“You sick all the time,” my dad would say. “Body weak. Cannot do physical labor. Got to use your brain. That’s the only way you going to live.” That was about 60 years ago.
Yet it seems like just yesterday I was listening to aging Nisei in Seattle talking about their health. Or more to the point, about their various challenges to their health, like comparing the merits of various kinds of kidney dialysis treatments. “Okay,” I thought then. “When I get old I am not going to be talking about my maladies.”
A few minutes ago (or so it seems because monthly events get condensed into one by the time you’re 67), the “lunchee bunchee” meeting of International Examiner old folks turned into a discussion of arthritis, gout, plantar fasciitis, various forms of cancer, radiation, brain tumors and who knows what else.
“Stop,” I said. “Let’s stop talking about our ailments.”
Everyone agreed. But then, Gary Iwamoto walked into the meeting.
“Hey, haven’t seen you for a while,” he said to me. “How’re you doing?”
I answer without thinking: “Okay, just dealing with some joint (body, not marijuana) problems. Trying to get my health back.”
Couldn’t keep to my own resolution for one minute. But what could anyone expect when I’ve spent 45 minutes or more looking for something that I’ve mindlessly put in my back pocket.
And now, here I am trying to remember the subject of this piece. What had I promised the editor? Health and old age, I thought, but didn’t we narrow it down a bit? It’s such a large subject. I could go into all sorts of topics: economics, politics, agribusiness, pharmaceuticals, hospitals, health insurance, environment, capitalism, socialism and who knows what else.
It’s not easy.
I decide to focus on economics. As my friend Hava repeatedly tells me in discussions of policy, politics and public will, “It’s all about money.” I tend to agree with her. We have a morally bankrupt economic system that rewards people who have money and punishes families who are trying to move up economically.
Families who have very little resources are ignored, except as a lowly paid workforce for jobs most Americans don’t want or cannot survive on.
I’ve read two articles recently which angered me and made me think about Hava’s words: “Bitter Pill: why medical bills are killing us” by Stephen Brill published in Time Magazine on March 4th and “The Extraordinary Science of Addictive Junk Food” by Michael Moss in the Feb. 20th New York Times.
In the first, Brill’s “Bitter Pill” chronicles the rise of “nonprofit” mega hospitals cropping up across the country, the obscene gouging of patients with unnecessary procedures, inflated prices for lab work and other services and some insurance companies who go along with it as long as they get a cut. These mega hospitals don’t take Medicare patients because Medicare regulates their payments for various procedures, and I assume, infringes upon their freedom to make a/an “(dis)honest” buck.
Moss’s “Extraordinary Science” documents that the junk food industry has known since 1999 (if not before) about the bad health effects of their food. And they didn’t care. They had, and still don’t have the moral sense to stop selling their cash cows. We’re giving people what they want, we aren’t holding a gun to people’s head, they said. I guess they don’t see anything wrong with crack or smack dealers then. Remind you of the tobacco companies? It should. One of the big junk food companies is Kraft’s, a division of tobacco giant Philip Morris USA.
Try to buy worthwhile food on a limited budget. The cheap food is cheap because it’s stuffed with “fillers” and “flavors” that help you feel full without having any nutritional value. You feel hungry even when you’re full. Gigantic scams. They even get subsidies so that they can sell the stuff dirt cheap. Like corn syrup. Those big one-liter Coke specials? Real cheap at your favorite burger house. Heard of Archer Daniels Midland (ADM)? Large subsidies for corn production. Really. Our government (with money from you and me) paid ADM to produce and sell the stuff. It’s the same with a lot of other products. Makes you wonder how Michelle Obama, our first lady in charge of nutrition, can even make a dent. Big food (think Nestle, Pepsi Cola, Unilever, DuPont, Monsanto and ADM) pays a lot of money on both sides of the aisle for campaigns.
I could go on and on. But this piece was supposed to be short and to the point. So I’ll leave you with two very important slogans to remember. Short sound bites and a brief explanation that are of concern to not just the elderly, but everyone.
SOCIALISM FOR THE RICH, CAPITALISM FOR THE POOR
Popularized by political scientist Michael Harrington’s use in his 1962 book, “The Other America: Poverty in the United States.” Still relevant today, the phrase and its many variations were heard a lot during the 2008-2009 crash after payouts to “save capitalism.” But payouts are going on all the while, and many of them apply to health. The phrase means: If we (corporations) make money from the government investment, we keep all the profits. If we lose money, the public shares the debt.”
Strengthen Social Security, SCRAP THE CAP!
There is no crisis in Social Security. It needs to be tweaked, not weakened. All employees pay Social Security taxes, up until a ceiling, known as the “cap,” which is currently set at $113,700. What this means is that a person making $113,700 a year pays 6.2 percent taxes for Social Security. A person making $1 million a year pays only 0.68 percent. If everyone making $1 million or more each paid 6.2 percent, the Social Security system would be in good shape for future retirees.
As I said earlier, we have a morally bankrupt economic system.