Sunday, March 7, 2010

I think we've all had enough here.

Language alert: some people or employers may take issue with a couple of words in this post. Also, an apology: I know I promised a reprieve from my recent rants, but this is too important not to talk about, even in this micro format.
In the year 2009, Minneapolis had 19 homicides, down from 40 in 2008. We all felt good – violent crime was on the retreat. These numbers were in contrast to the mid-nineties, when my city was burdened with the moniker “Murderapolis” with 97 at its annual peak in 1995. Last year’s 19 is the lowest we’ve had in over 25 years.
It is now March 7. In 2010 so far, we’ve had 10 homicides. In the first two months of the year (the quietest crime months, historically), we’re already halfway through last year’s total. I was at the store buying some beer yesterday after driving through a mob of people on Penn and 26th. There were bullhorns, cruisers, and hand-made signs. I didn’t read the paper on Friday, so I asked at the store about the gathering. The cashier said it was a march for peace, and the guy behind me in line chimed in: “This is messed up, man! I’m not from here, but where I’m from, if someone’s on the street and they fuck up, brother gets gat, but no one else. Up here, this gang banging all over, people ain’t even involved, minding their business getting gunned down!” Last year I would have said he was wrong, and that innocents are largely safe. This year I’m no longer so sure. The crowd was a peace march to the church where the funeral was being held for the latest shooting victim, a 17 year old girl shot in the neck while standing in a group of friends outside a party. I thought, well that’s good. It’s good that people are standing up to this and being counted against this violence. Then this morning I opened up the local section of the paper to read that a gang fight broke out inside the church at the conclusion of the 17 year old girl’s funeral. Do me a favor and read the underlined, linked portion of that sentence aloud. See if you aren’t just a little ashamed to be talking about a major American city. Seriously, at a fucking funeral?!
What the hell is wrong with these assholes? I’m sorry, but I’ve lived on the north side long enough to say this is my neighborhood too - as well as the woman two houses down who works for the city, the men who own and run the Quick Mart two blocks over, the teachers at the school at the end of my block, not to mention the children going to said school - and I’d like to respectfully ask these gang bangers to get the hell out of our city. We citizens of this place are trying to build a positive community up here, opening restaurants and businesses, creating community gardens, making public art, and you are cutting down our efforts. So get out. If you want to be a tough guy, cowboy, or vigilante with your guns and dope, you go do it somewhere else. We’re trying to freakin' live here. The quotation in the paper from Al Flowers, the former mayoral candidate, community activist, and sometimes political troublemaker, says it best. Outside the church yesterday, he called into a bullhorn as the police tried to diffuse the situation, “This is a baby’s funeral! Seventeen years old and she can’t rest in peace?”
Can I just say that in five plus years of owning a home on the north side of MPLS, this spring is the first time I’ve ever avoided certain areas of the neighborhood, even in my car, for safety reasons. That is not the neighborhood I bought into, and desperately wanted to turn into a beautiful urban area. That is not a place I would want to open a business or raise a family in. That is not a place that will attract new residents – residents who care about the place and want to live in a truly neighborly hood.
I’ve always been the quiet neighbor. The guy who lives here and gardens and walks places in the neighborhood, but pretty much keeps to himself. As of now I am making a resolution (if a late one). This year I am going to be more involved in the life of the greater community. I will get to know more of my neighbors, and show them that I truly care about our block, our community, and their own well-being. I will attend block parties, Take Back the Night picnics, and public festivals. I will be a visible part of this neighborhood, because I am a part of it, and I don’t like some of the violent elements that have been rearing their ugly, gun-toting heads lately. So to the north side council members, Don Samuels, Diane Hofstede, & my own Barb Johnson, police chief Tim Dolan, and Mayor R.T. Rybak, I say this: I’m going to do my part. Now it is up to you all to give us a fighting chance. Step up beat patrols, yes, but also get more familiar with this troubled community. Ask us how the municipal powers that be can facilitate growth and the culture of this part of the city. We are unique, and have unique problems here. We will need unique solutions that only we on the ground can come up with, but only you can make happen. Let’s talk.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Familiar, and Familial, Arguments for Common Decency

Liberal Alert: As a heads up, I feel I must inform you that this is a leftist political rant. Feel free to skip it if you think you'll angrily disagree.
Two weeks ago, our MN legislature overwhelmingly passed an extension of General Assistance Medical Care. For those of you outside the state, I'll explain. In MN, the GAMC program provides for our state's poorest citizens. They make less than $8,000 per year. They do not have children, and many do not have permanent housing. They don't qualify for Medicaid, and they would face a four month waiting list for any procedure under Minnesota Care. At any given time there is an average of 35,000 of them on the rolls. The program was set to expire March 1st. The legislature rallied to the aid of these people, many of whom survive on $203/month for their housing and food, and have mental illnesses that make it difficult to locate their bootstraps, much less pull themselves up by them. A sixteen month extension of the benefits was passed with some alterations, so we would have time to create a permanent fix without throwing these people to the wolves in the meantime.
The senate approved the measure 47-16. The house, in an amazing show of bipartisanship for the common good, blasted the measure through 125-9 (an aside: the nine who voted against it are listed here. I did some math at the U.S. Census website, and the approximate median income of the cities and townships in which they live [in the 2000 count] is about $60K. The median poverty level for individuals over the age of 18: 1.9 percent). They were both sturdily veto-proof majorities. We all felt good.
The day that it passed and was presented to our anti-governor Tim Pawlenty, he faxed a veto letter from Washington, where he was speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference. Okay, we all know he's a prick, but they were veto-proof majorities, remember? This should be a piece of cake! Last Thursday the senate voted to override the veto. The result: 45-21. Done. Then, yesterday the house voted. Remember the house vote numbers? 125-9. You'd think this would be easier than falling down a flight of stairs. The override vote tally: 86-47. Fail along straight party lines. So it would appear that all of these worthless empty suits on the other side of the aisle (38 of them in total) couldn't be bothered to stick to their guns as soon as our globe-trotting village idiot weighed in with his own political posturing (recall what happened when his veto of a gas tax was overridden last year in my previous post).
Here's my rant. I don't understand how anyone with half a heart can look at someone making less than $8000 in a year and say, "sorry, but you don't deserve to get better." I also don't understand how anyone with half a brain can look at that same person and say, "no, I won't help with preventative care - you should wait until you need ER care. Then you can bill me through higher premiums."
For a while now I have found the tired Anti-Tax argument of “when families have to tighten their belts, so does government,” really offensive. After all, when families are tightening their belts, whom do they rely on to pick up the slack? Why do we have GAMC or Medicaid or WIC or EBT or even Unemployment Insurance if not to take care of those that can’t take care of themselves for whatever reason? When my belt is tightened by circumstances out of my control (Full disclosure: I made $17K and change last year, so I’m not destitute, but still not quite A-OK), I expect government to step up and say, “Do not worry – we shall catch you and put you back on your feet.”
But that old argument I hate so much seems entrenched, so let’s explore it: If we’re running government as a family, we’re running society as a family – government, by definition, governs society. You don’t get to decide who is and isn’t part of the American Family. We all are here, and we all have needs. What do you do with a nephew who can’t quite make ends meet? If you have the means, you help him out. When your granddaughter gets sick and can’t pay the bills, you don’t let her languish in an E.R. until she can be seen by a doctor – you make the changes to your own lifestyle that you must to help her out and get her healthy. When your niece gives birth to a child with developmental problems who can’t attend regular public schools, you make whatever sacrifices you can to help that child attain the quality of life you would expect of a relative.
Fine. Let’s think about government in these terms (I’m looking at you, Taxpayers’ League). Times are tough. The family (the American populace) is in financial trouble. Not all of us cousins can keep getting by. As such, we expect the rich uncle (or grandparent) to carve a little apartment out of his or her six-bedroom suburban estate for us to have a roof over our heads. We expect the executive who drives on the same potholed roads we do to step up and make sure we don’t unduly suffer from a pre-existing medical condition that an actuarial formula has decided is too risky for the bottom line to insure. You would never want your progeny to take an hour-plus bus ride through a dangerous part of town to go to two jobs that barely pay the bills and don’t carry health insurance, so if you treat government as a household how do you forget these people?
I’ve always thought of government as both a security blanket and a benevolent safety net for those who hit misfortune and can’t catch themselves. Why else would we have a centralized, federal government if not to insure both military security of the country’s citizens, but also the livelihood of the nation’s people? As such, I personally don’t think government should be run like a household, but if you insist it be so, then I too am your cousin and I can’t be ignored. I too must be cared for.
(By the way, I will return to a de-politicized discourse with my next post, so those of you annoyed by my recent rants can come back and enjoy the historical nerdiness. I just needed to get this off my chest.)