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Wednesday, January 25, 2006
Striking It Rich

Things are great, apparently. Every time I look at the news, the economy is good, prosperity abounds, jobs are plentiful, and the stock market is up. I suppose I have to take the President's word for it, since he says it, and keeps saying it. I'll admit, I don't move in the most prestigious circles, but I don't know anyone who is better off financially than they were four or five years ago.

Most of the people I know are doing the same job they've been doing for a few years, and while they may get a lip-service two percent raise (if at all), that doesn't even cover the hike in fuel prices since we invaded Iraq. Lots of people would take better jobs if they existed. I mean, let's face it, if you are trained in a field, and have reached a certain position, it's doubtful you can go across the street to do the same job for another company and expect any type of meaningful boost in pay. Your job pays what it pays, and it's not going to be a great deal more anytime soon, no matter how good you are at it.

But the economy is growing. There are charts and statistics to back it up. So who is prospering? Where is all of this magic happening? Who are the winners? Let's meet these people, and be inspired.

Well, suckers, there are no people.

Who wins? Corporations. Big Business is profiting at record levels, and they aren't doing anything as stupid as rewarding the people whose labor makes it all possible. US companies have the largest cash hoard on hand since the 1920s. Those were good times, sure. As the popular song of the day went,
"The rich get richer, the poor get...laid off."

Ain't we got fun?

The 1920s were a wild decade. Bootlegging, flappers, F. Scott Fitzgerald. If you had money, it was high times, indeed. Everything was going really well, and when things are good for the privileged few, everyone knows that those times never end. No one knows
what happened in the 30s. That was a long time ago, and I'm sure you're better off not thinking about it. Thinking is bad for you, and can make you depressed.

The crossroads we are at now has to do in large part to the housing bubble in this country, made possible not by quickly rising incomes, but instead by record-low interest rates. A frighteningly large percentage of work in this country has to do with houses: Building them, buying them, selling them, fixing them, improving them, not to mention all of the ancillary industries whose solvency depends on these transactions. We are a country that doesn't actually
make anything anymore. If it needs to be made, the Chinese do it for us. The problem with making your living in busywork is that when your services are no longer needed, well, you're screwed.

Interest rates are rising now. The housing market is slowing. Americans will not be building new homes in large numbers. If you do construction, you have a problem.

With a slowing housing market, prices rise less quickly, and often fall. Homeowners will not be selling their homes as readily, if there is not as much profit to be turned by the transaction. If you sell homes for a living, you have a problem.

When interest rates rise, unemployment figures often follow suit. When people are nervous about their jobs, they become less likely to buy new carpet, refrigerators or a new roof to put on the homes that they have decided to stay in. I'll bet you know someone whose job has to do with furnishing or fixing homes.

I don't have the answer to prevent the ugliness that is certain to come. Actually, that is not completely true. There is only one way to prevent it, and that is to actively bring about change, which will be, at least in the short term, even more frightening. Cycles come and go, and the only way to stop it, is to break it. It's time to start over.

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posted at 10:56 PM


Wednesday, January 18, 2006
Ethics, Shmethics

"Ethics" is a word you hear bandied about quite a bit these days, and like any word repeated too often, it begins to lose meaning. So let's define it, or better yet, let Webster's do it:

1 plural but singular or plural in construction : the discipline dealing with what is good and bad and with moral duty and obligation
2 a : a set of moral principles or values b : a theory or system of moral values ethic> c plural but singular or plural in construction : the principles of conduct governing an individual or a group ethics> d : a guiding philosophy

So, ethics is a value system. These things will vary from culture to culture, and as time passes. We grow, we learn, we often realize a set of ethics we believed in was completely wrong. I suppose that's all a part of the human experience, as we attempt to acquire wisdom.

Of course, there's a lot more out there to acquire than wisdom. There's money. And there's power. And if you're rich enough and powerful enough, you can decide what is right and wrong. That's the Golden Rule:

He who has the gold, makes the rules.

And no one knows this better than the ruling class in this country. Lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who has directly and indirectly funneled many millions of dollars to politicians in the United States, is going to jail for bribery, fraud, and plenty of other crimes. The beauty of Abramoff's deal is, he's naming names. He's going to roll over on his friends, which is what lowlifes do. This sets the stage for the possibility, however remote, of seeing some current members of Congress marched off to prison. And, oh, this is a group that needs it.

As Abramoff's deal and conviction became imminent, dozens of our representatives are scrambling to give away the money they were given for favors, influence, and God knows what. As if giving dirty money to charity somehow cleans it, or the act of accepting it in the first place. The investigation will continue.

In the meantime, Congress has discovered its love of doing the right thing, and has vowed reform, to clean up the scandals, to make rules that will somehow keep the ownership class of this country away from the people who make policy. As if one could pry these two apart with a crowbar and dynamite. Which is a pleasant thought...

But it's impossible, because they are one and the same. It is difficult to not think back to a time where Americans were only allowed to vote if they were landowners. It was codified that if you didn't own, your opinion was irrelevant. But then, as now, po' folks was still allowed to join the Army. The working class must be kept busy, lest they become restless and disenchanted with the people in charge.

But giving poor people rifles seems counterproductive. Not a problem. Just keep manufacturing pretenses under which we can ask our poor people to shoot other poor people, ideally, ones who dress differently and speak another language.

Forgive my abrupt change in direction, but Martin Luther King Jr's birthday was earlier this week, and I had some time to re-read some of his speeches. These many years later, King is praised as a man who wanted equality among the races, and that is true. But the activist that he had evolved into is rarely spoken of these days. In his last days, King had become focused on class struggle in the United States.

Doctor King had come to the realization that the struggle was not simply black versus white, but ultimately, rich versus poor. And that's how it always is. Malcolm X railed, at times nonsensically, against "white devils" as he fell deeper and deeper into the madness of the Nation of Islam under Elijah Muhammad. But after visiting Mecca, and seeing Muslims of all colors praying together peacefully, he reformed his view. Knowledge and truth are powerful tools. In an interview not long before his murder in 1965, Malcolm, when asked about interracial marriage said this:

"I believe in a society in which people can live like human beings on the basis of equality."

So, he wasn't really talking about race anymore. Weeks later, he would be killed. Three years later, King would meet with Mexican farm workers, coal miners from the Appalachians, organized labor and others. In other words, King's fight was not about racial inequality, but class inequality. By the spring of 1968, Martin Luther King would be assassinated, too.

Organizing one group of working people to fight with another group of working people doesn't bother the owners of this country very much. If a black gang wants to fight a Latino gang or a white one, well, no one who matters very much is going to get hurt. But if those three gangs join together, organize, demand societal change, insist on things like a decent wage or health insurance, well, then they are a threat to all things the Christian ruling class holds dear. And that will be when you see real violence, perpetrated once again on the poor, by order of the shareholders in America Inc.

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posted at 9:58 PM


Saturday, January 07, 2006
The War on Happy New Year

Something insidious is at work, and I didn't really even notice it at first. The new year is a week old, and I've written checks for various things, as we all do. Incredibly, not once have I written "2005" in the date slot. This is unprecedented with me, and perhaps with all check-writing humans. Why am I so acutely aware that it's 2006? How could I have adapted so quickly?

I went about my business, not giving it a lot of thought, and likely giving myself far too much credit for being oh-so-smart. I do that sometimes.

But as I was finishing up at work yesterday, I was wrapping up a phone call, and the person on the other end concluded the call by saying, "Happy 2006!"

The phrase echoed through my mind, like a really bad simile. "Happy 2006." Yes, it's 2006. I had heard this phrase a lot in the previous days, and it occurred to me that I had heard it around the start of previous years.

"Happy 2005!"

"Happy 2004!"

You get the idea.

And out of the blue, it hit me: This was a war on Happy New Year.

America is falling apart, we're at war, real wages are down, 45 million people don't have health insurance, and the multi-culti, neo-hippie liberal godless scum were waging a PC war on the start of the year. The blood ran cold through my veins.

I called a number at random, and when the person answered, I yelled, "Happy New Year!" The man at the other end screamed at me and slammed down the phone. "Maybe I just accidentally called the president of the local ACLU," I thought. I kept calling random numbers, hour after hour, until three or four in the morning, and the response was the same, or worse.

"It's 2006! We know! What is
wrong with you?"

The media had done a nearly flawless job of brainwashing regular Americans with this "Happy 2006" blasphemy. There can be no other explanation for the continued, and increasingly hostile responses I have received as I continue to scream "Happy New Year!" while walking around the neighborhood or visiting local elder care facilities.

This is far too important to just give in to PC thugs, and I vow to continue greeting friends and strangers alike with gleeful shouts of "Happy New Year!" well into the summer months. Howard Dean and Hillary Clinton are not going to rob this American of another joyous celebration.

If you don't like it, move to France.

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posted at 8:44 PM

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