Monthly Archives: August 2012

Avoiding the Demise of Senior Programs

Seeing that Grandma and Grandpa live their senior years with some sense of financial security has been one of the landmark decisions that grew out of the Great Depression and that set America aside from other nations. In fact, this idea has been copied around the world. It is not a detriment to our “exceptionalism”; it is a key element in our “exceptionalism”. Social Security and Medicare are different from other government safety net programs because they were set up to be paid for by those who participated in them, and everyone who worked had to participate. These programs were never intended to be private sector (or for-profit) programs. We would supposedly fund our own future financial security.

Now we are told, and we can see for ourselves, that our financial security is in jeopardy. We do understand what our Congress people are telling us. In this economy these programs are not paying their own way; they are a drain on our federal budget and, in their current form, are unsustainable. After we get over our anger at the poor planning and lack of foresight shown by our representatives in Washington we will obviously have to tackle the issue of where to go from here.

Do we give up on financial security for our seniors? Do we go back to extended families that care for their own senior members? Will this renew the popularity of the family and stop the trend to put off or avoid marriage? Do we give the private sector control over senior security and turn it into a matter of profits, bottom lines, and cost effectiveness where prices will rise and rise, or where the standard of living for seniors will rely on the whims of the stock market? Will we find some kind of workable public/private compromise? Not one of us is sure about what we should do in this situation, but any senior will tell you that, although they would be open to a financially viable revision, they would not be open to the abandonment of these programs, even if it would only affect their offspring.

I am not a fan of AARP. They are basically an insurance company and they have made a lot of money selling insurance products to seniors and accepting donations to the AARP Foundation. However, since we are already “paying them” to find solutions to the difficulties senior safety net programs are facing, perhaps we should genuinely consider some of the solutions they have been suggesting. They have held many meetings with seniors and many of these seniors have a background in finance. Despite their profit motive, they represent a sort of senior brain trust. Perhaps we could take an informal internet vote on the options AARP has come up with and see which option is most popular. Possibly we could get one of those Congressional Budget analyses of each of the options that they have described.
As for Medicare, Paul Krugman agrues in this morning’s NYT for keeping the Medicare intact and avoiding “Vouchercare” and he does a much better job of it that I have probably been able to do. I feel that the Affordable Care Act should be given a chance to function and that it may be just to ticket to save Medicare in its current form.

Can We Save New Orleans?

Can we save New Orleans? Can we afford to keep saving New Orleans? It seems clear that it is “iffy” to build a major city on the shifting ground of a river delta. We love New Orleans. Even if we haven’t visited we love the idea and the vibe of this jazzy city. There will probably always be some kind of city in the Mississippi delta because of shipping concerns. Clearly some of New Orleans is on high ground and can survive any number of windy/rainy disasters. But the parishes that occupy low-lying land may be too expensive to maintain, especially if our weather keeps getting more severe.

 The Army Corps of Engineers is getting a lot of praise for how the new levees and pumps are functioning. But Isaac is only a category 1 storm. It is a fairly stationary storm however, and is lingering over New Orleans and dropping beaucoup inches of rain. What if this was a category 4 or a category 5 hurricane? If we had followed the Dutch designs and built a truly strong system we would not be facing this continuing uncertainty, which we could face again in any hurricane season. The Dutch design with its hydraulic doors was extremely expensive and I assume that is why we didn’t decide to go that way. In the long run the Dutch design may be the only thing that could preserve the city of New Orleans in its current form.

Meanwhile, we are sorry for the suffering and fear that the people of New Orleans are experiencing on the 7th anniversary of the terribly destructive hurricane, Katrina. I hope when the rain, wind, and tides subside we will find the city and its people weathered the storm well. We already know that at least one parish was inundated, that people feared for their lives and had to be rescued from their attics and roofs, but this was not a parish that benefited from the Army Corps of Engineers upgrades.

Tough Love

The last thing I saw last night was Chris Christie, Governor of New Jersey, giving the keynote address at the Republican National Convention. Mr. Christie was chosen because he has a reputation as a no-nonsense, shoot-from-the-hip kind of politician.  He really stuck to the rather extreme views that the Republicans like to espouse these day, but he didn’t use the rhetoric that we have heard over and over as the GOP held the House of Representatives hostage. At least he sounded original as he shared his mom’s advice that winning respect is more important than winning love. Since Mitt Romney is not getting high scores in likeability polls he will have to go for respect. While Mr. Christie may inspire that “tough love” respect he spoke about, I am not sure that Mitt Romney does.
This is the party that reveres unborn children so much that they cannot back abortion even in the case of rape or incest. These Christians are sincere, but misguided in the same ways that missionaries often were. They have not walked in the footsteps of all the women in the world. They have not experienced the many, many ways men or life can victimize or exert power over women. Perhaps they even still believe that women are meant to assume a role that is supportive to her man, but the slightest bit subordinate also. Whatever. You would think that a party that fights so hard to save unborn children would fight equally hard for children who are already born.
I don’t think the safety net for the poor was only intended for unfortunate adults. I believe that the plight of poor children in America was a strong consideration when programs like Welfare, WIC (Women, Infants, Children), Medicaid, Subsidized Housing, and Food Stamps were created. I know that we have American adults who have learned to game this system so that they will not have to go to work, but, from what I have seen, if you scratched the surface of many of these “malingerers” you would find a person who because of psychological difficulties or low IQ may be unsuited for many kinds of employment. Since we are a country of free people we have no system in place to match people’s skills to available jobs, but perhaps there are jobs that are suitable for some of these adults. However, it is the children of these parents who will suffer if we do as Mr. Christie and the Republicans suggest and discontinue these programs. It will certainly save our government money and balance budgets and even lower the deficit, but what is it that our government will be doing? How will it still be the government of “we the people”? We will find, if we dismantle the safety net, that within a decade we will have to reinstate it. The Republicans think we will look like a third world nation if we don’t deconstruct the safety net; I believe we will look like a third world nation if we do.
Our challenge, I believe, is to revise the safety net; find simpler and better screening procedures, ways to make sure poor children benefit from any funds we give parents, more money spent on training programs to help parents stuck at the bottom imagine a more self-sufficient future for themselves and their families. Use the social service network to brainstorm ways to give more targeted support and cut back on the features that invite abuse. The party that defends the contents of a woman’s womb should also be relied on to support children who are already living. The days of looking to churches and communities to take care of the poor are over, although our communities already try to keep up. With all our ingenuity can’t we find a way to reform rather than dismantle the safety net that prevents many American children from the horrors of less enlightened times.

Convention Nostalgia

I remember watching political conventions on TV when I was younger. I remember political conventions in black and white, although I’m sure some of the ones I saw were broadcast in color.
I remember how much attention was given to the states. Each delegation sat in an assigned spot and they had their state name spelled out vertically on a sign that resembled a totem, or horizontally as on a highway sign. When a state’s name was called for the roll call there was a lot of celebrating and hoopla, even hats and confetti and the state would hold a little parade. States had “favorite sons” who were mentioned in tones of great affection and pride.
Sometimes (in fact often) parties actually chose a candidate at a convention. It made our adrenaline flow. It may have been all theater even then, but it seemed real and our spirits rose and fell as the fortunes of our chosen one waxed and waned. By the time we got to the final speech made by the newly chosen candidate we were invested in the outcome of the election.
Conventions these days are always in color and probably in high definition. As I type this I am watching a flashy documentary style movie made to introduce us to Mitt Romney like the ones they make of athletes for the Olympics. I’m sure there will be a similar movie about Paul Ryan. But a political convention today is not what it once was. The celebrations of the states are much curtailed. We already know who the candidate will be; the roll call of the states is just a formality.
Even the election that will follow the two conventions will not be terribly unpredictable. The political press will have already enumerated the red states and the blue states. They have already labeled the swing states and the non-swing states and they will know almost to the exact number how many electoral votes each candidate will have. It takes all the suspense out of process and more’s the pity.

American Dervish by Ayad Akhtar – Book

After reading the jacket notes describing this book, I almost didn’t read it because I scented tragedy for our young main character, Hayat Shah. But there are few books available written by Pakistanis who have become American citizens so I elected to be brave and read on.
Hayat Shah’s mom, Muneer Shah, and his dad, Naveed Shah, are not in a marriage made in heaven. They fell in love in college but their love did not survive their relocation to America. They snipe at each other and disappoint each other all the time. Naveed has affairs and drinks, neither activity supported by his Moslem religion. But Naveed is a modern man both in the sense that he is neurologist (a scientist) and that he finds religion to be divisive and narrow-minded, an excuse to be exclusive and critical of others; to cloak oneself in righteousness and superiority. Muneer does not respect her husband because of his drinking and his cheating; she wishes for the love he gives to others and she is embarrassed by his aggressive disavowal of his Muslim faith and all religious beliefs.
Into this household comes Mina, Muneer’s oldest friend from Pakistan, divorced from her husband in Pakistan with a four-year-old son Imran. She has custody of her son until he is seven and time is slipping away. She comes to America in the hopes that she will be able to prevent her husband from taking their son. She is a beauty and is full of warmth and faith in the Muslim religion. She is also full of stories. She gives Hayat a Quran of his own and tells him about the hafiz, young men who memorize the Quran. Of course, Hayat immediately decides to become a hafiz (without mentioning it to his father.)
Mina’s infusion of her own personality and beliefs into the Shah household causes tensions between Muneer and Naveed to increase. Hayat soon develops a crush on his vivacious “auntie” and begins to experience a whole world of feelings he has never before dealt with (he is quite young), like jealousy and infatuation and religious fervor. Even with the distractions Muneer and Imran bring to the household, the household is enlivened by their presence for a while until Hayat acts out in a damaging and childish way.
Muneer decides that if her friend Mina were to meet someone and marry she would be able to stay in America and she would be happy and her son would get to stay with her. Mina’s two very different adventures in dating rock her world, Hayat’s world and everyone else’s world. Here is where tragedy ensues, but whose tragedy? If you would enjoy an enlightening and intimate look into the life of Pakistanis and Muslims in American, American Dervish by Ayad Akhtar gives you both an absorbing story and insight into some of the issues Muslim-American’s wrestle with.

Velma Augusta Turns 95

Our Mom was born on August 25th, 1917. She will be 95 today. She was married to our Dad, George Brainerd, for 57 years. She thinks time stopped for him at 86 and that he will not recognize her when she goes to join him. She is a gentle and occasionally stubborn matriarch with a giant family (8 children, 13 grandchildren, 29 great grandchildren) who still lives in our childhood home with my sister, still does her own laundry and can still cook a delicious meal if she has to. We are very fortunate to enjoy our mom, who has also been a great friend, for so long.

All of your children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, other family members, and friends wish you a

Very Happy Birthday!

If You Can’t Buy a Law Maker, Buy a Political Party

Corporations obviously expect to have an influence on Mitt Romney’s campaign because they are pumping huge amounts of money into it. Once Mitt Romney gets the official nomination at the GOP convention he will “come into” a really big sum of money (according to the WSJ) only available to an official nominee.
You have to ask yourself why corporations are piling money into the Romney campaign and, of course, there is his enthusiastic espousal of things like cutting corporate tax rates and getting rid of regulations that create barriers for businesses to do as they please. With an administration sensitive to the needs of corporations they could have their way in arenas like those pesky environmental considerations, pay scales, benefits, energy sources, free trade and the whole panoply of items on their wish lists. Wouldn’t you give your money to someone if they promised to give you your heart’s desire? The corporations are barely part of our communities any longer but they still exert the power of their wealth in Washington and since law makers are hopeful that they can bring these corporation back to the U.S. if they can create the perfect set of conditions many lawmakers are ready to pass laws that please big business.  Then they will be heroes for bringing back jobs. We do need jobs, but letting corporations dictate the policies America makes in Washington is not what we ever wanted.
After all, isn’t corporate influence in Washington one of the “biggies” on our list of things that we would like to change about the way our government functions these days? Aren’t they a big part of the “special interest groups” that we say are buying our Congress people? Haven’t we felt that corporations have been calling the shots, playing “Let’s Make A Deal”? I know the Supreme Court says that corporations are people. However, I don’t think our forefathers intended to write “of the corporations, by the corporations, and for the corporations” into the Constitution.
Oddly enough, as I said, in these days when many of our corporations have deserted us for larger profits in Asia and elsewhere, their influence does seem even stronger. Of course we all yearn for the good old affluent days of plentiful jobs. Corporations are in great demand. Everyone wants one. We can’t blame them for trying to have their cake and eat it too. We can blame what has become acceptable behavior in Washington; if you can’t buy an elected law maker (and perhaps you still can), buy a political party. Isn’t this a kind of political blackmail; I’ll pay for your campaign but only if you ditch the federal environmental requirements. Isn’t this the very definition of a quid pro quo that should be guarded against in a democracy?
We would love to have the corporations back in our communities. We miss them. Will we sell out the soul of America and all that we represent to create the conditions they say they require to profit? If we do we will never get the corporations out of our government. Money is powerful, and if government favors can be bought then money becomes all powerful. Then we will truly be an oligarchy instead of a democracy. So if we follow the money that is coming into Romney’s campaign we can’t vote for him because we will be getting exactly what we have been saying we did not want. There will never be a better chance to free our democracy from undue corporate influence and from the practice of putting the will of the people up for sale.

Another August Booklist, 2012 (So many good Books)

This booklist comes from two sources: the independent booksellers and Goodreads.com. These books are a bit more “mainstream” than my Barnes and Noble list, but I have uncovered treasures from all these sources. Most of the summaries are from the library card catalog, except that Goodreads.com provided their own summaries.
The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman – “A novel set on a remote Australian island, where a childless couple live quietly running a lighthouse, until a boat carrying a baby washes ashore”
Black List by Brad Thor – A thriller.  Somewhere deep inside the United States government is a closely guarded list…Once your name is on the list, it doesn’t come off…until you’re dead. Counterterrorism operative Scot Harvath’s name is on the list. An intense, page-turning novel that is action-packed and frighteningly real.” (Paraphrased)
Tigers in Red Weather by Liza Klaussmann – ““Nick and her cousin, Helena, have grown up sharing sultry summer heat, sunbleached boat docks, and midnight gin parties on Martha’s Vineyard in a glorious old family estate known as Tiger House.” We follow these two through the war years and beyond. When we get to the 60’s “a brutal murder and the intrusion of violence causes everything to unravel. Brilliantly told from five points of view, with magical elegance and suspenseful dark longing…”

The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty – “Accompanying a future famous actress from her Wichita home to New York, chaperone Cora Carlisle shares a life-changing five-week period with her ambitious teenage charge during which she discovers the promise of the 20th century and her own purpose in life.”

Istanbul Passage by Joseph Kanon – “a gripping tale of an American undercover agent in 1945 Istanbul who descends into the murky cat-and-mouse world of compromise and betrayal that will come to define the entire post-war era…Rich with atmosphere and period detail, Joseph Kanon’s latest novel flawlessly blends fact and fiction into a haunting thriller about the dawn of the Cold War…”

Judgment Call by J.A. Jance – “brings back acclaimed sheriff Joanna Brady in an exciting and twisting mystery set against the beauty and isolation of the Arizona desert. When Joanna Brady’s daughter, Jenny, stumbles across the body of her high school principal, Debra Highsmith, in the desert, the Cochise County sheriff’s personal and professional worlds collide, forcing her to tread the difficult middle ground between being an officer of the law and a mother. While investigating murders has always meant discovering unpleasant facts and disquieting truths, the experienced Joanna isn’t prepared for the knowledge she’s about to uncover. Though she’s tried to protect her children from the dangers of the grown-up world, the search for justice leads straight to her own door and forces her to face the possibility that her beloved daughter may be less perfect than she seems…”

True Believers by Kurt Anderson – ”Karen Hollander is a celebrated attorney who recently removed herself from consideration for appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court. Her reasons have their roots in 1968, an episode she’s managed to keep secret for more than forty years. Now, with the imminent publication of her memoir, she’s about to let the world in on that shocking secret, as soon as she can track down the answers to a few crucial last questions.”

Summerland by Elin Hilderbrand – “After a fatal car crash during a summer celebration on Nantucket island, four teenagers question if the roots of the accident lie further in the past than they seem; is true healing possible, in even these most devastating circumstance; and, can true friendship ever really die?”

Redshirts by John Scalzi – Space warfare, human-alien encounters.

Heading Out to Wonderful by Robert Goolrick – “In 1948, a mysterious and charismatic man arrives in a small Virginia town carrying two suitcases; one contains his worldly possessions, the other is full of money. He soon inserts himself into the town’s daily life, taking a job in the local butcher shop and befriending the owner and his wife and their son. But the passion that develops between the man and the wife of the town’s wealthiest citizen sets in motion a series of events that not only upset the quiet town but threaten to destroy both him and the woman.”

Some suggestions from Goodreads:

The Kingmaker’s Daughter by Phillipa Gregory – Spies, poison and curses surround her…Is there anyone she can trust?

Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan – Serena Frome, the beautiful relative of an Anglican Bishop, has a brief affair with an older man during her final year at Cambridge, and finds herself being groomed for the intelligence service.

The Pigeon Pie Mystery by Julia Stuart – Julia Stuart wrote The Tower, the Zoo, and the Tortoise. This book presents a clever murder mystery set in Victorian England and, once again, it is charming.

The Treasures of Mozart by John Irving – Covers Mozart’s life and major works in lavish spreads – pays tribute to Mozart’s musical brilliance.

Don’t Buy the Kinder, Nicer Paul Ryan

As we speak the Republican message is changing, softening, moving in slightly more moderate directions. This must be the Paul Ryan honeymoon stage. Or maybe he got the “talk” from the GOP telling him to soft pedal his extremism until after the election.
If you go back and listen to Paul Ryan last year and the year before this man had no soft edges. He would not allow abortion even in cases of rape. His budget suggested brutal cuts to social programs and huge increases for the military. His tax policy was the same as that of all Republicans: if Americans give tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans and corporations, jobs will magically appear. If the tax code is revised to take away all tax loopholes, America’s tax intake will increase. If we make government really small and cut all of our safety net programs to the bone we will be doing the people at the bottom a great favor as they will suddenly be energized to succeed. In fact, supporting people who are poor, homeless, and disabled is encouraging them to fail, he tells us.
I know many people do not agree with me, but I think making government small when populations are exploding is the nuttiest thing I have ever heard of. It makes me very nervous because it sounds like an invitation to anarchy. I wouldn’t mind anarchy if there were only a few of us bouncing around the United States and we were all fairly homogenous and peaceful. We aren’t. Even those of us who are relatively peaceful are not peaceful all the time. The partying might be great, but when we weren’t partying I bet there would be hell to pay. No anarchy for me, although I can think of a few things I might enjoy doing that are not allowed now.
Anyway – I’m just saying that I don’t believe that Mr. Ryan is really planning to moderate his plans. He is just waiting until he is elected and can be turned loose to wreak havoc. “Be careful what you ask for because you might get it.”
Peace.

Why the Mitt Romney/Paul Ryan Plan Won’t Work

What’s wrong with vouchers for Medicare for American’s under the age of 55. Maybe nothing. Maybe a lot. We are hearing that everyone would be handed a voucher that would pay for the second most expensive Advantage Plan (offered by private insurers.) We just had a system that depended on private insurers. It did not cover people with a “pre-existing condition” (that’s pretty vague, a pimple could be a pre-existing condition), or people who needed expensive long term care, or people who were too poor to buy insurance, or people who were unemployed. Eventually insurers started to place “lifetime caps” on patients who were too risky and pricey to insure. People were turned into things, like houses, trucks, cars; or disasters like fires and floods. Since private insurance companies must make a profit, they will always (and should always) try to minimize risk. How do you minimize risk in the case of human health? You make crazy rules that are more and more restrictive like rules about what we can’t do if we want to be covered (i.e. can’t smoke, can’t eat sugar, can’t eat fat, can’t gain weight, can’t drink soda) – and where will that end?
The voucher plan didn’t originally include a public option, but I hear it does now. With the newest incarnation of the plan if you wish you can keep your government Medicare insurance. Critics of this plan suggest that this is where you can expect to find everyone who can’t meet the requirements of the private health insurers. This will not make the public option look very appealing to those who are essentially healthy seniors and they will stay away from it in droves, putting private insurers right back in their very powerful and profitable driver’s seat where senior health care is concerned, and will give them, once again, a monopoly on the health care business in the U.S.
I am not against business. I am not even against profits, although I am opposed to gouging. I just can’t remind everyone enough about how long it took us to learn that unregulated capitalism, while supremely prosperous for an individual who is successful in business, will always have a tendency to abuse workers in order to buck up profits. There is no moral imperative in captialism, only the motive to turn a profit. I also am not saying that that are not moral capitalists – there are, but the practice of capitalism does not require that the Golden Rule be applied.
Interestingly enough, Gail Collins, writing on the opinion page in the New York Times, reminds us that the real loser in the Ryan plan is Medicaid, which will change beyond recognition. In the interests of smaller federal government Ryan suggests that the federal government give “block” grants to states for Medicaid and that states then devise their own Medicaid programs. Many people think this would be OK because they believe that only poor people use Medicaid. However, this is not the case. When seniors need long term care, nursing home care, care for serious or final conditions they are switched from Medicare to Medicaid. This means that any one of us could be subject to the whims of our own state’s government when our health is likely to take all the fight out of us and leave us as possible victims. Right now states are experiencing less flexibility in dealing with their financial issues than we find available at the federal level because they can’t print money. If you hand them a block of money without a lot of regulations for how it can be spent, would you like them to have control over your health care, right when you are most frightened and sick?
There is much to consider in this decision. Everyone agrees that we must do something but just because Paul Ryan has come up with a ready-made plan does not mean that it is the right plan for Americans. It will put us not just back where we started, but we would be in worse shape than previously if you add Medicaid into the picture. We have a little time to look for other options. I always wanted an all public option, but I am coming to believe that right now this would leave too many people unemployed to be an appropriate choice. In spite of the fact that Republicans see Obamacare as anathema, Obama still left the private insurance companies with a big role in our health care. Obamacare seems bipartisan in that it is a plan that requires that all parties compromise their health care views, and in that it tries to walk a middle line between public and private.