Moment to movement

As I said last week, plus ça change, plus ça change, LOL. If you would just as soon avoid having to think about more weighty topics today, come back next time for something perhaps more lighthearted. 😉

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Last weekend I had a troubling discussion with a woman I met while waiting on a long, long line of people at a super sale, buying Christmas gifts.  There were at least 150 people on line and so Geoffrey and I took turns, our arms aching from holding our selections, because we didn’t feel right injecting a cart into the mix.

While there, I stood behind an elderly lady. It took us about 30 minutes to get close to check out and if it weren’t for the fact that I was a so-called “preferred elite” customer and offered an even deeper discount, I would not have endured the ordeal.

But, for whatever reason, she turned to me and began commenting on the store, how much she loves it, what great value and quality, etc., etc.  I agreed with her pleasantly and tried to just lose myself again in planning, which is what I tend to do in situations like this.  I am constantly planning and organizing. This is something that I actually find valuable about down time, so it isn’t wasted. Everyone else on that line was glued to their smart phones.  If I wanted to, I couldn’t have even retrieved it from my purse, my arms and hands were so full of merchandise.

At some point this woman shared that she lived across the street in “senior” housing (55+) and comes to the store regularly to shop.  This part of the SCV Valley is set up for convenience between residential and commercial hubs, part of the planned community feature designed and built about forty years ago.  So, just by using the paseos, someone with a walker, let’s say, can safely make their way from the various senior neighborhoods to adjoining shopping centers like this one.

I told her how wonderful that was and then for some reason, asked her about how she liked living in that senior complex.  She told me it was beautiful and she loved it, but she was nervous because every year, they re-up the lease and significantly increase the rent.  She is paying $1600 a month for a 700 square foot, one bedroom apartment.  In January, it will go up 10% and in 2016, 10% on top of that. If you do the math quickly, you will easily see that this exponential increase will within a few years put the apartment out of reach for probably 95% of seniors — the very people this was supposedly constructed to help.

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In fact, the city planning and federal, state subsidies mandate that a certain amount of so-called senior services be included in the mix of zoning and development.  But, that development is left to private concerns.  Apparently there is no governance or oversight of how and what these private corporations (most of them nation-wide, state-wide and not local) interpret and administer that requirement.  If inflation is below 3% per annum, how do they get away with 10% increases?

In places like Santa Monica here in California and New York City, there is rent control or rent stabilization.  But clearly, here in Model America (see an earlier post) there is no such restriction.  It appears that these entities can either set any parameters they wish, or the caps are very high.

That made me think more about an article I read that said, the problem people like me, progressives, are having getting our message across (apart from billions in dark money, pouring into contentious local elections, blatant voter suppression, attack ads, etc. — a separate subject about which there is no dispute, post Citizens United and a couple of other similar landmark decisions by our conservative Supremes) is that everyone — probably almost worldwide, save for Scandinavia — has swallowed the idea that free market capitalism is not only preferable, but the only way to organize the economics of a society and the worldwide financial infrastructure with which our countries are all intertwined.

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I won’t debate capitalism here, but what that ideology does is create a mindset that we are each on our own and that if we are not tough and selfish, someone else will eat our lunch. Understanding why this is not true, takes a level of commitment, study, and perhaps even intellect that is unfortunately not available to the general populace here or anywhere else. Again, save, possibly Scandinavia where a completely different system and zeitgeist are producing a wonderful life for the most number of people.

In this country, only a very few are thriving financially.  A shrinking number are living above that magical $70k yearly household income level.  Life is a struggle for most people because while incomes have been flat for almost four decades, prices have continued to rise at an accelerated pace.  So, more people are having to do with less, if their incomes do not change in tandem with prices. This is not just a recent phenomenon — this has been happening steadily since the end of WWII.

We happened to watch a strange movie from the ’70s last week, titled “Duel” — a kind of cult thriller.  At one point the protagonist (Dennis Weaver) says  in a silent sort of thought bubble, something like, ‘… in a few seconds, the entire structure of intricate lines that held my world together, and kept the jungle out there at bay, came apart, and I was living in an alien universe‘. It’s funny too, because when I was growing up and getting all kinds of advantages that seemed like luxuries to him, my grandfather repeatedly said in his no-nonsense way, “It’s a jungle out there.  I didn’t make it that way, I found it that way and no one helped me survive”. It suddenly clicked. I am and always have been protected from that jungle. But, this is what is happening to so many people who thought they did everything they were supposed to do, and now find themselves literally abandoned to the remorseless forces of a harsh world.  So much for our ‘Great Society’ and ‘New Deal’.

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My companion went on to tell me her life’s story (omitting the mention of a spouse). She has a PhD in Economics from a UC school, was a public school history teacher for 40 years, until at some point, she was ‘forced’ (her words) to take eleven students who did not speak English. Her story is that she was instructed to bring them up to grade level, despite their having joined the class as teens and being from other countries.  She chose early retirement instead. Then she went on, trying to be as fair as she could, to give me a litany of radio talking points.

Here was an elderly, retired public school teacher on a fixed income, living in a tiny apartment, facing the prospect of having to find cheaper housing and being uprooted from a place she loves by a system that takes no account of age, means, service, sacrifice, worthiness or outright decency and ethics.  It is a prime example of social Darwinism at work.  She doesn’t think about or blame the private corporation that developed her complex, lured people like her in with perks and amenities and the promise of a safe, cozy little enclave with like-mind mature residents, only then to jack up the rates and push them out when they can no longer afford it. She blames the Federal government and you know, that “man” in the White House.

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There is no place for this woman to go in Santa Clarita — she will be priced out of living here and will be forced to move to a much less protected, less safe, less ambulatory neighborhood. This had been my same fear for my Grand Uncle until I got him into VA housing.  I was worried he would end up in Koreatown and be murdered, as there is a very high crime rate there and the main victims are the poor and elderly.

Somehow, though, this 80 year old did not see that the people she voted for were the very people who champion the system that empowers her landlords to treat her this way.  I call it confiscatory predation.  They lure the disadvantaged into what seems like a welcoming community designed just for them and then systematically drain them of resources until they reach the limit of their capacity. Then they push them out and bring in newer, younger seniors and the process begins again.  How is this any different from the infamous Jamaican telephone schemes that prey on lonely people to get them to transfer money to phony bank accounts on the promise of a large check in the mail and a brand new car?  The brains of the elderly make them more vulnerable to being duped, there has been a great deal of scientific research on this fact and it is undisputed.  Private corporations know exactly how to market to and use declining judgment as well as desperation, to capitalize (there’s that word again) on need and dependency.

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I don’t hear anyone talking about this.  Just as I don’t hear anyone really discussing gestation crates and similar atrocities.  We are all busy, we have our own needs and stresses, some financial, some physical and mental or emotional.  I have them myself. But, my aim is to be awake, even if it is painful.  Being asleep and comfortable is a luxury no longer available to me.

How many years have I been shopping all around these senior housing developments and paying little or no attention to what is going on there? This conversation was not something I was seeking, but it came into my life just before this Thanksgiving holiday.  The one where people celebrate all our good fortune, while all around us others are suffering in silence.

This is all I will have to say about the election here earlier this month. I think Americans are a basically moral, compassionate, good-hearted people.  The only way I can feel better about this is what Geoffrey told me when we discussed it.  In the short term, things are not improving in this regard.  But, over the long term, 100 years from now, we will not be treating the elderly working poor this way.  Geoffrey is philosophical about this.  Not raised by empaths, as I was, he, while being a true liberal, far more progressive than even I am, takes a more long-term view of what is transpiring and so is not discouraged.

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We will not subject animals to lying on their side, producing more animals to be slaughtered so people can eat them without a second thought to what happened to that animal before it landed on our tables.  We will live in a world where women will be treated with respect as equals and paid the same amount of money for the same level and quality of work.  We will provide universal pre-K so every child has an equal chance of succeeding in getting an education and having a comfortable life in the future. We will not try to frighten the poor, the elderly, and those of different ethnic backgrounds away from voting in elections. This country will no longer appoint ignorant oil-company flunkies in Congress to oversee our precious environment.  We will no longer allow greedy unethical people to lie to us, get us into costly and devastating wars, and to use the radio or other media to penetrate the farthest reaches of our simple country with propaganda meant to keep us from thinking and acting on our own behalf. A country where the “news” isn’t based on viewer ratings and is accurate, for good or for bad, and a place where justice is meted out in blind indifference to economic status or the color of our skin. A country where lawmakers who enjoy free Cadillac health insurance on the taxpayers’ nickel don’t stoop to taking it away from millions of poor people who don’t want to be left to die because they can’t afford to pay for even a Volkswagen’s worth.

And, we will recognize exactly who is responsible for violations of conscience and stop them from taking positions of power, no matter how flawed those who mean  and do better are. We will know the difference and we will act accordingly. Well and good. This helps Geoff sleep at night, but I am not sure how I feel about waiting 100 years.  I would like this to be part of the so-called American dream and I want it to be in my lifetime.

I had a social psych professor who once said, no matter how people resist making these advances in our society, if we write fairness and goodness into law, these practices will eventually be accepted as the norm.  Meanwhile, when crises occur, we can each take that moment and turn it into a movement. We can and have the responsibility to make this world a better place.

In that vein, I want to leave you with something utterly uplifting, thanks to my friend Susan.

Happy Thanksgiving weekend.

Images: Beth Byrnes archives; leftover random shots around Valencia and LA, processed in Topaz. 

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24 Comments on “Moment to movement

  1. Beth, your photos are reminiscent of the impressionist artists – lovely.

    As a senior living in one of the very few “legitimate” senior housing apartments, I can validate everything you’ve said here. Private companies tout “affordable” housing in order to obtain government funding for building. Once building is complete and apartments are filled, they charge what they want, as long as rent is below whatever full rent is. It’s a huge scam, trapping seniors and dashing hopes. I found out because of a compassionate manager who took the time to explain the harsh realities, and gave me the names of two apartments run by the county. Otherwise, I might have ended up in the same situation.

    Hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving, and thank you for the link. Keep up these edifying posts; we all appreciate it.

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    • Susan, thank you for reading this, and especially for providing your uplifting posts and links, and allowing me to share them judiciously here.

      I now realize you might have mentioned your living in a seniors-only complex. How fortunate (you are looked out for, no?) that you avoided these types of scams. I think they are a disgrace and I felt so badly for this woman. She deserved better. We shouldn’t have to read fine print or be duped and then told we should have known better. That is not the way we should have to live. How people like that sleep at night, I will never know, but, their attitude apparently is, “you’re on your own”. I had a SIL who told me, when I missed the cutoff for a trip the family was taking, “You snooze, you lose”. What attitude is this?

      Anyway, thank you for the compliments. I give the credit to clever art programs — I am just so happy when I find them as they have given me a new creative outlet. Cheaply!
      Hugs and Happy Thanksgiving. Ours was just the two of us, quietly at home, then out for a walk taking pictures. We watched Frozen in anticipation of our little guest coming, and DVRd it for her. A lovely movie. My favorite type of day.

      More hugs!

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      • I agree about the “You snooze, you lose,” comment. I’ve never understood that attitude. Of course, if the tables were turned, I’m sure they would sing a different tune. And yes, I’m certain Someone is watching out for me. I had applied at one place that offered senior “affordable” housing, was accepted. When it came time to sign the papers and they told me the amount of the rent, it was 65% of my net disability. I walked out very frustrated and angry at the entire process. It was about a week after that I met the manager I wrote about above.

        I’m back home now after a wonderful Thanksgiving with the relatives. It was terrific catching up, playing games, laughing. Just as wonderful getting back to the peace and quiet of my own place. 🙂

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        • What can these people be thinking? They just assume we are all stupid. I will tell you one thing, I am going to come to you if I need to get housing like this for some reason. You should write a guide to help other people navigate this labyrinth!

          How nice that you got a break. I got one too, by NOT having to see the in-laws, LOL.

          😀

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  2. “Duel” is truly a cult classic along with “Murder Cycle” hahaha. My 2 sons and I have watched both and love how campy they were. After absorbing “Mystery Science Theater” there is no way not to love “Duel” and “Murder Cycle”.

    What a great post Beth! I hope you always remember how much I love your edgy posts and couldn’t wait to soak in everything.

    Caring for seniors and disadvantaged is an important role of society and there is always more we can do to improve. I thought it interesting that she blamed Obama for some of her challenges. Personally I view him as an arrogant individual and am counting down the next two years in hope of better compromising leadership. But blaming him for the plight of the elderly in obtaining affordable housing is akin to ignoring the facts that have been revealed in the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson MO and continuing to call for prosecution of Darren Wilson. There are huge problems in Ferguson but that doesn’t make Officer Wilson guilty. There are huge problems with government and senior care but it doesn’t make it Obama’s fault nor his administration.

    While carrying the burden of finding suitable care for my mother I watched private facilities drain every penny of her life savings. Then I had to deal with Medicaid and occasionally Medicare. I don’t trust the bureaucratic mess of government any more than I trust private companies to oversee this dilemma. Look at the recent debacle with the VA Hospitals, something that I have personally experienced in my life. I finally gave up trying to utilize my benefits and turned to traditional medical care because it simply took far too long to get into the VA system.

    After my mother passed away I received a bill from Medicaid, actually administered by the Department of Workforce Services here in Utah, for $22,735.88 which amounted to the cost of her care the final 5 months of her life.

    Historically families have cared for their own and I understand from personal experience that modern day life has complicated the ability to accomplish that feat. We live longer, we live further apart, wives and mothers are forced to work outside the home to maintain lifestyle and many times life itself and are unable to be primary caregivers to elderly parents. And this situation is going to get worse with baby boomers reaching retirement and elderly status.

    I wish I knew the answer but I too am optimistic because I have faith in mankind. We have faced many serious issues throughout our history and we are still here learning and improving.

    Thanks for keeping my brain alive!! I’m on my way outside to put up Christmas lights now 😀

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    • OK, where to begin: first things first. I forced Geoffrey to get the lights up last night :-D.

      The VA: my experience with them is completely different from yours. They have been kind, helpful, responsive and generous. This is why our anecdotal evidence is flawed. I have to concede something to statistics here. How do they behave statistically?

      President Obama: I don’t see arrogance. I see guardedness and aloofness. I still say being black creates a completely different life experience in this country. He has had to endure historic prejudice by small, backward people in the government, the media, and the population at large, while growing up and as an adult, in and out of politics. I think he has been quite competent under extremely challenging conditions. If he is not warm and fuzzy to the people who have treated him badly, to me it is understandable. You can’t condescend to people or thwart them and expect that they will be deferential in return. Just like some people like their women docile, some people like their African Americans compliant. To me arrogance is embodied by Ted Cruz and Rush Limbaugh — two opportunistic haters. I will gladly vote for Jon Huntsman, but not a man who puts his dog on the roof, who thinks of women as commodities or thinks the poor in this country are getting all they need.

      Government bureaucracies: Do you think JP Morgan Chase is better run, more ethical, better equipped to make decisions for the average person than Medicare or Social Security or the Department of Education would be? Do you want Jamie Dimon overseeing your loved ones? Or would you prefer someone like Elizabeth Warren looking out for them?

      Darren Wilson: Rick, the assistant prosecutors deliberately issued an old statute book to the Grand Jury, one from 1979, that stated that law enforcement could shoot and kill anyone running away from them for any reason. In 1985 the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that set of statutes in Missouri to be unconstitutional. SCOTUS supersedes the states. The assistant prosecutor, at the end of the Grand Jury process — months long — in Ferguson, issued a short and confusing statement saying that “some things” in the statute she gave them at the beginning of their deliberations, were changed, and at the last minute, gave them a new statute, without telling them what changed (i.e., that you can issue a death sentence to anyone running away from law enforcement, if even for shoplifting). When someone in the room asked her point blank if Federal Law can overrule State Law, she said, “You don’t have to worry about that”.

      On top of everything else wrong with that sham Grand Jury indictment process, this represents a gross miscarriage of justice. This is not only about Michael Brown and whether he deserved to die for simply being a big, black, kid in a segregated town, for stealing a few cigars and maybe (we will never know) throwing his weight and height around a little (Wilson was no shrimp, by the way, despite his bigoted comments about a child vs Hulk Hogan or a Demon), this is about the police being immune to the laws that govern the rest of us. Body cameras are a must and that will reduce all this uncertainty.

      Those are my takes on all this. I too look forward to 2016. I don’t know who the choices will be, but they will unlikely be someone ethnic or of color that will draw the kind of fire this man has drawn, largely very unfairly. It will be quite revealing to see the match-up between the two I suspect will be our choices: Clinton vs Bush.

      Feel free to respond, I can take it!!!

      Hugs! 😀

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        • It is gracious of you to say, Rick. I wish we could find common ground on these issues but for a lot of reasons, it is hard to do these days. So we can at least be civil in disagreeing and hope some day the country can reunite and settle on one set of facts, some we like, some we don’t. I recently read Bill Clinton saying that the last remaining true prejudice is against anyone who doesn’t agree with us. We all have to work on eliminating that one too.

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  3. This is a fear-inducing topic for some of my friends as we approach those non-working years (I totally empathize with the retired teacher!) You describe the situation perfectly, so I will simply say ‘I agree’.

    I envision a kind of Golden Girls scenario where female seniors will choose to live together and each little group will have a blend of strengths and weaknesses that will enable each one to survive and thrive and enjoy life. Maybe I’m being idealistic but as a childless woman in my 50s with parents who will likely consume all their means in this lifetime this sounds like it could be an option.

    Furthermore, the Boomers are a huge cohort and the wave of change may move with us in good ways (she said, hoping and praying).

    Thanks for this sobering but realistic note on Thanksgiving weekend; food for thought!

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    • Heck, Vera, this is a fear inducing topic to me too and I am in my 40s! I think being a woman, middle class — especially with no siblings or children to take care of us — makes living to our ‘golden’ years a dicey prospect.

      I have never been good at hen fests or very womany groups but maybe that is part of my problem. I have hung around men all my life, always preferring their company, and so as they die off, I will be friendless!

      I sure hope we can fix things before either you or I have to face this. That conversation last weekend really made me think about this in a way I hadn’t before (even with all my causes!).

      xo

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  4. Beth, I wish I shared your husband’s optimism, and I fear that if I don’t I might land in that ‘everyone’s out for themselves’ camp of thinking, but I am not very optimistic any more myself. Probably something I need to work on. Anyway great post and yes, some more nice artwork in this one!

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    • I have to really laugh about my new plan to just post pictures that I am working on even when they have absolutely nothing to do with the topic. It is a silly idea but I am really enjoying it. Thank you! 🙂

      Yeah, Geoff and I have argued extensively about this. He just doesn’t get upset the way I do when he sees injustice. It is this California thing — nothing gets them upset!

      That’s why he sleeps soundly at night and I am nervous Nellie. But! Who makes the changes in this country? The ones who are outraged by injustice.

      😀

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  5. Another wonderful account of life Beth, thank you… it is so disheartening to know these greedy and disgusting practices are going on at the expense of us… especially our elderly generation. In Holland the government clamped down on private companies raising the rent more than the inflation… also in spain… thank goodness… So it is worrisome that in America they can do this. I will have to argue with your man but comfort yourself in saying that I know things will be very different in the next 20 years… life is changing most rapidly now with more and more people not accepting what is happening and getting on top of the situation with others help of course… Also focusing on our own life and surrounding, making sure it is peaceful. Peace spreads. Thanks for your insights, take care and happy giving always… Barbara xxx

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    • Whew, I hope so! I am not so sure. We are pretty divided here these days. People are just in their own camps, listening only to their own media and not entertaining opposing views. It seems like we are slipping backward, but I am just going to wait and see. I have an Israeli friend who told me the problem in the US is our smartest people don’t become politicians, unlike the rest of the world. Given the past 30 years, I can’t disagree. Thank you for the encouraging and hopeful words Barbara! 😀

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  6. Insightful as always, Beth. I agree with the essence of everything you have said. My hope, and there are signs here that it is growing, is that more people awaken to unjust practices, raise their voices and take action to address what is done in the name of economics. It would perhaps be one thing for people to endure extreme financial hardship if everyone were in the same boat. But the very people demanding austerity for the populace are not included in the measures.
    Rolls Royce and Shanks’s Pony is how we’d put it. Iniquitous and needing addressed now. There are so many points in your post that I consider on an ongoing basis but I promised myself a night-off from politics tonight after nearly smashing my TV yesterday with the screaming I was doing at certain political figures!
    What goes unreported worries me. It is in sharing conversations such as you describe that we enlighten each other. I have found social media to be a great source of referral to information I might otherwise not have encountered.
    Keep on with the shares and we will change the way.x

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    • Oh, yeah, I agree. It is shocking that people who are blessed with abundance can be so small that they resent others having even a fraction of it. Or, think they are clever when they find ways to bilk the poor even more. Do we think the police prowl wealthy neighborhoods looking for infractions? No, of course not, they concentrate on those who are struggling to put food on the table and then wait to pounce on them. The poor are literally being nickeled and dimed to death here. Thank goodness some of us are on to them! xo

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  7. At the outset I must say you have chosen a wonderful title…

    The society evolves and we grow, but there some values which cut across time and places. Human need is not constant and keeps changing with time…the cost of such needs becomes restrictive if it is graduates to wants…when a need becomes a want and when a desire become a demand, it becomes challenging to handle and cope with…monetary need and value of money is changing and changing so rapidly that our capability to earn and suffice that need remains wanted..

    Yes, sometime these defining moments turn into rousing movements which changes the course of history…great post!!!

    Like

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