I remember the first time I felt like I was rich.

Standing in the check out line at the grocery store I realized I hadn’t mentally added everything up to make sure I stayed on budget, I just put what I wanted in the cart willy-nilly.

And I was shopping at Heinen’s, a “more expensive” Cleveland grocery that met a lot of our vegetarian needs cheaper than Whole Foods.

Heinen’s was the store my husband grew up with but I struggled with shopping there because they have a policy that you leave your cart in the store, take a number, and then drive up and they put your groceries in the car for you.

I’m sure this keeps the carts in good shape, helps the parking lot be less insane, and makes the elderly, infirm, pregnant and exhausted feel grateful, but I was none of those things.

I couldn’t wrap my mind around it and so I would carry all the bags to my car in one awkward, often painful trip to avoid making the workers wait on me.  

I carried my own bags for years from some misguided idea about solidarity mixed with guilt over being able to afford shop there in the first place. 

Over time I came to notice and understand my visceral reactions that make me feel “rich” or “poor”.

Wealth is relative and external comparisons are imprecise at best. I’ve written before about how comparisons are usually rigged to make us feel either inferior or superior, but feeling rich is different somehow.  

I am still frugal in a lot of ways and can pinch a penny until it pinches back, but buying whatever food I want still feels indulgent. It’s not like I’m buying caviar, truffles and $50 bottles of wine, rather it is the sensation of being able to choose food without restraint.

I feel rich, and privileged and happy walking through a farmers market knowing I can buy things because they are beautiful.

I fall in love with peppers and leeks and fresh dug carrots. I can spend an excessive amount of time choosing from 7 kinds of lettuces and heirloom tomatoes. I want the eggs from the organic, patchouli-smelling hippy that puts out pictures of his happy chickens, and olives from the man who spends 6 months of each year in Greece on his family farm. I want to sample and buy the expensive cheeses from the tiny boutique creamery run by two sisters.

Unfortunately my bougie love of shopping for food that inspires me has been completely wiped out during the COVID-19 safety measures. And thats more than ok, its outstanding. I would eat only frozen vegetables 😦 for the rest of my life if it meant no one else died from the virus. 

And I know how rich I am because I can stay home.

Now, as we continue to struggle with adapting to a reality shaped by SARS-CoV-2 (it’s real name by the way), I see more and more people expressing gratitude for health care workers and deep appreciation for the wage workers who keep the groceries running and deliver the take-out. 

It makes me hopeful that we will soon have open discussions about the historic and current systems that perpetuate marginalization, oppression and gross inequity in one of the wealthiest countries in the world. 

And I continue to wrestle with the ways that I want to communicate about these tough topics when folks are under profound levels of stress. Maybe that makes it an even better time?

Meanwhile, I stay home and walk around my neighborhood – masked and very distant! – taking pictures of whatever is in bloom to share with friends on Instagram, and remind myself there are many ways to feel rich.

 

Been thinking a lot about obligations lately. What you owe to colleagues, family, friends, society – why and how the calculations are made. Fortunately, when I get caught in a very sticky problem I have a hierarchy of defense mechanisms that kick in:

  • Invariably I start by talking it out. Haven’t met a problem yet I couldn’t talk to death.
  • If/when rigor mortis fails to set in (some problems are zombies),  I start researching. Surely someone somewhere has done a meta analysis of all the research and possible solutions. Which I can then adopt.
  • If the problem refuses to yield to the sheer weight of expert opinion, I then try to translate it into a formula in the hopes of discovering rules. The formula stage is usually evidence that the problem is either long-term or I truly have no clue.

Currently, I’m working on a formula for “Obligations”.

Everyone has some version of the “me & mine” mindset that would kick in during times of natural disaster, revolution, or Armageddon, but other assorted obligations shift and change over time.

Some of these obligations are steel cables from the past, subterranean and invisible until some event pulls them taut. And that is the formula I can’t quite work out. How much does the past obligate me in the present?

I have managed to climb very far from where I started in life. Some family & friends who were there with me have not. Calls from that past come more infrequently now but the steel cable of obligation reels me in so quickly its staggering.

Some twisted sense of survivors guilt, plus my mother’s catholic (guilt) training, makes saying no almost an impossibility.  Someone else always has it worse. Your success means you share and help.

Thankfully my long-suffering and understanding husband has a more realistic perspective that keeps me from going into debt to float people as I have in the past.

It’s hard to be on either end of that cable.

I usually have an image  or song at the end of my posts, and I was tempted to put a photo of Richard Harris from his famous scene in “A Man Called Horse”, but that’s a bit dark even for me. So instead I leave you with 3 minutes and 30 seconds bittersweet by an under appreciated and brilliant artist you should check out if this is the only song of his you are familiar with.

bittersweetpic2
As bittersweet vines grow, they will tend to strangle whatever they are climbing on. It is extremely aggressive, often growing sixty feet or more in a single season, and spreads rapidly from any bit of root or stem severed from the plant so removal by pulling is nearly impossible. All parts of the plant are considered poisonous.

 

There has been a lot of discussion lately about poverty in the US both because of the 50th anniversary of LBJ’s War on Poverty, and the proposed extension of federal unemployment benefits. An unfortunate amount of the analysis centers around why LBJ’s war failed, and stresses and how social programs like welfare and unemployment benefits cripple a persons natural drive to succeed.

At the heart of the belief that handouts hurt is the old “bootstrapping” narrative. The rags to riches, work hard and pull yourself up by the bootstraps, anyone can be a Rockefeller stuff of American legend.

This kind of twisted, blame the victim argument really gets under my skin. Not only is it not logical – by the rules of logic not just my opinion – but it is also usually spouted by millionaires. In this case millionaire politicians  – 1% of Americans are millionaires, but more than 50% of Congress are. Go figure.

I find myself irritated by all the talk about poverty and no talk about poor people. I’ve seen working class, lower-middle class and the working poor all used to describe the same income brackets. That would seem to indicate that there is still a stigma to being called poor.  Of course stigma is minimized if you are “hard-working”, “upstanding”, “church-going” , or other kinds of credit-to-your-station adjectives.

Maybe referring to poor people as the Un-Wealthy would be more in line with current attitudes. Or better yet Pre-Wealthy so we can still incorporate the idea that just a little more effort on their part will propel them to the promised land of the middle class.

As the Senate debated the extension of unemployment benefits the people affected become in Janice Yellen’s words “less employable”.  Talk about a downward spiral.

Studies are showing that the longer you are unemployed the less likely you are to actually get a job. Not having a job is being used as criteria to screen applicants. And its legal for hiring managers to do so. If you don’t have a job there must be something wrong with you so why would we hire you? What part of that is being lazy, unmotivated or entitled?

While the unemployment extension bill is not 100% dead yet it is certainly on life support. Maybe 6 or 7 of those wealthy GOP senators will be persuaded over the weekend to stand up for the un-wealthy. It’s not too late for me to suck up to Rob Portman is it?

A logic refresher since I promised myself I wasn’t going to rant about bad reasoning. Today.

Aristotle-logic-figure-1

We bought a couch the other day. My husband and I went to a furniture store and left after we had purchased a couch rather than before. It’s not as if we had never shopped for a couch before, this was just the first time we made it to the buying.

We had a marginally acceptable apartment size couch we got off Craigslist for $50 as a temporary fix when we found ourselves without a couch.  A stop-gap until we could buy a “real couch” by which I mean a couch that more than two people could sit on at one time.

That was nine years ago.

The couch was upholstered in an unfortunate shade of electric blue by someone with intermediate rather than expert skills, so the cushion didn’t fit properly and the upholstery tacks were the wrong size & style. No matter I am a wiz at slipcovers so I made it work. Then the slipcover started tearing because the material had worn thin. Yes it was the same slipcover for nine years. So I made do with a twin sheet over the cushion, and it was still serviceable.

Anyone who is or has been married knows compromise is the name of the game. For nine years my husband and I could not compromise and agree on a couch. Style, cost, color, size, fabric – there was no middle ground. When we went shopping this last time we had reached the same impasse when suddenly we found something that looked nice (my requirement), felt comfy (his requirement), had enough space for us both to read on, (mutual requirement), and it was on deep discount sale.

When we agreed this was the one, my husband grabbed the saleslady and purchased it immediately before either of us could change our minds. Magically, when it arrived we had not deceived ourselves and it was everything we had wanted. Most importantly the style fit the rest of the house so I didn’t have a domino of “now I have to upgrade the …”.

Like I said – A Very Big Deal.

Maybe now we are ready to pick out a china pattern. The stop-gap for that (17 years ago) was plain white plates…

couch

School funding in my state is a giant, tangled unconstitutional mess in which our state legislature is currently wading. Their actions will reverberate for many years to come as they have during the previous 30+ years of trying to establish a constitutional state funding plan.

Their nonsense is already felt in my district which is cutting 34 positions to compensate for the reductions, that even the levy that passed during a recession cannot offset. The current funding formula is a somewhat fuzzy (to me) calculation based on local property taxes + a base per student rate that the state awards, plus an increase cap, which boils down to rich districts getting more money per student, and poor districts getting less and less and less as the residents flee because of poor schools.

This is a really tricky topic with strong feelings even if we leave the money out of it. Everyone wants their kids to go to a good school with engaged teachers and extra opportunities. Some people can afford to move to a community where this is guaranteed, some pay for private schools and some try to make their neighborhood school better because that’s all there is. In many ways it becomes an issue of privilege.

Studies show that the education level of the parents is a consistent predictor of the child’s school performance. Unstated is that the education level of the parent can also predict income level which allows the school district to be chosen rather than dictated by circumstance.

Our district is a mixed socio-economic area which means lots of well-educated wealthy people send their kids to private schools, middle-class folks who make sure their kids take AP & Honors classes, and parents who rent here because it has the best public school they can afford. Then there are the handful of wealthy, well-educated parents who send their kids to public school as a statement. We all do what we think is right no matter what it looks like from the outside.

I am really torn about some of these issues.

On the one hand, if we had the money, I would probably enroll my daughter in one of the nearby private schools because its the kind of opportunity I wished I’d had. On the other hand, I went to inner city schools in a district with the nations 3rd highest drop out rate, during mandatory desegregation and busing, and still managed to get myself over-educated and end up in the suburbs.  Then I think about children in third-world countries so desperate for schooling they share a stick to do sums in the dirt, (dangerously close to my mother’s “some people don’t have any legs” here), and wonder if what we should be worrying about is motivation.

I have very little faith that our GOP dominated state legislature will find a way to be nurturing, kind or fair in their school funding budget, let alone constitutional, as we are talking about 1) money and, 2) people who think poverty is a character flaw.

Out of sight out of mind is apparently a bona fide political strategy. Schools out next Thursday, so that means we can forget all about school funding until August rolls around and we see the class sizes and lack of extra curriculars. 

I am just poking my head up after a 4-hour trip down the rabbit hole of Internet research. In the midst of writing a paper (that I don’t feel like working on right now) I made the mistake of trying to locate a fact rather than leaving my usual lacuna [need info here].

[need info here] is my way of continuing to write rather than stopping to edit. Today I stopped to edit. The info I needed was the amount of federal money spent on a particular program from 2001 – 2012. The problem was that in our click-able world I ended up reading 2013 Agency Budget Requests to Congress instead of finding the information I was after.

As I am sure you know the 2013 budget, written by the POTUS in February 2012 for approval in October 2012, is still languishing on the edge of a cliff. The 2014 budget may actually reach Congress before the 2013 one is settled. Or maybe there is some archaic rule that will keep that from happening.

The piece of the pie that interests me in my work sits in the “Remaining Programs” slice, the 2% allocation to Science and Medical Research to be specific. Of that 2% the agency I write grants to gets 21%. From the 21% my program area gets (hopefully) $17 million in 2013, down from $23 million in 2009. In my world that means two fewer $750K projects funded every year.

The looming 10% sequestration cuts figure very large in my world.And now they are threatening temporary sequestration cuts whatever that means. More game playing with peoples lives.

Maybe that’s why writing the paper, that will help prove the value of the work, so the funding to continue can be secured, doesn’t feel so pressing. It can all be undermined by a bunch of clowns throwing pies.

Every year around this time I feel compelled to inventory and “use up” overstocked items in my house. I’m not sure how I end up with four different moisturizers with a 1/4 inch left, or three different kinds of aluminum foil, but the end of the year seems a good time to use one thing until its gone and make some room in the cupboard, medicine chest or linen closet.

This happens in the frig too, mainly with condiments. I think right now there are six different Asian sauces, five kinds of mustard, four salad dressings, three kinds of horseradish (ghosts of passover past), two kinds of ketchup …and a partridge in a pear tree.

If I trace it back my urge to purge started when my mom died in 2001 and I had to sort out her house. Always a bargain shopper I knew she “stocked” certain items, but the reality of dozens of tubes of toothpaste, cases of toilet paper and cans of pie filling that expired in 1982 was disturbing. I could almost understand the fact that she had saved every ATM receipt since they were invented, but looking at the amount of money she spent on bargains made me think a Just In Time buying strategy made more sense and I cut down on my own “stocking up cuz its on sale”. I also purged many, many papers from my own house that I’d been holding on to for no good reason.

A few years later I was doing laundry in my mother-in-law’s house (a much longer story there) and went to get Bounce out of her cupboard and discovered a jumble of products. So I started sorting & stacking. I’m a sorter. I know its a problem, but disorganized cupboards & refrigerators make me anxious. I literally put items in the same place in the frig (and force my family to as well) so that I know exactly where the sour cream would be if we had any. Middle shelf left.

Anyway, I start pulling things out of my MIL’s cupboard and by the time I am done I discover she has something like 20 cartons of wax paper, and a dozen rolls of foil along with many, many boxes of baggies, ziplock and the Bounce I was after in the first place. This was the wake up that made me start using up and reviewing what I already have in the house every year. Refraining from purchases until we actually need something, despite the siren call of the half-off coupon.

I’m hopeful, as I determinedly use up the body wash that was a little too sweet, that President Obama and Speaker Boehner are doing the same thing. A practical review of what we have and what we need. I am getting behind the analysis that no news is good news with respect to the silence about how the negotiations are going. There is a nearly infinite number of combinations of budget cuts, tax increases and tax “loophole” reforms that they can choose from. A veritable smorgasbord of ways to compromise and piss everyone off.

I was thinking about possible compromises they might be talking about. Maybe they’re considering cutting the $188 million a year dedicated to military music, or the $80 million a year for sport sponsorships for “recruiting” efforts. I bet boots on the street recruit more desperate high school seniors than NASCAR ads. Just a guess. Maybe if Boehner is motivated enough to keep the Lockheed-Martin F-22 fighter jet in production, despite the fact that its never worked properly, he might throw the bands under the bus, or into the NASCAR crash wall.

Or Obama could agree to raise the Social Security and/or Medicare eligibility. That would hurt the 95% the most, but maybe theres an assisted suicide amendment they could tuck in so the the old, ill poor can legally exit. They could call it Self-Deportation to Heaven. Might catch on if a major multi-national got behind it as a “green” initiative – Soylent Green Heavenly Foods, Inc.

As I finish my household inventory I wouldn’t be surprised if the federal inventory being conducted on the cliff results in tax increases with a higher threshold (I’m thinking $500,000 will go down easier than $250), a few tax loop holes closing (mortgage interest deduction restricted to one property), and an increase in medicare eligibility with a higher co-pay for high-income seniors. However it ends up, I think the federal government should be going through their cupboards every year to determine what is needed rather than just reflexively buying or cutting out of habit.

Tis the season to think about money. With the fiscal cliff and the holiday shopping ads competing for attention, I keep asking myself “How much money is enough?” It seems most people wish they had “just a little bit more money” irrespective of wants or needs. Is that the threshold I wonder, being able to buy or do anything you want no matter the cost? Warren Buffett can do that and he eats at McDonalds everyday.

If you are a member of the 1% what do you do with all that money? Buy more houses? Go more places? Give it away through charitable contributions? If you have that tremendous level of wealth, why shelter and protect it from taxes so you can have more? It really doesn’t make sense to me. Much of debate around taxes baffles me but nothing more than Grover Norquist and The Pledge.

Norquist is a lobbyist who, anointed by Newt Gingrich back in the 90’s, has helped orchestrate the GOP march to crazy town with his Taxpayer Protection Pledge. Year after year Republican politicians signed it promising to “oppose any and all efforts to increase the marginal income tax rate for individuals and business; and to oppose any net reduction or elimination of deductions and credits, unless matched dollar for dollar by further reducing tax rates.” No rational discussion, no compromise, just no. Sound like the 111th and 112th Congress to anyone else?

I am heartened to see that fewer GOP lawmakers have signed his pledge this year as we face the fiscal cliff. If they’d found their spines last year the Super Committee might have worked. But still, the stranglehold of conservative “values”, “smaller government” and “bigger military” might be loosen a bit. In return, Norquist will attack republicans who break his pledge as he protects the “special interests” of the individuals and corporations who fund his lobbying. What a system.

I still haven’t figured out the magic number is – how much money would make me feel like I didn’t have worry about money, I could do what I want, that I’m rich. I can only conceptualize it as chunks at the moment. Things like – a new car every 8 years or so, my daughters college education, travel vacations, upgrades to our house (my kitchen is a makeover shows wet dream.) Nothing extravagant but hard to quantify because I suspect that once the kitchen is fixed, I’d want a soaking tub in the attic, then replacement windows, and new landscaping…

So the number would keep changing.

Maybe I should just buy a Powerball ticket. And if I win the $360 million jackpot I wouldn’t begrudge the feds their $90 million, or the state their $21, because there would still be an insane amount of money left. Is $250 million (~Romney’s net worth) my magic number? Lets find out.

As many people do we went around the table on Thanksgiving and everyone shared something they were thankful for.

There was a general consensus about being thankful for family, friends and health as we took turns, and then the kids start getting very specific with things like “Cows, because I like cheese”. The adults mentioned Obama’s election, ACA, Elizabeth Warren, Sherrod Brown and Tammy Baldwin among other things esoteric and mundane. When it was my turn, the first time before everyone started having fun with it, I said I was thankful for abundance.

Sitting around the table that night were adults who all had well paying jobs, two cars, big houses filled with electronics, warm clothes and all the food we could eat. That is abundance any place in the world.  

I remember the first time I realized I was not poor. I got into my car after grocery shopping and couldn’t remember how much I had just spent. I swiped my card, money was being debited, and I didn’t know exactly how much. I had only just recently gotten over my embarrassment at the parcel service, which is mandatory at this grocery, and stopped trying to carry all my bags to the car just to avoid having the high school kid wait on me.

I thought of this as I shopped at Whole Foods for expensive (worth every penny) goat cheese and fancy olives Thanksgiving day. What made me feel “not poor” then and now was the act of buying what I wanted at the grocery, rather than only what I could afford. I don’t use a calculator while I shop (my sister still does) and have a very loose food budget that accomadates organic produce and whims like fancy cheese. 

I say “not poor” rather than rich because its all relative. My husband and I have been middle class for more than 15 years now if you use the definition of “middle class” as those making anything from $30,000 – $250,000 a year. We are by no stretch of the imagination “rich”. On the other hand, while sorting my mothers papers after she died I discovered that my father’s highest salary was $35,000 in 1992, the year that he died. Using the inflation calculator that would be worth roughly $18,000 today. So by that standard, we are rich indeed.

Rich and poor are such interesting words. When I was truly poor as a kid I had no idea because everyone around me was too. Now that I am no longer in that category it gets kinda fuzzy. Richer than some, poorer than others, I still worry about money, cut corners, clip coupons and try to appease the warring factions in my head. The urge to share, treat and give gifts because I can is deeply ingrained.

Something that people who have grown up middle class or above sometimes don’t know is that most poor people, or I should say the ones I grew up with, are very generous with what they do have. They put money in the Sally Army kettle, give a stranger a cigarette and let people crash on their couch. Someones always got it worse. I’ve joked about my mother and her “Some people don’t have any legs” riff, but at its core its true.

Whatever your circumstances there is something to be grateful for. We live our lives in abundance.

I freaked my husband out this morning.

I told him that my father refused to fill out the FAFSA for me when I wanted to attend college. In case you have not reached that point in your life yet, the FAFSA‘s the very long and intrusive document you complete to see if you qualify for student aid, scholarships and work study. Its income based and counts all sorts of parental assets.

The topic came up because the man of the moment, Mitt Romney, had remarked last March that if students couldn’t afford college they should “borrow money from their parents”. If this doesn’t officially qualify as Romney’s “let them eat cake” comment I can’t imagine what will. Obama correctly pointed out that not everyone has parents that can give them a loan for college.

Mitt’s parents paid for his college but not his living expenses. His hard work/hard luck story is that he and Ann lived by selling off stock that his dad bought him with his birthday money each year. They were frugal and had to suffer bad furniture. That is so very different than the consequences from reducing the amount, number and eligibility for Pell grants given to low income students and raising the interest rates for all other student loans.

My parents didn’t get into all that student loan stuff when I graduated from high school. They didn’t help me pick out colleges nor did they fill out applications. If I was going to college, which they fully expected, I had to figure it out myself and pay for it myself. My dad had a kind of queasy feeling about the federal government.

The feds obviously had his social security number and DOB and so forth because he was in the Air Force and the Army, and he paid his taxes, but he really didn’t hold with giving them any information that wasn’t required, and the FAFSA wasn’t required. My eldest brother also refused to fill out the FAFSA for his daughter but his only excuse is that he is an idiot.

I can kind of understand my fathers position, it probably stemmed from his upbringing in rural Pennsylvania. Family lore was that his beloved grandmother (for whom I am named) was a bootlegger during prohibition. That’s just one reason to be wary of the federal man.

My larger point is that as queasy as one might be with federal governments involvement in day to day life there are sound reasons why this is preferred over the Ayn Rand/Every Capitalist for Himself system. My parents tax return probably would have qualified me for those Pell grants that Republicans insist are the very milk that addicts you to the government teat, so really, they did me a favor. 

I don’t know what the qualifications were in 1983 but the ones that send R&R into fits are a family of 4 has to make $30k or less in order to qualify for ~$4,900, the student has to attend full time at a 4 year college and you can’t use funding for summer classes (which are shorter and cheaper). Why cancel funding to a program that excludes so many already?

The problem is the recession and lack of low-middle wage jobs. Because laid off/downsized workers need training and retraining to qualify for the jobs that remain in the US, people need to go to college. In 2006, 5.2 million low income students qualified for Pell grants and went to college. In 2010 that ballooned to 9 million. You see why R&R have to cut this off right now?

Those folks need to ask their parents for a loan to go to college not the government. Or maybe they could ask some republicans with off-shore accounts and foriegn corporation addresses (Eaton anyone?) to consider manufacturing in the US and paying their actual taxes.

Just a thought.

Had an interesting conversation yesterday with someone I don’t know very well. This woman was coming to me for advice on a sticky situation and so spent some time defining herself and giving me a thumbnail of her personal narrative.

This is always fascinating.

I have a habit of sliding into a meta analysis of what and why people reveal certain kinds of things in conversation. Probably should have trained as a therapist or done less Lit Crit in college. It is also a trick I used to use at parties when I wanted someone to go away:

Them: “What do you do?”
Me: ‘I study feminist epistemology as it intersects with ancient Greek philosophy.’   Them:  “I need to freshen my drink – can I get you anything?”

Works every time.

So a key part of this woman’s narrative was how she came from money on the Upper east side of New York and rejected her WASP roots by converting to Catholicism and joining Catholic Worker. Both the action and the telling of it spoke volumes. Because I have run around the edges of the lunatic fringe I knew all about Dorothy Day and understood what the woman was trying to convey about her perspective on the world. Serving the poor and oppressed is how she defined herself.

She was both surprised and delighted that I was familiar with Catholic Worker which also told me, a) what opinions she had formed about me and, b) that she generally expected this to be “outsider territory”. I refrained from sharing my rejection of Catholicism and embracing of Atheism as this wasn’t about my belief system.

The part I don’t get – and its not the first time this has come up – is rejecting inherited money in order to stand in solidarity with the poor. I am not attacking her choice, but having been poor and knowing poor people, I am flabbergasted when I hear something like this. The person seems to expect to be congratulated because of their sacrifice for solidarity.

Every poor person I have ever known would love to get out of poverty, the bad neighborhood, the deadend jobs, and here is someone who had all that and rejected it. Makes no sense to me. Why not stay rich and use your money for good? No one needs to know you can write big fat checks, you can be an anonymous donor and still serve soup at the shelter.

This idea that poverty is somehow noble, or poor people have such dignity because of adversity, smacks of objectification if you ask me. I am not implying she has no true regard for poor people or that she is faking her commitment to social justice, but I do wonder if her act of rejecting her wealth planted a corrupting seed of self-righteousness.

Like I said, I find it fascinating to consider what people tell you and what they leave out.

It might be useful for folks to remember that the moral high ground doesn’t come equipped with safety rails or any other protections. Those cost extra.

I could have just as easily called this post “Doublespeak” or “Having your cake and eating it too”, but I am too irritated to be literary or historical right now.

I was listening a report on the Massey Big Branch mine settlement and a US Attorney said “Its a corporation. It’s not a life, it’s not a being. It can’t go to jail”.

I beg to differ. Corporations are just people you can’t touch.

Corporate Personhood has been a legal status for a long time in the US and the definition was stretched last year by the Supreme Court to show that corporate political donations are protected free speech (see First Amendment, Bill of Rights). The same free speech the West Virgina miners had access to before they died.

So which is it? Is the corporation a person with rights and protections, or an amorphous “thing” that can’t be punished. I am not a lawyer, nor do I play one on TV, but I can appreciate Justice Stevens dissent on the ruling that fertilized the seed that turned into the Occupy Movement. Thats campaign finance reform in case the last sentence was too obtuse.

“At bottom, the Court’s opinion is thus a rejection of the common sense of the American people, who have recognized a need to prevent corporations from undermining self government since the founding, and who have fought against the distinctive corrupting potential of corporate electioneering since the days of Theodore Roosevelt. It is a strange time to repudiate that common sense. While American democracy is imperfect, few outside the majority of this Court would have thought its flaws included a dearth of corporate money in politics.” (Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, 558)

There is no amount of money that will satisfy the families of the dead miners. Corporations think in dollars, so Massey skimped on safety, people died and they pay a fine. That’s no kind of justice.

It is a strange time indeed.

Every day I treat myself to a 5-minute fantasy.

I get two emails a day to remind me to enter a drawing to win a kitchen makeover. Every day I enter both contests and imagine for a moment that I have won. Its like playing the lottery – half the fun is in imagining what you would do with the money.

My kitchen is perfectly serviceable and I should not complain (some people don’t have kitchens to paraphrase my mother), but I still do. The space is a bizarre set up resulting from a series of “do-it-your-selfers” who were actually “don’t-know-what-we-are-doing-ers”. I would have to post pictures for anyone to understand the oddness of the arrangement.

With one 2-foot square workspace and a stove that is around the corner from the sink and refrigerator, we make it work. My fantasies are all about architects, new wiring and enough cupboards. None of this sub-zero, Viking, granite counter stuff. I would be perfectly happy with Ikea!

That’s another reason why I think I should win the kitchen makeover contest. I would be prudent and frugal and stay within my budget. Aren’t there supposed to be rewards for good behavior?

I will let you know on December 31st if I am “The Lucky Winner!” and until then I will indulge in my five minutes of fantasy every day.

People in the media (and in general conversation) keep yapping that they don’t know what the Occupy Wall Street folks want, ‘their demands are not clear’, ‘they have no agenda’, blah, blah and blah. I think their central premise is pretty clear and getting clearer every day.

Through social media, among other sources, increasing numbers of people are becoming aware that big business in the USA is more like the Russian oligarchy than anything that Carnegie or Rockefeller would even recognize. Maybe the OWS folks should resurrect the term “Robber baron” to make their point easier.

Because of the OWS protests people are paying attention to income disparity (even if they think its your own damn fault) and learning about the monumental influence of business on our government.

And because almost anyone can afford a phone with a text plan, information is harder to suppress and manipulate. Be a rebel – get a Twitter account.

A piece of news I hope goes viral is information about the banks – Wall Street Banks Earned Billions In Profits Off $7.7 Trillion In Secret Fed Loans Made During The Financial Crisis – that I consider scandalous in the full 19th century sense of the word.

We use words like outrage and disgrace all the time so even though they are exact descriptors of the reaction the bank scandal should evoke, I suspect we need something stronger.

Revolution

I was about to title this post “A Visit from the Closet Fairy” but thought that might be misleading.

The Closet Fairy you see is not someone who is LGBT in hiding, it is one of the “Small Gods” (a la Terry Pratchett) that bestows gifts twice a year to frugal and thrifty women who shop end-of-season sales.

I lead a bi-polar shopping life swinging wildly between being cheap and buying expensive. I once visited a pair of $100+ shoes at Nordstrom over several months waiting for the magic moment when they would be marked down. Even a little bit. Or earn double-rewards points or some such thing that might justify the purchase. Wait and see is a gamble for me because I wear a size 10 shoe. Manufacturers make a small number of shoes at the ends of the size curve where I live. Sizes 6, 7, and 8 rule the world. I did manage to snag those particular shoes on sale. I remember my mother-in-law was with me that day and was shocked at the price. Please. They were marked down.

My recent visit by the Closet Fairy happened one evening when we were minutes from leaving the house, my husband completely dressed and jangling the car keys in a not-so-subtle reminder that the clock was ticking, and I went back to my closet and said ‘I just need a light jacket or blazer so I don’t have to wear a coat’ – and behold.

My hand reached out and touched a lightweight blazer. Gray, casual for wearing with jeans. Tags still on. Marked down.

I swear I looked in that closet a dozen times earlier that day and the blazer wasn’t there. And then it was. The Closet Fairy rewarding the frugal, thrifty and desperate.

I have to remember to fulfill my seasonal religious obligations at the after-Christmas sales.