Sunday, September 25, 2011

Would the Woodstock Generation PLEASE get off the Stage??

They famously said, “If it feels good do it”…. Well… here goes.

We need three simple rules to return common sense to the common good.

Here they are;

NEVER vote for anyone in government who was old enough to drive themselves to Woodstock but too young to fight in Korea. NEVER vote for anyone who has never had a job in the private sector. NEVER elect anyone to anything if it means that by winning elective office they get a raise in pay.

Follow these simple rules and we can begin to fix what the Woodstock generation has torn asunder.

That felt good. Now let me explain one by one.

1.      Don’t vote for anyone old enough to drive themselves to Woodstock but too young to fight in Korea. So, if you were born between 1938 and 1952, you’re done. Get a job at Home Depot or as a greeter at a restaurant where they deep fry scallops on Cape Cod or in Florida. As a member of the Woodstock generation you have personal responsibility for screwing up everything your generation has ever touched. Retire now. Please. We’re begging you.

2.      Don’t vote for anyone who has never worked professionally in the private sector. If you have never worked in the private sector than you have no understanding of economics. Even if you taught it at Hahvahd you have no business or experience rationally allocating scarce public resources. You think the economy is some huge unquantifiable hurricane of swirling cash flow that is so big that if you stick out a net to snare some in the name of taxes – it doesn’t hurt anything. But when people are hurt by your actions, you blame the people whose money you took. You think money is free, you think you can always take more and you think you are morally superior because you have never had to measure yourself in terms employing people AND producing a profit. If you have never sweat making your company’s payroll then you have no idea how you affect real people’s lives every week.  

3.      Don’t vote for anyone to anything if it means that if they win they get a pay raise. Why? Because they will never leave! Why would they? They get a couple thousand people to give them money to get a job that pays them $174,000 a year. If they win they get free healthcare for life and a pension after 5 years, free office space and a boat load of perks. They also get to spend $1.5 million a year on staff salaries. That’s 30 people at $50G’s per year (or 20 at $75,000) to wait on them hand and foot, drive them around, book their airfare, get their dry cleaning, pick up their lunch, read their mail, answer their mail, answer their phones, plan their schedules etc… Yeah, they work nights and weekends but in this economic environment so do a lot of us who don’t even make half that and we have to get our own dry cleaning and read our own mail.

If you meet each of these “qualifications” you should be immediately ineligible for elective office.  

Look no further than the Massachusetts delegation to the House of Representatives.  Eight out of ten remind me of the ossified old men standing on top of Lenin’s Tomb watching a parade of the subjects that they will never meet, raising banners to goals they will never achieve and praising the same old men who care only about preserving the privileges their positions of power have afforded them. Those guys never worked in the private sector either and their whole country went broke.

Now, Moscow is home to more billionaires than any other city in the world. Connect the dots.

Bring back the $1 guys and now gals who will donate their salaries to charity and make rational decisions based not upon self-interest but by the public good.  It used to be that people made their fortunes and then turned to public service as a means of giving back, as a demonstration of thanks. Now, people go into public service to stamp their names on the levers of power and burn a few witches to show that they are tough. Then they sell themselves to the highest bidder to make their fortune. Does that seem right to you?

Throw the bums out. It’ll feel good.

Just do it.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Activist or Egotists? Choosing Darfur over Dorchester

I parked cars in the middle of Yale University when I was in graduate school. I was going to Fairfield University some 30 miles away. But I lived in New Haven and had worked in the Mayor’s office after college so I was friendly with and knew a lot of political and social activists who are inevitably drawn to great university towns.  

The mid-1980’s was an exciting time to be an activist. The 60’s radicals, beginning to grey, were comfortably ensconced in faculty lounges ponchos at the ready, railing against all things Reagan. They decried apartheid in South Africa; attended meetings of something called the Greater New Haven Peace Council and regaled a new generation in bars at night with stories of how they manned the barricades during the “Days of Rage”, stopped a war 9,000 miles away and brought down a President.

During that time, a friend of mine, a committed political activist/operator and all around fun guy was elected to the Board of Alderman thereby forever earning the right to receive mail addressed to “The Honorable”. Marty was a hale fellow well met. He was also an Alderman with a foreign policy. Citing his hard left leanings, he frequently described himself as “pink to the underwear.”

The parking lot where I worked faced busy York Square which was full of eclectic shops, bars and restaurants. The center piece was an art house movie theater and Yale’s version of the college bookstore called the Yale Co-Op. York Square was the commercial focal point for Yale undergraduates and as a result was often jammed packed with people.

One day I watched a group of 30-40 students dressed in keffiyeh chic begin to assemble and pass out signs. Then they held up their signs and to the bellowing of a faceless bullhorn waded bravely (York Square is actually an oblong in which traffic rapidly enters and exits from approximately eight separate directions) into the maw of traffic. They then began to denounce the Yale University endowments investment in companies like Coca-Cola who were selling their products in South Africa. If the endowment sold their stock in Coke the logic went, the victims of Apartheid would be lifted from poverty and oppression.

And there, in the middle of the discontent bullhorn in hand was my friend The Honorable Martin J. Dunleavy.

About halfway through the outrage, Marty spied me, handed off the bullhorn and ran over to where I was pretending to work. In his best Tip O’Neill/Ted Kennedy imitation he gave me his classic, loud and booming “HOWAHHYAHH”! He told me that the police should be here in about 10 minutes then everyone was going to Rudy’s, a local dive bar, for pitchers. I told him that I’d be over when my shift was done. He turned and before he crossed the street looked back to me and said with a grin, “You gotta meet us at Rudy’s, there’s great looking girls in this group.” That being all I needed to hear about an hour later I walked into Rudy’s ordered a couple of cheap beers and went into the dingy back room where I found The Honorable in a booth regaling his acolytes.

We sat, drank and solved the problems of the world for a while and at some point The Honorable disappeared. I on the other hand, found myself picking at the demonstrators with questions like, “What was todays march all about?” “To end Apartheid,” one   answered gravely. “How is a bunch of college kids messing up traffic in New Haven going to end Apartheid in South Africa?” I asked. “Our purpose is to bring down an oppressive regime where the poor are forced to live in shanty towns without food and running water. If Yale sells their stock in Coke, Coke will realize that doing business in South Africa is wrong”. Another with the deep seriousness only a few beers can bring on locked in at me and quoted the environmental bumper sticker, “Think Globally, Act Locally.”

I then asked the question that had bothered me all day, “Why don’t you help the poor a few blocks from here with no food and no heat in the winter? Why South Africa? Why not New Haven?”

I sat back, watched and waited but no answer came. Realizing that I just became the skunk at the garden party I grabbed my check and left as well.

Then it dawned on me. Outrage at an abstract, far away problem was easy. It was guilt free. It didn’t require that you be judged by your results, by how many people you helped. You didn’t have to get dirty or risk contracting disease. Your heart didn’t have to break seeing horrid conditions and despair first hand. Tying up traffic on a busy street for 20 minutes created the appearance of action without actually having to take the action. Their whole event was a “look at me” moment.

Twenty years later here in Boston, I read that a group raised $150,000 in one night to “Save Darfur.” The event was held at Boston University. I bet the food was great, the wines plenty, the attendees glamorous and the speakers stirring. But going back to that day in New Haven I keep thinking;

Why Darfur? Why not closer to home, say…. Dorchester