The Wall of Great Distraction: Part II

I must say that Jerry Brown employs some pretty fast-working spin masters.

The increased tax revenue suddenly created a hole in his argument for more taxes so he needed to create a new one.

To quote Dr. Suess from How the Grinch Stole Christmas, “But, you know, that old Grinch was so smart and so slick. He thought up a lie, and he thought it up quick!”

Faced with the PR disaster in which the increases in tax revenue erased his powerful argument that school children would suffer without the tax increases, Jerry Brown gathered his team around the picnic table and this is what they came up with, “We’ll spin our insatiable need for more public money into ‘The Great Wall of Debt.'”

Wow, nice smoke and mirrors, but at this point he and his team are just throwing stuff against the wall of public disdain for government overspending and hoping it will stick.

Instead, the first thing the Governor could do is take away the extra 3 billion earmarked for the California Teachers’ Association next year and reduce the deficit by that amount.  Then he could go to work hacking away at the general budget guarantees on the retirement systems of public employees, and at the guaranteed contribution to those pension funds that is above and beyond their salary.  In the case of teachers, the public contributes another 8.25% on top of their annual salary to the retirement system.

Employed and unemployed people in the private sector cannot be blinded by bullshit like “The Great Wall of Debt” this time.  We are the ones suffering the brunt of the economic downturn, there are no public coffers  to bail us out and the bad news for Jerry Brown is that there’s no public goodwill toward state government overspending.

In spite of the lack of public will to increase spending, Jerry Brown and the unions are yet demanding that all of us pay out of pocket to help politicians avoid making the cuts they must. The President of the CTA even got arrested in the Capitol last week, even as Jerry was about to announce that MORE money would be coming to schools next year than this year (i.e., union contract negotiations can proceed at full tilt to soak it all up).  Talk about someone missing a memo!

I don’t know about all of you, but if the state budget is still out of balance, I believe it is simply because the legislators have not made enough cuts.

Cut, cut, cut and balance the sucker.  I will not be voting for any tax increases Mr. Governor.

The Wall of Great Distraction

The Greeks are rioting because of government austerity.  They’re tearing up public projects and equipment over cuts in government services. California seeks to avoid similar scenes. But there’s a difference in California, here the most likely rioters are not among people receiving government services but those who are paid to deliver them.

Jerry Brown is set to lay out his “all cuts” budget today.  The word on the street is that this radical budget will slash and burn services.  The Governor is really just trying to rile up the public. He wants to see if he can get the public upset about cuts to government, upset enough to vote for higher taxes.

The GREAT DISTRACTION is this, by selling a cut in services, he hopes to avoid the reality that the union-driven, public employee wages and benefits are the cause of the problem.  The crisis is being billed as too much government when it’s really “too-expensive” employees that are the trouble.  Unions are pushing hard to create a sense of panic around pictures of school children left without teachers, on dirt floors scribbling their times-tables in the dust.

Services are not the issue, nobody I knows feels they are over-served by a state agency. The cost of employees is the issue.  We don’t need fewer teachers, firefighters, or police: we need less expensive teachers, firefighters, and police. We need costs that reflect current economic realities.

The public should not be distracted into agreeing to higher taxes.  Not before salaries and benefits of public employees resemble those of employees in the private sector.

Ultimately the public will make the decision on higher taxes and wages and benefits will be maintained at the cost of thousands of jobs because the weak-kneed politicians do not have the stomach for battling the unions.

The question is will the unions be able to foist the Great Distraction on the general public in a slick ad campaign and thereby convince all us couch potatoes to vote for higher taxes? Perhaps so, we can be cajoled by the media into even talking about providing a new stadium for a pro basketball team at a time when we’re laying off teachers. We’re a stupid lot sometimes.

But I won’t be distracted, will you?  I want cuts, I will not be convinced to vote for taxes or kicking this can down the road one more time.

You Can’t Take It With You…

You can’t take it with you.  Anyone who has sorted the things of a dead friend has experienced this first-hand.  There’s just so much stuff left behind that has no meaning.  It reminds me of the scene in “The Christmas Carol” when the servants are selling Scrooge’s things to a “fence”.  When someone dies, their things become merely things again – no longer belongings – because the only person with attachment to them is gone.

I helped the parents of a dead friend do that today.  We threw away a lot of stuff.  We put other things into the laundry basket to take to Goodwill.  We each took home small mementos of his life.  He didn’t own much, perhaps somehow he just understood the temporary nature of life.  I know that my friend chose to spend most of his money on being out with other people.

In the end he’s gone and out of reach and all that’s left is his memory and his meaning.  All his stuff is boxed or discarded and the room he lived in is empty now; only the cats of the house will spend time there until another renter moves in.

I wonder if everyone who cared about my friend is asking the same questions I am?  What meaning did he have in my life, what did he teach me, and how am I changed by knowing him?  How do I remember him and can his death provide some hope, inspiration, or can it deepen my appreciation of life?

Or does his death merely reflect the emptiness of life, the deep black hole of troubles with no answers; does it reflect the hopelessness and pain we feel with loss of love?

I wish I knew what his death means.  I wish I had the answers. But I am still coming to terms with the fact that he’s simply not here to have dinner with, or go to the movies with, or laugh with.  I am still coming to terms with the empty space in my life, like the empty dim room he rented where long-whiskered cats prowl silently round wondering where he has gone.

(I wrote this back in May of 2009 after my friend Michael Perkins passed away unexpectedly.  I just came across it tonight sorting old posts.  Michael was a great person and he’s still missed.)

Regional Transit is a Little Too Real

I’ve just completed the 110% weirdest week of my life.

It started Monday morning being rear-ended some young, Latino, hit and run driver.  Since that momentous occasion, I have been riding Regional Transit to work, and back.

I can tell you this much about Regional Transit, it sucks.  It makes me want to take a plaster cast of my carbon footprint, tie high explosives to it, and blow the whole concept to smithereens.

Let me give you an example of how much I am enjoying regional transit.  Today is Sunday right?  It’s Mother’s Day too.  So I have an important project going at work and I need to travel the 25 miles to the office, but without a car.

SO, desiring to be at work close to 8AM in order to get a full day of work in, I leave the house at about 6:30 AM because to walk – briskly – to the bus stop will take me about 30 minutes and the bus will leave that stop at 7:05 AM.  So I am briskly walking while sneezing and wiping my nose when I come to a cross street where a man in a pickup is driving.  Anyone driving in Midtown, Sacramento at 6:30 AM on a Sunday is some sort of mutant.  I mean it looks like the Omega Man out there, nobody is stirring, not a car, not a homeless person, not a cat, nobody, nowhere, not anywhere. But nonetheless, there is this guy.  He stops for me to cross the crosswalk.  This is odd because he does not have to, he has the right of way.  He has no stop sign.  I figure he’s some sort of Christian who has to deliver bagels to the church by 7 AM so I wave at the kindly bagel-delivering soul and cross the walk.  As I near the other side of the street, the man pulls forward in his pickup and rolls down the window and begins to heckle me.  That’s right, he heckled me!  He called out something disparaging about “He’s likes Jimmy…” I glared at the asshole and he drove off so I turned and walked off indignant and wondering what in the hell was he on when it suddenly occurred to me that the rotten SOB NASCAR fanatic was heckling me about my lunch box.  It’s a NASCAR lunch box I got on sale in a discount store (what can I say? I needed a lunch box).  It was about $3.99 I think and it’s a cooler to boot.  Such a deal!  I’m not a NASCAR fan and have never even watched a whole race.  I find NSACAR boring, inane, stupid, red neck, and a huge waste of fuel and rubber, but some people dig it so live and let die in fiery horrible, unnecessary crashes, up to you.  But there I was being heckled as a fan of Jimmy Johnson who’s number 48 and signature is all over my lunch box.

I get to the bus and take a seat.  There is a guy on board from New Jersey about my age who’s headed for a casino for some gambling and some buffet (the parmesan chicken, he tells me, is sublime). He takes a shine to me and he moves to a seat within earshot.  I am trying to write the great American novel and do not welcome the interruption but he does not seem to have any intuition about such things and begins rambling on and on, and on. As people from the East Coast seem to have a tendency to do, they are GREAT at conversation.

He was a nice man and we have a nice enough conversation.  But I do not ride the bus for conversation.  I share with him the reason I am on the bus, that some SOB crashed into me last Monday and ruined my Honda and now I have to ride the bus until the insurance company finishes screwing me so all I receive is grocery money for a couple of weeks.

We talk about pollen and eletron micoscopic pictures of barbed pollen and he shares how he swabs out of his nostrils with 20-30 Q-tips which he said he also shared with his son who told him TMI (too much information, I wondered to myself how many times he needs to hear this to get the message). He confides his belief that keeping one’s orifices clean is of utmost importance.

He then shares with me his indelible belief that the hit and run driver was with great certainty a sex offender, or a parolee, because those people are ALWAYS responsible for hit and run accidents.  I was unaware that sex offenders are such profligate hit and runners but I was edified today and I shall be forever vigilant and grateful for the word to the wise, who I shall endeavor to be. Sex offenders beware, I am on to your little hit and run gambit.

I walked to work from the bus stop and Woodland, California was almost as desolate of people and cars as everywhere else.  And yet even though I am happy as hell to be in a world so devoid of people, there is one coming at me anyway.  The man is walking directly toward me, there’s no avoiding him, as he crosses the street.  As I pass this man he says to me as clear as a bell, “I’m already done.” I’m pleased for him, but he’s not as done with humanity as I am at 8AM on a Sunday morning so I do not respond and walk on to the office where I work until about 5:15 PM without a break mind you.

After work, I walk to the bus stop to go home fully intending to ride the bus, the catch the light rail to a couple blocks from my home. Thayt doesn’t work out because the damned driver announces that this is a Sunrise Train when it should, by my experience, be a Folsom bound train so I freak out and jump off tinking I am headed to Watt Avenue where all the hooker s are and in the end it was the right train but they must run an abbreviated route on Sundays so I end up walking about 27 blocks home.  I am not happy, I am tired, I am hungry, and I am covetous of anyone with a car.

I’m sitting there on a cement retaining wall waiting for my bue in Woodland, with my back against a newspaper box where you can pay far too much for a daily paper.  A local bus arrives, not the one I am waiting for, and two men get off, one a young Asian guy and an older Black guy.  They walk off behind me into the parking lot that lies between the bus stop and the line of box stores.  I make a couple pf calls for Mother’s Day, one to my Mom and another to an old friend who refers to herself as my Mom #2.  I am talking to Mom #2 and while talking I am smelling something burning.  So I start to wonder if someone set the newspaper dispenser behind me on fire so I turn around while talking to look and I see that the black man is standing alarmingly close to me just the other side of the blue newspaper box.  I stand up feeling threatened by his proximity and I look down and see a growing pool of liquid pooling near the block wall.  I look down and see that the black man has his black penis out urinating on the newspaper box. I exclaim to him that he could warn a guy he’s going to do that when someone is sitting right there and I walk way having to explain the situation to Mom #2 who is in hysterics (I do not share her hilarity).

My sad day on RT ended with me getting on the light rail for the last leg home.  I take the Folsom train and suddenly the woman is saying this is the Sunrise Train.  My brain begins to panic as I am thinking Sunrise, Watt Avenue (where the hookers roam free) and I decide it’s the wrong bloody train and get off at the 8th Street station.  The train leaves me in a swirl of leaves and pollen and in looking at the map on a kiosk I see that in fact the Folsom train does not go to Folsom on Sunday evening but stops short at Sunrise. There I am alone and about 28 blocks from home.  I walk home from there in a sincerely cranky mood.

I am 100% certain that reducing my carbon footprint is not worth all this. My great grand children (if I ever have any) can learn to adapt to a warmer environment, grow fins, I don’t give a damn, I’m getting another car.