The American Dream -Part One

Dream or Trap ?


You know that feeling you get when you find out you’ve been had? The one where you roll your eyes back a bit and think to yourself, “You sure fell for that one.” Sometimes you can laugh at your own empty-headedness and appreciate that the joke is on you. But sometimes, like when you never even perceived that a joke was afoot, realizing you’ve been had is like a swift kick in the gut. Sure, you catch your breath after a few panicked moments of gasping, but then you go on with things, albeit a bit more cynical and wary.

No, I did not send my bank account number to a prince in Nigeria in exchange for a bazillion dollars. Had I, such would fall into the first category of being “had.” Instead, I think that I’ve finally reached a moment of clarity, an epiphany if you will, regarding the mythical American Dream.

(Cue sound effects) What a sucker.

Maybe more accurate to call it the American Delusion, for like the magical pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, the American Dream is always, by deliberate design, just out of reach. No matter where you are in the pursuit of the dream, the hazy promise of more or better something convinces you that you have not yet achieved the success that the American dream represents. It is both alluring and insidiously rotten, and yet it is as much a part of who we are as is the air we breathe. And as invisible as the oxygen that passes into our lungs, so too do we fail to see the trap slowly springing until we are too far in to make a clean escape.

The American Dream (capitalized, probably trademarked by some corporation somewhere) is vaguely described as a society where the “citizens of every rank feel that they can achieve a “better, richer, and happier life.” But better than what? Richer how? Happier by what measure? How does a person know if they have reached the dream? Is it an individual dream for us each, a particular dream for similar groups of people, or a generalized dream determined by the behavior of the majority?

Actually, it’s all of the above. There is a societal, generalized version of the American Dream that includes a well paying job, owning a home and car(s), having a familial unit of some sort, taking nice vacations and having lots of things. One layer down there is a second dream layer applied to particular groups of people-groups divided along ethnic or professional or religious or educational criteria, for example. This dream gets more specific in how the generalized dream gets flushed out. Add the final layer-the personal dream-then squish them together and “Voila!” -your American Dream-customized, but always within the parameters of the larger, pre-determined dream variables.

Let’s take a step sideways for a moment. In a normal dream-the kind you have when asleep- things are often fluid and non-sensical as they play out. Sometimes these turn scary, other times confusing, but you always wake up knowing you’d only had a dream. In a daydream-the spaced out for no reason kind of thing-the desired outcome almost always is realized, and with the minimum effort required, but you snap out of it and get back to your business. Now step back to the American Dream. In this dream, things are often stuck in slow motion, non-sensical and scary and happy and wierd, but you know you won’t wake up because you aren’t asleep. And you also know that no amount of hard work will guarantee a happy ending. Because it’s still just a dream, stupid. And reality never follows the script in our head.

To ever even come within reach of achieving the classic American Dream, there are certain steps that you must take, and once taken, you must take them again and again and again until your legs finally stop working altogether. At the heart of the classic American Dream is the source of its power- money. Without this key resource, the American Dream can not be yours. So most of us work and toil day in and day out to amass as much of this magic ingredient as we can. Then we can feed it back into the dream machine and claim our prizes. The more we work, the more money we may get. The more money we get, the more things we can buy. The more we can buy, the closer we are to having the things that make up the American Dream- in whatever shape it takes for us. We measure our worth through wealth; our mastery of the dream by the size of our warchest. We equate happiness to treasure, and never more than when we are surrounded by our material things. We trade relationships for e-lationships. We abandon the real world for reality-based entertainment. We prefer sensation to real feeling. And yet somehow, we never quite reach the dream. It’s always just a little bit farther away than we thought.

And so we keep doing the same things. And so does everyone else. And so the dream continues to wield its silent power, keeping us in line by keeping us reaching.

And mostly, we just go along with things, because that’s just how things are supposed to go. This is how we live, at least most of us do. Those who don’t clearly don’t count anyway, because they aren’t part of or striving for the American Dream. And if you’re not going to have the American Dream, what, really, is the point?






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Congressional Reform Act of (2010)

Received in an e-mail from a friend….not a bad idea really, except for the obvious fact that Congress would have to pass this into law, and there’s only a slightly better than zero chance that any of our career politicians would so willingly make changes that would return our politics and government to the people- they’d miss their corporate overlords way too much!

The Congressional Reform Act would contain 8 provisions, all of which would probably be strongly endorsed by those who drafted our Constitution and Bill of Rights. Congress has the lowest approval rating of any entity in government. I would surely think that the voting public could get their arms around something like this. Something that would create and sustain real change and hope.

Congressional Reform Act of 2010

1. Term Limits: 12 years only, one of the possible options below.

A. Two Six year Senate terms
B. Six Two year House terms
C. One Six year Senate term and three Two Year House terms

        Serving in Congress is an honor, not a career.  The Founding Fathers envisioned citizen legislators, serve your term(s), then go home and back to work.

2.  No Tenure / No Pension:
    A congressman collects a salary while in office and receives no pay when they are out of office. 

    Serving in Congress is an honor, not a career.  The Founding Fathers envisioned citizen legislators, serve your term(s), then go home and back to work.

3.  Congress (past, present & future) participates in Social Security: 
    All funds in the Congressional retirement fund moves to the Social Security system immediately.  All future funds flow into the Social Security system, Congress participates with the American people.

    Serving in Congress is an honor, not a career.  The Founding Fathers envisioned citizen legislators, serve your term(s), then go home and back to work.

4. Congress can purchase their own retirement plan just as all Americans.

    Serving in Congress is an honor, not a career.  The Founding Fathers envisioned citizen legislators, serve your term(s), then go home and back to work.

5. Congress will no longer vote themselves a pay raise.  Congressional pay will rise by the lower of CPI or 3%.

    Serving in Congress is an honor, not a career.  The Founding Fathers envisioned  citizen legislators, serve your term(s), then go home and back to work.

6. Congress looses their current health care system and participates in the same health care system as the American people.

    Serving in Congress is an honor, not a career.  The Founding Fathers envisioned citizen legislators, serve your term(s), then go home and back to work.

 7. Congress must equally abide in all laws they impose on the American people.

    Serving in Congress is an honor, not a career.  The Founding Fathers envisioned citizen legislators, serve your term(s), then go home and back to work.

8. All contracts with past and present congressmen are void effective 1/1/11 . 
    The American people did not make this contract with congressmen, congressmen made all these contracts for themselves.

    Serving in Congress is an honor, not a career.  The Founding Fathers envisioned  citizen legislators, serve your term(s), then go home and back to work. 


Posted in Common Sense, Democracy, Government, Politics, Reform | 35 Comments »

Back From The Darkness of Computer Code Hell

Shortly after my last post in August 2009, this site experienced a disruption in the back end code that sent Common Sense into a tailspin of unreachability. After much patience and the coding talents of my friend (and site designer Anna) this blog is back in business…just in time for a new year!

If there is anyone left out there who actually comes here anymore, be ready…I’m back!

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The Reunion-20 Years Later

Freedom, in the modern American teenager vernacular, came to me 20 years ago. By freedom I mean, of course, high school graduation. Finally, my own man…FOR REAL! Well, at least sort of. I can almost recall the elation at the prospects which lay before me. I had plans…and alternate plans too…one way or another, things were going to be great. 20 years ago….the world was my oyster.

But not just my oyster alone. My friends and classmates were also jumping into the world, each in their own fashion, each in their own direction. Some were headed to college, others to the military. Some, like myself, went right to work in an attempt to support myself while I figured which plan to follow. Looking back on 20 years, I’m sure very few of us kept to the path we so headily envisioned. Life has a way of keeping things interesting.

Almost immediately after attaining freedom things began to go awry. At 18 years old, aspiration and reality are almost always at odds, and reality, unfeeling as a stone in its never ceasing march forward, usually wins out in the end. I never did go to college in Arizona or marry my high school sweetheart or travel around the world. I ‘ve never owned a BMW and I didn’t make a million bucks by the age of 30. I’m not really sure if I ever actually had a path to follow…I sure can’t remember what it looked like if I did. The basic outline above was about as far as I’d figured things…as if envisioning the goal magically made it real. Sweet reality.

My actual journey has actual details, steps along the path from there to here. It is filled with places and things I would never have imagined in those days after receiving my high school diploma. It has been my own adventure through life and it’s been fun. I might have done a thing or two differently. We all would. But here I am, 20 years later, and life is pretty good.

I don’t spend a lot of time looking back. I prefer to live in today, with half an eye on tomorrow. Not that I don’t enjoy some mental reminiscing now and again. It’s just that I don’t spend much time reliving what was already lived. It’s taken me a bit by surprise then to realize that I’m looking forward to doing just that. I’m curious to rekindle some of those ancient friendships and strengthen those that have endured. It’s been 15 years since I was even back in town. Came close 2 years ago, but turned east on the edge of town and never turned back. I’ve seen several of the guys over the years, but many of them not for almost 10. I want to hear about the paths my friends have taken since achieving their freedom, and I want to laugh at the insanity of our shared youth. I want to raise a beer, swing a club, share a photo, eat a pizza….I want to grab a piece of yesterday and hold onto it for just a few hours. And I’m so surprised by this, really surprised.

So off I go, like a time traveler, to a time 20 years removed and a place that holds so much of who I am today. The combination of 20 year old memories paired with 20 years older faces will be interesting, I’m sure. And while we can’t ever really relive our youth, I think that this might be close enough. Because really…who wants to it all over again anyhow?

Posted in Common Sense, General, Life | 1 Comment »

Apparently NOT Too Big To Fail

Back in November, we were told that GM (and Chrysler and Ford) was just TOO BIG to let fail, and as such it was IMPERATIVE that $35 Billion of tax payer money be given to the auto industry or MILLIONS would be instantly out of work, PLUNGING the economy into a spiral death unlike any known before.

So they got the money (OK, not Ford) and LIFE AS WE KNEW IT was saved for another day (or several months at least.) Chrysler used some of that money to pay for a full page newspaper ad in many markets thanking the taxpayers for the bailout money. Talk about stimulus. All those millions of jobs were kept on, workers building cars and trucks at full speed, and facotry orders kept up at usual paces, all because of that generous tax payer funded infusion, right?

WRONG! Not only did that initial tax gift NOT fix the massive problems in the US auto industry, both companies who took the cash are now in BANKRUPTCY. As in FAIL. We’re into GM for upwards of $50 Billion now and lucky us, “we” own 60% of a worthless behomoth. Too big to fail? Apparently NOT.

So now, we’ll surely see even more massive layoffs, since 1 in 10 jobs in this country rely on a strong US auto industry, right? Isn’t that what they told us last fall? Not just auto workers, but parts plants, plastic mills, cloth manufacturers, and down the line?  If financial “armageddon” hasn’t hit us yet, it must be right around the corner, right???

Would we have been better served just giving that $50 Billion to the estimated 1.5 million affected workers to the tune of $32,000 and change and let the auto industry and related industrues just close up shop?

Too Big to fail? When failure is inevitable, as it surely was with GM and Chrysler, what possible good came from prolonging the inevitable and dishing out multiple billions of dollars? Is our economy the better for it? Are those workers?

News of GM going into bankruptcy have indeed begun a “sky is falling” mentality at that bastion of sanity called Wall Street- the market is UP 200+ points.

Who was president when this whole financial disaster really began? Who was making the rules so lax in Congress for the last decade or two? I guess it must all be Obama’s fault.

(cross posted at Bring It On)

Posted in Common Sense, Economy, society | 1 Comment »

The Difference Between Being President and Being Presidential

President Obama spoke this morning to discuss major policy initiatives regarding the handling of terror suspects at Gitmo, national security, and the need for transparency and the rule of law in government. It was a fantastic speech in both content and tenor, fairly discussing the actions and goals of the previous administration and contrasting those with his own administration’s actions and goals in dealing with the same problems. (If you didn’t get to hear it or see it, you can read the full text here.)

Obama rightly debased the rationale of the previous administration for many of the actions they took over the last 8 years, but he did so in a way that was not (to me at least) designed to inflame partisan passions. Rather, he presented this information as a way to cause us to reflect on what America is supposed to be, how it was designed by our framers, and how it can be so easily derailed by weak minded officials faced with problems too big for them to handle and hard nosed ideologues whose only goal is to exert unopposable power without regard to moral and legal right and wrong. Obama also spread the blame for the savage departure from American values and ideals of the last 8 years to all politicians left and right-for the truth of the matter is that we, the American people, were let down on all sides by cowardly politicians and even more cowardly bullies. For 8 years, our elected officials threw out their responsibilities of due diligence and oversight in favor of political posturing. The actions, and inactions, of those who held elective office during the Bush administration and helped create the national nightmare or did nothing to prevent the fall into the abyss, has caused this country great harm both domestically and abroad. The blame is shouldered equally, and recent partisan bickering only further cements this as fact, for those who protest to their own defense most loudly are likely also those whose actions may seem most detestable.

Unfortunately, faced with an uncertain threat, our government made a series of hasty decisions. And I believe that those decisions were motivated by a sincere desire to protect the American people. But I also believe that – too often – our government made decisions based upon fear rather than foresight, and all too often trimmed facts and evidence to fit ideological predispositions. Instead of strategically applying our power and our principles, we too often set those principles aside as luxuries that we could no longer afford. And in this season of fear, too many of us – Democrats and Republicans; politicians, journalists and citizens – fell silent.

In other words, we went off course. And this is not my assessment alone. It was an assessment that was shared by the American people, who nominated candidates for President from both major parties who, despite our many differences, called for a new approach – one that rejected torture, and recognized the imperative of closing the prison at Guantanamo Bay.” (Obama-5-21-09)

Obama has a tough road ahead. Calls from the left scream for investigations and “truth” commissions. Calls from the right demand an “end to persecution.” This balance is hard to manage while retaining the desire to right the wrongs of American governance. But again, Obama takes the right path, for he is the president, not the judge and jury of this nation. While recognizing the wrongs committed in our names, he also understands that to rectify those wrongs requires a return to rationality and legal principals that this country was founded on. It is not for the president to declare guilt or innocence or to demand trials for grevious wrongs done in the name of “freedom.” That is why we have a Justice Department and a court system and a Congress with investigatory powers. By promoting direct legal action, Obama would be unnecessarily politicizing what is in effect a legal matter, albeit one that goes to the heart of what it means to be America.

That is what I mean when I say that we need to focus on the future. I recognize that many still have a strong desire to focus on the past. When it comes to the actions of the last eight years, some Americans are angry; others want to re-fight debates that have been settled, most clearly at the ballot box in November. And I know that these debates lead directly to a call for a fuller accounting, perhaps through an Independent Commission.I have opposed the creation of such a Commission because I believe that our existing democratic institutions are strong enough to deliver accountability. The Congress can review abuses of our values, and there are ongoing inquiries by the Congress into matters like enhanced interrogation techniques. The Department of Justice and our courts can work through and punish any violations of our laws.

I understand that it is no secret that there is a tendency in Washington to spend our time pointing fingers at one another. And our media culture feeds the impulses that lead to a good fight. Nothing will contribute more to that than an extended re-litigation of the last eight years. Already, we have seen how that kind of effort only leads those in Washington to different sides laying blame, and can distract us from focusing our time, our effort, and our politics on the challenges of the future.

We see that, above all, in how the recent debate has been obscured by two opposite and absolutist ends. On one side of the spectrum, there are those who make little allowance for the unique challenges posed by terrorism, and who would almost never put national security over transparency. On the other end of the spectrum, there are those who embrace a view that can be summarized in two words: “anything goes.” Their arguments suggest that the ends of fighting terrorism can be used to justify any means, and that the President should have blanket authority to do whatever he wants – provided that it is a President with whom they agree.

Both sides may be sincere in their views, but neither side is right. The American people are not absolutist, and they don’t elect us to impose a rigid ideology on our problems. They know that we need not sacrifice our security for our values, nor sacrifice our values for our security, so long as we approach difficult questions with honesty, and care, and a dose of common sense. That, after all, is the unique genius of America. That is the challenge laid down by our Constitution. That has been the source of our strength through the ages. That is what makes the United States of America different as a nation.” (Obama 5-21-09)

At the end of the day, it’s not just what he says that marks this president as a class above his predecessor, but the way he says it, and the way he understands his role in American government. Obama embodies the difference between being president and being presidential- a difference as marked as that between being the class leader and the class bully. Perhaps the juxtaposition of these two quotes is the best illustration of all.

“I’m the decider, and I decide what’s best.” George W. Bush

“In our system of checks and balances, someone must always watch over the watchers – especially when it comes to sensitive information.” – Barack Obama

It’s nice to have a real leader back at the helm.

(cross posted at Bring It On!)

Posted in Barack Obama, Democracy, Government, Justice, national security, Politics, Terrorism | No Comments »

Economic Sleight of Hand

So here we are, 6 months after the brink of “financial armageddon,” upwards of $7.5 Trillion-yes trillion with a “T”- promised, printed, and perq-ed away, and what have we gained?

After being told that our major financial institutions and banks were so nearly insolvent that only massive amounts of taxpayer funded infusions could save life as we knew it, we now have the major banks of the country boasting huge quarterly profits-in some cases, record profits.

Either Obama’s economic policies (built on the back of the Bush recovery plan) are as close to a miracle as it comes or something smells rather rotten. If you ask me, its time to put on a gas mask.

How is it that banks who were tens and hundreds of billions of dollars down the rathole such a short time ago can now be running profits? As far as I know, the federal government hasn’t actually taken over any (or at least many) of those toxic assets that start this ship a-sinking. And so far as I’ve been able to ascertain, home foreclosures haven’t come to a screeching halt, meaning those still-on-the-books toxic assets are still as deadly to the bottom line as ever before. With all that bad debt still remaining in the hands of the banks, and with the bail-out money spent gobbling up other troubles banks and funding “legal obligation” bonuses, just where are these record profits coming from?

Welcome to the ongoing world of inverse reality. If this is the beginning of a recovery then I’m the next American Idol.

Truth is truth, and hype is hype. These records profits are no harbinger of golden times around the corner. They are little more than the the same-old, same-old accounting tricks that made Enron a household name. Record profits? Sure, you’ve all jacked up your credit card interest rates and customer fees; you’ve all but stopped lending money to anyone without their own Fort Knox for collateral; but how does that erase the hundreds of billions of dollars of toxic debt you carry on the books? Face it friends…it doesn’t.

Recent changes in the mark to market accounting practices allow these banks to revert to the good old days of relaxed financial standards that made the Bush years such a boon for the shady and the immoral. Under the revised rules, banks can choose to value these bad debts any way they want to. They can pretend that the assets still retain the value they did when originated. To make it more clear, a mortgage held by the bank for $500,000 can still be considered as $500,000 in assets to the bank despite the fact that true market value today could be just half that amount. With such leeway, banks can pretend to be profitable all they want and still be buried under massive as-yet unrealized losses. And the federal government is playing right along.

They say that the key to a strong economy is consumer confidence. Perhaps they mean consumer stupidity. Becasue that “glimmer of hope” that was recently claimed to have been seen may well be little more than cheerleading. And sleight of hand.

Give the Obama administration for credit in trying to get things moving…they at least haven’t been paralyzed like Team Bush seemed to have been. And at least they are putting some restrictions on the money that goes out, instead of the blindfolded hand-out engineered by former Sec. Paulson. But allowing these banks to gloss over the reality of their financial solvency will likely prove to be a mistake, eventually eroding consumer confidence far longer and far more deeply when the piper comes calling again. Better to continue to face the music as we’ve been doing-bad news and all-than to falsely create a sense of improvement where none really exists. Reverting to the old way of faking it until it feels better isn’t exactly what I hoped for from the administration of CHANGE.

Listen, if these gilded reports allow people to keep working, then I guess that’s a good thing. But let’s not kid ourselves so readily. This isn’t the beginning of the recovery. It’s more like taking several steps back. Which means we’ll just have to relive it all again, and on top of the losses we already have and aren’t likely to get back soon enough.

Don’t be lulled. Keep your eye on the ball.


(cross posted at Bring It On!)

Posted in Economy, Life | No Comments »

Pope Tells Africans That Death Is Better Than Condoms

Well, maybe not in those exact words. But in another sign that official Catholicism is more and more irrelevant and out of touch with reality, Pope benedict did tell a group of African bishops that the only proven cure for AIDS is belief in church dogma.

“The traditional teaching of the church has proven to be the only failsafe way to prevent the spread of HIV/Aids.”

Seems to me that perhaps the only better use for a condom (than protecting from AIDS) would be to put one over the Catholic Church to keep all that unseemly religious goo from destroying the hopes and futures of an entire continent.

Stupid. Religious. Insanity.

(cross posted at Bring It On!)


Posted in Common Sense, Health, Religion, Sex, World News | 5 Comments »

California Passes Nation’s Biggest Tax Increase

California politicians are stupid. Faced with a budget deficit of their own making, rather than make across the board cuts and put a halt on excessive (and in many cases unscrupulous) spending programs, California legislators of both parties have agreed on a massive tax hike to help overcome a $40 billion budget shortfall.

Led by legislative Demcrats, the budget includes what they are calling “$15 billion in permanent spending cuts, $12.8 billion in temporary tax increases and $11.4 billion in borrowing.”  But most of it is just legislative double-speak and it amounts to a travesty for Californians. The $15 billion in permanent spending cuts included several billion dollars worth of “automatic” spending increases that now won’t happen. But that’s not really a cut, since these “increases” don’t represent real dollars already spent. Not real program cuts at all, just keeping the automatic increases from happening this year.

The $12.8 billion in “temporary” tax hikes also are a farce, espepcially since taxes rarely get reversed. The deal between Democrats and Republicans calls for a ballot initiative to allow voters to institute a spending cap, but if voters do approve it, then the “temporary” taxes automatically last for 5 years. These taxes include increases in sales tax, car tax, and income tax.

Oh, let’s not forget too that they are still needing to borrow money to make up the budget shortfall. How does more borrowing fix anything? It doesn’t…it just passes the buck down the line for others to deal with.

I’ve grown used to the California Democratic party being a shill for the public employee unions who are more concerned with their own members and getting more and more money than the general public at large. But the California Republicans just ran on a “no new taxes” pledge to get elected in November, and with their capitulation are clearly stabbing their base in the back.

California legislators have a long history of overspending, buckling to state employee unions in boon times, and creating unnecessary government programs and policies to employ former legislators. A state garbage board meets regularly, pulls in 6-figure incomes for board members (who are political favor takers) and does little to make life better for Californians. This is but one example.

California’s prison system costs twice or three times what most other state systems spend, yet they are squallor filled breeding grounds of violence and sickness. The problem? The promised salary increases and exorbitant pensions given out to the union guards at the expense of real reform and proper care.

The list could go on and on and on, but the fact is that California is governed by idiots who care nothing for their constituents and everything for their political donors and benefactors.

It’s no surprise to see that the number of non-illegal citizens leaving California is greater than those coming in to the state. No more California dreamin’ for some time I think.

In the economic disaster that grips the nation and the world, most economists say that raising taxes is counter-productive to recovery efforts. In the power halls of California, raising taxes is the first priority to managing a mismanaged governmental budget.

That’s not leadership. Too bad so many Californians aren’t paying attention.

(cross posted at Bring It On)

Posted in Economy, Government, Politics, taxes | 3 Comments »

150 Years Later, Public Acceptance of Evolution in U.S. Still Struggles

150 years ago, Charles Darwin put forth the theory of evolution based on natural selection. Layers and layers of scientific evidence have since proven many of his theories to have merit and evolution is mostly accepted as fact by the scientific community. But what about the general public?

The last major public survey I could find was a Gallup Poll from 2005. In this poll of 34 (mostly western) countries, the United States ranks second to last in public acceptance, right before Turkey ( a mostly Muslim nation.)

So in the U.S., only about 40% think that evolution is true, while nearly 60% say it is either false or they aren’t sure if it is true. Interesting…especially when we consider ourselves to be an educated, first world country.

For comparison, here are some Muslim opinions.

So…was Darwin right? Or is the Earth just a few thousand years old, with all species being independently created by a master planner?

In 2008, Gallup did a national poll to find out where the most religious areas of America are. The northwest corner of the country (where I hail from) is among the least religious part of the country. Can you guess which camp I sit in? Let’s just say I’m not waiting for the rapture….

(cross posted at Bring It On!)

Posted in Common Sense, education, Religion, Science | 8 Comments »