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Hard Times

There is no point in sugar-coating it. It’s been a long, hard year of losses for millions of people: jobs gone, houses foreclosed, life savings diminished if not entirely depleted (stolen). Between the long slog of the election campaign and the financial crisis, 2008 has been exhausting. Frightening too.

“They” tell us the outlook for 2009 is not any brighter. There will be more job layoffs and foreclosures along with bankruptcies both corporate and personal. Perhaps, “they” say, we will begin to see an economic recovery in 2010. I’m not holding my breath.

One wish I have for 2009, is that there be no more media stories about how the rich are suffering. They may need to sell a yacht and a vacation home in the Hamptons or the south of France, but most of them will survive without too much change in their lifestyles.

It is the middle class that has been hit the hardest. Unemployment is at its highest since the Great Depression. Many of the millions who lost their jobs in 2008, also lost their employer-provided health coverage and now have no income to pay for private insurance. Two years ago, it was reported that 47 million Americans were without health coverage. No one has yet calculated how much that number has increased.

Pundits, politicians and others have spilled a great deal of ink blaming foreclosures on home buyers who were too stupid to read the fine print and too greedy to face the limited reality of their buying power. They didn’t use words like “stupid” and “greedy”, but that’s what they meant while dividends rolled in from their investments in subprime mortgage equities. It is particularly fatuous to attack the people you are counting on to increase your wealth.

It couldn’t be greedy corporate executives and hedge fund managers who got us into this mess, could it? The ones with their bloated salaries and bonuses selling bad debt to the country, abetted by low tax regulations for the wealthy bestowed on them by a Republican Congress at the behest of President Bush and Vice President Cheney. Oh, no, it couldn’t be them.

And it couldn’t be the banks that had anything to do with the fact that personal debt rose to an all-time high as average Americans maxed out their credit cards buying expensive electronic toys, SUVs and exotic cruise vacations. I mean, no responsible bank would hand out another credit card to anyone who already has ten and an annual income of $50,000. They wouldn't do that. Would they?

For the past eight years, we have been a country drunk on credit for which the bill, they said, could be paid by the ever-increasing value of our homes. (I never understood those "experts" who said housing prices would continue to rise; in the early 1990s recession, the value of my home dropped by 25 percent.)

It all came tumbling down this year and it must be your fault and mine. It couldn’t have anything to do with the general zeitgeist of the country, could it?

As far as I can tell, that zeitgeist is the only kind of “trickle-down economics” that works: hand out billions of credit cards without checking anyone’s credit history, blast the airwaves, internet and magazine pages with millions of ads for glittery products only the rich should be buying and then create an aura of belief that you’re a sap if you don’t get yours – the biggest big-screen TV, the newest McMansion and even a $600 vacuum cleaner.

Oh, and don’t forget the kiddies. Their little psyches would be permanently warped without an iPhone filled with unlimited minutes, several pairs of $150 sneakers and an Xbox to go with their Macbook Pro.

There is plenty of blame to go around, but the majority of it must be placed at the feet of the Bush administration that encouraged an atmosphere of financial irresponsibility from the top down leaving it for the next guy in the White House to pick up the pieces of the country's shattered lives.

We can be grateful only that Bush could not sell Social Security privatization to the nation. Our predicament would be much more dire if half of everyone’s Social Security account had been invested in Wall Street when the crash came.

Those of us who believe we have been living a national nightmare for the past eight years can feel only relief that the decider’s days are done in Washington and hope that our new president brings more than hope to the job. He’s doing pretty well so far - if you don’t count the selection of Rick Warren to give the invocation at his inaugural, a disappointing decision that feels particularly tone deaf.

Elders, I believe, will have a lot to contribute in the new year that arrives tonight. Having grown up during the Depression or under the parentage of people who did, we know a lot about saving, belt-tightening, conscientiousness, self-discipline, patience, endurance and helping one another to get through hard times. It is bred in our bones.

It would have been nice to glide through our old age in a strong economy. It hasn't worked out that way, but in our long lives, we have survived other challenges, some of our own making, and we will do it again this time. We have more practice than most younger people and perhaps we can help guide them.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Clair Zarges compares herself to Michael Phelps in Fins and the Art of Swim Kick Maintenance.]


Medical Alert Products for Elders

category_bug_journal2.gif Darlene Costner, who blogs at Darlene’s Hodgepodge, has recently returned home after a few weeks in rehab following a hospital stay. At Thanksgiving, she broke her hip when she fell in her home where she lives alone. Deeply in pain, it took her several hours to reach the telephone to call for help.

Most single elders prefer to remain in their homes as they get older, but it is a hard fact of life that more than a third of people 65 and older suffer a fall or injury at home each year. For many, like Darlene, the telephone is not nearby.

Undoubtedly you have seen the ubiquitous television commercials for a medical alert product featuring former U.S. Surgeon General, Dr. C. Everett Koop. Until Darlene’s accident, I hadn’t given the service much thought. Now, I realize any one of us, no matter how active and vital we think we are, could find ourselves in need of emergency help with no telephone within reach.

With the tradition of resolutions upon us as the new year approaches, perhaps this is a good time to consider a medical alert service. It could save your life.

Below are links and some notes to several of these services. I am making no recommendations of one over another and if you decide to purchase a service, please do your due diligence in researching them. I don’t know why, but I feel like this is a service that is ripe for rip-offs. Here is a good page of questions to consider before purchasing a medical alert system.

Life Alert
This is the service Dr. Koop promotes. The equipment, similar in all of these services, is a pendant worn around the neck which communicates with a base unit in the house that calls the service when a button is pushed. There is no pricing listed on the website.
1.800.360.0329 for more information.

LifeStation
This works similarly to Life Alert and the equipment can be worn as a pendant, wristband or on a belt clip. It is priced from $27.95 to $29.95 depending on whether you choose to pay monthly, quarterly or annually.
1.800.884.8888 for more information.

MedicalAlert
Like the two above, this is equipment you wear and can contact the service with a single push of the button. Cost is $29.96 per month.
1.800.800.ALERT for more information.

MedicalHomeAlert
This appears to be the same company as MedicalAlert directly above and although the telephone number is different, the webpages are nearly identical.
1.800.800.0213 for more information.

LifeGuardian
Same service as the others with a wider variety of payment plans, rental and purchase, ranging from $19.95 per month to $39.95 per month. This service is top-rated by AARP if that means anything – I’m not sure. There is no phone number, but you can request an information kit here.

RescueAlert
Pricing plans range from $18.95 to $28.95 or a lifetime subscription for $749.95 which sounds like a lot but is really only 25 months at the highest monthly price and 39 months at the lowest monthly price.
1.800.688.9576 for more information.

There are others, but these appear to be the major services in the U.S. I’m sorry I’ve not included any for Canada, Europe, Australia, etc. but I’m sure if you Google around, you’ll find some.

For so many years, we are young and certain (or overconfident) of our physical capabilities and, for me anyway, it is a hard to come to terms with the possibility of being helpless. But all it takes, as Darlene found out, is one mis-step and a fall. Do consider this kind of service, particularly if you live alone.

And do stop by Darlene's blog to give her some encouragement. Her recovery is coming along, but it's taking awhile and she tires quickly.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Susan Gulliford explains The DIY Painting Miracle.]


Do Elders Gain Rosier Memories with Age?

For the past decade or so, Crabby Old Lady has been aware that she thinks differently than when she was young and she responds differently to emotional situations – good and bad. She thinks it is interesting to note these changes, but there is not much information available to help her understand them.

Mostly that’s due to lack of research into old brains but in recent years, undoubtedly due to a worldwide aging population, more is being done. Much of it is preliminary, so there are no definitive answers yet and an overview of old brains has not been achieved. Little by little, however, we are learning more.

Except when we’re not. Let Crabby explain.

According to a new study from neuroscientists at Duke University, there is a reason old people recall fewer negative events than young people.

“The scientists found that older adults have less connectivity between an area of the brain that generates emotions and a region involved in memory and learning. But they also found that the older adults have stronger connections with the frontal cortex, the higher thinking area of the brain that controls these lower-order parts of the brain.

“Young adults used more of the brain regions typically involved in emotion and recalling memories.”
- Science Daily, 20 December 2008

The study was done with older adults whose average age was 70 and younger ones whose average age was 24. They were shown a series of 30 pictures during a fMRI some of which were neutral and others that were strongly negative such as snakes and mutilated bodies. After the series, they were asked to recall the photos and the results were sorted in each age group by the number of pictures they could recall.

"’The younger adults were able to recall more of the negative photos,’ said Roberto Cabeza, Ph.D., senior author and Duke professor in the Center for Cognitive Neuroscience. If the older adults are using more thinking than feeling, ‘that may be one reason why older adults showed a reduction in memory for pictures with a more negative emotional content.’"

The different ways of thinking have tradeoffs, said Dr. Cabeza:

"’Older people have learned to be less affected by negative information in order to maintain their well being and emotional state – they may have sacrificed more accurate memory for a negative stimulus, so that they won't be so affected by it.’"

Now here is Crabby’s problem with this study: The first sentence of the Science Daily story makes an undocumented assumption that she doesn’t necessarily buy: “It turns out there's a scientific reason why older people tend to see the past through rose-colored glasses.”

Do we recall past negative events more positively than they were? Crabby doesn’t know about you, but she has acutely painful memories of past bad times. Not that she dwells on them particularly, but when they come to mind, they don’t get more pleasant with the passage of years, although Crabby will admit she is able to view them with more emotional distance than when they occurred.

Then, toward the end of the story, Dr. Cabeza makes another leap that Crabby questions:

"’Older people dwell in a world with a lot of negatives,’ [he says] ‘so perhaps they have learned to reduce the impact of negative information and remember in a different way.’"

A “lot of negatives”? Okay, Crabby can’t run or even walk as fast as she once did, she falls asleep at night earlier than she would like, her hair is falling out, her stamina has waned and too many loved ones are dead.

But Crabby can think of worse problems to have and she has adapted – just as she adapted to different kinds of limitations when she was young. She doesn’t feel that she lives in a world with a lot of negatives.

Crabby read a report of the study and not the study itself, so perhaps there is some misunderstanding on the writer’s part. But one can’t argue with doctor’s statement and these two assumptions throw the results out of whack for Crabby: ageist beliefs that could not help but affect the study and its interpretation by the researchers.

Crabby Old Lady is, of course, not a neuroscientist and for all she knows old people’s rosy memories and lives of negativity are proven facts, although they seem to fall more into the scientific world of psychology and not brain study.

What ticks off Crabby about this report is that because of those questionable assumptions, she can’t trust the study and that messes with her minor hobby of keeping up with elder brain research.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Brent Green recalls My Father’s Lessons.]


Sunday Serendipity: 28 December 2008

category_bug_politics.gif Well, Elder News didn't happen this weekend; I just got busy with other stuff yesterday. It will resume on 3 January in the new year.

Today, there is this sent by email from Chancy of driftwoodinspiration. A couple of weeks ago, there was much in the news about George Bush’s new home in Dallas which, they tell us, is just down the road a bit from where his presidential library will be. So lest we forget, this is sneak peek at its contents.

The George W. Bush Presidential Library is now in the planning stages. The Library will include:

The Weapons of Mass Destruction Room which no one has yet been able to find.

The Hurricane Katrina Room which is still under construction.

The Alberto Gonzales Room where you won't be able to remember anything.

The Texas Air National Guard Room where you don't even have to show up.

The Walter Reed Hospital Room where they don't let you in.

The Guantanamo Bay Room where they don't let you out.

The National Debt Room which is huge and has no ceiling.

The Tax Cut Room with entry restricted to the wealthy.

The Economy Room which is in the toilet.

The Iraq War Room: After you complete your first tour, they make you go back for a second, third, fourth and sometimes fifth tour.

The Dick Cheney Room in the famous undisclosed location, complete with shotgun gallery.

The Environmental Conservation Room still empty, but very warm.

The Supreme Court Gift Shop where you can buy an election.

The Decider Room complete with dart board, magic 8-ball, Ouija board, dice, coins and straws.

Additionally, the museum will have a 20-electron microscope to help you locate the president's accomplishments.

Admission: Republicans - free; Democrats - $1000 or 3 Euros


Elder Music: 27 December 2008

category_bug_eldermusic My obsession with following political news in excruciating detail all day during the final six months or so of the election campaign has, at last, been broken and I have time again for some old and some new interests.

Today ought to be This Week in Elder News at TGB, but with the holiday, some socializing, way too much snow and my new Eee PC, I didn’t get around to making selections. Maybe tomorrow, Sunday.

I’ve been filling some of the time I spent on election news for half a year reacquainting myself with my extensive MP3 music collection. When New Years has come and gone, schedules return to normal and for the foreseeable future, Elder News will continue on Saturdays, and Sundays (until something else comes along) will be devoted to Elder Music.

What do I mean by Elder Music? I suspect our musical tastes are set in our youth and there won’t be much that was new in the past 30 years. I stopped following new releases in the 1970’s disco era and never picked up the habit again except for favorite artists. I was fortunate to be working in radio during the most phenomenally creative period of popular music and interviewed many of the stars of Sixties music era for radio and TV shows I produced. That’s “my music” – of the pop variety.

So there will be that and some older popular music too along with jazz, some spirituals, great old country hits, classical favorites, and whatever else strikes my fancy each week limited sometimes by what’s available on YouTube, etc. When there is information of interest or personal stories to go with the songs, I’ll include those.

You will undoubtedly find some of my taste wanting and I don’t care (I probably wouldn’t like some of your music either), but maybe this feature will resurrect some memories of songs that you have neglected over the years, or remind you of others, or introduce you to something you had never heard before that you end up liking.

We’ll start today with a great Sixties band – Blood, Sweat & Tears. You can see an endless and endlessly-changing personnel roster for the band at Wikipedia, but I’m speaking of the David Clayton-Thomas era, in his first lead vocalist go 'round with BS&T.

There are any number of hits I could choose: Spinning Wheel, the Laura Nyro tune, And When I Die, You’ve Made Me So Very Happy, among others. But I got lost in Hi De Ho a few days ago.

It was composed by Gary Goffin and Carole King, and this is David Clayton-Thomas singing it not in 1972 when the song was first released by the band, but as an older man in a 1993 concert - with a bonus of And When I Die in the second half. [10:22 minutes]

Now, for another take on Hi De Ho, here it is by Straight No Chaser, a men’s a cappella group that has been a huge YouTube hit this month with some Christmas songs. This was recorded in concert during their early years in 1998. [3:35 minutes]

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, a final Christmas story for the year from Anne Gibert: A Christmas Carol or a Christmas Fiasco.]


My Cool New Tech Toy

category_bug_journal2.gif All my computer time is spent on an IBM (now Lenovo) T60 laptop. I’ve had it for nearly three years and it is a workhorse of a computer with plenty of memory, speed and ease of use (if you don’t count my perpetual problems with email - an issue I would rather not discuss).

I’ve schlepped this laptop all over the country - on and off airplanes and trains, in hotel rooms with dubious internet connections and it always delivers. It’s been banged around a lot with nary a complaint (except for those email screw ups and one major crash a year ago).

But the operative word in that paragraph is “schlepped.” It weighs a ton and it has too many cables plugged into it so I am tethered to the desk in the library when I would rather be in the kitchen or bedroom or outdoors on the deck with it sometimes.

Not long ago, Frank Paynter of Listics posted a story about a tiny laptop Dave Winer had bought. Apparently, they are called “netbooks” by the initiated and as small as they are, they have about a zillion times more of everything than the first computer you ever owned and, aside from a smaller hard drive, maybe even any average computer today of the non-gamer variety.

I was ecstatic to read about it and I zoomed around the web checking every story, critique and review I could find.

What I would gain with it, I found, is a much more powerful network capability (even when I occasionally dragged my laptop to the back deck on a fine summer day, I could barely get a signal), along with Windows XP, a 160 gig hard drive, 1 gig of RAM, three USB ports, an SD memory card slot (for my camera), built-in webcam (I'll finally try Skype video calls now) PLUS five or six hours of battery life. AND it weighs only four pounds.

I mean, I could toss that little baby in my handbag and not notice it’s there.

Now, as the delighted owner of an Asus 900HA Eee PC, I can. It arrived on Monday, I spent most of Tuesday (between snow shoveling sessions) setting it up, downloading the programs I use and generally behaving like a kid with her first bicycle.

It is 8.9 inches wide, 6.7 inches deep and less than an inch thick. What about the size of the keyboard, you may ask. It’s almost three inches shorter in width than a standard keyboard, but I’m accustomed to it already and seem to have no trouble switching between sizes on the two machines. The screen is much smaller too, but it is also brighter than the T60 and I have no difficulty reading on it.

Normally, it is considered gauche to discuss price, but I gave this to myself as a holiday gift - justified by how frugal I have been in 2008 - and you will be amazed: $325 - about one-seventh of what I paid for the Lenovo.

Frank Paynter posted a photo of Dave Winer’s little netbook sitting next to his honking big Macbook Pro. And here’s a shot of my mine next to my normal-sized laptop

Laptop_eee

Or better, perhaps, here is a closeup with a coffee cup, pen and mouse for size comparison.

EeepcCU

Now, if I can survive winter (see Wednesday’s story), you’ll be getting a lot more blog posts from outside on the deck next summer.

What’s your favorite electronic toy?

ADDENDUM in the "mysteries of computer life" category: My laptop email program, Mozilla Thunderbird, has refused to retrieve email for two weeks and I haven't found time to fiddle with it, so I've been stuck using the clunky web email program at my domain registrar's site.

After I downloaded and set up Thunderbird on my new toy, copied over my settings, address book and calendar, suddenly my laptop copy of Thunderbird fetches mail again. I'm not going to look a gift horse in the mouth, but I'm curious about why. If there are any geeks out there who can explain this miracle to me, I would most appreciate it.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, continuing our week of Christmas stories, Dani Ferguson recalls A Christmas Memory.]


You Want a White Christmas? I’ll Give You a White Christmas

category_bug_journal2.gif I realize that Portland, Maine isn’t the only place in the world that got a lot of snow this week, but what a whole lot of snow it was - and is still.

The storm began on Sunday morning. It was predicted to go well into the night with winds at 35 to 40 miles an hour resulting in humongous drifts. Travel, said the weather service, is discouraged. No kidding.

I read somewhere once that the Inuit language has 17 words to describe different kinds of snow. (What are the chances, I wonder, that they are all four-letter words.) The advantage of windy snow, I have now learned, is that it doesn’t collect on electric wires and trees so there is less possibility of a power outage. Their are, of course, disadvantages too.

By early afternoon on Sunday, storm raging, a parking ban was called by the City. That means no cars on any street from 10PM to 6AM. There were already six or seven inches of snow on the ground as my two condo mates and I did some shoveling, arranged our three cars toe to heel in the driveway and then repaired to our respective homes to sit out the storm.

First thing upon waking Monday morning, I checked outside my bedroom window. This is what my covered deck looked like. You can tell a lot about how much snow we got from how far it piled up around the table legs and fence.

SnowyDeck

The City did a fine job of clearing our street in the wee hours and by the time I looked out the front window at about 5:30AM, a city truck was even pushing the four-foot piles of snow out of the driveway entrances on the block - an unexpected gift I hadn't seen in the previous two winters I’ve lived here.

My upstairs neighbor, who leaves for work at 5:30AM each day, had no trouble backing out of the driveway.

At 8:30AM, my downstairs neighbor and I joined forces to dig out our snowbound cars in the driveway. For some reason, Graham’s car looked as it would in any “normal,” relatively big storm (that's a front fender of his car in the lower right of the photo). But take a look at my little PT Cruiser. Where is it?

SnowCoveredCar1

That’s about five feet of snow on top of my car. A neighbor looked at it and said, “You win.” Yeah, right. A bunch of shoveling is what I won. Still, it’s an amazing sight. Here’s a view from the neighbor's side porch.

SnowCoveredCar2

After a couple of hours of huffing and puffing with many rest breaks, we had cleared a path in the driveway and cleared our two cars of enough snow to get them out of the driveway and onto the street without too much slipping and sliding - of us and the cars. We would return after lunch for driveway clearing.

CleanedCar

No sooner was I upstairs and out of my wet clothes than, checking email, I found another parking ban announcement for Monday night so the city could clear a wider swath in the street. Mostly, however, we just got more snow in the driveway and spent several more hours shoveling in two sessions on Tuesday.

I have discovered a few thigh, arm and back muscles I had forgotten I have and you can get a sense of how much snow we moved around from this shot of the driveway.

Driveway

Mostly what we got from the city's second go 'round at clearing streets was much higher piles of snow. I took this shot with the camera at eye height from the sidewalk in front of my house.

Moundsofsnow1

This one gives you some perspective on the amount of snow we are navigating around in town. It's only the first big storm of the season and we're unlikely to see this layer gone until sometime in March.

Moundsofsnow2

The charm of a white Christmas has faded for me, at least for a couple of days until my muscles return to their normal benign state, but perhaps readers in warmer climes will appreciate the photos - now that I've done all the work.

TGB BONUS
Here’s little Ollie last week, when he was still recuperating from his hospital stay with a pink bandage to cover the place where his IV had been.

OllieBandage

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, James J Henry Jr has for us A Story For Small Granchildren: The Christmas Tree.]


Medicare Advantage Plans

[EDITORIAL NOTE: Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Saul Friedman writes the bi-monthly Reflections column for Time Goes By in which he comments on news, politics and social issues from his perspective as one of the younger members of the greatest generation. He also publishes a weekly column, Gray Matters, on aging for Newsday.

Category_bug_reflections I don’t wish to alarm you. But did you know that many of people on Medicare - more that 8.6 million of you - are inadvertently helping to kill Medicare? I don’t blame you for not realizing this. I didn’t really recognize the threat early on. But it’s worth remembering.

In 1995, after the right-wing cabal led by new House Speaker Newt Gingrich took over the Congress with its “Contract for America,” I attended a press breakfast with Gingrich’s lieutenant, Richard Armey, of Texas. And during the discussion, Armey told us that among other goals, the new Republican majority intended to “wean our old people away from Medicare.” I did not know exactly what he meant.

Nor did I understand immediately what Gingrich meant when he predicted at a meeting of health insurance executives that the Health Care Financing Administration, which ran Medicare, would “wither on the vine.” What he really meant was that Medicare as we know it would disappear. And now we know how they came close to accomplishing that.

The first step: Over objections from the Clinton administration and by threatening drastic cuts, Republicans and the insurance industry introduced private health care into Medicare and they called it Medicare HMOs.

It didn’t work as well as Republicans had thought. When too many elder got sick, as happens with people of a certain age, and the risk pool dried up, the HMO model didn’t and couldn’t save as much money as expected and still leave room for profits. So the insurers pulled out.

But some damage had been done. Beneficiaries had been drawn in to the convenience and extras offered by the insurers, who tried again with the same game under a different name: Medicare-Plus Choice. And the Medicare Agency had a new name, The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which was devoted not to Medicare, but to its privatization.

That came under George W., who had called Medicare a “dinosaur.” And what we got in 2003 was the Medicare Modernization Act (Tip: anytime a program is “modernized” or “reformed” to give you “choices,” watch out).

The MMA, which literally was passed under cover of darkness with the critical help of AARP, gave us the well-known and widely hated privatized Part D drug “benefit,” which depends on private insurers and the drug manufacturers and is outside traditional Medicare. It’s as if Republicans took seriously that canard, “I don’t want the government in my Medicare” for Medicare was given almost no role and, as you know, cannot even bargain for lower drug prices.

But even more insidious than Part D, with its infamous doughnut hole, is the fine print in the MMA. Did you know, for example, about the 45 percent trigger, which prohibits Medicare costs from exceeding 45 percent of general revenues? That’s meant to permanently stunt Medicare’s growth. Worse than that, the MMA introduced means testing for the first time, hitting more affluent beneficiaries with higher Part B premiums, which was designed to drive them away from Medicare.

But worse still, Medicare HMOs, Medicare Plus Choice was given new life in Medicare Advantage, and this time the Republicans sought to guarantee the insurers profits by giving them subsidies which will amount to more than $15 billion a year over the next decade, which has helped lure 20 percent of the 43 million Medicare beneficiaries away from traditional Medicare.

I know, buying a Medicare Advantage policy is more convenient and may seem cheaper than signing up for a separate Part D plan plus a Medigap policy to supplement traditional Medicare. But every recent independent study suggests Medicare Advantage is not a great bargain, after you count premiums, co-payments for every doctor or lab you visit and for the drugs you take - and the doughnut hole.

According to the Center for Economic and Policy Research, even with the benefits, out of pocket spending for people with Medicare Advantage plans continue to climb, along with drug prices and premiums.

But more important for the future of Medicare, according to the Commonwealth Fund, the government is spending for each Medicare Advantage enrollee nearly $1,000 or 12.4 percent more than it spends on traditional Medicare, or a total of $8.5 billion in extra payments.

But that extra money doesn’t necessarily buy you the same health security as straight Medicare. For not only does your Medicare Advantage provider require you to use doctors and hospitals in their networks, there is also no guarantee that the company will see you through an illness like cancer, failing kidneys or heart bypass surgery.

I’ve heard from too many patients and doctors who must fight for coverage they thought they had. Indeed, I know of major hospitals that won’t accept Medicare Advantage. To top off the tales of Medicare Advantage, Rep. Pete Stark, a California Democrat, released a Government Accountability study earlier this month that reported the Medicare Advantage plans, which did $91 billion in business this year, earned $1.3 billion more in profits than they expected in 2006. That’s money out of Medicare’s pocket.

I apologize for such a long story, but it’s necessary that you know that the new Congress and president hope to continue and go further with last year’s effort to roll back some of the more damaging provisions of the 2003 law. Democrats were able to reduce the subsidy payment to Medicare Advantage providers. The Medicare Rights Center asked the Congress to eliminate the extra payments to the Medicare Advantage plans. And the newly formed Alliance to Restore Medicare, which I’ve mention in another post, also wants to take Part D away from private insurers and place it under Medicare, end the means testing which penalizes higher income beneficiaries and repeal the 45 percent trigger.

Most seniors organizations have sent their wish lists to the office of president-elect and his health care appointees. But so far the largest organization, AARP, has not been heard from and a spokesman referred me to its well-advertised Divided We Fail campaign. Characteristically, it takes no specific position, which leaves it free, as in 2003, to compromise Medicare.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, a Christmas poem from Ellen Younkins titled Santa Baby.]


This Week in Elder News – 21 December 2008

In this regular weekend feature you will find links to news items from the preceding week related to elders and aging, along with whatever else catches my fancy that I think you might like to know. Suggestions are welcome with, however, no promises of publication.

We’ve showcased the Young at Heart Choir here before. Let’s start off the Elder News this week with their rendition of James Brown’s I Feel Good. [2:20 minutes]

In her professional capacity, elderblogger Cynthia Samuels of Don’t Gel Too Soon alerted me to a new book by Maggie Scarf about long-term marriages. Nicely titled September Songs, the in-depth interviews with couples whose marriages survived into later years reveal that it gets better with time.

Sad news last week when it was revealed by his daughter that that 81-year-old actor Peter Falk has Alzheimer’s Disease and is no longer competent. Of course, we all remember him as Columbo, but I prefer his movies, especially those he made with his friend John Cassavetes, Husbands and A Woman Under the Influence in which he starred with Gena Rowlands. More here.

There is a new, ongoing project to create free computer software that the disabled can easily use. I think it will also be good for many elders who can use a similar kind of help. More here.

The elder population of Japan is growing faster than in many other countries leaving the rag trade there with diminishing revenue. To help boost clothing sales, a new fashion magazine is aimed at men age 50 and older. You’ll need to read this story to find out why is called OilyBoy.

Reminder: There are only 10 more days to sign up for a new Medicare Part D prescription drug provider. The enrollment period ends on 31 December. You can find information and compare coverage at the Medicare Part D website.

We’ve discussed money saving tips to get us through our new hard times in the past. Marion Vermazen of Marion’s Blog has posted some more. I especially like the idea of listing expenses in two columns labeled Essential and Discretionary to get a handle on where the money goes.

Many rich people have, apparently, lost everything they have in the failed Bernie Madoff Ponzi scheme. Sex writer Alexandra Penney tells how she will need to sell her Florida cottage, fire the maid and learn to iron the 40 white shirts she owns. She took her first subway ride a week or so ago. I feel bad for the maid. More here in what Ms. Penney titles The Bag Lady Papers. (Hat tip to Marion Dent of And the Beat Goes On)

To put a button on the topic of wealthy paupers, with thanks to Chancy of driftwoodinspiration, here's a funny video to go with Ms. Penney's lament. [1:33 minutes]


Oops

category_bug_journal2.gif Sorry, time got away from me and there is no Elder News this morning. Check back tomorrow, Sunday - I'll post it then.

And, unlike last weekend, no disasters here. A good deal of snow, but what else is new in Maine.


Are You Satisfied With Your Life?

Online somewhere, I ran across the question that is today’s headline and was surprised to realize I had never considered it.

Well, that’s not entirely true. When we choose to make changes in how we live – new job, new house, new car, get married or divorced, paint the kitchen, retire – we often are improving our lives or, at minimum, removing a dissatisfaction, making our lives better in some manner.

I’ve made those decisions many times, but I hadn’t thought that they were to increase satisfaction. Most of my life has been a series of moves designed to fill a need or desire, to smooth rough edges. But overall satisfaction? This is the first time I’ve asked myself…

What’s not to like. I have a comfortable home, a beautiful and funny cat companion to share it with, a room that is the real library I’ve dreamed of having since I was a kid, a collection of seven or eight thousand music MP3s (more than I can listen to again in my lifetime). The ocean is a short, two blocks away where I can walk for miles and if you discount the necessity of digging out my car, magical snowy winters and pleasant summers to mark the passage of time.

There are friends here and scattered about the world – some even travel to visit me for a few days now and then. There are many more online friends who are no less important for being at a cyber-distance. My “job” of blogging every day keeps me intellectually stimulated. And it’s thrilling to live in the era of the internet where there is so much to see, do and learn.

I have more than enough interests to fill my days; the real problem is in the choosing.

In comparing my life now to the many “thens” of the past, I was much less satisfied when I was young. There was always something more I wanted: a different job, a husband, a larger apartment, to be prettier, smarter, skinnier or more successful. The dissatisfactions changed year to year and even week to week - and there was no dearth of them.

But not so many now. It would be good to have some additional money but more for the comfort of knowing there would be enough should I need expensive care in the future than to buy anything. For travel too, but it doesn’t feel like I’m deprived. It is easier at my age now to accept limitations that chafed when I was young.

Often in the past, reading about the Great Depression, I lamented its effect on elders, people who had worked hard all their lives whose final years turned out to be even harder. Younger people had time to recover, when the economic tide eventually turned, for their old age. We are faced now with a similar situation, causing similar deprivation. But the blog question today is of personal, not social or political satisfaction and if inflation doesn't get out of control, I can weather this downturn.

If I had my druthers, I would live in New York City or Portland, Oregon. Choosing Portland, Maine was one of the larger mistakes of my life and the economic crisis makes a remedy difficult. But it’s not as though I’m miserable.

I suspect satisfaction is easier when we’re old than when we are young. Ambition wanes in old age – or, at least, mine has – along with striving and competition. I especially like living on my schedule rather than an employer’s; any deadlines these days are self-imposed.

So, yes, I’m satisfied with my life. What about you?

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Nikki Stern has composed a Belated Requiem.]


The Real Economic Story

Just thinking out loud today…

Perhaps it is due to the media’s fascination with whether Caroline Kennedy is qualified to be a senator along with the Blagojevich scandal in Illinois and Bernie Madoff’s failed, 50 billion-dollar Ponzi scheme, but I’ve been thinking that the real story of the now-official, year-long recession isn’t getting the kind of attention it should.

The big picture is reported: the numbers of mortgage foreclosures and the hundreds of billions in bailout funds handed out to corporations with little or no oversight on how it is used. We hear about the size of the deficit, national debt and the trade imbalance. The frightening unemployment numbers get their 15 seconds of fame when they are released. And this week, there is a trickle of personal stories from millionaires who’ve lost everything because they invested all their money with Madoff.

On that last item, I’m having trouble working up sympathy. I don’t know anything at all about investing except “don’t put all your eggs in one basket.” What were they thinking?

What’s missing, however, are stories about how most of us – the poor, the middle class, the people who live paycheck to paycheck and one small emergency from destitution - are getting by. It may not be as glamorous as a millionaire losing his yacht or the scion of a dynastic political family jockeying for advantage, but the real story of the recession isn’t just getting lost, it isn’t being told at all.

There is a small glimpse of the wreckage, hurt and fear in the Washington Post/ABC poll released yesterday. Some items:

  • 40 percent are concerned about heating their homes this winter
  • 10 percent of home owners have fallen behind in payments
  • 29 percent of renters have fallen behind in rent payments
  • Nearly 20 percent say they or a household member has lost a job in the past few months
  • More than 25 percent have had their pay or hours reduced at work
  • More than half are worried about medical payments if a family member gets sick
  • 66 percent are worried about maintaining their lifestyle

Lifestyle? When food and shelter are at risk, Jimmy Choos and Coach handbags are the wrong thing to worry about. What bothers me is that we – the United States and the world – are in a stunning financial crisis that won’t get better any time soon, will impoverish many in the middle class and wipe out many of the poor, but there is no discussion of how it affects the essentials of everyday life.

What’s happened to the millions who are out of their homes due to foreclosure? Where are they living? How are parents who’ve lost their jobs feeding their kids? Have cities and states made arrangements so that people in the northern tier don’t lose heat and electricity through the winter if they can't pay the bill? How many have been added to the 45 million people without health coverage with so many newly unemployed?

And what about elders who lost 20, 30, 50 and more percent of their savings in the Wall Street failures and haven’t a prayer of finding work, or can no longer work? Most of these elders were not rich before and less so now.

Where are these stories? Where is the advice on how to get by when it is obvious that this is going to be a long, hard slog before better times return? What plans have public officials and other organizations throughout the country made for the day-to-day, basic needs of people as the recession continues? I’m concerned that too much hope is being pinned on Barack Obama to fix it all in his first six months. According to that Washington Post/ABC poll,

“Nearly half expect Obama will be able to improve the economy ‘a great deal’ or a ‘good amount.’”

Wishful thinking? I’m not convinced anyone knows how to fix the economy and that we will just have to ride it out wherever it takes us for however long it lasts. There will be no miracle wake-up one morning with “lifestyle” restored to 2005 levels. But there seem to be no plans for people without means to help themselves.

Are cities and towns organizing people to help people? Are members of local groups working together to keep an eye on their more vulnerable neighbors? If it is happening where I live, no one's told me.

I’m one of the lucky ones. Low income, but debt-free. I have enough to live comfortably - without frills. As long as the cat doesn’t get too sick again and inflation remains under control, we’ll be fine. But what about everyone else?

Just thinking out loud today…

UPDATE: A reader named Linda sent an email referring me to a series of posts at Huffington Post where readers are sharing their economic crisis stories. Here are the links:

Blogging the Meltdown - Part 1
Blogging the Meltdown - Part 2
Blogging the Meltdown - Part 3

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Lia has a beautiful collection of Postcards from Past Lives.]


What Do You Like Best About the Internet?

blogging bug image A new survey from Harris Interactive for Intel has gotten a lot of publicity this week for reporting that 46 percent of American women would give up sex for two weeks rather than internet access. Men, not so much: only 30 percent would do so.

Although the survey included 2,119 adults of all ages 18 and older, Harris reports only one elder statistic: 52 percent of adults 45 and older would rather go two weeks without sex than give up the internet for one week.

The survey is titled, Internet Reliance in Today’s Economy, which we know is the worst economy in decades, and the results that got less media attention than sex are more interesting if not as titillating.

When respondents were asked to rank the importance of a list discretionary spending items, 65 percent reported that they “cannot live without” the internet. Other items listed in order of can’t-live-without:

  • Cable TV subscription (39 percent)
  • Dining out (20 percent)
  • Shopping for clothes(18 percent)
  • Gym membership (10 percent)

Apparently we prefer, by a large margin, sitting on our butts in front of a computer screen to exercising. That is surely true for me, much of it due to inertia. Once I'm at my desk, with the whole world at my fingertips, it’s hard to break away for a walk outside. Even harder to mop the floor or change the beds. There is always one more thing to check online which leads to another and another and – well, you know how that goes.

Ninety-five percent in the survey feel that it is very important, important or somewhat important for people to have devices that allow them to access the Internet. And an only slightly smaller 91 percent reported that life is better because of the internet in at least one respect. Among them:

  • Improves ability to stay in touch with family and friends (78 percent)
  • Able to shop more effectively (68 percent)
  • Better able to manage finances with online banking and bill paying

In regard to the last item, I’m irritated every month that a couple of my regular bills must still be paid by check because the companies do not accept electronic money transfers. It’s time they catch up with the 21st century.

I suppose blogging, which was not referenced in the survey, would come under the heading of improving one’s ability to stay in touch but separately from other services, it is high on my list of essentials now. I have met so many bloggers that I consider friends during the five years since TGB began that it is now its own social circle in my life without which I would be bereft.

In the decade since the internet became ubiquitous, it has become integral to daily life for banking, bill paying, blogging, shopping, email, reading the news, research and entertainment. I think the time has come when such surveys as this one are as silly as asking if you could live without a calendar.

Nevertheless, since the survey is on the table here, I’m wondering what the single best thing is that the internet provides you. It’s hard to choose one, but I’ll pick blogging for the many different pleasures it give me.

Oh, and as to the sex question – no doubt in my mind: if I must choose, I’ll take the internet.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Ellouise Schoettler writes of her new relationship with her mother in The Traveler and the Genealogist - Bridging Time.]


This Week in Elder News – 16 December 2008

[EDITORIAL NOTE: This is what would have been posted last Sunday had I not been otherwise engaged.]

In this regular weekend feature you will find links to news items from the preceding week related to elders and aging, along with whatever else catches my fancy that I think you might like to know. Suggestions are welcome with, however, no promises of publication.

A U.S. manufacturer is trying to gain approval for a handgun as a medical device from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Called the Palm Pistol, it is designed for people with arthritis or other debility that might prevent them from firing a normal handgun.

"'It's something that they need to assist them in daily living,' says Matthew Carmel, president of Constitution Arms in Maplewood, New Jersey, which hopes to manufacture the Palm Pistol - now just a patent and specifications. 'The justification for this would be no more or less for a [walking aid] or wheelchair, or any number of things that are medical devices,'" he says.

This guy is also seeking coding for the gun as a “durable medical device” which would make it eligible to be considered for reimbursement through Medicare. More here.

Although this video is a television commercial for a private health care organization, which I wouldn't normally post, it is so joyous about elder women that I don’t care. [1:01 minutes] (Hat tip to Jan Adams of Happening Here)

Whether due to hard economic times or the success of extensive lobbying here at Time Goes By (I doubt the latter), cosmetic surgery is falling out of fashion. More here.

At the Washington Post last week, age columnist Abigail Trafford wrote of elders and addiction, something worth being aware of with our older friends and relatives during the holiday season.

Memory can be an issue as we get older even without fear of dementia. Now, two new studies each have a different idea of what might help. You could try marijuana. Or, some different researchers suggest red wine. Make of it what you will.

It’s not true that we need less sleep as we get older and here’s some information on Why Sleep is Essential.

This has nothing to do with elder news unless you file it under the category of “you’re never too old to learn something new.” An elderblogger in Spain, LadyLuz of Costa de la Luz Gardening, sent a story about an old Mediterranean tradition of including a caganer in Christmas nativity scenes. Want more explanation? Here you go.

This year a new caganer figure has been created - Barack Obama - which you can purchase for 14 Euro. You’ll need to click this link to see it for yourself.

Although all the media attention in recent years to the sandwich generation – boomers with children and parents who need care – irritates me (it was the norm in many families when I was growing up), perhaps it’s not so for people younger than I. Here’s a story of tips on handling a multi-generational household.

It’s a book and it’s a film. It’s a whole lot of old people talking about what they think wisdom is. This video is a teaser for the movie – a good one - and I like it so much I’ve posted a tiny screen of it in the right sidebar. You can read more here about the project. [5:46 minutes] (Hat tip again to Jan Adams of Happening Here)

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Clair Zarges explains what it’s like to be a Second Tier Girl.]


A Harried Weekend

category_bug_journal2.gif Thank all of you who left comments, sent email and telephoned to see if I am okay. I had no idea that not posting for two days would leave you with concerns. Next time I’ll at least post a short announcement.

Usually, I prepare the Saturday and Sunday posts on Friday, but I was busy all day cleaning and cooking for an evening dinner party and figured I’d get them done Saturday morning. But I woke to a deathly ill cat on Saturday and we made a dash to the animal emergency center. By the time I got home in mid-afternoon, it seemed too late to post Elder News so I cleaned the massively messy kitchen.

Also, the computer has rebelled. Thunderbird hasn’t worked since Thursday and I can’t figure out what’s wrong so I’m stuck with my domain registrar’s clunky webmail that is slow and hard to use. Plus, my spacebar and “E” key are suddenly sticky and I have to pound each of them several times whenever I need a space or an E. Grrrrrr.

Ollie the cat is home now, well-recovered from a urinary tract blockage. It is a fairly common malady of male cats and is known to recur. If so, (men reading this may want to skip the rest of this paragraph) the only known remedy is to amputate the cat’s penis which doesn’t impair his ability to pee, but does prevent further wildly expensive veterinary visits. Ollie is neutered so I don’t feel too bad if that procedure becomes necessary.

To prevent or at least forestall that drastic measure, Ollie now must eat a special, prescription food. Anyone who has cats knows what it's like to get them to eat something new. Such fun we're having around here. Oh, did I mention the pills that need to be jammed down his throat twice a day for the next week or so.

Meanwhile, the huge Friday ice storm left a quarter of a million Mainers without power (still so, in many cases), but my neighborhood was spared. Until today, when 40-degree temperatures are expected, it has hung in the mid-teens Farenheit, although it is cozy here in the apartment. As dangerous and disrupting as ice storms are, they do have their aesthetic charms.

Here is what the electrical cables in front of my windows, illuminated by the street light, looked like when I got up early on Friday morning. The sleet was still coming down.

IcyWires

Later in the day, the sleet ended, but the temperature remained well below freezing. If you look closely, you can see that every branch on this tree outside my laundry room is coated in ice.

IceTree

And here are icicles on the mansard roof of a house behind mine.

Eave1

Again, thank you all for your concern - one of the best things about the elder blogosphere, this looking out for one another. It was only a harried weekend, but not due of the storm. Oh, and the dinner party was a wild success, feasting on an extraordinarily well-prepared leg of lamb (if I do say so myself).

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Ravi Chawla gives us a first-hand account of the terror attack in Mumbai titled, The Agony Continues After the Harrowing 62-Hour Ordeal.]


The Pervasiveness of Corruption

category_bug_politics.gif The allegations against Illinois Governor Rod R. Blagojevich [74-page criminal complaint - pdf] are distinguished among political scandals for their extreme sleaziness and give me a reason to buckle down on a corruption story I have been toying with for a long time. Even sticking only to recent scandals, the list of transgressions against the public trust is long and the details, when not venal, are sordid. Always, if it’s not about money, it’s about sex.

In no particular order, here are two lists, compiled only from memory, of big-time, elected politicians involved in scandals:

MONEY
Rep. William Jefferson
Sen. Ted Stevens
Mayor Sharpe James
Gov. Dan Walker
Rep. Charles Rangel
Rep. Tom DeLay
Sen. Robert Torricelli
Gov. George Ryan
Rep. Randy Cunningham

SEX
Rep. Mark Foley
Rep. Gary Condit
Rep. Wilbur Mills
Rep. Newt Gingrich
Sen. Larry Craig
Sen. Gary Hart
Gov. Elliot Spitzer
President Bill Clinton
Sen. John Edwards

I’m amazed I can compile such a long list from memory and it is, of course, light years from being exhaustive. It doesn’t include scandals with “–gate” attached their names, business people, military or anyone from the Bush administration. If you don’t recognize some, Wikipedia will enlighten you.

Personally, I’m not much concerned about sex scandals except for my awe (renewed regularly) at lawmakers’ inability to keep it in their pants, and the carelessness in the execution of their libidinous activity.

The people on this list are exclusively male, but a quick search around the web reveals that women politicians are not unknown to participate in money scandals, although not sex scandals which doesn’t mean they don’t engage in sordid liaisons, only that they haven’t been revealed. I suspect there are fewer women reported in any sort of scandal only because they haven’t cracked the glass political ceiling in enough numbers yet – and apparently Mrs. Blagojevich has been a willing participant in her husband’s alleged corruption.

The astronomical number of corrupt politicians, in comparison to the number of elective offices – even if you count only federal officials – leaves me feeling like Diogenes. Is there an honest politician anywhere? Or are there only those who haven’t been caught?

They are all expert at weasel words and I can recall hardly any politician who speaks directly to anything without leaving wide-open gaps of unanswered questions. Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr., in his press conference on Wednesday disavowing collusion with Governor Blagojevich, made no reference as to whether he would accept or reject Barack Obama’s Senate seat if the accused governor appoints him.

Look, I’m not naïve. I know politicians twist corporate and rich peoples’ arms for money in exchange for legislative favors and appointments, and vice versa. But this is the first time in my memory that we know the precise, naked details of how it happens day-to-day, can see the Janus-faced politician as he is, claiming reform in public while selling the public trust for personal enrichment in private.

While reading the criminal complaint, particularly the quotations from the taps on Governor Blagojevich’s telephones and bugs in his office, the horrible feeling crept over me that this kind of “pay-to-play” horse trading is only politics as usual, that they all engage in it all the time, perhaps less crudely than this accused governor. After all, have you ever heard of a high-level, elected politician (who wasn't already rich) who didn’t walk away by choice or failed re-election bid directly into a job that pays enough annually to support you or me for a lifetime?

The Clintons’ finances were in the minus column when Bill became president; now they are worth millions. In a particular pet peeve of mine, former Louisiana Rep. Billy Tauzin now works for $2 million a year for Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, a lobbying job he was given after he shepherded Medicare Part D through Congress, a program that has enriched the pharmaceutical companies by tens of billions while ripping off sick elders.

Much of the time corruption is so Byzantine as to be impenetrable. (What exactly did the banks and Wall Street firms do with those mortgages?) What has made the Blagojevich allegations (has anyone called it Blago-gate yet?) so “popular” is that it is corruption at its most base: “you give me money; I give you Senate seat.” It doesn’t get any simpler than that.

A majority of people go through life working hard for living, do their best to raise their children to become morally responsible adults, pay their bills and their taxes and do it all by the rules. It’s hard to know if politics attracts those who are already corrupt or if politics corrupts those who were once honest, but that short-list above tells us the kind of government we have, have always had. And it is not to anyone’s benefit but politicians and their corporate cronies.

In the recently contagious bubble of political “hope,” the Blagojevich affair is thoroughly deflating.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Linda Davis tells us about her son's love in My Grandpa's Gone.]


Elders Lobbying for Healthcare for Others

category_bug_journal2.gif As I’m sure you remember, during a speech in Cleveland on 20 July 2007, President Bush had this to say about health care:

"I mean, people have access to health care in America. After all, you just go to an emergency room."

For the president of the country with the worst record on health care in the developed world to make such a statement is awful enough, but I think the greater giveaway is that it tells us a lot about what rich people think the rest of us are worth.

In the October 2008 issue of Annals of Surgery, Johns Hopkins trauma surgeon Anil Haider and colleagues report on a study they conducted to “determine the effect of race and insurance status on trauma mortality” which usually refers to the kind of care emergency rooms are meant for rather than what President Bush was suggesting. Their conclusion:

“Race and insurance status each independently predicts outcome disparities after trauma. African American, Hispanic, and uninsured patients have worse outcomes, but insurance status appears to have the stronger association with mortality after trauma.”

That’s a pretty clear statement, for a medical journal, but the rest of the report isn’t as easy to translate. Fortunately, there is David Noonan, a seasoned health insurance reporter for Newsweek to wade through the notoriously complex syntax of medical studies to reveal the details.

”…Haider and his colleagues analyzed almost 430,000 moderate to severe cases of traumatic injury (from auto accidents, gunshots and other causes) treated between 2001 and 2005. Controlling for age, gender, type and severity of injury, they found that, overall, uninsured patients were 50 percent more likely to die from their injuries than insured patients." [emphasis added]

It gets worse when race and insurance coverage are factored in:

“When compared with an insured white patient, black patients with equivalent injuries but without insurance had a 78 percent higher risk of dying; for uninsured Hispanics, the risk was 130 percent higher.”

These are shockingly high numbers that leave President Bush’s statement even more callous that it appears on its face. (It's not scientific, but I'm guessing one could extrapolate these figures into the world of everyday medical care with similar conclusions.)

As flawed as Medicare and Medicaid are, we elders at least have guaranteed minimum coverage for a large part of our health care which is not so for people younger than 65. It relieves us of concern for our health that the 47 million Americans without coverage don’t have, and that large number of uninsured (one-sixth of all Americans) has undoubtedly grown dramatically in the past year as millions have lost their insurance due to job layoffs, and can’t afford private coverage.

On Tuesday, in a comment response to Saul Friedman’s story here on how president-elect Obama should reinvent health care in the United States – i.e. a single-payer system – elderblogger Anne Gibert of 20th Century Woman had this to say:

“I agree with everything Mr. Friedman says, and I intend to write to President-Elect Obama and my congress people to say that single payer is the only sensible way to go. My husband, who has been a pretty conservative fellow most of his life, agrees with me.”

We are at a crossroads in governance of the United States with a president-elect who appears, more than any president in recent memory, to want to improve the lives of working people and who apparently wants to hear our ideas. We don't have the money of corporations and rich individuals to influence government, but we do have numbers.

Anne Gibert has the right idea and I think as elders who benefit from what is, almost, a single-payer system for old people, we should lobby as hard as we can for similar help for all American citizens which is not what President-elect Obama has proposed.

The Obama transition team is accepting ideas for the future of the U.S. Take a few minutes to tell them we need, as Saul Friedman put it, “the single-payer idea and Medicare for all.”

Then go to these websites to write your state’s officials in Congress:

United States House of Representatives
United States Senate

Do it now. Get your friends to do it. Write about doing it on your blogs. Maybe it will catch on. Maybe, as Arlo Guthrie sang a long time ago,

"If three people do it, three, can you imagine, three people walking in singin' a bar of [Medicare for all] and walking out. They may think it's an organization. And can you, can you imagine fifty people a day, I said fifty people a day walking in singin' a bar of [Medicare for all] and walking out. And friends, they may thinks it's a movement."

In some cases, you’ll need to wait until 2009 to write your new representatives, so mark your calendars. But you can get started with the Obama Transition Team. We can’t let George Bush’s idea of emergency room health care last a day longer than necessary.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, liloldme tells the tale of a tale in How I Began Writing and The GoodKnight Story.]


Blog Housekeeping December 2008

blogging bug image This is one of those nuts and bolts stories to explain a couple of things that I’ve been meaning to say for several months.

EMAIL SUBSCRIPTIONS TO TGB
If you subscribe by email to Time Goes By and want to leave a comment, please click the title of the story in the email. That will take you to this online blog page where you can share your comment with all readers. When you click “Reply,” it arrives in my email inbox and I am the only person who sees it.

If you are new to blogging and/or email subscriptions, there is no reason you should know this, but now you do.

Alternately, if you have something to say only to me, clicking “Reply” will do the job.

THE ELDER STORYTELLING PLACE SUBMISSIONS
Please submit your stories in the body of your email, not as attachments. Over time, many people ask for exceptions to this and other instructions (which are here), but I’ve run out of time to remember, let alone accommodate the different requests.

However, photographs and other images SHOULD be sent as attachments, not inline in the body of the email. Email systems embed images differently and not all of them can be saved for later insertion in the html without a great deal of effort and frustration.

COMMENTING
One of the most gratifying things about readers of Time Goes By is the conversations that are carried on in the comments which add new information and often take the day's story in directions I had never considered. Also, as I advise new elderbloggers who send questions, commenting is a good way to help build readership for your own blog.

Comments are set up similarly on all blog platforms: when you fill in the form, if you include the URL of your blog, your name under your comment will automatically become a link to your blog.

Therefore, please do not include your name and URL within the body of your comment. I try to keep a tidy blog and the extra name and web address mean more time for cleanup. (Also, the double link makes you appear to be overly self-serving.)

By the way, the date and time included with the name on each comment is a separate link that will, when you click it, give you a URL at the top of your browser directly to that comment. This is a handy feature when you want to write a blog post about a comment and link to it.

BLOG PLUGS AND "LINK EXCHANGE"
Lately, there have been a growing number of messages in my email inbox that in various forms essentially say, “Tell your readers about my blog” in a tone that assumes it is my job to mention every elder Tom, Dick or Harriet who wants some publicity.

Let me be clear: Time Goes By is not a promotional service and in the future, I will no longer acknowledge these messages with an explanation. They will be deleted.

A variation are those who write wanting to do what they call a "link exchange." I don't know where this phrase originated, but some people apparently believe it is some form of blog tradition. It is not and Time Goes By does not do link exchanges.

On the other hand, I am always eager to hear about new elderblogs which are produced by people 50 and older to add to the Elderbloggers List in the left sidebar. I update the list every couple of months or so with the new ones I’ve been told about or have found on my own. There are some criteria to keep mind in recommending your own or others’ blogs. The short list is:

  • The blog should be at least three month old
  • New posts should be published at least once a week
  • No blogs are listed that are designed with light text on a dark background

I realize I'm sounding a little testy (Crabby Old Lady is dictating over my shoulder), probably due to waiting too long to write this post. Individually, these are minor difficulties, but in the aggregate they suck large amounts of time from the day which I would like to decrease.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Pat Temiz recalls A Magic Childhood that is not just a metaphor.]