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A Fable With No Moral November 9, 2009

Posted by monty in news, politics.
Tags: , , , ,
2 comments

money tp

I didn’t grow up in a wealthy family. For a good chunk of my childhood, we lived on my dad’s income as a high school principal. It wasn’t until I was in 3rd grade that my mom went back to work as a substitute teacher, and a year or two after that that she was back in her own classroom full-time. In certain California school districts I came to know, it wasn’t unheard of for teachers and administrators to make six figures. But this was rural Ohio in the 80’s. When I graduated from college in ’95, I was offered a job in my hometown school district for just over $20,000 a year. My parents’ salaries ten years prior couldn’t have been much more than that, and, at least at first, were probably less.

Even so, my brother and I lived comfortably. My parents were frugal (a lesson I now wish I had learned from them better), saved religiously, and dabbled a bit in the stock market, and as a result, our family was financially secure. We didn’t always have the flashiest stuff, but there was always a bumper crop under the tree every Christmas, and we took a vacation every summer without fail – Disney World and Epcot Center; up the Eastern seaboard to Bar Harbor, Maine; the Grand Tetons in Wyoming; San Francisco up to Seattle and back again. There was money precisely because my parents were smart with it.

Their work ethic and frugality had an unintended consequence. As I look back at my life in an effort to make sense of who I am now, I think it’s having seen my parents work so hard, make relatively little money, and devote it all to making sure my brother and I were raised well, that directly contributed to the class warrior I’ve become.

I’ve always been suspicious and mistrustful of the wealthy, regardless of how kind they might seem. This has sometimes been to my detriment, when I’ve refused to give someone a fair shake simply because of my preconceptions about their money and how they came to have it. I can be standoffish even in the best of situations, and this is only exacerbated by my thinking anyone who’s well-to-do is a selfish, greedy pig.

The inevitable retort is that I shouldn’t be jealous of other people’s wealth. I’m not. Trust me. I live in a modest one-bedroom apartment, and I don’t really aspire to anything bigger. I drive a Toyota Yaris, and it suits me just fine. I travel occasionally, buy lots of movies, and purchase a yearly iPod update, but otherwise I simply don’t yearn for extravagance. And, in the instances where I do splurge on something flashy (like my TV, the one really nice possession I own), it’s after saving for months, which is as it should be. So I don’t look at other people’s ritzy lives and think, “Gee, I wish that were me.” I’m content with what I’ve got, and I know if I keep saving I’ll be able to afford the things that make me happy.

I say all of this as a long-winded and circuitous explanation for how rabidly, mouth-frothingly angry I get at just about any mention of Goldman-Sachs, Citibank, Chase, or any of the other banking institutions that represent some of the worst of 21st Century human nature. I don’t know enough about the financial sector to understand the ins and outs of everything these parasites are doing (and if you watch one key section of Michael Moore’s recent film, Capitalism: A Love Story, the bankers don’t understand it either), but I do know this: the wealth these people hold is disgusting and, dare I say it, immoral.

I can understand the anger some people feel toward the government, but it increasingly seems to me that they’re missing the more obvious culprit. The government wouldn’t have had to bail out the banks if the banks hadn’t willfully put themselves in that situation in the first place. They prey on home owners, account holders, card users, and then, after the bankers have fucked things up so righteously they need governmental assistance to prevent them from living in a box under the bridge, they go right back to giving themselves salaries and bonuses that are completely disproportionate to any good they’re actually doing.

And then in the last few days we’ve learned two other disturbing things:

1) Goldman Sachs employees got the H1N1 vaccine before schools and hospitals.

The excuse I’ve heard to justify this goes something like this: “We have high-risk employees that need to be protected from H1N1 too.” Yeah, I imagine Goldman Sachs has a large number of the elderly, the sickly, and small children on their payroll. The truth is, every Goldman Sachs employee who gets the vaccine represents another person in New York City who needs it but is unable to get it. The government, as always, bears some responsibility for once again reinforcing the idea that if you’re rich, you’re important, and if you’re not, well, you can get H1N1 and die.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

2) Goldman Sachs doing “God’s work”; chairman and CEO Lloyd Blankfein apparently agrees.

Do I even really need to comment on this? Some of the salient facts from the article perfectly underline the frustration I feel with these douchebags. Average pay for employees of the firm is $700,000 a year. How long will it take you to make that much, and how hard do you feel you work compared to an investment banker? I feel like I work my ass off, and it’ll take me the better part of two decades to come close to that average salary. Blankfein paid himself $68 million in 2007 – the highest salary of any CEO – and has $500 million in Goldman stock. The company has set aside $20 billion for bonuses. All of this – as well as playing a sizable hand in our current recession – and Blankfein has the balls to claim banks like Goldman have “a social purpose.” So do prostitutes, Lloyd. And maybe God has changed the nature of the work he likes people to do, but what was that thing He said about a camel and the eye of a needle? And how exactly did Christ feel about the money changers in the temple? It’s escaping me at the moment.

As usual, Matt Taibbi hits the nail on the head.

I think the reason I get so angry about all of this is that I really just don’t understand it, and so my only recourse is confused agitation. So many people in this country work so hard just to scrape by, and then these schmucks rake in multi-million-dollar salaries, destroy the economy, go crying to Papa Bush, get rescued, and then turn right around and rub it in our faces. It’s so selfish and inconsiderate it practically defies belief. A $68 million salary? Why is that even necessary? I hate to say it, but my gut tells me that if you really feel like you need $68 million to live your life, than your life probably isn’t worth living.

*****

Current listening:

Super furry guerrilla

Super Furry Animals – Guerrilla (1999)

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Wounded World November 4, 2009

Posted by monty in news, politics, TV.
Tags: , , , , , , ,
2 comments

ParisHilton_Caulfield_8572072Part of me was ashamed to write about Jon Gosselin and Rabbi Shmuley Boteach the other day.  After all, a huge part of the problem with our celebutard-obsessed culture is that the media keeps giving them attention they don’t deserve.  Jon and Kate, Lindsay and Paris, the whack-job Mormon family who’ve mistaken Mom’s uterus for a broken gumball machine, the dimbulbs from The Hills, and the entire cast of the Twilight movies – they’d all be so much more bearable if their fame was proportional to their actual level of accomplishment.  That means I’d never know who Jon, Kate, Paris, or the Duggard family is, I’d know Lindsay only as the star of the Tina Fey-scripted Mean Girls, the Twilight cast would only appear in Entertainment Weekly articles I skip, and Heidi and Spencer and the rest of The Hills’ demon-spawn wouldn’t register on my radar until Joel McHale ridicules them on The Soup. There’s no earthly reason why any of these people show up on the news.  In a fair and just world, they’d be relegated to media oblivion.

sarah-palinThe same goes for Sarah Palin.  A full year after getting her ass handed to her by voters, she’s still hanging around, like the drunk who doesn’t realize the party’s over.  Her memoir, which we’re supposed to believe she wrote all by her widdle self in the space of a few months – despite the fact that she has yet to string more than three words together intelligibly in public – is currently ranked #3 on Amazon, which means that an unfortunate number of people actually believe she has something important to say about anything.  My guess is that the book will be good for either A) comic relief, or B) a literary drinking game, wherein the reader does a shot every time she uses the word maverick. Like all the names in the first paragraph, there is no reason, none whatsoever – and I’m quite serious about this – that she gets any media attention at all.  I don’t care if McCain chose her as his running mate in a cynical ploy to snatch vaginaed voters away from Obama.  She has yet to say anything of consequence about anything, and the fact that anyone is considering her a serious contender for the 2012 presidential election is testament only to how delusional a segment of this country remains.

There are exactly two choices for how the media should handle these people.  The first is to stop covering them.  It’s a simple solution, elegant and precise.  Don’t report on them, don’t show any photos or film, don’t tell us what they said.  They’re inconsequential, and every second you devote to them takes away a second you could be using to cover something that actually matters.

The other option – and I could conceivably throw the whole weight of my support behind this – is to reveal them as the buffoons they are.  If the NBC Nightly News were to include a 5-minute-long segment called “Daily Dickhead” where the likes of Spencer Pratt or Kim Kardashian were eviscerated through a montage of clips demonstrating their vacuous, selfish ways, I would tune in every night.  Seriously.  Any venture that encourages the American public to ridicule these self-involved twats is a worthwhile one, in my book.

And, incidentally, I would endorse this exact same handling of Sarah Palin.  Somehow we’ve arrived at the notion that being “fair” or being “objective” means treating both sides of an argument as equally valid.  As a result, we get serious news reporting of death panels and teabaggings and town hall meetings filled with angry white people who look like torch-wielding extras from Frankenstein. If the big news outlets were really worth their salt anymore, rather than report on these things as though they were legitimate news, they’d call bullshit on the whole enterprise.  The right-wing is going to paint the mainstream news media as a bunch of far-left pinko commie faggots anyway, so what would they have to lose if Brian Williams came to us on-air one night and said, “Sarah Palin said today in a town hall meeting that Barack Obama wants to kill your grandparents.  What a crazy bitch!”

I think it’s entirely fair to report on death panels and these teabag demonstrations or whatever else the right-wing concocts, but the Big 3 needs to have the smarts and the gumption to really report on them.  They need to show, for instance, how the right-wing is using lies and distortion and charged language to derail health care reform, as well as how Fox News and other Republican groups are organizing these supposedly “spontaneous” demonstrations.  The news bureaus feel, I guess, like they have to report on these things as serious phenomena, when the truth of it is, if they were really reporting objectively, they’d reveal all of it as a serious fraud to prey on voters’ fears of the U.S. turning into a grandma-killing noueveau-Cuba.

What we really need are more Matt Taibbis, the journalist who wrote the fantastic Rolling Stone article about the right-wing’s campaign against health care reform that I posted a month ago.  Taibbi wrote a terrific piece shortly after Palin stepped down as governor of Alaska, but he declined to publish it until now.  Here’s an excerpt:

Palin’s paranoid ramblings and self-pitying tantrums on the way out of office not only didn’t injure her chances for national office, they actually appeared to help, as polls taken in the week after her resignation showed that 71% of Republicans were now prepared to vote for her for president in 2012. Just as she had during the campaign last fall, Palin defied rational analysis by making a primal connection with the subterranean resentments of white middle America, which is apparently so pissed off now at the rest of the planet for not coddling its hurt feelings in the multicultural age that it is willing to embrace any politician who validates its insane sense of fucked-overness.

Nobody understands this political reality quite like Palin, even if she doesn’t actually understand it in the sense of someone who thinks her way to a conclusion, but merely lives it, unconsciously, with the unerring instinct of a herd animal. Palin’s supporters don’t judge her according to her almost completely nonexistent qualifications for serious office, they perceive her as they would a character in a Biblical narrative, a Job in heels with cross-eyes and a mashed-potato-brained husband who happens to spend a lot of time getting shat upon by Letterman and Maureen Dowd and the other modern-day Enemies of Christ.

On some level Palin understands better than any of us that what’s important to her base isn’t how well she does her job or even what she does with her time before 2012, but who her enemies are and how loudly she beats the drum against them – and when the news comes out that these foes have recently driven her to such distraction that she even started losing her hair (reportedly necessitating a recent emergency trip to personal hairdresser Jessica Steele), it elevates her conservative martyr credentials to previously unimagined levels.

As a national candidate she seems to us normal/rational observers mortally wounded, but as a conduit for middle American resentment she may actually have gained in stature, and don’t be at all surprised if she doesn’t emerge with the status of something like a religious figure when they roll the rock back for her inevitable candidacy three years from now.

This is exactly the kind of reporting we need now.  We need the news media to stop acting like every argument is pitched on a level playing field, and that every media personality needs to be treated with the same deference.  We need the media to do the heavy lifting and the critical thinking much of this country is unwilling to do itself.  And that means they need to be ready to point out the people, on both sides of the political fence and in all aspects of the media, that seek to do us harm.

True/Slant–Taibblog (11/02/09): Palinoia

*****

Current listening:

Talking heads true stories

Talking Heads – True Stories

Current reading:

BANR2005-full

Rattawut Lapcharoensap – “At the Café Lovely” (in The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2005, ed. by Dave Eggers)