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Youth, Day, Old Age and Night

Crabby Old Lady and the White House

Here we go again.

Remember when Crabby Old Lady told you about a letter emailed from her house to the White House? And then, a few days later, the pro forma reply that bore not a single reference to the subject of Crabby missive?

Last Friday, Crabby received a second email from the White House (full message is below) - this time addressing elder issues in general but again, making no meaningful reference to the topic of her letter.

Crabby had written to President Barack Obama about Social Security but more than half the latest response is about how wonderful the Affordable Care Act is for Medicare recipients. (It is, if not wonderful, a welcome improvement in some areas.)

Only three sentences of the five-paragraph, boilerplate letter address Social Security. One is simply PR, another is a pitch for the president's request that Congress authorize another one-time, $300 payment to Social Security beneficiaries as was distributed when the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (i.e., the “stimulus bill”) was passed by Congress in 2009. (Don't hold your breath.) A third says this:

“By protecting Social Security from risky privatization plans, we are preserving its solvency and maintaining it as a reliable income source for seniors.”

It's not at all clear that is what the Obama administration is doing but more importantly, it makes no mention of Crabby's point that by giving workers a two percent break on the payroll tax and replacing that money in the Social Security trust fund from general revenue, the seal on the trust fund door as been seriously breached.

Because it holds the budget purse strings, Congress can, if it chooses, refuse repayment thereby NOT “maintaining [Social Security] as a reliable income source for seniors.” Who needs protection from privatization when the trust fund door is left wide open?

Plus, there is no mention of the possibility, put forth by some in Congress during the last session, to change the method of computation of the cost-of-living adjustment that would drastically reduce those adjustments from what they are now.

The letter finishes with a bunch of links to government web pages for elders that, like the letter, do not address the reason Crabby wrote her letter in the first place.

If Crabby Old Lady were running the White House office to answer citizen mail, she wouldn't allow such claptrap out of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. First, she would commission software to flag email with too many expletives. Just save them in the F*** File.

Crabby's software would also sort for keywords related to current and ongoing issues: Social Security, Medicare, Afghanistan, taxes, ACA, housing, unemployment, Wall Street, Occupy, banking, Wall Street, Syria, Israel, abortion, immigration, unions, budget, etc. etc. which would, obviously, be updated as needed.

Snailmail would be sorted by hand but could be easily scanned into the electronic file folders.

The White House communications office would supply Crabby's mail-answering crew with briefing books by topic so that responses would conform to fact. All the crew would be supplied with email addresses and phone numbers of designated federal experts on each topic or subtopic for fact checking.

Of course, there would also be parameters past which the workers are not authorized to speak/write.

Workers then could respond with answers that make sense. The letters would not need to be long or elaborate. But they could address the writer by name (the computer could do this part too) and speak to the actual point of the writer's message. Crabby would not have been disappointed to read:

Dear Crabby Old Lady:
Your point about the trust fund breach is well taken and the White House keeps its eye on that. The president also agrees with you about not changing the Social Security cost-of-living adjustment calculation...

(Or, they could have said, “disagrees” and briefly explained why.)

Now and then, as the White House tells us they occasionally do, a handful of really good letters could be shown to the president for him to answer personally. Yeah, they can promote doing it; that won't offend Crabby.

Crabby's point is that to her, the boilerplate letters are counterproductive. They make her feel a bit foolish for having wasted her time slaving over a hot keyboard to write a smart letter that made her points clearly and, maybe, effectively.

In fact, in an era when only wealth has access to power in Washington and the problems for the middle class seem insurmountable, the president could score a lot of points with disaffected voters by nothing more than greeting letter writers by name: Dear Crabby Old Lady:

That would have worked or, at least, softened the boilerplate.

Here is the White House letter, below which is the daily link to The Elder Storytelling Place.

February 3, 2012

Dear Friend:

Thank you for writing. I have heard from many Americans about issues affecting older Americans. Today's economic climate further intensifies the unique challenges faced by seniors, and I appreciate your perspective.

My Administration continues to support older Americans encountering unfair treatment, financial hardship, or difficulty obtaining health care. The historic Affordable Care Act strengthens Medicare by providing free preventive care and improving care coordination. It gradually closes the "donut hole gap" in prescription drug coverage, and provides individuals who fall into this gap a $250 rebate. This law also helps prevent and eliminate elder abuse, neglect, and exploitation.

Additionally, the Affordable Care Act implements unprecedented measures to fight waste and fraud, and to improve the quality and outcomes of care for Medicare beneficiaries. It ends unwarranted subsidies to private insurance companies, and takes important steps to reduce unnecessary hospital admissions, improve patient safety, modernize payment systems, and streamline record-keeping. It also realigns incentives to reward medical providers for the value, not the volume, of their care. For resources and information on how to prevent, report, and stop Medicare fraud, visit: To learn more about the Affordable Care Act, please visit:

By protecting Social Security from risky privatization plans, we are preserving its solvency and maintaining it as a reliable income source for seniors. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act included an additional payment to supplement Social Security benefits for seniors struggling to make ends meet, and I have called on Congress to extend this relief again. Together, we will ensure all our citizens, not just a privileged few, can retire with dignity and security.

Finally, as we work to keep America's promises to senior citizens, we are helping ensure older Americans can continue to enrich communities across our Nation through service and community involvement. By expanding the Senior Corps and implementing the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act, we are creating more opportunities for seniors to share their knowledge and experience with younger generations.

Thank you again for being in touch. To find assistance for senior citizens and their families, visit or call 1-800-677-1116. For help with Medicare, call 1-800-MEDICARE. Additional information and resources are available at:

Barack Obama

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Ellen Hellos: The Church was Closed but Angels were on Duty


It really is surprising that they can't seem to more successfully automate their form letters. We know the software exists -- how about getting ahold of a version of the Google algorithm that makes suggestions when we look something up. It's not perfect, but it is pretty smart.

On the other hand, forget that suggestion ... I do get tired of having my wants interpreted by electronic chips ...

Possibly when addressing people who are very busy and are inundated with information, writers need to do what I need to do with my husband-- speak to one key thing and don't make it so long that he doesn't tune me out. Somebody sorts that mail and does the letter thing. Getting them to really read your idea might take it being short ans succinct.

Save the long ones for places like here where people are wanting to read something meaty and are ready to pass on the information to others-- potentially creating that groundswell presidents say they need to do anything.

The thing is you don't know that your points weren't digested and won't be used in the future in speeches even. All you know is the system is not set up to send back personal letters to the thousands who write.

Bernie Sanders is one who is working on this, maybe writing to him would get more of a response although he's pretty well already addressing these issues in his speeches and emails.

I have a friend who wrote the White House, using several addresses she'd been given as a financial supporter, right after Obama's inauguration with a suggestion she thought would be helpful to the country at large. She was so sure they'd like it but she also got no meaningful response and three years later she can tell the idea wasn't adopted if they did like it.

Good for you, Ronni. If ANYBODY is paying attention up there, they might recognize when cogent, intelligent, informed comments arrive from the citizenry. But I am afraid they are all numb robot boobs.

It would be interesting to send a comment via email, snail mail and telephone and see if the responses vary. I email or call my state senator/representative (even if they are jerks!) first and usually get a response, but they represent me and I want to know that I am holding them accountable.

Then again, you never know whether someone in the Obama administration or even one of his own family is reading your blog and our comments.

Wouldn't that be wonderful!!

Oh, well, I can dream can't I?

Unfortunately (for Obama and for our nation), I am SO with you right now. I have not written intelligent, informed emails like you but just a desperate request to allow for donations from American citizens living outside the US. I've written five times. I've gotten two form letters in response that send me to a link that doesn't allow for non-US residents (but still US citizens!) to write. Am VERY discouraged.

Last Friday I heard
President Obama say
he had "a message for Congress--pass the payroll tax cut..."

So of course, while I continuously forward your letter to the President,
I ask him to Respond Specifically to
the Point about the Trust Fund Breach.

I Hope he doesn't muck it up!

I understand your frustration. Although I'm a writer, teaching is my "day job" and I always encourage my students to email Washington, but warn them that their letter will be counted (as "pro" or "con" on an issue), not really read.

But better to have a President who doesn't read your letter and does the right thing than a President who doesn't read your letter and privatizes Social Security and Medicare.

There is so much frustration in trying to do the right thing I sometimes wonder why we keep bashing our heads against the wall.

That said, we must keep trying. I do think a telephone call gets more response than a letter, but that may be wishful thinking.

You didn't say anything about volunteerism in your letter, so why does this get mentioned?

Dear Crabby. Keep it up. I lag behind you today and am doing hair, but I will catch up.

I agree with Rain. I'm sure he receives thousands of letters every day. There is NO way anyone could possibly reply to each letter, noting individual suggestions. Generic letters it is. bkj

While I wish the President and my representatives in Congress would honor me with a personalized response when I write to them, I understand that I'm only one among millions--and I have neither wealth nor power on my side. It is galling to realize that only those with both can expect to be heard and not merely counted.

However, I am the voice of a voter so I intend to keep trying. At least my messages count in support of Progressive candidates and issues. That said, I think communications like Ronni's--obviously well thought out and professionally written--deserve a more thoughtful response that actually speaks to the issue and the writer. Dream on!

I have written only one letter to President Obama so far. It was in 2010 when my elderly in-laws had gone into assisted living, my father-in-law with head trauma and my mother-in-law with dementia. I was asking him for some direction for accessing the Veterans Aid and Assistance award for my in-laws. They were 90, running out of funds, and my father-in-law was a WWII vet, possibly qualifying for VA financial assistance, but which I was having a terrible time finding out how to apply for without going through a third party (there are lots of these out there who make money off the process, and which I was not interested in going through for a public benefit). A year or so earlier, my father-in-law had written the President, before becoming disabled, urging him to consider giving up smoking. The President sent him back a note thanking him for his concern (but making no commitment to giving up smoking), on the small White House stationery, and hand signed. I reminded Obama of this letter, and asked for his help in accessing this VA assistance. What I specifically asked for was the name and contact information of someone who could give me specifics for this very elusive benefit. About six months later, I received a letter back from Obama. Unfortunately, it was mostly similar to this generic email you received, with references to all the accomplishments of his administration in various veteran programs, and some websites to visit and learn more about these, none of which I was interested in or had asked about. The letter was at least addressed to me by name, but was of really no help to me in my quest. I have, however, received dozens of requests for donations to his campaign since that time, three this week so far. Some I have responded to with a donation, but not all. I would do little but give money to the Obama campaign if I gave each time they asked. I'm afraid this has left me a bit cynical, and beginning to wonder if President Kennedy's words should be adapted: "Ask not what Obama can do for you, but what you can do for Obama".

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