Well, as I suggested yesterday in the context of Good Time Charlie’s Got the Blues, on to “Charlies” of humbler means than the corrupt Rep. Charles Rangel of New York. But Good Time Charlie’s Got the Blues should not be totally lost on us without effect. While I think it really is a lighthearted little ditty in which a man realizes and talks about his own shortcomings, it’s not quite that simple. In a backhanded way, he arrives at personal acknowledgment of forehanded, direct-approach shortcomings that are now depriving him of family and friends — a decidedly more honest approach than Rangel’s example.
I often loathe politicians, especially these days. Influenced by the negative news that abounds every day of the week, it’s easy to think of politicians as bottom feeders — and you can take that just about any way you want. The view I prefer — though find it hard — to concentrate on is the historical fact that the United States has, more often than not, risen above its national leadership even through the worst of times. I hope we’re heading in that direction again these days. One thing for sure — we’re in a mell of a hess right now. But the “real deal” is not an eye singly focused on the horrendous ineptitude, dishonesty, disgrace and downright corruption of national politics, but to focus on our lives and the lives of those around us.
Life’s tough, tougher for some. Even if there were no Barack Hussein Obama II or George W. Bush, no Nancy Pelosi or Harry Reid or Newt Gingrich or Dick Cheney and swindlers like Charlie Rangel and the Right Reverends Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson, life would still be tough, tougher for some. We’ve all known people who seem to fit the somewhat humorous (except for those who fit it) old saw, “I live on Tough Street; the further you go, the tougher it gets. And I live in the last house.” What makes it that way? What gives “Good Time Charlie” the blues?
Talking to a guy at work today. He’s struggling to make ends meet with inflated payments on a deflated house in Southern California. Has a newer car on which he makes payments for another 3 years and can’t sell for half what he paid for it, and a wife and three kids who live in the house with him. The kids attend class in schools increasingly plagued by disorder, lack of funds (amazing, isn’t it, in this nation where we spend HUGE amounts of money to “educate” kids, then spend most of every school year teaching them merely how to pass a single, state-mandated proficiency exam so that the lawmakers and teachers can feel good about themselves, and incidentally about the students, for another year?!), and — yep, undereducated kids. Back in the day, we had to learn all the material and pass numerous tests all through the school year. If we didn’t, somebody — likely, multiple personalities including teachers, principal, and parents — would be on us like a chicken on a June bug, and we’d be read the riot act, assigned extra chores, required to stay after school to clean the blackboards (No! Not ‘chalkboards’ — blackboards!), and then get our hinies whacked when we got home. Perhaps get grounded or restricted for a while at home, too. Required to do homework. (Those were early, feudal efforts at instilling “self esteem.”) 🙂
But I digress. My subject was the Charlies of our world. Because his employer is experiencing declining demand for his goods and services with concurrently-increasing costs of doing business (wait until the “new” taxes of the next decade hit!), there will be no wage increases or bonuses even though Charlie’s costs of living are as voracious as ever. His kids need braces, soccer shoes and school togs, his older car needs some repairs, and he needs to replace a hot water heater and a dishwasher. Where’s he to turn? Is the federal government really handing out money? Where can I find some?
Talking to a gal at the coffee shop today, similar story, maybe worse. Let’s call her Charlene. She’s a single parent of a child whose deadbeat dad won’t pay child support (never has) because he’s “unemployed” and seems to make a career of it. He never visits his child or takes him anywhere, but this gal can’t leave the state of California because the law says she has to make her child available for “regular visitation” with his daddy who … well, I already said that. If she wants to terminate visitation rights based on his history, she has the burden of proof (if she can afford a lawyer and time off work to go to court several times where she may, or may not, get the relief she seeks) to show that the father no longer merits visitation. It’s a difficult burden of proof that few can meet. This woman is talented and intelligent in her job, attends night school to get a degree in accounting to improve herself and the chances of her child, and is underpaid at work. Her employer, taking recognition that lots of people are out of work and looking for jobs, keeps wages artificially low as compared with prosperous times. All of this, still ignoring the obvious bungling and corruption we see from inside the Beltway in D.C. that has been rampant for years. But now, our chickens are coming home to roost. We are paying for our national apathy and concurrent, personal greed. In spades.
But still, all in all and even with the struggles and catastrophes we see around and hear more about, especially from the politicians who are so “concerned about the poor and homeless, the uninsured and the desperate” and the media who feed the insatiable “news” monster with their blind reports that all say the same thing and ignore the obvious, I contend that the overwhelming majority of us are far better off than our predecessors. Talk about tough economic times! Read a little history about the Great Depression (as compared with this current economy that has not and, some say will not, produce the predicted dire tragedies from which we’re nonetheless insistently — and with increasing belligerence — being rescued by our omnipotent Big Bro and his Czars of Everything) and you’ll at once have to confess that we’re materially better off. We have a far higher standard of living than most of the world. We have lots of discretionary spending money to blow on all kinds of expensive entertainments that have become an everyday way of life. Have you ever considered that athletes and Hollywood stars are among the most highly-paid persons in the U.S.? And there is a current glut of “hero” athletes and “hero” Hollywooders, lots of the latter with o’erweening pronouncements and attitudes about how “we” ought to live and think. Have you noticed the number of grossly-obese people walking around? Have you seen the hordes of high school kids who pile into a Starbucks before school every day to get their venti double-fat mocha-frappa yada-yadas with piles of whipped cream on top, something to suck down into their fat little bellies for morning treats on the way to school? Have you noted the increasing number of obese SMALL children who clearly rarely get off their backsides to play? Are we spoiled and lazy? I mean, I like my daily small double cappuccino, but this is ridiculous!
Former generations, not only in the U.S., but even moreso around the world, have known pain and suffering the likes of which I pray we never see. Think of all the horrible drug wars, civil wars, regional wars — and even the ethnic cleansings that have plagued the world in the last 30-50 years (Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Rwanda, Angola, Somalia, Turkey, Iraq, Iran, Chechnya, Afghanistan, and surely at least one South American nation), and our momentary “suffering” seems light and endurable. Not to mention the 55,000,000 – 70,000,000 estimated to have died in the Second World War, or the 13,000,000 or so killed in Russia by Josef Stalin after that war. Cruel, harsh, bone-grinding work and starvation, then death by freezing, disease, and total misery. And a few “people” have the temerity to assert that the Holocaust never happened?!!
Note I said a few lines back that we’re materially better off. I’m not sure about other qualities of life, such as cultural sanity and spiritual health. But we still have a fighting chance to turn things around for ourselves if we’ll “man up,” take responsibility for our own lives instead of looking to Wall Street, the dollar bill and Congress with its window dressing of “improved national health care for less money” and coming prosperity for all of us. We need to get about the business of righting the most glaring wrongs and rebuilding, from the ground up, this system that has gone awry (not that it’s done so on its own). Think we can do it? We’ve done it before!
Consider, for example, the presidency of U.S. Grant, eighteenth president of the United States. He apparently arrived in that office primarily by being successful general-in-chief of the Union Army in the last year of the Civil War (or “War of Northern Aggression” as it has been called by some die-hard Southerners). The first mistake was thus made. The nation seized on the military leadership, which it mistook for civil leadership, and wound up with one of the most corrupt presidential terms in our nation’s history. His cabinet and nepotism were second to none in terms of scandal and disgrace, and many of the nation’s business and industrial leaders were equally or more corrupt. Read about Tammany Hall, Boss Tweed, and many others of that era. And aren’t we proud that Grant was the first to propose a professional federal civil service?! Thanks, General!
Well, our ancestors survived Grant’s corruption, just like a later generation survived the Great Depression of the twentieth century and the misguided efforts of Franklin D. Roosevelt, that great “visionary” president who rescued us by putting a chicken in every pot, a dollar in every pocket, and stretched the detrimental effects of the Great Depression into a decade of simultaneous deprivation and government overreaching that was in many ways unnecessarily more harm than good. He and his Washington experts were allowed to do so by a citizenry caught in grinding poverty and hopelessness and looking to government largesse (as though money does grow on trees, just below the lemonade springs where the bluebird sings, in the big rock candy mountain) to bale it out of trouble — not recognizing that the trade-off was sacrifice of a lot of freedom and self-determination as the national government built its cadres of career bureaucrats. Sound familiar? And yet different? Here’s just one brief description of that 1930s New Deal [read, “change we can live with”]:
Despite all the positives of the New Deal, and there were many, Depression-era tax policies had the unintended consequence of creating a “risk-less economy.” A string of tax hikes and new taxes extinguished the nation’s sparks of innovation.
On top of the Revenue Act of 1932—one of the largest tax increases in American history, which doubled the estate tax, increased corporate taxes by almost 15 percent, and raised taxes on the highest incomes from 25 percent to 63 percent—the Revenue Act of 1935 raised new taxes on higher income levels, corporations, and estates. The Revenue Act of 1937 taxed short-term capital gains as ordinary income. And in 1936, Roosevelt added a higher top rate of 79 percent on individual income greater than $5 million—a rate that was increased again in 1939.
By 1937, the undistributed profits surtax severely restricted the ability of small companies to build up their capital out of earnings, and the large surtax on individual incomes discouraged rich people from investing in new companies.
Spencer Ante, “Slouching Through the Great Depression.”
Yet, by comparison to world suffering, in 2009 we’re merely a collective “Good Time Charlie [Who’s] Got the Blues.” Time to “man up!”
Carpe diem. Vita brevis!
© September 2009, Michael E. Stubblefield. All rights reserved.