Wednesday, December 24, 2014

The SONY Situation

“Behind the phony tinsel of Hollywood
lies the real tinsel.”  Oscar Levant, (1906 - 1972) 

As someone who strongly believes in the importance of free speech and uncensored creative expression, I have of course been extremely interested in and concerned about the “SONY Situation.” This is extremely important because it’s about a whole lot more than a controversial movie. It is a seminal 21st Century dilemma: the first major confluence of new technology, violent and cyber terrorism, the traditional American definition of Democracy, culture clash, Capitalism, electronic news media, and human behavior in the still-developing “new normal.” This is a big subject but I’ll tackle what I can in this post.

I started writing this post at least a week ago, and there have been new developments in the past couple of days. So to summarize the incident that provoked an international mess: SONY, a giant American entertainment company, was grievously cyber attacked by North Korean extremists (and possibly the NK government itself) because it produced a satirical comedy film about the assassination of the real-life, sitting, North Korean president, Kim Jong-un. The news media ill-advisedly but not surprisingly focused on the celebrity gossip revealed by the hack-attack instead of the depth and implications of the attack itself.

Then, SONY and America were threatened with 9/11-scale attacks against movie theaters if the film was released. All of the country’s theater chains united in their refusal to show the film; Sony announced it would not release the film (like they had a choice, once the theaters decided not to show it); and much of the film industry and some politicians, including President Obama, criticized SONY for giving in to threats, because nobody can tell us what kind of movies we can and cannot make, and, America shouldn’t surrender its core freedoms out of fear.

The irony is we already have surrendered some of our core freedoms out of fear. America was rattled to its previously complacent bones by the 9/11 attacks, though we were determined not to let it show. President John Wayne Bush stood on the World Trade Center rubble and literally told the terrorists to “bring it on,” to prove that our national balls, pride, and courage were undefeatably enormous.

But a few weeks later, Congress and the Senate passed the Patriot Act with whiplash speed. It is still in place, giving the government’s numerous intelligence and security agencies unprecedented permission to spy, bug, physically gather, and in other ways obtain private information about individuals, to basically do whatever they deem necessary to whomever they regard as  suspicious in the name of national security.

Some Americans and some organizations objected. In the minority quarters that value privacy and civil rights for individuals, Ben Franklin’s sage quotation: They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety was dusted off and given new exposure. But it didn’t change anything because it turns out that most Americans are willing to exchange “essential liberty” (privacy, free speech, creative expression, etc.) for whatever sense of safety they can secure.

In the last few days, the country and the companies (SONY and the theaters) seem to have decided to macho-man-up again. President Obama asked China to do what they can to keep North Korea in check. It was suggested that North Korea be added to our official “watch” list of nations/organizations most likely to attempt a terrorist attack, though at this moment I don’t know if that’s been done. Some theaters decided to change their corporate minds about showing the film, and SONY, it appears, has changed its mind about releasing it, even if it will be a more limited release than originally planned. For a Christmas Day debut. Merry Christmas. 

Now we come to our national love affair with technology – which is really just our most recent infatuation with a big, shiny, major new toy, a love that knows no bounds and sees no downside until the initial glow wears off, and that process can take quite a while. We embraced the Information Age with the same passion we lavished on the Industrial Revolution.

I’m not saying America or the world would all be better off living like the Amish. I’m just pointing out that we have a history of plunging into the seductive technically new in the present, without regard for its impact on what we value from the past, or anticipating the potential disadvantages of the presently new in the future. This is especially concerning now as we further explore artificial intelligence and robotics in a spirit of childlike wonder.

Through technology, what used to be a great big world has, from the 19th Century on, become a much smaller one. Throw differing religions, cultures, economics and politics into the mix and it becomes quite a muddle. Add poor education, increased poverty, huge gaps in human rights and civil rights, terrorism, war and other forms of armed conflict, environmental change, and population growth, and you have the complex quagmire we call Now.

So, in regard to the “Sony Situation,” I believe that our 18th Century ideas of what Freedom and Democracy allow for were and are rightly challenged, not just by outside anger and danger, but also by a certain measure of contemporary common sense as well. In every discussion of free speech, it is pointed out that while people should have an unfettered right to express their ideas and opinions, they don’t have the right to be irresponsible – such as shouting Fire! Fire! in a crowded movie theater when there is no fire.

I am of the opinion that in this day and age, producing a major motion picture about the assassination of any named, real-life, sitting president of any country – even a bizarre little despot like Kim Jong-un – is the creative equivalent of Fire! Fire!, especially when you consider that totalitarian dictators and the populations they rule have no working concept of humor, let alone satire. And just because one has the right and freedom to do something doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to do it.

What would the American response be if a foreign country – say France, England or Australia, all of which have thriving film industries, unlike our chief national enemies – made a satirical comedy about the assassination of the named, specific, actual Barack Obama? The President himself, who has a great sense of humor and understands the concept of satire, would probably just roll with the punches as he has with everything that’s been thrown at him. But I doubt Mrs. Obama would appreciate it, nor would the Democratic Party, nor would many Americans who support, even love, the President. We wouldn’t be hearing about free speech and creative freedom in that scenario.

The “SONY Situation” puts the company, the film industry, and the government in the satirically comic position of having to defend a film that shouldn’t have been made in the first place, in the name of free speech, creative freedom, and not allowing other countries to push us around. Why? In no small part because of Capitalism. America’s leading export is entertainment: film, television, music, video games and increasingly stand-up comedy. And for many years now, Hollywood product in all categories has been built on a foundation of graphic violence, drugs and sex.

So when our government tells us that terrorists hate us for our freedom, that is only part of the truth. They also hate us for the nature and content of our popular culture, our military intervention in their countries, and our constant efforts at regime change (what we like to call nation building). We are determined to spread Democracy and Capitalism, two different things that many Americans think are the same.

I know there are critical human rights issues at stake, but it’s not a simple matter to resolve and we tend to make our efforts to fix and change things in a manner that other countries find decidedly objectionable. They think we’re crazy, just as we think they’re crazy. I do think they’re much crazier than we are. However, we have little with which to defend ourselves. Because our other top export is Consumerism – in concept and action. Ours is a youth-&-beauty-obsessed, celebrity-worshiping, materialistic culture. We value money, power, prestige and things more than people. We are the least developed nation among all developed nations when it comes to economic equality, education, health care, and our regard for the poor and elderly.

I think the current defense of The Interview, filled with Constitutional dismay about SONY’s initial response, is misplaced: the right defense for the wrong thing. Where was a similar torrent of outrage when NewSouth Books put a fig leaf on Huckleberry Finn by changing the use of “nigger” to “slave,” even though this is a classic work of fiction that reflects the accurate, actual use of language in its historical place in time? 

Hasn’t the rigidity of political correctness also mindlessly and uncreatively undermined free speech and creative expression? Comedian Lenny Bruce, poet Allen Ginsberg, and photographer Robert Mapplethorpe were never given the succor of the First Amendment in their time, even though they richly deserved it. The "SONY Situation" requires a lot of thought and deserves much intelligent discussion – but The Interview is a regrettable launch pad for it.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

How Many Light Bulbs Does It Take To Change America?

Don Henley’s “The End of the Innocence” is playing as I write this because for the last few weeks (and more) that’s what’s happened for a lot us – those of us paying attention, those of us who don’t have the money or the heart to get lost in the Christmas hustle that feels so unimportant and unreal this year. We as a nation have been awash in waves of shame and pride: our own, each others, those of leaders and idols and ordinary people turned into symbols they never wanted to be.

Yesterday’s CIA “Torture Report” was so revolting it actually inspired bipartisan anger and shame in the Senate. We already knew “intensified interrogation techniques” (G-d save us from the danger of euphemisms) had been used after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the governmental zeal to preempt further assaults. But we didn’t how deeply, cruelly “intensified” they were, or for how long they went on, against so many people, and how ineptly and chaotically the process was handled. “This isn’t who we are,” said an aggrieved President Obama about the program approved by his predecessor. But it is. It’s a big part of who we are and have always been, in spirit, from the genocide of the Indians through Slavery, Jim Crow, Vietnam, and the deeply divided country we’ve become.

And from Ferguson to Staten Island to Cleveland (among others), the recent racial conflicts between police and young Black men (and a child) have made it plain that largely White law enforcement still doesn’t know how to cope with Black communities; that the Judicial System is equally broken and ignorant; and that Americans of all ages and colors are still capable of uniting in peaceful, nonviolent protest against the cancer of racism. Dirty waves of shame, cleansing waves of pride.

A lot of people – mostly White – thought the election of President Obama showed that racism was over in America, an idea that would be hilarious if it weren’t so treacherously untrue. I recall the young, rousing, Barack Obama speaking at the 2004 Democratic Convention saying there was no Black America or White America, just One America. I understood how much he wanted that to be so. I too am biracial and when I was still quite young, I believed it was my destiny, my responsibility, to be a communicator and a racial unifier, because I had a foot in both worlds. I never did figure out how to do that and, it turns out, neither has Barack Obama, even though he’s a whole lot smarter than I am and worked a million times harder.

The unfortunate, revealing, truth is Obama’s election fueled a resurgence of rampant, outspoken, unapologetic racism. I’m sure he expected some push-back, but I think even he was taken off-guard by how forceful it’s been. I don’t think he expected it would grind Congress to a halt, or lead a right-slanted Supreme Court to eviscerate the Voting Rights Act in the midst of a nationwide Voter Suppression Movement, or that he would be called an illegitimate president who is behaving like a king because he’s done the same kinds of things the White presidents did – mainly, behaving like The President.

As we enter a two-year campaign for the 2016 presidential election (please, shoot me now), the pundits are discussing the Obama Legacy, as if it can be assessed just like any other presidency. His legacy, for the record, is that he kept us out of another Great Depression, re-grew the economy quite impressively with no help from either house of Congress, achieved a first attempt at something resembling national health care insurance even though it’s woefully sloppy and over-detailed, accomplished a bushel of things few people either know about or remember (take a look at the White House website), appointed two progressive women to the Supreme Court, conducted himself with presidential dignity in the face of consistent disrespect, managed to get re-elected and be a two-term president, and to date has avoided assassination, even though, it would appear, the Secret Service doesn’t entirely have his back.

Now the media are asking what he’s going to do about racism in America – especially since he’s worked so hard to be The President, not The Black President, and hasn’t wanted to make White people feel…excluded? ignored? uncared for? The irony here (one of several) is that even though White people hold all the cards, a lot of them always feel short-changed because they think poor people and minorities get all the breaks and benefits. They really believe that! The same way rich people (who, except for a handful of entertainers and athletes, are pretty much exclusively White) think they’re taken advantage of because they’re rich. The mind reels.

I guess we’ll have to [hope and] wait for Hillary Clinton. Maybe she can do something about “race relations,” since paying any attention to women’s issues would clearly be favoritism. Shame and pride, pride and shame, and the increased loss of personal and national innocence as the eternal foibles of reality bubble up. And I don’t even have room left to talk about Bill Cosby.

Sunday, November 09, 2014

Solutions

It’s a cool, dry, late Sunday morning here in New York City and if I had the emotional strength, I could be watching the major, weekly political talk shows (Meet the Press and such) that are no doubt now taking the “long view” perspective on Tuesday’s election (in 21st century time, that’s five days later instead of five minutes later). But I have my own long view perspective, and, I’ve received several emails over the past few days offering very specific approaches to what ails us as a nation, the contents of which I want to share with you. They show that there is hope, there are things everyone can do.

My own perspective is that what will happen legislatively over the next two years is anybody’s guess, because the Republicans are not going to stop being who they are – although it appears that the less wildly crazy wing of the party seems to now be in charge. But their core allegiance to the rich and corporate, and their inbred lack of understanding and concern for everyone and everything else, remains intact.

The President, while being genuinely willing to negotiate and compromise – which he has been willing to do since Day One, while the Republicans have been busy hating him and obstructing everything he’s tried to do – is, I believe, also more intent on pushing forward with the things he actually believes in, the things he hasn’t heretofore been very aggressive about, to the consternation of his Progressive base. So what will actually happen is a crap shoot and will no doubt be interesting and aggravating to watch.

Fortunately, there are people out there, people with actual political power, who see some opportunities for Democrats (legislators and ordinary citizens alike) to get their act together and begin to articulate a cohesive message as they move through the molasses-paced 2016 campaign that has already begun, with a simple and sensible agenda.

My first email came from the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, which published an op-ed on the political website, The Hill, entitled “Route to Power for Democrats: Big Ideas,” which espouses the reasonable, progressive, Sen. Elizabeth Warren agenda of “taking on Wall Street, reducing student debt, and expanding Social Security benefits,” as a primary message that all practical working people can get behind.

The second message came from Sen. Bernie Sanders, whose primary message is that the influence of Big Money in politics (a privilege for the rich so smoothly sanctioned by the Supreme Court’s legitimization of the democracy-busting Citizen’s United fundraising operation) must be eradicated. He also stresses that the enormity of Income Inequality, which pits the tiny but extraordinarily wealthy Billionaire Class (several hundred families holding 95% of the nation’s wealth) against the rest of us (that famous, or infamous, 1% vs. 99% equation) must be balanced with significant tax reform, a stronger labor movement, and a federally-increased minimum wage.

To increase public involvement in and support for this agenda, one of the many things Sen. Sanders is doing is proposing that Election Day be made a Federal Holiday called Democracy Day to promote the meaning and importance of democracy and the vital role that ordinary folks play in it by voting (and making it easier to vote because as a federal holiday, people will get a paid day off from work). He has proposed a bill and created a petition that you can sign.

Last but not least came a wonderful article by one Mark Morford published in San Francisco’s SFGate entitled “The Best Worst President Ever,” which strives to explain why much of the middle and upper classes have come to embrace the Republican Big Lie that Barack Obama is the “worst President ever.” No one can deny that the President has made mistakes and is not a perfect person or a perfect President (no human is perfect!). But many people are willing to entirely dismiss his considerable accomplishments for both political – and racist – reasons. This is a good and important read. 

Indeed, if you click on all the links in this blog post you will learn a lot more about how progressive Democrats and Independents (and maybe even secretly-rational Republicans) can work from this important point forward to avoid the United States of America turning into a full-scale oligarchy disaster.

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Now What?

I watched British mysteries on PBS until 11:00 last night, because I didn’t want to see election returns until there was more certainty about the results. When I finally clicked onto MSNBC, everyone was talking so fast and so much was flashing quickly on and off the screen that it took me a few minutes to understand what was going on – but it didn’t take too long. Democrats had been creamed from coast to coast. There were renewed and additional Republican Governors; more Republicans in the House with an increase in Tea Party crazies; and indeed, the Republicans had taken over the Senate.

Today, those of us who were listening heard Mitch McConnell (by political necessity) and President Obama (by leadership responsibility) talk about working together more productively on issues about which they can find some measure of common ground – chiefly immigration reform, infrastructure repair, and foreign trade (according to the President). But neither of these leopards has changed his ideological spots. McConnell is no friend of the common (wo)man or liberal ideals, and the President is still firm on general health care, the funding of the “Big 3” benefit programs (Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid) and environmental realities – including, of course, climate change.

I’ve also been watching political analysis throughout the day and there seems to be general agreement that there will be less gridlock and more actual governance than the Republicans have allowed over the past six years; that the Republicans successfully communicated the idea that the nation’s ills were the President’s fault and managed to avoid addressing real issues at all; and that the Democrats shot themselves in their fractured, disconnected feet by not unifying behind the President’s considerable achievements. It was also felt that those Americans who voted, as well as those who didn’t, were both expressing their anger with what has become the dysfunctional status quo.

What politicians in both parties will do from hereon in remains to be seen. But what can we, as citizens, do to influence their actions? I didn’t hear/read any discussion of this, which I find both peculiar and unfortunate. Because in the final analysis, all politicians want votes. They spend huge amounts of money to get votes and accept that money from some very questionable characters. Ironically and importantly, many, if not most, Americans are not political junkies. Many Democrats campaigned on the dangers of Big Money in politics, in particular the bedeviled influence of the Koch Brothers. Apparently most people don’t know who they are or care. And many people don’t connect the dots between their own hard times and Big Money, its key reactionary donors, and the ever-increasing wealth of the 1% (there are now twice as many billionaires as there were before the 2008 crash).

Indeed, virtually all of the pundits I heard today agreed that what most people care about is that they’re increasingly broke; unemployed or under-employed; can’t handle their debt, especially education debt; and fear for their future and their children’s future. In other words, most people are concerned with their own lives and don’t see how their own circumstances fit into the larger, total picture. I hate to imagine that most people are that stupid, that narrow in their perspective, but nothing else explains 2/3 of eligible voters not voting, and the 1/3 that did largely casting their lot with the party that the President doesn’t belong to, because they believe Daddy President should make things better for them and he hasn’t so he’s a bad Daddy President. As the radicals I hung out with in my 20s used to say, “Gimme a break, gimme a gun.” 

If I thought a well conceived and efficiently organized Liberal Revolution were possible, I’d advocate for one. Alas, I don’t think it is, so I don’t. Instead, under the heading “Now What?” I advocate the following: (1) pay closer attention to the news, get your news from more than one source, and start connecting the dots (2) write to everyone in your political world: Mayor, City Council President, State Senator & Assembly-person, U.S. Congress-person & Senators, and the President. Tell them what issues you care about, both the ones that affect you directly and the rest that you recognize affect us all as a nation and as citizens of the world, and (3) remember that democracy is a living, breathing thing made up of all of us thinking critically and participating in the political process. Use the next two years to get ready and in 2016 be fully aware of what’s what and what’s right and vote accordingly. It’s the only real shot we’ve got.

Monday, November 03, 2014

I Know, But PLEASE Vote Anyway!

When I think of the brave efforts made and terrible horrors endured by both the Suffragists of the early 20th century and the Civil Rights activists of the 50s and 60s so that women and blacks could secure the right to vote, it makes me very sad that so many people today have come to view voting as pointless.

I do understand why. Our governments – locally, statewide and federally – have become completely co-opted by Big Money: corporations, lobbyists for various industries, and rich individuals, whose only concerns are maintaining and furthering their own interests. In both houses of Congress, the vast majority of Representatives and Senators are (1) male, (2) white and (3) millionaires, multi-millionaires and a few billionaires. Their concern seems to be getting elected (and re-elected) to their cushy jobs with good salaries (everyone needs pin money), extraordinary benefits & perks, and very brief actual-work periods.

The Republicans, once a stodgy party interested primarily in minimal government spending and low taxes for the upper middle class and rich (when rich wasn’t yet obscenely ├╝ber wealthy), has moved so far to the Lunatic Fringe Right and Ultra Conservative that they have zero concern for anybody’s human rights, civil rights, health & well-being, education, or anything else that should accompany citizenship for all citizens. In the name of Christianity (which shouldn’t even be in the picture!), they’ve decided that they and they alone hold the moral high ground on every conceivable issue. And ever since the election of America’s first black President, all that has been transparent is their racism and determination to prevent him from functioning – and they’ve made a good job of it!

But perhaps even more disappointing are the Democrats. We know who and what the Republicans are. But who and what are the Democrats? They’re disconnected from each other; generally cowardly when it comes to speaking to and acting against any sort of formidable, oppositional power; they have been unsupportive of their own President; and as a result of all this, have failed utterly to combat the 1% on behalf of the rest of us. They appear to be a bit more willing and able to rise to the occasion for this critical mid-term election and the endless campaign for the 2016 Presidency that will immediately follow, but still, it is indeed hard to work up a whole lot of enthusiasm for them. 

ALL THAT SAID, IT IS STILL VITALLY IMPORTANT THAT EVERYONE WHO CAN VOTE MAKE IT TO THE POLLS TOMORROW. There is no same day registration/voting in NYC (I checked); I don’t know about the rest of the state, or whatever locale and state you live in. But unlike Presidential elections, during which you might legitimately feel that your blue or red state is going to go blue or red with or without you, EVERY SINGLE VOTE IN THIS ELECTION MATTERS, BECAUSE EVERYTHING IS DETERMINED BY THE POPULAR VOTE

If you don’t want to render President Obama completely impotent for the next two years, the Democrats, for all their weaknesses, must NOT lose control of the Senate. There are opportunities nationwide to get rid of some entrenched Republican Congressional representatives or avoid new ones. There are critical Governorships and State Senatorial races. There are important Propositions on the ballots of many states. There is an opportunity tomorrow to show by our numbers that we’re here and we do care about the governments we have. We may not be able to make great strides this time around, but we can rattle the status quo – perhaps just enough to enlarge Democratic balls and impact for 2016. Don’t give up yet. Please vote tomorrow and give what’s left of American democracy a fighting chance.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Working For Tips

There is presently a lot of heated social conversation about people who traditionally receive tips as part of their pay for work – namely those in the restaurant-bar, hotel, taxi-limousine, beauty service and travel service industries. They legally receive what’s known as a sub-minimum wage (apx. $5.00/hour) from their employers, because their tips, supposedly, bring them up to a living wage. That wasn’t true 30 or 40 years ago and it’s even worse now. That’s because more and more Americans, either out of ignorance or cheapness, are leaving smaller and fewer tips. So the question is: should the sub-minimum wage be increased? Would it surprise you to know that many Americans are saying no?

Tipping is a uniquely American custom, something Americans traveling abroad are delighted to discover and foreigners visiting here often learn to their embarrassment the first time they stiff a waiter or cab driver. There’s an irony here, since it appears that tipping began in the 1600s in England when men drinking in taverns gave money to servers “to insure promptitude” or T.I.P for short.

When the practice started to make its way into American bars and restaurants in the late 1890s, a movement against it rose up. Many Americans felt it was in opposition to the country’s ideals of class equality and would lead to the development of a “servile class” that would be rendered financially dependent on the rich. But the custom persisted – and grew – here, nonetheless.

Over time, tipping somehow went out of favor (in some instances out of legality) in Europe, and indeed created that “servile class” in America – which has never been a classless society, despite our delusions to the contrary. This explains why many Americans resent tipping and/or look down on people who work for tips and/or are ashamed to work in jobs that receive tips.

I was the daughter of a man who spent most of his working life first as a waiter and then as a skycap. He worked for tips. He worked very hard and put up with an assortment of indignities, but still never made enough to support a family, which is why my mother worked in the 1950s when most women were still housewives.

She worked until the 1980s, pouring her considerable intelligence into the bottomless, low-paying well of the pink ghetto, first as a bookkeeper, then as a comptroller, and finally as the manager of the subscription department of an elite specialty business newspaper – where she signed her letters “L. Browne,” lest the high-powered male subscribers suspect she was a woman. And meanwhile, my black father smiled as he allowed white people to rub his head for luck in the hope it would earn him a larger tip.

Since Ronald Reagan (whom I still blame for everything), America has been creating an economy and social mindset guided by millionaire Republican belief that the population is made up of Makers and Takers, an idea that middle class and working class Republicans buy into. That’s why so many people still think that teenagers are the ones working minimum-wage jobs, when the truth is, most teens can’t find jobs because the jobs they used to have are now held by adults trying to make a living and support their families. People working for tips are also doing the same thing.

In case you haven’t noticed, unless you (or you and your partner/spouse, if you have one) are bringing in a six-figure salary, nothing in America is affordable, anywhere – not housing, utilities, food, gas, a night at the movies, nothing – except clothing, house wares, and the smart electronic devices everyone loves so much, all of which are sold cheap because they’re made by indentured and child labor through the American “job creators” who are actually outsourcing those jobs to Third World countries. Welcome to the 21st century. 

It’s time to raise the minimum wage and the sub-minimum wage, federally. And it’s time for Americans who eat in American restaurants, stay in American hotels, ride in American taxis – etc. – to ante up and leave a decent 15-20% tip.  You’re not tipping for extraordinarily wonderful service, you’re tipping because that’s what we do here. It’s the American way.

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Big Changes in Medicare

If you have health care coverage through Medicare, don’t forget that between October 15th and December 7th Medicare folks have to decide if we’re going to keep our current plan (different versions of straight Medicare or a Medicare Advantage plan, which operates like an HMO or PPO) or opt for a different one. If you decide to keep your plan, you don’t have to do anything. But if you want to change your plan, it has to be done by December 7th - a day that now lives in infamy for this additional reason (in addition to Pearl Harbor, young people).

This year, it’s worth noting that in many instances, what is covered and to what extent it’s covered, has changed more substantially than in previous years. That’s because very extensive budget cuts were made that we’re really going to feel in 2015 and beyond. I have the Blue Cross/Blue Shield Advantage Plan and my co-pays will increase; it seems that some of the medications I take are no longer covered; and there is now a deductible for medications as well as higher prescription costs. I’ve learned this by just quickly glancing at the phone-book-sized package of information I received from BC/BS. I haven’t even had a chance to look at the government’s phone book, “Medicare and You,” but I’m going to have to review them both very carefully and probably make a few phone calls, too.

However, I did come across two articles that nicely summarize what’s going on and can help us plow through this frustrating process: one from Fiscal Times and one in The New York Times, both of which are more than worth a click, so I urge you to click on these links and help yourself understand what’s new, ‘cause it ain’t good news. Note that both articles suggest you also visit the official Medicare site, which is a good idea, as is contacting your current plan (the stuff they send you includes a phone number). And by the way, if you haven’t yet received your “phone book” (you should have gotten it by September 30th), call your plan and request it. Ditto for the government tome.

I supported the Affordable Care Act and I still do. It’s apparently doing some good for millions of Americans who had no health coverage or really bad or quite unaffordable coverage. But I haven’t forgotten that it was constructed from a very big, very sloppy law with far too much input from insurance and pharmaceutical companies. And the hateful, dysfunctional GOP forced Medicare cuts to help pay for it. After all, what else could possibly have been cut and the idea of tax reform that forces rich individuals and corporations to pay more is out of the question!

The plain fact is, all health care coverage in America is bad, primarily because health care in this country is a profit-making business. If you’re on Medicare (or anything else) and are sick or get sick or need major surgery, you’re screwed. Even if you have a Medicare Supplement Plan, you’re screwed. If you don’t have plenty of your own money to supplement your health care plan – whatever it is, including Medicare – you’re screwed. Indeed, having enormous medical bills they can’t possibly pay is now the primary reason that people go bankrupt – by the millions – and that situation is only going to get worse.

So, after you spend a cozy night by the fire with your latest Medicare information materials – and try to resist throwing them into the fire – I strongly suggest you phone or email the offices of your Senators and Congressional Representative and let them know that the Medicare budget cuts are doing you harm. I promise you that a deluge of such communications will not go unnoticed by them. You might want to do this both before and after the November election – in which I urgently hope you plan to participate. 

Wake up and smell the calendar. It’s not the 20th century anymore.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Good News!

For those of you who feel I never have anything positive to say, I’m pleased to announce that I have GOOD NEWS! There is an organization – you may have already heard of it – called Debt Collective (DC). It was started by and for young Americans whose lives are colored straight out of the college gate by crippling levels of student loan debt.

Collectively (as it were), the amount of student debt in America is $1.2 trillion, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. An appalling figure. And as DC explains, “If you owe the bank thousands of dollars, then the bank owns you. But if you owe the bank millions, then you own the bank.” 

Which is to say, if you try to lessen the burden of your student loan as an individual, one person vs. a massive, uncaring, money-grubbing institution – a balance of power that suits the banks just fine – you’re not likely to get anywhere better than where you are right now: screwed. But if you get together with lots of other folks in the same situation, then you radically change the status quo and ergo the balance of power.

Not since the wholesome, effective, beginning of the American Labor Movement, which fought to get working people the 5-day week, the 8-hour day, improvements in workplace conditions, and the right to bargain collectively (through unions) for better wages and benefits, has such a bold, creative, non-violent yet we-ain’t-playin’ initiative been undertaken in the age-old war between The Little Guy and The System. Yes, this is a big step in the much-needed contemporary Class War I’ve written about previously – but if I had said so at the start, you probably wouldn’t still be reading this.

After its inception, DC broadened its fight against debt to include medical, housing, and credit card debt – debt that threatens millions of Americans in numerous, onerous ways, from losing their homes to having their wages garnished to not having enough money left for basic/essential living expenses (like food and utilities) once they’ve made their monthly debt payments. And as the photo above illustrates (getting back to the horrors of education debt), former students face special punishments even if they’ve been faithfully paying off their debt for years, because, thanks to usury-level interest rates, their debt never ends!

DC describes its mission this way: “What can a Debt Collective Do? – The goal of the Debt Collective is to create a platform by debtors and for debtors for organization, advocacy, and resistance. Organizing collectively offers many possibilities for building power against creditors: As we build membership, we can organize debtors into groups based on region, type of debt, or institution. These groups can bargain with creditors or even develop the power to threaten a debt strike. A debt collective can help create a positive vision for a sustainable economy in which credit would be used to benefit everyone and not to line the pockets of a few.” 

So, if you’re currently carrying more debt than you can handle, whether it be an underwater mortgage, a strangle-hold of credit cards, or a student loan that’s preventing you from creating your future, I strongly encourage you to click on this Debt Collective link and join Debt Collective. I did and I’m glad I did. I feel better and I’m looking forward to hearing from them about what the next steps will be.

To those who have little or no debt and sniff judgmentally at those who do, thinking (or outright saying), “Well, you knowingly incurred these debts, why are you crabbing about having to pay them back?,” let me say the following.

I started to write a detailed explanation about why so much of contemporary indebtedness can’t be dismissed as irresponsible and I had written a lot of it; it was running way too long. I also realized the main thought running through my head was “Fuck you, you don’t get it, go read another blog.” So I’m not going to “justify” anything I’ve written above to those who don’t understand this situation. Fuck you, you don’t get it, go read another blog.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Coming Out of the Pain Closet

I add my voice to the chorus of millions worldwide who mourn the loss of Robin Williams, a bright genius light we loved who, unbeknownst to us, spent much of his private time in an overwhelming darkness, a despair so strong that it trumped fame, fortune, and the true love of family and friends. He suffered – oh, man did he suffer – from severe, chronic, clinical Depression.

So it’s unfair and downright ignorant to think he was insane or selfish because he killed himself. He was neither of those things. He also wasn’t “taking the easy way out” of something we don’t know about. His death is a tragedy – not just because he was who he was: a greatly multi-talented man of only 63 – but because he died of a disease that we as a society don’t understand, don’t talk about, and for which there are a variety of often inadequate treatments and no cure.

Which is why I believe that the best way to honor Robin Williams is not with mourning or tributes or film festivals or posthumous awards. Our greatest tribute would be creating greater awareness and understanding of Depression, in the same way that Rock Hudson’s death set America on a path of greater awareness and understanding of AIDS. 

And that must begin with the millions of Americans who cope with this disease Coming Out of the Pain Closet, risking and fighting the stupid stigma attached to it, and talking about it. So here and now I’m going to walk my talk and Come Out. I have Depression. I’ve had it at least since I was a teenager. I’ve been taking different anti-depressants (with varying degrees of success) for decades.

My mother and my maternal grandfather had it. Other relatives on both sides of my family had it. Some of them, like me, spent some time on the psych wards of general hospitals. Some of them attempted suicide. Others, like me, just thought about it. A lot. It destroyed some of their lives.

It sure has fucked up mine. It led to a nervous breakdown in 2003 and my not functioning very well ( ! ) for the past ten years. I wasn’t functioning very well before the nervous breakdown. I had a thriving business as a freelance writer that I ran into the ground because, increasingly, I couldn’t meet deadlines or make it to meetings.

I became a compulsive TV shopper and was one day short of eviction from my apartment because I was shopping away the rent money. Addictive behavior is a common component of Depression. My privacy and independence were imposed upon by a NYC agency called APS – Adult Protective Services. That was how I avoided eviction.

After my breakdown I became a virtual hermit. I didn’t leave the house for months at a time. I didn’t bathe or dress for months at a time. (These two are also common components of Depression.) Thanks to a legal aid-type lawyer I ended up on permanent Social Security Disability in my early 50s – but I was on Welfare for a couple of months waiting for the Disability to kick in. That in itself was a shameful nightmare. Shame is a big element in Depression.

I had a home health care aide for eight years. I became agoraphobic (fear of going outdoors) and only made it to doctor visits because of the aide. I also developed an anxiety disorder, as well as a condition called “hyper vigilance,” which means I’m unhinged by loud, dangerous noises. To this day, if a fire engine screams down the avenue outside my window and at the same time the phone and the intercom from the lobby ring, I cover my head and duck.

I’m much better now than I used to be. But it’s not “over.” Depression still colors and limits my life. Mine became acute in 1995 when my mother died. I held on for my father’s sake (although I was starting to screw up). When he died in 1999, I really began to fall apart. When my aunt, my last surviving blood relative, died in 2001, my tether shortened and tightened. By the end of 2003 I was gone. I got to a point, pretty soon, where I could sort of function at home, but not a lot and not very well.

For a couple of years, I cooked dinner nearly every night for a frail, very elderly friend/neighbor. It helped her and it helped me. I could put on a good face for the occasional others who came here, largely thanks to my aide, but I couldn’t go down to the lobby to get my mail. I spent most of my time sleeping and watching TV. I became concerned about the state of the nation and started this blog. But I did very little else. The occasional writing assignment, however small, stressed me out. Why did all of this happen?

Because Depression is a brain disease – just as Alzheimer’s, autism, and dyslexia are brain diseases. Depression is also a mental illness. It’s not in the same class as schizophrenia, but it is a mental illness. That’s why people who have it are ashamed, and those who don’t, stigmatize it. And they don’t get it. There are different kinds of Depression and different levels of it. Mine was fairly serious and not everything is detailed in what I’ve just described. But I know it was less than Williams' nightmare because I'm still here. Can you imagine the intensity of what he went through?!

My depression was exacerbated by long-term grief and it stays with me, in part, because I’m pretty broke (financially), in debt, and very lonely. All but one of my local friends relocated, died or dumped me. And even some of those who hung in with me didn’t really get what was wrong with me. They thought I had gone from being an active, well-kempt, successful businesswoman to being a sad, lazy, slob because I was giving in to myself and just not trying.

Well, I’m trying now. And it’s a daily bitch. There are still things I can’t do, in part because I also have physical ailments. I still think about suicide a lot. But I don’t want to die, really, I want to get better, I want treatment for this disease that still impacts my life. Maybe now that sweet, sick Robin Williams has paved the way, my hopes will be realized.

Should you be Coming Out of the Pain Closet? Do you now realize that someone you know is in it? Do you understand a little better that it’s not just self-indulgent “feeling sorry for yourself”?

Do you appreciate that people with Depression who can function at all are brave warriors? Did you know that Depression is at epidemic levels in America? Do you realize that 22 returned US service people commit suicide each day – 22 a day! That’s largely because of PTSD, which is a complex brain disease that includes Depression and a whole lot more.

I sure hope you know more, and better, now – or I’ve just spilled my guts to you and all over the Internet for nothing. But no, not for nothing. For Robin. And for the too many like him. May awareness, understanding, and brain science increase really quickly. There are too many suffering in the closet.


Friday, August 01, 2014

“There’s Somethin’ Happenin’ Here…

…And what it is ain’t exactly clear,” but it’s getting less fuzzy with each passing day. I haven’t written a post in quite a while (sorry about that), partly because I’ve been busy with other things, but mostly because the events of the past three weeks or so have left me uncharacter-istically speechless. I’m angry, confused, sad, and feeling rather hopeless – more so than usual. And as one who chooses not to keep up with today’s exceedingly mediocre pop culture (particularly during the Stupid Summer Film season), it wasn’t until Thursday night’s Sharknado attack that I realized much of the country must feel the same way. A critical level of Mass Ennui, a sense that everything is coming apart at the seams. America is having a nervous breakdown.

For sure, there have been hints coming from my circle (more of a long extended zig-zag line, really) of friends. One is coming undone, losing her sense of personal identity due to the injuries of a super-concussion and a host of huge related stresses. Another is feeling totally empty, pointless, worthless, also no clear sense of self because of PTSD, aging, and depression. Yet another is at the end of her rope from a job she loathes and a year’s worth of aggressive but fruitless job-hunting. Others are feeling generally desperate; still others are keeping frantically busy; most are burdened with pressing responsibilities and an obstacle course of additional problems. We’re all dumbfounded by the state of the nation, world events, and a hazy, unpredictable future. We’re all soldiering on, but most of us are ready to plotz.

Here’s a list (in essentially random order) of the things about which I’ve felt I have nothing new or important to contribute in the ongoing social and media conversations:

1) The inexplicable behavior of a fantastically do-nothing, primarily absent Congress led by a man totally lacking in courage or conviction about anything.
2) The increasing power of a wildly extreme right-wing minority fringe that is swallowing the already-unrealistic, heartless, GOP.
3) The frantic, disjointed, disheartened Democrats who are spread thin across a vast spectrum of urgent issues about which they can do essentially nothing.
4) A smart, even-tempered, President who is being attacked, disrespected, and disregarded at every turn, while he cheerfully attempts to cope with an unprecedented number of domestic and foreign crises with zero cooperation.
5) The plight of traumatized foreign refugee children, as well as the uncertain fate of the “dreamers” – American adults who were brought here illegally as children and may well be expelled from the only country they have ever called home.
6) The global anti-Israel (in many cases anti-Semitic) response to admittedly horrific violence against a rogue government whose stated goal is the utter destruction/obliteration of the Jewish State.
7) Vladimir Putin’s apparent belief that he can re-create the Soviet Union and establish a perception of himself as a great and mighty world leader.
8) Numerous planes falling out of the sky – some by accident, some by attack, all to the mortal detriment of ordinary civilians just trying to get from point A to B.
9) The increasing general madness and particular mayhem against women by Islamic extremists in the Arab world and Africa.
10) The deliberate marginalization of numerous Americans through racism, poverty, misogyny, unwarranted imprisonment, and both corporate and political greed and chicanery.
11) The dangerous consolidation of media, among both delivery systems and content providers/creators.
12) Inflation, Frankenfood, gentrification, unaffordable housing, old-school police brutality, and extreme weather.

All of which is why a cultural phenomenon like Sharknado could grab the country’s attention. It also explains film’s and television’s solid diet of zombies, vampires, werewolves, suddenly powerless super-powered saviors, and an inordinate number of movies by Tyler Perry. When the horrors of reality surpass the terrors of imagination, we’re left with the poorly crafted ridiculous.

And I don’t know what to say about any of this.

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Elephants On My Mind

When I was a little girl, children’s books were a big part of my life and I had definite favorites. I loved the Madeline stories about the perky French orphans, and the Dr. Zeus stories with their quirky characters and wonderful language, and (yes, I’ll admit it) the beautifully illustrated Disney books featuring Cinderella, Snow White, Pinocchio and others. But my very “bestest” favorite was Babar, the stately, even royal elephant, dressed in 3-piece suits (or cloaked like a king) with his beloved Celeste and their children by his side.

So it was natural enough that Babar came to mind today when I first heard a few scratchy details, then read the full story about Raju, an Indian street elephant, who was rescued by animal conservationists after 50 years of unrelenting abuse and shameful neglect by his owner/handler. This animal was so miserable that he literally wept when he realized he was being saved. The fact that he cried is what seemed to surprise people.

I don’t know anything about other mammals (mammals other than us), and I never gave their capacity for tears any thought, but I guess on some subconscious level I just assumed they could cry. What surprised (and horrified) me was that this animal had been so mistreated for so very, very long. Why do people do this to animals, the animals they supposedly love as pets, or value for their labor, or kill to market them for food – but not before making them live in the most horrible ways imaginable, then killing them in a fashion that is nothing less than Naziesque?!

As I’ve mentioned before on this blog, I’m not an “animal person.” I don’t go all mushy at the sight of a doe-eyed puppy, or feel all warm and bubbly watching a kitten play with a ball of wool. For the most part, I dislike and fear animals – probably because I was attacked by a German Shepherd as a toddler, grew up in an urban environment, and never had a pet. I just want to steer clear of all animals and wish they’d return the favor.

That said, I totally disapprove of people hurting animals, often very badly, apparently for the fun of it. What kind of ghouls are some of us that beating and torturing animals amuses instead of appalls, that we hunt for sport instead of survival, that we show no decency to the animals who nourish us? Back in the old days, many Native American nations performed rituals of honor and gratitude for every animal they killed (which they did as swiftly and painlessly as possible), then made sure they used every part of the animal in some useful way: food, clothing, shelter, tools, ornaments, whatever. Waste was dishonorable and cruelty a sin.

I’ve read that murderers, particularly sicko serial killers, often begin with killing small animals, then larger ones, working their way up to people. We know that humans have been savage throughout history and perhaps we’ve only been kidding ourselves that, as a race, we’ve evolved into less savage beings. Certainly spending 15 minutes with the News of the Day and learning – not about war, war is a more complicated thing – but about the individual, day-to-day cruelty that grown-up people impose on each other, on children, on animals, is enough to convince you that savagery is as contemporary as Silicon Valley. Violence, especially against those most physically vulnerable (women, children, domesticated animals) seems ever increasing and perpetrated by increasingly younger people, as well.

I’m not a vegetarian and seriously doubt I ever will be. And I don’t believe in animal rights in the sense that other animals have the same rights as human animals. Even though there are savages among us, I still believe people are special and that we have rights that animals (and corporations…) don’t have.

But I also believe that if people are to justifiably consider themselves superior to “lower forms” of life, then we have the highest form of responsibility to protect and respect all animal life, most especially those animals who work for us, are our companions, or who feed us. If we don’t do that, then Babar really is the one who belongs in the three-piece suit and we, as Raju was for 50 years, should be bound with chains, forced to perform tricks for mindless tourists and subsist on garbage. Have we really progressed so little? If so, maybe Raju’s tears were not for his freedom, but for our stunted souls.

Saturday, July 05, 2014

A Complicated Independence Day

I slept through much of the day – and evening – of July 4th. I had no plans and it had been an exhausting week of shocking events (the Hobby Lobby decision, the hateful demonstration against three busloads of frightened, stranded, children)  that made me question (hardly for the first time!) what it is that we continue to celebrate every Fourth of July. During the few hours I was awake, I asked myself if I loved my country, if I even liked my country, and I couldn’t respond with a clear yes or no. That freaked me out.

My mother’s parents were both Jews who, when they were still very young, emigrated from Eastern Europe in the years before World War I (that’s 1 not 2). They didn’t come together, they met here. They became citizens and my grandfather served in the First World War. My father, and his father before him, came here from the West Indies. They too became citizens. I don’t know what my grandfather did except work for the Chunky Candy factory in Brooklyn for all of his working life in the U.S. For the record, they all came here legally.

My father worked as a Merchant Marine from the time he was a teenager and during  part of that career he served for the U.S. in WWII and barely escaped from fires on two oil tankers. Later, he was a waiter and wine steward on several trans-Atlantic ocean liners, including the S.S. America and S.S. United States. During his many years at sea he saw a great deal of the world.

When my mother insisted he get a job on land and not be away from home for great lengths of time, he became a skycap for TWA. He schlepped luggage for 25 years, but the job gave my parents cheap-sometimes-free flying for a lot of international vacation travel. So when my father told me, several times from my teens into adulthood, that despite all its problems America was the greatest country in the world, I had to at least in part believe that, because I couldn’t deny his intelligence or experience. 

Studying history was one of my father's hobbies; he knew 150 million Native Americans had been killed in the process of creating America and he didn't negate that any more than Slavery. But he also knew that history was riddled with powerful nations taking over less powerful ones and killing or enslaving the indigenous people or anyone who objected. He grew up in the British West Indies. He understood the violent, dishonorable food chain of nation-building. Yet he still loved America as it was and all it had the capacity to become. 

But my parents didn’t live to see the 21st century. They didn’t live through the terrorist attacks of 9/11 and watch that experience make the country frightened, angry, and hostile ever since. They didn't see new communications and manufacturing technology change everything. They didn't see our environmental destruction and indifference start to come home to roost. They didn’t see the Republicans, a fraternity of stodgy businessmen, turn into a hateful Party committed to reversing civil, voting, and women’s rights.

They didn’t endure the Great Recession of 2008 that nearly tanked this country and has left us still sorely damaged. They didn’t see the national Legislature become deliberately obstructionist in response to the first Black US president, adding constant racist insult to political injury from Day One. They didn’t live through this country’s two longest, incredibly expensive, and ultimately pointless wars.

And my family of immigrants didn’t watch this nation of immigrants despise immigrants because they had sneaked in rather than wait their legal turn, the nation’s hatred even extending to those who came here as little kids or who now are escaping to here on their own as young children, because life in their countries has become too horrible and dangerous to endure.

My parents didn’t live to see us re-evaluate America’s Founding Fathers who, while undeniably brave, bold, revolutionaries, were also largely rich, slave-owning land-holders. They didn’t watch contemporary government screw over military veterans; see many politicians and a great many citizens become rabid fundamentalists and deniers of science in the name of religion; or witness Congress purposely declare War on the Poor instead of War on Poverty, not to mention being governmental leaders who don’t believe in government.

My mother, who had several serious ailments and skimped on her meds because they were so expensive, didn’t live to see something resembling universal coverage be denigrated and sabotaged by politicians who feared it more than disease.

To be honest, part of what saddened me yesterday was that I didn’t have a cookout to attend or anyone with whom I could go watch the fireworks (I love fireworks), even though I dislike and disapprove of the way we’ve turned every national holiday of social and historical importance into an occasion to party and shop.

But mostly, I was and still am preoccupied with how America has stepped back. I’m angry with the Supreme Court and Congress; I’m concerned that it took our smart, idealistic President six years to realize those shitheads in Washington are never going to work with him; and I’m very worried that this year’s elections will bring even more irresponsible nutjobs into national power and give “lame duck” terrible new meaning for the next two years. Papa, I wish you were here.

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Twisted Justice

Yesterday, when America’s Supreme Court once again decided 5-to-4, this time in favor of Hobby Lobby/Conestoga Wood, they asserted that the religious beliefs of the owners of private corporations trump the individual beliefs and rights of their employees. This decision does much more than deprive women of insurance coverage for certain kinds of contraception. It gives seriously discomfiting credence to the ridiculous notion that corporations are people and that the rights of corporate persons are greater than the rights of human persons – which is pretty much how things have been going in all areas for some time.

So the Court ended its session with yet another attempt to further a Conservative Christian agenda, redefine personhood, set a dangerous precedent, and create genuine confusion about what is legal, let alone Constitutional. It’s no wonder that Justice Bader Ginsberg in her dissent said, “The court, I fear, has ventured into a minefield.”

I’m so angry about this latest SCOTUS bullshit that I am literally physically, emotionally, and mentally drained. And the thought that I’m morally obliged to help fight this is thoroughly overwhelming – in large part because I don’t understand it.

According to the research I’ve done, the Constitution, in the First and Fourteenth Amendments, makes clear the necessity for a separation of Church and State, even though that specific language isn’t used. But it doesn’t address a unification of Church and Commerce. So what in the Constitution makes it legal for the owners of a private company to determine what kinds of health insurance coverage they will or won’t provide to their employees, not based on cost or law, but on the company’s owners religious beliefs?

Hobby Lobby is a very big company, which is what makes it a corporation. It has thousands of employees in hundreds of stores across the country. This is not a new business, so employees had health insurance in the past. Apparently, it’s the provisions of Obamacare-governed insurance that added types of contraception – such as the Morning After pill and IUDs, methods that can induce abortion – that the deeply anti-abortion Green family (the owners) object to and therefore don’t want to include or pay for (they don’t object to other forms of birth control, such as the pill or diaphragms, which they are willing to pay for – thank you, Green family…).

Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that corporations are people. Why do they have rights that human people don’t have? For example, I have Medicare and pay over $100 a month for it. Medicare covers many things that I will never need, such as medications, treatments, and surgeries that only apply to men. Medicare doesn’t cover dental care or eye glasses or hearing aids – all of which I do need.

Yet I can’t say “I don’t want to pay for men’s stuff, I want my Medicare payments to cover what I need.” If the Green family gets to cherry pick the coverage they will and won’t cover – not just for themselves but for thousands of other people – based on what they believe, why can’t I do the same, just for myself, based on what I actually need? 

This whole thing is fucked up. As usual, it’s about religion, women, and sex, a combination that Conservatives are very uptight about, as well as the idea that big business and microscopic goo have more human rights than women. The mind reels.

It would be bad enough if it stopped there. But as Justice Bader Ginsberg also pointed out, “Would the exemption…extend to employers with religiously grounded objections to blood transfusions (Jehovah’s Witnesses); antidepressants (Scientologists); medications derived from pigs, including anesthesia, intravenous fluids, and pills coated with gelatin (certain Muslims, Jews, and Hindus); and vaccinations[?]…Not much help there for the lower courts bound by today’s decision.”

This, my friends, is what’s known as a truly slippery slope. All of America, I fear, has ventured into a minefield.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Fat in the Land of Oz

Pictured above is singer Kelly Clarkson, recently described by someone on You Tube as “a big fat pig.” This is what’s considered fat in America, a country that not too long ago managed to come up with a size 0 for women. I regard this as more of a political slam than a fashion statement, an anti-feminist backlash intended to intimidate women who may have forgotten to obsess about their body size for a minute and think about reproductive rights and equal pay and voter suppression and the economy instead. But our fat-loathing culture asks: “Who do these broads think they are, waddling around, offending everyone’s sensibilities instead of focusing on becoming a size 0” – (a literal nothing!). And of course, if your size is a two-digit number you’re obese and shouldn’t even leave the house (for shame!).

There are other things I could write about today: Team America in the World Cup; Dick Cheney everywhere on TV as if he were releasing a new album; how we shouldn’t even dip our military toe into that sectarian quagmire in Iraq; or the Supreme Court striking down a law that said people protesting outside abortion clinics had to keep a 35-foot distance away from patients entering the clinic (because those ignorant, heartless, slut-baby-killers deserve to be harassed up close before they do one of the most difficult things in their lives).

But no, I prefer to revisit last week’s chastisement of Dr. Oz by the U.S. Senate, which has nothing better to do than lambast the host of an afternoon health information talk show for describing two dietary supplements in what Oz admitted was “flowery language.” He hailed them as magical and miraculous – two words that any adult would take literally. The Senate was worried that the now-famous “Dr. Oz Effect” would encourage millions of fat-obsessed women to run out and buy this shit without knowing what the dangers might be! 

Now, it’s true that dietary supplements, from vitamins to magic weight loss elixirs, are greatly under-regulated, but so are numerous prescription medications that have so many horrific side effects you can’t imagine what medical condition would warrant taking them. Yet doctors can freely prescribe them as they see fit. What doctors are stringently regulated in prescribing are “controlled substances,” also known as serious meds that stop pain, ease anxiety, help you sleep, or just make you feel good. Which is why, after an agonizing major surgery, you’re offered Tylenol.

But I digress. The real issue here is that after 40 years of empowering, self-affirming, feminist philosophy, women young and old still view being “fat” as the worst thing that can happen to them. I’ll never forget the late Gilda Radner saying she would rather have cancer than be fat – and that sweet, brilliant comedian died young and  slim – and riddled with cancer.

I haven’t watched Dr. Oz’s show over the past couple of years, but I previously saw it often. I also once met with him privately, back in the 90s before he was a star, because the then-wife of a friend of mine was a friend of his and he saw me as a courtesy to her. I honestly don’t remember what he advised, but I do recall that in person, as on his show, he was kind, non-judgmental, gentle, and seemed genuinely concerned about my health.

Since then as now I was truly fat, not cosmetically chubby or a perfectly normal weight but fat in my fearful imagination, one could say concern was warranted. I was in my 40s then and still dieted frequently. People who are really fat know that any diet (combined with even minor exercise) will take weight off. What no one has figured out is how to keep it off without dieting for life, because what science and medicine understand about real obesity can fit on the head of the proverbial pin. But Dr. Oz is no charlatan and he didn’t deserve a scolding by the Senate. He tells people to eat healthfully and exercise – and when he finds a product he thinks will help, he talks about it. 

My mother used to say that if anyone ever came up with the real magic pill – the one that would take weight off, keep it off, and still let you eat at least somewhat for pleasure, it would be news on the front page of The New York Times. I know Americans can be stupid about lots of things, so just keep her sensible observation in mind. Until that article appears, really fat people will have to really struggle, if they’re willing. The rest of you should just get a grip. You don’t have to be a 0. You’re not a big fat pig. Stop letting the haters manipulate you. Here: have a cookie.