Sunday, November 28, 2010

My friend, Pete, and the American Dream

I have a friend named Pete who’s had a dangerous life. He was of elementary school age when Eichmann wired the Budapest ghetto with explosives. Luckily for Pete and his fellow Jews, The Russians entered Budapest the day before it was to be blown to bits. They were spared, only to come under Russian rule, which on some days was less anti-semitic than that of the Germans.
But Pete and his wife, Marta, who had also been in that ghetto as a child, lived under the Soviet regime until 1956, when a friend stole an army truck and 16 men, women and children drove out of Hungary into freedom in Austria.
A Jewish charity brought them to America and he became an engineer for some of America’s biggest companies. When he retired he owned one of the small companies that make our country so productive.
I remembered back 20 years ago when I complained that the Japanese were beating us, and  buying up Pebble Beach and a lot of prime American real estate. Pete looked at me and told me you can never give up on America, the country that had given him freedom and prosperity. He was right of course, Japan's stock market is worth a third of what it was in 1989 and the land under the Emperor’s Palace is no longer worth as much as the land in California
The other day, feeling discouraged about our debt and the fact that it is China that is now eating our lunch, I was worrying about the United States. However, I thought of what Pete, the consummate American, would say to me. He would tell me never to give up on our country, and that this is just another bump in the road in the journey of a free nation toward its destiny.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

I've Seen the Enemy and It's My Television

The Economist quoted Keith Poole (UCSD) saying this congress will be the most divided since the civil war. Does that mean our congress reflects us? There are a lot of signs that  different sections of America, both philosophically and geographically, are not speaking to each other because they don’t share the same views.
I want to talk about 24 hour cable news as an enabler for this dissolution of good will in the body politic. There is not enough news to go around. It’s like watching the news at Christmas time in Tulsa. Sometimes there isn’t any.
So television created the Tea Party, so Fox News would have something  to fill their time slots and Rupert Murdoch could then get more money from advertisers. MSNBC tried to get viewers by putting people of the left on their broadcasts. CNN just decided to keep being a boring place that looks for endangered species in New Orleans.
Walter Lippmann always talked about the decline of civility, but there’s no way he could envision the world we live in today.  He lived in a time when there were only three national networks, each with one half hour of news a night. There were no news outlets to make stories out of whole cloth. Everything that happened then wasn’t all that important; if you wanted to find out about something weird you bought the National Enquirer.
But today's 24/7 news networks spend time on some preacher with three followers who wants to burn the Koran. We had this brouhaha recently where a conservative got a piece of videotape in which a woman was talking about her experience with racial tolerance. He twisted it around and got the woman fired. Think of what Sen. Joseph R. McCarthy, an alcoholic bully who got professors fired in the ‘50s, could have done on Fox News. His day came too soon. With 24 hour cable news, he might have ended up President.  “I have the names of over 500 communists in the State Department. One communist in the state department is too many.” When asked to provide the names he always avoided the question, because these communists didn’t exist.
That’s the danger of this organism of 24 hour news. It can make something out of nothing to fill all that time. So more and more outrageous things that good newsmen and women once wouldn’t touch with a ten foot pole, are now put on the air, even it pits one part of America against the other. But it does sell ads.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Dancing with the Hurricane

As all of you know, the blog talks about serious issues, which is why I have to address the crisis involving “Dancing with the Stars.”
As a student of American political philosophy, I will try to put it in perspective. The story of Bristol Palin actually involves a down to earth, sweet, nice person who can’t dance but is headed for the finals of America’s second most popular show, “Dancing with the Stars” (I guess the number one show is “Survivor: Orange County”).
You can’t help liking her, but you are surprised frequently by her staying power on the show despite being the kind of dancer I was in high school. Her mother is in the news a lot (she provided support for a witch who tried to become a U.S. Senator).  Because of her daughter’s success, Republicans believe Sarah Palin will run for the Presidency in 2012, with Jim Carrey as her running mate.
Bristol always gets the lowest score from the judges, but since votes by the public count, she stays on. There are tea party people who vote many times, through multiple e-mail addresses, to keep her on the show. Because of this, our future is clear; this highly organized group is going to run the country, while the Democrats continue watching “Masterpiece Mystery.”
The midterm elections pale in importance next to this “Tempest in a Tea Party Pot.” We understand that if we had direct voting on TV, the next president would be Justin Bieber. Even Brandy couldn’t overcome Hurricane Bristol. While the rest of the world worries about currency imbalances Americans are staying focused on what is really important. And except for the Wisconsin man who shot his TV set in frustration after watching Palin dancing, we know what the important issues are.
Of course I await the final verdict. Since sociologists always write in a way that makes the words unclear to anyone who isn’t a sociologist, we will have to wait for their final judgment on this issue and hire a translator to explain it to us.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Is China Really at Fault?

I’ve written before on the relationship between America and China and the problems with one country setting up a mechanism that prevents their currency from appreciating. I’ve advocated tariffs, because that would be the only way to make the Middle Kingdom understand that one country can’t control its currency with a state run apparatus, when all their trade partners do not have such a mechanism.
Lately, China has been saying that our quantitative easing is doing the same thing. I disagree, but I do wonder when we, as a people, are going to admit we thought there was twice the money in the country than there was, because places like Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers lent out over 30 dollars for every dollar they had in reserves. Our houses weren’t worth more, but we took this ephemeral equity out of our houses and bought boats and took trips that we couldn’t afford. We extended our debt by running our credit cards up to the limit and acquired new ones. Now a quarter of the houses in this nation are underwater. Doesn’t it look imprdent now that we thought the beans would grow to the sky?
Just as the people who use drugs in America create drug cartels in Mexico, we were at least partly at fault  as the slimeballs who ran America’s Banks. Now our houses are under water and we won’t admit that we made improper decisions to take on so much debt. It will take an immense amount of deleveraging and pain to get us back to where we should be. There was a guy I knew who would scream at me that deficits didn’t matter; why was I so stupid to worry about it? He probably won’t ever admit he was wrong, but his ideas were shared by many on Wall Street and we let them get us into the biggest mess in financial history.
But the Chinese always know what they are doing and they looked at this  country turning into a debtor nation and said: they’re doing it to themselves, so we can hold the value of the yuan down and take advantage of their mistakes. George Bush once justified his trip to the Beijing Olympics because he “was going to visit our money” (he does have a good sense of humor). Unless America can stand up and deal with the pain of deleveraging, the America I love will be on the way to the poorhouse, printing money while our ship goes down. China took  some advantage but we encouraged them to do it. Wouldn't Wall Street have done the same?
Here’s a you tube clip that puts it all into perspective.

America Demands To Know

1.       When they autopsy Dick Cheney, will they tell the American people where the 666 was hidden on his body?
2.       Was  Vice President Biden taken to the hospital to remove a Cole Haan from his mouth?

3.       Did Obama really go to India “because I love curry?”

4.       If Nancy Pelosi ever stops getting Botox, will she  begin to understand the American people?

5.       Has anyone counted the hours Sarah Palin watches Russia every day?

6.       If she stops, will the National Security Agency be able to pick up the slack?

7.       Does the Tea Party secretly drink Dragon Well tea and supplicate themselves before pictures of Hu Jin Tao?

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

New York with Palm Trees?

I drove down the coast the other day and ended up In Brentwood. I remembered what the clerk in the DMV told me when I first arrived in Los Angeles. She was from Upstate New York. She had me move close and said; “they’ll smile at you and act friendly, but don’t you trust them.” That was the best advice about West Los Angele I‘ve ever received.
I’d come from a job in journalism in New York City, and I would describe West L.A. as “New York with Palm Trees,” but that was doing New York a disservice.
Just because someone says “Let’s have lunch” means nothing. I learned to say “have your people call my people.” I, of course, had no people because I was a college professor, but this was West L.A. and you had to learn to blend in. I learned to never step into a crosswalk on San Vicente at seven a.m. because I’d just piss off the broker or banker who had to clean his bumper after he hit me going sixty.
Since I lived in a place that only elected Democrats, I learned what an important  word really meant. Having gone to the Maxwell School, I thought I knew what liberal was, but I was wrong. I was with a nice man who happened to be a pediatric specialist. He was going on about how the school system needed to be more integrated. I asked him why both of his children went to private school and he told me his kids were too sensitive. Since his daughter taught my daughter how to say f—k, I understood his plight. To be liberal is to help people poorer than you as long as you don’t have to touch them or go to school with them. But you could hire them as a nanny or housekeeper where they would work 70 hours a week, hoping the spoiled offspring wouldn’t make something up about them and get them fired and deported.
Since the city council never met a developer they didn’t like, it’s almost impossible now to drive east after three p.m. It can take between 30-45 minutes to get to the 10 freeway from UCLA. It got so bad I considered moving back to Syracuse and its 300 overcast days. The people are real there, but you can’t survive without a heated garage. I  taught at Newhouse with a  nice guy who was allergic to sunlight.
I have to go now, because you can never know if they’re going to tow your car. By the way did I tell you LA only survives because now photo tickets cost $450?

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Happy Deepavali

Today is Deepavali in Singapore. While it’s a Hindu and Sikh holiday celebrating the victory of good over evil, it also seems to represent tolerance for different races who live together successfully in that Island Nation.
I was thinking how great it would be if every country had such a holiday that made us all seem worthwhile to our fellow citizens of the globe.
When I was younger I believed that by now White and African Americans would be intermarrying and no one would even comment on it.  I believed in a world in which everyone would be valued equally.
As I think of the people of Singapore lighting lamps in this Festival of Lights, I think of so many places where race is pitted against race or religion is pitted against religion. These places should all have a Holiday in which the equality of all would be celebrated.