Archive for the 'Politics' Category

Global recession

March 19, 2009

This photo essay from the Boston Globe, courtesy of the always-interesting Nancy Nall, cries out louder than most news stories I’ve read about the recession and its global impact. I was particularly pained by the empty Rocky Mountain News offices and a technicolor wasteland of newspaper vending machines. Having spent a lot of my life in newsrooms, which are rarely quiet or empty, those were particularly poignant for me. (It would appear I’m already deadened to the sight of entire families living out of hotel rooms…)

Are we really just a few up days on the Dow from reversing the downturn? If we are, will we have learned anything?

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The New Economy: Warehousing lives

February 6, 2009

images1Of all the words and images that have been used to describe the economic downturn, this video on the LATimes Website has touched me the most: A woman, long abandoned by her husband, and her three children are living on the street, storing their belongings in what passes in my neighborhood as garbage cans housed by the hundreds in an area warehouse.

In 2002, the warehouse was born of tension on the streets, when merchants became concerned about homeless people leaving bedrolls and shopping carts in front of their businesses.

Krystle Marage and her children, along with a lot of other every-day people, visit the warehouse daily to retrieve and exchange what they need to go on living. So many come daily to sort through their remaining belongings that the warehouse is considering putting in a dressing room so children can get ready for school and folks can gear up for the daily job hunt. It occurred to me that, in this scenario, their belongings are more secure than they are.

Many are new to homelessness. Some are educated professionals — a few still carry briefcases — and one, a few weeks back, was so confident that he was but a temporary visitor that he arrived clutching a pair of unused golf cleats. Long after it became city policy that skid row is no place for children, a jarring number of the newcomers are mothers and their children.

Along with the fear and the fatigue of living on the streets, I think the utter indignity of having so little to claim as your own is what haunts me about these stories. Most people have had something in their lives before this, if not a home, then at least an apartment and the appearance of a normal life, with work, recreation and a network of friends and family. Now, so little. After a time, would the realities of surviving overcome the sense of loss and indignation, or just feed it?

I keep making my charitable donations in money and in kind, giving my unused stuff not to the larger, more expensive thrift shop but to the one that has lower prices and weekly specials, looking forward to the local Boy Scout food drives. But it all seems so lame.

Why are we so obsessed with limiting executive pay to $500K when a few hundred dollars and a job would transform these peoples’ lives? I really like reading the NYTimes Neediest Cases series, where public and private agencies do just that, transforming individual lives with relatively small acts of charity.

Congress and the President need to look beyond Wall Street to the Mean Streets to really comprehend and deal with the misery that is defining America right now.

Boomer is NOT a four-letter word

January 26, 2009

imagesAccording to Michael Winerip in the NYTimes, those of us born between 1946 and 1964 should be walking around with paper bags over our heads. I mean, I can hardly bring myself to use the “B” word, because, according to the Times,  “the term has become synonymous with greedy, spoiled, divorced, remarried mega-shopper.”

Since the 1960s, when many of us were teenagers, Madison Avenue along with the news media have been polling, interviewing, analyzing, poking and sniffing us, and that continues to this moment, even as nearly 10,000 boomers turn 60 every day…

And why should it not be so, since we’re such a bulge in the American demographical python? What could be more American that catering to the largest segment of the population? Entire industries and personal fortunes have been made by accurately predicting what I and my cohorts would do next. And now that those industries are shrinking and those personal portfolios are disappearing, it’s OUR fault?

“Boomer” has gotten such a bum rap that even our new president, who is a clear-cut boomer demographically (the boom years ran through 1964), has sought to link himself to a younger generation with a postboomer mentality, one that types with its thumbs to communicate and is not tainted by the cultural wars of the 1960s.

I had an uncomfortable sense during the campaign that, although I can thumb text pretty well and have an arsenal of technogadgets, I really wasn’t who BHO was wooing. Now I know. Winerip points out that, while “his biggest boost from the youngest voters — 66 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds supported Mr. Obama, according to national exit polls —… when it came time for him to pick a Cabinet, 10 of his 14 designees so far have been boomers and three are older.” HA! (At least we’re good for something…)

I might have taken all this fingerpointing seriously ten years ago, when I was more of a sponge for all the blame in the world, but no more, so BACK OFF. I have behaved responsibly. I pay taxes. I contribute to my local community. I vote. My sons are educated, contributing members of society. (“Congratulations,” I told each of them when they turned 18. “You can now be tried as an adult, and I am not responsible for your debts. Don’t forget it.”)

We live in a house that is appropriate to our income, and we pay our mortgage and our other bills on time. We keep our yard cleaned up. We recycle. We donate to the Salvation Army, the United Way, our church, the local food bank and our area thrift stores. I tell my neighbors if their kids are misbehaving, and expected them to do the same. We help(ed) take care of our aging parents. I have never knowingly cheated someone to make a buck. The dog got his shots, and he and his poop stayed in our yard. We have an offsetting thermostat in the hourse. We live in a state that enforces vehicle emissions standards, and our cars pass. No animals — or humans — were harmed in the making of this blogpost.

Instead of crying and wringing our liver-spotted, veiny, arthritic hands over our vanishing retirement portfolios, The Spouse and I are going on and glad to be going to work. We’ll figure it out, and we aren’t expecting anyone to come in and rescue us with any sort of bailout that will be have to be paid by a generation yet unborn.

I could go on, but I won’t. And I also won’t take the blame for our current woes. As Winerip points out, we are certainly not more or less selfish than other generations — how can we be “helicopter parents” and “the sandwich generation,” trying to meet the needs of both our offspring and our progenitors, and still be labeled self-absorbed? Do we need to be reminded how narcissistic Generation X and Y can be, thanks to all our well-meaning parental ministrations? We tried to empower them, and yet many of them became entitled. And now they’re leading the way in pointing the finger (read that any way you like) at us. We can’t win for losing, as my father used to say.

While I will do what I need to do and should do to help set things right, don’t for a minute think you can lay the blame at my feet and smugly walk away. After all, as Winerip points out, Bernie Madoff, who was born in 1938, is not our fault.

msmeta reveals herself, at last

January 13, 2009

me

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now you too can become your very own Obamicon, thanks to the folks at paste magazine. (Via Gawker. YES, I REALLY DO LOOK AT THAT AWFUL SITE!  SO SUE ME!)

Barack is now friends with Rahm Emanuel

December 22, 2008

Candidates Religion Obama 2008Meghan Daum, one of my favorite writers, has a little fun with Facebook — and the President-Elect — in her latest Op-Ed piece for the LATimes.

Women and Election 2008: A gut check

November 18, 2008

At the risk of flogging that dead horse, I renew the concerns expressed in my last blogpost by referring you to today’s The Daily Beast, which has an article that quantifies my uneasiness over the state of women following the recent election. According to its own poll:

• By an overwhelming 61% to 19% margin, women believe there is a gender bias in the media.
• 4 in 10 men freely admit sexist attitudes towards a female president. 39% of men say that a male is “naturally more suited” to carrying out the duties of the office
• 48% of women thought Hillary Clinton received fair media treatment and only 29% believed Sarah Palin was treated fairly. In contrast, nearly 8 in 10 voters thought the press gave fair treatment to Barack Obama and Joe Biden.
• More than two-thirds of women said they were being treated unfairly in the workplace (68%)

And, it determined, “Women over 50, the first generation to have a majority in the workforce, see far more discrimination in every area of life than younger women.” (HA! I wasn’t just imagining it!)

So clearly I’m not the only one grinding my teeth over this issue. We seem to be running harder than ever, but are we just running in place? Our biggest enemy may not be a biased media, but our own ambivalence, since The Daily Beast’s survey also found that, “Only 20% of women are willing to use the word ‘feminist’ about themselves [and] only 17% of all voters said they would welcome their daughters using that label.” And while more than 90% of African-American voters supported Barack Obama, American women did not back either Clinton or Palin in such significant numbers.

Do we really want to succeed? If we keep thinking that “feminist” is a dirty word, do we need to rescript or relabel the whole endeavor?

“What will women do now?” wonders The Daily Beast.

The poll suggests that there is tremendous potential for an expanded, revitalized, and updated women’s equality movement. Certainly there would be considerable support for boycotts of news stations that carry sexist commentators or generally cover women unfairly.

I think it’s time to us women to start speaking up — in ways small and large, gentle and forthright, local and national — instead of hoping that our sheer numbers are going to speak for us.

Update: Social critic Daphne Merkin shares my pessimism.

Michelle and Hillary: Salt in the wound?

November 11, 2008

imagesI remember hearing a story once when I attended a women’s conference from a woman who had been working in the secretarial pool at one of the local law enforcement agencies. She had always been handy with electronics — one of those hardy types who could fix her own toasters and TVs — and when a job came up in the motor pool working on the police radios, one of the patrolmen who knew of her talents recommended her for the job.

She left her desk in the office and spent a heavenly week in the garage, up to her elbows in electrical wiring and enjoying the challenges of a new task — and then abruptly found herself back at her desk and her typewriter. Seems the other women in the secretarial pool were so angry that she had been singled out and protested her advancement so vociferously that the chief had rewritten the job description to include a certificate in electronics, which our heroine did not have.

As she sat, bewildered, at her desk, the woman who had complained the longest and loudest sidled up to her and sweetly asked if she’d be willing to share some recipes for the office cookbook. They’d clearly pulled her back in her place, like crabs in a bucket.

I thought of this sad tale when I read about Michelle Obama’s overtures to Hillary Clinton regarding how to be First Lady. I’m not the world’s biggest Hillary fan, believe me, but, after waging a hard-fought and very nearly successful campaign to become President herself, it must have been GALLING for HC to be asked by the victor’s wife about daycare and private schools. What happened to foreign policy and economic renewal? I appreciate the fact that Michelle is more concerned about her daughters’ transition to the public eye than she is about politics, but show a little sensitivity, okay?

I’m also peeved with all the whiny Republicans and McCain operatives who are trashing Sarah Palin. Please. I agree with Nancy Nall that, all the wardrobe nonsense aside, Sarah probably knows that Africa is a continent, not a country, and that a lot of the gossipy stories are likely taken out of context in a feeble attempt to cover some well-exposed red arses. If the Straight Talk Express broke down, folks, it wasn’t because Sarah tinkered with the wiring.

I guess what I’m trying to say is, with all the gains that Americans are cheering about with this election, did the cause of women move forward at all?

Lookism and the voting booth — and beyond

October 31, 2008

I promised myself I would not be upset or annoyed by any more news on the political front until after the elections, but the Associated Press neatly took care of that resolve:

Women running for top offices need to appear competent and attractive, according to a new study. For male candidates, seeming competent may be enough…

“For female candidates, it really matters if they’re perceived as competent and perceived as attractive. Those two qualities are sort of twin predictors of whether or not someone is going to be more or less likely to vote for them,” [the lead researcher] stressed.

I suspect this extends far beyond the voting booth. Not only are we less likely to vote for a woman who is perceived as “unattractive,” I bet we’re less likely to give her a leg up in any capacity. However, if a man looks like a gargoyle but spouts the right rhetoric, we’ll let him in.

And this goes beyond Sarah Palin and the flap over her Republican Party-financed makeover. A respondent to Morgan Felchner’s article in U.S. News and World Report suggested that, had Hillary been younger and more attractive, she’d be the one leading the ticket. Are you kidding me?

As a woman who never did get invited to the prom, literally or figuratively, I am really, really weary of this. First it was lookism, then sexism and now ageism. I can’t ever win. I had always hoped that, with experience, my net worth and my sense of self would grow, but it seems to keep eroding. The message seems to be that, for women, competence alone just isn’t enough.

On Money: The new reality

October 2, 2008

I found an oddly charming story in the NYTimes today about New Yorkers trying to balance their need to attend Rosh Hashana services and their need to constantly consult their cellphones and handhelds:

Escaping the worries of a chaotic world is often difficult in New York — a single ringing iPhone can spoil the quietest moments of a concert at Lincoln Center; a vibrating BlackBerry can deliver a message upsetting enough to make someone climb over a row of people and leave a Broadway show to go back to the office.

But this week, perhaps more than most, it was hard to check one’s worries at the door, hard to concentrate on what it means to mark a religious holiday during a financial crisis.

(For those of you goyim like me, Rosh Hashana is the Jewish New Year, a time for introspection and resolutions, an opportunity to admit the mistakes of the past year and plan for a better next year. As with Shabbat, no work is permitted, hence the conflict with the cellphones and IM. Nu?)

At the Park Avenue Synagogue, Senior Rabbi Elliott Cosgrove “had counseled the congregation not to be upset by the financial problems of the last few weeks,” said the Times. He then gave them what I think is the best advice I’ve heard yet:

Let go of your white-knuckled grip on reality, and let a new reality present itself,” he told the congregation.

How many times in my little life have I tried to keep a stranglehold on a reality that no longer existed? A boyfriend who had long since moved on. A opportunity that was never seized, and then disappeared. An investment — in time as well as in money — that had evaporated. A lifestage that had inevitably ended. There isn’t any point in going back to the ideal, because it doesn’t exist anymore.

To me the new reality appears to be that my shrunken retirement portfolio may take a long time to rebound, credit will be harder to come by, jobs will be harder to find (something that will affect my sons more than me, but that makes it even more worrisome), inflation will continue to rise faster than the annual raises at my job — and my share of the tax burden created by this greed and remedied by the new bailout legislation remains to be tabulated.

But maybe — just maybe — because of all this, I will quit feeling like I have to keep up with everyone else. During the past five to ten years, I have driven all over our quaint little valley and repeatedly wondered, “Who is buying all these great big expensive homes? Who are these people in Jaguars and Bentleys and tricked-out Beamers and Mercedes? Where are they getting their money?” We’re a two-income household, but all this conspicuous consumption by my neighbors made me sometimes feel poor. Why didn’t I get a ticket to the party?

Now I know. And in this new reality, I’m seeing a lot of signs of the times, and they all say “For Sale.”

Update: Madame X at My Open Wallet also has some good advice for troubled times. (I particularly agree with her last one.)

Bailout 2.0: What else is in there?

October 1, 2008

After the much-publicized “failure” by the U.S. House of Representatives, who said a great big “NO” to signing the biggest blank check in the nation’s history, the U.S. Senate is currently pig-wrasslin’ the bailout bill, with the usual results.

According to David Rogers at Politico:

With each permutation, the bill has steadily grown in size. Treasury’s initial plan was about three pages long. The House version, which failed, stretched to 110. The Senate substitute now runs over 450 pages. And tucked away in the tax provisions is a landmark health care provision demanding that insurance companies provide coverage for mental health treatment—such as hospitalization—on parity with physical illnesses.

The cost of this little health care addition to the bill: $3.8 billion over five years. (Mere pocket change!)

Hel-lo? I’m all for getting health coverage to those who need it, but I think this smells. What else are they tucking away in the folds and creases of this particular bit of legislation? Aren’t earmarks and pork barrel spending and half-baked legislation the very reasons why the American economy in this particularly pretty pickle?

Here’s how it all will trickle down in 2009, says Rogers, if the Senate’s bill passes:

The biggest single piece in the package is an extension of protections for millions of middle class families who would otherwise find themselves exposed to the higher levy under the alternative minimum tax. This alone accounts for about three quarters of the cost or $78.8 billion in 2009. Almost $14 billion more can be attributed to a variety of tax break extensions important to business, including the R&E credit worth about $8.4 billion in 2009.

The rural school aid is smaller —about $3.3 billion over the next five years— but has great importance for many Western communities and could be important then in the House.

Excuse me? How did we get from mortgage bailouts to “rural school aid”? And why aren’t our esteemed senators finding more ways to offset the costs to us middle-class taxpayers? Are they listening?

Clearly, I don’t understand anything, particularly when it comes to politics. According to the NYTimes, these very pieces of legislation that make me uncomfortable are what will drag House Republications back to the table:

In the end, Senate leaders decided to overcome some of the ideological and political resistance to the measure by adding provisions that make it hard for many lawmakers to vote against…

Brendan Daly, communications director for Speaker Nancy Pelosi, said Democrats anticipated that the addition of the tax breaks, a long-sought measure expanding mental health insurance and lesser-known elements like aid for rural schools would get the bill passed.

There were initial indications from both Republican and Democratic lawmakers who had opposed the bill Monday that they were now giving it a second look and were willing to change their views.

And it is going to hurt:

[T]he new items also increase the burden on future taxpayers. The $151 billion in tax breaks, which offer incentives for the use of renewable energy and relieve 24 million households from an estimated $65 billion alternative-minimum tax scheduled to take effect this year, are offset by only $44 billion in tax increases and spending cuts elsewhere.

Moreover, the increase in federal deposit insurance will not be financed, as the insurance program now is, by assessing a higher fee on the banks that benefit. Instead, banks will get an open-ended line of credit directly to the Treasury Department — meaning, taxpayers — that must be repaid by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation but not until at least 2010, when the temporary expansion ends.

Wow. An “open-ended” line of credit to the very banks that brought us to the brink of disaster, all cheerfully financed by us. I can’t wait to see the fancy wrapping paper and bows they’ll use to wrap up this pile of pig manure.

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