Tag Archives: finances

Health In

This COVID-19 pandemic has taken so much from the average person – no matter where in the world they live.  Here in the U.S. we’re trapped in a nightmarish scenario with a disoriented leader heralding recent gains in the stock market, while millions remain unemployed.  I’m sure those struggling to pay utilities are thrilled to know Fortune 1000 companies are enjoying record stock prices.

One of the most severe – and underrated – effects is the impact the scourge has had on people’s psyches.  Emotional, mental and physical health always become subconscious victims of any national crisis.  People are just trying to survive.

Personally, I’m in a vortex of angst and frustration.  My freelance writing enterprise – as meager as it was – has pretty much collapsed.  I’m fortunate I have some money saved from previous work, but I know that won’t last forever.  Or even much longer.  After my mother’s death this past June, though, I began to feel sick.  Friends and relatives thought I was in a state of grief, which I was for the most part.  But I thought I’d contracted that dreaded novel coronavirus.  I had many of the symptoms.  I had hoped my seasonal allergies had started to hit me early.  Then again, perhaps it was the stress of dealing with my mother’s health.  One friend suggested I was suffering from a lack of iron and Vitamin D.  Still, I finally reconciled, it may be all of the above.  Fighting so many battles at once takes a toll on the body.  And mind.

Because of the pandemic, health clubs were among those businesses shuttered across the nation in an effort to contain the spread.  I last visited my gym in mid-May; shortly before the rehabilitation center where my mother had been staying shoved her out because her Medicare benefits had been exhausted.  (That’s another story!)

But even after my gym reopened in June, I still haven’t visited.  Again it was that awful sickness.  I didn’t know what was wrong.  I’ve taken to doing basic calisthenics and walking along an exercise trail behind my home in recent weeks in the middle of the day.  I used to go running, but I don’t have the strength right now.  Key words: right now.  Once you take off a long time without doing any kind of exercise besides laundry and loading and unloading the dishwasher, it’s a tad bit difficult to get back to normal.  But even that little bit still makes me feel good.

Seven years ago I wrote about my tendency to visit my local gym on Saturday nights, when hardly anyone was present.  I commented that only lonely fools like me did such a thing.  At the turn of the century, working out on a Saturday night was unmanageable.  But the gym I had at the time was open 24 hours.  It was a perfect time to jog on a treadmill and lift weights, I realized, with such a sparse crowd.  No one was there to be “seen”.  That quiet time – with various types of music blaring from the myriad speakers lingering overhead – allowed me to think of every aspect of my life.

I left that gym in 2017 to join another local gym that closed unexpectedly a year later.  After a lengthy hiatus, I joined my current gym last year.  This is an old-school gym with no fancy juice bars or chic workout gear.  Loud rock and rap music bounces around the concrete walls.  It boasts an outside area with non-traditional workout gear, like tractor tires and tree stumps.  Men can go shirtless.  People there sweat – they don’t perspire!  It’s not for suburban soccer moms or GQ cover models.  (No offense to soccer moms!)  I feel more than comfortable in such an environment.

I know it’s tough to take one’s mental and physical health into consideration if you’re unemployed or underemployed.  But I also know you don’t have to belong to any kind of health club to care for your own health.  Mental health experts are concerned about the severity this pandemic is having on people’s well-being.  Quarantines are literally driving people crazy.  And to drink too much alcohol and/or consume illegal drugs.  Or contemplate hurting themselves.  A bad economy helps none of that.  I can identify with all of that.  I really do feel that kind of pain.

Just walking the other day, carrying a water bottle and letting the sun emblazon my bare torso, helped me mentally.  It didn’t make everything magically disappear once I returned home.  I knew it wouldn’t.  But maintaining one’s health – as best as possible, even in the worst of times – is vital.  It can’t be overemphasized.

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Best Quote of the Week – July 11, 2020

“We reaffirm that principle today and hold that the president is neither absolutely immune from state criminal subpoenas seeking his private papers nor entitled to a heightened standard of need.”

John Roberts, Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, ruling against President Donald Trump in his ongoing effort to keep private his pre-presidential financial records.

Chief Justice John Roberts went on to state, “In our system, the public has a right to every man’s evidence,” and “since the founding of the Republic, every man has included the President of the United States.”

The 7-2 ruling is a staunch rebuke of Trump’s pathological arrogance in refusing to release all of his financial data; claiming an audit prevents it.  Although it’s not law for presidential candidates to release financial documents, such as tax statements, it has been tradition for decades.  Trump was the first presidential candidate in modern memory not only unwilling to release such records, but to flat out refuse to do so.

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Aged Out

“I hope I die before I get old.”

– “My Generation”, The Who, © 1965

I’ve thought about this scenario: I’m home alone at age 80-something and I have a stroke or some kind of cardiac event.  I can’t get to a phone and I don’t have one of those Life Alert devices.  As a staunchly independent, childless 50-something with few friends, that thought has crossed my mind on more than a few occasions in recent years.  It became even more glaringly realistic this past January, when I told my mother she needed to take a shower.  I realized she had urinated on her bed; a simple of case having fallen asleep and – given her age, I thought – wasn’t able to make it to the bathroom in time.

“I’ll change the sheets,” I told her, before retreating into the hall.  A moment later I saw she was flailing her right arm and leg.  “What’s wrong?” I asked.  “You need to get up and take a shower.”  But then it became clear.

She’d had a stroke.

It apparently had been a brief event and was already starting to heal by the time she’d arrived at the hospital.  But her left side was mostly paralyzed.  I sat beside her in the emergency room, as she gazed blankly into a flickering light panel, and thought, ‘Now what?’

Years ago, when her mental health started to wane, someone asked why I didn’t place her in a “home.”  “She has a home,” I replied.  “It’s the one she’s in now.”

But the now had changed.  And I was forced to contemplate the unthinkable: putting one of my parents into a “home” – whatever the hell that’s supposed to entail.

I had promised my father that I would do everything to ensure he didn’t pass away in a hospital; ensconced in a strange bed with tubes wrapped around him, as if he was a hostage.  And I was able to help him achieve his desire.

But this situation is different – and far more complicated.  After her hospital stay, I had to place my mother into a rehabilitation center.  I found one nearby and was able to tour the facility a few days before she arrived.  It’s an older building that looked like it hadn’t received a fresh paint job in about four presidential administrations.  On that Friday evening I accompanied her to the place, I felt as if I’d swallowed a tree branch – and it was now stuck.  The center looked even more dismal than when I’d first entered.  And that night, as my mother lay in bed, glancing around the room – her left arm and leg still mostly inert – my heart filled with trepidation.  I couldn’t stay that night, so after more than an hour – assuring her things would be alright and consulting with the amiable staff – I departed.  I almost felt like I’d abandoned my mother into a pit of despair.  And, even worse, I’d violated a solemn vow I’d made to my father more than a decade ago: if he should pass away first, I’d take care of my mother.

Looks, indeed, can be deceiving.  While the rehab center was an aged structure, the staff was incredible.  I did have a good feeling from the start, though, when I first spoke with one of their representatives.  But it didn’t take long for me to realize I’d made a great choice.

I brought my mother home in March, as the COVID-19 pandemic gripped the nation.  The startling number of coronavirus deaths in similar facilities alarmed me.  The center had banned visitors a few days earlier, but I had to get her out of there.  As good as the place had been for her, I didn’t she feel she was safe.  And I knew I could care for her just as well as the rehab center and get her back to some semblance of her former self.  I should know by now that far-reaching plans always look great on paper or in dreams.

After only a week, I had to return her to the rehab center.  Her health had deteriorated in that short period.  But, once back at the facility, she improved.  She’d regained some movement on her left side and was alert.  She still didn’t recall what had happened.

But then, matters became even more complex – and aggravatingly unsettling.  My mother’s lengthy stay at the rehab facility had exhausted her Medicare benefits.  They paid 100% for 21 days, when they lowered the rate to 80%.  My mother – and I – was obliged to pay the remainder.  But she didn’t qualify for a supplemental insurance policy – even through Medicare.  Or the Affordable Care Act (ACA).  The requisites for either make the Harvard Law School entrance exam look like a daycare application.

Medicaid was our last option.  Completing the application for that was tantamount to completing one to be a Central Intelligence Agency case officer.  And my mother wasn’t approved.  With her Social Security and two pensions, she earns too much per month; just a “few dollars” too much, the rehab center associate helping navigate the morass informed me.

And what, I inquired privately in my angry cogitations, qualifies as a “few dollars” too much?  I researched a handful of other available and plausible alternatives – enough to fill a tea cup – and could find nothing viable.  Absolutely nothing.  For my mother even to begin to qualify for some semblance of Medicaid coverage to help with her health care expenses, she’d have to cede all of her assets, including this house – the house she and my father worked hard to get and to keep; give it all up to an omnipotent entity that designed the very system to which my parents (and millions of others) annually pay homage and taxes.

And she earns a “few dollars” too much.

By the end of April, the rehab center – the place that had proved life-saving and life-changing – had reached its financial breaking point with us.  They had to let her go.  They had no choice, they told me – and therefore, neither did we.

Fortunately, Medicare does pay for extended hospice care here at the house.  Representatives with the agency I selected have been incredible – even angelic – in their commitment and service.  They’re as concerned with me, also, as my mother.

Still, I seethe at the thought of the financial fiasco in which we’ve now been placed.  We’re in debt to the rehab facility now, as well as to a slew of doctors and the hospital.  My mother is just one of literally millions of Americans in similar straits.  At current rates, the crisis will only deepen nationwide.  The number of Americans aged 65 and older is expected to almost double from 52 million in 2018 to 95 million in 2060; rising from 16% to 23%of the population.

A half-century ago, programs like Medicare and Medicaid were designed to assist the elderly and poor with health care needs.  They’re not just altruistic; they’re vital.  As with the Social Security system a generation earlier, Medicare and Medicaid provided necessary safety nets for many Americans.  The nation had matured into a contemporary society where even the most vulnerable of citizens were not left to fend for themselves.

As usual, social conservatives scoffed at the notion.  Just like with the post-World War II GI Bill, they denounced such aspirations as welfare and socialized medicine.  These were the same fools who demanded people swear allegiance to the United States, be willing to sacrifice their lives to the Constitution, abide by established laws, and blindly pay money to ensure a safe democracy for all.  They still do.  Yet, when people earn a “few dollars” too much…they shrug their shoulders and change the subject to American exceptionalism.

My mother began working for an insurance company in downtown Dallas in the fall of 1952 at the age of 19 and retired from an insurance company in February of 2003 at age 70.  With the exception of taking off 15 months for being pregnant with and caring for me – at a time when maternity leave was more of a concept – she worked for half a century.  Fifty years.  And, as her physical and mental health decline from years of just being alive…she earns a “few dollars” too much.

“Age is just mind over matter,” my father once told me.  “If you don’t mind, who gives a shit?!”

People have told me that, for being a good person, I deserve a “big reward.”  And I’ve also told some they deserve a special place in the “Great Beyond” just for being themselves.  As genuine and thoughtful as those words are, does anyone have to wait until life in some other realm to be appreciated for their actions?  Is it truly necessary to wait until we’re dead to receive the respect we’re due in life?

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Romanov Redux

Russia’s ill-fated Romanov Family, c. 1913.

Shortly after Donald Trump was sworn into office as the 45th President of the United States, I referred to various photographs of the Trump family in their multi-million-dollar New York penthouse residence.  “The Donald” is, of course, featured prominently front and center, with his (third) glamorous, trophy wife perched nearby; along with their son, Baron, and the real estate magnate’s adult children.  Almost as prominent are the slew of plush, gilded furnishings spread throughout the abode.  I kept thinking I’d seen similar photographs before; various pictures from newspapers and magazine, as well as recollections of a TV show that truly embodied 1980s-era chic and gluttony: “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.”  (Trump was featured in the very first episode and made recurring appearances.)

At one point, though, I turned to my massive collection of books and spotted one that displayed an even more accurate depiction of the Trump family; another clan who lived long ago in similar plush surroundings, perched high above the lowly masses.  Lindsey Hughes’ “The Romanovs: Ruling Russia 1613 – 1917” describes the life and times of Russia’s last monarchal family.  For more than 300 years, the Romanovs directly impacted world politics with their wealth and power; creating a massive empire that – even in today’s watered-down version – stretches across two continents.  From Tsar Michael to Tsar Nicholas II, the Romanovs maintained a steady grip on the region; impressing their subjects and striking fear in their enemies.

But, by the time the dynasty marked its tercentenary in 1913, that grip had begun to weaken.  Like the rest of Europe’s royal families, the Romanovs remained encapsulated in their heavily-fortified palatial environs; far removed from the sundry plights tormenting their own people and oblivious to the real world lurking outside those jewel-encrusted walls.  Nicholas II was the first of the European monarchs to be ousted from power, as World War I intruded into Russian territory, and a growing internal revolution stalked the Romanov family.

While the assassination of Austria’s Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife, Sophia, essentially marked the start of World War I, the death of the Romanovs signified the end – not just to the war, but also to the long-held concept that power and wealth are best held in the hands and pockets of a blessed few and that those few are part of the same bloodline that is never to be disturbed or questioned.  It was shocking enough to international onlookers that a single gunman was able to kill Franz and Sophia with a few shots from a pistol; even as many outside of Europe initially wondered where was this place called Austria-Hungary.  But, as news of the Romanovs’ demise trickled out, the anger and frustration of an oppressed people became brutally apparent.  Nicholas and his immediate family, along with a handful of servants, were peppered with bullets in a basement far removed from their stately home; their bodies burned beyond recognition and dumped in neighboring woods.

The Trump family in their New York penthouse abode.

World War I was actually the culmination of the growing anarchist movement, which had its genesis in the heated anger of economic and social inequality among Europe’s working classes, before spreading westward across the Atlantic to plant itself in the U.S. and Canada.  Even México had succumbed to the wrath of the peasant masses; with outlaws Francisco “Pancho” Diaz and Emiliano Zapata joining forces to lead a revolt against a semi-monarchal dynasty of wealthy landowners and bankers.

This was the dawn of the 20th century; where ordinary people – the one who really keep a nation moving – finally stood up and collectively announced, “Enough!”  The rampages continued, as Europe began losing their colonial holdings in Africa and elsewhere, and Latin American nations saw military dictatorships crumble in the face of concerted human rights’ campaigns.  One of the 20th century’s last acts of peasant anarchy came with the collapse of the Soviet Union.  In Romania, the chaos became lethal when leader Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife, Elena, were dragged before a court trial staged by their otherwise lowly subjects, found guilty and lynched in public.  That something so horrific could happen in 1989 shocked the world.  But, for the oppressed peoples of staunchly communist Romania, it was perhaps the best Christmas present they’d ever had.

To some extent, anarchism actually sprouted roots with the American Revolution, where a mass of English immigrant descendants decided they simply did not want to be slaves to the British Crown.  Shortly afterwards, French commoners took a queue from their American counterparts and launched their own revolution; one where they didn’t just extract their regal hoodlums from gigantic estates, but relished in the sight of royal heads literally rolling across wooden platforms.  Throughout the 19th century, Spain and Portugal stood virtually helpless as their colonial holdings in the Americas wrenched themselves from the clutches of royal decree – only to stumble through the difficulties of independence and struggles with democracy; quagmires that exist to this day.

In 1900, China’s Boxer Rebellion was a desperate attempt by commoners to boot out European interlopers, which included assaults on Christian missionaries and converts.  Some 100,000 people lost their lives in the various battles that summer.  But a growing dissatisfaction towards the Qing Dynasty and the family of Emperor Puyi (sometimes spelled P’u-i) compelled the working classes to descend upon the sacred and mysterious “Forbidden City.”  Puyi was only 3 years old when he ascended to the throne in 1908; less than four years later he was forced to abdicate and lived out the rest of his life as an undistinguished commoner.  At the start of the 20th century, it seemed that China was poised to endure the same experience as the African continent: be carved up by European colonialists.  But, if the Chinese people no longer wanted single family rule, did anyone believe they’d let bands of foreigners from the other side of the globe do the same?  By the 1930s, China had evicted the Europeans.

World War II fractured Europe.  A few royal families managed to survive; most notably in Great Britain.  But they were all financially and morally exhausted.  This culminated in the U.K. losing their colonial hold on India and Pakistan in 1947.  Next came the vast continent of Africa, where European decolonialization occurred over the ensuing four decades; a massive undertaking that involved millions of people on a scale the world had never experienced before.

The 20th century’s anarchist fangs reached across the globe, toppling the Philippines’ Ferdinand Marcos and Haiti’s Jean-Claude Duvalier in the 1980s.  One of its high points was the release of South Africa’s Nelson Mandela in 1990 and the dismantling of that country’s brutal apartheid regime within a decade.  South Africa had been the last of Europe’s many colonial assets to gain independence.

Imprisoned by the British in 1953 following the Mau Mau uprising and exiled in 1959, Jomo Kenyatta later emerged as one of the best-known African leaders. He served as Kenya’s first president from 1967 – 1978 and founded various pan-African nationalist movements.

A low point, though, was Argentina’s futile attempt to wrest control of the Falkland Islands from Great Britain in 1982; a brief conflict that resulted in more than 900 military deaths.  Why the U.K. insists on retaining control of this tiny cluster of isolated rocks 7500 miles from the homeland remains less of a mystery than a prime example of colonialist arrogance.  (Some Britons still refer to the U.S. as “the colonies.”)  While Argentina was in no political or financial position to engage in such a daring military feat at the time, they have since matured and solidified their infrastructure.  In 2012, Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner blocked two British cruise ships that had visited the Falklands from docking on the mainland.  Argentina has vowed to enforce further similar bans in the future, which could damage the Falklands’ vital tourist industry.

In the Middle East, anarchism produced schizophrenic results.  Anti-royal sentiments led to the 1973 deposition of the Barakzai, Afghanistan’s royal family.  That may have set the stage for the Soviet Union’s bloody but futile attempt to annex that country in 1979.  However, the U.S. became unexpectedly mired in the antagonism of the Iranian populace towards their own royal family, the Pahlavis.  Shah Reza Pahlavi had crowned himself emperor in 1967 and led a brutal regime where dissidence was punished with unprecedented violence and oppression – tools common among wicked oligarchs.  Pahlavi’s 1978 ouster led to the notorious Iran Hostage Crisis, which caught both the U.S. and the world completely off-guard.  Concerned more with the Soviet threat and the oddly-christened “Cold War,” the U.S. government unwittingly experienced its first battle with Islamic extremism.

Elsewhere in the Middle East, royal families held on in Jordan and Syria.  The discovery of oil on the Arabian Peninsula in the 1930s allowed the region’s ruling families and their subjects to be pulled up from the doldrums of a tribal / fiefdom-style existence and dropped into the vats of unimaginable wealth.  No one seemed to care that women couldn’t drive cars, much less vote.

Average Mexican citizens rose up in 1910 to depose President Porfirio Diaz who ruled over them off and on for nearly four decades.

While anarchist anger dominated the 20th century, does the same hold true now?  Studying the Trump clan, I can’t help but conjure up images of the Romanovs.  Economic inequality is just as great now as it was a hundred years ago.  We’ve returned to that “Gilded Age” period where the bulk of the world’s wealth and power sit in the grubby hands of a privileged few.  The recent “Great Recession” was the worst economic downturn the U.S. had experienced since the “Great Depression.”  Both debacles were the result of greed and political incompetence; the former mess instigated by the verbally-challenged scion of another monarchal-type dynasty: the Bush family.  Aside from producing two of the worst presidencies within a generation, the Bush clan’s close ties to the Saudi royal family essentially allowed planning for and execution of the 9/11 events to go unnoticed; thus culminating in one misguided war and another illegitimate one, as the economy glided atop a housing bubble that didn’t just pop – it exploded.  If regulations and measures a liberal president had established some eight decades ago hadn’t been in place, both the U.S. economy and the U.S. populace would have sunk into chaotic and murderous oblivion.

Power and wealth usually go together; conjoined twins that sometimes have no mercy for the commoners squirming beneath them.  The leftist “Occupy Wall Street” movement didn’t gain as much traction as the right-wing “Tea Party,” which claimed passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in 2010 as the seeds of their founding; when, in fact, it was the election of the nation’s first biracial president that pissed them off.  If they were so upset about undue taxation, they would have put blame for the economic downturn where it belonged: on the backs of their own Washington leaders who keep propagating the myth of “trickle-down economics.”

But the rise of a foul-mouthed, thrice-married bombastic businessman to the highest office in the land has lit another fire beneath millions of ordinary Americans frustrated with a “jobless recovery”; no one going to jail for causing the recent banking / home loan debacle; and endless conflicts in the Middle East.  The illegitimacy of Donald Trump’s placement in the White House makes a mockery of the American democratic experience.  Our 18th century predecessors carefully designed a unique concept of governing and valiantly fought against the very people who brought them here.  The United States was an outlandish experiment that could have gone seriously wrong if so many people hadn’t realized its true value and potential over the ensuing centuries.  As a nation, we didn’t want a group of self-righteous elitists – families riddled with colorblindness, hemophilia and unbridled arrogance – to rule over us and not be questioned.  Our American forbears understood that humanity must work as a unit to achieve the best possible society.  The various civil rights actions of the past 200 years – from abolitionism to gay/lesbian rights – have helped to refine this strange idea known as democracy.

Looking again at the Trump clan, I still can’t help but think of the Romanovs and realize how much they all have in common.  However, I don’t wish the same fate upon the Trumps.  As brutal as we often seem to the international community, that’s not what Americans do or who we are.

Either way, we didn’t want or need a royal family 240 years ago to impose its fickle will upon our lives – and we don’t want or need one now.

 

Film footage of Tsar Nicholas II’s coronation in May 1896.  It’s one of the earliest known (and one of the fewest surviving) motion pictures and the first known example of the new medium utilized to capture a major news event.

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