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Call Congress Day and Comparative Health Costs

CALL CONGRESS DAY
As I noted last week, today is Call Congress Day. The reason is that tomorrow, President Obama's deficit commission (also known as the cat food commission) will issue its final recommendations to reduce the deficit.

Commission co-chairs, Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles, published their own report a couple of weeks ago containing drastic cuts to current and future Social Security and Medicare benefits. It is not known how the report may be changed before the final release.

With so many in Washington apparently believing that Social Security contributes to the deficit (you know, of course, that it does not - not one penny), it is important for those of us who are less ignorant and/or venal to let our representatives know where we stand.

The National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare has set up a toll-free hotline to your congressional representatives:

1.800.998.0180

Of course, you may also email if that is more convenient. Find your representatives' email at congress.org.

If you would like some help with talking points for your call or email, Citizen K left this link to a remarkably succinct and understandable explanation of how excellent Social Security really is.

Please call today and tell your representatives, Hands Off Social Security. If we don't, who will?

COMPARATIVE HEALTH CARE COSTS
The International Federation of Health Plans (IFHP) is a group of health industry leaders from 31 countries representing 100 companies. Following their recent meeting in San Francisco, they issued a Comparative Cost Report [pdf] of medical and hospital fees in various countries.

The charts are too large to reproduce here; shrinking them would make them unreadable. Instead, here are the average prices from selected countries for three common medical costs – all are listed in U.S. dollars.

Cataract Surgery
(Total hospital and physician cost)
Argentina $351
Canada $927
U.K. $1299
Spain $1667
France $3352
U.S. (average) $14,764

Lipitor
France $0.43
Canada $31
U.K $39
Switzerland and Germany $78
U.S. $129

Average Cost Per Hospital Day
Argentina $319
Chile $543
France $909
New Zealand $3220
U.S. $3612

In every instance among the 23 IFHP charts, the United States reports the highest costs. Most of the represented countries have some form of socialized medicine administered by the government or through private providers subsidized by the government.

In three of the standard health benchmarks:
• With the exception of Argentina, every country listed by the IFHP has a higher life expectancy at birth than the U.S.

• With the exception of Argentina again, the U.S. has higher infant mortality rate than the countries listed in the IFHP charts.

• With six exceptions in the IFHP charts, the U.S. has highest number of preventable deaths per 100,000 population.

Certain – usually right-wing – politicians, while denouncing “Obamacare,” are fond of referring to U.S. health care as “the best in the world.” But according to survey reported last January in The New England Journal of Medicine, the U.S. health care system ranks 37th in the world and, they say, “the United States is falling farther behind each year.”


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Johna Ferguson: Almost Worthless


INTERESTING STUFF – 29 November 2010

Category_bug_interestingstuff Interesting Stuff is an occasional column of short takes and links to web items that have recently caught my attention – some related to aging and some not.

All readers are welcome to submit items for inclusion. Just click Contact in the upper left corner of any TGB page to email them. There is no guarantee of publication and I won't have time to acknowledge receipt.


UNINTENTIONALLY FUNNY
Being one of the most extreme of tea party candidates, incoming Congressman Allen West (R-Fla) is not known to be a funny guy. But in an appearance on Meet the Press a week ago while discussing intrusive airport patdowns, he had me laughing when he said the Transportation Safety Administration had done a poor job of explaining new security procedures to the public and that they

“...should have put out some type of feelers.”

Host David Gregory and other panelists seemed not to notice. You can see that portion of the program at Talking Points Memo.

NEVER TOO OLD TO CHANGE YOUR MIND
Twenty or more years ago, I decided that hip-hop music was something I could ignore. And so it has been. Then, last week, in her glowing New York Times review of Jay-Z's autobiography, Decoded, Michiko Kakutani made reference to the “soaring beauty of the chorus” in the author's “Empire State of Mind.”

Not one to let anything wonderful about my former home slip by me, I ran right over to YouTube to watch the song's official video and in a whole new way, I got teary about the city I love so much. Here it is – a duet with Jay-Z and Alicia Keys.

THIS IS JUST WONDERFUL
In an earlier Interesting Stuff, I told you about a group of bikers who revved their motors to drown out the despicable members of the Westboro Baptist Church who travel the country to disrupt family military funerals with obscene shouts and signs.

A week ago in Harrisville, Kansas, it happened again at another military funeral when thousands of townsfolk gathered to keep the protesters at bay:

By 9 a.m., an hour before the funeral of Army Cpl. Jacob R. Carver, an estimated 2,000 to 3,000 people, many of them waving American flags, lined nearly a half-mile of the street in front of the church, making sure Fred Phelps and his Westboro Baptist Church/family congregation were crowded out, peacefully kept far from shouting distance of the funeral.

You can read more here.

AND THIS IS JUST AWFUL
Most states outsource a large part of their Medicaid services to private insurers and when one in Florida denied a liver transplant to 37-year-old Alisa Wilson, she died.

”After 'scores of e-mails and…the help of a Florida state legislator,' the HMO, Sunshine State Health, finally gave in and approved coverage for Wilson two weeks ago. Yet her health was too severe for surgery by then. On Friday evening, Wilson passed away..."

Tell me again, Congress, why private health coverage is superior to government-run health care. You can read more here.

A DOG'S TROUBLES – AND MINE
It seems to me that television commercials aren't what they used to be. Most are loud, irritating and poorly conceived. But every now and then, there's one that catches my interest, and in our troubled economic times, I know just how this dog feels. (The song is Trouble by Ray LaMontagne.)

DO YOU REMEMBER THESE?
Mary Jamison sent along the link to this site with a nice little movie set to the song, Do You Remember These?. It's packed with images from our childhood and teen years. Oh, and some Burma Shave signs too. You can see it here.

SIMON'S CAT – LUNCH BREAK
I've been a Simon's cat fan from the first video several years go. It's cat behavior as every cat owner can recognize. lilalia of Yum Yum Cafe alerted me to this newest episode.

ELEANOR ROOSEVELT ON OLD AGE
Time Goes By's Saul Friedman sent along this item – a 50-year-old photograph of then-former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt carrying her own luggage at La Guardia airport. Accompanying the photo is this quotation from her:

“When you reach my age, it is better to care less about being in fashion and more about being inconspicuous.”

I greatly admire Mrs. Roosevelt, but I don't agree with the second half of the quote. However, we live in different times now and things change. Go see the photo. Given our celebrity culture, it couldn't happen with a contemporary former first lady to be alone at an airport.

STEVE AND MILLIE GARFIELD
Many of you know Millie Garfield of My Mom's Blog and, perhaps, her son Steve who has produced so many funny videos at Millie's blog. Marion Dent sent this instructive video of Steve showing how he made a book for his mom – a real, paper book – of her blog. The video is two years old – I don't know how I missed it.

FACING THE PROSPECT OF DEATH
One of the first people I met online is Ian Bertram who blogs at Panchromatica. This week he sent along the following from Laurence Demarco, a founder of Senscot, an organization in Scotland that supports entrepreneurs who work to alleviate poverty in that country. The quote strikes me as the only way to live in our late years.

"In October 1959,” writes Demarco, “Carl Jung was interviewed for the BBC Face to Face programme. He was 84 - I remember seeing the programme. Near the end, John Freeman asked him what advice he gives to older patients regarding the prospect of death. This is what he said:

“'I have treated many old people and it's quite interesting to watch what the unconscious is doing with the fact that it is apparently threatened with a complete end. It disregards it. Life behaves as if it were going on, and so I think it is better for old people to live on - to look forward to the next day, as if we had to spend centuries - and then we live properly.

“'But when we are afraid, when we don't look forward, we look back, we petrify, we get stiff and we die before our time. But when we're living on, looking forward to the great adventure that is ahead, then we live - and that, I think, is about what the unconscious is intending to do.'"

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, D. Sugar: Q and No A's


ELDER MUSIC: Back in the Saddle Again

PeterTibbles75x75You never know who you're going to meet on the internet and I came to know Peter Tibbles (bio here) via email over the past couple of years. His extensive knowledge of most genres of music and his excellent taste became apparent only gradually (Peter's not one to toot his horn) but once I understood, I knew he needed his own column at Time Goes By - or, better, that TGB needed his column - which appears here each Sunday. You can find previous Elder Music columns here.


category_bug_eldermusic I’m a country boy. Okay, I’m not one now and haven’t been one for more than 50 years. I guess that means I’m not a boy either. However, I was born and bred in the country, but I was a townie.

My daddy was a tailor (he sewed these new blue jeans). I have to admit that I’ve never been in the saddle, let alone back in one, but that’s not going to stop me. Where I grew up they didn’t round up long horns. It was wheat that was rounded up.

Anyway, I’ll start with the song of the title.

Gene Autry was the original singing cowboy. At least the original in films. There were probably a bunch of them before him but we have no filmic record of them, none that were shown on TV on Saturday afternoons anyway.

Gene Autry

Gene was born in Texas and the family moved to Oklahoma when he was a teenager. After leaving school he got a job as a telegrapher, often working the midnight shift. To wile away the time he’d sing and play guitar.

He was overheard by Will Rogers who suggested he go to New York and work professionally. So he did. It wasn’t quite like that, but it happened eventually.

He made a number of records in the early Thirties and was discovered and put in films, usually with his good friend, singer-songwriter Smiley Burnette. The rest, as the say, is history. He was a canny investor, particularly real estate, and when he died he was rolling in it. This is Gene with his signature tune, Back in the Saddle Again from 1939.

♫ Gene Autry - Back in the Saddle Again

There have been several versions of the Carter Family.

The Carter Family

They are all the same family, but when someone died another took their place. This is the original version – A.P. (Alvin Pleasant), his wife Sara and her cousin Maybelle (who married A.P.’s brother Ezra, also called Eck).

Maybelle, of course, is the mother of June, once married to Carl Smith and they were the parents of Carlene who was married to Nick Lowe at one time. June later married Johnny Cash, the father of Rosanne who was once married to Rodney Crowell. Got that? There’ll be a test later. These people were/are all fine singers.

Back to the Carter Family. Remember them? In 1935, they recorded their most famous tune, Wildwood Flower (well, except, maybe, for Can the Circle Be Unbroken, a song that seems to have changed its title slightly over the years).

♫ Carter Family - Wildwood Flower

The Sons of the Pioneers was formed in 1933 by Leonard Slye and a couple of his friends. Old Len is probably better known to most of us as Roy Rogers.

 Sons of the Pioneers

The Pioneers are still performing to this day. Of course, none of the original members are still with us – it’s a bit of a George Washington’s axe of a group.

This is a song I can relate to because where I was from there was the Little Desert to the south and the Big Desert to the north. They were really imaginative when it came to naming deserts in my neck of the woods (not much in the way of woods either). Cool Water from 1945.

♫ Sons of the Pioneers – Cool Water

Patsy Montana, known as Ruby Blevins by her mum and dad, was a singer/songwriter before that term had ever been invented. She was the only girl in a family that had nine boys.

Patsy Montana

Patsy studied the violin at university but won a talent show with her singing and guitar playing (and a bit of yodelling too, I believe). First prize was to do the same on a local radio program. She went to Chicago with a couple of brothers to enter a large watermelon they’d grown in a World’s Fair contest. It’s not known by me how the watermelon fared.

In Chicago, she appeared on radio and eventually recorded. She was the first female country artist to sell a million records with her song I Want to be a Cowboy’s Sweetheart. Patsy continued to record and perform into the 1990s. She died in 1996 at age 87.

Here’s her million-seller, recorded in 1935.

♫ Patsy Montana – I Want to be a Cowboy’s Sweetheart

Bill Monroe was the youngest of eight kids born into a musically inclined family. As his older siblings had already laid claims on the guitar and fiddle and so on, Bill got stuck with the mandolin. Not only that but his brothers insisted that he remove four of the eight strings so that he couldn't play too loudly. That's big brothers for you (although I wouldn't know because I don't have any. Just a big sister).

Bill Monroe

After both parents died, Bill lived with his uncle for a while. Uncle Pen played the fiddle in local dances and eventually Bill joined him. Bill later teamed up with a couple of his brothers to form The Monroe Brothers group.

Later still he formed the first of many groups called The Blue Grass Boys and with these groups pretty much invented bluegrass. There's a lot more to his story – books full – but I'll just have him play Orange Blossom Special from 1941.

♫ Bill Monroe – Orange Blossom Special

Jack Guthrie was born Leon Jerry Guthrie in Oklahoma. He was Woody’s cousin.

Jack Guthrie

Jack rewrote Woody’s song Oklahoma Hills and recorded it in 1945. It became a hit - however, Jack was in the army, in the Pacific. When he returned he wrote and recorded more songs and played gigs around the west coast. His version of Oakie Boogie, a hit in 1947, is yet another contender for the first rock and roll record.

To complete the family connection, Arlo has recorded Oklahoma Hills also. Jack died in 1948, aged only 32.

♫ Jack Guthrie - Oklahoma Hills

Ernest Tubb once said that he thought that 95 percent of the men in bars who heard his music on the juke box would say to their girlfriends, "I can sing better than him" and Ernest added they would be right.

Ernest Tubb

To make up for that he surrounded himself with some of the best country (and other) musicians to make himself sound good.

Ernest was born on a cotton farm near the wonderfully named Crisp, Texas. Alas, Crisp is a ghost town these days, I believe. He was inspired by Jimmie Rodgers and spent his spare time learning to yodel, a skill that's always in demand I've found.

He was apparently successful as he found a job on a San Antonio radio station. I think there was singing involved as well as yodeling.

From there he wandered around Texas to various radio stations driving a beer truck (the dream of every Texas lad) and eventually landed a record contract. There's a lot more to his career, but these days he's probably best known through his eponymous record stores. Here is Ernest singing Walking the Floor Over You recorded in 1941.

♫ Ernest Tubb – Walking the Floor Over You

Bob Wills was born near Kosse, Texas according to my sources. I wonder what that means. Were his folks heading for Kosse and didn't make it or were they just hanging around out there and, well, there's young Bob? It doesn't really matter in the scheme of things.

His father was a statewide fiddle champion. They have contests for these things? I suppose they do. The family played music and raised cotton and young Jim Bob (as he was initially called; well, he was from Texas) learned to play fiddle and mandolin.

Bob Wills

As a young man, he drifted around, hopped freight trains, got married, became a barber and played in minstrel and medicine shows. On one show there was already a Jim, so he became just Bob. He was known for his hollering and wisecracking that he learnt from his father and grandfather, something he retained when he became famous.

He grew up around blacks and was influenced by the blues. He also liked Glenn Miller and these elements and others turned into the music of Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys.

In the mid-Fifties he was quoted as saying "Rock and Roll? Why, man, that's the same kind of music we've been playin' since 1928.” This isn't rock & roll, it's Take Me Back to Tulsa from 1941, with the inimitable Tommy Duncan on vocals.

♫ Bob Wills – Take Me Back to Tulsa


GRAY MATTERS: Social Security – The Anti-Ponzi Scheme

SaulFriedman75x75 Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Saul Friedman (bio) writes the weekly Gray Matters column which appears here each Saturday. Links to past Gray Matters columns can be found here. Saul's Reflections column, in which he comments on news, politics and social issues from his perspective as one of the younger members of the greatest generation, also appears at Time Goes By twice each month.


Even before I spent a dozen happy years living and working in Texas, one of my heroes was Sam Houston, the first president of the Texas republic, the state’s first governor and its senator. He resigned as governor because he staunchly opposed its secession from the union. Today, such principled heroics are rare in Texas.

Instead, the Texas congressional delegation is larded with an abundance of dunces and demagogues, like Representatives Joe Barton who apologized to BP for having to pay for its oil spill and Louie Gohmert who warned that illegal immigrants were coming to the U.S. to have “anchor babies” who will grow up and become terrorists. And who can forget Tom DeLay and Dick Armey?

Which brings me to the present governor, Rick Perry, who was just re-elected to a third term and will become chairman of the Republican Governors Association. Although he’s a member of Lincoln’s party, Perry is a rabid supporter of states rights and earlier this year, he said he was considering secession from the union as if that was a success the first time.

More recently he has threatened to secede from Medicaid which would leave 3.1 million poor people, including 2.3 million Texas children, without health care. And in promoting his new book, Fed Up! Our Fight to Save America from Washington, Perry suggested the state and its counties could secede from Social Security, which he said is “bankrupt.”

And he has remonstrated fellow Republicans for not calling Social Security a “Ponzi scheme.” Last week he doubled down on the charge calling one of the most treasured programs serving more than 50 million Americans. “worse than a Ponzi scheme.”

Ordinarily I would not bother with such nonsense but like the urban legend that members of Congress don’t pay into Social Security (they do), this demagoguery keeps coming back from people who should know better.

Even CNBC’s Jim Cramer, who failed to see the financial crisis coming, has likened Social Security to a Ponzi scam. Worse, too many Americans don’t know enough about Social Security to dismiss these lies.

To dispose of Perry’s initial lie about Social Security, as any fool who can read knows by now, the most recent report of the program’s trustees said that even if no action is taken to shore up the long-term finances of Social Security, it won’t go into the red until 2037.

But if it does (and it won’t), the trustees figure its payroll tax income will enable it to pay 75 percent of benefits until 2084. Moreover, as Alan Greenspan and the trustees have said, it won’t take much adjustment – perhaps a two percent increase in taxes or eliminating the $106,800 salary cap on payroll taxes - to keep it in the black until the end of the century.

One big reason: It holds in reserve more than $2.6 trillion in Treasury Notes which pay nearly $1 billion in interest to Social Security each year.

And that, of course, is the largest difference between Social Security and the schemes made famous by Charles Ponzi and, more recently, Bernard Madoff: There were no such invested funds earning money for either of them. Indeed, they made no investments.

But more important, Social Security is not and was never meant to be an “investment program.” It is, rather, a mandatory pension insurance program, financed by mandatory payroll taxes equally contributed by workers and employers. And, as the financial service Motley Fool reported last year, “that helps shore up its foundation far more firmly than a typical Ponzi scheme.”

Charles Ponzi was a Boston investment broker who became infamous in early 1920, when he sold foreign postal coupons promising, and even paying, returns of 50 percent or more. What he did, as we shall see, was to use one victim’s money to pay off another. Madoff did the same, promising 12 percent returns when the market was struggling and losing value.

Mitchell Zuckoff, the author of a book on Ponzi schemes, wrote for CNNMoney in the wake of the Madoff affair that comparisons of such cons with Social Security are hard to knock down but “since I for one consider real Ponzi schemes too important...it’s worth rebutting the myth.”

Put simply, he writes,

“[A] Ponzi scheme is a fraud in which money from one group of people is used to pay promised returns to another group of people. The money isn’t invested; it’s just transferred and at some point the scheme collapses because there’s not enough income to satisfy the withdrawals...

“In the case of Social Security, no one is being misled...Social Security is exactly what it claims to be: A mandatory transfer payment system under which current workers are taxed (6.2 percent each from employee and employer) on their income (up to $106,800) to pay benefits with no promises of huge returns.”

Indeed, the genius of the Social Security system’s design, as its web site says,

“For an average worker, Social Security replaces about 40 percent of annual pre-retirement earnings.”

That’s not much for an affluent worker, but for a low-income worker who has no other retirement plan, it’s enough to avoid the abyss of poverty. Social Security, which insures surviving spouses and children, is one of the nation’s last of the traditional defined benefit pension programs which are fast disappearing.

Zuckoff:

“Social Security is morally the polar opposite of a Ponzi scheme and fundamentally different from what Madoff did. At the height of the Great Depression, our society resolved to create a safety net in the form of a social insurance policy that would pay modest benefits to retirees (and later) the disabled and the survivors of deceased workers.

“By design, that means a certain amount of wealth transfer, with richer workers subsidizing poorer ones. That might rankle, but it’s no fraud.”

I would add, despite the bitching of conservatives and younger workers (who place too much faith in their bosses and those inadequate 401(k)s and resent the transfer of their tax dollars without a healthy return), there is something noble about a pension insurance system in which the younger generation helps support the retirement of their elders.

The young forget that, with luck and Medicare, they will grow old. And their benefits are guaranteed.

Yet today, Governor Perry and his right-wing cohorts, now in effective charge of American politics, would toss aside the morality of the Social Security system in exchange for the amorality of the stock market.

On November 8, 1954, President Eisenhower wrote his brother Edgar on “moderation in government.” He added,

“[S]hould any political party attempt to abolish Social Security, unemployment insurance, and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear from that party again...There is a tiny splinter group that believes you can do those things...a few Texas oil millionaires...Their number is negligible and they are stupid.”

Write to saulfriedman@comcast.net


What You Can Do to Help Save Social Security

category_bug_politics.gif Thanksgiving dinner was a smashing success – a beautiful turkey, all the trimmings and I am, today, properly – ahem, stuffed. Thank you all for your lovely greetings yesterday.

Black Friday holds no charms for me. Shopping has never been among my interests and even more, I abhor crowds. One of the advantages of retirement is that any necessary purchases can be made when most other people are not in the stores.

In his Gray Matters column tomorrow, Saul Friedman will argue against the billionaires and politicians who want to destroy Social Security. One of the most common questions here on the this blog and elsewhere from those who know better is, “What can I do?”

The National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare has come up with one answer for us. They have named next Tuesday 30 November, National Call Congress Day.

“Plans like Bowles/Simpson,” writes the NCPSSM on their blog, Entitled to Know, “are being pushed by fiscal hawks in the media and in television ad campaigns as the only way to fiscal solvency while ignoring other options like Rep. Jan Schakowsky’s plan, which actually takes the economic realities facing working Americans into consideration.

November 30 is the day before President Obama's deficit commission issues its final report – that's the one chaired by Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles - so, as the NCPSSM notes, it is a

“...perfect opportunity to let your representatives in Washington know that cutting Social Security and Medicare benefits is a one-way ticket to economic and political ruin.”

To help us do that, the NCPSSM is setting up a toll-free Legislative Hotline for National Call Congress Day on November 30 that will connect you directly with your congressional representatives:

1.800.998.0180

Save that number for next Tuesday and there is plenty of time for you to pass the word on your own blogs and telephone other friends and relatives too. Don't forget the younger ones – they are the people who would be most adversely affected by cuts in these programs.

I urge you to do this. I know from conversations with aides to Senator Harry Reid that all phone calls to representatives and senators are tracked and counted so the more of us who telephone on Tuesday, the greater the impact.


At The Elder Storytelling Place today: Steve Kemp: A True Story


Elder Thanksgiving Preparation

category_bug_journal2.gif It's the big prep day for our annual Thanksgiving celebration in the U.S. It's such a nice holiday, don't you think? Food, family and friends – no pressure, just feasting and relaxing with people we love.

Although the state of the economy, high unemployment, our rancid politics and a dubious future make it hard for many of our countrymen and women this year, it is still a time for those of us who are getting by to count our blessings.

Among mine are you, the readers of and contributors to Time Goes By. Hardly a day passes that at least one of you and often more, in the comments or personal email, tell me how much you like this blog.

When I started TGB seven years ago, the farthest thing from my mind was that it would become such a source of friendship, learning, camaraderie and enjoyment. Blogging was just beginning to take off then and the phrase “social media” didn't exist yet. Now I count among my friends and acquaintances people from all around the U.S. and the world.

The blog gives focus to my life in the way jobs did during my working years. I was lucky that most of my career involved fascinating people and work, but this is more thoroughly satisfying for the personal connections that are such a delightfully unexpected result.

So thank you, each and every reader, those who lurk and those who comment and also those whose contributions make the companion blog, The Elder Storytelling Place, such a rich compendium of stories, memories and a history of our generation's lives.

Thank you too, to the regular contributors. Jan Adams who writes the Gay and Gray column. Saul Friedman who supplies such important, thoroughly researched and knowledgeable information in his Gray Matters and Reflections columns. Peter Tibbles – I can't imagine Sunday anymore without his Elder Music stories that make me laugh and teach me things I never knew before.

I'm thrilled that Dr. Bill Thomas has rejoined us as The TGB Geriatrician. And although he works behind the scenes, Kavan Peterson is amazing at organizing Dr. Thomas and me to get these new videos done.

Thank you seems a puny response to the joy, comfort, kindness and good cheer you all give me every day, but that's the best I can do.

I like cooking and I especially like this annual meal. For many years, I spent the holiday with friends, a large family who live in rural Pennsylvania where there were about 30 guests each year. I would arrive the day before and help with the preparations. My specialty was the gravy – I'm very good at it.

Occasionally, in off-years, I would make Thanksgiving dinner in New York for friends who either had no family or couldn't get home that year. Usually 10 or 12 people. This year, in Oregon, I'm having a smaller Thanksgiving here with my brother and his wife. My brother and I haven't shared this holiday since 1955 – exactly 55 years ago. We were kids then, he age nine and me 14.

I'm an American traditionalist about this meal. I figure one day a year of food that the medical community tells us isn't all that healthy won't hurt much. Even so, as a small sop to advancing years, I've cut down on the number of dishes and adapted some to be slightly less fatty – less butter mainly – and I still think, as I always have, that the best part of the meal is the turkey skin. If I could get away with it, I'd share it with no one and make it my entree.

My brother will bring the wine and dessert. The rest of the menu this year goes like this:

  • Turkey
  • Sage dressing
  • A separate dish of oyster dressing
  • Cranberry sauce
  • Mashed potatoes – lumpy with skins because I like it that way
  • Gravy
  • Minted corn
  • Green beans
  • Sourdough bread to mop up the gravy

If you can spare the time from your own preparations, tell us what your Thanksgiving meal will be and what family traditions you have.


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Marcia Mayo: Don't Move Pat. He Got Run Over by a Fire Truck


The Return of the TGB Geriatrician

category_bug_geriatrician.gif Newcomers to this blog may not know that back in 2008, one of our contributors was Dr. Bill Thomas, a world renowned geriatrician who is also an author, blogger, creator of the Eden Alternative and it is one of his books, What Are Old People For? that has informed this blog from its beginning.

BillThomas2010 Most recently, Dr. Thomas has partnered with the Picker Institute, a leading foundation for health care reform that places a person's needs, interests and desires at the center of their care. Together, Picker and Dr. Thomas have created an advocacy program called RealCareNow that uses blogs, videos and other social media to promote patient-centered care.

And now, Time Goes By will be part of that reform movement. Beginning today and regularly thereafter, Dr. Thomas and I will chat via video about elder health.

One day last week, we recorded the first episode. I've coached a zillion people about how to relax on camera but as you will see, I'm not very good at it myself. So please forgive my awkwardness – I'll get better.

I'm looking forward to the future of this collaboration. Edited versions will be posted here and at YouTube. Soon, there will be live episodes that will incorporate a chat function so that you can send your comments and questions during the show.

Another way that we would like you to participate is to send in your elder health and medical questions for Dr. Thomas. You can do that today, in the comments below and we will select some for future shows. The only caveat – I'm sure you are aware of this – is that Dr. Thomas cannot answer questions specific to your personal health issues.

I'm so pleased and proud that Dr. Thomas as rejoined Time Goes By. As Bogart once said, I think this is the start of a beautiful – and healthy – friendship between Dr. Thomas and TGB readers.


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, B.J. Allen: Waiting Room


Forty-Seven Years Ago Today

EDITORIAL NOTE: Jan Adams, who blogs at Happening Here and usually writes the Gay and Gray column for this blog, is on a terrific trek visiting Hong Kong and Nepal. Before she left, she penned this story about today's sad anniversary.


Kennedy 11-22-63

Where were you on November 22, 1963? Many, most likely most, people who see this post will not yet have been around, or were very young children, on that day. But those of us who were over perhaps age 10 almost certainly do remember.

That's the day that President John F. Kennedy was murdered in Dallas -- the day that truly announced to white middle America that the sleepy, peaceful, Eisenhower era was gone for good, the day that really initiated the traumatic time we call "the Sixties."

I was sixteen. I am not going to pretend I understood much of what swirled through the nation over the next few days, but here's my remembrance of that time.

Being a budding politico who had not yet understood that my path was as an operative, not as an office holder, I was carrying out what I think was the only high school elective function I ever managed to wriggle into.

I was a sophomore (11th grade) representative to something called the "Judicial Council" - I think now that our job was to reinforce the school administration's behavioral norms by ostentatiously enforcing discipline on our fellow students. What that meant that day was that I, an underclass twit, was proctoring a detention study hall full of bumptious juniors and seniors.

When someone slipped into the room to tell us the President had been shot, I wasn't upset because I doubted my own ability to control the room. The whole school was called to an assembly, then sent home. I don't remember whether they told us that Kennedy was dead.

I did not come from a Kennedy-supporting household. My mother was a Republican committee member and had turned out the vote for Nixon in 1960. My father was a disappointed, aging, white man, personally quite pleasant, but if he were around today he would be nodding agreement with Tea Party complaints.

But for both parents the rise of Hitler and World War II, which they understood as a struggle against barbarous dictators, defined what mattered in the public realm. (Yes, such conservative, anti-fascism made the space for such anomalies as "moderate" Republicans once upon a time.) For a U.S. president to be assassinated within the country threatened everything they trusted in.

I had more or less liked Kennedy's energy, but had no real opinion. Somehow, I had already absorbed the information that this "champion" was foot dragging on civil rights for Black people (Negros) and hoped for more. How little changes when it comes to presidents.

My parents were glued to the TV. The day after the shooting, a Saturday, I therefore had a chance to borrow the family car to do some shopping. I had just gotten a driving permit and ventured downtown with friends.

This also was a chance to indulge my new adult habit -- I could smoke while driving. As I lit up a cigarette, my attention wandered and I dinged a city bus' fender. Fortunately, the bus driver and I agreed that there was no real damage beyond a few scratches so we ignored it. There was an impulse to be gentle with each other in those awful days.

Mother dragged me to church on Sunday (my curmudgeonly father didn't do church) so I missed seeing Jack Ruby shoot accused assassin Lee Harvey Oswald live on TV. But I didn't miss the replays. Nobody did.

Though like pretty much everyone else I must have watched the mourning and the funeral on the tube, I have no memory of the touching moments we are supposed to recall -- Jackie's dignity, young John Kennedy Jr. saluting his father's casket, the burial at Arlington.

I do remember knowing that Lyndon Johnson would be president and not liking that because he was from the south. The rest of the country looked at the south much as we still often do, as a swamp of bigotry and reaction. Besides, hadn't the south just shot Kennedy?

Of course I was wrong about Johnson though it took decades for me to understand that. He was undoubtedly the most successful progressive president of my lifetime until his imperial war brought him down. Would that the present incumbent would understand that going along with little wars can be the undoing of all good intentions. It doesn't look that way today, but never say never.

Where were you on November 22, 1963? Do you still care?


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Madonna Dries Christensen: The Fame of the Name


ELDER MUSIC: Voyager 1 and 2

PeterTibbles75x75You never know who you're going to meet on the internet and I came to know Peter Tibbles (bio here) via email over the past couple of years. His extensive knowledge of most genres of music and his excellent taste became apparent only gradually (Peter's not one to toot his horn) but once I understood, I knew he needed his own column at Time Goes By - or, better, that TGB needed his column - which appears here each Sunday. You can find previous Elder Music columns here.


category_bug_eldermusic

Voyager 1

Voyager 1 and 2 were launched in 1977 to fly past Jupiter and Saturn and take photos of those planets. They were also to make other measurements: magnetic flux, atmospheric conditions and so on. They did the same with the various moons around these planets as well.

These moons were found to be a lot more interesting than we had previously imagined. Because of a fortuitous planetary alignment, Uranus and Neptune were in the right area so they flew by these and obtained the first ever close-ups of those planets.

Voyager 1

They built things to last back then. The Voyagers were designed for five years of service and the craft are still going after 33 years. Not long ago they flew through the Heliosphere, the giant magnetic bubble created by the sun that envelops the solar system. This is the area where the solar winds reach their limit and it could be said to be the edge of the solar system.

Thus the Voyagers could now be considered to be in outer space and are continuing on their journeys (in different directions). It's pretty unlikely they'll meet anyone out there as space is big. Really big. You just won't believe how vastly, hugely, mindbogglingly big it is, but you never know, they could meet someone. (Thanks Douglas).

You may wonder if I've inadvertently sent the wrong column today, that this was meant for a physics or cosmology website. But never fear, all will be revealed.

Attached to Voyager is a gold record. Now, this isn't the sort of thing awarded to The Beatles for Hey Jude. This is gold-plated copper. Gold, because it's very stable and won't react or degrade.

There are also hieroglyphic instructions on how to play it. On the record are sounds of Earth: bird song, children's voices, rainfall, surf, politicians rabbiting on and that sort of thing. Also included is music from our planet and that's what this column is all about, featuring a selection of that music.

Voyager Disk

The first, and most obvious place to start, is J.S. Bach.

J.S. Bach

Bach wrote the Brandenburg Concertos when he was employed by Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Cöthen. Now, old Leo was a strict Calvinist and didn't go for all that airy-fairy, fancy religious music for which Bach was renowned so that gave Jo time to write a bunch of secular music. We're certainly grateful to Leo for that.

This is the first movement of the Brandenburg Concerto No 2

♫ Bach - Brandenburg Concerto No 2, First Movement

Chuck Berry

Without Chuck Berry rock & roll wouldn't have developed the way it did. Sure, it would have been around but he pretty much invented rock guitar playing (copping licks from T-Bone Walker, but that's another story).

He also brought witty, intelligent lyrics to the fore in a genre that really didn't go in for that sort of thing until Bob Dylan and The Beatles came along. So, Chuck's place on this disk is well deserved. The song chosen is Johnny B. Goode.

♫ Chuck Berry - Johnny B. Goode

J.S. Bach

Some more Bach, this time for solo violin. I have already featured a Bach partita for violin in a previous column, but it's a different one - you can find it here. The one today is the Partita for Solo Violin No 3 BWV 1006.

♫ Bach - Partita for Solo Violin No 3

Mozart

There's only one piece by Mozart on the disk which I believe is a serious under representation. Okay, there's only a finite amount of space for these but they could have lost the bagpipes. If you'd like more Mozart you can find it here.

This is a piece from his opera "The Magic Flute" rather than an instrumental track that I would have chosen but then, no one asked me. This is the Queen of the Night aria.

♫ Mozart - Queen of the Night Aria

Louis Armstrong

Louis Armstrong was one of the most influential people in twentieth century popular music which is why he was chosen to be included. He pretty much invented soloing in jazz where before, it was a group effort and with that developed improvisation, something the early classical musicians used to do all the time but was rather forgotten about from the nineteen century onward.

Not just that, he showed you didn't need a "good" voice to sing. That alone set up music in the second half of the century. This is Melancholy Blues.

♫ Louis Armstrong - Melancholy Blues

J.S. Bach

The Bach music keeps on coming. I guess the folks who selected the tracks had a thing about him. I don't blame them. If you are going to demonstrate music to an alien civilisation he'd be the one I'd pick.

This is the always interesting Glenn Gould playing the Prelude & Fugue No 1 BWV 870 on a piano rather than a harpsichord. Bach was always experimenting so I don't think he'd have minded the change of instruments.

♫ Bach - Prelude and Fugue No 1 BWV 870

Beethoven

And here we are with Beethoven and his most famous symphony. Indeed, music's most famous symphony, I imagine.

This is the first movement of the Symphony No 5. You all know this one. If you'd like some more Beethoven, besides what's below, you can find him here.

♫ Beethoven - Symphony No 5, First Movement

Holborne

Anthony Holborne was apparently in the service of Queen Elizabeth (that would be the first one) according to the title page of a couple of books of his.

It seems that the musicians of his day thought he was pretty good muso himself. He mostly wrote for viols, violins, recorders or other "Musicall Winde Instruments," but The Fairie Round, featured today, is being played on a lute. Tony sure was a stylish dresser.

♫ Holborne - The Fairie Round

Blind Willie Johnson

Blind Willie Johnson was one of the great slide guitarists of his era, or any era really. He was also a fine gospel singer. He became blind when his stepmother threw a handful of lye into his face when he was seven. Boy, talk about wicked stepmother.

As an adult Willie would preach and sing on the streets, mostly in Beaumont, Texas. He died poor, but has had a major influence on later musicians – Bob Dylan, Ry Cooder, Led Zeppelin, Beck and The White Stripes have all cited him as an influence. Here he is with Dark Was the Night.

♫ Blind Willie Johnson - Dark Was The Night

Beethoven

Some more Beethoven, this time with a string quartet. If a string quartet is what we wanted, and it certainly is from my point of view, I'd have chosen Haydn instead. After all, he invented the genre and wrote the finest works in this style.

Okay, Beethoven and Mozart were pretty dab hands at these, but I'd still go for Haydn. Once again, I wasn't consulted. This is the Cavatina, the seventh movement of the String Quartet No 13 Op 130. Trust Ludwig to throw in more movements than were really necessary.

♫ Beethoven - String Quartet No 13 Op 130, Seventh Movement

Did you know that Earth has actually received its first message from an alien civilisation? It seems they actually have intercepted the Voyager and figured out how to play the record.

They sent a message in response. It was quite short but even so, it had our best cryptographers scratching their heads for some time. They finally translated the message and it read, "Send more Chuck Berry" (Okay, it's an old joke. Sorry).

For those who are interested, here is the complete list of music on the record.

  • Bach, Brandenburg Concerto No. 2 in F. First Movement
  • Java, court gamelan, Kinds of Flowers
  • Senegal, percussion
  • Zaire, Pygmy girls' initiation song
  • Australia, Aborigine songs, Morning Star and Devil Bird
  • Mexico, El Cascabel
  • Johnny B. Goode, written and performed by Chuck Berry
  • New Guinea, men's house song
  • Japan, shakuhachi, Tsuru No Sugomori (Crane's Nest)
  • Bach, Gavotte en rondeaux from the Partita No. 3 in E major for Violin
  • Mozart, The Magic Flute, Queen of the Night aria, no. 14
  • Georgian S.S.R., chorus, Tchakrulo
  • Peru, panpipes and drum
  • Melancholy Blues performed by Louis Armstrong and his Hot Seven
  • Azerbaijan S.S.R., bagpipes
  • Stravinsky, Rite of Spring, Sacrificial Dance
  • Bach, The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book 2, Prelude and Fugue in C, No.1 Glenn Gould piano
  • Beethoven, Fifth Symphony, First Movement
  • Bulgaria, Izlel je Delyo Hagdutin
  • Navajo Indians, Night Chant
  • Holborne, Paueans, Galliards, Almains and Other Short Aeirs, The Fairie Round
  • Solomon Islands, panpipes
  • Peru, wedding song
  • China, ch'in, Flowing Streams
  • India, raga, Jaat Kahan Ho
  • Dark Was the Night written and performed by Blind Willie Johnson
  • Beethoven, String Quartet No. 13 in B flat, Opus 130, Cavatina

GRAY MATTERS: Raising the Retirement Age?

SaulFriedman75x75 Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Saul Friedman (bio) writes the weekly Gray Matters column which appears here each Saturday. Links to past Gray Matters columns can be found here. Saul's Reflections column, in which he comments on news, politics and social issues from his perspective as one of the younger members of the greatest generation, also appears at Time Goes By twice each month.


If the incoming Congress, especially the Republicans, are serious about paying attention to the American people, they could start with a couple of recent surveys, which are about life, health and even premature death.

The first, which shows how little confidence many Americans have in their newly elected lawmakers, found that

"on the heels of the 2010 midterm elections, 63 percent of retirees are not confident Medicare will be there for their children."

Indeed, according to the poll sponsored by Extend Health Inc., a private company which helps Medicare retirees choose health plans, 40 percent are unsure or not confident that Medicare will last through their lives. The rest are confident Medicare will continue to be available, but perhaps in altered form.

But on the downside, 17 percent are unsure, along with the 63 percent who are "not confident that Medicare will be available for the rest of their children's lives." That takes in a good portion of the 70-million men and women in the huge boomer generation, as well as families in their thirties who have reason to worry they will be shut out of Medicare as well as Social Security.

The reasons for the pessimism include signs among Republicans in the new Congress that they wish to cut funds for Medicare or, as the incoming Budget Committee Chairman, Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, has suggested, privatizing Medicare into a system in which beneficiaries will use vouchers to buy private insurance.

In addition, the new health reforms have cut back on subsidies for Medicare Advantage plans and some of them are going out of business. Republicans favor saving Medicare Advantage in order to cut Medicare.

The other survey goes to the heartlessness of Republican efforts to raise the Social Security retirement age from 67 to 70 for if that is successful, millions of working people will be forced to delay retirement as well their enrollment in Medicare.

And the liberal Center For Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) has reported [pdf], with good documentation, that increasing the retirement age will not only be difficult for many who work in physically demanding jobs, but it would shorten the retirements and lives of many of those workers.

Using data based on the census and the Occupational Information Network, the CEPR said that "in 2009, 6.5 million workers age 58 and older had physically demanding jobs, while 5 million workers age 58 and older were employed in difficult jobs” that were physically demanding or with difficult working conditions.

In addition, many of the most physically demanding or difficult jobs were also poorly paid and most were held by Latino workers (54 percent), blacks (53 percent), Asian Americans (50 percent) and whites (43 percent).

Even higher percentages of Latinos and blacks in the most demanding jobs were much older than 58 and would be especially hurt economically by a raise in the retirement age.

The survey found that

"raising the retirement age is particularly concerning for near-retirement age workers with physically demanding jobs. Despite the fact that the retirement age increase is supposed to encourage workers to work longer, many workers would be physically unable to extend their work lives and they would most likely be left with no choice but to receive reduced benefits."

Or, after a life of hard work and paying taxes, they would go on welfare.

But that would not be the worst of it for CEPR found, in a companion survey, that many retirees from difficult jobs don't live long enough to collect benefits. Those who, like Ryan, intend to support raising the retirement age argue that life expectancy has increased and therefore the retirement age should likewise be increased.

Perhaps it doesn't occur to Ryan and his allies that Medicare and Social Security are largely responsible for increased longevity (which still lags behind other nations). Perhaps this will be the Republicans' “death panels.”

As CEPR reported,

"The average length of retirement has increased consistently since the program (Social Security) was started in 1937. However, the increase in the normal retirement age from 65 to 67 that is being phased in...largely offsets the increase in life expectancy. As a result, workers who work long enough to collect their full benefits will see little gain in the expected length of their retirement."

Graphs and charts in CEPR's paper illustrate the growing income inequality and life expectancy between minorities in difficult jobs and the rest of workers, especially those in white collar jobs that are less demanding.

"If the recent trend of growing inequality in life expectancy continues through the next three decades, these workers in the bottom half of the wage distribution can anticipate substantial reductions in the expected length of retirement, if the normal retirement age is increased...

A male worker born in 1973 retiring at age 70 can expect to live a full year less than the expected length of retirement for a worker born in 1912."

The study's conclusion:

"If the normal retirement age is increased to 70 over the next 25 years, as advocated by many policymakers, then the rise in the retirement age will continue to offset most of the increase in life expectancy....The expected years of retirement (meaning the years until death) will be less for the 1973 birth cohort than it was for the 1912 birth cohort."

We reported last August 7 on the book, The Spirit Level, which analyzed the growing income inequality in the U.S. compared to other countries, and the consequences for millions of Americans as they grow older and poorer. Trust the new Congress to do nothing to make it better for the American worker and his/her family.

The CEPR study added this note:

"From the probabilities of death, life tables were constructed based on standard methods as described by Social Security."

The bottom line: The higher the retirement age, the shorter the lives of retirees. That, of course is one way of saving money; widows and widowers don't cost taxpayers and Social Security as much as a retiree who lives a full life and draws a full benefit.

This study dealt only with the consequences of Social Security retirement longevity. But ignored during most of the debate on the subject have been the consequences for the quality of life for workers who also may be denied the protection of Medicare if its age of eligibility is also increased. Many employers have ended pension programs and most Latino, black and poor white workers in demanding blue collar jobs do not have 401(k) savings plans.

Nor do many employers provide good health coverage. And unless the recently passed health reforms continue in force, millions of America's hardest workers at the most physically demanding jobs will remain uninsured and at great risk of illness and high medical costs in their older years thanks to members of Congress who get taxpayer-funded health coverage.

Incidentally, if you wish to learn more about income inequality in the U.S., The Spirit Level is cited in a fine series in Slate called The Great Divergence, by Timothy Noah. And this U.K. site is worth examining.

Write to saulfriedman@comcast.net


Over 50 and Out of Work

When I was 63 back in 2004, I found myself unemployed when the company I had been with for three years suddenly laid off a group of us. How they handled the firings was a nasty, humiliating business that no one deserves, and it got worse.

As my younger colleagues, talented but less experienced than I, found work in six, eight, 10 weeks or so, I couldn't get an interview. Indications of age discrimination turned up during my efforts but the other debilities of being jobless were too frightening for that to anger me at the time. Survival required that I ignore it.

Because I had been a contract employee, I was not ineligible for unemployment insurance. When savings were gone, I shuffled through credit card cash advances to pay the bills while robbing one credit card to pay others. The debt mounted to terrifying numbers.

Any of you who have been unemployed for a length of time know how small life becomes. You cancel subscriptions, stop going to the movies, never eat in restaurants and shop miserly for food. You make what you hope are plausible excuses when friends invite you for drinks or dinner and soon they stop calling. Your days are bleak no matter how bright the sun shines and you wonder how long you can hold on, afraid to think too closely about what will become of you.

In 2004, the unemployment rate was 5.5 percent, down slightly from the previous year and fairly average for a healthy economy. Today, the unemployment rate has been stuck at 9.6 percent for months.

According to the Bureau of Labor statistics, 14.8 million workers are unemployed. But that doesn't count the underemployed, part-timers who need full-time jobs and the discouraged people who have given up. Some put that total number at more than 26 million – about one in six workers.

Millions and millions of lives shattered. How many will never recover?

Without taking anything away from younger workers in this devastation, older workers 50 and above are in a dreadful position. They have spent their savings, 401(k)s and IRAs to keep afloat. How are they going to pay for their retirement which, for many, has already arrived whether they know it yet or not and they are still years from being old enough for Social Security.

And by the way, their Social Security benefits will be lower than anticipated due to long periods of unemployment during prime earning years.

Earlier this year, four people of disparate backgrounds created a multimedia project titled Over 50 and Out of Work. Since February, they have been traveling the U.S. to interview older, unemployed workers. As they state on their Facebook page, their project:

“...documents the stories and the impact of the Great Recession on jobless Americans, 50 and older. The stories that Boomers tell are not only about the hardships they have faced due to joblessness, but also about their hopes and fears, their expectations and disappointments, their resilience and their dreams.”

Their longer-term mission, they say,

”...is to help people who are over 50 and out of work get back into the labor force by improving the cultural perception of older workers and by influencing public policy changes that will make it easier for them to find re-employment.”

The interviews are beautifully shot and edited, the subjects are smart, articulate and this overview video is as uplifting in some ways as it is heartbreaking.

(Over 50 and Out of Work Trailer from Over Fifty and Out of Work on Vimeo)

You can watch individual interviews at the project website. Their goal is one hundred interviews and if you are an older unemployed worker, you can apply to tell your story here.

I was luckier than these people in that my long-term unemployment happened before the housing bubble burst and as much as it broke my heart to do so, I was able to sell my apartment in New York at a substantial profit, making up for the loss of my savings and paying off my debt. Until the day I die, I will be grateful that my unemployment happened before the crash; I do not want to imagine what my retirement would be like if it had not.

Few of today's older unemployed have the option I had and my heart breaks for them.


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Lyn Burnstine: Small-Town Saturday Night


Some Impressions About Our World

category_bug_politics.gif As I am sure it true for you too, it's getting busy around here. Lots of planning, ordering, shopping and cleaning for the Thanksgiving feast at my place next week (how come my turkey baster is nowhere to be found?) along with some dinner guests – friends from Texas - on Tuesday too.

And I'm scrambling to meet some other obligations. Even so, I spend too much of my day, as is my wont, trying to keep up with Washington politics and commentary which seems to change, sometimes, by the minute.

So today, some stray thoughts and short impressions on the state of our union (if that's not too high falutin' a phrase) which may be of interest – or not - but without links or much explanation (I'm too busy to be careful about citations today).

EARMARKS
The Republicans in Congress have gone all austerity on us by pledging to outlaw earmarks – you know, those billions of dollars for state projects, often as flimsy as a can opener museum, that get tacked on to serious congression bills. Well, all Republicans except for Representative Michele Bachmann who says her state, Minnesota, should be exempt from the ban.

People in the reality-based world know that earmarks make up less than one percent of the federal budget so that eliminating them will have next to zero affect – and that's even if you believe deficit reduction is important right now.

It's not that I necessarily support earmarks, although some are of value. But I don't want Republicans taking credit for budget cutting with this move. How stupid do they think the American public is? (Don't answer that.)

BIPARTISANSHIP FANTASY
When President Obama tried to hold a long-announced bipartisan dinner at the White House this week - just a dinner together - the Republican Congressional leadership refused the invitation which is a pretty good indication of how they intend to govern in the 112th Congress.

If the president still believes bipartisanship legislation is possible, he is living in fantasyland. If it couldn't be done with an all-Democratic Congress during the past two years, it won't happen now with a Republican House, especially with 80 new members most of whom owe their allegiance to the rabid Tea Party.

I join the chorus from some quarters that the president doesn't know his own power or is unwilling to use it. Unless he finds his inner Lyndon Johnson, we'll have two years of gridlock.

NO PUBLIC SUPPORT FOR DEFICIT REDUCTION
Nearly all our legislators – Republican and Democrat - are running around in Washington flapping their arms yelling, “Cut spending,” “Reduce the deficit,” But on 11 November when a CBS News/New York Times poll (okay, one link) asked what Congress should concentrate on in January, 4 percent – that's FOUR PERCENT or the equivalent of NONE – chose “budget deficit.”

At the top of list with 56 percent is “economy/jobs.” DUH!

The single thing the president could do to jump start the economy and, incidentally, recoup a lot of his mojo would be to create some New Deal-style job programs which would also begin to repair the country's rusting infrastructure.

If that's all he did in the first couple of months of 2011, the Congressional switchboard and email servers would be buried in an avalanche of phone calls, emails, letters and petitions demanding that they pass the legislation.

Okay, no one who can do anything is listening to me, but I'm far from the first person to say this and no one – no one - in Washington, least of all the president, responds.

PALIN FOR PRESIDENT
You didn't think she isn't running, did you?

”I know that a hurdle I would have to cross, that some other potential candidates wouldn't have to cross right out of the chute, is proving my record. That's the most frustrating thing for me - the warped and perverted description of my record and what I've accomplished over the last two decades.

“It's been much more perplexing to me than where the lamestream media has wanted to go about my personal life. And other candidates haven't faced these criticisms the way I have...”

That's from next Sunday's cover story in The New York Times Magazine which may be online by the time you read this. (Well, two links.)

God help us, two more years of all Sarah all the time. As of today, if the Republicans nominated her, she hasn't a chance, but there's no telling how things change in two years and that is terrifying.

ENOUGH
I had more on my list, but I need to get moving and you've probably had enough anyway. Let's all take a Washington break until after what has always been my favorite holiday – lots of food, friends and family.


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Steve Kemp: LONG LOST NEWS: Chicken Soup Balm For Asian Markets?


Time Goes By Update

blogging bug image For the past year or more, Time Goes By has been tootin' along in its groove and due to house selling, buying, moving, settling in, etc., I had not given much thought to improvements or what changes it might need, and now I am feeling like I want to make some upgrades.

Because the holidays are fast approaching, not much is going to happen until next year, but it is not too soon to begin planning and I would like your help. This is as much your blog as mine.

FEATURED ELDERBLOGS
When the list of elderblogs grew to more than 400, it seemed way too many to be useful to anyone. So I moved the list to its own page and now post five featured elderblogs in the left sidebar, changing them each Monday.

Does anyone use this feature? Do you like it? Should it continue?

(This is in addition to the need to update the main list to remove abandoned blogs and add the many new ones I have. That will done as soon as I can find the time.)

COMMENTING
This isn't an upgrade, but a reminder to those who receive each day's blog post via email or rss.

Many of you click the “Reply” button to leave a comment, but that sends an email only to me. This tells me that a lot of you are not seeing the comments which often are the best part of the day's blog post.

So, to see those comments, join the conversation and post your own comment so others can read it, follow these easy instructions:

  • Click the title at the top of your email/rss. Your browser will open to the blog page online containing that story
  • Scroll down to the bottom of the story, click on “Comments.” A comment form will appear where you can write your comment.
  • Click “Post” and your comment will appear at the bottom of the other comments.

See – I told you it's easy.

GEEZER FLICKS
In the right sidebar under TGB Features is a link to a list of the best movies about old people – more than you would think. There have been a lot in the past couple of years since I last updated that feature. Crazy Heart comes to mind as one I like.

Please check out the current list and then send your suggestions to add to it by leaving them in the comments below.

TGB-APPROVED ELDER RESOURCES
This is a new section I've been intending to create for a long time and would now like to get started. It will be a guide to the best online resources specific to elders. They must be authoritative, cost-free and easy to use on such general topics as:

Elderlaw
Health
Housing
How-To
Medicare
Money
Politics and Government
Social Security
Technology
Travel
Useful Products

I will carefully vet each one so that I feel comfortable recommending them. Please send your suggestions for websites you have found useful, that you trust and that meet the criteria above. If they get past my vetting process, they will be included.

THE TGB GERIATRICIAN
Back in 2008, I was proud to present a regular column from internationally renowned geriatrition, Dr. Bill Thomas. You can read my interview with him here and see his posts from 2008 here.

Bill's many other obligations required him to suspend his column and now I am pleased to announce that he will be returning as a regular contributor – via video this time. And you will be able to participate. Watch this space – the first episode will appear within a week or so.


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Jonnie Irwin: Memories of My Mother


How It is to Get Old

Don't call me honey.
Don't call me sweetie.
Don't call me darling or dear.
And don't shout in my ear.
I can hear what you're saying quite well.
I believe that your impudent query
Was, Who did you used to be, dearie?
To which I reply, sugarplum, lambie pie,
Go to hell.

I've written at least two blog entries on how abhorrent elderspeak is, but that little ditty says it so much better – and succinctly - than I did.

When my brother arrived for dinner recently, he brought me a slight, little book with a bright, red cover titled, Unexpectedly Eighty and Other Adaptations. When I saw the writer's name, I blurted, “Is Judith Viorst still alive?”

Not only alive, she'll be 80 next February. Somehow, for years – well, decades – I lost track of this funny lady whose poetry at one time gave me many laughs and nods of agreement, too. “Exactly,” I would think. The years have not diminished her ability to combine the not-always-so-wonderful facts of life with humor.

At the optometrist's office a couple of weeks, I was told that my cataracts continue to grow, but not so much yet that it is time for surgery. Instead, I got a new prescription for my contact lenses and was shocked at how much clearer the world is with them. Judith again, titled “Revelation?”

When I awoke this morning
The world was radiant with newness.
Indoors and outdoors, all had been scrubbed clean.
The sky had achieved a blue that seemed beyond blueness.
Whites were whiter than white, greens greener than green.
And the edges of everything,
Windows
Walls
Tree trunks
Blades of grass,
Stood apart from the edges of everything else
With exquisite clarity.

How can I explain this? Revelation?
No – successful cataract operation.

And who has not felt this - titled, “One Hallmark of Maturity is Having the Capacity to Hold Two Opposing Ideas in Your Head at Once.”

My scalp is now showing.
My moles keep on growing.
My waistline and breasts have converged.
My teeth resist brightening.

I'm in decline.
It's positively frightening.

A new moon's arrivng.
Sinatra is jiving.
My husband is holding my hand.
The white wine is chilling.

I'm still alive.
It's positively thrilling.

Sometimes, when I walked around my neighborhood in New York City imagining all the people who had lived and died in the buildings I like so much, I would wonder how it could possibly continue without me to see them and think about them after I am dead and gone. Judith Viorst has been thinking something similar in “Missing.”

I think I will miss myself more than anyone else will.
I miss myself now when I wake in the night, too aware,
With my eyes pinned wide-open,
My nails in my palms,
Breathing the darkest of air,
and imagine the world going on,
And on and on and on,
And on
And on
An me not there.

I think I will miss myself more than anyone else will,
Myself as a part of this world that holds all I hold dear.
Since they make no exceptions
The time will arrive
When it's my time to disappear,
And the world will keep going on,
And on
And on
And on.
How can the world still go on
If I'm not here?

You don't need to be eighty to enjoy Judith Viorst's takes on elder life. The holidays are nigh upon us and this book would make a terrific stocking stuffer for a friend or two.


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Richard J. Klade: The Commander Salutes Some of Us


Elder Social Needs

It is conventional wisdom that without a rich social life, elders will become lonely and depressed leading to health problems and, sometimes, suicide.

No one who writes about elder quality of life fails to mention the importance of frequent contact with friends and relatives, and there are many studies showing that close connections with others enhance our health.

Dr. Robert N. Butler, who I greatly admire, devotes two chapters in his last book, The Longevity Prescription, to the importance of relationships and social connections.

“Researchers have found,” writes Butler, “that happiness tends to be greater for those with lots of friendships than those with few worries about retirement income.”

I have unquestionably accepted this as truth and have written at length here in the past that as opportunities for social contacts decrease with age, the internet and, in particular, blogs and other social media are life-giving advantages for elder friendship.

Then last week, Gabby Geezer left a comment to the effect that I'd be miserable and lonely without this blog.

After tweaking him for assuming what he can't know, I gave this idea of the need for a rich social life some serious thought because it doesn't seem to apply to me.

Let me first say that about half the people I hold most dear are online friends. And, however it has happened over the years, most others I care for deeply live far away. Now, moving on...

I don't doubt that all the evidence insisting on a rich social life for good health is generally so but such studies are always about averages, not reporting on individual differences. Some of us need a lot of time alone and I am one of those.

As a kid, I was a loner, mostly due to shyness. I got over that and the work I did for many years required a lot of social interaction in the evenings. Too many nights out in a row during the week and I'd often take Saturday and Sunday to be alone, to regroup, to find my internal balance again.

Once, feeling exhausted from too many people for too long, I took two weeks at my country house by myself where there was no phone, no television or radio. I stocked up on food so there would be no reason to drive into town and for those two weeks, I spoke to no one. When it was time to return to the city, I felt like I could use another week of solitude before getting back in the groove of work and social life.

It's always been that way for me and one of the pleasures of retirement is that I'm not required to be with people for long periods every day.

And no, I'm not a misanthrope. I think people are terrific; I just like them in small doses. All my working life, I longed for more time alone. For me, no matter how well I know someone, there is a quality of being “on” when I'm with them that tires me. Or, often, conversation with others has been so interesting that I want to time to absorb what I've heard from them.

There are few things I've learned in life for certain, but one of them is that if I feel or believe something, so do many other people - I can't be alone in liking to be alone.

Certainly there are elders who are lonely who can't or don't know how to change their circumstance and they suffer for that. But I object to the assumption in all the aging literature that to spend more time alone than in social situations is unhealthy either physically or psychologically. Some of us are built differently – and that's okay.


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Mary B Summerlin: Aging Gracefully


ELDER MUSIC: The Beatles

PeterTibbles75x75You never know who you're going to meet on the internet and I came to know Peter Tibbles (bio here) via email over the past couple of years. His extensive knowledge of most genres of music and his excellent taste became apparent only gradually (Peter's not one to toot his horn) but once I understood, I knew he needed his own column at Time Goes By - or, better, that TGB needed his column - which appears here each Sunday. You can find previous Elder Music columns here.


category_bug_eldermusic I've been asked to do The Beatles. I wouldn't have bothered otherwise - after all, what else new is there to say about them? Same reason I haven't touched Elvis, Bob, Frank. Everyone knows them intimately and I might say something that folks will disagree with. Not that that's stopped me before now.

So, The Beatles. That's John, Paul, George and Ringo for anyone who has lived in a cave for the last fifty years. They all have surnames, but you know what they are.

Beatles

When I first heard their music I thought it was okay but rather derivative. They did covers of Chuck Berry, Little Richard, the Isley Brothers and so on and I thought the original versions of the songs were superior.

Besides, I was listening to Bob Dylan, Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis, Joan Baez, Judy Collins and had a rather snooty attitude to music. That changed. I think it was hearing what The Byrds did to Bob's song that brought me around.

I didn't buy any of their albums at the time until the white album. Okay, I did get Rubber Soul and Revolver after that. I've played all their disks to select tracks for this column and, hey, they're not too bad at all.

Norma, the Assistant Musicologist, suggested that as this is an elders' website, When I'm 64 should be included. Too obvious for me. I decided to eschew the songs everyone knows, the big hits. Go for lesser known ones.

Beatles

I had a friend who had “A Hard Day's Night” album way back when this was new (well, he probably had a bunch of others as well) and he'd play it for me. When we got to this track I'd say, "Play that again." I say that to this day as it's still a favorite of mine - Things We Said Today.

♫ Things We Said Today

Beatles

I'm Looking Through You is a little unusual inasmuch as Ringo doesn't play the drums. He plays a Hammond organ (although you have to listen really closely to hear that). He also taps a matchbox to simulate handclapping (or something). You can also hear Paul drop the tambourine half way through the song.

The song is famously about a spat Paul had with his then-squeeze, Jane Asher. He didn't like it that Jane was off furthering her own career.

♫ I'm Looking Through You

Beatles

I'm glad I was asked to write this as it got me listening to the music again, something I really haven't done for a long time. This track in particular struck me as a fine tune that I'd really put out of mind. I'd say it was underrated in the canon (if anything of The Beatles could be described as underrated). This is For No One, an exclusively Paul song. Ringo was the only other Beatle to play on the track.

♫ For No One

Beatles

You've Got To Hide Your Love Away is just basically John doing Dylan, remarked Paul at the time. There is certainly an influence there with the acoustic 12-string guitar and the opening that sounds suspiciously like Bob's I Don't Believe You.

The influence went in both directions. Paul wasn't immune to such things either as he and Brian Wilson were looking over each other's shoulders as well. Good thing, too, as all of those mentioned raised the bar another notch with each new release.

♫ You've Got To Hide Your Love Away

Beatles

On every Beatles album there was a song by Ringo. I'll do the same. This reminds me of a routine by the late great comedian Bill Hicks where he said something along the lines of, "You know The Beatles were doing drugs - after all, they let Ringo sing.”

And here he is (Ringo that is, not Bill) with Boys. This was suggested to me by the A.M. She said it's her favorite Beatles song. It is an exuberant piece from their first album.

♫ Boys

Beatles

So much for Boys. Sorry to be so obvious here but Girl seems as if it should be next track. So it will be. This is one from "Rubber Soul," certainly in the running for their best album.

♫ Girl

Beatles

I'm including this next track, although it's quite well known, because it's the first time the lads had one of their contemporaries play on any of their songs. Okay, they'd had George Martin play piano and other instruments and a bunch of classical players on Sergeant Pepper and elsewhere, but they don't really count.

This is a guitarist who seems to know that the strings point away from him. You may know him, name of Eric Clapton. George and John played acoustic guitar on this track and it was Eric's beautiful sinuous electric playing that made this track. While My Guitar Gently Weeps.

♫ While My Guitar Gently Weeps

Beatles

The Long and Winding Road was actually a big hit which rather goes against my initial premise. The "Let It Be" album was the "difficult" album. They recorded each song dozens of times. Okay, they did that with others as well, but not as rancorously as with this one.

Finally, they got so sick of it all that John gave the tapes to Phil Spector and asked him to do something with it. Spector did his usual thing and came back with an overblown, typical Spectoresque production.

Paul and Ringo hated it (probably George as well) but they were so tired of the whole thing that they let it be (sorry) and that's the album that was released.

A few years ago, the album was re-released stripped of the superfluous folderol as "Let It Be (Naked).” This is the album that should have been released originally. Here is The Long and Winding Road as it was intended.

♫ The Long and Winding Road

Beatles

I'll end with my favorite Beatles song, although, I prefer it done by Judy Collins (sorry Beatles fans). In My Life.

♫ In My Life


GRAY MATTERS: Annual Medicare Enrollment Period Begins on Monday

SaulFriedman75x75 Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Saul Friedman (bio) writes the weekly Gray Matters column which appears here each Saturday. Links to past Gray Matters columns can be found here. Saul's Reflections column, in which he comments on news, politics and social issues from his perspective as one of the younger members of the greatest generation, also appears at Time Goes By twice each month.


The first shock comes when the kid in the movie booth asks if you’re a senior. Then AARP notifies you that you are eligible for membership. And three months before you turn 65, you should get some really good news - you’re about to get the nation’s best health care insurance, Medicare.

Medicare was passed in 1965 and went into effect within a year. And although it has expanded over the years and now serves more than 47 million older and disabled Americans, its basics have remained the same.

And despite what you may have been told, it is less complicated and more generous than the private insurance that you bought or had through an employer.

However, Monday, November 15 is the beginning of this year’s Open Enrollment period, which ends December 31, but you needn’t fret or rush into anything for it pertains to enrollment in private plans, not Medicare. We’ll get to that later.

SIGNING UP FOR MEDICARE
When you’re about to become 65 and if you’re eligible for Social Security (even if you’re not taking the benefits yet), you will be automatically signed up for Medicare Part A, which pays most bills for hospitalization. There is no cost for this Part A, for in-hospital costs, is financed by the Hospital Insurance Trust Fund and your new Medicare card will reflect you have that coverage.

But I’m getting head of myself. If you have not been notified by Social Security or Medicare that you’re eligible for Medicare, visit medicare.gov to sign up in seconds.

If convenient, visit your Social Security office. You should also explore the Medicare site and, if you’ve got a decent printer, download the guide Medicare & You 2011. You will get a print copy in the mail after you enroll.

For those of you who are new to this or if you need a refresher, today’s Medicare has four parts:

• Part A, as I said, covers hospitalization, rehabilitation in skilled nursing centers and nursing homes, hospice and home care

• Part B covers doctors, outpatient care, lab tests and x-rays. Parts A and B together are original, traditional Medicare

• Part C, the private insurance plans added relatively recently includes HMOs (Health Maintenance Organizations) and PPOs, (Preferred Provider Organizations), now called Medicare Advantage

• Part D, passed in 2003, which covers prescription drugs, either as stand-alone, drugs-only plan or as part of a Medicare Advantage plan

PART B
When you are signed up for Part A, you will be given an opportunity to enroll as well in Part B, which is the part of Medicare most often used. Because there was no cost of living adjustment in Social Security this year, the monthly premium for most beneficiaries remains at $96.40, but it’s more on a sliding scale for individuals earning more than $85,000, or $170,000 for couples.

Check the Medicare site for the amount of the higher premiums. This means test, the first ever for Medicare, helped pay for George Bush’s flawed Part D benefit with its donut hole.

If you decline Part B and don’t have other, equivalent coverage, you could be penalized when and if you do sign up. If you have private or employer coverage for doctor and lab visits, you may decline Part B, although some employers are insisting that Medicare-age employees take the coverage to save the company money.

Be careful. If you leave the company or your coverage ends, you have eight months to enroll in Part B with no penalty.

SUPPLEMENTAL (MEDIGAP) COVERAGE
Once enrolled in Part A and B, you have a few choices. Part A’s out-of-pocket costs, which you can learn about in the Medicare & You

That means if you don’t already have a supplemental policy from a spouse or former employer, you may buy one of several standard “Medigap” plans, which depending on cost, will cover part or all of those deductibles and co-pays. You may enroll in a Medigap plan almost anytime, and in most states, even if you have a pre-existing condition. The plan heavily marketed by AARP is as good as any, but the Medicare web site can help you shop.

PART D
If you do buy a Medigap policy, then consider a relatively inexpensive, stand-alone Part D drug plan. The advantage of this threesome – traditional Medicare (A and B) plus a Medigap policy and stand alone drug coverage – ends up being less costly, more stable and less risky than the next choice during open enrollment, a Medicare Advantage plan.

MEDICARE ADVANTAGE
Medicare Advantage, as I’ve written, grew out of Republican efforts in 1995 to partly privatize Medicare. Thus Part C, which is heavily subsidized by the federal government, pays private insurers to cover all the basic benefits of Parts A and B but in addition, the insurers offers a drug plan (for extra money) and perhaps some added benefits such as eye examinations.

Nevertheless, MA plans are in business to make profits and they could and do go out of business and leave beneficiaries without coverage if their profits are not high enough. There will be 2,011 MA plans next year, but that’s down from more than 2,800 in 2009. In some rural areas, there are few MA plans available.

Medicare Advantage plans are convenient because they are comprehensive, all-in-one insurance policies. But there are disadvantages of MA plans, aside from taking money from and undermining traditional Medicare:

• You must use doctors and hospitals in the insurer’s network

• You must get the insurer’s approval for some procedures, many doctors have dropped some MA plans because the insurers second-guess the doctor or they are slow in paying

• The monthly premiums for MA plans and their drug plans (in addition to the Part B premium you must pay) have been relatively stable, but increases are expected

• You must pay a co-pay for each doctor or lab visit

• You will need a referral from the primary care physician for each visit to a lab or specialist. If a hospital or doctor specializes in a certain illness or kind of cancer and is not in the network, it may be difficult getting the insurer to pay or continue coverage, especially if the illness is prolonged and costly.

The new Affordable Care Act will prohibit such coverage limits starting next year, but the limits permitted are quite high. Traditional Medicare has no such limit but you can keep track of what Medicare and your supplement pays in the periodic “Medicare Summary Notices” that you will receive. (You may check them to help guard against fraud).

A further warning: The new health reforms include cuts in the federal subsidy for MA plans, which angered thousands beneficiaries, but if the law survives, the subsidy may be cut further in coming years which will put many of these plans out of business.

ONLINE HELP
Meanwhile, if your MA plan or your stand-alone drug plan raised its prices, this enrollment period is the time to shop. While the Medicare web site is user friendly, some of the best information on Medicare can be found on the Kaiser Family Foundation website and for help with problems, try the Medicare Rights Center or the lawyers at the Center for Medicare Advocacy.

MEDICARE IMPROVEMENTS
I can’t end without a note on one of the most important improvements in Medicare under the Affordable Care Act. Beginning January 1, there will be no charge for a variety of preventive services including a number of life-saving cancer screenings, free flu and pneumonia shots, a “Welcome to Medicare’ physical exam and annual wellness visits to keep track of your health and possible cognitive problems.

Welcome to Medicare.

Write to saulfriedman@comcast.net


Deficit Commission Chairs: Cut Social Security

category_bug_politics.gif On Wednesday, three weeks before their final report is due, the co-chairs of President Obama's deficit commission – Alan “tits” Simpson and Erskine “I also work for Morgan Stanley” Bowles - released a proposal (read: trial balloon) taking care to note that the other 16 members of the Commission had not read it prior to the press conference.

Overnight reaction was strong pro and con mostly along the political lines you would expect, although some Republicans are reluctant to endorse the proposal. It is important to note that overall, cuts are for you and me while the wealthy – corporations and individuals - are allowed to continue to gorge on gold bullion as represented by the $144 billion in Wall Street bonuses this year. Did you expect anything else?

Next week sometime, we'll look at some of the other proposals and Saul Friedman will tackle Medicare changes in his columns on this blog. Today, it's Social Security.

Let me reiterate what most of us who gather at this blog know: Social Security does not contribute to the deficit. It is a stand-alone program, self-funded and needs only a couple of tweaks to ensure its long-term solvency. Nevertheless, Simpson and Bowles want to cut not only future benefits, but current ones. Here are the major Social Security items in the proposal:

RAISE RETIREMENT AGE
The deficit commission calls this “indexing to increases in longevity” and it is nonsensical. The largest increase in average longevity is due to a reduction in infant deaths. Secondly, since 1997, life expectancy of male workers retiring at 65 has risen six years for those in the top half of income distribution and only 1.3 years in the bottom half.

So the Simpson/Bowles idea is, apparently, to further inhibit longevity for poorer people by forcing them to work longer reducing their benefit and affecting their health. To be fair, althought it is small consolation, there is a provision requiring the Social Security Administration to create earlier retirement for workers engaged in physically demanding jobs.

CREATE A MEANS TEST
The commission calls this “increase progressivity of benefit formula,” which, in English, is a means test. This would reduce benefits to people who have greater means to support themselves.

Superficially, this sounds like a good idea; why should rich people, for whom it is pocket change, collect Social Security? First, they pay into the program and therefore have as much right to the benefit as everyone else. Denying them the full benefit is antithetical to American values and would greatly reduce support for Social Security.

Also, as always, the difficulty is in the details - and the differing circumstances of individuals. Inevitably, some moderate-income people living on the edge would be unfairly penalized.

And, a means test would require the SSA to analyze everyone's income greatly increasing administrative costs to the agency not to mention there is no accommodation for sudden loss of income as happened to millions of retirees in 2008 crash.

Plus, a means test remakes Social Security into a poverty program leaving it vulnerable to future cuts. (Whatever happens this time around, you don't believe it is the last Social Security battle, do you?)

INCREASE THE SALARY CAP
Good idea. But the proposal would increase it only to 86 percent (from current 82.5 percent) of average earnings which leaves the richest rich still off the hook. I have never been able to understand why lowest-income people are taxed for Social Security on all their wages and the highest earners, for whom it would be no burden, are not.

In fact, many experts have said that eliminating the salary cap (currently $106,800) would relieve 95 percent of Security Security's long-term shortfall leaving five percent that could be made up with only the tiniest increase in the rate of the payroll deduction or other small fix.

INDEX THE COLA TO A LOWER INFLATION RATE
The above proposals reduce benefits for future Social Security recipients. This one affects those who are currently retired.

The cost-of-living increase now is pegged to the CPI-W, the rate of inflation for urban workers. The commission proposes changing that to the newer “chained CPI” which, according to estimates provided by the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare (NCPSSM), would “lower benefits by approximately 3 percent after 10 years of retirement and 6 percent after 20 years of retirement.”

The current calculation already penalizes elders by not taking into account elders' higher medical and drug costs which increase each year to a much larger degree than current inflation for other goods. This Simpson/Bowles proposal is just another way to further cut Social Security in general.

Because none of these proposed changes to Social Security bear on the deficit at all, Simpson and Bowles are using the deficit commission (known formally as the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform) to arbitrarily take an axe to a program that is hated by certain rich Republicans.

In a shocking revelation yesterday, the Washington Post reported that at least two staff members of the commission work for someone else:

“Lorenzen is paid by the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, while Goldwein is paid by the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, which is also partly funded by the Peterson group.”

For the past 20 years, Peter G. Peterson has spent billions of his fortune in efforts to cut Social Security and just this week, a Peterson-funded, $20 million television campaign began that, while not directly naming Social Security (yet), lays the foundation for support of Social Security reform (read: cuts). Saul Friedman reported on Peterson's unholy crusade in his Gray Matters column on this blog in January.

Let's be clear: Social Security does not need reform. It is the most successful social program in the history of the world keeping millions of Americans over its 75 years of existence out of poverty. It's not like anyone is ripped off by it and no one ever got rich on Social Security. The average monthly payment is about $1,000.

Raising the salary cap together with one or two other small tweaks will keep it solvent. But some of the elite will just not stop until they have stolen every last penny from the American people.

Fighting these proposed changes is not a case of greedy geezers. The word sacrifice has been turning up a lot lately and I doubt elders are unwilling to do their part if and when taxes are raised, for example, on gasoline and other goods. Social Security cuts have no place – logically or morally – in deficit reduction measures.

On Wednesday's post, Emmett Smith left a comment asking for email addresses for writing to President Obama and others about our concerns. This commission proposal is only a draft. There will be changes before the final report is published on 1 December and the president, still in Asia, has given no response.

Rest assured that when there is something concrete, I will supply all the necessary information and call on you to write and phone and sign petitions and anything else we can do to fight back.

For the record, I don't think these draft proposals are going anywhere and the final report - on Social Security and much of the rest - will be a greatly changed in the final report. But I'm not taking my eyes off these guys - I don't trust any of them.


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Steve Kemp: This Old Age


More Happy Talk

category_bug_journal2.gif As several people commented on Monday's post, In Pursuit of Happiness, the discussion was enlightening. Compared with many websites (including most major newspapers where trolls disrupt any coherence), TGB attracts thoughtful, engaged people and for that, I am grateful to you all. It makes me – ahem - happy.

Since Monday, I have spent a couple of hours in a cursory trip or two around the web to see what others say and apparently there is a large industry built around happiness and how to achieve it. Thousands of books. Tens of thousands of websites. Research studies. At least one happiness test. And god help me, happiness coaches. Most are eager to part us from our money which would enhance their happiness, I'm sure, if not their clients'.

One useful result I found is that according to several research scientists, people generally become happier as they get older, but we already knew that from Marcia Mayo on Monday. (You can read about some of these studies at the Washington Post.)

There were so many wise and thought-provoking responses on Monday that I'd like to continue today with a kind of summary and see where that gets us.

Semantics plays large part in our definitions of happiness. Comments mentioned contentment, pleasure, being at peace within, love, respect, purpose, being at one with the universe and gratitude, among some others. As Faye noted, this happiness stuff is both simple and complicated.

There are two comments I disagree with – which doesn't make them uninteresting.

Ian sees pleasure as transitory and happiness as “deeper.” For me, it's the other way around and that is definitely personal semantics. For today, let's go with “happiness” as a shorthand for what we're all trying to get at.

Gabby Geezer says that happiness “can only be bestowed from the outside” and that he is happy when respected by others.

If I had to depend on the respect of other people for my happiness, I surely would be miserable. I believe I am responsible for my contentment, happiness or lack of it. It comes from within me, in the choices I make and my responses to living. I am certain that even if there were no others in my life - if, for example, I lived as a hermit on a mountain top, I could be happy.

Helen made an important point – that without financial stability, happiness is not possible.

”It's easier to smile when the bills are paid; to laugh when there is food in the cupboard, to sleep peacefully in a warm/cool house.”

I know from my own experience that during periods of unemployment when more money was going out than in and debt grew alarmingly, unhappiness – and fear - filled my days. Nothing was enjoyable and sleep was my only respite.

Although Mage Bailey is content, she said a new orthopedist and new teeth would make her ecstatic. Yes, pain can definitely render moot the idea of happiness.

Rain, Peg, Cile, wisewomanweb and some others gave us some variations on a theme: that happiness is found in noticing and appreciating the small, unobserved moments; loving everyday things; reveling, for example, in a full moon; and that perhaps these are joyful because they are brief.

Gail asked specifically about my statement that I am able to differentiate between personal circumstance and events in the world at large that can detract from her happiness.

It is probably of no help at all, but I spent many years covering and writing about terrible events in the news and it would not be possible to get the job done if you are overwhelmed by the tragedy. You distance yourself. It's not dissimilar to my simultaneous feelings of pride and grief when my mother died.

And finally, because you may have missed it, I want to mention a summary Clarence left on that blog post yesterday.

“I may not be able to define happiness but I'm so thankful I can recognize it when it happens. In my mind, we pursue happiness until we pause for a time and allow it to catch up with us...”

Let me admit that I wrote that story on happiness because I was pressed for time and it seemed easy enough to do. After all your comments, I feel differently; it's complex and it's worthy of close attention because if we take the time to identify what give us pleasure – happiness, contentment, etc. - we are more likely to, in Clarence's words, “allow it to catch up with us.”

Thank you all for your terrific input.


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Mickey Rogers: A Close Shave