Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Cheeseburger and Lies: The Happiness Deficit

It would have been great if the weekend were all pancakes and pasta.  Actually, it would be great if life were, too, but that’s too much to hope for – especially when it can barely cover the weekend.
I’ll keep it as upbeat as possible – and surely there’s a recipe and restaurant review farther down – but it’s been a rough few days.

It really started on Saturday, with that stupid Teabagger’s march on Washington.  Nothing makes me angier than the wealthy and soulless exploiting the poor, using fear to manipulate people and trick them into taking positions that are actually hurting them.  Plus, I hate that name - teabagging.  If you want a more appropriate use of the term, see the explanation offered by Samantha during Season Six (Part One) of Sex and the City.  

The first problem I have with this march is that many of the people attending are in desperate need of systemic reform.  14,000 people lose their insurance every month; over 46 million people, roughly one-sixth of the population, is without insurance.  When you account for the under-insured, that number pushes past 70 million and represents approximately a quarter of all Americans.  Worse yet, while the economy grew during the Bush years, that growth was experienced largely by the top 1 percent of households, which claimed two-thirds of the nation's total income gains.  The period from 2002 to 2007 did little to create new jobs or deliver wage growth to the middle class; in fact, by 2008 the poverty rate had grown to 13.2 percent (it's highest level in over a decade) and median household income fell by four percent from $52,200 to $50,300.  Adjusted for inflation, median income was lower in 2008 than in 1998 and every year since.

Here's how health insurance is connected:  if you're lucky enough to have a job, ask yourself when your last raise was? And how much was it?  Now ask yourself when the last time your employer increased your contribution to your health insurance or changed plans resulting in a decrease in benefits.  The rising tide of health care costs is not only a moral issue - who are we as a society that middle class people die for want of preventive care? - t is a political and economic issue.  Keep your coverage if you like it, but don't think it's not important for the government to play a role in restructuring and regulating the system to control costs while guaranteeing coverage - odds are these rising costs combined with stagnating wages are already reducing your take home pay.

So, you can understand why I find it inexcusable that politicians would use fear of change and an underlying racism to manipulate their constitutents.

Yes - I said racism.  are we really surprised?  Am I wrong?  Or can we agree that there are probably plenty of people who wanted change so badly at the end of the Bush years (understandably so) that they could hold their nose for a minute in the voting booth and take a chance, but can't really come to grips with an African-American President on an day-to-day basis?  Can we agree there is probably a cohort of middle class whites who have seen so much change for women, foreigners, gays and people of color, that any excuse is a good one to stand against a Democratic President, a defender of civil rights, and a black man, to boot?

(As long as we're on stereotypes, can I just say that I recently stumbled across a show called "Jewish Doctors."  Are we ok with this?  I'm conflicted.  I kind if think that, if it were ok, it would also have to be ok to do a show called "Korean Grocery" or "Puerto Rican Cleaning Woman"?  Can you imagine?  Yeah - I didn't think so.  It's not ok.)

Not that there aren't plenty of reasons to be dissatisfied with the President, but let's adhere to the facts.  First, he hasn't exactly delivered on a lot of the social change he promised - the federal government will still recognize any marriage performed in any of the 50 states and most western countries, except those between members of the same sex from six states, Spain, Canada, or Holland.

There's also plenty of anger about bailouts.  Since the rich got richer under the last President, you'd think it were time to focus on the middle class, but the piles of money that have been bestowed upon the wealthiest people and most reckless corporations that created this economic nightmare is easily worthy of some righteous indignation.  It's about as insane as offering Adolf Hitler the Nobel Peace Prize.  

"Dear Financial Services Industry,

"You greedily exploited the dreams of middle class and the poor, gambled with the nation's economy, and created a global recession unlike nothing seen since the Great Depression.  As a result, asset values are in the toilet and unemployment is cruising toward ten per cent.  

"Here's billions of dollars!  Please pay yourselves bonuses and take a company sponsored trip to Vegas.  Stay at the Wynn - it's awesome!  


President Obama."

Further, the President hasn't done much to differentiate between the stimulus package (which was a little on the wimpy side - particularly for state and local governments, which would spend the money quickly and are in crisis - but it managed to stabilize the economy, so we'll take it) and the bailouts which may have been necessary to prevent total collapse, but look like a handout to the plutocracy when those of us who played by the rules continue to get screwed.

The exacerbating issue has been a failure of leadership on the part of the President.  Interestingly, it's one of only two things I admire Bush for exhibiting (the other one is the extensive, and undersung, contributions he made to funding AIDS research and medical care around the world.)

But when it came to leadership, Bush had it in spades - I didn't agree on where he was leading, but the guy took a point of view - cleanly and clearly - and argued for it.  While he failed when it came to immigration reform (where I happened to agree with him) and Social Security (where we still need some sort of middle ground, because that bill's going to come due soon, too, as the Baby Boomers retire) - it's worth remembering that he got most of his first-term agenda through fairly easily, including the two years of a Democratic Senate from 2001 - 2003.  No Child Left Behind, a trillion dollar tax cut, two wars.  He used the bully pulpit and the threat of veto - not to mention a clear articulation of his agenda - and defied Congress to reject it.  And this was someone who won without a mandate or a popular vote majority.

Obama doesn't seem to have that stuff, and it's a shame.  Why is it Democratic Presidents always seem to split the difference, rather than articulating why they're point of view is right?  As a result, we end up with leaders who are more triangulators and political calculators than leaders.  It's as if they move to the safest place the polls tell them they can go, rather than Republicans, who take the stage with a voice intended to move the polls.  

I'm tired of watered-down leadership.

So - clearly - there are plenty of reasons to be disappointed in Barry O.  But none of them is that he's a socialist.  (And, as long as we're here for a second - can I just ask - is socialized health care really so terrible?  Spare me your stories of that Canadian friend or your co-worker's aunt in London who waited, like, two weeks to see a dentist.  Anecdotal evidence nothwithstanding, every single non-partisan analysis has shown that the quality of care, and access to it, is far superior to the American system, at a much lower cost.  Of the major western nations we spend a great deal more and get a great deal less.  If you had a choice between flying in a plane that landed safely 95% of the time and one that crashed 50% of the time, which would you fly on?  And how long would you wait for a ticket?  Enough said.)

I need to move off this topic, as I've said much more than I intended to - but there was a second thing that disappointed me about the march.  And the speech.  And the nature of our discourse in general.

Can we please try and obey the unwritten rules of public behavior?

When did it become acceptable to carry a gun to the place the President was speaking?  Is it dignified for a sitting Congressman to call the President a liar on the floor of the House, while it's in session?  Did I really see a sign that said "Bury Obamacare with Kennedy"? 

I say a lot of things, and I even say some mean things, and many of them I simply say for a laugh.  But my momma raised me better than to behave like a barn animal or a piece of white trash in public.  You can disagree and still be a fucking human being.

While we're here, it's worth mentioning that the sidebar ads that come up on the FreedomWorks website (proudly promoting pictures like the one to your left.  No, I'm not supplying a link.) include one for "Angry Mob T-Shirts."  Classy.
So going into Monday you can see that I was actually a little torqued up.

Megan left for California on Monday.  We took an acting class together two years ago and became friends - she's a perky former dancer with amazing acting talent who got into the MFA program at the University of California - San Diego, the hottest acting school in the country right now.  Since I've known her, she's gone from being a near-agoraphobic to a subway and elevator-riding powerhouse.  She did, however, skip air travel (and the medically-supervised dose of Valium it would have taken to get her on a plane,) in favor of riding the bus all the way to southern California.  This is my own personal vision of hell.

She's going to be a huge star one day, but she'll always be my messy friend who pushed me to express my own creativity, and I will miss her.

And two of my girlfriends were struggling through break-ups, while a colleague dealt with ending his marriage after 11 years. 

There's something in the air right now - a happiness deficit (sadness surplus?) - that's somehow appropriate for the times we live in, but no less easier to deal with.

I pray we all all find enough within ourselves to be able to offer something to support those around us who need it.  I feel like community is so critical right now, and as a society we don't seem to be getting that message.

In moods like this, I like hamburgers, so that's what we ate Monday night.  My friend Todd came over and we ate burgers and talked about his summer working at Sant Ambroeus in Southampton.  If you're not out east, go to the one on W4th St.  You can't go wrong with their eggplant parmigiana, the linguine cacio e pepe, the orecchiette, the filet mignon or the branzino. 

The Last Word:

DO THIS, New York:

Add your voice to the efforts to reform health care.  Constructive ideas are always welcome.  Write or call your Member of Congress and your Senators.

Be nice, even to the ignorant.

Eat at Sant Ambroeus

Make my burgers and Brussels Sprouts:

For the burgers:

Throw some ground beef in a stainless steel bowl.  Use a little more than 1/3 pound per person.

Add salt, pepper, onion powder, and chili powder.

Mix it up, but don't over work the meat.  Form a ball, flatten slightly, make a thumbprint in the center.

Cook them.

Before they're done, add a slice of Kraft 2% Milk singles.

Top with chopped tomato, sliced onion, and sliced avocado.

Serve with:

1 pound Brussels Sprouts, stemmed and cut in half.

A bunch of chopped shallots.

Mix sprouts and shallots with 2 Tbsp Olive Oil.

Season with Salt.  

Toss it in a Pyrex casserole dish and bake at 400 degrees - about 30 minutes.

Be nice to each other.  I'll be funny in the next post - it'll be about my birthday.  YAY!!!

DON'T DO THIS, New York:

Don't teabag.  Either kind.

Don't skip the cheese - I used to do that and the burger is less fun that way.

Don't be a racist.


  1. Perfect example of how lessons are NOT learned when people really think they won't get caught. Apparently the reason this brainiac actually WAS caught is because the Wells Fargo-hired realtor tried to sell the place, and this lady and her entourage blocked the sale! The realtor got upset and took down the license plate. Unbelievable.

    It has to be regulated. Government has a place, folks. Yes, we should be always watching that Government is not corrupt, is as efficient as possible, and is not overreaching, but it HAS to exist, boneheads.

    Anyway, enough. Good post, Stine!

  2. Good one on happiness and it helps a lot.

    Karim - Mind Power