We might be entering the worst of times: the wackification of America
I listened to a fascinating National Public Radio interview the other night of a second tier comedian who plays small casinos, nightclubs, and theaters around the country trying to make a living.
He is totally frustrated by his present-day audiences because they are so politically and socially polarized. Telling jokes for a living is a very tough business even in good times.
He said audiences now are so polarized that jokes about Trump are cheered by his supporters and jeered by boos and walkouts by his enemies in all venues. Evidently Our Great Leader King Donald has one talent: bringing out the worst in his supporters and enemies.
My favorite Russian poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko wrote in his poem “Humor” that “Tsars, Kings, Emperors, sovereigns of all the earth, have commanded many a parade…They tried to commission humor, but humor is not to be bought. They tried to murder humor, but humor thumbed his nose at them. It’s hard to fight humor.” Maybe not.
The salute of ‘Digitus Impudicus’
There is angst and some humor in the following event, depending upon your point of view. The raised middle finger--or two (one for you and one for your horse!)-- has been an act of rejection, disgust, and insult since Diogenes the Greek jabbed his middle digit at Demosthenes during a classic argument.
The Romans later came up with a name for the obscene gesture: “digitus impudicus” (impudent finger). The act has a long history, and it was used recently as Our Great Leader and his motorcade left the Trump International Golf Club on the Potomac River after he played a couple of rounds. As the motorcade passed two women riding bikes, one used a thumbs down and another raised her middle, impudent finger high.
You know what the thumb down meant in the Roman Coliseum—somebody died. The woman with the finger actually gestured twice, in that the motorcade had to pass her twice. Another woman protester at the gate held a sign that said “Impeach!” She later identified herself on Twitter as Trump’s Nanny: “I am Donald Trump’s babysitter, and you are, too. He is a deranged dictator who needs constant supervision from all of us.”
The struggling comedian might get some solace from Charles Dickens’ “A Tale of Two Cities” intro: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. It was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness. It was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity. It was the season of Light, it was the season of darkness. It was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair. We had everything before us, we had nothing before us. We were all going to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way.”
This sounds like America in 2017. This country will never be great until we eliminate slavery and its derivatives from the body politic—and the insanity of using 18th Century-one-shot-a-minute muskets to establish gun control laws when 21st Century machineguns held by one man fired 300 rounds in the first two minutes of the Las Vegas slaughter.
For the few it has been the best of times, for the many the worst
The world seems to be at the point that the United States reached in the beginning of the 20th century when the Carnegies, Rockefellers, Astors, Vanderbilts, and Morgans possessed vast fortunes first seeded in about 1870.
They were known as the robber barons, building up fortunes from oil, steel, shipping, and banking, and turning normal years into a period known as the Gilded Age.
In order to make our democracy functional again it was absolutely necessary for government to attempt to end economic inequality and spread the wealth. Republican President Theodore Roosevelt, from a rich family in his own right, knew that dynastic wealth passed on from generation to generation would destroy a democracy.
In his campaign for the presidency he kept up this drumbeat: “a small class of enormously wealthy and economically powerful men, whose chief object is to hold and increase their power, could destroy American democracy.” If you want to see how these people lived, visit the 254-room Vanderbilt Mansion near Asheville, North Carolina, the largest private home built in the United States.
Roosevelt broke up the monopolies and the huge banks and increased estate and capital gains taxes on the super-rich. John D. Rockefeller, the richest man ever in the world even according to today’s high standards, was forced to break up Standard Oil into 34 separate companies. Today’s ExxonMobil, British Petroleum, and Chevron all came out of that anti-monopoly breakup.
We have reached another Gilded Age with the Gateses, Buffetts, Bezos, Zuckerbergs, Kochs, Bloombergs, and the Walmart Waltons—and I’m not even mentioning the foreign billionaires.
Income inequality is a worldwide political, economic, and social problem
There is little doubt the United States and much of the world are in another Gilded Age. The world now has 1,542 billionaires, adding 145 to the list in just the last year. These super-rich added a record $4.5 trillion to their huge nest eggs this year, an increase of 17%. In America we now have 73,110 ultra-high-net-worth individuals who have a net worth of more than $30 million.
A few of the rich are getting nervous about keeping their heads. The International Monetary Fund recently suggested that wealthy western governments should raise taxes on the One Percent to try to “reduce dangerous levels of income inequality.” We could be entering a “Let them eat cake!” period when ultra-high-net-worth heads roll in the streets.
A few billionaires, recognizing that the “pissants” are getting restless, are increasing philanthropic gifts to public art galleries and are buying more sports teams in a desperate effort to entertain those who might turn their thumbs down at the playgrounds of the rich.
The problem is, not too many of the homeless, poor, and middle class are whiling away their spare time viewing million-dollar paintings and sculptures in marble art galleries. They probably are not listening to symphonies in velvet seats in gilded theaters either.
In the United States as an example, 97 million full-time workers, or 78% of all full-time workers, are presently living paycheck to paycheck. Over 6,100 retail stores have closed in 2017. How many thousands of paycheck people lost their jobs?
Meanwhile, 72 of our billionaires are part of the world’s 200 top art collectors, up from only 28 in 1995. Billionaires also love to run sports franchises (as they have since the gladiators fought in Rome), with 109 billionaires owning 140 of the world’s top sports franchises such as in the NFL, NBA, NHL, and soccer teams in Europe.
What motivates the rich to surpass ‘enough?’ Inquiring minds want To know
Last week, somebody bought Paul Newman’s 50 year-old Rolex watch at public auction for $17,752,500, setting a world’s record for used watches. His wife Joanne Woodward had given it to him in the late 1960s when he started to drive race cars. Paul then gave it to James Cox, his daughter’s boyfriend, when he helped Paul repair a tree house. The boyfriend did not have a watch at the time, 30 years ago.
It was an expensive watch, called the Rolex Daytona, with three black dials on a cream-colored face with “COSMOGRAPH” embossed on it. Why would somebody buy it for $17 million after 12 minutes of haggling? What do you do with an old mechanical used watch?
Joanne gave Paul a new Rolex after he blessed the boyfriend with the old. Perhaps a local psychiatrist would like to solve this problem for inquiring minds. Is it a sign humans have no idea when enough is enough?
Perhaps an economist or financial advisor would take a crack at answering why major universities are paying football and basketball coaches as much as the $11 million paid to Nick Saban of Alabama this year--while paying adjunct professors that teach about 70% of their university undergraduate classes so poorly that some of them are homeless and living in cars, while others have to depend on food stamps to survive.
Public school teachers cannot afford to live in eight California cities. This happens in a world where the world’s most expensive home is for sale for $1.1 billion.
Meanwhile in New York Harbor, there are so many mega yachts owned by world billionaires anchored around the Statue of Liberty that tourists are complaining they cannot see the great lady. A New Jersey state senator is preparing a bill to ban yachts from anchoring in that area.
There are 11 mega-yachts in the world that are over 450 feet long. It’s ironic that many yachts also block the view of Ellis Island where poor immigrants entered the United States, under the upraised arm and hand (without middle finger raised) of our famous landmark.
It will be interesting to see what Leonardo Da Vinci’s painting Salvator Mundi, the so-called male Mona Lisa, sells for in New York this November. A Russian fertilizer billionaire paid $127 million for it a few years ago. Interested people thought it was a fake back in 1958 and sold it for 45 English pounds, about $90 then. It might go for over $200 million this time. When is enough enough?
Making the National Parks whiter and more exclusive
Over our 63 years of marriage Corky and I and our seven children have visited almost all of the 417 U.S. national parks and the 39 Canadian national parks—from Acadia NP to Yosemite NP to Denali NP to Jasper NP to Prince Edward Island NP. We are park people. We have visited a lot of state parks also. Years ago we paid $10 for a Golden Age Passport, which allowed us to enter every national park in the United States for life. We still use it.
But over the last three decades, the parks have fallen on hard times because of lack of Congressional and administration support. The rich don’t seem to care about supporting state and national parks because they can afford their own parks; consequently The Best Congress Money Can Buy (TBCMCB) doesn’t seem to care either.
Our parks have $12 billion worth of serious maintenance problems while visits continue to increase to the 323.6 million people who entered U.S. National Parks last year. Over six million visited Grand Canyon NP last year.
The Great Leader administration is proposing about a 10% cut in the national parks budget of $2.55 billion. Not only would this budget cut almost all new development costs, the parks would have to cut 1,250 employees when they are already short of those who wear the uniform.
To put things in perspective, the two Koch brothers of Koch Industries are each worth about $40 billion. If each one would contribute $8 billion this year, all old maintenance problems could be resolved and the national parks would be fully funded for 2018. They could survive on what they each have left—about $32 billion.
December 13th 2017
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