State of the Union

Chicago, IL
South Side

“Tonight, I propose a “Fix-It-First” program to put people to work as soon as possible on our most urgent repairs, like the nearly 70,000 structurally deficient bridges across the country. And to make sure taxpayers don’t shoulder the whole burden, I’m also proposing a Partnership to Rebuild America that attracts private capital to upgrade what our businesses need most: modern ports to move our goods; modern pipelines to withstand a storm; modern schools worthy of our children. Let’s prove that there is no better place to do business than the United States of America. And let’s start right away.

Part of our rebuilding effort must also involve our housing sector. Today, our housing market is finally healing from the collapse of 2007. Home prices are rising at the fastest pace in six years, home purchases are up nearly 50 percent, and construction is expanding again.

But even with mortgage rates near a 50-year low, too many families with solid credit who want to buy a home are being rejected. Too many families who have never missed a payment and want to refinance are being told no. That’s holding our entire economy back, and we need to fix it. Right now, there’s a bill in this Congress that would give every responsible homeowner in America the chance to save $3,000 a year by refinancing at today’s rates. Democrats and Republicans have supported it before. What are we waiting for? Take a vote, and send me that bill. Right now, overlapping regulations keep responsible young families from buying their first home. What’s holding us back? Let’s streamline the process, and help our economy grow.” -Barack Obama, State of the Union Address, 2/13/13

Back to the Future

Once or twice, I’ve implied, on this blog, about the deep conservatism of the car show crowd.

I stand by my intuition and observation, as shown by this Romney bumper sticker incongruously and sloppily stuck on the back of a 1956 Ford at Bob’s in Burbank last Friday evening.

Car people are particular. Engines are buffed, vacuumed and wiped flawless with glass cleaner. A piece of dust under a foot pedal is upsetting. So it must be quite a matter of some significance to deface an exquisitely perfect 1956 Ford bumper with a taped on Romney sticker.

Car shows are also about nostalgia. They represent what we imagine and love about the past, a past that never ages or grows old, whose icons and places, Elvis and Ike, Van Nuys Boulevard and the Hollywood Freeway were once young, promising and fresh.

The machines of 50 or 60 years ago had style, they were adventurous in design and innovation, capable of exciting and seducing us, in a way that new cars do not. They ran fast, they took us to drive-in movies, to midnight picnics on the beach, up the road to hide and make out in the moonlit orange groves in the back of a convertible.

In the car show fantasy, nobody ever sat in traffic on a freeway and commuted to a dull job as an actuary in an insurance company. Everyone had a permanent erection and a pretty young thing next to them. And every night was Friday night.

Now the car show crowd is hot and heavy, excited and worked up over the next new marketing invention, Willard Mitt Romney.

31 years after Ronald Reagan took office, the car show crowd is again hoping that a reassuring old model will be inaugurated, a model whose exterior charms and surface good looks represent the best of what America can be, a model male whose wealth, beautiful children and blonde wife stand as proof of the veracity of our nation’s promise, a leader whose banal aphorisms and smooth clichés may soothe our rotted souls and whose lies and reversals masquerade as moderatism.

Like a new car, the new president promises good times, advertising his suitability for any family, his practical experience on the road, his durability, his proven assets, all dramatized in commercials, on stage, in front of an audience of millions. He is shiny, buffed and prosperous.

But there is one deep, dark pothole, on the road to Romney, which may cause him to lose his political goal.

If, by the intervention of Satan, Obama is re-elected, the car show crowd will grumble and groan. The old, red-nosed, white-haired men with their fold-out, blue, big cup chairs and plastic flags will still gather at Bob’s; but the talk, of taxes and debt, war and health care, the big issues, those will once again go underground in hibernation, for four more years, and the focus will shift back to 1955, 1962, 1969, 1972, a past that never dies, a young and eternal past which the old haunt like a prospector panning for gold in a dried up stream bed.

Kunstler on the Tuscon Killings.

James Howard Kunstler writes provocative critiques about the decline of America, interpreted through the aesthetic ugliness of our strip malls, billboards, and vacuous suburban environment.   He speculates about why young men, facing meaningless work and oppressive debt, might go mad in a nihilistic nation that has destroyed its own character and integrity:

“The rewards of entering the realm beyond college are paltry-to-miserable. Solitary cab rides to the mall. A burrito and a Big Gulp. Later, back home, an hour in the virtual company of the Kardashian sisters via the E-Network on your parents’ cable TV. Where are the initiations into manhood? (Try the channelized dry-wash, courtesy of the Barrio Blue Moon boyz.) I’m convinced that the reason video games and movies aimed at young males in America are devoted almost solely to fantasies about super-heroes and supernatural power (especially the power to kill) is because adolescent boys feel so impotent, so powerless, so unlike real men. The adults in this culture do not furnish any meaningful alternative scripts. That’s the market’s job, I guess.”

Racialism and Obama.

Racialism and Obama

Suddenly, the cat is out of the bag and people are looking at those who oppose Obama and asking if the dislike of the President is formed out of racial animosity.

To an observer and historian of American history, the question should really be asked: What issues in our nation are not tinged by racial prejudice?

Very few.

Welfare reform, tax breaks for the wealthy, home schooling, public transportation, spending for domestic social needs, legislative redistricting, education, jobs, sprawl, the growth of the Sun Belt, immigration reform, the depopulation and decay in the Rust Belt, Christian values, states rights, affirmative action, prisons, law enforcement, guns. Almost everything has some underlying racial preference or prejudice influencing people’s beliefs and behaviors.

Obama is half white, but in this nation, that means he is all black. He married a black woman, and they joined a majority black church and lived and worked among working class black Chicagoans. Obama never lived post-racially but joined the very race based world of South Side Chicagoland.

Despite his immersion in South Side politics, Obama has tried and nearly succeeded in making white people forget that the history of America is as much about the exclusion of darker skin as it about the inclusion of everyone else. For the last two years, the liberal “elite”, if there is such a class, has pronounced, from its well-to-do white habitat, that we are a “post-racial” nation. We are not, and never will be that country.

Who among us, if given a choice, would rather have a black complexion? Who would choose to live in a mostly black neighborhood if they could live anywhere? We are lying if we say that we want to make our life harder. Anyone with common sense would like things to be easier: economically, socially, and racially.

If some sleeping liberals now detect that hostility to Obama stems from some hidden bigotry, they might realize that hatred of the man and his policies all share a common thread, however insignificant: race and color will always inform our policies.

Race and class are sitting in the debate room on issues as small as the renaming of a part of Van Nuys as Sherman Oaks; and as large, invisible spectators in the national tragedy of why we have spent 2 trillion dollars in Iraq rather than rebuilding Detroit, Newark, and Camden, NJ.


Colorful people for a Better World, Barack Obama, Martin Luther King (Ben Heine)

(Note : If you wish a print of this image, follow the following link and click on “Buy This Print” : thanks)

Without a Shtik.

These are bad days, for people like me, who are without a shtik.

For those of you who don’t know the definition, a “shtik” is a Yiddish word, defined as:

“A characteristic attribute, talent, or trait that is helpful in securing recognition or attention.”

You see these shtik people all the time, especially in the media. Like Donald Trump who can make any ugly building “the most beautiful property in the world”.  Or those expert writers and best selling authors like David Brooks or Tom Friedman who appear on the news armed with years of dispensing the same hokum, so often, that they appear to possess real knowledge about world events.

Closer to home, in Hollywood, you meet a mediocre, gum chewing woman of no discernable articulation or breeding who will tell you, with a straight poker face, that she “produces and creates reality TV”. She can’t write, act, or direct, but she has her “shtik” down pat, and she peddles it to a gullible public who eventually believes she really does know what she’s doing.

Or someone tries to pretend they have their shtik down but it falls apart when they describe themselves as an actor, voice over actor, real estate investor, and owner of a North Hollywood photo studio. The shtik becomes convoluted, muddled, therefore unbelievable.

There are sensitive people who play the guitar, who paint, who take great photos, who can dance well, who write poetry, who know the history of England since 1066, but they are of no use because they offer no shtik to the world. They frequently are jobless, struggle to make a living, and cannot define their life’s purpose in a Facebook profile.

But the honored ones, the ones who garner the most respect in America, do not care to be honest, for they have already discovered the best thing in life is to lie to yourself and be a wholehearted believer in your own bullshit. Perhaps this brings to mind the blank unlined faces of Pastor Rick Warren and his Botoxed wife? A long time back, these eternally youthful creatures hit upon a shtik of positivism and salvation through materialism and, lo and behold, it works. Even the President-Elect believes them.

The next time someone tells you that they have invented a great weight loss device, or that they are the “King of Encino Real Estate” or they call themselves “Mr. Baklava”, remember not to laugh.

They have a shtik and they are better than you.

Frantic Time at the Mall.

I went over to Fashion Square in Sherman Oaks just to kill time.

It’s Thanksgiving weekend and the retail stores are in an absolute panic about falling sales.

The mall hired professional dancers to put on a show. A crowd watched a man and woman swing around like Astaire and Rogers.  Anything to get the masses back into the stores.

Every single window of every single store had a markdown, or sale sign. “50% OFF!”. There was not a single retailer who wasn’t trying their damnest to move merchandise.

Walking around Bloomingdales’ Mens department was sad. Here were racks and racks of $150, $295, $330 denim jeans with 60% off signs. The jeans were cheap and ugly. The prices were obscene and even the sale prices were a rip-off.  How long have these stores been scamming the public with t-shirts and jeans that will set one back $500?  Are these retailers living in the same world where people cannot afford to make their mortgage, college tuition or medical insurance payments?

Lunatic fragrance and Kabuki masked cosmetic salespeople rushed up to us in an attempt to sell us their utterly useless overpriced snake oil.  Bloomingdales has a block long wall of fragrance that never goes on sale. I wonder how they are going to sell it all.

And only the Apple Store seemed to be packed. It didn’t have a SINGLE THING discounted. They only sell great products for full price.

Maybe all the department stores with their crappy denim should study Apple and ask themselves if perhaps quality does matter after all.