Thursday, November 1, 2012

Problems of the Poor (Thursday LINKS)

I've never been poor.  The closest I ever came was a summer, of my own making, living on a couch in Williamsport, PA, paying $100 a month in rent, and making a little over $800 a month at RadioShack.  As such, I don't pretend to know what it is like to be "poor" or really how to define the term.  Under the Department of Health and Human Services guidelines, the threshold for a family of two, my current arrangement, is $15,310.  For four, it is $23,050.  Applying these guidelines, the Census determined that 4.2% of all those living in Howard County, and over 8% of all residents of Maryland, live below the poverty level.

Last Saturday, I participated in the Baltimore City Bar Pro Bono Day.  I've been wanting to write about it ever since, but just haven't been able to get my thoughts together.  Lawyers, sharing space with only teachers, physicians, and social workers, have the unique opportunity to sit in the place of America's poor and examine their surroundings.  Strip away your comforts.  Strip away your connections, your resources, your friends.  Add complications -- health, criminal history, disability.  Increase urgency, immediacy, crisis.  And then, because you're poor, remember that you're on your own.  You can't pay anyone to take care of your problems.  You own them, individually.

When you spend a day problem-solving for the poor, you become anxious.  Your blood pressure rises.  The moisture dries up from your mouth.  Your eyes become tired.  It's actually a biochemical response to stress governed by adrenaline.  Your body responds to mental stress with a physical preparation, conserving water and revving for flight.

And crying.  I can't tell you how many people I met with last Saturday that cried.  Men, women, made no difference.  And we weren't talking about things like paying the heat bill.  These were life changing episodes relating to employment, child custody, shelter, and health.  These people were facing those issues down and seeing their magnitude.  Turning around and realizing the monster they were running from was real.

"No, that crime from twenty years ago cannot be expunged.  You will always be limited in your employment."
"The debts your ex-husband ran up on your joint accounts will cost you your home."
"The damage done to your electric wiring by those second-rate contractors will not be paid for by your insurance.  You're going to have to pay for it yourself before Winter in order to have heat and a stove to cook over."

If I were to ever try to convey what it is like to have the problems of the poor, I would want to translate that anxiety.  These folks don't care about not having "stuff".  They don't want your things.  They don't want alcohol or drugs.  They want to be able to sleep at night.

When the wind was whipping at my house and I thought I heard shingles flying off the roof, I thought of those people.  Being threatened by disaster is the closest many of us will ever come to feeling that anxiety.  We feel the complete absence of control.  Despite our most independent spirit, we are reliant on government, community, and society to see us through and make things liveable again.  We're faced with the real possibility that things may never be the same again.

I've struggled with this post because I have no real right to share it.  I left the Legal Aid office on Saturday with the same problems I went in with.  Paying bills, attending meetings, working hard at my job, being a good husband, being a good neighbor, being a good friend.  My blood pressure went back to normal.  I had a few sips from a water bottle.  I was done with all that.  Thank God.


Regardless of your political persuasion, you have to find Gov. Chris Christie's current relationship with the President to be interesting, at the very least.  Two weeks ago he is saying that Obama is looking for the "light-switch of leadership" and now you are admiring his compassionate response to your State's needs.  I don't think it makes Christie out to be a hypocrite.  Rather, I think it just goes to show how much of politics is theater.  Once the set comes down and the make-up comes off, the roles are ambiguous.

I'm no statistician, but a lot of what I'm reading says that we should not expect much in the way of reliable polling for the remainder of this election due to the effects of Sandy.  As things went dark, the polls seemed to be moving towards the President, but I'm sure others will see things differently.

County Executive Ken Ulman has assured the public that the health risk from Monday's sewage spill of 20-25 million gallons of sewage into the Little Patuxent are "minimal."  In light of the fact that Maryland "dodged a bullet" on Sandy, and did not receive the type of damage and flooding experienced in previous storms, I have to wonder what we would be looking at if things had been worse.  I am sure the Ulman Administration is examining the issue, including why we have an uphill sewage plant prone to overflow at the loss of electricity, but this is certainly concerning.

There is a misleading ad floating around TV networks and Facebook suggesting that voting for Question 6 (same-sex marriage) will then bring on changes in our curriculum to teach same-sex marriage in our schools.  Many are responding that this just isn't true and that curriculum decisions are made at the County level (all correct), but I would add that same-sex marriage SHOULD be taught in our schools, at least high school.  It's on the ballot!  It's legal in six states and the District of Columbia.  I went to a Catholic High School and was assigned a paper to advocate for the right of euthanasia.  That didn't mean I thought we should install cyanide pills in dentures.  It just made me a better thinker about an important topic.  Regardless of what happens in Maryland, same-sex marriage should be taught in our high schools and discussed by an educated public.  I would bet that it already is.

Featured Blog Post of the Day: The 53 (did I say it right?) posts about his concern that HCEA is holding the County's $30 million Race to the Top grant hostage due to their disagreement with the policies underlying the program.  Following Lisa B's live-blogging of the meeting yesterday, I thought I saw that the grant was submitted prior to Board approval, so I would be interested in hearing some clarification here.  Either way, with education dollars being as precious as they are, we should all follow this dispute and hope for an amicable resolution.

I would be remiss if I did not note it is Mobbie time.  I say the same thing every year - you don't have to vote for me, but please vote for a Howard County blog.  I don't mean to be dismissive, but I find these blog contests to be a little silly.  Some blogs campaign and win.  Others don't...and win.  This is not an award of merit much more than it is something else to fill up graphic space on the right hand side.  HOWEVER, bloggers don't get much for their time, sweat, and toil, so a little recognition goes a long way to keeping those lights on around our local cyberspace.  For that, I thank The Sun (and the Flier) for their promotion of this hobby.

That's all for today.  Have a great Thursday doing what you love!