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Enough Already

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My husband likes to talk about sports. Since I gave him an “e-book” computer for our anniversary in 2009, he makes use of his “library time” (I’ll leave it to the reader to figure out which room in our home qualifies as his library) reading sports stories from all over the internet. He has, in fact, become somewhat of a walking sports encyclopedia in the course of the past sixteen months.

Absent a community of other men with whom to engage in analytical sports banter, he sometimes gets really desperate and starts spouting his facts and figures at ME. To my credit, I have enough residual interest in sports (I used to be a genuine fan) and just enough exposure to news outlets that I can generally engage in a moderately satisfying exchange on the subject.

We were sitting in a booth at one of our favorite eating spots—we call it “the sports bar” because from every booth, one has a clear view of no less than five television screens, each tuned to the sport du jour—when the husband began to wax encyclopedic about the latest big story. Seems there is a young man who plays baseball for the St. Louis Cardinals. A very talented young man, who has been with the team for the first ten years of his career. That’s nice. Nowadays, the players tend to sell their services to the highest bidder, and never play for more than a couple of years for any one team.

Well, it seems this young man (Albert Pujols) is up for a new contract at the end of this year. And the negotiations, apparently, are no less complex than a trade treaty between international giants. Pujols sets a deadline. Deadline goes by—no contract. Rumors fly, but neither side will tip its hand. The team is said to have offered $200 million over eight years. Cardinals manager theorizes that Pujols is being pressured to “set the bar”—by demanding something exceeding the current fattest contract: Alex Rodriguez’s $275 million over ten years. They think $300 million over ten years might properly set that bar.

Three hundred million dollars. Thirty million a year. To play a kids’ game.

This young man would earn—well, not earn, exactly…let’s say he would be paid—the equivalent of twenty-five years of my husband’s current salary in slightly less than a month. We could live comfortably well into our retirement (husband will be 80 in twenty-five years) on what this kid will put in the bank in thirty days.

And the thought occurred to me: there’s no shortage of money in this country.

It’s simply that more and more of it is going to those who already have more than they could possibly need or use.

How much filet mignon and caviar can the guy eat? How many south sea islands can he own? How many designer drugs can he put up his nose?

Meanwhile, the price of meat and fish has us increasingly dining on…pasta. The price of gas has us vacationing in…our back yard. The price of health care and pharmaceuticals has us…taking aspirin for a heart attack.

And WE are the “middle” class. God help those below US on the food chain.

Enough.

Enough already.

Hindsight is 20/20

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Like many Boomers—the original “Peter Pan” generation—I find it almost impossible to believe I’m over thirty-five, much less fifty. Unfortunately I am rudely reminded of that reality several times a day…particularly when dealing with the—what do they call them, now…generation “y”?—with whom I am in close contact every day. Oh, yes; there are times when I definitely feel like the moldy old relic I am. For the most part, though, I see myself as the same hip, anti-establishment almost-renegade I was thirty-five years ago. Plus a few pounds and a bit of perspective…

It’s funny how the accumulation of years upon the planet begins to impart a sense of history to those of us who are paying any attention at all. It starts when we begin to see our parents as human beings; we notice and understand the things they conquered, the mistakes they made, the hurdles they cleared. And we see how those things eventually became part of who WE are. That knowledge settles upon us like the stages of grief: Denial, anger, bargaining, depression and, eventually, acceptance—that we are, to a large extent, those people from whom we struggled so valiantly to break away and distinguish ourselves. Little do we know that, another decade or two down the road, as our parents pass on and all we have left of them is what we can see in the mirror, we will cling to that connection as if it were the last life ring thrown over the side of the Titanic.

That compilation of years has brought me another bone to chew, of late. I’m beginning to see how we Boomers have failed our children. How our mistakes—those things we did thirty or forty years ago when WE were in charge of writing history—became a less than exemplary model for the generations that have come after us. We were all about bucking the system. We were all about re-writing the rules to suit our own sensibilities. We were young and we were free—or we wanted to be. Our parents’ social mores were stifling, prejudicial and outdated. So we threw away their rules and wrote our own.

Granted, some of those rules cried out for rewriting. We understood that our parents’ rules criminalized behavior that was the sole business of parties engaging in it. We didn’t/don’t need Big Brother hiding under our beds or dictating a social order based on ethnicity or skin color. But we were not at all selective about which of our parents’ rules we flushed down the toilet. Down it all went. We didn’t understand that the kind of freedom for which we clamored carries a great burden—first of discernment, then of self-regulation. We didn’t take the time to discern what part of the social code to which our parents subscribed was valid, timeless and universal. Our governing philosophy became, “We should be able to do whatever we want, as long as it doesn’t hurt anybody else.”

And so, we have passed that watered-down, unspecific credo down to our children—who have proceeded to alter it even further. Today’s rule is, “We should be able to do anything we want.” Evidently, the “as long as it doesn’t hurt anybody else” part of the rule was entirely too subjective—What does “hurt” mean? And who, exactly, is “anybody else”? And why should I care, anyway? So the next generation did away with that caveat completely.

In the end, what we thought was a leap toward great and necessary social liberation, turned out to be that…PLUS a step down the road to utter chaos. All because we didn’t understand that human beings are notoriously incapable of self-regulation. Because we didn’t understand that was why our parents’ rules—which were surely mutations of their parents’ rules—were developed in the first place. Now…NOW that we have managed to put a few decades under our belts and acquire some of that “historical perspective” I mentioned, we GET IT. But what can, what WILL we do about it? How can we rebuild what we tore down? Who will listen to us now?

And can we hope that our children will “get it” before their children, or their childrens’ children, drag us down to complete anarchy?

On Taxes

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I read an article today on the NPR website that talks about voters who want what tax dollars will provide (like repairs to the country’s aging infrastructure) but have no interest in providing the funds to make it happen. Where do they think the money is going to come from? Heaven? Maybe that’s why the far right agenda seems to be more focused on mollifying God than doing any actual governing…

Let’s face it: Many of our living wage industries have been out-sourced to greener—cheaper—pastures. Or, as is the case here in the Pacific Northwest, the mills have pretty much cut down all the cheap, easily accessible lumber, so they, too, have upped sticks and moved on to the next lumber mother-lode (Canada? The Amazon?)

What’s left for those of us who live here to DO for a living? What jobs/industries are impossible to send overseas or out-source? Well….there’s government (don’t forget this includes law enforcement and fire protection—your tax dollars at work), education (largely funded by tax dollars), infrastructure construction and repair (cha-ching—more tax dollars.) And we know they can’t outsource health care…and what a gigantic money-machine that has become since all the other industries have gone away! And then there is the Service Industry—encompassing everything from WalMart to McDonald’s to parcel delivery to garbage collection. Notoriously low-paying and high-turnover jobs, the ones nobody really wants to do.

So we would all do well not to think of our tax dollars as going to entitlements benevolently bestowed upon some undeserving (in our eyes) segment of the population. We need to think about our own livelihoods—or maybe that of the guy next door, or the family who sits next to us at church. If we did away with all taxes, would you still have a job? Would you be able to make use of our tremendously overblown and overpriced health care system? How many of those folks would then lose their jobs? And since discretionary income would be hard to come by, how would that affect the service industry? What if you couldn’t even afford to eat out at McDonald’s anymore?

Yes, it’s very popular—and the politicians know it—to scream about government overspending and a budget deficit that will imperil our economy for decades to come. But in this consumer economy we’ve created by letting big business get away with sending huge portions of our industries overseas, we really need to understand where those “too many” tax dollars are going. How many of them actually make it back into your own pocket, in some way? How much is government investing in keeping this wrecked ship of an economy afloat? And what would our lives look like if we just…let it sink?

Think about it.

Insanity

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I spend very little time watching, reading, or listening to the political discourse these days. For awhile, just after the 2008 election, I was under the mistaken impression that things would improve; that the inanity was somehow going to dissipate with the presence of an intelligent, well-spoken man behind the desk in the Oval Office. We all know that didn’t happen, don’t we?

We all know that, if anything, the right has become more shrill and more inane in its proclamations and accusations. Including taking every disastrous, unpopular result of eight years of Bush Administration policies and immediately projecting them on to President Obama. The Economic Crisis? Obama’s fault. The Bail-out? Obama’s idea (No one mentions the free bailout money the Bush Administration dished out shortly before Bush left office. It’s like it never happened…) It’s Obama’s fault that he has been unable to wave a magic wand and create new jobs for everyone who lost theirs as a result of a runaway financial system left unregulated by the Bush Administration. The Gulf Oil Disaster has been characterized as “Obama’s Katrina,” even though it was most probably the result of at least eight years (prior to Obama’s election) of rule by a Big-Oil Puppet King. Last week, Michael Steele decided to add the war in Afghanistan to the list of Obama’s transgressions. (We are supposed to forget this war has been going on for eight years and Obama’s only been in office for two…)

And then there’s Sarah Palin.

If I let myself think about it, I would still have a nearly irresistible desire to put my house on the market, pack my bags and my animals and head for some remote backwoods in Canada to live out my life in blissful political ignorance (with better health care…)

But I don’t let myself think about it. In fact, I just can’t go there, because it’s all so flagrant and hopeless, this hype/attack/demonize/destroy political method that has taken hold of our country. For the past two years, I’ve been (metaphorically) trying to function with my fingers in my ears and humming really loud. I almost get to the place where I can choose my own reality—that I’m actually living in a country (a world?) governed by grown-ups. And then something happens that rudely drags me out of that rarified space and douses me with a bucket of cold, green, slimy reality.

Something like that happened last week. I was behind the counter at the café, and an old gentleman walked up to the counter and asked where the offices for the phone company were. (In fact he asked for the wrong phone company…the one that covers most of the county but NOT our little town. Evidently, he finds it inconvenient to read the name at the top of his phone bill…) Maybe it will just be easier to relate the conversation:

LOG (Little Old Gentleman): Do you know where’s the office for (wrong phone company) around here?

Me: We don’t have (wrong phone company.) We have (right phone company.) And their offices are right across the street.

LOG: I went over there. But there’s nobody there.

Me: I know. They don’t have a customer service office over there anymore. You have to call the customer service number on your bill.

LOG: Well, I done that. And she keeps sayin’ all these things that don’t have nothin’ to do with what I want. (I assumed this meant that he got lost in electronic phone menu land and didn’t hear an option that appealed to him…)

Me: Yeah…sometimes those phone things can be kind of frustrating…

And then he launched into the story all about how his phone bill was fouled up and he got it fixed once, but he can’t find the right people to help fix it this time. Went on and on for about five minutes, while I was politely trying to extricate myself from his tale of woe and get him to move on so I could wait on the customers in line behind him.

Me: Well, you just have to call that number and see if you can get to the right person.

LOG: Yeah… But ever since that Obama got in, ever’thin’s been messed up…

That’s right, folks. This Old Gentleman was going to blame Barack Obama for his woes with the local telephone company.

That’s how far the poison has spread. How ingrained and integrated into our society this insane bullshit has become. That some little old guy in Nameless Small Town, USA believes that anything bad, anything negative that happens to him personally is the direct fault of the President of the United States. And, by god, he is going to cast his vote for the other side next time around…because the phone company messed up his bill.

I turned away from that suddenly insane exchange with the Little Old Gentleman, with my fists balled and an almost overwhelming desire to go and beat my head against the nearest wall…

Am I Supposed to Feel Sorry For This Guy?

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Working as many hours as I do, I’m largely cut off from television news, and I wouldn’t listen to a radio talk show if you chained a set of headphones to my ears and held a gun to my head. But I do get the opportunity to browse the headlines in the Oregonian when I pick it up off the sidewalk on my way in the door of the cafe in the morning.

I know newspapers are having a really hard time staying afloat these days. And I honestly think it’s a terrible shame. It’s possible that print media was the last place you could obtain actual news if you went looking for it. But since papers have decided to turn themselves into “news magazines” in an attempt to retain readers, there’s nothing much besides a whole lot of fluff splattered between the first and last pages. And there’s no such thing as a “news” piece written without a ton of very obvious editorial intent.

So the other day, I spied this story on the front page of the paper:

AT & T Customer Goes To Jail After Shooting At Thieves’ Car

…in which some jack-ass with a concealed weapon permit and a loaded .38 in his pocket decided to play “NCIS” and shoot out the tires of the getaway car of some thieves who had run out of the local cel phone store with a couple of hot I-Phones.

He missed. God knows where those shots went, or could have gone. And since when does one resort to deadly force to recover $700 worth of electronic gadgets? The Gresham Police hauled his ass off to jail. And everyone is outraged, because this ballsy guy was “just trying to do the right thing.”

I have to say, we live in a crazy world. Every time the police around here actually have to kill someone, there is a monstrous investigation, the cop gets suspended until the investigation is complete, editiorialists from every nook and cranny put in their two cents about how the police misuse deadly force. A cop can hardly taser or bean-bag someone without being painted as an accomplice to the Rodney King assault. But let some Joe Blow on the street with a concealed handgun and an over-developed fantasy life take pot-shots at a petty thief, and he’s painted as some kind of folk hero.

I guess this qualifies as my

“WTF”

for this week…

Buyer’s Remorse?

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The increased shrillness of partisan rhetoric caused by the passage of the Health Care Bill has caused my blood to curdle to the “political rant” point. I haven’t felt one coming on this strongly since the 2008 election…

Let’s face it. Barack Obama was elected president in 2008 for two main reasons: First, he was NOT George W. Bush or anything even remotely associated with that infamous administration; and second, he had not chosen Sarah Palin as a running mate. It’s utter folly to believe that a majority of American voters carefully scrutinized the platforms of all candidates and chose Barack Obama based on anything he said or promised or represented. Which is not to say there were not those who voted for Mr. Obama for reasons other than his non-Bush-ness. But those true believers alone would not have pushed him to victory. George W. Bush let his house of cards fall down around his Alfred E. Newman ears about six months too early to allow him to hand the mantle of power over to a successor of his own political ideology. The American people were fed up with Bush and everything he stood for. And they voted that frustration.

So when I hear about this “buyers’ remorse” that all of us who voted for Obama are supposed to be suffering now, I beg to disagree. Mr. Obama is, after all, STILL not George W. Bush. And he did not clasp hands with Vice President Sarah Palin upon signing the Health Care Bill into law. If he is or accomplishes nothing else in the next three (or seven) years, he will remain exactly what I purchased with my vote sixteen months ago.

However, I am beset by a certain amount of remorse connected with the Obama presidency. When I cast my vote, I foolishly assumed that an Obama victory would put an end to the madness. That the presence of an articulate, educated, intelligent human being behind the desk in the Oval Office would raise the level of political discourse in this country to something at least a rung or two above the putrid, sniping rhetoric of hatred and fear propagated by the previous administration. What was I thinking? What made me believe that the party of “Daschellism” and swift-boating had any intention of abiding by the will of the people, dropping their delusions of national domination and getting down to the business of government?

Mr. Obama, for his part, tried to implement the gospel of inclusiveness he had preached before the election. He was all about bi-partisanship; he did everything but stand on his head trying to get Republicans to come to the table and pow-wow about the changes he had promised the American people (after he spent the first weeks of his presidency desperately trying to keep the country’s head above the treacherous economic waters into which the Bush Administration had cast it…)

The newly-demoted minority party richly rewarded the President’s outstretched hand. First, they cast aspersions on the bail-outs he was forced to offer to floundering financial institutions (as if he was simply throwing our hard-earned tax money at a bunch of spoiled rich kids for no reason, or for reasons of his own creation.) And then they banded together as a rock-hard block to oppose anything and everything that the President tried to accomplish—with the expressed intention by their own admission of causing this President to fail. No thought to the needs of the people. No thought to the challenges facing any government in 21st century global politics. Their entire platform, all their energy was sunk into that single mission. Effectively solidifying the minority party into a giant turd clogging the pipes of our government. And, of course, blaming it all on the “other side.”

Am I frustrated to near hysteria by what’s going on? Of course. Do I blame President Obama? No, I do not.

I know who I believe in my heart is responsible for this entire mess. But I also know that, at this point, fixing blame is pointless. Our government is broken. Perhaps beyond redemption. The patient is dead. Will figuring out who’s to blame bring it back to life?

How do you make them shut up? How do you make them care about anything but their own avarice, their personal delusions of power and control? I don’t know. Obviously nobody knows. The country has gone completely mad and it appears there is no help for it. For the first time in my life, the thought of just getting the hell away from the madness, rather than working to calm or change it, looks tremendously appealing.

I’ve always wanted to travel…

Noise

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I have been a tad out of touch since we bought the restaurant… We DO listen to the radio in the kitchen at the café. But after three years, the fact that every radio station we can pick up has a playlist of about ten songs that they crank out over and over again until you can’t stand it anymore led me to a dangerous decision. About a week ago, I rekindled my relationship with public radio. I decided, what the heck, I’d rather listen to “Talk of the Nation” than some pre-pubescent pop star whining through her latest smash hit for the umpteenth time. Now, I’m not so sure I’ve made the right choice. Because the political acid is starting to burn a hole in my gut right next to the cavity created by my job. Maybe not good for my health…

Seems there is a new book out there that has been stirring up the political scene: Game Change, by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin. It is supposedly a minutely researched expose of the highlights, and lowlights (of which there are surely many) of the 2008 presidential campaign.

Now, I have not read the book, nor am I going to promise to, given that I finished exactly three books in all of 2009. But my observation isn’t about the book, it’s about the firestorm it has created.

We on the left are still wondering what the hell qualified Sarah Palin for the attention she received as a candidate in 2008; and why the hell anyone still cares about her now, a year past her ignominious and well-deserved defeat. So, when additional tales of her incompetence and ignorance come to light, we can’t help but yuk it up a little at her expense. Game Change first hit the shelves a few weeks ago, and left-wingers took the opportunity to use it to poke fun at Sarah Palin. And of course it wasn’t all light-hearted, good-natured joshing. There are those who are aware that someone needs to make every effort to make Sarah Palin go away for good.

We hardly finish tittering over Palin’s miscues when we are assailed by a barrage of smear over Harry Reid’s comments as quoted by the authors of this same book. “Harry Reid is a racist!” “Harry Reid insulted the (not-yet) President!” “Harry Reid should apologize!” “Harry Reid should resign!” Note, please, that as far as I know NONE of these calls for Harry Reid’s head came from members of the black community (with the exception of RNC Chairman Michael Steele, and we all know where his loyalties lie…) and certainly not from the President himself. Everyone is mystified, even the authors of the book, that this particular aspect of Harry Reid’s involvement in President Obama’s campaign is the one that everyone has chosen to focus upon. After all, the point of the story was to illustrate Reid’s contribution to Mr. Obama’s victory.

What’s not to get, here? Let us not forget that across the aisle sits the party, not of “equal and opposite reaction,” but of “insane and hyperbolic over-reaction.” The party for whom the likes of Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter are two of the more (in)famous mouthpieces. The party that, after years of practice, has honed “smear” to a stiletto point; and can—and does—launch it with the deadliest accuracy.

We snicker behind our hands about Sarah Palin, and they launch a full-scale “Daschellism” against Harry Reid. And no one gets the connection?

There are two morals to this story: First: Sarah Palin is the right wing’s Sacred Cow. (Love that imagery, don’t you?) Frighteningly enough, she represents redemption to many in the Republican Party, certainly to the rightest and shrillest wing thereof, and she will be defended with every weapon at the party’s disposal.

Lesson the second: We can’t out-smear the Republican party. Democrats are so far behind in this particular arms race that it doesn’t do for them to even attempt to engage the enemy on this field. This is one game at which we can not beat them. And, in my opinion, trying to do so only raises the snarky political noise to a pitch that will surely turn all our brains to mush. If it hasn’t already.

So, here’s an idea for the Democratic Party:

Why not DO something? Why not accomplish something for which history, and possibly even the voting public, will reward you? Why not earn the public’s trust, instead of trying to out-yell the other guy for it?

Just a thought…

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