14 years and it’s still no better

My Mike, clowning around on Jekyll Island. The gorilla is still there, and I have photos of other family members with it.

This day, 14 years ago, started out with my son looking up at me and saying, “I’m ready for this to be over.”

“Say the word, I said. “If you don’t want to do chemo anymore, just say the word.”

I was not ready for this to be over because I knew when this was over, he would be gone and I could never be ready for that. But we had been fighting for three years — actually for much longer than that because we couldn’t get anyone to care for him for years before that because no one would sell him insurance, so he had no access to the care he needed.

“No, I want to keep trying,” he said.

So, I got him in the car and we headed for Duke. As always, we headed east on I-40 and north on 146, and as we got to Durham, we passed the Mangum Street exit. He didn’t disappoint.

“Man gum,” he said. “I don’t know what that is and I don’t think I want to.”

Ask anyone who ever took him to a chemo appointment. He said it every time he passed that exit, and then laughed at his joke.

We thought he might have another few months. Chemo every two weeks might keep the cancer at bay for a short time. Every day — every moment — was precious.

But when we got to the clinic and he stepped on the scale, he had lost another two pounds. He was hovering around 102 pounds. The look on his face said it all. He really wasn’t ready to give up, but the chemo wasn’t helping and there were no more options. I would be bringing him home to die.

He thought maybe he could wait a few days, but the doctor told him it was time. He choked back tears as he said. “You don’t deserve this, Mike. You’re a good person and you don’t deserve this.”

On the way back to the car, Mike looked at me and said, “So, what do you think I have left, maybe two weeks?”

“I hope it’s more than that,” I said.

But it would not be.

His roommate and best friend, James, had cared for him, changing his dressings, making sure he was comfortable, trying to get food into him. But James feared coming home and finding he had died, and he didn’t think he could cope with that. We decided to bring Mike home and call hospice, and James would come to Asheville to be with us. Janet came too because even though they’d been forced to split so he could get Medicaid, they still loved each other.

We got him settled in and had a Hospice intake nurse scheduled for the next morning. James and Janet were just a couple hours behind us with the rest of Mike’s few belongings.

I remember every detail of this day in 2008 because I was very deliberate about remembering it. Time was so short and I wanted to savor every moment I had left with him.

On this day 14 years ago, we would have 14 days left with him. I couldn’t imagine life without him, and in some ways, I still can’t. Everything reminds me of him. I had hoped these anniversaries might get easier, but they haven’t. In fact, it gets harder every year as the echo of his laugh fades and his scent is erased from the leather jacket he wore everywhere.

And then I think about the million or so American families who have endured this same injustice from lack of access to health care and I’m furious that we won’t fix this. It’s not that we can’t, it’s that we won’t. It’s a choice to deny millions of people access to health care. It’s a policy choice to turn the other way and pretend we’re a decent, moral society. We are not.

On this day 14 years ago, I had to face the fact that my precious son was dying and there wasn’t a damn thing I could do to stop it, and now I have to live with the result of our backward, cruel and immoral policy decisions.

Not everyone can afford to replace their gaz-guzzler

I’m seeing a lot of judgement on the part of people whe are quite smug about having a car that doesn’t guzzle gas. Here’s the thing, though — people who drive trucks are not all Trump-loving, mouth-breathing idiots. And even some of the Trump-lovers need their trucks.

Thing is, people who own old pickups aren’t going to trade them in for a Prius. They need them for work or they can’t afford a new vehicle, especially if the truck is 15 years old and paid for.

Nealry half of people in this country live in or near poverty, and higher gas prices are cutting into their food and rent money, and they don’t have a cushion. They can’t just run down to the car dealership and shell out $50,000 for a new electric vehicle. Forty-one percent of Americans say they can’t afford to pay a surprise bill of $400 without borrowing money, so how should we expect them to trade in their $2,000 truck and drive off in a $50,000 vehicle?

To go to social media and post a meme that says, “I’m better than you because I love the planet,” just reeks of privilege. Just because you can afford it doesn’t mean everyone can.

Poor people don’t get to choose whether they drive a gas guzzler or something with a lithium battery that will foul the planet later when you try to get rid of the battery. Poor people can’t cut back on going out to eat because they already can’t afford to go out to eat. They can’t cut back on rent, either.

Maybe you don’t know how expensive it is to be poor. Many haven’t had a raise in a decade or more. But rent and food and clothes and utilities continue to rise. You don’t have a great credit score so you can’t get credit, and everybody wants a deposit — the cable company (if you can afford it, and many can’t), the water and electric companies (because these are now for-profit companies instead of public utilities), and of course, your landlord. You don’t have enough money to have free checking, so you pay a monthly fee plus something for each check you write — and you write checks because your credit cards are all maxed out and you’re paying 26 percent interest because your payment six months ago was three days late. You shop for cheap food at the Dollar Store and you don’t have health insurance. But people think you’re a jerk because you drive a 15-year-old truck — if you can keep it on the road.

But sure, let’s criticize these people for being too poor to buy a hybrid or electric car. They must be stupid and willfully ignorant because they drive trucks, and some people who drive trucks are Trump supporters, so let’s lump everybody into that category so we can feel SOOOOO superior. I even saw someone tell a woman she shouldn’t have had so many kids (four) that she needs a minivan to transport everyone.

I was reported to an administrator in a Facebook group because I called someone out for doing this. I blocked the woman and left the group.

These memes are meant to divide us. They’re meant to get us sniping at each other so we won’t see the oligarchs picking our pockets and getting us drawn into their very profitable wars and foreign adventures.

So, with the cost of a barrel of oil having dropped in the last week, why is the price at the pump still rising? No, it’s not Biden’s fault; it’s greed. The oil companies know they can jack up prices, so they do, and there’s no consequence for them. Instead we attack poor people because we think we don’t agree with their politics.

This is how those in power control the rest of us — with propaganda that pits us against each other, with memes that over-simplify something quite complex.

So, please stop sharing these despicable memes. Sure, there are some folks these memes apply to. So what? Do you really need to feel superior that badly?

It’s time.

It’s been a year since the former president tried to stage a coup and he’s still tweeting and screeching from his lair in Florida. His cronies are still roaming free and our Democracy is still in serious danger.

Between the pandemic and the political uncertainty, all of which are made worse every day these people remain at large, anxiety levels are creeping higher every day — at least mine are.

Toss in a flood in my basement last August, the damage from which is still being fixed five months later because of “supply chain” issues (I suspect these are deliberate so prices can be raised), and all I want to do is knit and bake bread. It’s hard to concentrate long enough to read the news in the morning and I can’t watch it on TV.

Like others, I lay awake nights wondering whether humanity will even survive. God knows we don’t deserve to. We’re following “leaders” who beckon us down the path to destruction, burning the forests, over-fishing and polluting the oceans, resisting switching to renewable sources of energy and blithely unaware that the methane we’re allowing to escape into the atmosphere will keep increasing until we no longer can breathe. When I mentioned this to a friend a couple years ago, his response was, “Human are clever.” I had to remind him we’re not clever enough to be able to breathe methane.

We’re living in a failed state. Not failing, failed.

We can’t pass laws that will save the planet, let alone ease the suffering of the nearly half of Americans living in or very near poverty. We can’t raise wages, we can’t offer health care, we can’t even assure people their votes will be counted on Election Day. We can’t stop mass shootings. We can’t manage immigration. We can’t maintain our infrastructure well enough to prevent the shutdown of the busiest highway on the East Coast in a snowstorm, leaving thousands of people stranded in their cars for more than a day. We can’t even work together to stop a deadly pandemic.

All of this because we won’t tax the richest of the rich, but we still spend trillions on the war economy. We still force poor people to go to war in exchange for an education, and too many either don’t come home or come home so compromised that an education is difficult, at best, and we address the issue of veteran suicides with a “Thanks for your service.”

In addition to suicides, rates of addiction and overdose deaths have skyrocketed because people have no hope of their lives getting any better and the Sackler family took advantage of people’s pain so they could increase profits by fueling the addiction epidemic. They’re still free, too, by the way.

The stock market keeps rising, though, so we’re told the economy is blazing hot, and it is — for the privileged. Most people don’t have money to invest in the stock market, and that wealth isn’t trickling down. A decade after workers began asking for $15 an hour, some states and municipalities are offering it, but the minimum wage would be almost $24 an hour now if it had kept pace with inflation, and frankly, it takes that to live comfortable anywhere in the country.

Housing prices continue to surge, leaving nothing for the people who work for a living, especially those in the service jobs we claim are so essential. Homelessness is rising with the prices as investors and corporations buy up more and more of the housing stock. There are more than enough empty housing units to house every homeless person, but we make them sleep in the streets and then arrest them for vagrancy and demolish the small tent communities they build.

We place people in poverty with bad public policies and then vilify them for being poor.

Meanwhile, the leaders of the Jan. 6 insurrection still walk free a year after their coup attempt because we appear to not have a functioning justice system. We have a Supreme Court packed with right-wing idealogues to speed us along the path to totalitarianism. Already, women are losing control of our bodies and voting rights are being stripped away.

I have been quiet lately, as I try to process all of this. It’s time to start speaking up again.

We have arrived at the last minute. We are tettering on the edge of ecological and economic collapse unlike anything we’ve seen in human history. I’m thinking the end of the Bronze Age was just a practice run for what’s on the horizon already.

It’s time. If we don’t move now, it really will be too late.

It’s time for action on poverty

Several years ago, I attended a children’s summit, a daylong meeting of advocates with the objective of coming up with some simple programs that would help families in poverty.

I was in a group with two women who lived in public housing, and two acvocates, both of whom had advanced degrees, one a PhD in education and the others a Master’s, in social work, as I recall.

One of the two women living in public housing said new mothers there, none of whom could afford nannies or doulas, often were overwhelmed. I mentioned a county I had read about a few years earlier that hired a couple of public health nurses to visit new parents and make sure they were coping, offering advice and comfort. Having them visit new parents twice in the first weeks cut emergency room visits by more than half. And the benefits kept escalating. A business that was thinking of relocating, expanded instead because the owners loved the program. The increased taxes that business paid helped fund the expansion of the program. That attraced another employer and another, and soon, more programs for families were added. It was an unqualified success.

The other public housing resident said a single visit from a nurse would have helped her have confidence in her ability as a mom and likely would have helped her to continue to breast feed her baby.

The two women with advanced degrees put a lid on our enthusiasm immediately. This would require a study, they said. I told them I could find them studies that had been done already, and maybe we could get a postpartum doula into public housing. The two advanced degrees rejected that and wrote up our team’s report without any input from the women who knew from experience what they were talking about, and a decade later, there’s still no doula in public housing.

These experienced women came to us with a fabulous idea. I had the research to back it up. But the advanced degrees decided none of us knew what we were talking about,

“Studying” a problem in this way can be the perfect method to not deal with it. We’ll listen to the ideas of people experiencing the problem, people who know what would help, and then study it to death.

Right now, nearly half of Americans live in, or are one small disaster away from, poverty. The minimum wage is about one-third of a living wage, and it hasn’t been increased in 12 years. Rents are unaffordable, and corporate interests are buying up all the available housing stock. We have enough empty housing to offer every unhoused person a decent place to live. But we feed the corporate maw instead of hungry humans.

Right now, climate change is destabilizing the poles, and our entire ecosystem is facing collapse, but we continue to study the problem, allowing the fossil fuel barons to destroy the planet and condemn humanity to extinction.

Right now, we allow tens of thousands of people to die every year from lack of access to health care, and we blame the victims for not having jobs that offer “insurance” plans that pay outrageous profits to Big Insurance and deny the needs of patients. These policies aren’t offered to part-time employees, and millions of employees are only offered part-time work so they won’t qualify for these shitty plans.

We won’t cancel student debt for hardworking Americans, but we will cut taxes for billionaires.

We have phone apps that teach children how to fall into debt, and then we refuse to offer help when starvation wages and predatory lending put people into a hole so deep they’ll never be able to dig out, and then we blame the victims for not being able to manage their money.

We need to tell the truth about poverty:

Poverty is not a moral failing, it is a public policy choice, and it kills some 250,000 people every year.

People can’t save their way out of poverty. In case you haven’t figured it out, you can’t put away any money when all you have still isn’t enough to pay for rent and groceries.

People who have no home are not “housed” by a 4′ X 10′ wooden box without electricty or plumbing. They deserve a home — a place with a kitchen and a bathroom and a space to relax. We should stop commending places that offer these coffin-sized boxes to get unhoused people out of the cold.

Everyone deserves nutritious food. Stop thinking that box of off-brand macaroni and cheese you dumped into the donation box at the grocery store as anything less than a hearty screw-you to a poor person.

If you have enough so that you can drop off your child at school in the morning and then pick them up at 2:30 without losing an hour’s pay, you’re probably more privileged than you realize.

If you can take a sick day and still pay your rent, you’re probably more privileged than you realize.

If your car needs new brakes and you can pay for it, you probably have more privilege than you realize.

If the power goes out and it’s not because you didn’t pay your bill, you are privileged.

And if you have this level of privilege and you’re not screaming that we need to take action so that others have enough, you’re part of the problem.

There is enough. Everyone deserves to live with dignity.

Do something about it. Vote. Advocate. Agitate.

Homelessness is a policy choice

A coffin-sized pod in Germany

In Germany, homeless people are being told this is the solution to their problems. They can “live” in a coffin-sized pod. Every time I see praise for this on social media, I cringe.

Although the pod has heat and is insulated against the cold and wind, it has no toilet, no sink, not even a hot plate for warming food. But we are to believe this is a good solution.

I disagree wholeheartedly, and I have had discussions with several people I know who are or have been homeless. Some of them believe these pods are the only alternative to sleeping in the cold.

They are not.

These pods are dehumanizing and cruel.

In the United States, it’s estimated there are just more than a half million homeless people. It’s also estimated there are some 3 million vacant housing units. That’s six housing units for every homeless person. Some are second and third homes, but in a growing number of tourist destinations, these are short-term vacation rentals, with wealthy landlords who own dozens of units. Having many vacant housing units off the long-term rental market also makes housing prices rise for working people. Some places are banning or regulating these short-term rentals, but not enough.

The United States also has a minimum wage that’s only about one-third what it takes to live comfortably in any US city, so fewer and fewer people can afford housing because their wages don’t rise with inflation.

If your answer is to put human beings into coffin-sized boxes, even while many of them have jobs, you’re missing the point on how to be a decent human being.

A number of the people I know who are or have been without housing also live with a mental illness — PTSD, depression, bipolar disorder … — and they can’t access treatment because in some states, Medicaid doesn’t cover single adults, no matter what the illness. And even though the Affordable Care Act mandates parity for mental health care, laws that allow people to be denied access to care (especially in states that have yet to expand Medicaid), leave many without access to adequate treatment.

Even when people are fortunate enough to qualify for disability, the paultry amount they receive can’t even cover rental on a studio apartment, and if they had been poor enough to receive Medicare, the $750 or so a month often is enough to bump them out of being qualified, and then they have to wait two years to qualify for insurance through Medicare. This loophole affects about 10,000 people a year, and it makes no sense. Congress could close the loophole, but they have refused to do so.

In other words, public policy causes poverty and its myriad consequences, which include homelessness.

And when you say a human should exist in something smaller than a dog pen at an animal shelter, what you’re saying is that you see them as less human as you.

I know people who are homeless are grateful for this as an alternative to sleeping in the cold and wind, but I’m saying they deserve more. This should be obvious to anyone who has enough privilege to be safe and warm every night.

We have more than enough housing units for everyone who has none to get one. If some super-wealthy person who owns dozens of vacation rental units objects to that, I’m going to side with the poor.

If we want to place people in tiny houses, that’s fine, but we need to make sure they’re residences with a bed, a chair and table, a bathroom and a kitchenette. Make them have no less space than 250 square feet. Allow people the dignity of a place they can call home. Every human deserves that much.

Is anyone really surprised?

These two need to be in jail. Now. (Image from USA Today)

In the year since the presidential election (which the former president really did lose), we have heard empty promises again and again, but we have seen little of the reforms we were promised by Democrats and even less of the house-cleaning that was supposed to happen.

It has been a year and we have no indication that US Attorney General Merrick Garland is actually moving closer to charges against the former president or his co-conspirators, even with hard evidence that they broke election laws and conspired to overturn a legitimate election, ultimately with a violent attack on the US Capitol while Congress was in session to certify the election.

They are still trying, and nothing is happening to them. There have been no consquences for the violent attempt to overturn the election, even though it’s all there on video. We ALL were witnesses.

We were promised relief from starvation wages, the inaccessability of health care, high housing costs, income inequality, a broken, racist justice system, college debt, corrupt and unconstitutional voting laws, a broken immigration system …

But two Democratic senators are colluding with Republicans to block any kind of relief for poor people, people of color, children, voters — anything that would help anyone is blocked by out-and-out bribery.

We pay more for prescription drugs than any other nation because Big Pharma doesn’t want it. We can’t even make progress on climate change because Big Oil doesn’t want it, and that means the very survival of our species.

Trillions of dollars for tax cuts for the wealthiest among us are fine, but not for the rest of us.

I held out hope for a few months, but this slashing of aid to Americans from $3.5 trllion over 10 years to less than half — $1.5 Trillion — is what’s on the table now. We could trim the Pentagon’s budget by that much and still spend more on war than any other nation on Earth.

The hard-right has been plotting for three-quarters of a century to overturn FDR’s New Deal and they’re doing just fine, thank you. The ultra-rich convinced Evangelical Christians that Jesus was a hard-ass libertarian, they attacked education and science, and enough of us followed them into the abyss to leave us where we are now — with some 250,000 Americans a year dying from poverty.

Trickle-down economics was — and is — a scam. We need to help those on the bottom of our economic ladder because more and more of us are falling into poverty every day. Nearly half of Americans live in or near poverty (one small disaster away — someone gets sick or the car breaks down and you don’t have rent money).

Democrats need to play hardball becasuse the Right plays hardball. We have no time left to dither about whether Americans deserve better — we do. We deserve clean air, a living wage, a decent education, safe housing, accessible and affordable health care, high-quality child care, and most of all, free and fair elections where every citizen gets to vote.

We need to hold our representatives’ feet to the fire and get rid of the ones who won’t serve us.

We can start by going after those who would overthrow our government, followed by those who bribe and those who accept bribes (in other words, pass real voting rights and take private money out of the mix).

The former guy and his gang of misfits need to be in prison, and we can’t let these wounds they’ve inflicted fester any longer.

The day my joy ended

This was the day we learned that Mike would not survive. It was also the day a homeless man named Tommy McMahan died alone in a jail cell because he didn’t want to leave the hospital and die on the street. I grieve them both today.

This was the day I knew I’d never be joy-filled again, that every happiness I might manage to experience was to be marred with unfathomable loss.

This was the day 13 years ago that we learned the cancer was back and we knew there would be no cure.

This was the day we learned my son would die. And every year, I am forced to relive those last weeks of his life, and finally, his death.

I can still hear the echo of his voice. “Mom, the cancer’s back. If we’re lucky, I might have a year.”

We weren’t lucky. He would have just six weeks.

I don’t remember much of what was said after that, other than, “I’ll be there this afternoon.”

I was on my way into work and my husband was a few minutes behind me. I decided to go into the office and not say anything to anyone until he arrived, and then it would be OK if I fell apart.

All of this was because no doctor would see him because he didn’t have insurance. And he didn’t have insurance because a birth defect was a pre-existing condition. And doctors were allowed to turn him away, even though they knew to do so was a death sentence. And the only ones who suffered were Mike and all the people who loved him.

When my husband got to the office, I went to his desk and tried to tell him quietly, but I fell apart and sobbed uncontrollably.

How was I going to go on without my son?

That might have been the moment I decided my heart would stop when his did. Of course it would. There was no way I could outlive him.

“I have to go,” I said. “I’m heading out there now.”

My husband decided it would be better if both of us went, so he went in to the editor’s office to tell him. The editor never came out to face me. I remember how upset I was that this man I had worked with for several years couldn’t even bother to come out of his office to say he was sorry about my son.

I remember my colleagues hugging me and offering whatever words of condolence they could muster, and most of them only finding, “Oh my God, I’m so sorry.” Surprisingly, those words from people who cared about me were enough to help me pull myself together.

It’s a nearly four-hour drive from where I live to where Mike lived, just outside of Raleigh. I don’t remember a moment of that drive. I hadn’t seen him in several weeks and I was shocked to see how much weight he had lost and how close to death he looked.

This was really happening. My precious son was dying because no one had cared enough to help him before it was too late to save his life, because our system was — and is — so damn broken.

We spent a couple hours with him, his wife (they’d had to split up so he could get Medicaid and have any chance at all of surviving, but they never stopped loving each other) and his best friend, and then got a motel room.

I had wandered across the street to an electronics store because I couldn’t just sit in the room, and as I browsed, I saw a photo printer and thought to myself that Mike could help me set it up if I bought it.

Then I remembered that Mike would be gone soon, and I was overcome once again. I ran back to the motel room and fell apart again.

My phone rang a few minutes later and it was a colleague asking for numbers of people to call who could comment on the death of a homeless man named Tommy McMahan. I was the reporter covering social services issues, so I would have written Tommy’s obituary. I had the contacts for a story like this one.

Tommy had gone to the hospital because he was having trouble breathing, and it was frigid outside. They diagnosed him with pneumonia and discharged him with medication, but he begged not to be turned out into the sub-freezing night. So, someone called police so he could at least be in a warm jail cell.

That’s where he died in the early hours of the morning. Alone.

I knew my son would have people who loved him by his side when his time came. Tommy had died homeless and alone. It was unbearable to think about it.

This has stayed with me almost as vividly as the news that my son was dying. That we as a society can allow people to die from lack of access to even the most basic necessities is so deeply immoral that I have no words to express it. Even now, 13 years later, I cry over the loss of both of these precious human souls — and the hundreds of thousands — more accurately, millions, when you consider all the ways poverty causes premature deaths — of precious human souls who would follow because we love money more than life itself.

We still haven’t fixed any of this. And don’t tell me the Affordable Care Act fixed it. Insurance companies have subverted the law to their own advantage and more people were dying from lack of access to care before the pandemic hit than were dying in 2008 (45,000 a year then, 68,000 before the pandemic hit). The ACA helped some people. But the average deductible now — the amount people have to spend out-of-pocket before seeing any benefits — is more than $3,000 in a time when nearly half of Americans say they have to borrow money to pay a surprise bill of $400. The ACA did not fix this.

Every year on this day, I weep from the overwhelming grief of watching my son die from medical neglect, but also for Tommy, and for all the people who are still unhoused.

I fume as I see people praising someone for building coffin-sized boxes for fellow human beings to “live” in, but who then stand firmly against paying people a living wage in exchange for a week’s work. I live in a perpetual state of grief and outrage, and I can’t understand why everyone else doesn’t, too.

I think of today as Tommy McMahan Day, a day to remember this man I never met, but who touched my heart so deeply.

I continue the anti-poverty work in memory of my precious son and in memory of Tommy. May they, and the millions who have died prematurely from poverty in the 13 years since their hearts stopped, rest in peace.

It’s a trap

All of a sudden, I’m seeing a ton of ads for stock trading on my Facebook feed. And as soon as I hide one, another pops up.

I’m looking at these in the light of the Robinhood/Game Stop fiasco this past week. This was a scheme by rich people called shorting, where they manipulate the stock of a company (in this case, retailer Game Stop) they’re betting is about to fail. Last week, middle-income people who saw this happening, went to the online trading company, Robinhood, and bought so much of the stock as a group that the price rose precipitously. The Robinhood traders made millions selling this stock back to the wealthy traders. The rich people lost a ton of money, so trading was stopped to protect the wealthy.

So now, we’re seeing ads for “discounted” stocks all over because rich people are going to prey on the hopes of people who can’t afford to gamble with these schemes.

Headlines are promising unimaginable wealth from new tech stocks, or 50 percent off trading fees for hidden gems in the market. I have hidden the ads of one company (Motley Fool) three times in an hour.

Meanwhile, most of us are drowning in debt, from student loans at 12 percent interest, four of five credit cards, all maxed out at 29 percent interest, and now we have payday loan apps on smart phones.

I get emails from Experian every day — every damn day — telling me I can have this credit card or that one to “rebuild” my credit rating.

I cut up all my credit cards two years ago after struggling for years to get them paid off. One of the most popular ways to get people to keep their debt is to offer another card at lower interest rates, say, 12 percent, for the first year. They’ll transfer your balance.

Except they won’t.

They’ll leave $1,000 or so on the original card, so now you have another payment to make, and in times like these, the minimum payment is all people can afford to make. And, since you now have a credit card that isn’t maxed out, when the car breaks down, you put the $1,500 bill on the now-almost-cleared card, at — you guessed it — 26 percent interest.

I struggled with this for years before I finally figured out I’d already paid more than double what I had borrowed. I cut up all the cards and signed on with a debt-reduction service. Instead of struggling to pay nearly $1,000 in credit card bills each month, I pay about one-third of that. The downside is that I have a crappy credit rating. I mean, really crappy.

That means I have to pay a higher interest rate if I borrow money. But with $600 a month freed up, I can pay cash for what I need. I don’t need credit for everyday expenses anymore. The debt-reduction service is negotiating settlements with all four credit card companies, and I’m able to save a little money for when I have a big expense.

For the first year, these credit card companies filled my inbox with threats of court action, but the service I contracted with told me not to even acknowledge those threats, and after a year, they stopped.

Wall Street and Big Credit don’t want you to know these things, and I think the rich are rather amused at our efforts to catch up and live debt-free.

They punish us with a bad credit rating if we don’t play their game, and your credit rating is everything. It’s even used to determine whether a company will hire you, whether you can rent an apartment and have a roof over your head.

If you can get an apartment by paying three months’ rent up front, you’ll also have to pay a hefty deposit — perhaps the equivalent of three months’ service — for utilities.

If you can get a loan, it will be much more expensive because you’re going to pay a much, much higher interest rate.

These are the ways our current system extracts the last drop of blood from the poor. It’s how they drive middle class families into poverty, where they, too can be exploited.

Historically, it reminds me of the way my grandparents had to live in company housing and buy from the company store as employees of textile mills in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. You never had quite enough to cover everything, so you just went deeper and deeper into debt, so the company pretty much owned you.

Today, it’s not the company, but the banks who own us. They control the narrative because they control the money.

We the People are not being represented in Congress anymore, they are. That’s why minimum wage hasn’t budged in more than a decade, even though the cost of living is three times what minimum wage is now. That’s why interest rates that once were illegal are now considered low. It’s why car title companies and payday lenders are thriving.

We’re not supposed to be able to dig out.

We’re entering serfdom from the first time we borrow money, and now credit card apps are available for children to teach them how to “manage debt,” so we’re not even able to reach adulthood anymore before being ensnared.

And nearly half of us are voting for people who stand against helping any of us dig out.

I can’t say what the solution might be except to push the new Democratic majority to change some laws:

  • Raise the minimum wage to $15 immediately and plan increases over the next five years to get it to where it would be had it kept up with inflation, and then tie it to inflation.
  • Re-establish usury laws to keep interest rates in check. Put caps on what banks can charge for various loans. Close payday lenders.
  • Establish a massive public works program to shore up our crumbling infrastructure and electrical grid.
  • Break up the banks and tech monopolies.
  • Provide real, ongoing relief to people whose jobs went away because of the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, forgive their rent and pay the landlord. Pay their utilities and make sure unemployment compensation pays for the bills they still have. Make sure they have health insurance (this is especially urgent in the 12 states that have not expanded Medicaid).
  • Treat us like human beings. All of us.

To love each other, we must seek justice for everyone

Demonstrators in Minneapolis demand justice after the murder of George Floyd by four police officers who ignored his pleas for almost nine minutes.

I’ve seen a meme on Facebook this morning, posted by several friends, calling on us to love one another.

But as sweet as it seems, it just calls on us to agree to disagree, and that will never contribute a thing to the justice oppressed people are seeking.

“We’re one race—the human race. You want to support President Trump? You do you. It’s your choice. You want to support Biden? Fine… also your choice! You want to believe in God? Okay, believe in God. You want to believe in magical creatures that fly around & sprinkle fairy dust to make life better? Awesome… you do you.

“BUT stop thrusting your beliefs on others & not being able to deal with the fact that they don’t have the same exact mind-set as you. Having our own minds is what makes us all individual and beautiful.”

I have a problem with this — a big problem.

The entire thing (it has several more paragraphs) seems sweet, but it isn’t. It offers a pass to racists and bigots.

“Just do you …” means I’m not going to challenge your beliefs that people of color are stupid or lazy, that poor people don’t deserve more than slave wages or that they don’t need a decent place to live or healthy food and clean water, that immigrants belong in cages because they came here seeking safety and perhaps a better life for their children — the same thing every one of our ancestors came here seeking.

“Just do you …” means I’m OK with your bullying demonstrators and legislators by carrying a military-grade assault weapon around and demanding we reopen the economy in the midst of a deadly pandemic because you want a haircut.

“Just be you …” means you’re OK with cops killing unarmed black people and then looking to justify it by saying, “he had pot in his system,” or “he was arrested for breaking and entering six years ago …” None of these things is a capital crime, and everyone deserves a trial, not summary judgment and execution.

“Just be you …” means you’re OK with the 1 percent grabbing all the stimulus money and leaving small-business owners desperate enough to feel they have to open up or starve.

“Just be you …” means you’re privileged enough not to be experiencing these horrors.

We need to be talking about inequality.

We need to talk about how we love and support people who are forced to work low-wage jobs or starve in the middle of a pandemic.

We need to talk about those who are fine with children, stolen from their parents and held in filthy cages, are being lost in the system or dying from preventable causes.

We need to talk about the number of unarmed people of color shot and killed by cops, who then face few, if any, consequences.

We need to talk about people who are marching for their very lives are being doused with chemical weapons (tear gas is a chemical weapon that’s banned in war by multi-national treaties) and shot with rubber bullets.

We need to talk about poisoned water in Flint and other cities.

Yes, the meme is sweet and feel-good, and it’s privileged.

Those of us who have enough food and water, who can feel safe walking or jogging pretty much anywhere, can feel this way and feel good about calling to love everyone.

But to love everyone, we have to advocate for those who aren’t privileged. I don’t feel like pointing that out is “thrusting an opinion” on anyone. People are dying because of inequality. Love can only solve these problems if we who have privilege act to secure what we have for those who are oppressed.

My faith calls me to do that. What about yours?

Denying food to the poor is violence

Have you ever had to go to bed hungry?

I have. I know what it feels like to only have enough food for the kids to eat supper, so you say you had a big lunch and assure them they can eat their fill as your stomach growls.

And when it causes you to lose a few pounds, people tell you that you look great, and they ask, “What did you do to drop that 10 pounds?” you smile and shrug because you don’t want to say that you go without supper a couple nights every week so your kids can have enough to eat. There was –and is — a stigma to being poor.

One person, a close friend, once asked me why I didn’t just make more money, as though that were an option I had overlooked.

I was working full-time, but my kids’ dad wasn’t paying nearly what he should have been, given that his income was four to five times greater than mine.

I was in the biggest group of people in poverty in this country — single white women. I was working and trying to pay rent, utilities, a car payment, child care and all the other things a family needs to pay for just to scrape by.

That was 40 years ago, and people are still being asked to make it on the same income I had in 1979. And they’re being called lazy and immoral by people with more money than they can ever spend in one lifetime.

Now this administration is attacking food stamp eligibility, narrowing the number of people who can get the help they need to feed themselves and their children, all with absolutely no consideration of how we might get some of these people out of poverty.

Will we raise the minimum wage to a living wage? Nope. People just need to work more.

Well, it takes double to triple minimum wage to be able to afford a one-bedroom apartment in every single county in the nation. That means a single mother who has two children must work two to three full-time jobs to be able to afford a one-bedroom apartment.

So, she works 16-hour days and then we criticize her for not being there for her children.

If mom drops health insurance because that $50 monthly premium is also about one-third of her monthly grocery budget and then she gets sick, we criticize her for wanting a “handout.”

The problem here is that when you make public policy that impoverishes people, you shouldn’t then be allowed to criticize them for being poor. When the only jobs people can find are part-time or in the “gig” economy (meaning freelance, with no health benefits, no paid vacation or sick days and absolutely no job security) and the pay is less than $10 an hour, and then you work three of those part time jobs for a total of 80 to 90 hours a week, you shouldn’t need food stamps to put nutritious food on the table, but you still do.

This is not a moral failing on the part of the poor person, as much as you might like to think it is; it is a failing on the part of policymakers and of everyone who supports these immoral policies, including you, if you’re one of the people clapping gleefully at each cut of public assistance.

I have to keep saying this to “Christians:” Jesus never said, “I got mine, get your own.”

What Jesus did say was “For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat. I was cold and you didn’t offer me your cloak. I was a stranger and you didn’t welcome me. … Whatsoever you did unto the least of these, my brothers and sisters, you did also unto me.”

Poor people are mentioned more than 2,000 times in the Bible, and not once are we told they are lazy or immoral. We are called to help them, as are the adherents of every major world religion.

Every faith has a version of the Golden Rule, which calls us to treat others the way we, ourselves, wish to be treated.

When we ignore the immorality of policies that impoverish, sicken and kill other people, we become the oppressors of those people. And when they sicken and die, their blood is on our hands.

Morality — compassion, empathy, the ability to love — is supposed to be written into our DNA, but we seem to have found a way to ignore that small voice that tells us we need to help.

Cutting food stamps means denying other people the food they need to live. If you think that’s OK, you’re wrong. It is violence. It is immoral.

If you’re not standing up to say this is wrong, you’re the oppressor. You’re the sinner. And you have the blood of innocents on your hands.