Wednesday, October 27, 2010


October 27, 2010

It was a 256-lb table saw. I lifted it, on my own, the wrong way, winding up in agony, full of oxycontin and bedridden. The insurance was paying out, but once a $400 spinal injection was required all of a sudden my injury became a “pre-existing condition”.

It wasn’t. It had only just happened. Switching the goalposts like that struck me as a Blue Cross doublecross. And in the many months it took to overcome that injustice I wondered how many folks would have given up the fight. People don’t have the time. And some, stricken with cancer, say, are simply too weak to battle Big Insurance as well.

That was the old system. It included the right of health insurers to drop you the moment you started costing them money, no matter how much and how long you’d paid in. They could also refuse to insure sick children. Not fair. Not christian. Not American.

I hear folks talk of ‘Obamacare’ as though it’s some kind of pestilence inflicted on the nation, a dirty Washington trick, and I hear politicians vowing to repeal this dastardly ‘Obamacare’.

Let’s first call it by its real name: Health Insurance Reform. And most of what you hear isn’t true. It’s not a “government takeover”, it’s applying the brakes to a runaway insurance industry. Nor is it a financial burden. In the long run it cuts the deficit by $1.2 trillion (that’s $1,200,000,000,000) says the impartial Congressional Budget Office. And in the short term it’s paid for with a tax increase on those making more than a quarter million dollars a year. How many here in Walton County get that kind of money?

But the insurance companies are still grabbing. Anyone notice how premiums have been skyrocketing? My friend, a former lawman, saw a huge jump in his this year just as the company CEO pocketed a reported $73 million himself and announced he’d be cutting 1,100 jobs. They jacked up my wife’s payments, too, by over 20 percent and would have increased it by double that amount again had she not had the good sense to turn 65.

By reining in such company avarice, as the health bill does, fewer of us will be uninsured and forced to seek medical attention in the emergency room for minor ailments treatable by a local G.P. And it thereby eases the burden on our hospitals.

Under the way it used to be, I lay face down on the floor of the overcrowded waiting room for two hours – not able to sit, stand or even lie on my back or side – tortured and praying for morphine, while the hospital doctors treated children with sniffles and scuffed knees.

Why would anyone want to go back to a system like that? One that takes your money and then tosses you into the ditch once you get sick. In my case the government didn’t stand between me and my doctor - Blue Cross Blue Shield did.

Some people claim this ‘Obamacare’ is leading us to ‘Socialism’, which they wrongly equate with Communism; I would ask them to explain what they think these catchwords mean. West European nations – Britain, France, Germany, Italy, the Iberian, Benelux and Scandinavian countries - are all socialist to a greater or lesser degree: the term covers a society that cares for its people. Non-socialist countries abandon their citizens to the wiles of evil dictators and greedy corporations.

They seek to drive down working folks’ wages or just terminate them. It’s the global market. What happened to the 280 jobs at Crane Universal Rundle? The bathroom fixtures that were once made here in Monroe now come in from China and Mexico. Our cotton mill died leaving foreign countries to provide all our clothes: more Walton jobs lost.

Tea Partiers and Republicans, some who blocked unemployment benefits this summer, are promising to abolish the minimum wage. So forget the claptrap about the United Nations taking over our country; the danger is from foreign and multinational corporations and those who would enable them.

Walton is a county of middle class residents, a significant percentage of whom earn that paltry $7.25 an hour. We also have a senior population relying on a Social Security check to survive; with bread at nearly $2.00 and milk costing more than $3.00 it’s a struggle.

There are no “death panels”, there’s no “granny-killing” as the Tea and Republican politicos keep claiming, but Social Security, too, is on the Grand Old Republican Tea Party’s well-publicized hit list. So is public education.

Are we a caring, neighborly country? Why would we not want our youngsters to learn and grant oldsters the means at least to stave off starvation? Or reach out a to those thrown out of work by companies who closed down here and gave their jobs to the Chinese.

Why shouldn’t we force the big banks to make loans to mom and pop businesses here instead of letting them gamble our money on the Great International Roulette Wheel and then take our tax dollars to cover what losses they incur.

Why are our fellow Americans the enemy? We’ve allowed ourselves to be divided and conquered by the special interests who’ve diverted our attention away from what they’re up to. Is it really every American for himself now and if you falter, then tough luck?

My neighbor says he’s interested only in God, guns and country. He’s waiting for “the welfare recipients” to attack his compound. Life, my friend, is far more complicated than that and we have to stay vigilant, but not against our fellow Americans – they’re the victims we may be tomorrow.

The real question is: How christian are we?

Thy neighbor lost his job when the company moved the factory to India. Thy neighbor just saw his house foreclosed because the banks hoodwinked him. Thou watched thy neighbor’s house burn down because he forgot to pay a $75 surcharge. Thy neighbor is homeless, jobless, was dropped by his insurer because he got sick. Do we kick him now he’s down? If we return to the previous system thy neighbor could be thee.

© 2010 Fred Wehner is a journalist formerly with the Daily Mail in London, who then founded and ran the New York News Agency before settling in Monroe 21 years ago.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010


October 13, 2010

Friday was a poignant day.
For some of our older and smaller hens – we have nine – that morning saw the rebirth of Let The Good Times Roll. But the happiness my wife Linda and I felt for these ladies was mixed with a profound sadness for their companion.

We had to take Little Red Rooster to Neal’s feed store, where, hopefully, he will attract a new owner who prizes him, as we did, for his strength and beauty.
And not for his meat.

I say “Little” Red Rooster even though he had grown into a surprisingly robust fellow. A Rhode Island Red, handsome and proud with a strikingly brilliant scarlet comb and an array of tailfeathers of the silkiest shimmering green. The poultry Brad Pitt. George Clooney. Shia Labeouf. Take your pick. Just not Justin Bieber – Little Red’s far too macho to be him

The problem with this guy was that he was, in the words of blues singer Lazy Lester, a lover not a fighter. A lover in the wham-bam way, mind, with not even a thank-you afterwards, although he always provided so gallantly for all the ma’ams in his charge. He never ate a scrap in their presence – always pointing out choice morsels and inviting the ladies over to dine.

But Little Red was basically a big stud.

And here lay the problem that caused him to be banished from the realm. Our oldest hen Rosie, now nearly seven years of age and arthritic, was never able to escape his brutally amorous advances. In a voice so cracked she could have been a lifelong three-pack-a-day Marlboro smoker, she would croak out a feeble protest: cock-a-doodle-DON’T!

But there was no stopping Little Red.

Our other granny, Poulette, would be similarly swept off her feet against her will, although this one could till manage to dodge him on occasion.
She is one of two Araucanas – the breed with the 19th-Century-style side whiskers that lays those green and blue “Easter Eggs”. They are small chickens. Red was plainly too much for them and so they would hide in the trees all day to avoid an intimate encounter.

Maybe it wasn’t so much his size as his unromantic manner.

Because I remember his predecessor, Eggbert – also known as Bertie Rooster, after the P.G. Wodehouse character – was bigger, a Brahma, but the little dames all loved him for his sweetness. Just like his literary namesake, Bertie was a real toff. A gentleman,.
Unlike Red, who was somewhat reticent, he’d rush up to me whenever I came out of the house. He’d demand some of my ice cream, which was never refused. Strawberry was his favorite.

The big guy met his demise when we introduced another male, a young Langshan in need of a home, who promptly beat him so badly he could no longer stand. For another month we nursed Eggbert back to health, had him leading the flock again... only to see him keel over one day.
He was a cock with character and we miss him.

Yes, chickens, just like all animals, have different attributes and tastes and personalities – not just their color or their size or shape. (Some folks might find that true statement too mushy).

We’ve had Little Red since he was one day old, bought, along with nine others six months ago, from Neal’s Family Farm And Garden on Route 11 to whence he’s now been returned. They lived in our house for six weeks, hand-fed and cooed-at, before we transferred them to their new abode, an extremely well-appointed coop we call Cluckingham Palace.

After a week there – tragedy again. Five of the newbies were killed overnight by a predator. Detective work showed it to be highly unlikely the creature could have entered the compound, but a smallish hole showed how these five might have wiggled their way out, only to become a beast’s late-night feast.

We’d seen a gorgeous red fox lope through our backyard a year earlier; not the scraggy in-town type that look like they could be on methamphetamines but one with a shiny coat and a full, fluffy, flowing tail.

Monroe’s coyotes gather fairly close to our home for a night howl, which makes me wonder what would happen if these two species ever came face to face. Would they be amigos or adversaries? Would they even know they are related? That they both like chicken?

But it wasn’t them. The night after the carnage an opossum came a-sniffin’ round: we saw it on an old closed-circuit TV surveillance system that’d been hastily dug out of the barn, dusted off and re-assembled. That’s our chief suspect, Brer Possum.

You become over-protective of your animals if you’re us. So while we repair the first coop our nine hens stay in the new one that I built with the help of my neighbor’s lad, J.D. Shumpert Jr. And because it’s every bit as sumptuous as the original, it, too, deserved a royal name: Wingsor Castle.

But it’s a castle without a king. We’re hoping Little Red Rooster will find a new home that’s just as regal.


© 2010 Fred Wehner is a journalist formerly with the Daily Mail in London, who then founded and ran the New York News Agency before settling in Monroe 21 years ago.