28 August 2009

I'm a Legal Alien

OK well I knew that, after spending 22 years outside the US and twenty of those in the UK, that I wouldn't be returning home as much as I would be immigrating back to the US.

Let me precede this semi-rant by saying that I'm in quite good spirits and, although I have no idea whether or not I will be able to minister in the US or what sort of job I will end up having in the US, that I firmly believe that if I push on doors, the right ones will open if I seek to do God's will.

That said, here are our first few weeks' experience in the US. Wonderful Husband, a British citizen who has never lived in the US, had the blessing of being offered a job in the US by his former employer in the UK.

The first lesson we learned was don't even try to approximate the state of Human Being until you have a drivers' license. You can do without a Social Security Number; Wonderful Husband only just got his and no one seems to care all that much about that. But don't, whatever you do, try to walk around without a drivers' license. And whatever you do, don't tell anyone that you haven't got one.

Because a driver's license is not about whether or not you can drive a car or want to drive a car: it is the sine qua non of identification documents. Got a passport? No one cares. Passports are not regarded as serious documents. It's the driver's license that you need. But not just any driver's license. An out-of-State license will do in a pinch but a license from a foreign country is probably more suspect than not having any license at all. Just what kind of a fraud are you trying to pull?

And the second thing you need - which neither I nor Wonderful Husband has - is a credit rating. This lack seems far more serious than even a lack of driver's license. I mean what 52 year old has NO credit rating in the US whatsoever? Well, er, one who hasn't been living in the US for the last 22 years.

Having worked in pensions in a previous 'life', I was aware of the necessity of establishing a credit rating. And I was also aware that this would probably be difficult. Neither of us were surprised when our bank manager told us that we couldn't get a loan for our car because we didn't have a credit rating.

But hold on, she said! Let's get you a secured loan; we'll put $X on deposit for 18 months and sign the deposit account over to the bank and then ask for a loan of $X for your car. That way you can establish a credit rating. Good idea, you may think. But no. The corporate lending bods rejected our application on the grounds that we had no credit rating. So, to get this in perspective, we have money on deposit with said bank, we are willing to assign some of that money that we are lending to them! in order to get a loan to establish a credit rating, but... We are a bad credit risk.

Pardon the editorial reflection, but isn't this a good deal of what has gone wrong in the current economic environment? Personal relationships - us and the bank manager and her knowledge of our circumstances - mean nothing. What matters in order to be worthy of a loan is not having the wherewithal to pay the loan back but rather a computerized track record of having previously borrowed money and paid it back.

How do we get a credit rating, I asked? Well, the bank manager suggested trying to apply for a secured credit card. Same idea: we give the bank $X on deposit and they give us a credit line equal to $X. What's the difference between that and the secured loan? Well, about 14 percentage points in the annual interest rate. Hmm.

Well, if you can pay cash, why worry about a good credit rating? The answer is: Employment. Most of the jobs I've applied for state that they want to do a credit check, police check and drug screening as part of the interview process. Well, no problem with the drug screening if I could ever get that far. But, as I fill out the applications stating that my last twenty years of employment were in the UK, I'm painfully aware that no one is going to check foreign references and that I'm going to come up on a credit check and a police check as someone who has dropped out of outer space. As the computers scan the applications, what do you think my chances are of even getting to talk to a human being?

So the next time you hear someone rant about illegal immigrants getting 'all the best jobs', please remember this story of a legal 'immigrant'.

20 August 2009

Healthcare: Values versus Administrative Process

It occurs to me that many of the debates currently waging in the US media about healthcare fail to distinguish between three questions:

1) What is the principle upon which we wish healthcare to be based?
2) What are our desired goals for healthcare?
3) How do we best administer a healthcare system?

I have some ideas about my own personal answers to the first two questions. I have less of a concrete idea about my answer to the third question - basically because I'm not expert either in US healthcare administration or in US governemental administration.

Here are my thoughts:

1) Our current system is based on the principle of 'patients are a source of profts for healthcare providers and healthcare insurance companies'. I want our healthcare system to be based on the principle that 'healthcare is a human right.'

I wonder if anyone would actually like to argue the principle that healthcare is not a human right? I wonder if anyone would like to argue the principle that 'those who cannot pay for healthcare deserve to become ill and die'? Possibly a few odd eggs, but I'm going to assume that, actually, most people agree with this idea.

2) Based on this principle, some of my desired outcomes would be goals like providing effective, preventative healthcare to everyone in society as well as providing effective specific care for specific illnesses and injuries. Such healthcare should be accessible, efficient and timely.

Broadly speaking, would anyone want to disagree with any of these things? I suspect not, although if we were going to start compliling a list of specific outcomes, there would probably be some disagreement. But let's say, broadly, we want everyone to have good, effective healthcare.

3) Now the big question. Given that we want healthcare to be a human right and we want everyone to have good, effective healthcare, who is going to pay for this? And how will this healthcare system be administered?

This actually seems to be the area where people with the least knowledge and experience have the strongest opinions.

I won't claim to have a definitive answer to this. What does seem clear to me, however, is that there are many ways to administer such a system and it's not simply a question of 'Nationalized, socialized healthcare based on the values of healthcare as a human right versus entirely privitized healthcare based on the value that patients are profit centers.'

But I think we DO need to be clear about the value that healthcare is human right and we have to fight for this principle to be articulated and to be the foundation of healthcare insurance going forward.

Given that our current system is based on the principle of 'patients are a source of profits', I wonder why people aren't afraid of insurance companies pulling the plug on granny? Or maybe more precisely insurance companies pulling the plug on mom and dad or sister and brother? If you have a long-term health condition that looks like being expensive and something that the insurance company is going to have to pay for over the course of decades, you'd better worry about having your insurance plug pulled or your access to treatment restricted. Either that, or hope your spouse has fantastic group insurance and that s/he isn't at risk of being laid off any time soon.

15 August 2009

The NHS through US Eyes

Here is an excellent article on the subject of This American's Experience of Britain's Healthcare System.

The author has been far more articulate than I could be. With the exception that I never shared the author's initial dislike of the NHS, her experience of the echoes mine. Perhaps her post is far more convincing for the fact of her initial dislike of the NHS.

I'll note in passing that Wonderful Husband and I have yet to be able to set up our our health insurance. We seem to have fallen through the cracks of The System in trying to apply for our (potentially very expensive!) private health insurance. Quite a difference from our recent experience of the NHS when WH received emergency eye surgery on the NHS in a matter of hours.

09 August 2009


We have arrived in NorthEast Ohio after an 8 and a half hour plane trip from Heathrow to Cleveland Hopkins airport. The trip was mostly uneventful except for customs apparently thinking that they needed to rip the zip off my bag to open it, despite it having an authorized lock; oh well, not the end of the world.

This morning, when I woke up, I was actually a bit teary about leaving the UK. That caught me a bit by surprise but it makes sense when you think that I've spent more than half my adult life in the UK.

It's very strange being back in the area where I was born and which I left at the age of 17 back in the mid 1970s. I never thought I'd be back here and I never thought I'd leave the UK. Wonderful Husband seems to be finding the whole thing less traumatic than I am at the moment.

Anyway, it's now past 1:00 am my 'body time', so I'm off to bed. Today marks a big transition point in both our lives.

05 August 2009

The Gospel: Love, not sin

This is an excellent article and well worth reading: WESLEYAN WISDOM: ‘Way of Salvation’ begins with love, not sin :
“we United Methodists do not believe that God’s way of salvation begins with the person’s sin; we believe it begins with God’s character, which is love.
And this is even true for other Methodists! ;-) [Minus 2 points for forgetting that the US is not the only place where Methodism exists!]

M minus 2

People keep asking me what I'm going to miss in the UK. Well, besides the people, I think the answer is 'Fish and Chips'. The movers have packed and wrapped everything and tomorrow the shipping container will arrive to be filled with our things. Here is a photo of my last authentic Fish and Chips meal for awhile. (This one is for my husband's former work colleague who photographs his meals!)

04 August 2009

M minus 3

A picture paints a thousand words. This is much more organized than yesterday!

03 August 2009

M minus 4

Well, the movers came today and started the packing process. They packed up a good deal of our household goods, leaving us with some basic cooking, washing and sleeping items. Tomorrow and Wednesday they have to 'export wrap' the furniture. Some has already been export wrapped and it's pretty strange. My office bureau, for example, has been cushioned and wrapped in its entirety. Apparently, all of the furniture gets wrapped in paper in a similar way. Very different from a domestic move where they throw blankets over the furniture. We have also been able to give away some of our things to someone in the neighbourhood who is in need of household goods with which to start a new home.

My Wonderful Husband loves packing; something I find exceedingly difficult. He was like a kid in a candy shop this morning and I decided to leave the house. I went to the gym in the morning, popped by the tip with some rubbish and then spent the afternoon having lunch with a friend. I know this sounds totally whimpy, but after having done 4 other moves together in our marriage, this is the best way.

This evening, we will pack our clothes into suitcases even though we're spending Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday nights here. Tomorrow, most of our clothes will get packed for the 10-week journey to Ohio although two large boxes will be shipped air freight on Friday; allegedly they will arrive on Monday or Tuesday next week.

02 August 2009

Christianity: Relationship or Dogma?

Another excellent article from Giles Fraser in this past week's Church Times: Are you Anglican or C of E?

My question, for all Christians is a closely related question: Is Christianity about relationships or about dogma? For my money, St. Paul answered this question in a number of places, particularly in Galatians and in his magisterial poem on love: 1 Corinthians 13 which is not primarily about romantic love, but is part of the argument that if you say you have religion but you don't have love, you are but a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.

In our still-modern, post-modern world, we are always tempted to make Christianity about dogma: about knowing the 'right' dogma, teaching the 'right' dogma, believing the 'right' dogma. The problem is that true Christianity is not so much about what ideas we have, but how we relate to other people and to God. When we make any issue more important than agape love, we have lost our way.

01 August 2009

M minus 6

Moving day minus 6. A quick post.

We're going up to visit with my husband's side of the family today: his sister, mother and brother will all be there. It's a day of visiting and saying good bye before going off to the US next Friday.

We had a bit of a surprise yesterday as the removal company rang to confirm that they are coming on Monday. Yikes! We thought they were coming on Wednesday! However, this is good because they are going to be doing all the packing and, rather than just packing on Wednesday, it turns out that they are packing Monday, Tuesday AND Wednesday.

We were also able to go to a local car dealership yesterday and agree on a price for our two cars but they will let us bring them in on Friday morning just before we set off for Heathrow. This is convenient as this part of the world has very little public transport (buses tend to run once an hour), so life is a lot easier with a car, albeit not good for climate change! ;-) We a got a bit more for one car than we expected and a bit less for another so, all in all, we ended up getting about £100 more than we expected. (Should I be hoping that the chap from the dealership isn't reading this blog?)

Finally, it was a small farewell barbecue last night at my Superintendent's house for the Circuit Leadership team: the Circuit Stewards, treasurer and other ministers. In true British fashion, it was good and cold and rainy. I told all present that I'm looking forward to 6 weeks of guaranteed summer weather when I get to the States; it will be nice to have some temperatures over 60 degrees F!