The Slippery Slope

I rented a humongous car on Sunday morning for the multi-generational family sojourn to and from Rhinebeck for a family barbeque.  I am a regular at the rental car place and (as long as no one is waiting) I kibbitz with those behind the counter while I wait for my car.  It is a nearby location of a national rental chain with huge corporate profits.  Still, they’ve been in the neighborhood for decades and that’s important.

When I arrived I asked for a portable GPS (remember the trip to Philadelphia?  see prior blog entry), since I forgot to request it when reserving the car.  The car that was scheduled for me had to be driven from another location.  20 minute delay.  No GPS.  I built in extra time so I was ok with it and since no one was around, the people behind the counter and I, well, kibbitzed about this and that.

The guy in charge of the car intake and outflow (how else would it be described) radioed that the exact same model with GPS had just been returned!! Awesome.  Except there was 1/4 of a tank of gas and since the car itself was the size of a military ops vehicle, I would need to refill shortly after getting on the road.

Noooooo problem.  I know that someone would have to go to the bathroom within 5 minutes of clearing Manhattan. This is my family after all.

When I got in the car, there was a full tank of gas.  Hmmm.  I must have heard wrong.   I picked up the brood and off we went.

This morning, I had to return the car.  If you live on the Upper West Side of New York City, you know it is a pain to get gas.   The stations are shoe-horned into crevices along streets leading to major highways and bridges, so getting gas can be life-ending experience.  I look at the fuel gauge.  A little more than 1/4 filled.  I remember that I was told that the tank was only 1/4 filled.  I look at the print-out from the rental place.  Yep, it says 1/4 filled.

I am tired.  I am late for work.  I am late to return the car.  I was planning to write the premium check for my life insurance later this morning when I got to the office.  No one will know if I return the car as-is.  In fact, according to the company’s records, it is a gallon or two ahead. And, don’t I pay enough already to rent a car in Manhattan?

No one will know.  No one.  Actually, someone will know (yoo hoo!!).  I will know.  I who try to teach my child to do the right thing not because you will get rewarded if you do (or get punished if you don’t) but because it is the right thing to do.

I will know.  My parents used to say, “if doing the right thing were easy, everyone would do it.” Yeah, but I can navigate the mania of city driving and I can afford the late charge, the cost of a tank of gas and being late for work.

So, I go to the scary gas station where you have to back out onto a two way street just yards away from that access and exit ramps of the West Side Highway and do a high speed, ultra-alpha-macho U-turn.  Did I mention the school down the street?  Luckily, it is a really long block and there is nothing residential until the corner.  And, anyway, I am always early on my premium payments so if something happened, my family would be ok financially.

I can’t help but think [for those of you who think I am an easy chair liberal who often contemplates my navel, wait for it .  .  . wait for it . . . and a one and a two and a . . . ]:   If we were struggling financially, would I look at it as a gift and stay quiet? (Think Paul Muni in, “I am a Fugitive From the Chain Gang”

Maybe doing the right thing depends on what lies in the balance.

Where do we go from here?

I have this terrible feeling that I, along with everyone else in this country, am being sacrificed at the altar of hubris and zealotry.

“Take no prisoners” is a way of waging war.  It is not a way of governing.  True believers and purists on both sides of the aisles are important counterbalances, but they cannot dictate the future of our nation.  Even Grover Norquist said letting the Bush tax cuts (which affect me) expire and closing tax loopholes are not “new” taxes (phew, because if repealing subsidies for corporate jets is so problematic in these times of George W. Bush deficits, then let’s all join hands and drown ourselves).  Shouldn’t the true believers be swayed?  I guess it is a new, virulent strain of true believer.  One that speaks to God directly.  It must be a local call because the long distance charges alone could bankrupt a person.

For those who invoke G-d and destiny in the argument surrounding the raising of the debt ceiling, I send this quote:

“Do Justice, Love Mercy and Walk Humbly with your God.”

This is the answer to two questions posed in Micah, Chap. 6:8: “What does the Lord require of you? What are you supposed to do to live faithfully with your God?”

Why am  quoting scripture?  Because I am that desperate for the extremists to take pity on us and our nation and make some hard and dare I say, PRACTICAL, decisions.

I understand taking a hard line in the abortion debate, in the capital punishment debate and in the war debates.  These are about potential life, actual life and the taking of life.  But, in the money debate?  I think you can tell what God thinks about money by who has the most.  So, let’s not bring God into this.  Let’s be honest.  It is about political gain and power. And that is about as un-God-like as you can get.

You know the world is tilted in the wrong direction when I am trying to “protect” God’s good name from God’s self-proclaimed followers.  As far as I can tell, they are frauds.


Hitting the roof

Ok, ok, ok, ok, ok, even the Republicans, Boehner himself, have acknowledged the catastrophic nature of our nation’s defaulting on its obligations. Yet, lawmakers are trying to leverage our need to raise the debt ceiling to exact political points.

Yes, lawmakers think they can play brinksmanship with our future.  The mere fact that our politicians would keep the world — and us — in suspense until August will erode our creditworthiness abroad and the global confidence in our economy.  We think of us as a society where our word is our bond.  Well, look in the mirror.  It isn’t pretty.

Imagine how you would view a country so divided in their “parliament” that one side is willing to risk ruin to have its way — slash and burn tactics.  So, just because we are the United States of America, you think we can mess with this stuff, without ramifications?  If you do, you are arrogant AND crazy.

Am I good with so much debt? No way.  I pay my credit cards on time.  I can afford my mortgage and could pay it off tomorrow. I believe that a person, a family, a country must live within its means.  If we need to spend more, then someone needs a second (part-time) job.  We didn’t do that and fought two wars and gave tax cuts to people like me who never asked for one, didn’t need one and didn’t want one.  So, now we have to live with the consequences. And I am willing to pay more in taxes to clean up George Bush’s and Trent Lott’s and Bill Frist’s nightmare.

It is important to note that the GOP — under whose governance drove us into this debt hole — is the party that is playing it to the bone.  Not because they are arrogant; but because they are hypocrites.   And the hypocrisy is so galling that it makes me want to go to the Congress and shout: “WORRY ABOUT US AND NOT YOUR POLL NUMBERS, YOUR JOBS AND YOUR POWER!!!!!!! FIX IT NOW.” If there is a report of a middle-aged lunatic screaming in the House of Representatives, you’ll know that I may be off-line for a while, in federal custody.

I think we have to raise the debt ceiling, not only because the credit of our great nation is at stake, but because it makes sense.  And, although I am an unabashed and unapologetic liberal, I am conservative in my investments and my rationale for raising the debt ceiling is, to my mind, steeped in the rudiments of getting out of debt and on a sustainable course.

It is, perhaps, counter-intuitive that a shirt-maker in bankruptcy should be allowed to borrow MORE in order to pay workers to stitch together the pieces of cloth so that they become shirts.  Scraps of cloth are worthless; however, a completed shirt sells for something.  That differential is presumably more than the amount borrowed.  The net effect is that there is a meaningful exit from bankruptcy where the assets of the company are maximized to pay off debts and re-emerge on sounder footing.

We have many fights ahead about just how we re-emerge from this mess a stronger nation, indivisible, with liberty, FAIRNESS and justice for all.  Let’s give ourselves some breathing room, for our sakes and the future of our country.

You may disagree with me on principle (IFOB (Italian friend of blogger) and JR (old friend from Camp Wingate/Camp Kirkland): go at me) but you can’t disagree with the necessity and exigencies of the circumstances — with a no-win choice, you must choose to raise the roof.


Dragon Wimpering in the Year of the Rabbit

My son keeps trying to teach me how to say Happy New Year in Mandarin, but he is soooooo frustrated with my horrible tones (for those of you who may not know, Chinese languages are tonal).  At the tender again of 8-1/2, he has been taking Chinese for a few years and apparently has really good tones.  But I wouldn’t know since I am obviously tone-illiterate.

As someone totally demoralized by the economic bloodbath of the last few years, I have taken to looking up any horoscope in any culture in a — yes, yes — futile attempt to divine (or control, let’s be honest) the future.

Since it is the Chinese New Year, I looked up Dragon in the Year of the Rabbit.  But that isn’t enough information.  I need to know my elements: am I wood or metal, earth or water or fire?  I always imagined my elements would be like 1920s-30s modern furniture — brushed steel or carved wood structure with fabrics in deep red accents or bright thin stripes.

But, you can’t simply pick what you think works for you.  That is determined at your time of birth.  Not so simple, now that Mom is gone.  But it wouldn’t have been so simple either if she were still alive. Mom gave birth in a classically 1960s way:  she was under anesthesia before the first labor pain and woke up for the hairdresser (surgery can play havoc on one’s slightly poofy, Jackie Kennedy look).

So, even when my mother was alive, she couldn’t say, “I stopped screaming at 3:00pm, so that’s how I know that’s when you were born.”  It would always have been, “Oh, darling, you were born sometime between when I was told to breathe deeply into the gas mask and when the hairdresser woke me for an in-hospital hair emergency procedure.”

So, it isn’t as easy as one might think to get tired, trite and vague prognostications.  I needed information from a third party reliable source.

I got out of bed where I was web-surfing and I started hunting around for my birth certificate.  I found only half of it.  The copy I have was the original copy given to my parents and, well, after 47 years, the part with the relevant information had disintegrated.

POB (partner of blogger) asked if she could help and I told her she would laugh at me if I told her what I was doing.  She didn’t laugh but she did roll her eyes.  The Big Eye Roll. The one that means “I had a crazy day and now you are going off the deep-end trying to find out the time of your birth so you can read some free, on-line horoscope and use that to guide your and — therefore my — life for the next 12 months?”

Ok, she had a point.  I cannot control the future.  I cannot divine whether my loved ones and I will be financially successful, or happy, or healthy or . . . or . . . .  But, crazy is as crazy does, because I keep trying.

From Ben to Bust in 234 years

Benjamin Franklin, a rock star of his generation, said, when signing the Declaration of Independence, “United we stand, divided we fall.”  Our founding fathers and the colonies, united, defeated a great and mighty empire.

Throughout our brief yet notable history, the cities of our nation were known for the dog-eat-dog way that fellow citizens treated their neighbors, eschewing the cornerstone of religious faith, all the while claiming to be part of the most upright of Christian nations.  But, outside the cities (or so I would like to think), neighbors helped each other and generations of families lived together, all working to keep everyone afloat.  Maybe it is the romantic myth of the heartland.  But, I am buying it, lock, stock and barrel.

Today, we live in a society where people are more worried about their morning lattes than they are about ending our two wars, reducing our crushing debt and the stopping all politicking, all of which threaten to bankrupt out nation.

There is no silver bullet cure for our woes.

I heard today that people say that the Congress should not have saved the 300,000 teacher and firefighter jobs because their unions are too strong and teachers earn too much for doing too little.  Ok, so, make the unions feel some pain, but does that justify keeping the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans?  The illogic is frightening and delusional.

So the great experiment started in 1776 is rounding the drain because of greed and me-first-middle-and-last mind think.

Well, I don’t know about anyone else, but I will forgo my Bush tax cut that I never wanted and didn’t need to pay for health care and to start reducing the deficit.

How about this:  we make giving up the tax cuts voluntary.  Just like the optional $1.00 gift to Wildlife Preservation (or is it public campaign finance?) on our tax forms.  Just put a line item on the 2010 tax return that says, “This is how much more you would pay if the Bush tax cuts lapsed.  Do you want to pay this amount (a) to reduce the deficit, (b) to pay for health care for the uninsured or (c) 50% to each?” and publish the list of people who contribute to these funds.

Maybe neighbors will embarrass neighbors into paying the money (because if you’re not on the list, either you’re selfish or you don’t make enough) or we have a pledge drive and use positive peer pressure.

Either way, Mr. President, I am with you for letting lapse the tax cut I never wanted and our nation couldn’t afford.

The horn of plenty in the midst of the dust bowl

Last night I was in an expensive, still trendy, restaurant and the place was PACKED. 

Maybe everyone there was entertaining out of town guests like I was.  

Maybe that’s why it is hard to understand the true nature of our economic problems and how close we still are to the precipice.  Because we all thought economic Armageddon would look like something out of “Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome” or some other post-apocalyptic film.

Maybe not everyone in the Great Depression were like Ma or Pa Joad. Or, for that matter, like my parents and grandparents, TGFOB (two generations of family of blogger). Barely getting by, barely enough food to eat.  Hey, I am not suffering like them either because I am eating at this restaurant, too, but I am constantly gripped by the fear of homelessness. (I love the freedom that 25 years, coming out as a lesbian, and being in a loving relationship afford.)

I overheard a group talking about the burden of taxes. I thought, DUDES, you’re still earning money.  No one realizes that it is dumb luck that we are not like Ma and Pa Joad or TGFOB.

This reminds me of the conversation I had at my 25th college reunion with a guy who — how do I describe it — was not so much a friend but from time to time over for years we had the “benefits”.  In our first conversation in more than 25 years, he mentions the European bank taxes and complains that they unfairly punish him.  I couldn’t hide my disgust at his words (and at my own poor judgment so many years ago) and said maybe a little too firmly (and with a lot of “edge” to it), “Suck it up. There are people here without jobs. There was a lot of collateral damage and innocent people were punished for the stupidity of a few so if all it costs you is a few extra dollars, then pay it and feel lucky.”  (I

By the way, I feel really lucky, and I am scared every day that my luck will run out.  In the meantime, we eat out every now and again.

Signs and Portents in New York

Yesterday I was walking past a building where a delivery was being made.  I couldn’t see the company logo, just the shirt backs of the two delivery men.

One said, “The First Guy,”

and the other said, “The Other Guy“.

Funny and true and sad.  We readily let two guys into our apartment and we have no idea their names.  If we had to talk about the delivery, we would say, “the First Guy asked where we wanted the sofa and the Other Guy brought it in on the wheely-thing and then the First Guy asked me to sign the receipt.”

Reminds me of my housekeeper years ago when I was a bachelorette.  I left a relationship (and moved out) and took over the lease of my friend’s apartment together with all of the contents that she wasn’t taking to her new apartment with her girlfriend.  I even got the housekeeper, Olga.  Except Olga didn’t do the work.  She had her “cousin”, Marta, do the work. I saw Marta once (Russian, bad blonde dye job) and wouldn’t recognize her if I fell over her.  I was embarrassed not to be able to recognize her, so, on Fridays, I would get up early and walk down the stairs so I wouldn’t run into her.  (Of course, she wouldn’t know me either.)  If I saw anyone of her vague description within a block of my apartment, I would smile and nod just in case.

I imagined how I would answer a detective’s incredulous questions on Law and Order.  “How could you not know Marta’s last name?” “You have no address for the woman who has a key to your home, and access to your jewelry?” ‘Tell me again how you could not possibly know the full name of the woman who cleans your underwear?” “How did you know it was Marta every week?” “Based only on the fact that she ruined your whites with the same hue of blue, you are telling me that it was always the same woman?” Unfortunately, the answers are yes, “I could” and “I did”.

I did have Olga’s outer-borough phone number.  I used it to say that I was moving and I wouldn’t be needing Marta’s services.  I left two weeks’ pay and Marta left a thank-you note written in a scrawl that suggested that she didn’t know so much English and was just as happy that she didn’t bump into me (even if she recognized me).

At least I know her first name.  That is something.  But not really a lot.  A nameless immigrant in the sea of New York, doing work that most people won’t do.  If you want to see strivers and the role that nameless immigrants — legal or not — play in our society, come to New York City.

A Sign of the Times

So one lazy morning when I could not, should not, would not go gently into the underbelly of New York which we fondly call the subway, I took a cab.  I know, I know, in a recession, the cost of a cab is like taking  candy from my child’s mouth or food off his plate.  Then again if I lose my mind, then I would not be able to put candy in his mouth or food on his plate.  In fact, it was a “wellness” initiative that should be covered by insurance deductibles.  Every urban dweller should get a few moments of peace (and Urdu or other language) once in a while.  But, as usual, I digress.

So back to life inside an air-conditioned, yet still stale-aired, cab (an oxy-moron only city dwellers can appreciate).  I was just reaching to turn off the video screen (provided courtesy of the Taxi and Limousine Commission in recognition of the global shift toward ADD as an evolutionary goal) when I spied the following sign in a liquor store:

Yes, a LIQUOR STORE, advertising 50% if you come in between 8AM and 10AM.

Are alarm bells going off?  I know we are all seeking solace somewhere in this economic meltdown (Thank you, GOP — NO, I will not accept sharing the responsibility, you greedy bastards), but this, THIS, says we are hurting.  And hurting DEEPLY.

Food for thought or, more appropriately, elixir for numbness of the mind.

Let’s Party Like It’s 1929

If I read the news, I will go into that bad place in my head that holds all my fears of being destitute and homeless.

The stock market is tanking, confidence is tanking, the economy is sputtering, unemployment is high and nerves are frazzled.  At first, everyone was talking about a double-dip recession, then about, PHEW, how we escaped the double-dip and now, how it looks like a triple-Lutz-followed-by-triple-pike-nosedive recession.

No prognosticator today can know for sure what the Monday morning quarterback will say with a certain smug clarity (after all, he who survives gets to write the history). 

But that doesn’t stop the pundits from scaring me to distraction.

Wall Street Cab Driver

It was too beautiful this morning to get into the subway (and, surprise, I was running late), so I hopped a cab and asked the driver to drive through Central Park, so that I could enjoy the beauty that the car exhaust was destroying.  But I digress.

The cab driver mentioned how New York has changed since the 1970s even though he believes that there is more crime than the official statistics would suggest.  I asked him if he had always driven a cab, knowing in the back of my mind that anyone who didn’t know that you could get the Park Drive going south at 100th Street and Central Park West hasn’t been a cab driver for too long.

No, he was a bond trader and was laid off in 2000 when the bond markets were rocked by one thing or another.  He was a golf caddy for a while and he turned down a job back on Wall Street in 2001 because the pay package was too low.  Yup, you guessed it — at a firm in the World Trade Center.  Ok, Gordon Gekko, in this case, greed saved his life.  Actually, he isn’t really Gekko-esque.  After all, he is driving a cab.  He said the pay package was too low because bond traders were a dime a dozen and people were scrambling to get work.  But he had paid off his mortgage and cashed out of equities as soon as he was laid off, so he was ok.  Not rich, but ok.  Clearly, because he is driving a cab.

A serene cab driver who would rather compete for fares in New York City than go back to Wall Street.  Now that is saying something.