Showing posts with label flyover country. Show all posts
Showing posts with label flyover country. Show all posts

Wednesday, October 5, 2022

Always Leave a Rat a Way Out: An Old Guy's Misgivings About the War in Ukraine

 When I was a young man practicing law in Alaska, my senior partner gave me some advice I never forgot. Several times during my legal career, I had an opportunity to completely devastate a nefarious party that had pressed a frivolous claim against one of my clients.

"I've got you now," I told myself as I made plans not only to defeat my opponent but to humiliate and destroy him. In these cases, my senior partner always cautioned prudence and restraint. "Richard," he would say, "always leave a rat a way out."

And he was right. I learned that a party pressed to the wall almost always lashes out viciously and behaves recklessly to the detriment of everyone--good guys and bad guys alike.

So far, President Putin's war against Ukraine has not gone well for the Russians. To almost everyone's surprise, Ukraine has beaten back the Russian invasion, inflicting heavy casualties. The Ukrainians have destroyed countless Russian tanks, airplanes, and even the flagship of Russia's Black Sea fleet.  The Ukrainians have been so exhilarated by their battlefield successes that President Zelensky promises to evict the Russians from Crimea, where they have been since 2014 (and centuries before that).

What fun! In America, the elite media crows with delight. How delicious to rub Mr. Putin's face in the mud.  

We should remember, however, what George Orwell said about war. "One of the most horrible features of war," he observed, "is that all the war propaganda, all the screaming and lies and hatred, come invariable from people who are not fighting."

With a few rare exceptions, the reporters who work at the New York Times, Washington Post, and CNBC are not being shot at. If the Ukraine war escalates, their children won't be drafted. Their paychecks, restaurants, and expense accounts won't be affected. The beaches of Martha's Vinyard and the Hamptons will be pristine and peaceful no matter what happens to the Russians and the Ukrainians.

We should remember, however, that Russia is a nuclear power. We may sneer at Putin's threats to unleash tactical nuclear weapons. We may comfort ourselves that Russia is merely a regional power, unlike the mighty United States, which is supposedly the most powerful military power in the world.

Nevertheless, we should always leave a rat a way out. 

Our diplomats and political leaders may consider Ukraine an American playground that can be manipulated like a child's toy. Perhaps they have not read about Stalin's Holodomor or the savagery of the Russians and the Germans in the blood lands of Ukraine and Belarus during the Second World War.

Of course, I'm some old guy living in Flyover Country. What do I know compared to the policymakers and political strategists who got their degrees from Harvard, Yale, and Georgetown?

However, I've done a little reading, and I recall that Hitler woefully underestimated the Russians when he launched Operation Barbarossa in the summer of 1941. The Germans pushed the Russian army back to the outskirts of Leningrad, Stalingrad, and Moscow, but in the end, Russian soldiers showed up in the streets of Berlin in May 1945. I'll bet the Germans wished they had let Russia alone.

And Napolean, one of the world's greatest military strategists, lost his entire army when he foolishly invaded Russia in 1812. By the time that adventure ended, little Nappie had lost ninety percent of his army, with the survivors reduced to cannibalism.

So let the United States strip our nation's arsenals to give high-tech weapons to the Ukrainians.  Let's see how it works out. As for me, I don't want my grandchildren fighting in Europe in a war that got out of control because the western powers didn't leave a rat a way out. 

Let's you and him fight!







Thursday, August 4, 2022

The Middle Class is Shrinking, But You Already Knew That

In recent years, the Brooking Institution published a series of papers as part of its Future of the Middle Class Initiative. In a 2020 paper, Brookings defined the Middle Class as the middle 60 percent of household income distribution--"not poor, but not prosperous either."

How much income must a family have to be considered middle class under the Brookings definition? Its paper says that the average middle-class income is about $70,000, and a family of three would have to have an income of between $40,000 and $154,000 to be middle class.

In that same paper, Brookings reported on income growth among American households between 1979 and 2017. According to the paper's analysis, the bottom 20 percent of American families (the lower class) saw income growth of 86 percent, and the top 20 percent (the upper class) saw income growth of 111 percent.

In contrast, the middle class saw income growth of only 49 percent in that same period.  In other words, the middle class lost ground--especially compared to the wealthiest American families. 

In a 2022 paper, Brookings examined wealth accumulation across generations.  This paper is accompanied by dizzying charts and data, but I think a fair summary is this: Rich people tend to stay rich across the generations, and poor people are more likely to remain poor.

I am somewhat jaundiced about all this Brookings analysis. First, anyone who claims (as the 2020 Brookings paper did) that a family of three living on $40,000 a year is a middle-class family has not lived with two people on forty grand a year. That definition is simply not accurate.

Secondly, I believe the American middle class is disappearing so fast that it is misleading to even speak of a middle-class America.

Robert Reich, President Clinton's Labor Secretary, wrote a book in 1991 titled The Work of NationsReich said that the top 20 percent of income earners--"the fortunate fifth"--were prospering in a global economy and lived in a different world than the rest of us.  The Fortunate Fifth live in gated communities or secure luxury apartment buildings, send their kids to private schools, and have little interest in what is happening to the rest of us.

I think Reich's 1991book was prescient in its analysis.  Today, the wealthiest Americans tend to be clustered on the East and West Coasts. Many have acquired their wealth by financial manipulation and speculation. Their interests and desires are endorsed by the elitist media, national political leaders who cater to corporate lobbyists, and the nation's wealthiest universities.

In short, the Fortunate Fifth doesn't give a damn about the bottom 80 percent, who see their lifestyles declining rapidly due to inflation, growing household indebtedness, and diminishing opportunities to prosper.

As I said, America is disappearing as a nation of middle-class families prospering in a democratic society. Our country has become an oligarchy--controlled by powerful people who don't care about the shrinking middle class and, in fact, despise us. 

Perhaps that is why the people traveling from coast to coast in private jets refer to the places where most Americans live as flyover country.







Tuesday, December 8, 2020

Going to college doesn't guarantee a middle-class lifestyle

 When I was a kid, my family would mark the holiday season by driving to Oklahoma City to do our Christmas shopping.

We always made three stops. We would drop by the Sears store, which was a treat for me because it had escalators, and popcorn was always popping on the first floor. Popcorn and escalators! I was in heaven.

Our family would also visit Brown's Department Store, one of those old-fashioned multi-story affairs in the heart of downtown Oklahoma City.  Brown's had elevators--not escalators, and each floor was devoted to one or two retail sectors--menswear, womenswear, appliances, etc.

We usually had lunch at Beverly's restaurant on 23rd Street--one of a family-owned chain of eateries specializing in "Chicken in the Rough," which meant fried chicken in a basket of french fries, accompanied by delicious rolls that I could slather with butter and honey.

The Fosseys were a frugal family, and my parents drove a Chevrolet as an emblem of our sober lifestyle.  If we ordered Chicken-in-the-Rough, my brother and I would split the plate. We each got one piece of chicken and a handful of fries.

I associate all those places with my family's dogged aspiration to be part of the middle-class. But Brown's Department Store is gone now, Sears is gone, and Beverly's is gone.  And perhaps that is appropriate because the American middle class is fading away, just like the department stores and family-owned restaurants.

Jason Del Rey, writing for Vox, wrote that department stores and the middle class are dying together.  According to one prediction, more than half of all mall-based department stores will close by the end of next year. 

And the middle class is shrinking as well.

"Since the Great Depression began in late 2007," De Rey observed, "the vast majority of income growth in the US has gone to high-income households, squeezing middle-class households and altering the way they spend money." In a 2018 study, the Deloitte consulting firm reported that "the middle 40 percent of the country saw its income shrink in the previous decade, while $8 out f every $10 in income growth nationwide went to high-income households" (as reported by Del Rey).

If you considered yourself to be a middle-class person ten years ago, it is a good bet that you don't think of yourself as middle-class today. Our income doesn't go as far as it once did, and we no longer expect our incomes and lifestyles to improve.

Not only is the middle class seeing a decline in income, but it also sees a decline in its status.  Middle-class people once lived in the Heartland. Now they live in flyover country. Middle-class people once took pride in their patriotism.  Now the media elite label that patriotic instinct is as white nationalism.

And if America's middle class is dying--and it is--our nation's colleges and universities have their fingerprints on the dagger that stabbed it in the heart.  Millions of American young people are taking out student loans in the naive hope that a college degree will improve their economic status, but they are being scammed.  

The biggest rubes are the ones who get degrees in the soft majors--liberal arts, humanities, social sciences, ethnic studies, etc. After spending a lifetime in academic settings, I see now that degrees in these fields were always dubious. But at least history majors were forced to write essays and familiarize themselves with some of Western civilization's significant events.

Now, most students get As, and the professors are too lazy to read term papers. The broad themes of our American heritage have been repackaged into ethnic studies taught by card-carrying members of the cancel culture.  

Tragically, young people are taking out student loans to pay for this gibberish. When they graduate, they are saddled with unpayable debt, and they can't get a job that pays a middle-class wage. 

So if you are one of those people who went deep into debt for a degree in Inequality Studies and find yourself working at McDonald's, this is my advice. When your former professor shows up and orders a Big Mac--the one who taught you nothing useful--spit in his burger.






Monday, November 9, 2020

Was the Good Samaritan a Cajun?

When I was a child, my family were 80-proof Methodists. Every Sunday, I would wriggle into my little plaid sports coat, adjust my clip-on bow tie, and head to Sunday School.  

Looking back, I think Sunday School was good for me. My Sunday School teachers were all women--mostly young moms. We sang lovely children's songs--"Jesus loves me, this I know"--and we listened to the same Bible stories hundreds of times. 

I especially liked the tale of the Good Samaritan. What impressed me most about this biblical character was his generosity. He spent his own time and money helping a stranger who got mugged out on some lonesome highway. I knew I would never be as good as the Good Samaritan, but he became my ideal.

Let's face it. We don't meet many generous people today. Very few people will stop to help a mugging victim. In fact, many Americans want to defund the police--the people we pay to protect us from muggers.

Indeed, a lot of Americans have become muggers.  I'm not talking about the hoodlums who lurk in dark alleys. I'm talking about the bankers who take a cut from every financial transaction. I'm talking about university professors who do no useful work but have lifetime job protection. I'm talking about the politicians who fly around in private jets and stir up racial strife. All these people are muggers.

But last weekend, I went deer hunting up in Claiborne Parish near the Arkansas border. There were nine of us at my friend's deer camp, and about half the group were true Cajuns.

No one shot a deer that weekend, but no one was bummed out. We spent time in the woods, and in the evenings, we shared fellowship and a meal together.

No one argued about who was entitled to sit in the best deer blind. In fact, everyone offered to take the worst blind. No one argued about how to split the ticket at the Mexican restaurant. A couple of guys just picked up the check. No one worried about who might be drinking someone else's beer.  If there was beer in the fridge--well, buddy,  that beer is for you. 

If someone writes another modern-day version of the Bible, I hope the Good Samaritan will be called the Good Cajun.  And instead of loaves and fishes, Jesus will hand out gumbo and jambalaya.

As we start the third decade of the 21st century, America is becoming a nasty place to live. Thank God, there are still a few good-hearted Americans, some cheerful Americans, and some generous Americans. A lot of these good people live in Flyover Country, and a good many are Cajuns.









Thursday, March 1, 2018

Lady Bird, the movie, sends an insidious message about elite East Coast colleges (Spoiler Alert)

Lady Bird, Greta Gerwig's  new coming-of-age movie, has been nominated for five Academy Awards, including Best Picture. But it is an insidious movie, which delivers a treacherous message that self-fulfillment can be found at an elite East Coast college.

Christine, who calls herself Lady Bird, is a discontented California girl who attends a Catholic high school in Sacramento. Her mother doesn't understand her, the guy she is sweet on is gay, and she cheats on her exams.

To make matters worse, Lady Bird's parents live in a tiny ranch-style home, with only one bathroom. She self-deprecatingly tells her boyfriend she lives on the wrong side of the tracks, an insult he guilelessly passes on to her mom and dad.

Sacramento bores Lady Bird, which she dismisses as "the Midwest of California." She longs to escape California to go to college on the East Coast.   Although several elite schools reject her, she finally get accepted to a fancy college in New York.

But the school is expensive. Her father, who comes across as a genuinely nice guy, recently lost his job; and at his age, he is unlikely to get another one. Lady Bird's mother, a nurse, works double shifts at a hospital to make ends meet.

But Lady Bird simply must go east to college, so her dad refinances the family home to cover the cost. The movie ends with Lady Bird in New York City, where she lies to one of the first guys she meets and tells him she is from San Francisco.

What a piece of crap! Any young woman who allows her out-of-work father to refinance the family's pathetic little house so she can attend a snooty East Coast college is a self-absorbed jerk. Although the movie is pitched as a young woman's heroic quest for self-fulfillment, it's really just a gratuitous insult to flyover country, which the filmmaker expanded to include parts of California.