Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Let Them Eat Cake

What the hell is the matter with people? We're in the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. Millions of Americans are unemployed, losing their homes, without health insurance. So in a statement on par with Marie Antoinette's famous edict about the lower classes, Victoria's Secret gives us the....ta da....multi-million dollar bra.

Two and a half million to be exact. This year's Fantasy Bra contains 142 carats of white and yellow diamonds along with other precious stones. It will be worn by Australian supermodel, Miranda Kerr, in the Victoria's Secret Christmas Dreams and Fantasies catalog and in the Victoria's Secret fashion show.

In a gesture toward the realities of  economic life in 2011, this year's $2 1/2 million is sharply lower than the value of the fantasy underwear of previous seasons, several million dollars less, in fact.

And granted, no one has ever bought any of Victoria's precious gem-laden undies. I read that they are taken apart and presumably, recycled. Re-cycling, now that's a good thing in an era of austerity.

But, still, isn't this just the ultimate thumbing-your-nose response to the Occupy Wall Street types who are livid about how the one-percenters are living large at the expense of Americans on the bottom rungs of the economic ladder? "Let Them Wear Diamonds!" We are furious about failing schools and crumbling infrastructure and higher gas prices and under-handed mortgage bankers and corrupt politicians but maybe they can draw our attention away from all those petty concerns as we stand in slack-jawed admiration of a multi-million dollar, diamond-bedecked bra.

It has always been so. The affluent over-reach. As long as the mortgage holders and the investment bankers and the CEO's (who are the counterparts of the gentry of pre-revolutionary France) are willing to maintain their lavish lifestyles while still sharing some of the goodies with the middle and lower classes, we are satisfied to let them have their way with us. We don't even ask for a lot - a job, a house, a car, decent schools for our kids - but as always, in the end, they want it all.

NO, to higher taxes even though many of them got rich or richer on the supposedly onerous taxes of Bill Clinton (and even as they boo-hoo about the deficit). NO, to giving up any tax subsidies for corporations, like the oil companies, that are already swimming in excess profits. NO, to regulations, old or new, although the mining companies, the oil companies, the banks, the utilities, the insurance companies,  the pharmaceuticals have proven over and over that safety for workers or fairness for customers is waaay far down on the list of their priorities without a governmental watch dog overseeing them. NO, to the the very idea that perhaps they should be just slightly more loyal to America and Americans by not shipping their jobs to nor buying their resources from repressive nations like China.

Instead, we get a freakin' $2.5 million bra. Aw, ain't it cute? Makes me forget all about my pending foreclosure. Not!

I don't expect them to take us seriously because they never do. In brutal regimes, despots end up like Moammar Khadaffi, beaten and shot by people who've had all they can take.

We are much more polite here. Our leaders will dismiss the protestors or convince the media to do it for them ("spoiled lazy kids, dirty hippies, trashy lowlifes, druggies, sex in the park, etc, etc.")  Oh, sure the police will arrest some to show them whose boss but they won't be tortured. Some local governments will deny them licenses to assemble and/or march. The Establishment will join hands to protect the status quo.

They'll close their eyes and hope we just fade away - the union workers who staged the sit-ins in the Wisconsin Statehouse, the spreading Occupy Wall Street movement, the blog-writers, the foreclosed, the unemployed, the uninsured, the students burdened with loans that will take half a lifetime to pay off.

"Look, here," they'll say, "look how the pretty diamond bra shines and sparkles."

Let them eat cake.

The only thing it won't occur to them to do is look for real answers, not if it means giving up even the tiniest portion of what they believe is theirs by divine right. If we want it, we'll have to take it - at the ballot box, via boycotts and sit-ins and strikes, by words written and shouted, with songs and tweets and posts and signs.

We have different slogans and some of us are more, um, graphic than others.

But in the end, it all boils down to wanting the same things - homes, jobs, healthcare, decent futures for our children.

I say, let the revolution begin.



Thursday, October 20, 2011

Lions and Tigers and Bears

Oh, man, having worked for a Sheriff's Department for 12 years, my sympathy is with Muskingum County (Ohio) Sheriff, Matt Lutz. Having over 50 dangerous wild animals loose in his jurisdiction was a no win situation for him. He was bound to get grief either way he went.

If he ordered his deputies to shoot to kill the lions, wolves, bears, tigers and monkeys let loose by their suicidal owner, Terry Thompson, the animal lovers were going to go nuts. Since it was falling dark, if he took the second route of tranquilizing the animals and they got away until the sedative wore off, later attacking someone, he'd catch even more hell for allowing his people to be put at risk.

He went with Plan B and sure enough, Facebook has erupted with horror and fury. The misguided animal aficionados are ready to tar and feather the sheriff. But, it's easy for those who don't have to live with their decisions to be positive about what should be done in any situation. They don't have to consider that some small child, whose family may not have gotten the news (there actually are people who don't watch television or listen to the radio or play on Facebook all day) might be out playing in the yard, easy prey for wild animals, made aggressive by the stress of freedom and left unfed by their dead owner.

Or for that matter, not kids, but cows or cats or dogs or horses. Are they not just as important as lions and bears? If it was your beloved pet disemboweled by a 300-pound tiger or your prize show horse slashed to ribbons by a lion, you might not feel so kindly toward the predators.

In the end, Sheriff Lutz did what he had to do. His first priority as sheriff is to be responsible for the safety of his citizens and their property.

We all wish it hadn't had to happen. The thought of 18 rare Bengal tigers being slaughtered is heart-breaking. With time, rescue efforts to capture the animals might have been mounted but the sheriff didn't have the luxury of time and so he acted, which is what sheriffs are elected to do.

I think of the deputies I worked with. They were a mixed bag of personalities, as any collection of human beings tends to be. Some of them would have hated having to kill these magnificent creatures. But most of my deputies were hunters. Some of them would, no doubt, have been thrilled by the thought of tracking down and shooting an animal they would never come in contact with in the normal course of events. Still, that excitement would have been coupled with the conviction that they were acting to protect the public.

The larger tragedy here is the looseness of Ohio's laws regarding the keeping of exotic pets. The state has the highest number of injuries and deaths caused by wild animals of any other. In spite of that, in April Ohio Governor John Kasich allowed the state's ban on buying and selling exotic pets to expire.

If the PETA types want to funnel their upset into something productive,  perhaps pushing for new legislation to prevent people like Terry Thompson from maintaining cages full of lions and tigers and bears is the way to go.


Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Fading Away

IndyCar suffered a horrendous crash on only the 12th lap in Las Vegas. Cars flew over other cars, cars flamed out on the track, cars went airborne into the catch fence. What was supposed to be the series' championship finale resulted in tragedy instead - the death of one of their most beloved and talented drivers, Dan Wheldon. Dan, who left a wife and two small children, was 33 years old.

I've always envied people, like race car drivers, who know from childhood exactly what they want. I've always thought that finding your passion early on is one of the greatest gifts life can bestow upon you, whether that passion is a place, a person or an occupation. And if that passion gives you success as it did with Dan Wheldon - IndyCar champion and double Indianapolis 500 winner - so much the better.

I've known people who, practically from the cradle, knew that their mission in life was to be a cop, a pilot, a teacher, a musician. I've known people who met their soul mate and never lost that feeling through richer and poorer, in sickness and in health. I've known people who came upon a mountain, a farm or a beach and knew they had found the place they would live for the rest of their days.

That never happened for me. I counted them up once, (and this was several jobs ago), and came up with 39 places I had worked. Many of them were totally unrelated - butcher, baker and candlestick maker. Or rather, secretary, realtor, punch press operator, chicken housemother, bartender, insurance agent, bookkeeper, legal assistant, blood-drawer. I got jobs and when I got bored with them, I drifted off to something else (this was back in the day when that was possible). I was married twice and divorced twice. I've lived in Charleston (SC), Houston (TX), Denver (CO),  Springfield (Il), Indianapolis (IN), Los Angeles (CA) and San Diego (CA) as well as many smaller communities across the U.S. I've lived on farms, in houses, apartments and hotel rooms, atop mountains and beside rivers and in the middle of large cities. No place made me say, "this is it, I'm here to stay".

None of those people, places or professions inspired a Eureka! moment for me. In the end, I was always ready to move on, to try the next thing.

I've always wondered if, as the old rock lyric declares that "it's better to burn out than to fade away". Dan Wheldon burned out doing what he loved more than anything else - going fast. Racers know that their professional mistress is dangerous, and perhaps even deadly, but they do it anyway so they must believe the reward is worth the risk, and they willingly take their chances.

I'm 65 years old now so it appears, I'll fade away. If I die doing what I enjoy most, I'll probably have a heart attack while pecking away on this keyboard. I have lots of small, treasured moments but no great over-arching triumphs in my memory bank. If I could go back and live my life over would I trade some of my 65 years for the exaltation of experiencing a grand passion like Dan Wheldon?  Would you?




Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Occupy Wall Street VS. The Tea Party

Some people call Occupy Wall Street the left's version of the Tea Party and I think that is generally accurate. The strangest thing is that these are two groups that draw from roughly the same strata of society - the middle class and working poor - but while both Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party believe America is seriously on the wrong track, they are diametrically opposite in what they believe should be done to correct the situation.

As near as I can tell, the Tea Party sees government as the problem. If it would just get out of the way, taking a "let the chips fall where they may approach, free market capitalism would soon put things to right. The worthy would succeed while the undeserving would fail, putting the U.S. into a kind of "survival of the fittest" mode. Tea Partiers are obviously much more confident in their ability to navigate the trials and tribulations of lay offs and illnesses and predatory lending than the rest of us. Is that because they tend to be more devout in their religious beliefs and assume that God will protect them? But if God's will is the dictating factor, then why bother forming a movement at all? Just have faith and leave it up to Him.

The problem with Tea Party thinking is that it has never proven out in our entire history. Prior to the income tax, the super-rich plutocrats spent their dollars on magnificent mansions and lavish parties, luxurious railroad cars and fabulous jewels. Essentially, we had an aristocracy based on wealth and a vast underclass who toiled in mines and factories and on farms with no protections from the whims of their bosses. They could be fired at will, made to work long hours with no breaks or vacations, thrown out in the street if they got sick.

With a few notable exceptions, the mega-affluent use a significant hunk of their money to influence (influence is a polite word for "buy") politicians to ensure that the laws will protect their interests and make them even richer at the expense of the lower classes. That is simply a fact of life.

Between 1949 and 1979, America went through a more egalitarian phase. During that period, the top one percent never raked in more than 12.8 percent of the nation's income (which still made them plenty rich). That figure was 10% when Ronald Reagan became president; it had risen 15.5 percent by the time he left office. When George W Bush was elected, the One Percenter's share had grown to 21.5. In 2007, it was 23.5.

In the 1949-1979 era, America's middle class was growing and prospering, helped along by labor unions. Factory workers could buy home and cars and send their kids to college. The government passed laws having to do with work place safety and overtime pay and unemployment compensation.

But somewhere along the way, under Presidents and Congresses, Republican and Democrat, we lost our way and America began to tip drastically in favor of the rich. Since 1980, America's total income has quintupled. The middle and lower classes collected almost none of the benefit but for that exclusive Top One Percent, it has resulted in an trillion dollar annual increase. Today, the Top Ones own 50 percent of all stocks, bonds and mutual funds. The bottom 50 own .5 percent. The Top One Percent own 40 percent of all the nation's wealth while the bottom 80 percent hold only seven percent.

Now along come the Occupy Wall Streeters. They think America's economic system is askew too but they have different ideas for how to fix it than the Tea Party. They believe government has to be part of the solution and should be in solidarity with the people rather than being a Wall Street toady. OWS doesnt have a bullet-pointed agenda. They simply want the people and the politicians to start thinking and talking about a fairer vision for America that might include rewriting the tax laws so the rich pay their fair share, federal spending on jobs that would also shore up our infrastructure and educational system, protecting social security and medicare, strengthening collective bargaining and limiting financial protectionism for corporations.

As in, was no bank or banker criminally complicit in the great meltdown we experienced thanks to the giant mortgage scam? Did it just sort of happen with no one at fault? Evidently, at least, our regulators never found any evidence to suggest that anyone should go to jail or even be charged with the mildest of misdemeanors. The government simply stepped in to bail them out and sent them back out to start over. Wall Street had the grace to look a little sheepish for about ten minutes, before embarking on another round of obscenely over-the-top CEO compensation pay-offs.

By and large, Americans are not into class warfare (from the bottom up, that is - no so, the other way around). Allow labor a way to make a decent living and they won't complain much. They don't waste time envying their betters, generally believing the rich probably got where they are via intelligence and hard work. You have to really push their backs against the wall before they wake up and begin to believe they are being systematically screwed over. That's where we are now.

I hope these protesters persevere and don't give up hope because you can be sure the corporations and the super-rich will be fighting back with every advantage they have and that's a lot. It includes unlimited dollars, lobbyists, politicians, and a media which generally conspires with them to make the Occupiers look like a bunch of fools and dufuses. Example, Erin Burnett on CNN -

Oh, yes, and they have the Tea Partiers too don't forget.

Meanwhile, I think Wall Street itself is laughing at all of us because we're doing what we always do - the working class battling each other while the One Percenters go right on with doing what they do, which is looking out for the big Number One.





Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Three Shades of Discrimination

I belong to three groups against whom it is still acceptable to discriminate. I'm a) overweight, b) a smoker and c) an agnostic. Thank God, I don't want to run for president because any one of those labels would be enough to doom my campaign, much less all three of them.

Two are synonymous with weak-willed self-indulgence - smoking and obesity. Smoking is, of course, beyond the pale in 21st century USA. You can drink, even to excess, and no one will hold it against you. It's the American way. People will probably even find you amusing. Adultery - no big deal (although I think a woman would have a harder time getting away with it than a man) . It's all that macho testosterone, don't you know? Manly men sometimes just can't help themselves.

In a complete over-reaction to the effects of our evil habit, we smokers were first chased outdoors, then our allowable smoking areas were moved farther and farther from whatever facility we were at and finally, we were banished entirely from the property. You can no longer smoke at all in my airport - not in the terminal itself, not in the parking lot, not in the cow pasture that borders the other side of the runways. Same with my local hospital. Evidently, even seeing us from a distance is enough to inspire gasping indignation in anti-smokers.

My obedience to these dictates goes only so far. I will smoke in my car. That's still my property even if it is in your damn parking garage so the hell with your "thank you for not smoking" signs.

And then fatness. We saw the kind of narrow-minded criticism Governor Christie got when contemplating a run for the presidency. Gene Robinson, columnist for the Washington Post took it upon himself to lecture Christie on his size in one of the most holier-than-thou, judgmental pieces of drivel I have ever read. At the end, he advised the governor to eat a salad and take a walk. It's enough to make you want to drive your car to Long John Silver's for a grease-drenched meal of deep-fried fish, fries and hushpuppies in rebellion to his sanctimony.

Of course, our society has been obsessed with weight for decades, not underweight, of course, just over-weight. We worship at the alter of emaciation as portrayed by the sweet young things on t.v. and the movie screen (who probably depend on pills to stay that way). We can't wait to place our order when the spokesperson tells us how she became a skeletal size 2 via NutriSystems. And then we are shocked, shocked, when our daughters become bulimic and/or anorexic and/or suicidal trying to live up to this unrealistic image.

Our culture equates obesity with mental dullness, lack of energy, slovenliness. The media and entertainment worlds promote this mindset with their depictions of overweight characters. It simply isn't true. Chris Christie is one of the brightest and most vital of the (almost) GOP candidates, a field which includes a number of the less intellectually endowed despite their svelte shapes. We are more prepared to overlook idiocy if it comes in an attractive package.

And finally, religion. My belief that I don't know the answers and I don't think anyone else does either would be a deal killer for sure if I ever ran for office. Saying that Jesus may or may not have been God's (whoever and whatever God is) son is not allowed. You must profess an unyielding faith in Christianity to be our president.

But...if you say that you find what the Mormons espouse to be approximately on par with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in believability, you'll be looked at with horror. That's how I see it though. In my book, to be a Mormon, you have to be either a dissembler to take advantage of the many benefits Mormons bestow upon their (male) followers or you have to be brainwashed. Those are the only two possibilities.

Not that other denominations of Christians aren't perfectly capable of believing two impossible things before breakfast. My own Catholics, for instance. The infallibility of the Pope? Seriously? When history tells us that some popes have been arrogant, selfish, dishonest, fanatical and even downright evil in some cases.

And all this at a time when history also proves that some of most publicly devout public officials have been the worst sorts of hypocrites.

I don't care if my president smokes. I don't care if he or she is fat. I don't care of he or she believes in any particular religion or none at all.

I just want my president to do a good job as the leader of this country. Beyond that, I could care less.