Archive for ‘Social commentary’

March 31, 2011

Annals of Greed: The Ever Fattening of the 1%

One of the problems with greed is that it knows no bounds. In 1985 the top 1% of the Americans received 12% of the income and controlled 33% of the wealth. Now the figures are 25% and 40%. respectively. This is not a good thing…and not only from a notion of fairness. It’s a bad thing, also, because of what happens to nations when the distribution of wealth is so skewed.

Such is the warning that Joseph Stiglitz brings us in his article, “Of the 1%, by the 1%, for the 1%,” in the current issue of Vanity Fair. One of several money quotes in a money article:

The more divided a society becomes in terms of wealth, the more reluctant the wealthy become to spend money on common needs. The rich don’t need to rely on government for parks or education or medical care or personal security—they can buy all these things for themselves. In the process, they become more distant from ordinary people, losing whatever empathy they may once have had. They also worry about strong government—one that could use its powers to adjust the balance, take some of their wealth, and invest it for the common good. The top 1 percent may complain about the kind of government we have in America, but in truth they like it just fine: too gridlocked to re-distribute, too divided to do anything but lower taxes.

And the consequences?

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March 25, 2011

Signs of the Times: Gay Marriage

Reliable political bellwether of white American middle-class sensibilities, Chuck Schumer, Senator from New York, has joined the ever growing chorus in the call for equal marriage rights for same sex couples, i.e., gay marriage. His protegé, junior New York Senator Kristen Gillibrand, joined him in climbing aboard the history train. The unfolding of an inevitable continues. Raw Story brings us the news here.

December 22, 2008

Arianna, Tina and the Bag Lady Papers

Arianna Huffington’s success with her Huffington Post blog evidently has inspired Tina Brown to create a blog of her own, The Daily Beast. Brown’s site is also an aggregator, but one that comes from the sensibility she displayed when she was editor of the New Yorker. I find that her bloggers are more interesting than the legions of folks who write for the Huffington Post. Arianna gets points for comprehensiveness, but the style points go to Tina.

Two examples: Stanley Crouch on The Hip-Hop Inauguration, refreshingly politically incorrect commentary on hip-hop culture. The other is by Alexandra Penney who lost her life’s savings and income stream to the last (I hope) great icon of the Age of Greed, Bernie Madoff. She is now writing The Bag Lady Papers – a confessional grounded in the next great boomer fear: Oh my God, I’m going to outlive my money. Good stuff, the writing that is.

October 30, 2008

He Never Dreamed it Would Turn Out This Way

None of us is spared the specificity of a fate. Alan Greenspan’s fate is the loss, not of his head, but of his reputation. And as old as he is, virtually impossible to recover. Unfortunate and sad to be seen a fool near the end of life.

October 28, 2008

Damn, the Casino Exploded…Again

With the 30% loss (thus far) in wealth in the U.S., it’s worthwhile to step back and take an historical look at how this came to pass. Perhaps we can keep us from making the mistakes of the past again. Yes, again.

I highly recommend the 12 minute video below as preparation for the upcoming battle over the best way to re-regulate the financial markets. There won’t be any serious battle over whether to re-regulate. The Age of Friedman has ended. The best that the Friedmanites and one-note Supply Siders can hope for is that the Age of Krugman has not begun. But it may well have…

If you’d rather read the transcript than watch the video, click here.

August 26, 2008

Pop Culture Comes in Time to All Things

No, no, not the Tibetan Book of the Dead as a comic. No. No …. Yes. The Preamble is below.

Click here to take the whole ride, so to speak.

June 30, 2008

The Side Effects Zone

It’s a pharmaceutical Twilight Zone — you’re not sure what’s there, and what is there may not be a pleasant surprise. This clip from a commercial for Abilify is about as good (or as bad) as it gets. Alternative treatment modalities anyone?

April 28, 2008

The shouting in and about the Obama and Clinton campaigns continues, but the basic context remains and the quest for the Democratic presidential nomination unfolds within it. All the tactical decisions, the evaluations of those decisions, all the campaign ads, all the surrogates’s advocacy, etc., are subordinate to the larger question of whether a cultural and political shift is occurring – one that as some commentators have noted is at least as profound as the one that gave Ronald Reagan his greatest role.

I continue to espouse that this is the case. The shift, as I noted in an earlier post, is from the everyman and everywoman for his/herself ethos of the greed is good halcyon days of the 80’s to Obama’s gyral return to the cultural ground of “I am my brother’s keeper, I am my sister’s keeper.”

Why do I think this remains the case? Because Hillary’s campaign has indeed thrown the kitchen sink at her opponent, hit him with the garbage disposal, and it has made no difference. Take the Pennsylvania primary, for example. With the flap about Rev. Wright taking stage center in the attack of the sink, the polls (on average and courtesy of showed Obama moving from 6 points down to 7. By the time of the election, he was back at 6 points down. He lost by 10 (after having been 20 points down a month before). In the elections thus far where he has started far behind, e.g., Ohio, he has closed the gap and then lost by an additional 4 percent as the late deciders voted for Hillary.

So the net effect of hurling the sink was zero. The rest of the campaign will, I do believe, play out as it has been with Obama getting the nomination on the basis of more superdelegates breaking for what they see as the future rather than the past. The times they are, again, a-changin’.

(As I write this, Rev. Wright is again making news as he defends his career. I predict that the inevitable attacks on Obama will have no lasting impact on his campaign. Time, of course, gets the last word.)

March 31, 2008

A Boomer’s Reflection on Aging

In the April 7 issue of The New Yorker, Michael Kinsley reflects on aging, both his own and that of his generation. I’ve excerpted a small piece below.

We are born thinking that we’ll live forever. Then death becomes an intermittent reality, as grandparents and parents die, and tragedy of some kind removes one or two from our own age cohort. And then, at some point, death becomes a normal part of life—a faint dirge in the background that gradually gets louder. What is that point? One crude measure would be when you can expect, on average, one person of roughly your age in your family or social circle to die every year. At that point, any given death can still be a terrible and unexpected blow, but the fact that people your age die is no longer a legitimate surprise, and the related fact that you will, too, is no longer avoidable.


With some heroic assumptions, we can come up with an age when death starts to be in-your-face…


Anyway, the answer is sixty-three. If a hundred Americans start the voyage of life together, on average one of them will have died by the time the group turns sixteen. At forty, their lives are half over: further life expectancy at age forty is 39.9. And at age sixty-three the group starts losing an average of one person every year. Then it accelerates. By age seventy-five, sixty-seven of the original hundred are left. By age one hundred, three remain.


The last boomer competition is not just about how long you live. It is also about how you die. This one is a “Mine is shorter than yours”: you want a death that is painless and quick. Even here there are choices. What is “quick”? You might prefer something instantaneous, like walking down Fifth Avenue and being hit by a flower pot that falls off an upper-story windowsill. Or, if you’re the orderly type, you might prefer a brisk but not sudden slide into oblivion…

The boomer conversation on aging, like the aging itself, goes on. Click here for the entire article in print friendly format. Well worth the read if you’re a boomer or have boomer family or friends.

March 18, 2008

I’m Not a Senior Yet

Back in November I wrote about becoming a senior and some of what that entailed. I wrote too soon.

No I haven’t reversed the aging process, nor have I succumbed to the tranquilizing motto that “60 is the new 40.” Rather I heard Marc Freedman talking about his book Encore: Finding Work that Matters in the Second Half of Life. I read and I endorse the book.

What I want to highlight here is the distinction Freedman makes of “encore” as a stage of life. Typically, we divide life into three general stages. The ages of before productive engagement (birth through an often prolonged adolescence), productive engagement (maturity) and after productive engagement (retirement/old age/seniordom).

Freedman notes that retirement as we have come to understand it, “The Golden Years,” was invented in the 50’s, mostly by Del Webb, the developer of the first big retirement community — Sun City. In those days people worked until 65 and died within the next 5 years. An overgeneralization, yes, but an apt one.

Now we both live and stay healthy longer. The vision of retirement stretches on. So Freedman adds a fourth stage, a stage between maturity and seniordom. This he calls the encore age — old enough to leave the conventional career behind, but too young to enjoy a life of idle recreation. And while most boomers will enjoy this gift of more and healthier years, they face the very real possibility of not having saved enough for their 20 plus years of retirement, and thereby stand in danger of outliving their money.

From these historical circumstances comes the encore stage of life and the encore career — work that matters, that contributes to the life of individual and the life of the community.

The encore years — a valuable distinction at an opportune time.

Click here to listen to an interview with Marc Freedman.