Sunday, June 12, 2016

America is a backward nation.

My daughter was out at a club last night, hosting three young musicians from Scotland who are recording songs at my partner's studio.

I am incredibly lucky we are not in Florida.

Someone else's children died last night, however. Many parents are grieving today. Many partners and friends and siblings are grieving.

When the Scots arrived, they looked at us and said, "The one thing we don't understand about America is the thing with the guns. What is that about?"

We couldn't tell them. What I could tell them is there is a tourist destination in Arizona called Bullets and Burgers. I kid you not. You can pay a fee and shoot any kind of gun your heart desires...and have a hamburger when you're hungry.

These musicians are in university. They go for free and are expected to pay it back in small, affordable increments tied into their income. Their housing is also paid for.

Health care in Scotland, they say, is "amazing."  Not okay, not better than nothing: amazing.

One of them had to go to an American emergency care center in New York City during his last visit. He was appalled.

"It was so primitive," he said. "It wasn't even clean."

I was born in this country and I used to believe the hype - America was leading the world.

Let's stop lying to ourselves.

I listened to a discussion of the presidential campaign on NPR the other day and heard David Gregory, who used to be a network news reporter and now hosts a podcast, dismiss questions about universal health care.

"It's not going to happen," he said. 

He told his guests they should discuss things that are possible.

Free healthcare for all is impossible here. Free higher education is impossible here. Ironclad laws to protect Americans from being slaughtered in school or in a club are impossible.

If that is true, and it may well be, let's admit the truth. America is a backward nation. 

And this election isn't going to change that.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Thoughts On America

The New York Republicans and Democrats have spoken. Their choices? Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.

My reaction? It is time to admit I do not belong in this country anymore.

I was born here. My parents were born here. One set of grandparents were born here, another were immigrants. All of them were so proud to be American.

I never considered it, honestly. This is my country.  Like everything in this world, it is not perfect and I never expected it to be. But I believed it was based on core values I hold dear - integrity, honesty, compassion, equality. It fell short over and over again, but those were the goals, weren't they?

Apparently I was mistaken.

My fellow Americans are creating a presidential election that will pit a bombastic, intolerant egotist (or an even more frightening religious zealot, should the GOP find a way to stop The Donald) versus the second candidate from a family with dynastic ambitions, millions of dollars made through its influence, and a sense of entitlement as wide as the Grand Canyon.

Donald Trump is clear about what he stands for: business and The Donald. Toss out the immigrants, double down on capitalism, try to bully our citizens and the world and somehow American will be great again. He's the only one who can do it, says he.

Never mind that most people consider America's greatest moments to be in the post-Depression, "let's pull together," government-for-the-people era of FDR. FDR was undoubtedly a Communist in Trump's book. Or at least a "loser."

Trump smacks of fascism and his supporters baffle me. He spouts hate and they call it "telling it like it is." Sometimes it seems as though he wakes up every morning wondering what he could possibly say to get himself disqualified from this race...but nothing seems to work.

I have no idea what Hillary Clinton stands for. Neither does she. She evolves constantly. She was against gay marriage but she's changed her mind. She stands for black Americans. Unless they are super-predators.  She stands for the middle class but single payer health care will "never, ever happen." She stands against Wall Street but she'd rather not show you the content of her paid speeches to them, thanks anyway.

She stands for strong defense and a vigorous offense. She stands for an aggressive, territory-gobbling Israel. She stands for sending troops to "support democracy," particularly if it's an area with resources we want or if it's strategically valuable to us.

Hillary Clinton is the moderate Republican the GOP is looking for. Depending on which Hillary you're considering.

So now you expect, no doubt, some shining prose about Bernie Sanders. You're not going to find it here. He's the best of the lot, in my opinion. But I do not fool myself he is some kind of savior come to create a kinder, gentler America. What I like is that at least he wants to try.

I wanted a candidate who seemed to believe in people. I wanted a candidate who thought government's role is to help its citizens have a decent life. I wanted a candidate who would rather listen and talk then load up a weapon or send out another battalion. I wanted a candidate who didn't consider corporations people and valued people over profits. I wanted a candidate who knew that each of us, every single one of us, is a person and we are all connected.

That sounds like Bernie Sanders.

But our system is so broken, so dysfunctional, and we have been complacent for so long, that I truly doubt he'd be able to make much headway, even with a Congress that agreed to do some work.

I voted for President Obama. Twice. I like him. I know he's part of the same old machine, but I think somewhere inside that intelligent mind there are ideals, and he's done what he can to live up to them where he can. Not everywhere - I know. There have been some horrifying exceptions. But at least, mostly, he tried. The world was so desperate for an intelligent, reasonable, charismatic American president that they dropped a Nobel prize on him even though he hasn't lived up to it. The rest of the world was disappointed with us, and with him. But at least we weren't embarrassed by him.

This time we are offered several embarrassments, an opportunist, and an idealist.

Perhaps Sanders will manage to outrun the Clinton machine. Perhaps he will run a successful third party race. I will vote for him if I can.

But I'm looking for my country if he doesn't win. It's not here. I don't know - maybe it never was.

Monday, February 29, 2016

Donald Drumpf

I've watched the rise of a wealthy, ridiculous yet frightening blowhard with disbelief. And kept waiting for someone, anyone, to point out the screamingly obvious.

Thank you, John Oliver. You came through.

If my Internet would cooperate and let me post it without a link I would  - but view it at this link:


I wanted to stand up and cheer. Instead I posted it everywhere I could think of.

This isn't a short segment. But every single word is worth hearing, particularly if you're amused by our reality-show presidential candidate. He is not funny. His popularity is a frightening sign of the increasing madness of this country. Perhaps it is too late for us; perhaps we're too far 'round the bend.
But maybe not. Maybe all we need to do is remember that Trump is just a made up name.

The damage he can do, however, is very very real.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

So...who's packin'?

It took something absolutely unbelievable to get me back to the blog, but it's happened.

The sheriff of our upstate New York county wrote a Facebook post today encouraging anyone with a valid gun permit who is "comfortable and proficient" with their weapon to carry it with them in public.

Image result for cowgirl marksman

I did not make this up.

Paul Van Blarcum, a Democrat who ran unopposed for sheriff last time around, apparently decided that calling his constituents to arms was a good way to ensure their safety after the latest American shooting, this time in California.

He's made me feel a helluva lot less safe.

I went to the UK a couple of months ago and was appalled to see how our country is viewed from the outside. We're the radical, gun-totin', wild-eyed Christian fundamentalists of the Western world.

A news report of the latest shooting from the UK started, "Just another day in America."

Image result for western cowboysSo here I am, faced with the knowledge that not only is my country far more in love with its guns than it is with its people (clearly - how many massacres does it take before we decide we've made getting a gun way too easy), but now I have to trust the safety of the ones I love to the tender mercies of my gun loving neighbors.

I don't feel safe at all. I feel downright threatened.

Nice timing, Sheriff.  When we're all preparing to go out holiday shopping, seeing movies in large groups, going out to eat.

Now I have to look around and wonder if I'm near a  trigger happy shootist who's been waiting for this call to arms for years - all he or she needs is someone to look threatening so they can do a little real life target practice.

The story's getting national play. The storm has just begun. And it all began in Ulster County, where the woods near Woodstock (remember Woodstock?) echo with the sound of gunshot - it's hunting season, after all.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Life is Life-y

There was a time when this photo was what people meant by family. Mom, Dad, six kids, aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, and assorted strangers who came to stay and never left.

That was how I saw my mom's family. Most of them are in Indiana and as far as I know, there's still a massive family reunion each July 4th at the family farm.  Just one of my cousins has a dozen children, so I imagine it's a pretty overwhelming clan.

That was how I saw my dad's family. They were a close knit group of four siblings - my grandmother, her brother and two sisters - and they spent every single summer together in a little farmhouse in upstate New York. The cousins grew up like brothers and sisters. Even some of the cousins of my generation are that close.

I'm an outsider in both groups, comfortable on the fringes. I was an only child and my mother was separated from her family by geography while my father kept a distance from his family by temperament. I have loved them all, but at arm's length.

Yet I have my own extended family. There comes a time when all of us have to widen that definition.

For us, it's kids and parents.  My son stayed with us a few summers ago when life was weighing heavily on him and he needed some time to be a kid again. He made the most of that hiatus and roared back into life with all engines firing.

KB's son stayed with us for a short time, too. He had some family issues to sort out and needed a little space to do it. He did, and he's back to his life.

Now KB's mother is here just for a few days, recuperating after a serious hospitalization and not yet ready to go home. We're sharing hosting duties with his sister, and it's an opportunity for everyone to get to know each other better, to talk openly, to maybe be a little better than we were before as a group.

Here's the funny thing - they're all family. And not by blood or even marriage. 

KB and I are family. We chose not to get married; we've done that, we don't choose to do it again. So his family is not technically my family. But I find myself being treated like family and behaving like family. It's okay.

My son isn't related to KB. But KB has treated him like family, welcomed him, welcomed my daughter, welcomed their significant others.

One of my dearest friends is my wonderful former father-in-law's second wife. She's no blood relation to any of us. But she has been a magnificent grandmother to my children and the best mother-in-law anyone can ask for.

Since my mother's death, she is the closest thing I have to a mother.

None of us is an individual living together in a vaccuum.  We accept the friends and families we bring along and understand the obligations that may mean.  We accept it with as much grace as we can muster and we do the best we can because that is what decent human beings do for each other.

I aspire above all things to be a decent human being. I think it's the one thing we owe the world in exchange for the space we occupy.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Switching Gears

I am no less concerned about where our society is heading - but paying the bills has to take first place. So Everyday People have to wait for a bit while I focus on my business. If you want to keep up with me, follow my other blog at Adventures of a Catskills House Junkie. I promise it isn't just about real estate - it's a chance to share what I see as I drive around viewing and showing houses.

I'm fortunate to live in a gorgeous area - New York's Catskills and Hudson Valley offer a treat for the eyes at every turn.

So come on along for the ride. I'd enjoy the company.


Sunday, December 22, 2013

Strangled By Red Tape - Our Journey to Insurance

Permit me to step from behind the notebook  and offer my personal experience. We've been slogging our way through the new health care marketplace, a fetid swamp of rotting bureaucracy populated by malicious trolls and frustrated angels.  The shining goal keeps us dragging ourselves forward. There it is, so bright, so beautiful, just beyond our grasp: health insurance!

I have been uninsured for two years. It was the first time in my life I've had no insurance and it's been scary. I left a state job with a great salary and great benefits to become a freelance writer. It's a long story but bottom line was I had to choose between my wallet and my health. I decided it was better to be poor and not sick. I made the right choice. You won't be surprised to hear that it wasn't long before I had to add another job, but real estate sales doesn't offer insurance either. So here I am, mid-fifties, in great health, but one broken leg or scary diagnosis away from financial disaster.

I looked into insurance. Of course I did - I'm a responsible adult. The cheapest insurance I could find was a terrible plan with high deductibles that was going to cost me a thousand dollars a month. I just didn't have a spare thousand lying around every month. So that meant going without and keeping my fingers crossed that I didn't get sick.

In case you're wondering, no, I couldn't be on my partner's insurance.

My partner is a musician. He's been one all his life. And musicians don't have health insurance unless they buy it themselves.  And the cost was exorbitant.

So the prospect of a government-regulated healthcare marketplace sounded like a great thing to both of us. We got on that website and got ready to enroll.

I actually didn't find the website to be that bad - the federal site directed me to the New York Healthcare Marketplace, where I answered all their questions and got to the point where I could choose a plan. Then I stalled.  I hadn't heard of most of the companies and the options chased each other around in my brain without pausing long enough for me to understand what they were.  So I waited for the smart one in our family to get involved so he could explain it to me.

What followed were two solid weeks of angry howls from his office.  Each day was the same: get on the phone and call the number to which the marketplace directed him. Hold for an hour or more. Finally reach a human and ask simple questions. Get the answers, then call the next number for the next step. Wait another hour or more. Begin the next step, then discover the first answers were wrong. Go back to step one.  Some days, rather than getting the wrong answer, he'd be told that they just didn't know the answer.

He's not a terribly patient man on the best days, but this experience sent him way over the edge. Some of the things he yelled after he hung up the phone were concepts I didn't even know were possible. On the plus side, I've learned a lot of new combinations of colorful exclamations. 

"I'm drained," he told me more than once. "This is the most exhausting thing I've ever done. And I'm getting nowhere."

Chasing your tail will wear you out.

I'd love to conclude this with a happy picture of us both holding our insurance cards. I may yet get to add that to this post. For now, I can tell you that I have been approved, I chose a plan, and I'm waiting to hear about the next step. I'm told that will happen in January. 

The best rate I could find was about $350 for a bronze plan - nothing special, but it's insurance. I just read a New York Times article where they discussed the cost of the health insurance under so-called Obamacare, and they maintained that a silver plan (that's better than bronze, you know) was about $300 or so for the average middle to lower income person. That's not my experience. If you can tell me where that plan is, please let me know.

But I'm not complaining. Bad insurance beats no insurance and $350 is a whole lot better than $1000 a month.

My exhausted partner? He's also supposedly signed up, but he has his doubts. He suspects it's been screwed up.

We're thinking it might be simpler to move to the UK.