Saturday, January 31, 2015

Beholden to the 1%

In their infinite fog of wisdom the Supreme Court Citizen’s United decision of 2010 has rendered our elections as money battles between rival billionaires. The Koch Brothers recent sponsorship of a forum of Republican presidential hopefuls is a shameless event of public servants parading under the money tree to see what they can shake loose. Democrats will have their own pandering to Liberal wallets. It’s the new normal.

All this struck a chord in my memory bank. I was regressed to my 5th grade class in P.S. 99. It was 1943-44 and I was ten, more or less. We were a nation at war. I can’t remember the day I went from not-knowing to knowing.  My father was an air-raid warden complete with helmet, arm-band and flashlight. I saved tin foil, even knitted squares to be sewn together to make a quilt or was it an afghan. The war was raging not only overseas but also played out in our classroom. Everyone, even kids, were urged to save their dimes, quarters and dollars to buy war bonds.

I can think of nothing that recalled the tenor of the times as well as those bonds. They bonded us together not only by raising money but rallying the home front. Both private companies and the government partnered in advertising. Movie theaters offered free admission with the purchase of a bond.  $18.75 got you $25 in ten years; 2.9% interest. Hollywood stars toured the country raising over 800 million bucks. Irving Berlin wrote with both hands. Any Bonds Today, was on The Hit Parade sung by The Andrew Sisters. Kate Smith weighed in with God Bless America. Three mediums and an extra large.

There was a most unique exhibition baseball game played between (among?) the Yankees, Giants and Dodgers and a team of servicemen. Prior to that was an old-timers game in which Babe Ruth hit a ball, thrown by Walter Johnson, over the roof of the Polo Grounds. My friend, Earl, is my witness. Only a war bond could get you in. The take was 56 million dollars. Final score…..who cared?

The fierce competition waged at school was between my class and the one above. We had our one percenter in Claire W. as in Double You and they had Patricia Yellen. Was she related to our current chief of the Federal Reserve? Maybe she printed money in her basement. Claire was more than Double Me. She had breeding…in her fashionable threads, her posture and her penmanship. I imagined her parents holding soirees where admission was a bond or two. In any case we looked to her to bring our total above our rivals. Certainly we couldn’t depend on those ten centers, like me, to do battle. Yet somehow I managed to buy two-$25 bonds cashed in when I moved to California ten years later. 

Who won? We all won. Money was an abstraction then and still is until you must do without. A psychiatrist friend once suggested that I don’t love money enough. I don’t disagree. But back in the day it was a bit less abstract. We were quantifying our patriotism.

I should say these four years were a brief window in the American chronicle as seen through the eyes of a kid. To be sure there were war profiteers and the class divisions, Antisemitism and racism before the war was in evidence after it.

By 1946 half the population (85 million people) had purchased war bonds. The 185.7 billion dollars raised is unmatched in history. (Thank you, Wikipedia) But that was then. Today we have a polarized landscape with class divisions like never before. Maybe the Koch’s pronounce their name to rhyme with Gotcha. But they didn’t get their way in 2012. It might take a planetary threat to mend the fabric of our nation so the interests of the 1% are indistinguishable from the 99%.  

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