May 2012

Happy Endings?

It finally dawned on me where I had seen Mitt Romney portrayed in the movies. No, it is not the 1987 movie “Wall Street” featuring Michael Douglass as Gordon Gekko. In that portrayal of American business, Gekko personifies the “stereotypical” Wall Street trader caught up in questionable financial practices as an insider trader. He argued, “Greed, for lack of a better word, is good.” Greed is good. He went to jail. In the movies.

Mitt Romney makes no bones about what he does. Nor should he. Romney, an obviously shrewd capitalist, has publicly acknowledged that his sole goal as a businessman was to make profits for himself and his investors. His business model was not to create anything but profits. Least of all was Romney ever driven to create jobs. Romney wasn’t trained, nor did he aspire to create new products, or design or manufacture them. Romney wasn’t about factories or employees or jobs. Romney was about maximizing profit. Which I completely understand and appreciate. That is Romney’s raison d’être.

There are several business models that Romney employed in his line of work. One of them was to acquire “under” performing corporations, slice and dice’um, borrow money against assets, cut expenses (eliminate jobs and employee benefits) and to charge the company millions of dollars in “consulting” management fees and, well, if the company survived or not, Romney extracted his profits, his pound of gold. Romney practiced “a” type of capitalism that is completely acceptable (legal) in many quarters (see: U.S. Chamber of Commerce) yet so, too, was the business model practiced by Henry Potter in “It’s A Wonderful Life.” Profiting off another individual’s loss (an American worker, for example) is not illegal. In some circles, it is celebrated.

Celebrated because it separates the wheat from the chaff, it performs what our capitalist economy requires in picking winners and losers. Celebrated for all the reasons that capitalists such as Romney genuflect. Profits. And, once again, I acknowledge the critical importance of profitability in our market driven economy. A business model that does not show/produce profitability is not viable. But if that is your reason for being, if that is the most distinctive motivating factor in your life and is your major justification for running for the presidency, should not the American electorate clearly understand what inspires Republican Mitt Romney?

No, Mitt Romney is no Wall Street insider like Gordon Gekko, although I would like to hear him renounce “Greed is good.”

No, think of Mitt Romney as Edward Lewis, the character in the 1990 movie “Pretty Woman.” Lewis, played by Richard Gere, is the quintessential corporate raider who dismantles American corporations—Romney-like—for profit. He and his associate, Philip Stuckey played by Jason Alexander (Seinfeld) are poised to take over an underperforming shipbuilding company run by James Morse (Ralph Bellamy). Lewis, during the negotiations, has mind-altering sex with another entrepreneur, the prostitute Vivian Ward played by Julia Roberts.

And voila, Lewis experiences a profound change of heart (mindboggling sex often does exactly that) and, rather than dismantling Morse’s corporation, instead partners with him to make the company again viable. Oh, Lordy! Wipe away the tears. Lewis then shows up in a white limousine (horse) and sweeps Ward into his arms, redeeming the two fallen capitalists.

I love happy endings, don’t you? Only in the movies.

Don’t expect any with Romney. Happy endings. Unless, of course, Henry Potter is your inspiration and primary constituency.

What The Walls Scream.

One of my favorite lines of fiction comes from D. H. Lawrence’s The Rocking-Horse Winner. It goes “Even the house whispered there must be more money.” I knew a gentleman from the early 1980s who got himself in a drug-related pinch (or two) and was being consumed with legal fees. His relatives were required to periodically assist with infusions of cash. A literate crowd they were and “The walls screamed there must be more money” became the constant refrain of the familial Greek chorus of this, shall we say, tragedy, laughingly uttered (a perverse lot they were) at the slightest new provocation.

Fortunately, enough money was thrown at the problem and through the miracle of American jurisprudence (sell the jewels, hock the farm, mortgage your soul but always secure the best legal counsel available) justice was, indeed, secured. This is a story with a happy ending. Lessons were learned. Hubris acknowledged. Humility (such as it ever was) rediscovered. The value of work over “easy money” again the norm.

Today, America finds itself much as my gentleman from the 80s found himself – strung out on drugs (borrowed money), hearing things at the door (Chinese creditors/Euro meltdown), seeing things at the window (Islamic terrorists), without a clear path to redemption (fiscal solvency/ “full” employment) and tragically beholden to the vagaries of uncontrollable forces (Republican Tea Party-Norquistian idiocy/tyranny).

Sadly, I do not see a happy resolution for America. If we lived in the best of all possible worlds, everyone would always, without fail, provide for herself. Each of us would die responsibly in his sleep after living a healthy, productive life. Our children would all be of Lake Wobegon quality with education accessible, affordable and exceptional. Our infrastructure and public health the best in the West. Our leaders would be effective, honest and democratic. Our legal system universally fair and inherently just. Our military rarely employed and never for imperialist objectives. We’d joyfully anticipate the future because we wisely invest our resources today for a better tomorrow. “Ah, but your reach should exceed . . .”

I hear Ron Paul libertarians as well as Tea Party Republicans repeatedly mouth the No Tax platitudes. They weep for the deregulation of the markets, to unleash—don’t-cha know—the plentiful bounty of capitalism. If only, they wail, if only we returned to traditional values and embraced the pioneer spirit that had men and women walking across America beside Conestoga wagons, if only we again became a nation of “rugged individualists,” all would be fine and good.

If only, if only America was once again a nation of 9,638,453 (1820 Census) and the North American continent lay before us, virtually empty and just over the next hill virginal wilderness where nature—pure and simple—efficiently and unsentimentally separates the human chaff from the human wheat.

But no longer are we a nation of nine million “rugged individualists,” we are a nation of 310 million and 10% of our population is incapable, unable or ill-prepared to “completely” take care of itself. I ask Republicans, how specifically would you deal with the 30 million Americans (and growing) who today require government assistance (Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, Food Stamps or housing assistance, etc.) to survive?

House Congressional Republicans recommend that we generously feed the military (much like the French create Foie Gras?) yet toss America’s “weak” to the curb.

What’s that I hear the walls scream? Besides the cries of the impoverished?

Take God Shopping

“Fasten your seatbelt, kids, it’s gonna be a rough ride.” For as long as I can remember I “thought” that the universe—after the Big Bang—would expand until it reached its absolute maximum size (billions of light years across) and then collapse back in on itself. Sigh, that isn’t the case. Not only is the universe expanding, it’s accelerating. And that’s when I came up with the child advisory about mankind’s condition, “Fasten your seatbelt, kids, it’s gonna be a rough ride.”

Remember in 7th grade science when you were first introduced to the idea that the earth rotates on its axis while revolving around the sun. And then the miles per hour figures were added. Yep, were rotating at around 1,000 mph while racing around the sun at, oh, 66,650 mph. My genuinely limited mind really could not then absorb such ideas. But practically speaking, I had enough sense to turn my back to the wind—no guy I ever saw had much success pissing against the wind.

Yet that is exactly what Republicans are doing concerning Gay marriage. Here you are a 65-year-old man, married for decades with the requisite children and you know in your heart of masculine hearts that what is normal is man on woman sex. Period. No debate. No discussion. Not only that, it is God’s will. End of story.

I am about Mitt Romney’s age and when he says that “such matters” (homosexuality) were not openly discussed in the mid-west in the early 1960s, he’s correct. That is because being Gay was such a repressed and punished life that few individuals had the courage to be out and open. Oh, I had some suspicions about certain men at the YMCA but they were so nonthreatening as to be sweet. Essentially, I had so little experience sexually, my mind so wrapped around the mystery all things feminine that I did not even remotely think about that which was “unnamed.” And if it (being “queer”) ever came up, I would knowingly laugh yet was totally clueless. Totally.

That was 50 years ago. FIFTY YEARS AGO. You think the earth is moving fast, well, we’re moving along at glacier speeds compared to the rapid turn (evolution?) in the acceptance of Gays—as human beings worthy of our respect. How far we’ve come from the 60s.

But it’s abnormal and it’s against God’s way. Abnormal? Okay, It isn’t your cup of tea, but because you don’t live that way, does that make it abnormal? No, I really don’t necessarily think so. Because it’s not right for you doesn’t mean it isn’t right for her or him.

God’s way is a trickier argument to refute. Why? Because we have so much invested in our belief in God (and “THE” way) that anything remotely challenging one’s belief, well, that is simply unacceptable.

And that is so profoundly sad. God is an evolutionary idea. He/She/”X” has changed right along with the human imagination.

It is okay every now and then to put a new suit of clothes on God. Go ahead. Take God Shopping for some new t-h-r-e-a-d-s. I’d go haute couture, for sure. Damn the cost. Some new shoes, a dress. Perhaps, an idea. Or, two. Maybe it is time God came out of the closet, too. Ya think?

If not, the ride could be unnecessarily rough. For all of us.

The Brand Tattooed On Our Backside Is “$ucker!”

The system was rotten. This had been said over and over; yet the old hulk was immovable. When people accept futility and the absurd as normal, the culture is decadent.
Historian Jacques Barzun on the state of the Catholic Church in the 15th century.

“Yet the old hulk was immovable.” That about sums-up America’s political infrastructure today.
Republicans and Democrats alike self-righteously bemoan the condition of America’s highways, bridges, rails and mass transit. Our electrical grid is inefficient and our nuclear plants ancient. America’s coal plants liberally spew carcinogens and our public water systems criminally leak billions of gallons. Our antiquated waste treatment facilities are inadequate and America’s groundwater is becoming undeniably undrinkable. As William Bendix often said in The Life of Riley, “What a revolting development.” As bad as our increasing third-world infrastructure is, our democratic infrastructure is in worse condition.

As a fiscally conservative liberal—Yes, ye simplistic Rushian Ditto-Heads, we do exist—I have become increasingly despondent over the prospects of America turning around the ship-of-state. I ask my more affluent readers, what good First Class deck chairs when you’re booked on the Titanic?

Is America the 21st century “Ship of Fools?” Our future denied to us as we straightjacket (hang) ourselves with idiotic conservative platitudes and ineffectual liberal pieties?

Our Supreme Court has become just another “bought & sold” branch of government. Our system of checks & balances, a joke. Common good? Common future? No more, gentle reader. We’ve been bought and sold. And cheaply, I might add. And the brand tattooed on our backside is “$UCKER!”

Rather than “fix” our public schools, we auction them off to Jeb Bush inspired, for-profit consortiums of capitalistic leeches, corporations that prosper off the “common good.” Everything is on the auction block, folks. Our roads, our water, our schools, our government, our souls.

Might America’s future be some dystopian combo of a “Mad Max Matrix” where vast numbers of our populace invest their hours lulled by the mind-numbing Huxley “soma” of the internet –“there is always soma, delicious soma.” While others of our agitated citizenry gun-up and dumb-down awaiting “some” Rapture, a scene of such pointlessness that it is right out of “Waiting for Godot?”

Our options are few. Our choices, negligible. The 2012 presidential election is a perfect example of both. Elect Obama and it’s a government of small choices and limited change. Or, elect Romney and America gets “Norquistian No-tax” tax cuts for the wealthy (A redux of Bush 43’s polarizing and impoverishing economic policy). Yes, and a return to the Neo-con foreign policy of costly wars supporting American imperialism. Either option is poor but I much prefer Obama to Romney. Yet either man’s election solidifies an already polarized electorate, guaranteeing more divided government. And our ship of state lists even more. Oh, lucky us, oh, fortunate America.

One of my favorite pieces of literature is “Candide” by Voltaire. In it Voltaire explores a time such as America now experiences. The light of reason and progress has dimmed. Corrupt. Despotic. Superstitious. Unparalleled greed and fraud.

A man once confident in “The Enlightenment,” Voltaire offered that the only course for the sane man is to retreat, and “cultivate our garden.”

With absurdity our new norm, withdrawing to one’s garden may, indeed, be the wisest choice.