Reflections on Katrina, 10 years later

hlward:

I wish I had something profound and hopeful to write about Hurricane Katrina and the City – the people – of New Orleans. It’s been ten years now, and I’ll be damned if I can find anything to reflect on that doesn’t make me feel ashamed of my country.

I could go through the litany of ways every level of government failed our brothers and sisters in New Orleans, but what would be the point?

Instead I think I’ll tell you some things I’ve learned since August 29, 2005.

– Every major city in America is a short series of official mistakes from being part of the “Third World.” Your comfortable suburb and mine could look just like the Lower Ninth Ward if just a few bad things happen. The question is, will your state and the federal government send help for you? Or will CNN show up first and make you and your home the next iconic image of helplessness and despair? Let’s be clear: The United States government has the capacity and resources to save you and your family – and probably a lot of your stuff – if whoever is in charge when the shit hits the fan makes you a priority.

– New Orleans is now the “Third World.” George Bush did not prioritize the families of New Orleans, and they have not recovered. They will not recover. New Orleans will never be “The City That Care Forgot” again. Yeah, New Orleans had its problems before Katrina. Not like this.

– When disaster strikes, if your leaders consider /for one moment/ how their actions will affect their political careers, people will die. You might die. Ray Nagin, Kathleen Blanco and George Bush are case studies in this respect. And no, political leaders do not always act like those fools did. Great leaders prove themselves in time of crisis. The people of New Orleans were not fortunate enough to have one single great leader in the long chain of government officials.

– New Orleans is doomed. That’s something I used to think was part of the charm … you always knew disaster was right around the corner, but you hoped you’d have time to finish your drink before the reaper showed up. And if you didn’t have time you were pretty sure you could get a go-cup anyway. At least that’s the way /I/ always felt. The reality isn’t romantic or charming at all. The reaper won’t let you bring a go-cup. You will stand in line at the SuperDome with no food or water or you will camp in the August sunshine on the remains of an asphalt bridge. It’s going to happen again. We know now that the People In Charge knew very well that the levees would break before the levees broke. And we know that that they will break again when the next storm comes. We know that despite the best efforts of the US Army Corps of Engineers, the Mississippi River wants to reroute itself many miles West, far from the city. When those things happen, the devastation will be complete.

– It doesn’t have to be this way. We can choose to put people ahead of profit. We can say “no” to the idea that “Government should be small enough to be drowned in a bathtub.” We can take care of each other and we can all prosper. But if we choose to allow some to prosper and leave the rest to fend for themselves … we can all end up like our brothers and sisters in New Orleans.

Maybe that’s the closest thing I can find to “hopeful” in the wake of Katrina. We can do better. Will we? I can’t tell your that.

samanthaimperiatrix:

2005 was a big year for me. I became a mother, and I got married for the first time. Watching the horrors unfold in New Orleans fell as I held my infant son, and put the final touches on the wedding. I saw the images of the people in towns on their roofs, the houses completely envelloped in water, and the residents clinging for some shred of dignity.
“How can this be happening here? Aren’t we a big important country? Isn’t there more we can do? Or could have done?”
I tried to mentally block out the blame that passed around from agency to agency over the next months, but in some sense they were all guilty. They all failed those people in some way. Living in coastal Florida my entire existence, I cringe at the thought that we could be next. The next horrific images and stories you see on the news next of an American city underwater could be mine.
Shortly there after, people from the Biloxi area transferred to my work, because they were now out of jobs, and had nothing to go home to. I made friends with some, and they told me their stories.
There was no media embellishment there. They were as bad as you imagine.


Seyyal Edibe:

In 2005, my family and I were living in Germany, where I was working for the Army. We had been there since 2002, but I had not managed to “settle in” and feel at home there. It was like I was on an extended vacation, except I had to work … a lot. A by-product of that is I felt like I was living in some netherworld: I didn’t really fit in in Germany, but I wasn’t in the U.S. either. We were finally able to get Sky TV out of the UK after almost a year, so we could watch English-language TV, but it was British TV. We had CNN, but it was CNN International. The only American news feed we had was Fox News. I know.

I still remember that day. Germany is 6 hours ahead of East Coast U.S. so that in itself can be disorienting. I want to say we found out about Katrina from CNN International. It was a nice, sunny day in Germany, which isn’t exactly the norm, even in August. So I turned to Fox to get the “hometown version.”

All I can say is that it was surreal. I was seeing Katrina through the eyes of a “foreigner,” but at the same time not: I had attended Loyola for a semester and a summer, and had been stationed there for 3 years. I knew East Bank from West Bank. Algiers. Ninth Ward. The French Quarter. The CBD. New Orleans East. Crescent City Connection. The Huey P. Long Bridge. My husband and I sat there in disbelief: watching how one of the most famous cities in the U.S. had devolved into little more than a Third World country. I sat there and watched while Shepard Smith (who’s from Mississippi, BTW), was actually /screaming/ on TV that people were dying on the Crescent City Connection because people were on the Gretna side of the bridge standing there with guns, threatening to shoot them if they even tried to enter Gretna for food and water. And another meltdown as he reported how children were being sexually molested in the SuperDome that had become a makeshift shelter for those who were unable to leave New Orleans for a myriad of reasons.

I sat there and watched the coverage hour after hour. Horrified, but unable to change the channel. Because somehow, I felt it was my /responsibility/ to watch this, so when I went back out into the community, I could attempt to explain to the Germans I regularly interacted with “our” side of the story. I watched people sitting on the roofs of their houses, which was the only thing above the water line, shooting at National Guard helicopters trying to rescue them. I listened while they described how old people in nursing homes had never been evacuated because there was no evacuation plan, so they just died in place. How people in hospitals were dying because there wasn’t sufficient auxiliary power to keep their life support systems going, or any coherent mass evacuation plan. How New Orleans police were breaking into luxury car dealerships and taking cars because “the police cruisers [were] underwater” or they “needed SUVs to navigate the flooded streets.”

All of a sudden “Laissez les bons temps rouler!” stopped being the battle cry of committed partiers and more a declaration of “We’re a bunch of clueless, careless idiots.”

And we won’t even discuss Mayor Ray Nagin surveying the devastation in designer suits and declaring New Orleans would arise as a “Chocolate City!”

alethiam:

I went to the coast of the panhandle after Katrina brushed by Florida. I was with two friends, and the normally clear water was murky with stirred up sand (and god-knows-what else). We could see there had been a storm surge. The usually brilliant white sand was covered with rotting dead fish and a few dead sharks. The smell of death and the dark, but gentle, waves of the Gulf were ominous. I took some photos of the beach, but not of the death or destruction. I’m not sure why.

I remember being relieved when I heard Katrina was only a Category 3 as it made landfall over the coast to the West of me. I had studied photographs of New Orleans before and after Camille, and thought the city would be spared a little.

And then, the levees broke. I hadn’t foreseen that. I had to go over to a friend’s house to watch TV, and the images and witness reports were horrific.

A year later, I found myself in New Orleans. We drove around the city, curious to see how it was recovering.

Parts of the city seemed unscathed. But right next to a beautiful home, there would be a house, boarded up, with spray paint on it, informing all it was too be demolished. The city was discombobulated. It was trying, but next to every effort were ashes or ruins.

We kept driving, and ended up in a middle class neighborhood. Something seemed amiss, though. It was evening, and there were no cars on the road or in the driveways. No lights were on inside the homes. There were no people walking on the sidewalk. I looked from my right to my left. To my right, there were houses. To the left, there was water that was higher than the houses.

All of this must have flooded. No one lived in these houses anymore. They were ruined. It was such an eerie, spooky feeling. The lake to the left of me no longer seemed scenic. The water, calm in the evening sun, was suddenly cruel; it was a destroyer of lives and dreams.

Some links I’ve found interesting:
Race and Recovery 10 Years After Hurricane Katrina
A Katrina Lexicon

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The Deathless Death

Last week I shared with you my health scare. Luckily, the ultrasound found normal blood flow. There is one thing that still needs to be checked, but it was not nearly as bad as I feared. You see, one of my aunts had dementia, and since experiencing that, it has become one of my worst case scenarios and greatest fears.

Dementia is a ninja. Whether you call it specifically Alzheimer’s or more generally dementia, it is a ninja. It can be early onset, starting as early as your 40s or 50s, or it can wait until your 60s, 70s, or later. It starts out with just the occasional mental lapse here or there and—as a woman—it’s difficult to tell if it’s dementia or just the memory loss that comes with menopause. But if you have dementia in your family, every time you “lose” a word, or go blank on your PIN at the grocery store checkout, you panic and ask, “Is this it? Is it starting?”

I was in the military, so I wasn’t around my family of origin on a regular basis. When I got out and moved back home, I noticed that my aunt would repeat things. I attributed it to the fact that she lived in a small town, didn’t get out much, and had to recycle stuff in order to sustain a conversation. Besides, with two children in elementary school, I kinda had my hands full.

I stayed at home for a little over two years, and then we moved to Germany. I rarely spoke with that aunt, but I spoke with her oldest sister, Kathryn, fairly regularly. Aunt Kay started saying that Mable (my aunt with dementia) was under “stress.”  I could accept that: Mable’s daughter had died a year or so before, so … yes, stress. Mable had led a pretty sheltered life and now there she was, suddenly all alone, and without the daughter around whom her life had revolved for almost fifty years. From time to time Aunt Kaye would relate stories of Mable’s odd behavior, but having no previous experience with dementia, I made no connection. And Aunt Kaye never uttered the “D” or “A” word.

Then, in April of 2005, I got the call we all dread: I needed to come home because my eldest aunt was failing. Even though I was two days out of the hospital after a two-week stay, I was Frankfurt Airport-bound in less than 48 hours. When I arrived at the ICU of our local hospital, twenty minutes ahead of schedule, I was absolutely horrified to find Aunt Kaye (the eldest aunt) a mere shadow of her former self. Once so tall, confident, and strong, I was greeted by a weak, skeletal figure who weakly reached her skeletal arms out to me when I entered the room. A significant emotional event after a 16-hour Transatlantic trip and a six-hour time shift, I went home and went to bed.

The first time I saw Mable was the next day. She seemed like her old self. Then she said something a little odd, but she came back pretty quickly. But, the more time I spent with her, the more I noticed that something just wasn’t quite right. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but…

That’s when my cousin Patty just laid it all out. Mable had been diagnosed with dementia. She told us (my two sisters were there, too) about the nightmare Mable’s life had become. The most disturbing, to me, was that Mable had become nocturnal, and on more than one occasion had been found by the police wandering around. When asked what she was doing, she said she was looking for her daughter. Sometimes they would take her back home, yet at other times to the ER.

After Aunt Kaye passed, I had to go about the business of tying up loose ends so I could get back to Germany. We made an appointment to discuss Mable’s situation with her doctor, who turned out to be a condescending, uncaring sack of excrement who was more focused on putting us “uppity negroes” in our place than intelligently discussing Mable’s situation. When we went to see the attorney about taking care of Aunt Kaye’s estate, we tried to get a Power of Attorney for Mable, but the attorney refused to do it, even though Mable was there, was lucid, and agreed to it.

Aunt Kaye had lived in the family homestead with her youngest sister, Bettye, who is deaf. The reasonable solution was to move Mable back to the homestead with Bettye. But neither of them were having any of that. Bettye said she was afraid of Mable’s volatility, and Mable decided we were evil and plotting against her.

I had come home prepared to say goodbye to one aunt. I ended up saying goodbye to two. Mable was no longer there.  I thought I would be attending one funeral; it ended up being a double.

I don’t recall now exactly when Mable finally went into care, but I think it was 2005. I came back to the States early in 2006, but to El Paso, Texas, so I didn’t go home.  My cousin who had been visiting her at the nursing home died in 2009, so I had no real word of Mable after that. Someone sent me a picture of her in the nursing home: she was lying limply in a bed, her hair disheveled, her t-shirt rolled up under her breasts, exposing her stomach. She could have been dead or alive. However, in my mind that was no longer Mable. Her periods of lucidity had long since become more the rare exception than the norm, and she had retreated to her childhood. Very rarely, a little of Mable would peep out, but it was so rare and so brief that it would have been better if it had not.  Those brief moments just reminded us of what we had lost. It was a knife to my heart because I still believe that the “May-May” I had so adored as a child was still in there, imprisoned by this evil disease, but trying desperately to let someone know, “Hey! I’m still in here!”

One day in 2011, I received a call from the nursing home while I was in baggage claim at the Huntsville, Alabama, airport. In 2009, I had called the nursing home and told them they needed to transfer Patty’s role to me when I found out she was dying of cancer. They told me that Patty would have to come in and relinquish her role. I told them she was a little busy dying at the moment and probably wouldn’t be able to fit that into her schedule. I gave them my contact information and decided to let them figure it out for themselves. So, in late 2011, they finally did.

I didn’t recognize the number, but I recognized the area code. In a very matter-of-fact way, the woman on the other end of the line informed me she was calling to get authorization to do a hospice consult for Mable. You see, one of the things they don’t tell you about dementia is that not only does it steal your essence and your life memories, it steals every learned behavior. Mable had long since lost her ability to hold up her head and feed herself; by the time I got that call, she had forgotten how to eat and swallow. She was dehydrated and emaciated. But a hospice consult? Over two years of nothing and suddenly we need a hospice consult? No, I did not handle it well.

I received that call in early November. After a number of conversations with my sisters, we decided against the hospice consult. I decided I was going to go home for Thanksgiving to see Mable and say my last good-bye, even though she had died to me back in 2005. Exactly one week before I was going to head to home, the nursing home called me and told me she had passed. They asked me what I wanted them to do. My sisters and I decided to have our cousin, who is a mortician, retrieve her body and cremate her. We talked about a memorial service, but that never happened.

My daughter and I went home at Thanksgiving anyway, and I went by the nursing home to retrieve Mable’s things. The nursing home staff was very kind. They had an orderly roll out less than a dozen boxes the size of copier paper boxes to my car and load them in. I drove them back to the house, took them in and opened them up. There were very few of her personal items left. Most of it was clothes they had provided her as she wasted away—things she never would have voluntarily worn. Eighty-six years of living reduced to less than a dozen boxes because dementia is a ruthless thief.

To this day, no one has retrieved her cremains. They are with a family member, so I know they are safe and will not be abused. But, the bottom line: I feel no connection to those cremains. “Mable” died the deathless death of dementia long before her body gave up the fight.

Why are they called “mass shootings?”

Sadly, we are dealing with yet another tragedy caused by a maniac with a gun. Today it was in southwestern Virginia as the lives of Alison Parker and Adam Ward were senselessly taken by a former colleague. As Americans and the media try to unravel what’s behind today’s horrific acts, I noticed something and those were the words “mass shooting.” Those two words are sadly all-too-common in today’s day, when mass shootings seem to be the norm. According to a Washington Post story published this afternoon, the United States is averaging more than one mass shooting per day. Those horrific numbers are for a separate conversation about gun violence and the perpetuation of gun ownership in America, but this is about the media’s portrayal of mass shootings and whether a quality definition exists for heinous acts.

Today’s tragedy took the lives of three people (gunman included), wounding a fourth. In the Washington Post’s article, they cite a subreddit called GunsAreCool (a sarcastic title), which defines a mass shooting, “as any single incident in which at least four people are shot, including the gunman.” The WaPo article goes onto to mention the FBI’s definition, “which requires three or more people to be killed by gunfire.”

Do either of those definitions fit what you consider a “mass shooting?” Without doing the quantitative and qualitative research necessary, it seems as if the term “mass shooting” is applied to any shooting–regardless of the number of victims–covered wall-to-wall by the media. Since we first learned of the senseless acts committed by a madman, media–both online and television–have covered the story incessantly. To me, it seems that when the media decides one particular heinous act committed with a gun demands the nonstop coverage, then–and only then–is the shooting considered a “mass shooting.”

It’s difficult to admit this, and perhaps this is hyperbolic given the nature of today’s events, but it seems that “mass shootings” is media code for “terrorist attack committed by an American on American soil using a gun.” Yes, we generally reserve the term “terrorist attack” committed by Americans when bombs are involved, but at this point, that’s what these “mass shootings” are doing. They terrorize and terrify victims, bystanders, and all those affected directly or indirectly by the attacks. Recent shootings at movie theaters now have you looking around a theater before enjoying a show. Is that different than checking around an airport or a plane post-9/11? We are scared of our movie theaters, our schools, our churches, our malls, our neighborhoods, and almost every place we go. Why? Mass shootings.

Will we finally let go of the numbness we experience following a mass shooting if we correctly identify them as a terrorist attack? Yes, most of the shooters do not have an ideological goal, but based on the testimony of the Charleston shooter and the suicide note left by today’s attacker, both provided plenty of ideological fodder for their twisted, senseless violent actions.

We have a problem in this country when “mass shootings”–or however you want to define them–become the new normal. After 9/11, incredible changes were made to this country to prevent another attack from happening. Whether you agree or disagree with the changes made post-9/11 is beside the point, but we can say that the government has foiled a large number of terrorist attacks on U.S. soil since that horrible day and we’ve done a far better job protecting the country. Is that too much to ask when it comes to those terrorizing our schools, churches, movie theaters, and homes? Is it too much to ask our country and fellow citizens to do something to protect us?

As we try to determine how we can prevent tragedies like this from happening again–which again revolves mostly around the proliferation of guns in America and American culture–we must consider how and why we define certain actions as “mass shootings,” instead of the terroristic actions they are.

Until we find a way to stop this madness, they will continue, unabated. The pain and suffering of today’s events will subside for most Americans, as we leave the victims’ friends, families, and colleagues to grieve and ask why, but the rest of us will continue about our business until our day is interrupted, once again, by the sound of a breaking news alert as we once again learn the names of the victims and the senseless individual responsible for yet another attack. No more movie theaters, schools, churches, malls, homes, streets, cars, or any other location where victims are senselessly gunned down. It must end.

Congress should pass the Iran nuclear deal

“Six in 10 Americans, 60 percent, disapprove of how President Obama is handling relations with Iran, up from 48 percent back in April shortly after a framework agreement with Tehran was unveiled.”

The above statement is from an article on TheHill.com last Thursday. These numbers are understandable, even predictable, given that the vast majority of Americans fail to comprehend much of the framework of the deal and are being inundated by political pundits and media talking heads with scary sound bites and foreboding ads produced by opponents and special interests against it. I don’t pretend to fully understand it either. It is complicated. However, I have taken considerable time to delve into the issue by reading articles for and against it in Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, and other nonpartisan publications. I have come to the conclusion that Congress must support this deal.

I am not alone. Many foreign policy and nuclear nonproliferation experts, nuclear scientists as well as former military leaders feel the same. You need proof? Below are three letters:

29 U.S. Scientists Praise Iran Nuclear Deal in Letter to Obama & PDF of the letter

Statement from Nuclear Nonproliferation Specialists

An open letter from Retired Generals and Admirals

China, Russia, France, the United Kindgom, and Germany also agree – they worked with us on these negotiations.  Should Congress find enough votes to override a presidential veto, the deal is technically broken. The countries working with us will also abandon the deal and we’ll be right back at the status quo where there are no inspections, the possibility of a nuclear Iran, and military force as the only alternative to imposing our demands on a sovereign nation.

These negotiations have taken two years. The deal was hardly thrown together quickly and haphazardly. Yet opponents were lambasting it before they even read it, before it was even released. These are the same, or mostly the same, people who couldn’t get our military into Iraq fast enough. We all know that was an enormous mistake. Now, they once again seem to be intent on seeking a military-only option, which is just wrong-headed. God forbid we actually try to talk to people with whom we have disagreements.

Furthermore, there is so much misinformation swirling about. I’ll briefly address two bits of misinformation that have arisen recently.

  • Iran is given 24 days before outside inspections begin. This is inaccurate. The 24-day inspection rule is explained in detail by Max Fisher of vox.com. He also provides an outline of the inspection process. Summing up, “If inspectors try to get access to sites but at every turn are delayed by Iranian stall tactics, guess what: It will be extremely clear from all this stalling that Iran is not adhering to the deal. Inspections will have worked.” He goes on, “Repeatedly delaying inspectors up to the highest possible limit would effectively prove that Iran was cheating, without the world even having to catch them red-handed.” Furthermore, the U.S. does not have to wait 24 days, tools are built into the process to stop Iran and reinstate sanctions unilaterally at any point in the process.
  • The Associated Press reported on Wednesday that Iran would be allowed to self-inspect. That is mostly false. This was an unconfirmed report of a copy of a draft agreement the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) had drawn up with Iran pertaining to one military facility known as Parchin. Max Fisher, again, of vox.xom offers an excellent analysis of this on August 20 and posted a follow-up piece the next day. If there is reason to be concerned, then absolutely it should be addressed. However, the Parchin site was not, according to Fisher, addressed in the deal negotiated with the U.S. and other world powers; this was an agreement between the IAEA and Iran.

Last week, Amy Goodman of Democracy Now interviewed Gary Sick of Columbia University. Ms. Goodman introduced him, saying, “He served on the National Security Council under Presidents Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan, and was the principal White House aide for Iran during the Iranian Revolution and the hostage crisis. He recently wrote an article for Politico headlined “The Danger of a Failed Iran Deal.””

In the article, he writes that during the 2003 to 2005 negotiations with Iran and other European countries (the U.S. was not directly involved but the Bush administration vetoed these talks for the same reason as today’s opponents) Iran was offering to cap their centrifuges at 3,000. The deal was never made. When Iran returned to the negotiating table in 2013, they now had 20,000 centrifuges and a stockpile of enriched uranium. A deal ten years ago may have prevented that extensive build-up. Furthermore, the fear that Iran would develop a nuclear weapon within a few years has not occurred.

Sick says:

“It is easy to dismiss these predictions as fear-mongering about something that obviously never happened. But it is much more instructive to understand that what they were saying had a basis in fact: During this entire period, Iran was steadily increasing its capability to produce a nuclear bomb. The more interesting fact is that Tehran did not follow through. By virtually every estimate, Iran has had the capability to produce a nuclear weapon for at least a decade. The predictions were wrong, not about Iran’s ability but about its willingness to use that capability to produce a weapon. The entire U.S. intelligence community and most of our allies — apparently including Israel — have concluded with high confidence that Iran has not made a decision to build a bomb.”

Democracy Now interview and transcript 

Is this deal perfect? Absolutely not. Nor do I support all of President Obama’s policies and deals, as I’m often accused. I am not a fan of the Trans-Pacific Partnership in its current form. I do not approve of the excessive use of drone strikes in Pakistan and other areas of unrest around the world, nor do I approve of the growing surveillance state in the name of security happening in this country, which began rapidly expanding under the George W. Bush administration.

Let me offer some final points. A friend on Facebook recently posted on my feed a quote from the Obama administration that read: “A bad deal is better than no deal.” That is a distortion. The actual quote is: “No deal is better than a bad deal.” What is the difference one may ask? Well, it is a big one.

The incorrect quote implies that President Obama, Secretary Kerry, and the other P5+1 negotiators are so desperate for a deal that they would push a bad one onto the world, risking the security of not only the negotiating countries’ interests but those in the Middle East and the larger world just so that they can say they had a nuclear deal with Iran.

The actual quote stated means that if the Administration had felt the deal failed to meet certain standards, then there would be no deal. The fact that there is a deal means that the parties involved believe it is sound and is the best they could achieve. Could they have done better? Perhaps, some seem to think so. However, President Obama would not be lobbying congressional and senate Democrats if he did not believe this deal was in the best interest of the United States and that it was a solid one. On this, I agree with my president.

Those proposing that we should never negotiate with Iran or trust them because some of their leaders are shouting, “Death to America!” is short-sighted. Many Iranians, even some in the top levels of government, see this deal as a chance to escape the crippling sanctions they’ve endured for decades. Iranian citizens do not necessarily hold the same views against the West as the Ayatollah and the hardliners in their government. We Americans certainly don’t agree with our leaders most of the time, why would we believe all Iranians think the same way as their leaders? Many Iranians want their country to be able to participate in the global economy; they are tired of being isolated. Many are hopeful that this deal will improve their economic lot and thus the quality of their every-day lives for themselves and their families. Of course, they want this.

Military force and re-instituting sanctions are all options should Iran cheat. Military force should always be the last option because it costs dearly in lives and treasure. This deal must be given a chance and lest we forget, and many have or don’t even know U.S. history with Iran, the United States (the CIA) helped the United Kingdom overthrow a democratically elected prime minister, Mohammad Mossadegh, in 1953 and installed a dictator. The United States is at least somewhat complicit in the turmoil happening throughout the Middle East today. It’s time to restore some balance, and if possible, to do it through a diplomatic and peaceful process.

Congress, pass the deal.

Related articles:

What the Iran-Deal Debate is Like in Iran

There is a Path to a Better Deal with Iran

Iran deal opponents now have their “death panels” lie, and it’s a whopper

The AP’s controversial and badly flawed Iran inspections story, explained

The Ticking Time Bomb

Hi, friends. I know it’s been a while since you heard from me. But … life. . But I’m feeling stronger, and I hope this will be the beginning of a long relationship.

I had my periodic appointment with my Primary Care Provider (PCP) at the Veterans’ Administration, and it went wonderfully.   Even my prostate appears to be in good shape (do not ask me why they run PSAs on women…).  I’m feelin’ good!!!!

A couple of months ago I started having a new sensation in my right shoulder; like the joint was separating . True to form, I waited around a while, hoping it might just go away. When it did not, I went to see my civilian PCP, who is also an orthopedist.  He decided it might be a tear in my rotator cuff, and that I probably need an MRI, but insurance being what it is, we had to start with an x-ray. So he sent me down the hall for some x-rays.

I didn’t hear back from his office after a few days, so I assumed the x-rays showed nothing worthy of note, which is what I expected.  Then, last week – about 2 weeks after my appointment – I got a call from the doctor’s office.  They had been trying to reach me about my x-rays.  Ruh-roh…

First of all, the x-rays (for my shoulder, recall) showed a stiffening of my spine, “most likely caused by muscle spasms.” Do tell! I have 10% service-connected disability for that. As an afterthought, I was also told that the x-ray showed mild arthritis in my right shoulder.

The majority of the phone conversation, however, centered around the plaque build up in my carotid artery. The nurse recommended an ultrasound. At first I was tempted to blow it off:  my first “cardiac episode” about three years ago, had found plaque in my arteries, but the cardiologist had mentioned it in an off-hand manner.  When I saw him in February, he declared me healthy and graduated me from six-month visits to annual visits. I was just about to pass on the ultrasound, but decided a second opinion never hurts.

The internet is a both a wonderful and evil place. It can give you just enough information to scare the bejeezoobs out of you.  And that is what it did. I already knew, from high school science class, that the carotid artery is pretty significant.  I knew from my cardiologist that plaque in an artery weakens the wall of the artery and can cause it to “blow out.” But what I found on the internet was far more chilling.  Apparently, I have what is called Carotid Artery Disease. The build up of plaque there can significantly reduce the blood flow to the brain, causing dementia, or the plaque can break off, go to the brain and cause a stroke. Or, the wall of my carotid cause just cave under the pressure of the plaque and I could bleed out.

So now, not only am I at risk for heart attack based on my family history, me of the historically low blood pressure, am now at risk of a stroke or bleeding out via an erupted carotid.

I had my ultrasound on Tuesday, so now there is the wait for the results, and most likely a visit to a cardiologist. Meanwhile, I’m walking around carrying this possibly deadly secret. Do I continue to go about my life as if I do not know this?  Do I sit quietly on my sofa munching on carrots, drinking distilled water, and double-dosing my pravastatin and low-dose aspirin because I stopped taking them … how long ago?  Perhaps I should just start chugging olive oil: after all the Greeks swear by its ability to support longevity. Do I finally fill out all those beneficiary-type forms that are suddenly missing from my personnel file – you know, just in case? Do I finally fill out that living will form the VA has been giving  me for the past four years and have it notarized? Do I cruise on over to Legal Zoom and do that will I’ve been thinking I need to do for so long and never quite seem to remember when I’m at home doing nothing of value? Do I laugh because I am still alive, or cry that soon I may not be? Maybe I should start attending Mass again on a regular basis…

I’ve been well aware of my mortality since I reached my 40s, because both of my parents died at 49.  On the one hand, I see every year I live past that as a sort of “bonus round.” But then my sister died suddenly of a heart attack at age 56, so – at 53 – I now have an additional hurdle to cross before I consider myself “out of the woods.”  Never mind that my oldest sister will be 64 on Saturday and appears to be in perfectly good health. In my mind, she could well be the anomaly, like my father’s youngest sister, who  celebrated her 88th birthday on Monday (and by the way she ate when I was there earlier this year. shows no signs of imminent decline). None of her siblings or either of her parents lived to see 88.  I may very well be like her, as the “baby” of my family, but my mind won’t let me go there.  In my mind, there is this ticking time bomb inside of me, toying with me; knowing exactly the day and the hour when it will detonate. And no matter how nicely I talk to it, or how much I pray about it, it will never reveal its plan to me.

And so, I will continue to kiss my children every night, and tell them I love them, in case I slip away in the night like so many of my loved ones before me.

Tick … tock … tick … tock. …

Millennials’ finances prevent homeownership; is that a problem?

Nothing screams "stock photo" like a picture of excited millennials buying a house.

Nothing screams “stock photo” like a picture of excited Millennials buying a house.

Almost daily, there’s another article focused on the Millennials. (Seriously, a Google News search of “millennials” returned 3.17 million results in 0.30 seconds.) Generally, the articles will make broad claims that Millennials are entitled, spoiled, and lazy, while others will seek to counter those opinions about how mil. Yes, we’ve talked about America’s largest generation ad nauseam, but an issue with millennials is rearing its ugly head and it affects all of us. Millennials are growing up–with the oldest hitting their mid-30s–and more frequently, Millennials are eschewing home ownership, out of necessity or fear of another crash. With home prices and sales rising steadily across the country, this presents Millennials a cause for concern moving forward or an opportunity.

Millennials by and large would like to own a home, but cannot quality for a mortgage (thanks student loans) or they are unable to make enough to save for a downpayment. According to a recent AP story, the average time someone rents before buying a home now reaches 6 years. Forty years ago, that number was only 2.6 years. It’s a staggering increase in the amount of time Millennials spend moving from rental to rental, foregoing one of the backbones of middle class America. According to a recent study conducted by the Urban Land Institute, 50 percent of Millennials rent, 21 percent live with their parents, and only 26 percent own a home. Think about that for a second. More than 70 percent of American Millennials either rent or live with their parents. That’s nearly 53 million Americans from just one generation who do not own a home.

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I Know A Great Shortcut …

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I like to drive. The roar of a great big engine on the open road is one of my favorite things.

But here’s something I’ve come to understand: Just because I like it doesn’t mean I – or you – get to do it.

You see, we can’t afford all those big open roads here in America anymore. Not if we want a reasonable standard of living otherwise, that is.

I’m not saying we all need to turn in our car keys. America is a car culture. I get that. But it’s time for governments – from Congress to your local city hall – to start decommissioning roads and shelving new road projects. Paving a mile of four-lane highway can cost upwards of a half a million dollars. There are counties around the nation with road repair backlogs in the billions (yes, with a “b”) of dollars.

The picture at the top of this article is of a county road near me that’s about two miles long. It’s basically a shortcut between a heavily-traveled state highway and another county road. On both sides of this stretch there is nothing but swamp. No homes, no businesses, just snakes, gators, grass and trees. I love to drive it – slowly, for the sake of my car – because I love the scenery. Of course, it’s paralleled by a bike path about 100 feet away, so if I really want to get a good look, I can walk or cycle.

Nature is already decommissioning this road for us. But we’re eventually going to take hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars away from better internet service, from feeding and housing homeless children, from public safety, from education, etc. … to rebuild this road.

That’s a bad idea. But who’s going to be the elected official who recommends shutting down roads?

Get off the interstate and drive a four-lane rural highway near you sometime. Try two or three and you’re bound to find at least one pristine, state-of-the-art road with no one else on it. Why? Becuase some congressperson or state legislator “brought home the bacon” and made her constituents happy by growing some new lanes on the local back-road.

Unfortunately, if those same elected officials decided to fight for money for your local bus system or bike path they’d be the target of a well-funded PAC complaining that they were throwing tax money away on uneccesary projects.

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This picture is one of my favorites. It’s a state road – paid for by the good people of Florida – and there’s clearly meant to be more of it but somehow the “more” didn’t make it out of the woods. That’s tens of thousands of dollars you’re looking at right there.

Across the street from this road to/from nowhere is a park and ride lot. Normally I love park and ride lots. They make it easier to use public transportation, right? Except that this one (again, funded with the taxes of the people of Florida) is about ten miles from the reaches of the nearest public transportation. And no, there are no plans to run buses out there anytime soon.

But you can bet the state rep who shepherded that project through the state budget process has been lauded for bringing home the bacon.

If we’re serious about using taxpayer funds responsibly, we have to talk about our addiction to roads. We need to think about what we could have done with the money we used to build a two-mile shortcut and a road to nowhere. And we need to remember that it’s our money and our responsibility to see that it’s used wisely. Tell your local, state and federal elected officials you’re ready to take the long way home and to spend that road money on something that matters.