About resentment.

Resentment is often characterized as one drinking poison but hoping the other person dies. It’s most foolish and an exercise in futility where the most harm is inflicted on the person holding the resentment. Any logical person will tell you to just say it out loud to the person you are resentful about and try to resolve it and if it can’t be resolved, then just move on.

But what if the resentment is legitimate? Or worse, what if the resentment is the kind you can’t say out loud, because if you do, it will upset the natural order of things.

When I was 16 years old and on summer vacation, I saw a documentary on PBS called ‘The Farmer’s Wife’ by acclaimed documentary filmmaker David Sutherland. I don’t know how at 16 I was able to sit through 6 hours of a documentary film about a rural Nebraskan couple who was trying to save their farm and their marriage. But I was gripped by that documentary, an unflinching look at a couple under financial strain, familial strain and choices made which cannot be unmade. To this day, twenty years after I first viewed it, I still recall the scenes, the conversations, spoken and unspoken and the body language of a young couple in distress. What David Sutherland was able to capture on film, no actor or actress  can replicate. Perhaps the reason why this long, drawn out documentary about a very average farmer’s wife and her family appealed to me at 16 is because I saw shades of my future self in her.

Juanita Buschkoetter was an unintentional farmer’s wife. By that I mean had she followed the blueprint her family laid out for her, she wouldn’t have gotten married at 18 (right out of high school) to a 24 year old farmer Darrel Buschkoetter. She came from a well-to-do family in the city, her brother went to Harvard University and her sister attended Wellesley. She went off and got married to a farmer at age 18, of her own volition, she wasn’t knocked up or anything like that. She met Darrel and fell in love and she loved farm life. It was tough, it’s an endless cycle of debt, planting, harvest, but it was exciting. Needless to say, this was not a marriage that had the blessings of their families. Even Darrel’s father (also a farmer) felt that Juanita would not be a good farmer’s wife because she was a ‘city girl’. She didn’t have the graft and ingenuity necessary to hack it as a farmer’s wife (he had never been more wrong). Juanita turned out to be an excellent farmer’s wife, even at the young age of 18. She didn’t mind hard work, she had a good attitude, she had a great sense of humor when things didn’t go quite right and she loved her man, she worshipped him. In time they had three daughters and she enjoyed being a mother to those three girls as well.

But in the early 1990s disaster struck. Early frost wiped out one-third of their crops and they weren’t able to pay their creditors (FHA and a series of other government loans), the government was on the verge of liquidating their farm and they stood to lose everything. To supplement their income Darrel had to take a job at a nearby steel factory for $7 an hour and farm at night using floodlights and at times he had to go work for another farmer to make ends meet. Juanita had to go clean rich people’s homes in the city (similar to the home she grew up in and the irony wasn’t lost on her either) to pay for their basic necessities. At one time she had to apply for food stamps to feed her family. She talked about budgeting just $20 a month for food and there were months where they consumed no meat because they couldn’t afford it. Darrel didn’t have the finesse or people skills to negotiate with their creditors to give them an extension on their debt. He was often angry, ill tempered and impatient when dealing with his creditors. So Juanita took over and quite literally, one letter at time, one phone call at a time, she renegotiated all of their loans and kept the creditors at bay. A year later, they had a bumper crop which enabled them to pay off most of their debt. The couple should be relieved and celebrating but they weren’t. Small cracks in their marriage became huge rifts.

At their most troubled time, Darrel began to notice a rising confidence in his wife. He was acutely aware (as was his father though no one gave her enough credit for it) it was Juanita who saved their farm. And he didn’t like it one bit because it wasn’t he who came to the rescue, yet there’s nothing he can do about it. He always felt (and knew her family felt the same) that she was too good for him and that she could have gone to college and done better for herself, but he took comfort in the knowledge that his wife adored him and his daughters depended on him and he was still the ‘man of the house’. Most importantly, he was still able to provide for them. But as the crisis on their farm progressed and as Darrel’s jealousy and insecurity increased (he didn’t want her to go to a friend’s baby shower because he was afraid she might not want to come back) combined with their strained finances, Juanita woke up to the fact that as much as she would love to, she cannot solely depend on her husband to keep a roof over their heads and food on the table. Those days are gone. So she went back to school and got an associate’s degree studying crop insurance and was able to get a good job in town. In effect, she’s no longer the traditional farmer’s wife. In fact, she sort of went back to the role that she was brought up to be, a middle-class professional woman and she slipped into that role very easily too, after a decade of being a farmer’s wife. She also casually remarked that she was no longer the child without a college degree in her family, so subconsciously, what her family thought of her still mattered.

When the financial crisis hit them, they dynamics of their marriage changed. Juanita rolled up her sleeves and figured out a way forward but she begrudgingly acknowledged:

“I know I deny it a lot of times, but the only thing I can think of is that I must, deep down, be holding it against Darrel, you know, the situation we’re in right now. And I know most of it’s not his fault, but I don’t know how to get over that,”

And Darrel says:

“I think, (that) with the financial problems we have, she blames me for a lot of them. She won’t say she does, but I think she does. And I don’t like that part about her, because I feel like a bomb’s gonna go off if something don’t get said.”

It’s interesting that they do not say this to each other, they each said this on separate occasions to the person behind the camera. In fact, not at any point in the documentary does Juanita unleash her anger and resentment about the dismal state of their finances at him because she already knows he feels “so low” about himself. Even in this difficult time, she’s desperately trying to not upset the flow of their  household, which is Darrel is the man of the house (even if he can’t bring home all of the bacon anymore) and she’s the traditional wife. It was a dynamic that’s worked for them for over 10 years and should she disrupt it, she doesn’t know what the fallout and emotional repercussions will be.

This film was released in 1995, the documentary had no ‘agenda’ it was trying to spin, it wasn’t pro or against traditional family or feminism, it was literal documentation of a farmer’s wife and her family. The cameras rolled in good times and in bad, happy times and sad times. The final penny dropped when after Juanita saved their farm along with their bumper crop the following year, Darrel blew up at rather minor debt of $100. Instead of being happy and grateful that they are out of the woods, he’s losing his shit over $100. Juanita had enough of his bad temper and packed up the girls and drove to her parents house for a week to reevaluate. Perhaps at sixteen I realized I was watching how my life could turn out should I take the path of marriage and starting a family. Though I won’t become a farmer’s wife, how do you deal with resentment and shifting dynamics in a marriage where no direct blame can be placed?

Many women willingly let their man take the lead in the marriage because it was the most logical choice at the time, or that it’s just easier, or the woman hasn’t developed her career or path in life yet. Especially when a woman takes time out of her career to start a family, she’s left with no choice but to let the man take the lead in finances and major decisions about the family. Sometimes that pays off but more often than not it doesn’t and when things go spectacularly wrong and you are faced with homelessness or a significant reduction in circumstances, what do you do with all the anger and resentment? Especially when there is nothing but events out of one’s control to blame? Especially if a woman gave up her career to be the family caregiver, where does she put her frustrations and resentments for lost opportunities? As women and especially as mothers, we are not supposed feel resentful for looking after our families and sacrificing our own dreams and goals, this is still a taboo, to think that your children got in your way (but the fact is they do). Is there a box where we can put all of our unrealized dreams and goals and hope it doesn’t unleash its fury at the wrong time?

When you break it down, the faultline reveals itself very clearly. Once a family has chosen to go down the traditional path (across all social classes), male breadwinner, female caretaker, it’s very hard to reverse that dynamic. The roles can artificially change with the female becoming breadwinner or co-breadwinner, but the emotional blueprint of the family is already set. The former breadwinner will feel emasculated, incompetent and helpless. The new breadwinner will feel a sense of independence, confidence and new self-worth that wasn’t there before, but the downside of that is you may be celebrating on your own, especially if you were a woman who took on the traditional role of the family. The initial relief of a crisis solved will soon give way to feelings of insecurity, jealousy and further resentment (proof that you really don’t need your man or anyone else as much as you thought you did).

After a big crisis and as a woman gains some hard earned self-confidence, what does she then do with it? Go back to being a ‘traditional wife’? Even if she did, the elephant in the room has already revealed itself, a woman doesn’t need a man to solve a crisis. Though we know anyone born after the 1960s are brought up to believe we don’t need a man, until you experience it for yourself, when you pull your family or yourself out of a crisis without the major participation of a man (or any person) you cannot appreciate how empowering it feels.

Of all the ills that can affect the dynamics of a marriage, I’d argue feelings of misplaced resentment, unmet or mismatched expectations and the inability to express those disappointments in a conducive manner can be poisonous for a marriage. Whether we admit it or not, we all have certain expectations (or some people call them ‘standards’) of our spouse; we dare not say it out loud because it can come across as unkind or paternalistic, but it’s there. To deny it would be foolish just as Juanita Buschkoetter realized for herself.

The goal of this rambling essay is for me to figure out a way to resolve my own feelings of resentment and unmet expectations by the ones I love. I don’t think I’ve been successful but one can’t wish it away. The most obvious way, which was told to me over and over again is to lower my expectations. But I feel my expectations are already very low, if I lowered them anymore, there would none left.

There was a lesser evil: His name is Bernie Sanders

I happened to watch MSNBC this past week. It was airing a live Trump rally somewhere in the Midwest where he reiterated his commitment that he’ll build a wall and make Mexico pay for it, but he toned down the “rapists and murderers” narrative and reframed it as ‘preserving the quality of life and national security for Americans’ for the audience of mostly white people. After about ten minutes of his non sequitur ramblings, it cut to a commercial break. The commercial that aired was a video compilation of all of the prominent Republicans voicing their disapproval for Donald Trump (Lindsey Graham, Susan Collins, John McCain etc) and it ended with Hillary Clinton’s voice over ‘this message is approved by Hillary Clinton’. It wasn’t an ad about her achievements, which according to her and her supporters are vast and varied, spanning across thirty years of public service. It wasn’t an ad about her record and achievement as a senator and later as Secretary of State; it was literally just campaign ad with assorted Republican lawmakers stating why Donald Trump is unfit for the presidency of the United States and she approves of that message. As if their criticisms of Trump is a ringing endorsement of her.

Since Donald Trump became the official candidate for the Republican party and Hillary Clinton officially became the candidate for the Democratic Party and Bernie Sanders faded into the background, the general election officially became about choosing ‘the lesser evil’. And the lesser evil in this sorry contest for the presidency is clearly Hillary Clinton according to most pundits and talking heads even if you hate her. Even mainstream Republicans who loathe the Clintons with every bone in their body reluctantly conceded that Hillary Clinton is the only way to go. They’ll ‘support’ her now and deal with her four years later during the reelection. The few snippets of MSM news I’ve followed about the election have all been about how Hillary Clinton is the lesser evil. No matter what you think about her positions and record, compared to Trump, she is the far superior candidate, at the very least, she’s less of a national embarrassment than Trump. Occasionally it will be about some policy about equal pay for women, free college tuition for qualified families but mostly it’s just ‘I am not Trump so I am the only choice in this race.’ Hillary Clinton herself has lowered her standards and bought into the lesser evil narrative as well. If nothing else, what a demoralizing and degrading turn for the potential first woman president of the United States. Instead of campaigning on her achievements and how she shattered the glass ceiling, she’s campaigning on how at the very least, she’s far better than her orange faced, mop wigged opponent.

Everyone is talking about the lesser evil and how in the interest of preserving this nation, we must choose Hillary Clinton. It’s the only choice; it’s the responsible choice and anyone voting third party is helping Trump win a larger share of the vote. Many blame Millennials especially for not jumping on the Clinton wagon despite her overtures and pleas on social media late night television (Note to Clinton campaign: Lena Dunham isn’t a good spokesperson for the Clinton cause, Lena Dunham isn’t well liked amongst her peers either). Clara Jeffery, editor-in-chief of Mother Jones in a since deleted tweet said “i never hated millennials more” accompanying a retweet of a New York Times article where polls show Millennials still refuse to jump onboard the Clinton campaign. As an almost Millennial, I can safely say the feeling is mutual; we hate you too, there’s no love lost, now let’s move on.

The problem with the lesser evil argument is we already had one but he was roundly rejected, sabotaged and undercut by the Democratic establishment. His name is Bernie Sanders. Sanders has been branded by the Democratic establishment as this radical socialist who will never win over middle America but he isn’t. He’s not a socialist but a democratic socialist nor is he very radical. He’s just radical when compared to the neoliberal Clintons. It was Bill Clinton who betrayed the party base when he took the Democratic Party right to make himself electable after the George McGovern slump by incorporating neoliberal policies into his agenda. He cut welfare by telling people to take ‘personal responsibility’ in their lives. He signed into law criminal justice reform bill which saw the rise in mass incarcerations for Black and Latinos. By locking up large swathes of people of color, making them unemployable since employers are not required to hire anyone with a criminal background and people with criminal backgrounds are not eligible to public assistance as well; with a few strokes of the pen, he eliminated millions of people from welfare rolls and payrolls, which then allowed him to claim credit for the strong employment figures during his presidency and reducing welfare rolls at the same time.

Bernie Sanders is only seeking to redress some of that injustice by ending mass incarceration, free college tuition for state institutions, single payer health care and living wage with a minimum wage of $15 per hour so that all wage workers get a raise and alleviate some of the pressure of living in poverty, paycheck to paycheck. None of these ideas are particularly radical. They are practical and necessary in an era where jobs are only getting fewer due to globalization, capitalism and neoliberal policies, and in absence well paying jobs, the government has to step in and provide more basic services for people. Some countries in Europe are already contemplating a universal income legislation, which means the state guarantees a minimum income for each person. So that the repercussions of unemployment and poverty doesn’t disrupt civil society. Bernie Sanders did not call for the destruction of capitalism. He isn’t promoting an end to America’s militarism and imperialism overseas, he’s called for a drawdown of US military presence around the world and let NATO step into a larger role, but NATO is just the US military in another manifestation. NATO doesn’t make a move without the approval of the United States. On paper he still supports the apartheid state of Israel, though the support isn’t unconditional and he’s shown more support to the Palestinians than any major presidential candidate before him. He’s given Israel a serious dressing down on the blockade in Gaza, the theft of water resources and tax revenues in the West Bank but he’s not called for dismantlement of the Israeli apartheid police state nor has he promoted withholding of US monetary or diplomatic support of Israel. The Jewish State stands.

Bernie Sanders was the lesser evil, but he was rejected. Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are both evil, but evil in different ways. The voters are not choosing a lesser evil, they are choosing a different shade of evil. Do you want a racist and misogynist buffoon with ties to the KKK for president or do you want a faux-inclusive, warmongering, neoliberal, corporate feminist with ties to the Saudi regime (one of the most abusive towards women in the world) for president? All of this speculation about the actual state of Hillary Clinton’s health is not only overtly sexist (John McCain was not in perfect health when he ran for president but that was just a blip on the screen) but it obscures the real problem. The problem is not whether she had pneumonia and lied about the underlying causes of it (one doesn’t usually just get pneumonia out of the blue, there’s usually a preceding illness), or how she misused private email servers during her tenure at the State Department or that she knew what and when before, during and after the bombing at the US embassy in Benghazi. The problems with Clinton are the contents of her emails, her involvement in dismantling the Libyan state and shipping Libya’s weapons cache to Syria, her dealings with the corrupt Saudi regime and other questionable people through the Clinton Foundation. Clinton has been accused of lying, but even that’s a generic accusation, it’s the repercussion of the lies, half-truths and behind the scenes manipulations which have worldwide consequences.

Feminism without policies written to the specific needs of women only leads to despair.

One of the biggest demographic suffering from endemic poverty is women and they are at risk of passing on that poverty to the next generation. Single women with children are at greatest risk of living in poverty. Women still earn less than men for doing the same job. Women without college degrees often work at low wage, low skilled and menial shift work. The hours are often unstable and it’s usually a job without any benefits. Often times these women who do low wage work have children they need to support. The economy since 2008 has been brutal for the American working class. All of the gains of the ‘recovery’ have gone to the top 1%; none of the gains have trickled down never mind to the working class, not even the middle class. The combination of low and stagnant wages, unstable employment, drastic cuts in social services, cuts in mental health services, the failure of Obamacare to bring quality care to everyone – has wrought havoc in the lives of women, some of this havoc has been deadly.

Middle class and working class families are hit the hardest. The incomes of the middle class is shrinking or stagnate. Working class women are struggling to support their families on shrinking wages and rising costs of living. People in general are working longer hours for less money and their jobs are more and more precarious. More and more people are falling into the ‘precariat‘ and ‘unnecessariat‘ categories, where they’ve become the excess people of society the ruling class wants to go away or wish didn’t exist. The people in this last group is getting larger. The study by Angus Deaton and Anne Case: Rising morbidity and mortality in midlife among white non-Hispanic Americans in the 21st century, which was published in August of 2015 is still reverberating in the chattering classes. White people are the most privileged group on almost every criteria in America, how did one of the most healthiest (physically and economically) demographic in America began to decline so precipitously since the 1990s. The most alarming thing is working class women or women without a college degree are dying by huge numbers due to alcohol addiction, opioid addiction and suicide or what Case and Deaton call “death by despair”. Following this study, The Washington Post did a series of in depth reporting of death and addiction in white America called: Unnatural Causes: Sick and Dying in Small Town America, where addiction has decimated communities, ruined countless lives, and alarmingly, it’s the women who are succumbing to lives of misery, lost hope, missed opportunities and finally despair in huge numbers. People are committing slow suicide either by taking dangerous cocktails of drugs and combining them with alcohol and some have taken their own lives outright while under the influence of drugs and alcohol. 

The subject of women and addiction is not normally discussed. When we talk about drugging and boozing, we think of hardened middle aged men who let their boyhood habits get out of hand. Addiction, specifically alcohol and opioid addiction when relating to women is still a bit of a taboo subject. Respectable women, especially women who are wives and mothers should not drink to excess where it becomes a ‘problem’ requiring treatment. It is seen as a personal weakness and a moral failure. The shame that is attached to every addict is magnified tenfold when it involves a woman. But as the Washington Post reporting shows, as the reporting went from town to town, trying to discover why so many people (especially white women) are choosing this dangerous path to an early but still a slow and painful death, many of the same themes keep reappearing. For opioid addicts, it almost always starts with an injury or chronic pain (migraines) where the doctor prescribes heavy opioids for an injury that may or may not require such, the patient gets addicted and tries to feed her addiction any way they can. When prescription opioids gets too expensive or the prescription refill limits have run out, they turn to heroin. Long term heroin use also has its own side effects, anxiety, depression and other health issues, which more pills are prescribed to treat those symptoms, many on prescription medication which suppresses the central nervous system are advised to not mix alcohol with their medications, but patients rarely listen or care about what can happen to them. The Washington Post also reported that white people are  more likely to be prescribed heavy opioids than their Black and Latino counterparts, which is why opioid addiction is featured so strongly in the white community.

There is also the urban and rural divide. In rural middle America, where factory jobs were once plentiful, many have become industrial wastelands. More than half of the town emptied, people who were able to leave did, those that stayed are unable to leave and are left behind by the political establishment. There are no focus groups or lobbyists hired to peer into the minds of the America’s precariat and unnecessariat. The jobs have left town and so has everything interesting with it. One of the towns featured in the reporting is Bakersfield, in Kern County California, only two hours north of Los Angeles, Samantha Burton says “[it] can be a very stifling place. It’s culturally barren,” she said of Bakersfield. “There is no place where children can go and see what it’s like to be somewhere else, to be someone else. At first, the drugs are an escape from your problems, from this place, and then you’re trapped.” The only jobs available in these type of towns are fast food jobs, service jobs earning just above the minimum wage. Unlike previous generations, people who grew up in small town America who wish to escape it can do so by attending college in another town or by getting job in a bigger town, there wasn’t this feeling of being perpetually trapped in a small town with no hope of ever escaping.

In many cases, some women just give up. After enduring so many hardships, marriages, breakups, job losses, deaths of children or spouses, physical injuries, mental health crises, addiction, all of which receive little government or community support, it becomes too  much to overcome:

When a woman dies in Kern County, it falls to Coroner Manager Dawn Ratliff to determine what happened. Her investigators explore medicine cabinets, flip through journals, scrutinize text messages and interview friends. Repeatedly, a pattern emerges, Ratliff said: A personal crisis leads to prescriptions to soothe the pain. And then they lose control.

“They are worn down. And they can’t rise above it,” said Ratliff, who puts the blame in part on the rise of social media, which can create unrealistic expectations about how life should go.

Another is an expectation for women to ‘be strong’, to take all the shit that life has thrown at her and somehow turn adversity into triumph and come out the other end ‘Lean In’ style: “Women have had to be strong for so long. Opioids are a good way out. Benzos are a good way out.”

Joan Knowlden, a psychologist who practices in Kern County California also observed “a sharp rise in middle-aged female patients in the early 2000s. Many had turned to alcohol, anti-anxiety drugs and painkillers to “mellow them out.”

Many had delayed childbearing, Knowlden said, and were trying to raise children just as they reached their peak professionally. Many were also entering menopause, which typically causes a drop in serotonin, a chemical that naturally soothes the brain. “With perimenopause and menopause, you already have anxiety, sleep loss, loss of bladder control and loss of sex drive,” Knowlden said. “It can just become too much.”

Middle age is assumed to be a time where people get their act together, to have finally figured out their lives and put the mistakes of their youth behind them. But it can also be a time where everything implodes all at once, where one more setback is more than they can handle. Job loss, injury, marital breakup and its fallouts (often poverty and living in reduced circumstances) can easily lead to depression and anxiety which a combination of medications are be prescribed to treat those symptoms. And in a society where women are not at all supported in any meaningful way when they encountered crises in their lives, it can make for deadly result. In the developed world, the United States is the only country which doesn’t require paid maternity leave or paid family leave when a family member falls ill, affordable subsidized child care is nonexistent, affordable housing waiting lists are so long that some counties have stopped taking names for the waiting list and now governors in many states are cutting the budget to life saving mental health and addiction treatments. All of these punitive draconian cuts harms working class women the most. Especially single mothers who are trying to support their children on single income, without help from anyone, any kind of health crisis or injury can put them under.

But what of the feminism and the empowerment of women since the 1960s people ask? Feminism means nothing if public policy doesn’t change to support the specific needs of women. All the feminism and college degrees in the world isn’t going to help women if ultimately, her two choices in life are having a family or choosing her career and if she chooses to have a family in the middle of the rise of her career, her career will most likely be stalled and forfeited all together some time down the road. If getting divorced and taking on the full responsibility of her children for a woman is almost always a road to poverty and ruin because social policies are not adequate enough to support single women with children, then no amount of feminism or self-empowerment will help her. If the government doesn’t enact state mandated subsidized child care for all women (rich and poor), poor women will never get ahead and women with advanced degrees will get stalled in her career should she choose to have children one day.

The Welfare Reform of the 1990s have also set women back, it decimated the support network created to assist working class women. The slow and systematic health care cuts, specifically targeting women’s health and mental health services have been detrimental to working class women, especially when they are in crisis. And when they suffer a breakdown as a result of economics induced anxiety, stress or addiction, the ruling class blames the victims of savage social services cuts for their own plight. They start using words like “personal responsibility”, “self respect” to people who are suffering from addiction and mental illness when in fact people living in derelict and neglected towns have been deliberately left behind to rot.

The ideals of feminism are totally pointless if no laws or policies are enacted to promote those ideals. While we cannot legislate our way into changing the mentalities of people (such as women are natural caretakers and men are natural breadwinners); what legislation can do is give women an equal footing in the workplace or at least not suffer gender based discrimination. Mandating federal paid maternity leave would go a long way to easing the anxieties of women (and by extension her family if they depend on her income) when they are about to have a baby. They won’t worry how they will manage the bills and rush back to work before she’s ready to because she needs to earn the family income. Federally mandated paid family leave will also go a lot towards easing the economic anxieties of families should a family member or child fall ill and a parent needs to step away from work and attend to that emergency.

The current system is not set up to benefit working families, it’s set up to punish them, where families are one disaster away from financial ruin. Any mistake, illness or injury which results in job loss can make a family homeless or live on the breadline. After twenty years of neoliberalism, we have been programmed to believe that our poverty is our own fault. That it’s the cumulative result of our mistakes (as if the rich never make any mistakes with regards to their finances) or short of that some people are just plain unlucky and they must grin and bear it. In fact, the reason why so many people have fallen into poverty or be forced to live in reduced circumstances is by design of the ruling class to keep a permanent and exploited underclass available for them to abuse, shame and blame for their own excesses. When President Obama was trying to sell the bailout to his voters who just enthusiastically elected him as the first Black president of the United States, anyone who opposed or raised concerns about the bank bailouts were dismissed as being childish and immature. But he went about it in a very clever way, ‘I understand your anger and rage, but this is how it’s got to be. Your day will come’. Of course it never did for America’s working poor.

Brooklyn (2015) – A Story about Immigration

The film Brooklyn was one of the films nominated for multiple Academy Awards in 2016 including Best Picture and Best Actress for the Irish actress Saoirse Ronan. The film was mediocre at best. The writing, directing, musical score, photography was mediocre. Part of them film depicts Ireland, which has some of the most beautiful scenery in the world, yet the film failed to capture that. Granted, it was meant to portray the grim economic reality of 1950s Ireland, under the government of Eamon de Valera, but even on Ireland’s most gray rain soaked day, the Irish always took pride in their beautiful homeland.

The acting of Saoirse Ronan was nuanced and skillful. She’s able to convey emotion with just the expression on her face, it was a perfect vehicle for transition from child actress to adult actress. America was first introduced to Saoirse Ronan in the film Atonement, when she was just twelve years old, she played Briony Tallis, an upper class English girl who irrevocably changes the life of her older sister’s working class boyfriend by telling a lie to authorities, saying that he raped her older sister when it wasn’t true – she walked in on them being intimate. She was the perfect bratty upper-class girl who at a young age knew she was privileged and knew how to abuse her position in society. She was touted as an actress to watch in the coming years, nine years has passed since Atonement, Ronan is now a twenty-one year old young lady and it’s obvious in the intervening years, she has work to improve her craft.

The Academy Award controversy of 2016 was #OscarSoWhite, all of the nominations in the major acting categories went to white people and Saoirse Ronan was one of the nominees for best actress and besides being very very pale herself due to her Irish heritage; the film Brooklyn is about immigration, specifically immigration of white Europeans. Immigrants who are welcomed through the front door with a sponsor, a job waiting for them and housing accommodation all arranged as opposed to being smuggled across borders risking life and limb to get to America. This small unremarkable film which caught the attention of critics and audiences in the year 2015, where debate about migration, refugee crisis and immigration in the Western world reached boiling point, is not a coincidence. Brooklyn harkens back to a time where things were done properly. Where potential immigrants wrote to established immigrants in America requesting for sponsorship, where that sponsor finds the immigrant a job, a place to live and establish a small fund so that their immediate expenses are taken care of. There’s none of this ad hoc, disruptive, putting all of your belongings in a sack and risk life and limb in a rickety boat or crossing the vast desert hoping that there are prospects at the other side of the sea or border.

Eilis Lacey (pronounced Ali-sh) is a young girl from Enniscorthy, County Wexford, Ireland. She’s unable to find full time employment save for a part time job at a bakery on Sundays. She lives with her mother and older sister Rose, her father has passed away when she was a child. Because of her sister Rose’s stable employment as a bookkeeper for the local factory, she is able to give her mother and younger sister if a small but comfortable existence. Widows with children on their own in 1950s Ireland usually faced a life of economic uncertainty and hardship and the Laceys were able to avoid that fate. While Rose is quite established in her community, the same cannot be said for Eilis. Enniscorthy is totally uninspiring to Eilis. Since she can’t find stable employment, and her potential is wasting away in front of her, her next option is to find a nice man to marry, and none of the men in her hometown is to her liking. Rose, sensing Eilis’s unhappiness, writes Father Flood in New York to see about sponsoring Eilis in America. Father Flood was able find Eilis employment at a sales girl at a high end department store where she “can’t afford any of the things” and a boarding house in Brooklyn where she will live with other single girls. And just like that Rose booked a ticket for Eilis on the next steamer to America. She arrives at Ellis Island with all of her paperwork, and is waved through by an immigration official with a stern “welcome to America”.

The one part the movie did well was to depict the loneliness and homesickness of immigrants, regardless of where they are from. ‘Home’ may hold no prospects for them but it’s still home and home is always where a piece of your heart lies. No amount of Manhattan bright lights and skyscrapers can remove the longing of home. Eilis tries to be brave and go about her job everyday, but being a sales girl she lacks the personality for it, which is to plaster on a smile for every customer that walks in and sell whatever it is you are told to flog that day. Her manager Miss Fortini, a no-nonsense worldly woman gives Eilis tips on being a better saleswoman but when that fails, she calls Father Flood to the rescue. Father Flood enrolls in bookkeeping classes at night so she can work in an office one day and asks her to volunteer at the soup kitchen at the church to keep her more occupied. At the church soup kitchen she sees a different side of America, America’s discarded people. They are old, frail or disabled workers who built skyscrapers, bridges and roads but have been tossed out by capitalism (produce or die) and are now depending on soup kitchens to feed them. This was a shock to her system, that the men who built the glorious city skyline and the roads, bridges and tunnels in front of her are now barely eking out a living. She realizes what can happen to her too when she is old and feeble one day, and she’s just a woman whose worth is determined by who she marries.

It’s around the same time she meets a nice Italian boy Tony Fiorello at an Irish dance hall. Tony openly admits that he likes Irish girls and hangs around Irish dance halls hoping to meet a nice Irish girl. Tony takes a liking to Eilis right away and they begin to go out. Eilis’s feelings towards Tony is more complicated; while he’s sweet, kind and funny with “nice eyes”, and far better than any potential male suitors in Ireland, she’s hardly madly in love with him. To her, he’s simply good husband material. He comes from a nice family, he’s a plumber – he has upwardly mobile aspirations of owning a general contracting company with his brothers to build houses and he’s slightly less sexist than the average Irish boy at the time. She can see herself entering the middle class through Tony. She goes over to the Fiorello’s house for dinner, she is charmed by his family, especially his rascal younger brother, and the pasta cooked by Mama Fiorello is not bad either, her mind is semi-made up about marrying him if he should ever ask. As she is hitting her stride in America, she receives devastating news that her older sister Rose has died from an unspecified illness and her mother is not coping well on her own in Ireland. She decides to go back to Ireland for a visit with the intention of returning to Brooklyn and to Tony. But Tony isn’t satisfied and wants an ‘insurance policy’ and suggests that they get married in civil court but not tell their families yet. Tony suggesting marriage is his way of saying he wants to sleep with her and put his ‘stamp’ on her before she leaves for Ireland, so that if not out of love, but at least out of propriety and obligation, she’d return to him. She reluctantly agrees to the civil wedding and their marriage is consummated the night before she leaves for Ireland.

The Ireland she left behind wasn’t the same one when she returned to. She’s no longer just Rose’s younger sister. She’s Eilis, a ‘American’ independent woman, earning her own money and she also graduated from her bookkeeping class and is now certified to work as a bookkeeper. She even ‘rescues’ the factory her sister worked at by creating a payroll system where all the workers get paid on time with their overtime wages. She visits all of her old haunts, attends her best friend Nancy’s wedding, attends mass with her mother like a good Irish girl, even goes on dates with a local gentleman from a well off family and it just so happens that the gentleman’s parents are retiring to the countryside and is leaving their big house with staff to their son. Suddenly Eilis’s world in Ireland opened up to her. She even flirts with the idea of dumping Tony and staying in Ireland, after all, this was what she wanted for herself just over a year ago. Throughout this whole time she tells no one that she’s married to Tony Fiorello, including her mother, she leads on everyone that she’s still single. The only person she didn’t care to visit is Miss Kelly, her former employer at the bakery and being the gossipy and spiteful wench that she is, she finds out through the grapevine that Eilis is married to “an Italian” in New York and threatens to out her impropriety to everyone, especially now that it appears that he also has a boyfriend in Ireland. It is at this very moment Eilis realized why she got on a ship to go to America to begin with. She didn’t want to become a caricature of a spiteful, lonely small town gossip, who has nothing better to do but to monitor the morality of others. Even if she married the richest boy in town, she wouldn’t be able to escape this tedious fact of small town Irish life. She proudly announces to Miss Kelly that her name is now Eilis Fiorello and that she’s going back to her husband immediately. She also informs her own mother that night that she’s married, her mother was sad that her only child left was leaving her but was in a way happy for her. Mrs. Lacey said “if you married him” he must be a nice boy. She wrote a parting letter to the boy she went on dates with and took the next steamer back to New York and reunited with Tony.

That Eilis is a white Irish girl who seems to have more opportunities and her road to the middle class is more smooth than most brown or black immigrants in America is not lost on the audience. In today’s world, the ‘legal’ immigrants, those that come to America with work visas are reserved for the English speaking, well educated with advanced degrees who usually work in STEM fields, and that is a very small sliver of the immigrant population in the world. The majority of the world’s migrants or immigrants are indigent, poorly educated, fleeing desperate poverty or political oppression who can only work as unskilled laborers, it would be up to the host nations to educate and train them for skilled work. One of the complaints by employers in Germany was that the over one million refugees they accepted, language barrier aside, most do not have the skills to do the most basic jobs requiring rudimentary computer skills. In America today, no one is complaining that the likes of Eilis are ‘stealing’ American jobs. In some people’s fantasyland, the picture of the ideal immigrants are people like Eilis – the right combination of class, race and ‘hardworking’. The kind of immigrant that won’t ‘take advantage’ of the welfare state, the kind of immigrant who will ‘integrate’ well, the kind of immigrant that has a well established immigrant community to help other immigrants establish themselves. To some, the idea of immigration reform is not to enfranchise the 12 million undocumented persons in America but to filter through the 12 million people and cherry pick the youngest, brightest, English speaking with college degrees and no criminal histories for eligibility for citizenship. As for the rest, they would either be deported or live in the shadows the rest of their lives.

Many have praised the Australian and Canadian method of immigration, which is they accept any immigrant from any part of the world as long as they possess the skills they are are looking for – the cherry picking method again. They range from hairdressers, to accountants, to highly skilled STEM workers, and as long as you are qualified in any of the professions they list on their immigration forms you can immigrate to Australia or Canada. This way the only ‘discrimination’ is based on profession and skills, which is considered a fair discrimination. This is also a way to make the whole immigration process clean, technical and unsentimental. But the world’s migrants don’t fit in neat little boxes. Most of the world is desperately poor and conflict ridden where obtaining any consistent schooling or trade or skill is all but impossible. Judging from the treatment of the Australian authorities of their migrants on the pacific island nation of Nauru goes to show the inherent racism and discrimination of a skills and profession driven type of immigration policy. Those that do not possess the skills they are looking for, are therefore, treated like they are less than human.

We have a new pediatrician

I have a new pediatrician for my children. She is an excellent doctor who loves her job and has a lot of experience. She is thorough, meticulous and not ‘on a clock’ to see as many patients possible in one day to maximize her income. My new pediatrician doesn’t accept insurance policies purchased on the Exchange (Obamacare) nor does she accept Medi-Cal.  She has created an affordable cash patient scheme for parents who do not have health insurance, have inadequate health insurance or on Medi-Cal. She charges only the ‘cost’ for vaccinations, meaning the cost for her to purchase and her examination fees are only $35 (as opposed to the average of $75-100 for cash patients). Her practice is in a very well off part of town and she comes highly recommended. She is open and upfront about the insurance policies she accepts and her cash patient fees and she even gave me a list of free health clinics that give free vaccines to children who do not have health insurance and recommends that we go there for vaccines if that’s all we needed to see her for and save the vaccine cost and examination fee. And we got to discussing the bureaucratic mess that is Obamacare, why the cost of health care and services are so high despite the reforms and the special interests that are driving them. I talk a lot about health insurance and health care on my blog. It’s something that matters a lot to me, because like millions of families, we do not have endless budget to devote to health insurance and health care costs and it’s my job to find the best policy for the budget we have.

I’ve never discussed at length with a doctor, especially a pediatrician or family practitioner about the ramifications of Obamacare and today I got the opportunity to. The reason why this doctor chose to opt out of the Obamacare exchanges and Medi-Cal is because it’s unsustainable and it doesn’t serve the best interests of her patients. With Medi-Cal she is very restricted on what she can do to treat her patients and the same goes for the Exchanges. Another requirement of Obamacare is the ‘transparency’ part on the part of doctors. Doctors are required to fill out pages and pages of cumbersome forms in the name of transparency under the new Obamacare law and if they don’t have the time to do it, they have to hire more staff to do it but at the same time her claims compensation are capped by the same law. But to her the most egregious is, a law, written by Harvard graduates, who live in an “ivory tower”, most of whom aren’t Medical Doctors, but are dictating public health policy from a business model (i.e. profit and loss) standpoint.

My pediatrician attends a lot of public health policy conferences and she sees these “ivory tower” folks often, and when she brings up the glaring fact that they are not in the trenches practicing medicine with one hand tied behind their back; they get offended and taken aback – typical neoliberal response. When I bring up the common trope that it’s the doctors and practitioners who are driving up the price of health care by practicing defensive medicine to avoid malpractice claims and demanding higher salaries – which is addressed with higher claim amounts, she says that the insurance company only pays her $60 for every trip to the hospital to exam a newborn and this can be any time day or night, any day of the week (depending on when the baby is born). And depending on where the hospital is, that $60 may not even cover the gas to travel to and from the hospital. But she must take this potential ‘loss’ and go because every newborn and their potential siblings are her potential new patients.

We spoke at length at the monstrosity that is Obamacare, she said the law did away catastrophic insurance, which is high deductible and covers only catastrophic events such as car accident, cancer, heart disease; and this insurance is usually favored by those who are young, healthy and are self-employed. These plans keeps monthly premiums low and this is done by design as it’s meeting a demand by users. Right now these plans have been outlawed, every single plan now must be a normal insurance plan which covers for all events, but the premiums are still high and deductible is still high and essentially “all plans now are catastrophic plans”. As a medical professional, she enlightened me to the fact that the reason health services are so high, and why it costs over $10,000 for a 2 day hospital stay to have a healthy, uncomplicated childbirth and why an MRI costs $3000 is because the huge bureaucracies involved in these companies and how everyone needs a piece of the pie and they are also charging for  people who can’t pay for them by inflating the cost for every person counting on the insurance company to pay 50-80% of it. My pediatrician keeps her costs by sourcing private labs and CT and MRI scanning places who are out of the networks of insurance providers, who work on a cash basis only; they do not bill the insurance and through those facilities the true cost of services are revealed to be reasonable. You can get an MRI for $300, a CT scan for $150 or $200 and blood tests can be processed without going through a huge, messy and expensive bureaucracy. She also chose to opt out of the Exchange because she believes, due to the unsustainability of Obamacare, it will come to a natural end, without needing the Republicans to repeal it.

We discussed the single-payer system, and she said that’s not the panacea either, it can help in some situations, but for those with complicated medical histories or unusual diseases, single-payer system can be terribly restrictive. Single-payer only works if government doesn’t dictate what kind of care for what kind of diseases in order to control costs; basically a free for all. Every patient is unique and as a result the services they need for diagnoses and treatment are unique; and it’s this simple concept that those in “ivory towers” can’t understand. Single-payer system works best in routine illnesses which protocols and treatments have already been established. Those with illnesses which require more creative methods or experimental methods of treatment, the single-payer system doesn’t address that concern very well, you spend half of your time trying to get approval for treatment versus getting the treatment. In the end, we ran out of time discussing this subject but she did say, with all of our resources and innovations, we should be able to work something out where a viable, affordable, good health care system can benefit most people. There is no perfect system where every single person can be taken care of, but we should aim for getting the majority of the people covered without creating so much anxiety for average families.

The doctor spent nearly 2 hours on my daughter, she was due for her annual wellness check and new patient assessment. She also got a vaccine shot, and my total cost for her services rendered was $275 (I didn’t have her in-network insurance and I chose to forgo the agony of arguing with my current insurance and paid the cash). She had a lovely and kind nurse work with my daughter for her assessments, not once did we feel hurried or rushed. It was the first time a doctor spent so much time with any of my children and in the end, it was $275 well spent. I came away with all of my questions answered and feeling confident that my daughter’s clean bill of health was the result of thorough examination.