Tuesday, November 15, 2011

You're Not Rich. You're Not Special. You're Not the 1% (And OWS is fighting for you!)

I am amazed at the hostility to OWS by people who were not even directly affected by it (say by having to fight the crowds to walk to work in the morning).  What do you think these people are protesting?  I suppose you don't know, because the media are telling you the message is garbled and  unfocused sounding.  No, these were not all lazy unemployed hippies, socialists, students, or terrorists.  They were Americans, just like you, who understand that things have become so rigged in this country that only a handful of citizens are benefitting.  We have returned to the Gilded Age - the age of the Robber Baron - and if you are fuzzy about history, the Gilded Age ended with the Great Depression. 

How is it that so many Americans have been convinced to vote against their own interests?  Why are we so convinced that reasonable regulations, ones that have been in place for decades and still allowed people to become very rich, are somehow tantamount to Soviet Russia?  Why are we so convinced that every tax dollar we pay is somehow going into the hands of the undeserving?  Why do we think that the very people who are going out of their way to eliminate their work forces in the US "job creators"? 

It's because the government tells us it's so.  It is because the media tell us so.  The government has been bought by the biggest corporations in the country.  The media have been bought by the biggest corporations in this country.  We have only a handful of companies controlling our message and they're not serving the people anymore.  The Fourth Estate is gone.

This is the Great Myth of The American Taxpayer.  The middle class, the hardest workers, the most deserving people, are being over taxed.  Every tax dollar they pay is going straight into the hands of lazy people who don't want to work.   It's going into the hands of illegal immigrants.  It's going to fund immoral programs.  Taxes are an evil entity that do nothing but reward laziness.

I won't argue that the middle class is overtaxed, but I will argue that it's not because it's there to hand out money to the undeserving.  The middle class (and upper middle class and lower upper class) are being over taxed in order to make sure the most powerful people in the country never have to pay a dime.  The middle class isn't just supporting the poor.  They're supporting the infrastructure, the military, the local services, and the schools.  They're supporting all of the services that every one of us is likely to use or need at some point in our lives.  They're supporting many of the same services that the upper classes will need and use, but won't pay for.

"But I work hard for my money," you whine.  Many Americans work hard for their money.  We have this belief in this country that if you work hard, you are automatically rewarded.  It's the whole Protestant Work Ethic myth.  God rewards hard work, so if you are rich, you are blessed and holy.  Yet there are people who are working hard - really hard - probably harder than any corporate fat cat - at multiple jobs - and still need social services.  What is wrong with this picture?

So you work hard and don't think you should be taxed too heavily, but you think that burden shouldn't go to the wealthiest.  After all, you're wealthy, right?  You are successful.  You have your McMansion and your fancy suburban assault vehicle.  You take nice vacations and dine out often.  You have made it.  You worked hard and you deserve it and no one is going to make you pay a penny more than you should.  To say that the rich need to pay their taxes means that you will have what you deserve taken away from you.

I'm here to say, no it doesn't.

Are you a succesful skilled trained professional, such as a doctor, lawyer, or tradesman?  You're not the 1%

Do you own a successful small business like a well-known retail store (but not a retail chain giant), an ad agency, an independent real estate agency, an investment advisory firm, a contracting business?  You're not the 1%

Are you a successful member of middle management or a top sales person or broker at a Fortune 500 company?  You're still not the 1%

Are you a bankable Hollywood movie actor or star athlete?  Believe it or not, you're not the 1% - even if you are an elitist liberal.

If you are or were a member of the military, you are definitely not the 1%.

Unless you are sitting on the board of directors of a major investment bank, an agribusiness, a defense contractor, a pharmaceutical company,an energy company, or a similar huge corporation, you are most likely not the 1%.

You see, "being rich" isn't the same as being so wealthy that you can buy off the government and the media and be excused from any sort of responsibility of citizenship.  If you're not quite that wealthy, then you should be just as angry as the protestors out on the occupations, because those at the very top are just as repsonsible for the mess the country is in as the lowliest among us.  Why do you want to put the blame and the burden on the shoulders of the Americans who can least afford to bear it?  Why not put it where it rightly belongs?  Put a chunk of it on the backs of those who grow fat off the benefits of living in the US, but won't pay into the system that supports them, or pay the workers who make their business so successful. 

Once upon a time we had reasonable regulations and a more equitable tax structure and you know what happened?  People who deserved to be wealthy still became wealthy.  There has never been equitable income distribution for the sake of equitable income distribution in this country and there never will be.  We did have regulations and taxes at the top though. That doesn't mean that prosperity is impossible under a tax system that removes some of the burdens on the people at the bottom.  Since World War II, plenty of Americans have become very wealthy and stayed that way.  That being said, none of us in the 99%  really knows what a job loss or an accident or an illness or a lawsuit could do to us until it happens to us.  Any one of us has earned benefits and we are all entitled to them. 

I know that what I say won't make a lick of difference in how people feel.  Even my more liberal friends have been sucked into believing that the protests are pointless and bothersome.  I'm glad there are citizens out there who are fighting for all of us.  I hope one day everyone will realize that they truly are fighting for all of us.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Is It Too Early, and What Is It Too Early For?

For those who celebrate Christmas and related holidays, this time of year can be quite exciting or it can be quite annoying. 

Halloween was just a week ago and Thanksgiving won't be here for two more weeks, but Christmas is already on the brain for many.  Christmas trees, lights, and assorted decorations are creeping into the displays of many stores.  Radio stations pepper their playlists with Christmas songs. 

Some folks love to start the Christmas season early.  They buy fake trees just so they can put one up as early as possible.  They deliberately listen to Christmas music.  They are planning their parties and their menus while they put out their Halloween candy. 

Others can't stand the early hype.  The believe Christmas needs to come in its own time.  Enjoy Halloween.  Enjoy Thanksgiving.  Don't feel pressured to decorate, shop, and feel any sort of "Christmas Spirit" when there is over a month to go.

Lately it seems that the voices of reason are growing louder.  Maybe it's just the anti-early-Christmas voices are growing louder on Facebook.  I don't know. I do know that Nordstrom has decided not to decorate for Christmas until after Thanksgiving.  I don't know what other stores are following suit, but I'm definitely curious. I'm beginning to feel that there is finally a backlash against rushing the season in full force.

I have always been against starting the season early.  There are so many other occasions to think about this time of year.  Fall can be a busy time.  Even though I don't really involve myself much in Halloween, I know I will still have to be prepared for some Halloween-related activities. Then there is Thanksgiving to consider.  If I'm making any or all of the dinner, my mind is way too obsessed with food to worry about Christmas.  Even this year and last year when I am not cooking anything at all but heading to Chicago to have Thanksgiving in a restaurant with Kevin's family, I am still using this time to anticipate a fun vacation. I know Christmas will arrive eventually.  When it does, I will be ready for it in full Christmas mode with my brain cleared of other holidays or activities.

"But wait a minute, Rachel!" you exclaim.  "How can you say early celebrations are wrong, but you constantly preach the virtues of shopping early?"

Does shopping early lump me in the same category as putting up decorations on November 1st?  I suppose it might. 

My rationale for shopping early has always been that I like to get it out of the way because it helps me enjoy the holiday more.  Come December, when I feel it's right to start getting into the spirit of the season, I don't like having my gift list hanging over my head.  I like to enjoy the season, the parties, the music, the kitsch.  It's never quite the same when I have in the back of my mind, "I need to get a gift for X."  That's why I will start thinking about Christmas as early as September, often shopping in October (I bought a few gifts in Italy this year for example), with the goal of having it all finished by the time November ends.  I want to say, "Bring it on!" when December comes.  Then I start enjoying the festivities and planning

Why do stores start decorating for Christmas as soon as they can?  It's simple.  Christmas is a big spending holiday.  They want customers to start thinking of Christmas shopping as soon as possible.  If Christmas is on the customers' minds, they are more likely to start thinking about shopping for gifts.  If the decorations are in your store first, they may start spending their money in your store first.

In my case, the decorations are pretty meaningless.  I will start shopping even before the Halloween decorations come down if the time and the situation are right.  Christmas decorations have no effect on my spending habits.  How is it that I can be so obsessed with Christmas shopping, but not want to see decorations or be reminded of Christmas before the fall holidays are out of the way? 

I guess the answer is that I considering shopping to be a chore.  It's not an unpleasant chore, but it's a chore, an item on the to-do list, all the same.  It's the kind of chore I can break up into manageable bits.  I can make lists here and there. I can shop for an hour online one day and take a half a day to hit the stores another, but I do have to plan for it.   Enjoying decorations and carols isn't a chore.  It's a pleasure, but I feel it's a pleasure that needs to be celebrated in its own time and with a clear head.

This season I am asking myself, "Am I unusual?*  Am I the only person who says, "Stop decorating for Christmas when the kids are still out trick-or-treating," while manically creating my Christmas lists and taking whatever shopping days I can to pick out gifts for people?  The one point I have proved is that decorations have no effect on my spending habits, but is that the same for everyone?

People who wait until the last minute to do their shopping clearly aren't influenced by decorations.  Although "Black Friday" is said to be a busy shopping holiday, the busiest Christmas shopping day of the year is the Saturday before Christmas.  At that point, the decorations have been up for almost two months in many stores.  I remember in college dealing with massive crowds at the mall when I had to cram most of my Christmas shopping in just two or three days before Christmas (there weren't many shopping opportunities when I was away at school with no car, and that's why I didn't shop early during that time). 

Some people who shop at the last minute do so because they hate to shop.  Some wait till the last minute because they are just really busy and keep putting it off.  There are even some people who wait until the last minute because they enjoy shopping under pressure.  It makes shopping more exciting.  Regardless of why one shops at the last minute, it certainly goes to show you that a segment of the population isn't responding to Christmas decorations on display in November.  I would imagine that late shoppers probably feel that pressure from the fesitivies even more keenly than I do and are probably even more annoyed by it. 

Extending the celebration into October and November would turn a profit from only one type of shopper.  It would be the shopper who both loves to start celebrating Christmas early and who also likes to shop early.  How many Christmas revelers who start the festivities before Thanksgiving actually do their shopping early?  If you're listening to Christmas carols right now, are you also making your lists and checking them twice?  Do you already have gifts crossed off it? 

I'm sure there are early Christmas lovers who don't buy gifts at all - or limit their gifts to just the children in the family.  Imagine filling every moment from November  1 - January 1 with Christmas decorations and music galore, savoring every public display, decorating your home to the hilt, listening to Christmas carols 24/7 and not buying a single gift.  I'm sure there are folks out there who do just that.  Imagine catering to people who love to celebrate Christmas early and never make a profit out of it.

As of now I have about a quarter of my gifts purchased and half of them planned and not purchased.  I have designated a few days in November for shopping.  That will happen whether there are decorations or not.  I know I won't be putting up a single decoration until December 1.