Only in America…

Only in America would the start of shopping season be a holiday; and only in America would the day result in death…

Wal-Mart worker dies in rush; two killed at toy store –

OMFG! What have we become, people? The death of a person would be tragic under a variety of conditions: disease, accident caused by someone else’s negligence, or domestic violence. But for a man to lose his life, at the age of 34, because of rabid, deal-crazed, shoppers?! That goes beyond tragic and into the pathetic and unconscionable.

O.k., now I was raised in this country, which means I was raised to be a consumer, and a capitalist. And sure, I’ve had things – material things – that I’ve wanted over the years (and certainly, with my own belt-strings being pulled tight this past year and a half due to the rotten employment situation, the “wants” list has grown longer). But never – ever – in my life can I remember, nor envision, there being something I needed or would want that would cause me to stampede to the extent that other people got injured, not to mention killed.

This is behavior that we expect from wild animals living in the open plain or forest when fire breaks out or there is a predator nearby; this is not behavior I expect from other members of my own race.

Shameful. My heart is very heavy with hurt tonight.

I’m re-posting here a link I put up on Tumblr earlier today, linking to AdBusters‘ page on Neil Boorman’s interesting video piece on “The Good Consumer.” His piece is stark, ironic, and haunting. He provides a good “big picture” analysis of the psychological underpinnings (and perhaps consequences) to our dependability on a consumer-driven world economy (and national/social identity).

American roulette

Congressman Jim Marshall (D-GA), in a commentary on CNN today, says:

“Deep down, we all know that a financial rescue is necessary. I voted for the plan that was defeated today because, to paraphrase Rep. Spencer Bachus, I’m unwilling to play Russian roulette with the financial lives of my children and grandchildren. Although the bill was imperfect and wildly unpopular, I believed that those of us in Congress needed to suck it up, vote for it and let the chips fall where they may.”

This is what’s wrong with Congress at the moment, both Democrat and Republican; they say they don’t want to “play Russian roulette” and yet they’re willing to “vote for it and let the chips fall where they may?!”For goodness’ sake, show some leadership; sit down, roll up your sleeves, figure out a viable solution that doesn’t give tax breaks to the very people who have derided taxation and gov’t intervention for the last thirty years. Do your #$^&ing job in other words.

We are in this process of American roulette these days. We are victims of our own greed and lack of participation in the process of the very democracy that runs our lives. This is a real mess, it deserves a real solution, not just throwing money at the problem. 

How do you fix an engine while it’s still running? Do you fix a flat with the car still in motion? No, you pull over to the side of the road, turn off the engine, and go to work. This is what we need to do as a Nation. It means that some people will not reap tremendous profits for a few days, weeks, months. So be it; we always talk about sacrifice for our country in terms of losing one’s life in a war; it’s time to think of lower level (but still honorable) sacrifice to the tune of putting the needs of the Nation above those of ones individual financial or corporate profit.

Integrity and the American character

Today has been a banner day for me in terms of integrity. I received a final judgement from the Wisconsin DWD (Department of Workforce Development) regarding a challenge they made to one of my weekly statements.

To the uninitiated, that is those who’ve never had the misfortune of losing a job and of collecting unemployment compensation from their state of residency, every week you’re required to file a claim. Among other things, you verify that you’ve actively looked for work, and that you have neither received compensation from any other source (a job, an employer, vacation pay, etc.) or have not refused and offer of work.

This past week, I was accused of the latter.

Now, anyone who knows me knows that I take my integrity very seriously. They also know that I’m not one to lie, especially not on official documents or in matters where said integrity carries weight and the violation thereof carries great consequences. So, the State of Wisconsin telling me that I’d “lied” to them about not refusing an offer of work was no small matter to me; I was being called a liar under circumstances where I specifically go out of my way to dot all the “i”‘s and cross all the “t”‘s in order to make sure that what I submit represents the truth.

For a few days, it seemed that it came down to a matter of syntax; what had transpired between myself and an employment agency had, according to my understanding, constituted a job “lead” – something that could lead to an employer being interested in me, an interview, and an eventual job offer – not a job offer itself.

I’m happy to report that the final decision has come down, and the State agrees with me, saving me the hassle of having to appeal a “guilty” decision, as I surely would have; what else would I do if my integrity were so challenged.

But, I find this event in my life to be timed quite interestingly with the events transpiring on the national stage. Even today, on the Today Show, they ran a segment called “Silver Lining in Economic Woes”. The segment outlined ways that you can save and “even make money” during these hard economic times. In other words, how to profit from the misfortunes of others. Isn’t this exactly how we got into this mess in the first place?

Whether it’s the politicos pushing the pluses and minuses of the 700 billion buyout, or the dozens of talking heads on TV and the web decrying “how to survive these tough economic times”, it seems to me that we are missing the larger picture here; watching this country wrestle with the current economic crisis is like attending an AA meeting where everyone is drinking alcohol: we all know there’s a problem, but we can’t seem to give up getting a good buzz.

At the heart of this current economic crisis is the American character itself. Where and when did we go from a nation of like-minded citizens, concerned with representation, justice, and equality, to a hodgepodge mixture of individuals focused on looking out for #1 even if it means profiting financially by preying on the misfortune, naiveté, fear, or utter desperation of others? What is it about our daily lives that we stand by while the American experience is reduced to the lowest common denominator of how can you accumulate more than your neighbor, or win an election at all costs (even if it means misrepresenting the character of the opposition), or pursuing a doomed foreign policy to the brink of war and beyond (even if it means propagating faulty intelligence presented to your own nation even as it was reeling from the PTSD of 9/11)?

I was thinking about this today, as I pulled my car through the labyrinth of the UW Hospital parking ramp, on my way home from a job interview. As I proceeded across a straight-away, a car in front of me, coming from the intersecting down ramp, pulled right in – nearly hitting me, without signaling or acknowledging me at all.

I, of course, under the law had right of way. But right of way, or the law for that matter, doesn’t seem to matter much to most Americans these days.

I couldn’t have said it better…

I was doing some spring cleaning today, thinning down my book collection (as much as I hate to get rid of books, I really need more empty space in my life at the moment), and I pulled Elia Kazan’s biography off the shelf for the first time in years; I found the following passage highlighted on a page, in the chapter talking about the first production of Death Of A Salesman:

“The Christian faith of this God-fearing civilization says we should love our brother as ourselves. [Arthur] Miller’s story tells us that actually – as we have to live –we live by an opposite law, by which the purpose of life is to get the better of your brother, destroying him if necessary, yes, by in effect killing him.”

Since I highlighted it, clearly it resonated with me back in ’93 during grad school, and sadly it resonates even more today, especially with the current economic crisis. When, one wonders, will this culture wake up to the poisonous nature of capitalism and what it does to our human nature? When will we be able to engender a true sense of cooperation amongst enough of us that the din of “get ahead”, “look out for #1”, “the one with the most toys wins” mentality will finally be drowned out I wonder… 


Glenn Greenwald over at gives a very thorough and easy to understand commentary on all of this, but the long and short of it is that the Democrats have once again rolled over and given the Bush administration a major victory, passing FISA – the Federal Intelligence and Surveillance Act, a bill that gives total, retroactive, immunity to Bush and members of his administration plus any telecom corporation that willingly gives over information on OUR communications (email, phone, cell phone) without a warrant. 


Says Greenwald:

“That’s really the most extraordinary aspect of all of this, if one really thinks about it — it isn’t merely that the Democratic Senate failed to investigate or bring about accountability for the clearest and more brazen acts of lawbreaking in the Bush administration, although that is true. Far beyond that, once in power, they are eagerly and aggressively taking affirmative steps — extraordinary steps — to protect Bush officials.”


Please note that neither Sen. Clinton nor Sen. Obama voted on this act. I know, they’re campaigning and all, but apparently their busy schedules didn’t afford them time to actually put their money where their mouth is and vote against this abhorrent piece of legislation.


Read more: 


Amnesty Day for Bush and lawbreaking telecoms