Wednesday, January 31, 2007

In a Smoke-Filled Gloom

Recently the Seattle Times reported that some public-housing agencies around here are looking at banning smoking in the units of some buildings. At first this got my Wrath up and running around, and the Downtown Emergency Services Center was about to demand ID from the visiting vein in my forehead. So Anitra “Who Needs No Last Name, As Her First Is Not Yet Used Up” fetched the customary three vats of cold water, and here we are now, calm and orderly, and able to discuss this issue in a polite and civilized manner.

I should begin by saying I don’t smoke. I haven’t for nine years. I don’t plan to resume smoking ever. I don’t have a direct personal interest in the question. If smoking were banned in all the rooms of my subsidized DESC-run apartment building tomorrow I wouldn’t give a wrinkled rat’s ass.

But there is another issue behind the immediate issue of whether smoking is banned in rooms or not. It is an issue that means a lot to me, so much that I could spit flaming wrinkled asses.

Here’s the thing. The article was all about “these public health people here sent out a survey of these residents there” and “these residents responded” and “this public housing agency here will do another survey of these other residents” and then “we’ll decide what to do about it” and WHAT DO YOU THINK THEY MEAN BY “WE,” I’ll tell you want they mean: THEY MEAN THEM.

It’s just another example of how the public housing agencies don’t defer to the rightful power of their tenants.

How about if we decide our government the way public housing decides these kinds of rules.

Let’s say in the summer of 2008 Congress commissions a survey. They select a “representative sampling” of Americans and ask them questions like these: Which statement is more true FOR YOU, 1) I like a president who listens to me, 2) I like a president who goes his own way, 3) I don’t care, either way is fine. On a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being the most, tell how much do you agree the following statements. 1) It’s OK if a woman is president. 2) National security is really important to me. 3) Presidents should be tall.

Then let’s say a Congressional Committee made up of five or ten typical Congressional jerks, much like the jerks who sit on public housing agencies boards, gets together and wets it’s collective seven or eight neurons with the results of that survey. Then, let’s say they do a few more surveys, because they liked the first one so much, it tingled.

Finally they make a decision! Your next president is… whoever they say he or she is!

Meanwhile, let’s say you ask, where was the power of the people in all this? They then tell you that you, the people, WE’RE consulted. By surveys! They tell you they did everything they could to take your “issues” into account. They say they got all kinds of “public input” and “public feedback.” But in the end they decided.

That’s what public housing agencies do.

Would it hurt them to let the residents of each building work it out themselves? The enforcement could be the same. Management could stage the community meetings and set up the vote and enforce the result. But the difference is, the people whose lives are effected by the decision do the deciding, not patronizing jerks who live in houses in the suburbs and think they’re better than the people forced by circumstances to rent from their public housing.

Speaking of people forced into public housing, the Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness is underway and everyone’s congratulating themselves on the numbers from this year’s One Night Count. A piece of the plan is to lure homeless people into permanent housing and off the streets, to reduce the total cost of services.

It’s easier to lure people into self-determination, than into slavery.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

The DSA Is High

The Downtown Seattle Association, or the DSA, as we like to call it, has its “Have a [heart-symbol], Give Smart” campaign, with brochures and a devoted website at Let’s figure it out!

The DSA says it’s about panhandling, which is about mostly non-homeless people wanting, “in many cases,” drugs and alcohol, and therefore you shouldn’t give them money.

I say it’s about begging. Panhandling is handling a pan. Begging is asking for money. Words have meanings, DSA!

Once we understand that they’re really talking about beggars, rather than pans, we can go to the next fundamental question. Namely, who the freakin’ hell is the DSA and why are they begging me not to give to beggars?

The DSA is an association of, at last count, 439 businesses located in or interested in Seattle. For example the New York City based Merrill Lynch is a member. They have offices here. US Bank is a member. They’re part of US Bancorp, which is headquartered in Minneapolis. Macy’s, which owns the former Bon, is a member. Nowadays they’re based in San Francisco. Tillicum Village and Tours is a member, reaching out to Seattle from Blake Island.

Almost exactly 25% of the DSA’s members are real estate firms. Nearly 25% more deal heavily with real estate firms. There are architecture & planning firms, law firms, banks, insurers, finance companies, and title companies. So about half are companies that profit not just out of a dedicated business site in Seattle, but from the money that flows from pocket to pocket when those sites are created, leased, and sold, and leased again and sold again, and again, and again.

So they’re begging, “Please, please, don’t give the beggars money. Help us send them away! They might scare off new businesses and we won’t make as much money as we want to. PLEASE let us make as much money as we want! We PROMISE neither we nor our children will use our profits to buy cocaine. We PROMISE we won’t use any of our profits buying other things we don’t need, like Italian shoes, Pinot Noir, jogging shorts, or canopied beds.”

Here’s what I think about the real estate business: It’s all stolen property, people! Remember who Seattle was? This land doesn’t really belong to these jackasses!

The Seahawks and Mariners are members. And, here’s your irony, so are the Oklahoma-group-owned Sonics and Storm.

I suppose the Sonics had no representative on the Give Smart Committee. Still, isn’t it odd that one of the most talked-about members of this organization that’s telling us beggars shouldn’t get money just begged for a sackload of money from tax-payer funds?

“How much of a sackload, Wes?” I’ll tell you how much. If you took all the money they’ve just asked the governor to help them pry from tax-payers and you gave it to Seattle’s street beggars instead, each one would get a minimum of $300,000 (assuming a high estimate of 1000 street beggars. There may be only 439, one for each business in the DSA.) That would allow them to all retire.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying you should do the opposite of what the DSA says and go out and give the street beggars every dime and dollar they ask for.

I’m just saying, the various highly rich and some not so rich hotshots who run and own the businesses that identify themselves with downtown Seattle, who act like they ARE downtown Seattle, buy drugs and alcohol with the money they make off of this corner of the world. IN MANY CASES. That’s a fact.

You should consider that before you let them earn any more money than they really need for necessities like food, water, housing, and toilet facilities.

They’ll tell you it’s different for them precisely because they earn all their money (the Sonics, Seattle Opera, SAM, a hundred others, aside.)

But it’s not all earned! It’s made by dealing in stolen property. Never forget that.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Fun with Pain

Last month I fell and broke some bones. Ordinarily I wouldn’t mention a thing like that here, because broken bones are not everybody’s idea of a treasure trove of socio-political humor. I only mention it now because the breaks in question have had amusing consequences indicative of socio-political realities. I went to Harborview for treatment.

Due to a pre-existing mental condition (being nuts) I waited two days to go to Harborview ER. Forget what I ever said about Harborview, just now. I love Harborview ER. I love sitting on the bench for an hour waiting for triage. I love triage. I love waiting half an hour after triage to check-in. I love waiting another half-hour to be taken to a bed, probably in a hall next to a screaming man strapped and manacled to a gurney. I love waiting another half-hour for a doctor to see me for the first time, while I listen to a man at the other end of the hall scream “I am Hitler!” or, alternatively, “I am the light!” repeatedly for five minutes at a time.

I love being seen by random doctors whose names I can’t remember, there being as many of them as dancers in a Busby Berkeley spectacular. Somewhere well into the fourth hour I was led to the X-ray room, where twenty or thirty X-rays were taken, and all I could think was, “That’s a lot of film there. I hope they know somebody’s going to have to pay for all that film.” Then I waited some more.

Finally, a verdict: “Good news, Mr. Browning! You have contusions, swelling, lacerations, and (I forget the fourth thing), but you have no broken bones! Just get a tetanus shot on the way out and go home, and nature will slowly heal you, and the pain will subside by April!”

The next day I checked my phone messages, and found out that even as I was on my way home a doctor I hadn’t even met yet had called me to tell me they made a mistake reading my X-rays and my wrist was broken after all, so come back!

So I came back and I told the people in ER I was just continuing treatment from the day before, and they said, no problem: Just wait on the bench for triage, wait then to check-in, wait then to be led in, listen to the other patients scream, and wait then for a doctor to appear. Which I did as directed, so only four hours later I got the splint on my right arm I should have gotten the previous day. Then they said, go home, you’re done.

The next day I found out I had a phone call from yet another doctor even as I was making my way home. They had missed a break of my other arm. Please come back.

So I came back and I told the people in ER I was just continuing treatment from the day before, and the day before that, and they said, no problem: Just wait on the bench for triage, wait then to check-in, wait then to be led in, etc., and I said, “Right, so I’m living in an Early Medieval Irish folk story,” and I did it all as directed, and four plus hours later I had a new sling for my left arm, and effusive apologies from at least two new doctors I didn’t remember. I told them there was no need to apologize, this is material!

So right now you should be asking, “Alright, what’s your socio-political point, Wes?”

Well, I could say that my experience is just indicative of the state of health care in this country, but I won’t go there, because I actually appreciate the treatment, and I know mistakes happen to the best of us. Hey, I didn’t plan to fall, either.

But, think about this: what if I’d had no home to go to, and no voice mail to retrieve?

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Control Freaks

I like driving. I like smashing things, and driving is a fun easy way to smash things. My favorite things to have smashed, so far, include a Plymouth sedan, a Ford station wagon, a Chevy Impala station wagon, assorted bushes, a brand spanking-new Scirocco (totaled!), and I think a Honda, or Toyota, I’m not sure because it got away from me. The state doesn’t let me drive anymore, since the Honda, or Toyota.

But I don’t mean to reminisce about my fun cab driving days. I want to talk about driving public policy.

Driving provides a great metaphor for how power is exercised. It leads you to pay attention not only to who’s in the driver’s seat but also how the controls are set up, and how they’re used. Are there airbags? Are there cup-holders? Can the driver lock the kiddies in securely with a push of a button? Or can they open their doors and hurl themselves to the pavement, risking instant death, any time they want?

I was alerted to the value of driving as a metaphor for the control of public policy by the people at the Committee to End Homelessness in King County (CEHKC). They are working out what they call their 10-Year Plan Dashboard Project. The idea of this Dashboard Project of theirs is to maintain 9 or 10 measurements associated with eight desirable outcomes having to do with ending homelessness in 10 years. These measurements will be made available to the Governing Board of CEHCK, and updated on a regular schedule. The Governing Board will steer policy accordingly.

Then, when the measurements go “red,” or “tits up,” as we professional drivers call it, the Governing Board will call in the professional mechanics, otherwise known as the CEHCK InterAgency Council (IAC).

For example, people who want to end homelessness would like there to be lots of apartments that poor people can rent. So the Governing Board at CEHCK says, increasing “access to existing units (rental) stock for people who experience homelessness in King County” is a desirable outcome. But they don’t know how to measure access to rental stock. So the associated measurement is gotten by counting the number of fully subsidized rental units in the county. This they can do because they know all the folks handing out the subsidies on a first-name basis, and have them all on speed-dial.

The Governing Board will eye the “fully subsidized rental units” dial along with 8 or 9 other dials like it, while they drive the 10-Year Plan Cadillac, making this policy decision here, that policy decision there. Then, like I said, when the dial swings way down, they’ll pull over. They won’t look under the hood and pretend to know what to do. Instead they’ll immediately call the mechanics, the IAC, on their cell phones. These mechanics, by the way, happen to be mostly the same people who manage the subsidized properties. So they’re confident they can fix anything to do with subsidies. They guarantee it!

Notice there are no nasty politics involved. The metaphor doesn’t put legislators in the Cadillac. Instead it puts them on and around the road, as obstacles to avoid. Also, nobody is handing out tickets when the driver hits a lamppost.

There’s another way to do this kind of driving. In 2003, Scotland passed a law granting all citizens the right to housing, and created what amounts to a 9-year plan to end homelessness by making 2012 the deadline for turning the right into reality.

So in Scotland the legislators, or parliament, got in the car at the outset, inserted the key and turned it. They put their First Minister in the driver’s seat and told him to watch not 9 or 10 dials but a few more than 5 million, one for each citizen. The courts will keep the driver from swerving off the road.

No driving on the left side of the road in America.

Wednesday, January 3, 2007

Offended by the Offended by the Offended

Christmas is over! Maybe we can have some peace around here!

Since I have another early deadline and no idea what new wars might break out, let’s gossip about Christians!

We just spent an entire holiday season listening to various Christians gossip about non-Christians. “Non-Christians are offended by Christmas trees, you know.” “Really? I heard they melt at the sight of Nativity scenes.” “I’m not surprised. And the way they hate it when you say Merry Christmas to them, my word, what thin skins they have! I think they’re all hemophiliacs.”

I don’t want to ever hear one more single person tell me what offends other people. No third party declarations of offense. Also, they prefer to be called the “Christianity-Free.”

Here’s news you won’t get on FOX: it’s possible to object to Christian images in public places paid for by public funds without being in the slightest bit offended by the images themselves. Of course, reducing all such objections to imaginary offenses taken is very convenient. You can tell people they just have a Weak Constitution. “Have a hanky and go cry in the corner until Christmas is over.”

Actually, because I have some small say about what gets printed in Real Change, religious wars don’t end with Epiphany for me. Submissions come in all year round that speak glowingly of some religious figure or another.

Who am I kidding? They all speak glowingly of Jesus. Apparently, nobody that cares deeply about Ahura Mazda thinks of Real Change when they are looking for an outlet to express their feelings. But Jesus moves people to want to publish here.

Since I have only one vote in about six I make it a policy not to tell folks how I’ll vote, because it could be misleading. So if you ask, “Does Real Change publish fiction?” I’ll say, “What do you think we are, the New York Times?” and laugh insanely.

Otherwise, imagine how it would be. I’d say to someone, "No, Mr. Manson, we're not about to publish your 'If I Had It To Do All Over, Here's How I Would Slaughter Them This Time' in thirteen weekly installments." As sure as I'm sure we won't, that's just how surely the editorial committee will vote 5 to 1 in favor of slaughter. Or supposing I said, "Yes, Ma'am, we would be thrilled to print your detailed explicit graphic memoirs as a life-long callgirl specializing in rare requests," I can just bet the committee will vote 5 to 1 against good fun. I'm not naming names, but some people on the editorial committee are not me. Not in any way me.

All of that said, I’ve decided to break my long silence on this one subject in order to fill up the rest of my space today. Now, remember, I just have one vote in six, and my opinions are NOT the official opinions of Real Change or any other decent organization.

First, the rumors are not true. I do not hate Jesus. Not only that, but I have been known to vote “yes” on submissions that mention Jesus and say good things about Jesus. I am not bothered by any utterance of the names “Jesus,” “Christ,” or those of His Relatives or Associates.

I am in fact very much interested in your touching story about how you and your pet goldfish Simon and your shared love for Jesus Christ saved you both from the well during the flood. Or how thanks to Jesus your fifteen years of homelessness have been joyous throughout, or that you don’t even consider yourself homeless because, with Jesus in your heart, wherever you are is Heaven, and Heaven is nothing if not home. It really really interests me to read things like that.

I do however insist that any submission that gets my vote say something other than, “I’m a Christian; you be one too.”

Take a look at my picture on this page. Does that look like a cheerleader outfit I’m wearing?