October 05, 2011

I am the one percent

The "Occupy Wall Street" protest movement has a new website up, well, a blog of sorts. They call it, "We Are the 99 Percent". There are a large number of very sad stories about individuals who for one reason or another have wound up broke, unemployed, hungry, homeless, and so on. Reading through them will bring a tear to most people's eye, annoy a small number of folks, and make a few of us very angry. For the sake of this post, I'm going to assume that every story I pluck from this labyrinth is true. However, this is still cyberspace and anyone can appear to be anything, so as you read through their tales of tragedy and woe, don't assume every last one of them is telling the real truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Life is never that simple and life in cyberspace is never completely honest. It is one of the shortcomings of the medium.

Today is October 5th, 2011. As I sit down to write it is 8:51 a.m. here in Ohio. None of the stories have titles, but the story at the top of the page is one I'm going to call, "My Girlfriend has Cancer". This is truly a tragic story. Apparently these two young folks live together, one of them has cancer, and the cancer victim is working two jobs to pay for her chemotherapy. My mother died of cancer a few years back, and my mother-in-law died of cancer about a year later. Cancer is a nasty, destructive disease and the treatment for it is even harder to bear than the disease itself. My mother died in America, without insurance. By the time she was approved for Medicaid the cancer had reached Stage IV and the prognosis was grime. After a couple of months of treatment she died, but it wasn't the cancer that killed her. The radiologist set his machine wrong causing one of the tumors to explode. She died from blood clots and other damage resulting from the radiologist's mistake. My mother-in-law was Japanese so she had Japanese National Health Insurance. She went to the Aichi Cancer Center in Nagoya, a modern, well-equipped, well-staffed facility that rivals anything in America or Europe. The combination of radiology and chemotherapy caused her kidneys to fail and without access to a transplant, she died within a couple of days.

I'm telling these two stories of my own not to gain sympathy. I've worked through the pain of both deaths and I am at peace with how things turned out. I bring this up to show that I know exactly what this young couple is going through. To my mind, the real tragedy is not that they are struggling to pay for cancer treatments. The real tragedy is that someone so young is stricken with such a terrible, unrelenting disease. The young woman is fighting for all she is worth, working two jobs to pay for her treatment. She is not a "victim", at all. She is brave, heroic, and deserving of her boyfriend's respect and admiration. Personally, it appalls me that he would take such a heroic tale and recast it into some kind of victim state so that he could make a political statement. That is not the kind of support she needs right now! She needs his faith, his love, and his undying belief in her will to live. He shouldn't be protesting the system that keeps her working so that she can pay for her treatments. He should be telling the world about her strength of character and celebrating her will to live.

The second story is, well, the second one on the page today. I'm going to call it, "I Sell my Body to Survive". This fellow's father (I assume) invested heavily in WorldCom and lost everything. He himself apparently had some kind of union-supported job and that ended in 2009 (although we aren't told what kind of job or why it ended). So now he "sells his body" to pay the bills, but he is not "walking the street". In short, he is a male escort or some other kind of sex worker.

I'm really going to go out on a limb with this one. Any family and friends reading this are probably going to be a bit horrified, but so be it.

Personally, I think the fellow is doing just fine and if anything, I think his case should become a "cause celebre" for the legalization of prostitution. Yes, Bible-pounding Christian that I am, I believe prostitution should be legal. From the very dawn of time prostitution has been part and parcel of human experience. The very oldest cuneiform tablets we have celebrate the temple prostitutes, both male and female, working in the temples of Ishtar. Cross-dressing is not a modern invention and neither is sex for cash. The prostitutes of Ishtarian worship were leaders in their communities, respected members of society, rich beyond belief, and held gala parades and parties to celebrate human sexuality and the joy of life.

Instead of using his story to bring down the system that provides his clients with the money they need to pay for his companionship, this young fellow ought to be marching in the streets demanding the repeal of the draconian, medieval, and uncivilized laws condemning prostitution. These laws create the conditions that keep prostitutes from seeking healthcare, keep their pimps using drug addiction and physical abuse to assert power over them, and cause far too many of this fellow's colleagues to walk the streets of every major city in our nation, performing their trade under the most dangerous, unsanitary conditions imaginable. He shouldn't be protesting capitalism because capitalism is what keeps him fed and clothed. He should protesting the puritanical laws (mostly put in place by liberal progressives by the way!) that make his trade far more dangerous than it already is!

I lived two doors down from a streetwalker when I was in Denver. Because I'm always looking for ways to improve my little corner of the world, I wound up taking she and her co-workers back and forth to Denver General Hospital for any number of pimp and client-induced injuries. I made soup for them when they were sick. I brought them coffee while they walked their turf. I reported their pimps to the police when they were abused. And no, I have never paid for sex, nor have I ever accepted a "freebie". I'm much too paranoid of sexually transmitted diseases and I always have been.

Legalization of prostitution would bring people like this young fellow out of the shadows and into socially acceptable positions that would allow them to receive healthcare benefits, retirement plans, and all the other union benefits he had at his "regular" job. Legalization of prostitution would also provide a safer, cleaner sex industry that could provide part-time work for people in need and full-time work for those few who actually enjoy the sex trade. This young man is not a victim of capitalism. He is, in fact, a victim of draconian laws put in place by liberal progressives in their undying search for a utopian society that can never be realized. He should be protesting, alright, but he should be protesting against the people he is now supporting!

Then there are a whole passel of stories that I personally feel are far too silly to bother with. A "public sector worker" who complains he is a target for budget cuts would be someone I would label "a tax-fed parasite afraid of losing his cushy job". A 23 year-old newlywed "afraid for the future" is simply living life. When I was a 23 year-old newlywed I was afraid for the future too. It's called, "starting out in the adult world" and it's completely natural. There is a former sailing yacht captain and ex-goldsmith who failed to invest properly and plan for his own retirement. Sorry buddy, but that's your personal failure not a failure of capitalism. Same for the young woman whose husband works 15+ hours a day. Get used to it, kiddo. At fifty years old my wife still works 15+ hours a day with no sign of slowing down. Life is hard, but free market capitalism is what provides the jobs that keep this woman and I both fed. As for the "fire science" student, dude, I've been there. I know it's hard but you'll make it and you shouldn't be looking to the government. You should be looking to yourself and your own ingenuity. There are way too many of these kind of stories. They are, quite frankly, delusional.

Life is hard. When I was 19 I woke up one day $24,000 in debt from student loans, unemployed, far from home, and with zero prospects. I joined the Army and spent four years learning how to stay alive in a combat zone. Thanks be to God I never actually went to combat. I have deep, abiding respect for those who do go into hell in defense of our country and our way of life. They are genuine heroes. While I was in the Army I married a woman who had originally come to my high school as an exchange student. With absolutely no knowledge of what I was getting myself into, I let her convince me to move to Japan after my Army tour of duty ended. I spent twenty-five years in the Land of the Rising Sun, minus a couple years back in the states to finish the education I'd started before joining the Army. One of my sons was born in Japan, the other in America. My failure to enculturate drove me so insane that at one point I left my wife. Thankfully, she chased me down and dragged me back home.

Even now, with both sons grown and starting lives of their own, it is so hard for me to live in Japan that in order for me to stay sane we had to buy property in the middle of corn country and build a house for me to live in. I spend about nine or ten months out of the year here where I can keep a calmer head on my shoulders. I fly back and forth to Japan two, sometimes three times a year. And let me tell you something, when it takes a full twenty-four hours door-to-door, those six trips nearly kill me every single time I take one. It takes me about three days to recover from each trip and I'm not getting any younger.

My wife works at a bank. Her bank has a huge, very profitable operation on Wall Street. Now, finally, after a lifetime of 60-70 hour workweeks, she has worked her way into the very bottom edge of the top 1% of American families. Since her job is in Tokyo, we are actually in the top 1% of both Japanese and American families. And yes, life is good. But here's the catch, life has always been good!

I spent twenty years living off rice and whatever small meat and vegetable dish I could put together to supplement it. When my son was just starting elementary school he developed a very rare condition known as "Legg-Calve-Perthes disease". The treatment regimen we chose for him involved two surgeries and over a year in a wheelchair. Life in Tokyo is unbelievably inconvenient for a person in a wheelchair, even though nowdays it is a thousand percent better than it was at the time. Twenty years ago life in a wheelchair in Tokyo was pure torture! Someone had to stay home to help my son get back and forth to school, make sure he didn't open the surgery wounds while they healed, change his bandages, and for a long time after most kids can get up and go to the bathroom on their own, change his diapers. My wife earned more money than I did and she had the hope of a real career, so I quit work and stayed home.

It has been a very long, very difficult life, but it is the hardship that makes life worth living. I am profoundly grateful to be where I am today. I love my wife. I love my two sons. I love the little house on the side of a hill where I spend ten months out of every year. I enjoy my visits to Tokyo far more than I could ever enjoy living there. Life is good now not because my wife has been successful in her career and earned her way into the top 1%, but because life has always been good. It isn't wealth that makes life good, it's the people you love and the people who love you. That was true even when my wife and I lived in a one bedroom, cockroach-infested apartment just outside the gates of Schofield Barracks.

Hopefully someday soon my wife will feel comfortable enough to retire and then she'll join me in this little house where I am living alone. If not, our separate lives could easily go on like this for another ten or fifteen years. So believe me, I know all about hardship. Whether it involves being woken up at two o'clock in the morning by a prostitute neighbor who begs for a ride to the other side of town to look for a broken, beaten friend abandoned in a cheap motel or being woken up at half past one in the morning by a hysteric wife who announces Tokyo has just had a huge earthquake and she is scared to death only to hang up and leave me spending three days deep in worry. Yeah, life in the modern world is hard, very hard, and sometimes it royally sucks. I know exactly how every one of those "99%" feel. And guess what, being in the top 1% doesn't change any of that. In many ways, it makes it even harder.

My car is eight years old, has 140,000 miles on it, and needs about $3000 of work to make it through this winter. I still have bills to pay, and my wife has even larger bills to pay. We took advantage of the collapse in housing prices to pick up this land and build this house, but we paid cash so we wouldn't have the damocles sword of a thirty-year mortage hanging over our heads. True, if we gotten a mortgage (and we could have gotten a huge one quite easily) my house would be the talk of the town and I'd be living in luxury.

Smart people don't do that. Smart people, the kind who wind up in the top 1% at the age of 50, don't spend more than they earn. They eat beans and rice when they have to, live in roach-infested apartments for decades, and start out at multinational corporations working as secretaries, mail clerks, or even janitors. Life is hard in the modern world, but if you ignore the flash and glamor of Hollywood movies, do the right thing and live smart, then even in today's world of limited opportunities anyone at all can find their way into the top 1%. And that, my friends, is the real power of a free market capitalist economy. In a free market you might start out starving, but you and you alone are the only thing that determines where you wind up.

I have no sympathy for the "Occupy Wall Street" movement. I've been there. I paid my dues in blood, sweat, and sleepless nights. My wife paid her dues as well, paid them in far higher physical and emotional tolls than I paid mine. She is the breadwinner and I am the kept man. It might be untraditional, but hey, it works for us and it works well. The only difference between the top 1% and the other 99% is the top 1% never gave up, never stopped trying, and most important of all, never once expected someone else to come along and rescue them. Sure, a few of the top 1% inherited their money and lifestyle. Good on them! Those are very few in number, mere dozens among the millions who earned their way into the top 1% through the sweat of their brow, the groaning of their joints, and countless sessions of 24, 36, or even 72 hour workdays.

Life sucks. Get used to it! Monarchies, dictatorships, oligarchies, and communes are even worse. In those systems you cannot improve your life no matter how creative you are, how industrious you are, or how resourceful you are. In those systems you are either born into wealth or you marry into it. And guess what, even in a free market capitalist society you can still be born into wealth or marry into wealth, but if you happen to be born poor, free market capitalism is the only system that allows you to rise to the top based on your own abilities. And that, my friends, is what makes the modern world far better than anything that has come before.

No, it's not utopia. I'm sorry, but there is no golden past, no golden future, and no utopia. If the "Occupy Wall Street" movement and their supporters succeed, dystopia is the only possible result. That's just simple reality.