31 July 2008

The Tennessee Church Shooting. Just a bit more worth saying!

Tomorrow, getting help for seniors' high utility bills.

When I starteed this blog, I made myself a promise that I would not feed off other bloggers and cross post what was already out there. But, this open letter to Sean Hannity from a former co-worker transcends that vow. From the Rev. Candace Chellew-Hodge...

“If the Left succeeds in gaining and retaining more power, the well-being of future generations will be at greater peril. I fear (our children) will inherit a nation that is less free and less secure than the nation we inherited from the last generation. It is therefore our job to stop them. Not just debate them, but defeat them.” — Sean Hannity

Dear Sean: I found these words on page 11 of your book Let Freedom Ring. This book, and similar ones from your conservative colleagues Bill O’Reilly and Michael Savage, was found in the home of a man who read those words, internalized those words, and then loaded his shotgun. He took 76 rounds of ammunition with him to a place of worship—a place where he knew he could do his job to stop and defeat some liberals. At the Unitarian Church in Knoxville, Tennessee, Jim Adkisson, a fan of yours, killed two people, wounded five others, and left an entire congregation and country shaken by his actions. Actions prompted, as he testified in his own written notes, by the ideas contained in your words.

I don’t know if you remember me, Sean, but I worked with you in Atlanta in the early 1990s, right as you got your big break with FOX News. I was an anchor and reporter (under the air name Candace Petersen) at WGST, your last low level stop before hitting the big time. I remember your last night on the air before you left for the big leagues. I approached you in your office, a cramped back room that I’m sure resembles a hovel compared to your FOX digs. I asked if you, during your last show, would tone down your rhetoric against gays and lesbians—stop demonizing our community for just one night. You refused. You explained to me, as if I were a child, that to do so would be to let your audience down. They expected you to go on the air and rant about how liberals, minorities, women and especially gays and lesbians were ruining our country. You simply had to oblige.

Even though you explained it simply, I still didn’t understand. Your Girl Friday—your most trusted assistant on your show was a young lesbian. She admired you, for some strange reason, and you two were close friends, lunching together, spending time together outside of work. You didn’t seem to have a problem with this particular lesbian. She wasn’t the one you kept blaming on the air for the downfall of democracy. No, you had two different lives then—one on the air, where you performed your outraged conservative act and one in real life, where you enjoyed your lesbian friend and seemed like a decent, sane fellow.

I don’t know if you’ve bought into your own shtick or not these days. If you truly believe half of what I could manage to read in your book (thank God the quote I found was in the early pages), I feel sorry for you. I don’t know how a person who obviously has no problem with homosexuality in their friends (or used to have no problem, anyway), can rant about how disgusting homosexuality is on pages 156 to 157. (Many thanks to your editors for the index.) I would call you a hypocrite, but if you’ve become a true believer, I guess the label no longer applies.

I hope you are not too far gone, your conscience too eaten away with greed, to understand the violent and vile object lesson that Mr. Adkisson has provided for us in Tennessee, because it’s a lesson you need to learn: Our words matter. Our words have power. If you tell a child long enough that they are stupid and will never amount to anything, it won’t be long before they’ll believe that and live up to those words. If you tell the whole population of a country that their woes can be blamed on something called “liberals” who hold different ideas than you do, it won’t be long before those “liberals” will become the scapegoat for all social ills. Those words matter—they have power. Adkisson was a true believer. Your book is rife with paragraphs bashing “the Left”—an enigmatic group of “liberals” painted so broadly that your label for them must be capitalized. These are the people to blame if anything goes wrong in the world. Terrorism? “The Left” didn’t hunt down the terrorists before they struck. War? “The Left” didn’t do enough to protect us from our enemies and have opposed our military readiness. Job losses? “The Left” taxed the corporations so much they moved overseas.In your world, and the world you convinced Adkisson of, “the Left” is the bogeyman under the bed.

But your book never mentions how the last eight years of Republican leadership has already left our children a nation that is less free, less secure, and as a special bonus, deeply in debt. Republicans are responsible for bankrupting our country, chipping away at our civil rights, sending our monetary and human treasure to waste away and die in the desert, leaving us paranoid and afraid of anyone who may look different, undermining social safety nets like unemployment and food stamps (which Adkisson had recently just lost), and generally making us a more selfish and divided nation. You have done this with your words, Sean—words of division, words of hate, words of war, and words of greed.

The sad irony here, Sean, is that if Mr. Adkisson had gone to that Unitarian church and told them he was out of a job and his food stamps had just ended, they would have helped him. They would have fed them from their food pantry and used their network of friends to help find him a job. Not because they’re liberal socialists, but because they understand that it’s not “us” against “them.” Instead, what made this country great is that we pull together in times of crisis—we bear one another’s burdens and put aside our differences in order to be of service to one another. They would have reached out to Mr. Adkisson without asking him if he was Democrat or a Republican or a liberal or a conservative. Labels don’t matter when someone is in need—or they shouldn’t. But, Mr. Adkisson did not know that about the Unitarian church. You didn’t tell him liberals could help him. You only told him they’re to blame for his misfortune. His mind had already been poisoned by the words of hatred and division from you book. He saw the Unitarians down the road, not as fellow human beings who would generously help him in his time of need, but as enemies—the very reason his world had gone to hell. His job, since he had no other because of a bad economy created by Republican policies, was “to stop them. Not to debate them, but defeat them.” And so he loaded a gun.

Sean, you occupy a position of power. All words have power, but some words are more powerful than others simply because they are amplified from a larger stage. With power comes responsibility. If there is any of that old Sean left—the one before the big office, the popular TV and radio show and best selling books—I appeal to that man. Understand the power of your words. I know that words of division are profit-making words for you. We human beings apparently love to see a good fight, or feel our views justified by a good argument. But I hope this incident will give you pause and help you begin to choose your words more wisely. I hope, in choosing future words, you’ll consider not what’s best for the Hannity bank account, but what’s best for humanity.I long for the day when profitable words are words that uplift, encourage, and inspire people. The strength of this nation has always been our unity in diversity and our unity in the face of adversity. By using your words to create a world of “us” and “them” you only perpetuate violence and discord in our society. I am asking you, Sean, to examine yourself and your words.

You don’t have to agree with liberals and their views, but you can oppose liberal ideas without painting those who hold those beliefs as enemies who need to be stopped or defeated. If conservative ideas are truly superior, then a compelling case can be made for them without resorting to the politics of personal destruction. Sean, your words have the power to heal and the power to destroy. The choice is yours.


Candace Chellew-Hodge

See, too good to leave unshared!

30 July 2008

So you're 65. Got a job, yet?

This is the fifth in a series or articles related to critical issues facing seniors. Coming tomorrow: Seniors and energy costs!

It has long been part of the American Dream that one could retire looking forward to an old age of ease, comfort, security and fulfillment. After all, if one were prudent and careful, there would be a company pension (for those years of loyal service and work), maybe a bit of stock in some blue-chips, equity in a home, which had appreciated in value, and social security and Medicare—and Thursday night senior discounts down at the local slop chute.

Since, the late 1800s, the time of the “Iron Chancellor”, Otto von Bismark of Germany, the arbitrary retirement age for those of us in the West has been 65. Now, make no mistake, the Chancellor was neither altruistic nor beneficent. His social security system was designed to neutralize the strength of the German Socialist Party. There were few lining up for benefits—then the average German worker rarely lived to be 65.

In the United States, by 1939, when Social Security first began paying benefits at age 65, the average life expectancy was about 62-years. This, I suppose, once again proves that no matter how much change occurs, nothing really changes. Consider that one of the remedies put forth by Republicans for shoring up Social Security is to once again extend the age limit to draw benefits without penalty. Bismark is not without present day imitators.

Let’s look at right now!

Over 25% percent of older Americans are finding it difficult to pay their mortgage or rent, while 33% say money is so tight that they’ve stopped contributing to their retirement funds. Most, including some 80% who responded to the poll here, say the worsening economy is of primary concern. Each day, food, gas and medicine becomes more expensive while home values and 401(k)s keep falling along with the stock market. And two-thirds have cut back on eating out regardless the senior discounts.

The effect is dramatic. According to a recent AARP survey nearly 25% of those aged 65 to 74 have joined the labor force, and those late boomers, aged 45 to 54, 31% say they will have to delay their retirements well past 65. And 25% of older boomers, aged 55-64, plan likewise. Compare this to only 19% of those aged 65 to 74 in the workforce in 2000!

The Senate Special Committee on aging projects that 80% of the baby-boom generation will have to work well past age 65. The operative word is "have" to; not want to or need to.

In eight very short years, 6% more older Americans (65-74) have been forced to defer retirement for work. The reasons are all around us; failed pension funds, cancellation of employer provided health and drug insurance, rising costs of food, energy and transportation against diminished 401(k) and home values, the burden of higher and higher medical and drug co-pays, deductibles and premiums, and expanding needs for resources and assistance and health and vigor decline.

Certainly there are some older folks who work because they want to. More power to them—I’m on the border line of wanting to work and needing to work. But, those who merely “need” to work could get by without a job. The issue is not those who want or need to work into their old-age, the problem is that all too many of us have to work to survive. That is the problem.

During the last election cycle, I attended a debate party watching the Texas gubernatorial candidates. It was striking and revealing that not word was said nor one question asked about issues affecting older Texans. Nope, none. Nary a single word or question. And that too is part of the problem. We're too quiet, we allow it!

Until we demand attention to our needs and problems they will be ignored. Didn’t the "Iron Chancellor" set the model? All they have to do is out wait us out, since our life-expectancy will have us cashing out before we cash in! The next generation will not know as they become distracted by other issues until they come face-to-face with their own old-age.

I don’t know about you, but I intend to be a right proper pain-in-the-ass reminding them. Because, once again, it is way, way past time for hard-working Americans to have an opportunity for a safe, secure, economically sound, and personally fulfilling old age.

Shane Fox 7/29/08

Coming tomorrow: Sixth installment-Assisting seniors with high energy costs.

29 July 2008

Conservatives & Tennessee Church Murders

A quick digression today. Back to senior “issues” tomorrow.

I now must regard myself as an “enemy combatant” in the culture wars waged by the screech monkeys of the radical right and their foot-soldiers: violently disturbed good old boys. As a liberal, and a nominal Unitarian, I find myself a potential target for the deeply-disturbed, anger and violence based conservatives who regard liberals, populists, and progressives as less than human perpetrators of dark deeds who are to be stalked and slain.

What does it take to make a person, already with rats and maggots warring for control of his brain, take a weapon into a church and gun down innocents in a rampage of hate and murder, simply because the church is liberal and supports such things as gay-marriage? What, indeed?

I have long maintained that conservatives are culpable, accountable and responsible for the things done in the name of conservatism. When one supports a politician one takes on some ownership of the policies and programs of that politician. One does not get to wash one’s hands of those when they go bad. Conservatives are accountable for the nearly 35,000 casualties resulting from the invasion and occupation of Iraq. Conservatives are accountable for the collapse of the Mississippi River Bridge in Minnesota, which sent so many innocents to untimely death because the money for proper inspection and repair had been shut off by...yeah; you got it, conservative politicians pandering to their supporters.

And conservatives everywhere are accountable for those church killings in Tennessee. Oh sure, there are conservatives that were stunned and saddened by the crime. They will join hands and pray, swaying back-and-forth in candle-light vigils for the innocent dead. They will attribute it all to one violently disturbed individual, and then continue to watch and listen to the vile and hateful ranting and tirades against liberals by Dobbs, Hannity, O’Reilly, Limbaugh, and Coulter. They will continue circulating their vicious and ugly e-mail missives promoting hate and fear and blaming liberals as the cause of all that trouble them.

No one can say with any certainty where is the tipping point that causes a man to take a gun into a church and kill people because the church is liberal. But, it takes no imagination at all to find the hate-speech from the right as a major contributing factor. There are consequences to words. And, in this case, those consequences were tragic and all persons calling themselves conservative, who have not repudiated the calls for violence and hate-filled speech of the Coulters, Hannitys, Limbaughs, and O’Reillys of the world, share responsibility for those deaths.

It is time, as the biblical expression goes, for conservatives to look to themselves. Liberals do not invade churches and kill people, liberals do not poison the airwaves calling for conservatives to be beaten with baseball bats or decapitated, liberals do not blow up clinics which refuse to perform abortions, liberals do not lie hidden in darkness waiting to assassinate, by sniping, doctors who refuse to perform abortions, liberals do not blow up federal buildings with day-care centers filled with playing toddlers and sleeping infants, liberals do not call for the round-up and deportation of immigrant workers and the tearing apart of families, or for the deportation of those worker's children legally born in the United States. Liberals do not intimidate, threaten, bully, or wrongfully remove from the voting rolls, others to insure the "victory" of their ideology. Liberals do not engage in gay-bashing, race-baiting, or other hate-crimes. These things are not patriotic or American--they are monstrous opposites!

Liberals do none of those things. People calling themselves conservative do! They do those things and much, much worse. And they do so proudly, with disgusting bravado and sickening self-righteousness.

Enough is enough. It is way past the hour for decent people who regard themselves as conservative to repudiate and stand up against the hate mongers. Too long have good people stood silent as sociopaths, pundits, radical fringe-religion preachers and other criminally insane egoists spout and spew vomitous hate toward their fellow Americans. From such do murderers draw inspiration and affirmation.

This is a moment of accountability for conservatives in America. My bet is they will fail the test, and that I, and other progressives, will remain at-risk enemy combatants in the culture wars.

Shane Fox (7/29/08) asfx@aol.com

28 July 2008

Fourth in a series: Got Healthcare?

This is a fourth in a series of issues pertinent to seniors and working families. Today, Health care. Tomorrow, Working Past 65.

If you were a retiring couple this year, you would need to have $225-thousand set aside just for medical costs according to a recent (Mar. 08) study by Fidelity Investments. An earlier (Feb 08) study by Boston College’s Center for Retirement Research put the figure at $206-thousand. The study takes into account retiree expenses which include Medicare premiums and Co-Pays, deductibles, and out-of-pocket prescription drug costs.

These costs are up nearly 5% from the previous year’s estimates. The increase is attributed to higher per unit costs, such as; doctor’s visits, higher cost of technology, higher costs for use of basic health-care services and an increase in chronic ailments such as diabetes, according to the Fidelity study.

These exploding costs are hurting retirees and working families. One in four families had difficulty paying for health care last year. Nearly a third of retirees and working families say they deferred or delayed medical care in the last year because of the cost. Nearly 60% of today’s retiree’s will be unable to maintain their standard of living in retirement.

Now, with inflation and stock collapse corroding retirement accounts older Americans are finding their dream of safe, secure and meaningful old-age slipping away. Men and women in their 70s and 80s have to return to work just to survive. Every 30-seconds, someone files for “medical bankruptcy”, and seniors are the fastest growing group. Bankruptcies increased 433 percent for those aged 75-84 from 2007 to 1991.

According to the Alliance for Retired Americans, only half those retirees with employer provided health care in 2000 are still covered. Almost two-thirds of early retirees (55-64) are without health insurance based on prior employment. Today, 47-million Americans are without health insurance. Many of them are kids.

Americans pay the highest prescription drug prices in the world while profits for the drug companies soar at 20% while other Fortune 500 companies average 6.3%. Health insurance company profits have increased more than one-thousand percent in five years. Drug company CEOs average nearly four-and-a-half million dollars a year in compensation. Aetna’s honcho, Ron Williams, bags $32-million a year. That is a lot of denied care and kids and working families going without!

The system is broken. Wait! Hell no, broken can be fixed. Our system is so trashed, so monumentally screwed up that it is beyond repair, tune up or overhaul. It is (in the language insurance companies understand) totaled! And really mixing metaphors, it is time to completely retool and put an entirely new model on the streets.

The solution is the creation of a national, high-quality, affordable, universal (cradle-to-grave) health care system which provides comprehensive services, including long-term care, and is based on a sound financing model similar to Medicare. (Private insurance companies spend 15% of their money—our money—on administrative costs compared to Medicare’s less than 3%).

Anything other than this will be a boon-doggle on the same order as the Medicare drug benefit program foisted on seniors.

As we move through this election season, it is critical that seniors make their voices heard through letters to the editor, calls to their representatives, in responding to candidate or party appeals for financial support, and by joining local and state chapters of the Alliance for Retired Americans.

Do not be silent. Anything less than a universal, single-payer health care program for each American is not acceptable. It is a basic human right, not a privilege for the well-to-do few. The time is now. But, reform will only happen if you get involved!

Join with the Alliance for Retired Americans as they fight to bring universal health care to all Americans.

Coming tomorrow: Part Four - Older Workers, past 65 and still at the old grind! Come back and send your friends!

25 July 2008

Third in a series: The Tragedy of Elder Abuse

This is the third in a series of reports pertinent to seniors and families. Today; Elder Abuse - Our Secret Tragedy. Monday; Healthcare. Be sure to refer your friends!

Three years ago, I was honored to be selected as an At-Large (Texas) delegate to the 2005 White House Conference on Aging. This conference, called by the president, happens only once very ten years. What is now known as Medicare and the Older Americans Act grew out of citizen input at previous year’s conferences. I was excited at the notion of joining with others in the shaping of America's future for its older citizens. That hope led to disappointment.

There were a number of disappointments in this conference; Bush did not even bother to appear before his own conference—he instead held a photo-op extolling the Medicare Rx bait-and-switch program at a suburban, gated-community of wealthy Virginia “retirees”, and the conference itself was constructed so that meaningful grassroots citizen input was prevented or ignored. Delegates were asked to rubber stamp administration provided options to administration selected issues which were then to be ignored and hidden in a basement storeroom in the Old Executive Office Building.

One particularly frightening horror, which has a great deal of bearing on our topic of the day, oozed forth from the fetid and reeking sludge of the official Republican party line. Conference organizers were very clear in touting the Bush/Republican line that resources will not be available to provide any meaningful level of long-term care to the “baby-boom bubble”, and that this generation of Americans will be required to “age-in-place” and be provided care by their families. No, not trained caregivers or para-medic people--their families.

To prepare for this, the Republicans offer a national long-term care program which says the "boomers" should eat right, quit smoking and exercise more, so that they enter their old age in better shape.

Let’s put aside all the other issues related to this dismissive, cruel and cynical view of our future and focus on its implications for exacerbating the already chronic tragedy of elder abuse. Imagine a very near future in which financially hard-strapped working families, fighting to pay their mortgage, help their kids through college, and save and prepare for their own old age, also assume the role as primary caregivers to two sets of aging parents who must age “in-place” regardless their mental or physical limitations and/or impairments. Remember, Bush/Republicans tell us there will be no money for resources to assist or support our families—we are on their own!

It is not difficult to imagine scenarios of stress, fatigue, and impatience contributing to, and compounding, the various types of elder abuse. These are; passive and active neglect, physical abuse, material/financial abuse or misappropriation of property or funds, psychological abuse, violation of basic rights, the over looking or allowance of self-neglect, and yes, even sexual abuse.
Dr. Linda Woolf, of Webster University, writes that caregiver stress is already believed the leading contributory factor in the extremely complex problem of elder abuse. As the aging person’s dependency and impairment increases, so too does the likelihood of abuse. Other correlating contributing factors include external stresses such as job or financial pressures, substance abuse, and family or marital discord, along with social isolation, intergeneration transmission of violence, and emotional disorders.

What is already a tragic problem in our society threatens to become a catastrophe.

The National Center on Elder Abuse reported, in 2005, that between 1 and 2 million older Americans have been injured, exploited or otherwise mistreated by someone they depended on for care or protection. They also estimate that for every one case of elder abuse, neglect, exploitation or self-neglect coming to light, there are five more that go unreported or unnoticed.
In Texas alone, the state’s Adult Protective Services Agency reported that during 2004 it completed 61,342 investigations of abuse, neglect, or exploitation involving vulnerable adults. Of these, 44,694 were confirmed. Using the one for five ratio given us by the NCEA, this would project to slightly more than 230,000 annual cases of elder abuse in Texas alone.

There are currently bills working their way through the Senate and House (Elder Justice Act) which would, “Amend the Social Security Act to enhance the social security of the Nation by ensuring adequate public-private infrastructure and to resolve to prevent, detect, treat, intervene in, and prosecute elder abuse, neglect, and exploitation, and for other purposes”.

Specifically, the bipartisan, bicameral effort aims to coordinate the efforts of the federal government with states, senior centers, law enforcement organizations, community groups and social services to prevent and respond to instances of physical, emotional or financial abuse of seniors—whether committed by family members, strangers or caregivers.

We applaud this as a realistic and healthy initial step away from the current Bush/Republican national long-term care policy of, “You’re on your own; eat right, quit smoking and try to get some exercise!”

First steps are good. But, they should be toward a goal. We believe that goal should be a national system, tax and private enterprise supported, along the lines of the Veteran’s Administration or Medicare, providing long-term care for the country’s aged population and assistance and support for their caregivers.

A good starting point for funding such a program would be to offset and claim a percentage of the profits from oil companies, HMOs, pharmaceuticals, and health and life insurance companies, along with all for-profit companies employing 200 or more full, or part-time employees, and contractors.

Frankly, I'm under-whelmed with well-meaning, first-step incrementalism. Let us set the goal and educate, organize and mobilize toward its achievement.

Here’re a few sites for addition information:

National Committee For The Prevention of Elder Abuse:

Texas State Adult Protective Services Agency:

Elder Abuse and Neglect. Linda M. Woolf, Ph.D., Webster University

Track the Elder Justice Act in Congress

Coming Monday: Healthcare, be sure to refer your friends.

24 July 2008

Second in a series. Today: Old scam, new player!

This is the second in a series of reports pertinent to seniors and families. Today; Old scam, new player. Tomorrow; Elder Abuse, Our Secret Tragedy. Be sure to refer your friends!

Each day we are treated to increasingly worrisome news of growing economic woes. Whether it is the price at the pump, the housing market, tightening access to credit, recession, inflation, and the effect of a bear market on pensions and 401(k) accounts, the news is very sobering, with no signs of relief on the horizon. Seniors on limited or fixed incomes are often the most hard-strapped by rising prices and desperately search for ways to increase their access to cash or spending power.

It is a perfect climate for financial vultures, predators and all varieties of scam artists. The U.S. government estimates that right now, nationally, there are more than 800 active cons and frauds. Most of them target older people as well as working, young and single parent families. Many involve high-pressure or deceptive sales pitches. One of the newest is actually a reappearance of a quasi-legitimate scheme involving 401(k) debit cards.

In 1996, then congressman, Senator Charles E. Schumer (D-NY) introduced a bill targeting the debit card tied to an expense account bankrolled by borrowing against a 401(k) account. Customers would be able to draw against their retirement savings at virtually any ATM or business terminal. One could use their retirement savings to make mundane purchases such as a cup of coffee.

Schumer declared that such retirement contribution plans were created to ensure that people would have adequate savings for retirement, not as a source of convenient and casual credit. At that time, Bank One, which was marketing the plan, quickly abandoned the program and the legislation was dropped.

Last week, Schumer and Senator Herb Kohl (D-WI) Chairman of the Senate’s Special Committee on Aging, announced that they are introducing legislation barring companies, particularly Reserve Solutions, from reviving the practice in hopes of capitalizing on consumers facing tightened access to consumer credit. They say the practice appears to be an abuse of the intent of 401(k) and that for every $1,000 pulled from such accounts, translates to about $10,000 in lost retirement income.

Here’s the bite. The debit card companies charge you a set-up, or initiation fee, and interest on your withdrawals. So, while you deplete your retirement savings and lose their earnings, you also get to pay for the privilege of so doing. In January, the interest rate on ReservePlus was about 3% above the prime rate.

It is your hard-earned money, socked away for retirement, and you're being charged a fee plus interest, while depleting your retirement account and losing all the earnings and pay-back that money would have brought you. And since those original contributions were tax-deferred, you will also owe taxes on the amounts you withdraw with your "debit card". Does that make sense?

Schumer says that in the wake of this revival of the practice he will seek to make certain the bill this time becomes law.

Seniors in particular are subject to such quasi-legal scams because they generally are more trusting, often live alone, susceptible to charm and persuasion and are fearful about inflation and ready access to cash.

Other con games, such as high pressure deceptive sales pitches for living trusts, “low-risk” “high-yield” investment scams and “miracle” arthritis remedies, are specifically aimed at senior citizens. However, seniors also fall prey in large numbers to schemes involving advanced loan fees, home improvements, auto repairs and work-at-home schemes.

Here are a few tips to help you sniff out the con jobs and scams.

If it seems too good to be true, IT IS!
Don’t be rushed, a valid offer is good from one day to the next. Quick decisions are usually very bad decisions.
Get a second opinion. Consult with someone you trust.
Never reveal your “vital numbers” such as credit cards, date of birth, ATM PIN-numbers, or Social Security numbers to verify a contest prize, to “guarantee” a price or rate, low-cost vacation, or other prize offer.
Know who you’re dealing with, or don’t deal.
“Special” deals being offered to only a “select” few.
Be wary of demands for immediate advance payment by certified check.

From identity theft to telemarketing fraud, seniors must be in the know and wary in order to protect themselves. Apprehension and punishment of con artists is a long, frustrating process—it is far, far better to avoid the scam, than to report it. Below you will find several sites that can give you complete and definitive information on how to protect yourself from common fraud schemes.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation

U.S. Government

Senior Journal
Tomorrow: The secret tragedy of elder abuse.

23 July 2008

First in a series. Today: Disaster, are you ready?

This is the first in a series of reports pertinent to seniors and families. Today; Getting Ready for Disaster. Tomorrow; Old Scams, New Faces. Be sure to refer your friends!

As Hurricane Dolly comes ashore around Brownsville, I am thinking about the single most important lesson of Katrina and Rita: The veneer of law and order and the social infrastructure is thin and fragile, and older people are the most vulnerable when they fail. But, they are not the only ones. Disabled persons and people with young children share the vulnerability of older people.

We must prepare ourselves for the next emergency; whether it’s a terror attack, energy failure, tornado, fire, storm and flooding, other natural disaster, or civil upheaval. Disaster can come quickly without warning, and, it might take days for first responders or relief workers to make their way to you.

The American Red Cross and several government agencies have put together tips and guides for preparing for such emergencies. How well one survives and recovers from emergency or disaster depends on one’s preparedness. Do not hope it will never happen to you—Get Ready Now!

1) First, think basics and plan for three days to a week.

You will need a gallon of water a day, per person.
Non-perishable food and an old fashioned non-electric can opener.
Battery operated or hand-crank radio, and a NOAA weather radio with plenty of batteries.
Flashlights and plenty of batteries.
First Aid Kit—and your prescriptions and other medications, and other medical supplies.
Whistle to signal for help.
Dust masks to filter contaminated air, plastic sheeting and duct tape to seal areas or create shelter.
Moist towelettes, garbage bags and plastic ties for personal sanitation.
Wrench or pliers to turn off utilities—you do need to learn where they are, and how to do this.
Pet food, extra water and supplies for your pet or service animal.
Battery operated walkie-talkies to keep in touch with each other.
Extra eyeglasses or hearing aids if you require them.
A small hibachi or grill and charcoal for cooking and boiling water.
Some cash, and copies of your important documents: Medical records, deeds, family records and the like.
Extra clothing, socks and underwear. And a small sewing kit!

2) Make a plan, and make certain everyone in your family knows what that plan is. Stick to it as best you can.

Think in advance, the lights, water and phone will be off. Cell phones will be jammed or not working.
Create a personal support network, in advance. Find friends, neighbors, relatives or others who are near by and can help you if needed.
Communicate your plan. Your family may be separated when disaster happens, so review and determine what each of you must do in different scenarios.

By now, you should have the picture. You will most likely have sole responsibility for your safety and well-being for the first hours or days of disaster or national emergency. Accept that responsibility and be prepared. Do not fully rely on anyone else. If your “other” is the strong one, that might be the one who becomes injured or disabled. Prepare ahead, and be ready to be the one who is in charge.

You’ll need to give some advance thought to other matters. If evacuation is compelled, how will you handle that? What about your pets or service animals?

Weapons are individual choices. If maintaining a firearm for self-protection is part of your plan, then learn how and when to use it. Do not rely on your “other” to be the weapons person, that might be the one who is injured leaving you with a weapon you have no ability to use and that could be turned against you.

Here are a couple of sites with more information, resources and detailed, in depth advice:

The American Red Cross

Homeland Security

Coming tomorrow. Old scams targeting seniors and families are making a new appearance.

22 July 2008

What do Progressives want?

In 1893, more than a century ago, union leader, Samuel Gompers, replied this way when asked, “What does labor want?”

“We want more school houses and less jails: more books and less arsenals; more learning and less vice; more constant work and less crime; more leisure and less greed; more justice and less revenge; in fact, more of the opportunities to cultivate our better natures, to make manhood more noble, womanhood more beautiful and childhood more happy and bright”

Now, 115-years later, we progressives still yearn for the same things. But, despite our yearnings for justice, fair wages, transparent elections, and freedom from want, disease, poverty and crime we find ourselves in engaged daily struggles to survive the effects of rapacious oil companies, greedy HMOs and giant insurance companies, declining real-wages, unemployment, unsafe food-stuffs, deadly toys and pet foods, foreclosures, inflation, loss of basic personal freedoms and privacy's, and the lives of some of our very best men and women squandered in the occupation of Iraq.

We’ve watched as our politicized public schools deteriorate into police-patrolled, drug and violence infested microcosms of our neighborhoods, and as the international corporations wage war on unions, safety regulations and worker’s rights. We’ve watched for thirty years as the Republican neo-conservative policy makers and neo-liberal economists have attempted to deconstruct the New Deal and take down the safety nets protecting from poverty the poorest and most vulnerable among us; the elderly, the poor, the disabled, the blind, the widows, and the orphans.

Now, we are bearing witness to the effects of the cabal of reactionary right-wing politicians, whacked-out religious fundamentalists masquerading as Christians, and opportunistic mendicants, sociopaths, and white-collar felons attempt to destroy what little is left of America after having stolen two national elections. Their efforts are not pro-American. They are not patriotic. They are anti-American and unpatriotic. They are degenerate and obscenely criminal.

Those things which Gompers cited are not extraordinary. They are not unobtainable. They are not pie-in-the-sky. They are not Utopian dreaming. They are the essential human rights and basic aspirations of all persons. Those who would deny them to us are the enemy. They are the descendants of the industrialists, the scabs, and the gun-thugs of Gompers' time. As much as time goes by and brings about change, some things change not at all.

We progressives must do as was done then, Educate, Organize and Mobilize in order to fight for, and achieve, and hold on to, those basic human rights which Samuel Gompers so eloquently iterated over 100-years ago.

21 July 2008

Time for a bit of humor?

We've all seen the new $20, the new $10, and the new $5, right? Well get ready, here's the new $1-bill.

And, here's a game to keep you amused. It measures your brain-age, as contrasted with your chronological age. I came in at 36! Surprisingly old, since I'm often accused of behaving like a 19-year old Marine on liberty.

1. Touch 'start'
2. Wait for 3, 2, 1.
3. Memorize the number's position on the screen, then click the circle from the smallest number to the biggest number.
4. At the end of game, computer will tell you how old is your brain.


19 July 2008

We have only ten years to get it right!

In case you missed it, or have only heard the critics and the babble from the screech-monkeys over at the Right-Wing Noise Machine, here is Al Gore’s speech calling for energy independence and removal of the foreign oil needle of addiction in ten years.

It runs 27-minutes and is worth your time. It is one of the most important speeches of our lifetime!

I’ve included a couple of news item which relate to this story and which confirm that, while some see Gore’s speech as controversial, we, particularly Texas, are already moving in that direction.

It seems that Texas has already taken some steps down the road to which the former Vice President points.

Texas already leads the nation in generation of wind power (no jokes, please—no please none, I’m serious) and is near investing billions more into its development.

Last Thursday Texas officials gave an OK for building almost five billion dollars in electricity transmission lines from new West Texas and Panhandle wind farms to energy hungry areas such as Austin, Dallas and Houston.

The three-member Texas Public Utility Commission selected a transmission scenario that will eventually transmit a total of 18,456 megawatts of wind power to customers.

Read more here:


Texas billionaire and oil and water mogul, T. Boone Pickens, says he’s giving up partisan politics to join the fight for clean air and energy self-sufficiency. Pickens has tossed $50 million dollars into an ad campaign supporting wind farms and natural gas fueled vehicles.

Never an altruist, Pickens, donated millions to the scurrilous campaign of lies from the Swift Boats Captains for Truth that helped undermine John Kerry’s campaign eight years ago.

Now, with Born Again zeal, Pickens will meet with congressional and energy leaders next week seeking support for clean air and energy self-sufficiency through natural gas fueled vehicles and wind farms for electricity. A couple of thoughts to keep in mind: If this old boy is for it, there’s money to be made somewhere. Lots and lots of it, just scads, y'awl! And if Pickens is coming aboard, you can bet it is well thought out and will be gusher!

Read more here:


And from today’s San Francisco Chronicle:

“After Boone Pickens' announcement earlier this year that he would invest heavily in wind power generation in the Lone Star State, the state has proposed a major expansion of its wind power transmission lines. New lines will carry enough power to support 3.7 million homes. Despite its conservatism, Texas already leads the nation in wind power generation.

The state will put nearly $5 million into infrastructure, but Public Citizen estimates that the investment will save consumers $13 million in electric bills.

It will be interesting to watch to see if things go so well that other windy states follow suit. According to Al Gore's recent proposal, Midwestern states have enough wind to power the entire country.”

Article here:


18 July 2008

The disgraceful bunch of whiners fight back!

We have a very clear choice ahead of us. On one hand Senator Obama pledges to protect and preserve Social Security. On the other, Senator McCain calls the program an "absolute disgrace" and vows to push for Bush's failed agenda of handing the program over to Wall Street.

Recently, I wrote of the current catastrophic economic situation and asked the simple question of whether people would feel secure having their retirement income linked to General Motors and answered it, "of course not". No person in their right mind would want that. I would urge that no person in their right mind would propose such a ludicrous notion. I suspect that those who have, are not in their right minds.

Those of greater mental maturity and more sober reflection have joined together to fight back. Social Security must be protected and preserved.

Yesterday a telephone press conference hosted by Americans United For Change, union, retiree and activist leaders outlined plans to keep voters informed of McCain’s support of privatization and the wide gap between his and Obama’s proposals for Social Security.

Said AFL-CIO President John Sweeney:

The American people understand the importance of Social Security. They roundly rejected President Bush’s attempt to privatize the program.

This month, John McCain made clear he doesn’t understand how Social Security works, and over the course of his career, he has demonstrated that he would seize any opportunity to weaken the program and jeopardize its benefits.

Joining Sweeney on the call were AFSCME President Gerald McEntee; Ed Coyle, executive director of the Alliance for Retired Americans; and USAction President William McNary. McEntee, who chairs the AFL-CIO Political Committee, puts it this way:

The American people need Social Security benefits they can count on—benefits that aren’t subject to the highs and lows of the stock market or the partisan proposals of politicians. At a time of market uncertainty and economic distress, only a politician as out-of-touch as John McCain would suggest that now is the time to gamble with Social Security.

Americans United For Change plans to use its Bush Legacy Bus tour, now crisscrossing the United States, to let voters know about the dangers of the Bush/McCain privatization scheme and has unveiled an aggressive new online petition drive urging McCain to abandon his support for the Bush privatization plan. The other groups announced plans to mobilize their members at events nationwide to highlight the differences between Obama’s plans to strengthen Social Security and McCain’s privatization proposals.

Coyle noted that some 42 million Americans—seniors, widows, widowers, the disabled and young children who’ve lost a parent—receive Social Security. Privatizing Social Security would amount to throwing their checks onto the “roulette wheel” of the stock market, he said.

Social Security has kept millions out of poverty, and is one our nation’s greatest success stories. Our nation’s retirees are suffering from skyrocketing gasoline, grocery and health care prices. They see the turbulence of our financial markets, and worry about plans, advocated by McCain, to throw a privatized Social Security system on to this roulette wheel.

Learn more about Obama’s record on Social Security at the Meet Barack Obama site and check out McCain’s support of privatization at McCain Revealed. Click here to sign the American United For Change petition to McCain.

17 July 2008


No W.M.D.! No involvement in the terror attacks of September 11, 2001! No collusion with Al Qaeda! Under international sanction with two-thirds of its airspace shut down, Iraq offered no threat to America. Or any of its neighbors for that matter.


4127 dead and 30,324 maimed, burned, blinded, crippled, physically, mentally and emotionally impaired troops later, it is fair to ask why.

Please, someone tell me. Please tell me it was not about the oil leases recently awarded by the Iraqi puppet government in Baghdad. Please...I promise I will try very hard to believe you. As I already believe that thing about respect in the morning and the check that's in the mail.

But, please go ahead and try to convince me. And, I really do promise that I will try to be convinced.

Here's why. I really and truly do not want to believe that our government is so blatantly criminal in it's behavior that it would willing have killed and wounded nearly 35,000 of our bravest and best in order that the oil companies might increase their profits and gain control of a large amount of the world's remaining oil.

I really do not want to believe that we have become so blind, so blase, so indifferent and so disengaged that we have lost our sense of outrage. I do not want to believe that our media has forsaken its responsibility to act as our watch dog.

Are we really that stupid? Why have we permitted this? Why have we not ended it? And why are we not punishing those who brought it upon us?

Why? Please, someone. Tell me. Why?

16 July 2008

A Major Victory on Medicare!

Yesterday the congress and senate quickly overrode Bush’s veto of H.R. 6331, known as the Medicare bill. Just before the fourth of July break, Texas Republican Senators Cornyn and Hutchison voted against the bill. Facing pressure from outraged senior’s groups and grassroots activists along with doctors and their professional organizations, they reversed their votes and the bill went to Bush who vetoed it.

Bush and republicans were at odds with a provision in the bill, which would reduce spending on private health plans known as Medicare Advantage plans. The Advantage plans are a variation on HMOs providing turn-key health-care to Medicare recipients at a cost ratio of 12% to 19% greater than traditional Medicare. Critics argue that the extreme disparity in expense drive up costs for taxpayers and the 44-million Americans on Medicare.

Such plans were part of Bush’s failed domestic agenda to privatize Medicare and turn it over to HMOs and Insurance Oligarchs. As with his wretchedly lame-brained notion of turning Social Security over to Wall Street, older and wiser heads have prevailed.

The passage of the bill insures that Medicare recipients will have lower co-payments for mental health and more of them will find assistance in paying their monthly premiums.

The bill also guarantees that providers will be paid promptly and that physician’s reimbursements for treating Medicare patients will not be cut. By extension, this means that military families relying on TRICARE for their health care will have an easier time of finding physicians since TRICARE sets reimbursement levels based on Medicare.

Had the bill not passed, the 10.6% cut in physician reimbursements would have meant that many would have ceased accepting Medicare and TRICARE patients with devastating consequences for seniors and military families, particularly those in rural areas with few alternatives to local physicians.

The vote in the senate was close, underscoring the importance of the upcoming election. Texas seniors just do not need more of the same. The override was a hard fought victory involving a coalition of many divergent interests including unions, physicians, medical groups and grass-roots senior activists.

Now, we need to sustain our effort and send to the senate someone who will vote to protect our interests. The battle to save Social Security and to preserve and improve Medicare is far from over.

15 July 2008

Solve, don't suffer! Win, don't whine!

There are certain things we learn from others as we progress through life. We can call them life lessons, sound advice, or suggestions. Whatever we call them, they have things in common. They’re usually things we kind of, sort of, knew ourselves but it took someone else to shine the light on them to give us that aha! moment. And, they’re always so simple that we’re a bit annoyed with ourselves that we did not already think of them. Usually too, they are said at a time when we really need to hear them.

One of my favorite lessons was from my acting teacher, Cliff Osmond. It was in an intermediate class about living your character intensely and playing the scene to win. He was exhorting us to be “interesting”, to want our objective at all cost, and that no one pays to see someone whine or suffer. Then he went on to utter words so profound that ever since, I’ve tried to apply them to all my affairs, not just acting.

“Win, don’t whine. Solve, don’t suffer.”

Everyone can take this very simple advice and apply it to their life. Yeah, things get rotten sometimes. Things don’t go well. Unfairness and setbacks are lifelong clichés. Tragedy, grief, and pain are part of living, and one can choose to succumb or overcome.

The heroes, the interesting ones, the ones I want on my side, are those who seek to win, and find solutions despite all the odds being against them.

Here’s another one I learned from someone else a long, long time ago. Take your hand and make that little finger pointy thing with it. You know, clutch your hand into a fist and point that index finger as though you were pointing at someone.

Got it?

Now look down and see if there are not three of your fingers pointing right back at you.

No need explaining that one, is there? Those flaws, character defects, and personality quirks we find so irritating in others probably have a well-maintained kibble and water dish right in the kitchen of our own psyche.

We all learn from others and sometimes our best counsel is not ourselves. We progressives all stand on the shoulders of those who came before and warm our hands at fires built by others. It is our job to keep the fire burning for those coming behind us. Suffering, whining, and pointing fingers will not accomplish that. We’ll do it by offering solutions, and rising above the meanness, the hate, and venality of the finger-pointers and hate-mongers, and those who would keep us fearful of each other.

14 July 2008

What next? Don't ask!

When I asked, "What next?", I sure as hell did not expect this outrage. The magazine's explanation is that it was satire. As though we have something wrong with us for being offended. Their explanations ring as true as the pleas from the "good old boys" that their racist, sexist, homophobic and ageist comments and remarks are merely "jokes", and if we weren't encumbered with terminal political correctness, we'd see the humor.

What the New Yorker has done is to give credence and validity to every racist and hateful stereotype that the screech-monkies from the right-wing noise-machine have been spewing for months. The bigots and haters now have confirmation and a picture to prove their point.

Fox will jump all over it with remarks along these lines: "Obama has nothing to complain about, all the New Yorker is doing is depicting him and his wife as millions of Americans already see him, meanwhile today, John McCain, the war hero, kissed babies..."

Thus adding more support and credence to the racists, haters and rumor-mongers.

The next knuckle-dragging right-winger who, in my presence, complains about the left-wing media is going to catch about seven kinds of popping hot hell!

10 July 2008

What Next? Rhyming Games with Sambo & Obama

I have a question. But, first the answer.

The Answer: NO!

The question (paraphrased from memory) from the McCarthy hearings of the fifties: "Sir, have you no decency left, no decency at all!"

One hopes fervently that there is sufficient decency left in America's body politic that racist attacks such as are documented in this film gain no traction in the coming months.

Take a moment, watch the film and then join with me in speaking out against this outrageously mean-spirited and overtly racist attack on Mrs. Obama.

No, no decency left at all!

09 July 2008

Well here we are.

Texas has begun its annual death-march called summer. And, it is a wet heat!

The Astros are in the tank. I told you before, it’s the pitching!

Iran is firing off missiles and the U.S. is peeved, but not so peeved that it hasn’t increased its trading with that country by 10 times under the Bush administration. What, you ask, are we selling to Iran? Well, sez I, would you believe bull semen, brassieres, fur clothing, sculptures, perfume, musical instruments and cigarettes and assorted knick-knacks(weapons?).

Not that trading with folks is a bad thing. Really, I think it's a good thing...maybe making you less likely to bomb the hell out of someone buying your wares. Who in their right mind would consider that? Yeah--OK, him for sure, but who else? OK, OK, the mendicants, felons, and sociopaths surrounding him. But, I did say in their right mind, now didn't I.

About those cigarettes, Republican presidential hopeful, Senator John McCain cracked wise with the comment that maybe we’re trying to kill them (the Iranians) with them. Here we are, very seriously stumbling toward the bottomless pit of war with Iran, and the guy is making with the jokes. Very dumb, seventh-grade level jokes at that...guffaw, guffaw, guffaw!

Lieberman must of let him off his leash.

He’s giving maturity a bad name. Would someone please dope slap the guy so that he catches a clue?

But, a two-cheek, smick-smack, punk-slap (think Leo Gorcey & Huntz Hall) is in line for Bush after his insult of the Italian Premier. The White House has offered embarrassed apologies to Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi after it handed out an unflattering portrait of the premier and his country's politics.

Briefing notes given to reporters accompanying President George W. Bush to the G8 summit in Japan described Mr. Berlusconi as one of the "most controversial leaders in the history of a country known for government corruption and vice".

Boy I’d sure hate to think these guys might ever manage a war and our economy for us.


Oh yeah. Riiiiight!

Dang and it’s not even August yet, when it gets really hot.

07 July 2008

Join in the new Poll....

Take a look over to your right. You'll find a new poll that is set to expire on July 21. You may post multiple answers, so you're not locked into just one choice.

I'd like to see what are your concerns, so I can tailor the focus and resources of the blog to them.

And while this blog is targeted specifically to older Texans, (50+), please if you're younger or live outside Texas, join in...I want your input.

Let me know through comments or the "Guest Book" if you'd like to have added other choices of concern.

Speaking of the new "Guest Book", take a moment and sign it, even if you've been here before. I just added it this weekend, and look forward to seeing some of the "peeps" behind the visits

05 July 2008

Cornyn Sock Puppet Exposed!

Ah! that deceit should steal such a gentle shape,
And with a virtuous visor hide deep vice!

04 July 2008

The Best 4ths Ever!

Every person, every family, every community and every region of the country has its own way of celebrating the Fourth of July. For some it’s the annual fireworks display; from noisy kids in the backyards with sparklers after the family barbeque to community-based, professionally prepared, half-hour fireworks shows drawing in viewers from miles away—some include concerts and laser light shows. Whatever the specifics, the annual ritual unfolds.

My favorite Fourths were when I was a child, spending my summers with my grandparents in the rural settlement of Springerton, deep in the black-dirt area of Southern Illinois known as Little Egypt. Summers there were as hot as hell’s hub and nearly as humid as a teenage boy’s breath on the occasion of his first arrival at second base in the back seat of dad’s car.

But, long before girls and cars, my cousins and I celebrated the Fourth with a carefree spirit and near martial élan, which would have made our forefathers burst with pride. Lafayette, we had arrived…with contraband. You see, firecrackers were outlawed in Illinois, except as part of a legally sanctioned community display. But, each year, the cousins and I would gather enough pennies, nickels, and dimes from tasks, the selling of scrap-metal and soda-bottles returns to lay in a fair supply (from the traveling John Deere salesman’s trunk) of Black Kat firecrackers, cherry bombs, torpedoes, M-80s, Silver Salutes and some lady-fingers to use to torment girls.

A few lady-fingers tossed behind, and, at the feet of, a gaggle of snotty girls were always good for squeals and screams. But, that was mere prelude to the cannonade and bombast, which was to follow throughout the morning. Dogs and cats, wise to way of boys armed with firecrackers, vanished under cars, burrowed under corn cribs, and crawled deep and out of reach into grottoes formed by the wisteria bushes shading porches. Chickens took to the highest rafters in the barn. The only thing missing was a wild-eyed, terrified peasant lad running through town screaming, “The Visigoths are coming, the Visigoths are coming!”

A disquieting stillness would settle over that small town of two hundred gentle, Christian souls as my cousins and I, and six or seven other town boys made our way to the elementary school playground and well away from adult oversight.

It should come as no surprise that it was my generation, which first launched solid metallic objects into earth orbit and landed a human on the moon. These deeds were the direct result of early experimentation with two cherry bombs ignited simultaneously under a Del Monte pineapple can. The principle was laid, we merely had to refine the fuels a bit, but, earth orbit was ours from that day! Applied science and empirical research at their finest.

Cherry bombs launched tin cans skyward, M-80s shattered Royal Crown and Orange Crush soda bottles into sub-atomic particles, and torpedoes strung across the nearby road to Mill Shoals and Fairfield exploded as unwary motorists ran over them and slammed on their brakes thinking they had blown a tire. And, the richer among us, with more than one pack, would set off an entire string of Black-Kats as we staggered about, clutching our guts, and falling and rolling on the ground as though we had been machined-gunned by invading hordes of “Commies”.

By mid-day, our arsenals expended, each suffering some sort of injury; bleeding and scarred by glass and metal shrapnel or suffering powder burns and impaired hearing, we parted, good-fellows all, bonded by boyhood codes and primal combat brotherhood, to our separate holiday repasts. The cousins and I would make our way to grandma and grandpa’s where all the uncles, aunts, spouses and older cousins would be gathering for the feast.

We’d wash up out on the porch pumping water into a metal basin and scrubbing with hard lye soap that grandma had made. With knowing winks at each other, we'd half-listen to the dire promises of our parents of ass-whippings to be rendered later in payback for our rowdiness of the morning. “You think we didn’t hear that carrying-on." "Poor old Mrs. Clingbitter like to of died of fright from the ruckus and carrying on." "Her cat is so far up the tree it might never come down." "You boys will be the death of someone." "The hens ain’t gonna lay for a week." "I’m gonna take the skin off your back mister.”

Grinning and smirking like French diplomats, we’d grab a couple of plates to load up with food that had been laid out on tables in the main room for the adults. The kids would eat separately out on the screened porch on card tables covered with oilcloth; and we knew by the time everyone had full bellies, smoked cigarettes, and told their stories and jokes we’d be forgotten about.

The main tables were straining under the weight of plates and bowls filled with roast beef, fried chicken, baked ham, fried perch and blue-gill from the mill pond, corn-on-the-cob, sliced tomatoes, mashed potatoes, potato-salad, coleslaw, radishes, fresh garden salads, green onions, onions and cucumbers bathed in vinegar and salt water, snap beans, black-eyed peas, cooked carrots, boiled new potatoes with green beans flavored with a slab of fat-back, cornbread, huge soda biscuits, candied sweet potatoes, fried okra, fresh peach ambrosia, and cakes, cookies, pies and cobblers of every description.

We wash it down with iced tea sweetened with store-bought sugar poured in so heavily that there would be a thick layer of un-dissolved sugar on the bottom of the glass.

After dinner we’d loaf around, read comics, or play cards and board games, and stay utterly the hell away from the adults (just in case) until that golden hour of evening, when we’d close out the day playing kick-the-can while hearing the occasional distant sound of a cherry bomb going off, or that staccato, rapid fire sound of a string of Black-Kats being set off.

I’d give a bit, to get to do it all over again, just that way.

02 July 2008

Social Security & Wall Street

For all but three-months of my life, older Americans have been able to count on their Social Security check to arrive on time, in its full amount, and always to clear the bank. That is a unique track record of 68-years of success in providing a safety-net keeping millions and millions of older Americans, widows, the disabled and orphans from falling into the dark, bottomless abyss of poverty.

Working families, low-wage unskilled workers, minorities, and much of the lower middle-class (blue-collar) perennially buffeted and sashayed by economic winds and social forces, and living one missed paycheck away from financial ruin, look toward Social Security as the one thing that will protect them from hunger and poverty in their old-age. They do not have 401Ks, pension programs, savings accounts, or income property to assure them a safe, secure and dignified old-age. Their earnings go to basic survival needs: food, shelter, clothing and health. They do, however, have Social Security; a check that always comes on time, always in the full amount, and which never bounces.

The first monthly payment was issued January 31, 1940 to Ida May Fuller (who looked remarkably like Jane Darwell, who played Ma Joad in Grapes of Wrath) of Brattleboro, Vermont. Ida May did, however, look quite a bit more cheerful than did Darwell in her Academy Award winning role.

Today nearly 49-million Americans receive benefits from the Old-Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance program (OASDI) known as Social Security. Some 30-million are retirees, nearly 5-million are widows and widowers, close to 7-million are disabled workers, almost 3-million are spouses, and 4-million plus are children.

In Texas there are better than 3-million recipients; with close to 2-million retirees, 400-thousand disabled workers, 300-thousand widows and widowers, 200-thousand spouses, nearly 300-thousand children. Social Security beneficiaries represent 13% of the state’s population and 90% of the state’s over 65 population. Chances are that you or a family member, neighbor or friend is part of that population. Month-after-month they rely on their Social Security in order to stay ahead of the gnashing jaws of poverty.

It is well known, and accepted, that Social Security will have to be adjusted in some way to meet the needs of the coming “bubble” from the post-war baby-boom generation. There are many options, requiring only honest bipartisan negotiation, available to meet this need. Republicans claim that privatizing Social Security and handing it over to Wall Street in the form of managed “personal savings accounts”, which were a part of Bush’s failed domestic agenda, is the best solution.

Following the party-line, GOP presidential candidate, senator John McCain told the Wall Street Journal back in March (3/3/08) that, “I’m totally in favor of personal savings accounts...As part of Social Security Reform, I believe that private savings accounts are part of it—along the lines that President Bush proposed.”


Well consider this. Today “Bloomberg”, “Money” and “Marketwatch” all lead with a similar headline: U.S. Stocks Plunge: Worst Since Depression. As dire and bleak as that might be, it gets worse. The CEO for one of the nation’s leading builders, Lennar Corp, said that sector’s bottom has yet to be hit. Goldman Sachs is warning investors to bail out from General Motors stock and the chief market strategist at Jefferies & Co warns that General Motors will go out of business.

Now, putting aside all the other arguments against handing Social Security over to Wall Street (the vast amount of foreign (Chinese) debt it would require—for one) does attaching the most reliable and successful benefits program in our history to the chaos of today's economy make sense? Would you want your "personal savings plan" linked to General Motors stock?

Of course not! We have many other options. Apparently John McCain, who wants to fulfill Dubya’s third term, doesn’t know that. Fortunately, there are millions and millions of good, decent older Americans, disabled workers, widow and widowers, and orphans who will set him straight!