Saturday, October 10, 2009


Call 2009 the Year of the Beneficiary. It has been a time of corporate welfare like we’ve never seen before. Investment bankers, come on down! We’ve got your bailout check, and it’s got more zeros on it than you’ve ever dreamed of. Car makers, come on down! We’ve got quite the goody bag for you too – not as fat as Wall Street’s, but still worthy of Sumo Wrestling.

This year, taxpayers have been dolling out more billions for failed capitalists than there are stars in Carl Sagan’s sky. And why? Because, we’re told, these companies were “too big to fail.” In today’s America, once you get as large as a whale, the sky is the limit. Apparently, America wants to reward blubber. And the funny thing is, the worse you suck at your corporate job, the more you get in taxpayer donations. Are we a generous country or what?

Now, it appears, the spirit of generosity has moved overseas. And yes, I’m referring to yesterday’s joke of a Nobel Peace Prize.

Mind you, it would hardly be fair to compare yesterday’s beneficiary with the ones from Wall Street and Detroit. Unlike the titans of AIG and GM, Obama hasn’t demonstrated himself to be inept at what he does. Then again, he hasn’t really accomplished much either, now has he? I guess he saved Wall Street with all the bailout money, if that’s what you call an accomplishment, but that shouldn’t qualify him for a Nobel Peace Prize. The last I checked, peace meant “world peace,” and not peace of mind for Goldman Sachs.

As an Empathic Rationalist, I’m duty bound to say to myself, wherever applicable, “There but for the grace of God, go I.” That’s not a statement of theology, or even of belief, but a simple thought that we should always consider what it’s like to walk in another’s moccasins. If I were a conservative American, I’d be positively furious with the Nobel committee. I know this because it’s easy to imagine the shoe being on the other foot, and someone like, say, John McCain or Sara Palin coming into the White House, giving a couple of speeches, and then being slapped with a Nobel simply for winning some sort of beauty contest with the right wing judges. That’s precisely the mirror image of what happened here: the left-leaning committee in Oslo fell in love with the cut of Barack’s jib and slapped the tag of hero on him … even though he has nothing tangible to show for his efforts other than as a political candidate (and as a baron of bailouts). I’d say that this is an insult to Nobel Prizes, but then again, once you’ve decided to honor Arafat, you’ve lowered the bar all the way to the ground.

It’s pointless for me to engage in speculation as to why the Nobel committee thought that Barack needed a bailout – couldn’t they let him fail first? – or what they could have possibly identified as one of his peacemaking accomplishments. I’m neither insightful enough to understand their true motivation, nor creative enough to imagine that accomplishment. But what is clear is that in the domestic political arena, they did Barack absolutely no favor. Quite the contrary -- this gift has invigorated Barack’s enemies. Again, imagine Sara Palin with a Nobel simply for giving a few orations like the one she delivered at the GOP Convention to rave reviews. I don’t know about you, but if I saw her accept the award simply for yakking and smiling, I’d be fuming that she’s the most dangerous demagogue since Hitler. Hopefully, Barack’s opponents won’t see him in that light – Lord knows I don’t, for I find his speeches to be as sincere as they are intelligent – but just because he isn’t a demagogue doesn’t mean he’s not dangerous to those whose ideology differs from his.

Any politician who seems to get what he wants without having to work for it can be dangerous. W was such a politician in the period right after 9/11, and as a result, he hammered through that absurd war in Iraq. Reagan was also such a politician due to his clear vision and avuncular manner, and as a result, he gave us our sharp inequalities in wealth. As for Barack, given the incredible devotion of so many of his supporters and the loving embrace he gets from the media, you could understand why his opponents fear that he will soon enough get a free ride as well. The Nobel Prize will only exacerbate those fears.

So, Oslo, from one who has high hopes for Barack but still sees him as just getting started on the job: Thanks, but no thanks!

Speaking of not having to earn what you get, I’ve been neglecting the most blatant example of all. Has anyone noticed the New York Yankees’ lineup lately? Batting first, Derek Jeter. Batting second, Johnny Daman. Batting third, Mark Teixeira. Batting fourth, Alex Rodriguez. Batting fifth, Hideki Matsui. Batting sixth, Jorge Posada. We’re talking about Hall of Famers and near Hall of Famers. We’re talking about a team that spent more on players this off-season ($423.5 million) than their playoff opponent, the Minnesota Twins, is even worth ($356 million). For most baseball fans, this is like the Harlem Globetrotters against the Washington Generals, or like the U.S. Military against the Armed Forces of Grenada. But for the people who run the Yankees, this is like … it’s like being the CEO of AIG and getting $180 billion dollars to play with. That was the contract that the Yanks recently paid to acquire Teixeria, who hit last night’s walk-off home run. The only other Yank to drive in a run last night, Rodriguez, took a mere $275 million in his contract with the Yankees.

Frankly, baseball isn’t my favorite sport, but I get the impression that if I were the General Manager of the Yankees, my team would still make the playoffs every year. Nice work if you can get it, wouldn’t you say?

When you realize that the Twins put their roster together at less than 1/3 the cost of the Yankees’ roster, I guess they should claim a “moral victory” that they forced New York into extra innings last night – before losing to the Yanks for the ninth time in nine games. But there are no moral victories in the playoffs, and that’s what makes this so absurd. The Twins are the American League’s best team in flyover country. The only teams with more wins are in the huge market cities of New York, Boston and Los Angeles. Comparing the Twins to the Yankees on the diamond is like comparing the standardized test scores of the students from Beverly Hills High School with those from a well-run, but poor school in the Appalachians -- it won’t matter how good the principals or the teachers are in Appalachia, the kids from Beverly Hills will come out on top every fricken time. [The only difference, I guess, is that they don’t televise the supporters of Beverly Hills High high fiving each other after the test scores are released, and they don’t have “journalists” talk about the test-score tally like it’s some sort of honest competition.]

For the Yankee management and their well-fed fans, victories, playoff appearances, and even World Series titles aren’t earned. They’re simply acquired via donation. The team plays in a crowded megalopolis with large pockets of extreme affluence. They can afford to raise ticket prices and investment bankers, lawyers, and old-money types will still come in droves. With the revenues that roll in every year, the team can also afford to purchase the one or two best free-agents in baseball. Last year’s #1 guy was last night’s hero, Teixeira. Next year? Who knows what player the Yankees will purchase with their excess revenues. But you can guess that he’ll be the best player in a town like Kansas City, Milwaukee, or Clevelan even if he turns out to be the eighth best hitter in the Bronx.

In a couple of days, the season figures to be over for the valiant Twins, and they will be left to enjoy the memories of being the winner of one of Major League Baseball’s “Minor League” Divisions. Their players will then be forced to stay home and sit around, while the folks in New York and LA play on. In that regard, the Twins will be joining countless millions of Americans who also will be hanging out when they’d rather work, though in this case we’re talking about people who will be actively looking for a job … and one with health care benefits. Sadly, the Year of the Beneficiary hasn’t helped them in the slightest. Indeed, the reports are that even though Wall Street is rebounding nicely, Main Street figures to suffer for years.

And therein lies the problem with all these gifts. Our new motto is “Pigs get fed, and hogs get fed more.” We honor baseball teams for refusing to share revenues with their competition. We reward most the corporations that fail us the most. And we honor Presidents as heroes before they’ve done anything heroic. As for the little guy, we’ve got bupkis for him … just mounting deficits, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and corrupt Major League baseball.

Oh well, at least the football playoffs will be coming in a few months, and then it will all get better. In football, you see, they share revenues, and that’s why last year’s winner could come from the flyover steel town of Pittsburgh. It’s not a town where people win the Nobel very often, or where corporate execs swim in bailout money. In fact, many people don’t even realize that it has a baseball team. (Could you name one member of the Pittsburgh Pirates? I sure can’t.) But it is part of America. And I suspect there are people there who have actually performed more acts of heroism to date than my beloved President, Barack Obama.

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