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Let’s Play Barbies With Our Souls

Imagine a married couple with three kids.  Their names are Ken and Barbie, and they’re American workers in their thirties, previously employed in the real estate industry, and doing quite well until about 2007, when the real estate market crashes.

Suddenly, two people who had been raking in a solid upper class income were making a third what they used to – and the only thing either of them really qualified for was work in the real estate industry.

I think it would be fair to judge the couple for putting all of their professional eggs in one basket, but I don’t think we ought to judge them any more harshly than any of the other millions of Americans, who maybe knew the bubble was a bubble, but had no idea how small it would get when it popped.

Little by little, the economic foundations of the lives Ken and Barbie had hammered together fell away.  Like Jenga pieces being slid out beneath them, it was all doomed to come down.

Health insurance premiums tripled – snick!  Gas prices spiked – snick!  Property values fell, foreclosures rose, gargantuan banks rumbled to ominous, creaking halts – snick, snick, snick!

The two previously hard-working small-business owners who once worked a hundred hours a week between them were now down to thirty.  The bills fell behind, they had to move from their house, their savings dwindled until they were lurching along, living from hand-to-mouth every single week.

A check would come in, the checks would go out.  And how was the job market again?

Not too good.  Unemployment was hitting double digits.  Ken was able to keep an income going through the contacts he had, but for Barbie the market was dry.  She was going to have to find work.

She eventually tried temp jobs, and learned what minimum wage felt like.  Learned what it felt like to look the possibility of wearing a Walmart uniform-  for years, possibly – right in the eye.

And then on a whim she walked into a finacial aid office at a state university, and asked them – is it possible I could ever go back to school?  Anything to put a solution at the end of this slog through poverty, anything that even resembles hope?

Yes, they said.  No problem – you would easily qualify for student loans.

In other words, you could borrow money that you don’t have, and spend it, right here in the bleakest financial time of your life that you have ever known, and then you could spend it on education.  

Counter intuitive, yes?  That’s what we keep getting told as a country, right?  That we’re super broke, so everybody stop spending.  All of it.  We’re broke, so no more nothing.

And then let’s look where Ken and Barbie would be three or four years later in both scenarios.  

In the first scenario, Barbie works at Wal-Mart the whole time, making barely enough to scrape by, and nowhere in her future is there anything else.  She arrives at the end of the three or four years with nothing to show for her work, and she is no more equipped to pull herself to a higher economic position than she was in 2007, and she’s barely contributing to society as a whole.

Just grinding along as a cog in Walmart’s engine, growing sad and bitter and hopeless and tired. 

Then in the other scenario, which is truly a deficit spending scenario, she gets into school, applies herself with the same intelligence and energy and enthusiasm which made her successful in the real estate industry before it crashed, and instantly stands out academically.

She is a nonstandard student, so her maturity and her children combined with her high GPA qualify her for grants and expanded loans – more money which she wouldn’t have if she locked herself down financially and refused to spend a dime.  And it adds up to more than she would have made at Walmart, even after tuition.  It really does.

At the end of the three years, she has a degree, and graduate schools are courting her, and her family is proud of her, and her future is productive and modern.  And she never – NEVER – could have done it without deficit spending.  Without borrowing from the future – precisely to avoid a future she didn’t want.

This future was not just better for her, and for Ken, but also to society as a whole.  Do you think we’re better off with more career Walmart workers making minimum wage, or with educated professionals moving themselves and the rest of us forward?  Which one pays more taxes, if you’re feeling pragmatic?  Which one is more likely to need food stamps, do you think?

Multiply Ken and Barbie by tens of millions, and that’s the debate you’re watching in Washington right now.  Those are the two futures for working class families, currently being debated by millionaires, all of whom will be absolutely, perfectly fine either way. 

Which side are you on?

 
2 Comments

Posted by on March 15, 2011 in News/Commentary, Parenting/Family

 

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Teachers Do Not Engage In Marketing

Think about the wealthiest people you know, and how they got that way.

I’m thinking of business owners, real estate agents, insurance salesmen, bankers, financial planners, attorneys, and doctors.  Surely I’ve missed some obvious ones, but do you see the pattern there?

They’re all jobs in which you market yourself and expand your customer base.  You have good months and bad months and deep down you know that your income is to a large degree up to you.  So you network and you advertise and you drop off doughnuts and take people out to lunch.  You shmooze.

And if you do it right, it pays off.  You can sell zero houses, or you can sell a house for a hundred thousand dollars, or you can sell ten of them for a half million apiece. 

The more customers you bring in and close, the more money you get.  As it should be – that’s sales.  That’s capitalism.  You’re in control of your own destiny.

People go into lines of work like that for exactly that reason – you can get yourself organized and set goals and the sky’s the limit.  How much do you want to make?

And it’s usually a pretty pervasive attitude.  You can’t go around thinking to yourself that your income is anybody’s problem but your own.  You take responsibility for it, and I admire you.  I really do.

But not all jobs are like that.  Some of them have set incomes that rise gradually – five percent a year if you’re lucky?  Three?  Ten?

Like teachers.  You don’t take a teaching job thinking to yourself, man, I’m going to work this job day and night until I’m making two hundred grand a year and driving a Corvette.  You take a teaching job and what you’re in fact saying is the opposite of that – I’m going to work this job even though it very clearly means that I’m always going to be middle class, that I’m never going to be rich.

In other words, teachers do not have the same control over their income that sales guys do – that’s why they need a union.

It’s not lazy.  It’s a sacrifice. When I hear sales guys cluck their tongues and sneer at teachers and their sweet benefits and mandatory pay raises, that’s where I think they must be confused:  They can’t imagine a job with limits on the income.  They can’t imagine working their whole lives inside a finite financial box.

You don’t see firefighters going around passing out their cards at network groups because they need to be right there at the fire station, ready to jump on the truck and risk their lives if they’re needed.  You don’t see cops pacing around in front of a sales board, thinking, man, I’ve got to pull in three more decent accounts so we can buy that boat.

Cops and teachers and firefighters take their jobs knowing there’s a ceiling to what they’re going to be making, and a rate at which their incomes will climb.

Both types of jobs can represent a sacrifice – the really serious sales guys don’t stop working, ever, and that’s really why they make the big bucks.  But see, they get compensated with those big, big bucks – and it seems kind of stupid to have to point that out.

Meanwhile teachers for example sacrifice any aspirations to real wealth.  You can debate all you want about whether or not they get paid enough, but you have to admit that you’re not at all likely to get rich teaching high school.  Not even close.

They sacrifice the financial aspirations which the other kind of worker values – worships, even.

You might even say that they willfully refrain from taking full advantage of the capitalist system they live in, all so they can provide a service which is socialist in nature.  Yes, socialist systems like public schools, public police departments, public fire departments.

You don’t want to go straight capitalism on that stuff, do you?  You want to write a check to the cops if they respond to your 911 call? 

What if that cop gets shot and killed?  What do you figure that’ll run you?  You think there’s a surcharge for that, or is that on the house, Johnny Sales Guy?

The reason that public employees have been given solid benefits that the average insurance salesman doesn’t have is that they do not have the time or opportunity to beat the streets and drum up more business, a higher paycheck, or more customers.  They are on the production end of our capitalist society, as opposed to the money spigot on the other side.

In fact, frequently they get more customers without any additional compensation at all.  Maybe a little overtime if you’re a cop.  But if nothing burns down on your 24 hour fire station shift, don’t you get paid the same as if you spent all night dragging people out of burning buildings? 

When they keep packing more students into classrooms, does the teacher’s salary go up, the way it would if you sold more widgets?

This is one of the aspects of the current political climate which really disgusts me – when salesmen with open-ended, dynamic incomes act as though teachers want something for nothing, or special treatment.  It’s quite the opposite.

They’ve agreed to take less from the system than you – and someone has to do it.  They’ve decided that instead of going out into the wide, American system and banging together a giant chunk of money, they’re going to sit in a small room and educate children, one lesson at a time, one day at a time.

In exchange, until recently, they could at least expect financial stability, and I would think you’d want them to have that, so they can focus on the very important jobs they have.

This is a sliver of the argument going on right now, a single point that needs addressed.  Teachers and cops and firefighters have different benefits from you because they ARE different from you.  Because they sacrifice the possibilities which you take for granted, all so they can do what you never would or could.

Have a little respect for them please, while you’re driving your Audi to the bank, and try to remember that even if you are as truly and fundamentally awesome as you seem to think you are, that America still needs to support those who are just regular citizens, doing what needs done without a tit-for-tat commission structure.

You get paid more.  They get to worry less.  That’s always been the deal.  You see how you want to hang on to the first one and take the second one away?  And do you see why we’re not going to let you?

 
5 Comments

Posted by on March 6, 2011 in Issue 5, News/Commentary

 

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The I’m-Rich-And-You’re-Not Argument

It’s not really an argument, it’s just a blustering, bullying response that you hear whenever you suggest (or demand) that the tax burden – especially here in the middle of this historic, nationwide financial crisis – ought to be carried by the wealthy. 

I mean, you hear it all the time.  “Oh, so you want ME to pay for it.”

Or, “Ah, so you want to penalize people for being successful.”

The idea is, the rest of us are dipshit kids with our hands out, and the rich are like the grownups.  They roll their eyes as they reach for their wallets – What is it now, Billy?

Even though frequently, I sat there and watched these guys get handed everything in their lives by their moms and dads, from kindergarten right through college, and on into the business world, where their daddies use their connections and resources to get them started.  Then suddenly years later, their business up and running, they delude themselves into believing that they did it all their own selves, those Big Boys, and so the rest of us should, too.

Currently I’m hearing it when we’re talking about teachers.  When I point out, for instance, that we just extended tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, then immediately we added, hey you teachers and cops and firefighters, you need to tighten your belts. 

Usually with a condescending shrug and palms held out wide.  “There’s no money!”

But there’s money.  Sure there is.  That’s the definition of wealthy, and no, I don’t want to penalize you.  Why is it that when we tax you, it’s penalizing you, but when we go after teachers’ benefits, it’s just telling them to tighten their belts?

We’re always worried about financially de-incentivising doctors or giant corporations.  That’s what was so awful about health care, yes?  Nobody will want to be a doctor if their six-digit salaries get too small?

And that’s why we had to cut taxes for the wealthy, yes?  We wouldn’t want them to pay taxes with the money instead of hire people, would we? 

But then when it comes to teachers – oh, screw them, right?  I mean, let’s focus on the ONE financial aspect of being a teacher that is awesome – the benefits – and then let’s pretend that is Teaching In A Nutshell.

Why should they get health care and retirement?!  The unions are spoiling them?

A really backward argument, don’t you think?  We used to ALL get health care and retirement and then slowly over the years, those benefits eroded until suddenly we all think of that as being spoiled. 

“Why don’t I get those benefits?”  That’s what people seem to want to know, and I’ll tell you.  Because you weren’t in a union.

People look at the insurance and retirement and benefits of the average union worker, and they compare them to their own and say “Hey, that’s not fair!”

And they’re right – it’s not fair.  But it doesn’t mean those things should be taken away from anyone.  It means that we should all get those things.  That used to be what America was all about.  Being an American worker used to be something to be proud of, something people around the world envied.  Sure, they still envy us in the Third World – is that the yardstick now?

Suddenly the norm from thirty years ago is characterized as a cushy, undeserved perk.

And the people at the top get the real perks.  If you’re making two hundred fifty grand a year, and you’re comparing your benefits to a teacher’s, and then you’re concluding, “That teacher’s benefits are way better than mine and she needs to tighten her belt!”

Then aren’t you ignoring the salary?  Teachers, it’s no secret, are not paid well.  The benefits are what offset the mediocre pay.  Also, they do get guaranteed raises, but again if you make eighty grand a year and you’re mad at a teacher who gets to look forward to rocking over the forty thousand a year mark, long about Year Ten, then again – apples to apples, please.

And if you’re not making 250K a year, then please stop telling me that I want you to pay for it, because I’m not talking about you.  You’re pretending I’m talking about you.  You’re aspiring to condescension.

You can say, I don’t want you raising taxes on the people whose boots I lick all day, but you don’t get to act like you’re going to be paying for anything I’m talking about, because you’re not.

Equal Representation Regardless Of Wealth

I can’t stress this enough:  You paying more taxes than Bob does not mean that you get more of a say in what is done with the tax revenue than Bob.  That’s not how America works.

Bums and millionaires get the same vote, one apiece.  If you are bringing up your income or financial status in a political debate about this, then all you are trying to do is bully and/or shame the person you are talking to into closing his or her mouth.

And it works for a lot of people.  Being broke, living hand-to-mouth – it’s a bad, shameful feeling.  A favorite, modern rhetorical strategy is to posture as one of the wealthy who’s being taxed – again, whether it’s true or not – and to then apply pressure to that exact feeling of shame and inadequacy, in the person you’re arguing against.

It’s not logical, it’s bullying.  But a lot of people are too passive to respond to it, so it’s an effective argument-ender, minus the logic.  Simply act like the person you’re arguing with wants you to personally pay for their stuff because of their sneakiness and laziness and innate inferiority, and if you can spread out your colorful economic peacock feathers while you’re at it, all the better.

It’s bullshit.  You pay your taxes, and the money stops being yours.  It’s the government’s now – you don’t get to micromanage your share any more than anyone else does.  Where on Earth did you get the idea that you did?

We don’t live in a flat tax society – the wealthy have always paid higher taxes in recognition of the fact that it’s so much easier to make money when you already have a giant stack of it

That’s the basis for taxing the wealthy.  You are at a level where in our system, you can keep on cranking in the money.  You’re doing so in a system occupied and maintained by your fellow taxpayers, many of whom are for instance teachers, who will never reach the level of income you are at, where one can really start slicing through the waves.

So it’s just a question of how much more you’re going to pay.  The Bush tax cuts for example were a 3% slide, but all you hear is how outrageous that would be, penalizing their success by ending that 3% tax cut. 

I guess the Outrageous line is right in there in the middle of that 3%, yes? 

Listen: if the People decide you’re paying more taxes, then you are paying more taxes.  Sit there in your eight-bedroom house bitching about it all you want, the simple fact is, this is what happens when there are more of us than there are of you in a representative democracy.

At least, it’s what happens when corporations do not own the elected officials.

Here’s Why The Rich Don’t Care

Take the most affluent neighborhoods in your city and notice that since schools are funded by local property taxes, those neighborhoods already have the highest paid teachers.  They can already afford it.  I know, they’ll tell you it’s because they earned it – again, they’re rich and we’re not.  But they’ll still have superior schools.  What they won’t have is a monopoly on effective teachers.

And that right there is why it’s so essential to keep the unions.  The affluent neighborhoods will be largely unaffected by this – they can afford to pay teachers more, so they’ll help themselves to the best ones.  The middle class and inner city schools get the leftovers, whoever is willing to teach for mediocre pay and deteriorating benefits.

If you are so interested in people helping themselves and pulling themselves up by their bootstraps, then education is the most important ingredient.

And If the current attack on the public workers’ benefits is successful, then there’s no reason to believe that additional attacks won’t follow.  Soon, there will be very little reason to be a teacher or a cop or a firefighter, anywhere except where the wealthy live.

A great deal for the wealthy, if they’re shortsighted enough to believe that millions of people will sink into poverty, right down the road from them, and that they’ll never rise up and take back their dignity, whether it’s with words or votes or fire bombs.

For my part, my wife will be a teacher next year.  We’re not going to fight anybody, plain and simple.  It’s a big world, and if our own country adopts this disgusting and shameful attitude toward educators, then we will leave, and educate people elsewhere.  And we are not alone.

Why would teachers remain in a place where the people don’t respect them?  Why would firemen and cops risk their lives in a culture where insurance salesmen are valued more than they are?  Why should doctors drive Hummers and teachers ride bikes?

It’s a widespread lack of education funding that has led to this situation, an entire population that is so easily swayed by corporate propaganda and upper class avarice.  It sure looks to me like they’re doing this on purpose, so we won’t know what to do about it when they decide to do more.

And you know what?  If we let them then we’ll get exactly what we deserve.

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Earlier:  How About A Nice Tall Glass Of Socialism?
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And:  Maxwell Harrington: The Best At Being Born

 
13 Comments

Posted by on March 1, 2011 in News/Commentary

 

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The Adventures Of Mister Camera Head

Well, Doctor Camera Head, I guess, since he’s a professor – and yes, he’s a real guy.  But no, that’s not really the rest of his name.

His boring, real name is Wafaa Bilal, and he’s an Iraqi-born photography professor at an NYC art school and an artist held in really high acclaim – apparently The Chicago Tribune named him Artist of the Year in 2007 for an exhibit of his in which people shot him with paint balls all the time.  Apparently, The Tribune meant that in a good way – I think maybe I’d take offense.

But Doctor Camera Head definitely should be his name, because he just got himself a camera embedded in the back of his head.  He had it done at a piercing salon, which I guess we can all imagine that idea forming, when the photography professor was hanging out with the piercing salon owner, a couple of beers, a little shop talk. 

Yeah, I like cameras.  Really?  I like permanently affixing things to people.  Hmmm, what are you doing later?

Makes you wonder if they bumped into each other like the chocolate and peanut butter guys, changed history.

Well, here’s the CNN article by Laura Dolan, appropriately titled, New York Professor Installs Camera In Head, and in fact, it appears that the whole thing is an art project commissioned by a museum in Doha, Qatar.  So yeah, that makes a lot more sense – an old story.

Someone at the museum gets the idea, then they find a man willing to have such a thing done to him, then what?  They request funding from the museum?

How many requests do you figure they got this year, if the old camera-on-the-back-of-the-head routine came out on top?  I’m thinking, one.

Really, I shouldn’t say that – for a couple of reasons.  First, because this guy is edging into supervillain territory.  I remember my old pappy used to tell me back when I was just a young pup, he’d tell me, son, don’t you ever mess around with no one who gets his skull pierced with a digital camera at the request of a foreign museum.  And I didn’t never forget it, neither.

But also because it’s mean. I’ll bet this guy thinks it’s a pretty good idea, because if he didn’t think it was a good idea, then I don’t see how it would have happened.  You’re not even allowed to plant cameras in convicted felons, unless they want you to.  We just don’t let you do that – I’m sure he had to sign a refinance-sized stack of papers to get this whole thing going.

Also, it doesn’t sound easy.  Maybe he doesn’t really need to hear from any wiseasses about it, you know?  Might be one of those commitments you make that sounded faboo at the time, but… 

Yes, so in keeping with this positive mentality, I decided to read the rest of the article and see if I could find out why on earth he thought it was such a good idea.  Let’s see – art, art, art, blibbity blobbity bloobity – okay, that’s good enough for me. 

I still don’t understand why he doesn’t change his name to Doctor Camera Head, though.  Seems like a pretty involved semi-surgical procedure to go all the way through, and then skimp on the obvious legal name-change maneuver.  He could have had some tee shirts screened, make a little scratch.  Some product placement deals, that kind of thing.

But okay, people don’t have to do all the stuff that occurs to me – in fact, even I do only a very small percentage of the things which occur to me.  For example, maybe once a year or so, I start thinking I should get a camera implanted in the back of the head, but I never actually do it.

This guy did – he’s hard core, man. 

Yes, the more I read about him, the more I realize that Mister Camera Head is an extremely impressive and interesting fellow.  In fact, according to the calculations of my contacts at NASA, I have less in common with this man than any other men in America right now, including cowboys and millionaires. 

That’s why I’m going to start keeping tabs on him – keep your friends close, yes?

Of course, it’s not going to be hard keeping track of him, because of his new, rear-mounted GPS skull cam.  We’ll all be able to follow his hilarious adventures at this website:  http://www.3rdi.me/.  Professor Camera Head himself predicts it will be “mundane” – see how this guy needs some kind of agent, any kind at all?

Of course, realistically, it certainly is going to be mundane sometimes, since he’ll presumably be asleep at night and since during class, for privacy reasons, he has to wear a lens cap.  How long you figure before this completely new concept manifested itself in the university before someone developed a shrieking, quivering, hand-wringing problem with it?

Seriously – the guy teaches Photography.  Who the hell is questioning the presence of cameras in the classroom?

Anyway, I am definitely going to be haunting that website.  I’m thinking, maybe I can talk him into Skyping me and then turning around at picture time – then I’d be part of an art exhibit in Qatar, and I could cross that one off my Bucket List. 

My real question is, why not a video camera?  Why stop at frozen images when a video camera would have been just as easy to install, and since most of them also feature lens caps?

So I connected psychically with Doctor Camera Head and demanded to know why he was denying us all 59 seconds out of each minute of his life for the next year, if he hated freedom or what and he said it was because he was a big sissy.  I mean, don’t yell at me, that’s what he said.

I’m like man, you’re a walking reality show.  I know they can’t be paying photography professors so much that they couldn’t use a little advertising revenue.  You don’t need a crew or a set or anything.  Stream that shit live, man.

He hung up on me, which I didn’t know you could do with a psychic link but maybe that’s just one of his new Camera Head Powers.  Anyway, now there’s a restraining order, so it’s out of my hands.  No back of the head live video stream, and I probably have to find another way to get into the art exhibit in Qatar.

But that’s cool, I can live with just the photographs.  And I’ll be watching the GPS – this guy comes near Columbus, and I’m going to be right on his heels, smiling, with a cool, new hat.

 

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