Friday, January 25, 2019

Die Ganze Welt Ist Beschissen

One of the saving graces of writing a blog is that it doesn't really matter what you write about, because almost no one is reading it.

During the entire 20th Century the world seemed to be in imminent danger of running off the rails and into the gorge all at once, ending in a huge, fiery explosion and killing just about everybody. Everything about the 20th Century, including the prosperous bits, had an air of mania and desperation about it. The 21st Century, so far, has not been like that.

Not that it has necessarily gotten any better. If the previous century threatened sudden obliteration, our new century settles for the slow death of everything that we need to live. The environment; our infrastructure; food crops; the existence of fish; the social contract; our peace of mind; democratic norms; the medical standard of care; education for our children; our government and the governments of many countries around the world; effective pharmaceuticals; all concepts of privacy or security; all in a state of slow, quiet degradation, culminating perhaps in unburied death, or maybe just mass casualties and sheer misery for those poor souls remaining alive. The old air of mania and desperation has been replaced by despair and depression. Mania and desperation evidently required hope, a commodity that has become functionally extinct. I'm thinking that yes, Mr. Sacks was right when he sang his little song. “The whole world is shitty.”

Why Today, Mr. Fred?

What's so special about today? Why pick today to get your knickers in a twist and harsh everyone's mellow? Choosing one thing from the vast catalog of nightmarish horror that besets us would not only be impossible, it would also be a waste of time to try. Like rearranging the deck chairs on the half-sunken Titanic. Nobody seems very well informed about the extent of the problem, and very few people who have had a glimpse of it appear to be overly concerned.

Most people are either oblivious, or they believe that the world has always been like this, teetering on the edge of destruction. There have always been fluctuations in weather, haven't there? There have always been wars, and the threat of more wars. There has always been disease, in fact the disease part was much, much worse in olden times! This very Pollyanna-like attitude very optimistically holds that humanity has been through worse, and it has always prevailed. Trump? That's nothing! We've survived Caligula, Napoleon, and Hitler!

Well no, honey-child, the blogger patiently explained, nothing like our life-threatening 21st Century has ever happened before. There has never been man-made warming of the atmosphere and the oceans before, not on this or any other scale. It simply has never happened before. There have never been seven billion people living on the earth at one time before. Something like three billion of them are under forty-years-old. There has never before been a commercial human society that was willing to stake its entire future on the efficacy of fiat currency (the idea that money is worth whatever people will pay for it, and no longer grounded in any kind of equivalency computation). There has never been a time when technology and productivity have made such giant leaps on such accelerating time scales, and in a related development, there has never been a time when the prosperity generated by lesser advances was not shared with working people.

So, why today? What was the straw that broke the camel's back? There wasn't one. The cumulative effect of just every damn thing requires me to let off some steam once in a while, lest the entire engine blow sky high.

There are, however, things great or small that push my anxiety level up more or less permanently.

Social Security

My blood pressure goes up every time a correspondence from the Social Security Administration hits my mailbox. To be fair, I visited their office in the Federal Building in West Los Angeles a few years ago and a very nice man helped me quickly and efficiently after a very reasonable wait in a comfortable lounge area. I have also received timely assistance from a very nice man in the SS office in Manila, in the Philippines. I was very grateful for their assistance, and I thanked them effusively. There have been problems that arrived in the mail, though, and I am nine time zones away from California. Even Manila would be an expensive, time consuming, international visit. The real problem is that the entire enterprise is unwieldy, inefficient, probably running Cobal on sixty year old computers, the left hand rarely knows what the right hand is doing, and no one above the level of the two gentlemen who assisted me in person cares what happens at all.

Here's a good example. I turned sixty-five several years ago and got the materials for Medicare. I read them carefully and decided to sign up for parts A and B only. I live overseas, and I have no plans ever to reside in America again, so the odds are that I will never receive any Medicare benefits at all, because our congress, in their rush to please American companies at the expense of the working man, has mandated that only medical services rendered within the United States may be offset by Medicare. Note that Medicare would save a fortune paying for care provided in my local market, rather than the four or five times that amount for work done in the U.S., but that's another story. I signed up on the off chance that I might come down with something downright horrible, like Parkinson's Disease, or ALS, or something like that. A life sentence with a ton of money required every month. There are huge penalties when you say no to Medicare at sixty-five and then want to sign up later.

I paid them for the first year out of pocket, about $1,300, and then when my Social Security kicked in I had the money deducted every month. It went on that way for years.

Last week I got the notice in the mail telling me that my benefit amount was being raised by some insignificant amount. The form also showed a breakdown of my benefit and any deductions therefrom. THERE WERE NO DEDUCTIONS LISTED. And sure enough, this month's direct deposit was in the exact amount of the new benefit. Like I mentioned, they had been taking out over one hundred dollars every month for years for Medicare, and during that time I have received mail from Medicare, and I possess a Medicare members card. On its own motion, the Social Security Administration dropped me from Medicare.

This is the level of consideration that we can expect from our government. That much is disturbing, but I quickly realized that I'm better off without it. I'll take the $1,300 every year, thank you, and I'll save it to pay for medical services over here. They'll be keeping the $6,000 that they essentially stole from me in the five years that they let me keep paying every month, but we can't let little things like that ruin our precious days. We've got bigger fish to fry.

Our Government In General

Nothing about Washington DC is recognizable when compared with the government that existed only sixty years ago. That was a smaller country, only 200,000,000 people or so, and everything moved at a much slower pace. Communications, transportation, everything. People got jobs and kept them, often for their entire lives. Almost everyone who was working had a policy of Blue Cross/Blue Shield medical insurance that covered all family members. If someone in your family was crazy, there was a government hospital for that. For my parents generation, the money that their parents received from Social Security was enough to live on. Cars, refrigerators, TVs, they were all made in America. Things were much tougher for black Americans, and if anyone among our family or friends was homosexual, we didn't know about it, but in general things were more cooperative and secure than they are today.

Now we live in a “you're on your own” nightmare. The difference is that equality has been replaced by liberty. Equality, paid for by fair employment practices and progressive taxes, has given way to a system in which the rich are at liberty to keep almost all of their money and corporations are at liberty to gouge workers as terribly as possible and reduce thereby their overhead. Every American is free to sign up for all of the medical insurance that he or she can afford, and if you can't afford any, well, then you don't have any. We still receive Social Security benefits, but it's not enough for anyone to live on. We get Medicare, but if you get sick enough the co-pays and the medicine will suck almost anyone's bank account dry in a couple of years, probably including the equity in your house, if you are lucky enough to have any. After that, it seems like the plan becomes, sell the house, move into an RV, and work until you die. I've noticed that more and more people are going to Mexico for affordable medical treatment. (You may be surprised to find out that the dentists and doctors are excellent in Mexico, and the quality of the care is very high.) More Americans, myself included, are choosing to live overseas.

Welcome to the 21st Century! If you're not living in a van and working seasonal jobs in Amazon warehouses, you're way ahead of the game.

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