reduced to the most desperate circumstances imaginable – each year.
His approach is morally contemptible. It does, however, use taxpayer money to make rich people richer. It also guarantees that many more people will die on the streets each year.
I’ll have a more comprehensive look at this week’s homelessness developments, and how they fit into the overall catastrophes that are Seattle’s affordable housing and homelessness crises, later on.