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Sinistra o Destra (Italian for Left or Right)

October 29, 2011

Well we’re living here in Allentown

And they’re closing all the factories down

Out in Bethlehem they’re killing time

Filling out forms

Standing in line

There’s a great sickness in our country these days, an illness which causes us to point fingers at each other, call each other names.  We are a nation divided – divided along ideological lines.  Since I’m in relative isolation free of the constant barrage of media messages, I’ve had about five months to research what’s going on.  I think I may have a possible explanation.

Well our fathers fought the Second World War

Spent their weekends on the Jersey Shore

Met our mothers in the USO

Asked them to dance

Danced with them slow

My Dad was born into the Depression.  Upon graduation from high school in 1954, he was able to walk into a factory, get a job – a job which paid well enough for him to buy a new car – every year – for the next four years.  No college degree, no prior experience, no skills.  He didn’t buy cheap cars, either – he liked the Oldsmobiles, the top of the line Chevrolets.  Assuming a third of his wage went to the car – he’d have to earn $40,000 a year today as a high school graduate to have the same standard of living.

And we’re living here in Allentown

But the restlessness was handed down

And it’s getting very hard to stay

We’ve been sold the promise of the American Dream – a home in the suburbs, a new car in the driveway, a good job which pays benefits and Social Security to allow us a measure of comfort in our old age.  My parents had these things – and still have them.  A paid for house, a nice car in the garage, a small winter home in Arizona.  All on the wage of a tool and die maker, my Mom not working much more than now and then if only to get out of the house.  They made good money, these masters of skilled trades, but…their jobs are gone – shipped overseas; the heads of  companies rewarded handsomely for increasing the bottom line at the expense of the guys who toiled on the shop floor.

Meanwhile, the American Dream costs more than what the average family makes in a year, with the burden of health care being shifted off to the individual with no promise of Social Security if you were born in the last 40 years.  Families forced to choose between food and medicine, with medicine losing out.  Proof?  Average age of mortality is in decline in the US, with most all developed nations surpassing us.  We neglect our health as we can’t afford the cost.

Well we’re waiting here in Allentown

For the Pennsylvania we never found

For the promises our teachers gave

If we worked hard

If we behaved

I’m the last Mohican.  I went to college, got a degree, worked hard – hard enough that Pauline did not have to work.  In our generation, that was an anomaly, as the slide had begun.  We were married in 1986.  We did eclipse our parents’ standard of living, but it took nearly 20 years to do so.

Most of my contemporaries did not.

So the graduations hang on the wall

But they never really helped us at all

No they never taught us what was real

Iron and coke

And chromium steel

My daughter Alicia just graduated from a prestigious East Coast private school.  I paid the price to send her there, as I saw the train wreck a-coming, and I hoped that the combination of a good school, internships and work experience would net her a decent shot at being an independent contributing member of society upon completing matriculation.

The cost of my bet?  North of $200,000.  Did it work?

Sort of.

And we’re waiting here in Allentown

But they’ve taken all the coal from the ground

And the union people crawled away

We know, on an instinctive level, things have declined.  We’re distracted by the name calling, the accusations.  Please note the song “Allentown”, by Billy Joel was written in 1982.  Ronald Reagan was in office; the decline was underway a good 5-10 years prior., yet we persist in blaming the guy who ‘touched it last’.

It scares us.

A portion of our society believes if we only return to the good ol’ days of a century ago (isolationism, protectionism and mimimal government interference) we’ll be happy.  They believe fervently in the deconstruction of government, of the social contract which has furnished many the ability to live in moderate comfort in old age – and – access to the various medications which make old age both possible and tolerable.  Social contracts are funded by transfer payments – a fancy name for taxes.  They give us infrastructure – roads, bridges, running water, sewage systems.  Somehow we’ve forgotten this, or worse yet, we’ve lost the understanding of what constitutes a social contract, taking its benefits for granted.

The people who wish for the Good Ol’ Days know that they are Right!  Look! it’s Right There!  I’m Right – therefore your argument is invalid, as you’re Not Right!

Sorry.  I’m not all that interested in going back to a time of cart paths, hand dug wells and pit toilets.  As someone who worked for a firm providing infrastructure to the US for the past 102 years, please believe me on this.  As a retired senior civil engineer for the US Army recently said, “I’m embarrassed at the condition of  our country.  It’s crumbling.”  He chooses to live in Seoul, South Korea – a clean, modern society with a high standard of living and cheap health care.

Make no mistake.  Bridges will fall; water and sanitation systems will fail.  People will die.  It’s okay, though – we eliminated taxes and that nasty Big Government thingie that was so intrusive.  Besides – those people that died?

God’s will.


Every child had a pretty good shot

To get at least as far as their old man got

But something happened on the way to that place

They throw an American flag in our face

And then there’s Alicia.  Intelligent, entreprenurial, creative – she moved to Seattle in search of a job.  Any job.  She now works two part time jobs and has a business on the side.  Average pay between the two jobs?  $10.50 an hour.  Her take home pay is about $1000 a month, her rent $850.  She has no choice but to live with somebody to make ends meet.  Compare that to her grandfather’s standard of living at the same age.  No health care benefits, no retirement benefits, no chance of saving up to buy a car, much less a house.  No chance of Social Security or Medicare for her.

She’s lucky – the prestigious school degree separated her from the pack of Average Joes, affording her the luxury of working.  Yes – it’s a luxury these days to be a college graduate subsisting in a 500 square foot apartment.  The majority of her contemporaries are holed up in their parents’ basements, no hope of a future.  If she had to pay back the entrance ticket to a Job – at 50% of her take home, it would take her 30 years to pay me back.

30 years.  I’d debated this topic with someone the other day, and she was condemned for making such a stupid decision as to spend that much money on a degree.  The no future group was dismissed as a bunch of lazy self-entitled kids brainwashed by That Man (no respect for the President these days – it’s okay, we’re Right) in the White House. I’d like to know where these pat answer talking points originate from; their uniformity and ease by which they pop out indicate they’re not borne of independent thought.   Meanwhile, I’m happy for and proud of my daughter – at least she has a tiny sliver of a chance, which is more than most.

Well I’m living here in Allentown

And it’s hard to keep a good man down

But I won’t be getting up today

Meanwhile, the left is vilified, denounced and even attacked for questioning the decline of the middle class.  I wonder who came up with the terms for our division.  If you are Left, you must be bad (as evidenced by the Italian translation of left).   I’m embarrassed we, as a country, cannot give our children the opportunity our parents had, and aghast at the attacks made on kids who choose to ask in a public forum, as they were taught in Civics class to do, the basic question, “Why?  Why do we have to live like this?  Why must we accept no future?”

In a recent online debate, it was suggested the solution to “putting these kids in their place” (wherever that may be) was to stop using rubber bullets and tear gas on them, and start using real grenades.

These are the sons and daughters of American citizens, of American veterans and soldiers – yet some find it acceptable to use deadly force in an effort to achieve silence.

Whomever thought up the terminology for separation of ideology – I think you got it wrong.

And we’re living here in Allentown

-“Allentown”, Billy Joel, 1982.

10 Comments leave one →
  1. October 29, 2011 10:14 pm

    Beautifully Written from the heart & soul. I am afraid too. I will fight for my family till my death which I hope is the not the expiration date on my Florida Issued Driver’s License. I will stand up for the young, the weak, the elderly, the vulnerable, the miss understood, the forgotten. I will lend my voice to their cause as it is mine as well & we are the 99%.


    • dangerboyandpixie permalink*
      October 30, 2011 12:39 am

      Irrespective of the term used to describe who “we” are, I wanted to illustrate a very simple fact: My parents had a standard of living which is 2-2.5X that of my children. This is not Right by any measure. Our kids were an anomaly, experiencing a lifestyle unavailable to 98% of people coming of age in the 80’s.

      The key point is this was the norm in the 60’s. It became the exception in the 80’s, and was the domain of the high net worth people circa 2000. It happened slowly – so slowly few noticed.

  2. Joseph T permalink
    October 30, 2011 5:26 pm

    Very well written, very well thought. Thanks from someone who does not “debate” those who are convinced they, and only they, are right.

    Joseph T

    • dangerboyandpixie permalink*
      October 30, 2011 6:14 pm


      I’d begun questioning this in the mid 80’s, as we moved from single wage earner households (the Leave it to Beaver/Father Knows Best model) to dual-income families. Ostensibly this was in an effort to get more and better “stuff”, yet time has proven otherwise. In inflation adjusted dollars, my daughter earns half the money I did at her age – with none of the benefits.

      I have no desire to debate those of well intentioned, albeit misdirected, views. Engagement has demonstrated debate serves only to strengthen their beliefs. At the same time, I will not be shouted down by zealots. The post is not a ‘cut and paste’ Facebook soundbyte; rather it is and absolute borne of personal experience.

      Another absolute fact:

      In 1968, my father earned $30,000/year as a tool and die maker. Doesn’t sound like much, right?

      Well…adjusted for inflation, that $30,000 job equates to $195,000 in today’s dollars, according to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics Consumer Price Index Calculator. This was not a Big Three union job, either. This was a guy working in a small shop in Oak Park, MI – a shop long gone.

      My goal is to get people to understand in very basic and concrete terms something has happened, and we are leaving our children a world where few have little, if any, chance of achieveing the same standard of living as their parents.

  3. Joseph T permalink
    October 30, 2011 7:29 pm

    I can write scripts, documents, etc. quite well. But I do not have your talent to convey other ideas. Please keep up the good work.
    Both my mom & dad worked all of their lives. Dad retired from a textile factory here in NC. The plant was shut down several years after he retired. I’m glad he got out when he did.
    You mention Facebook. I may have to look you up.

    Joseph T

    • dangerboyandpixie permalink*
      October 30, 2011 8:32 pm

      Thank you Joseph!

      I’m familiar with the collapse of the textile industry. Your dad’s job was shipped to the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands, a US protectorate. Major manufacturers were able to assemble clothing from sections of cloth woven and cut in China using Chinese girls who paid for the opportunity to work at a fraction of minimum wage. The finished garments carried a “Made In U.S.A” label.

      Companies lowered their costs of goods sold; Garapan (the main city in Saipan) was a boomtown with immense wealth. 37 factories running full-tilt. Eventually we no longer cared where our clothes were manufactured, turning Saipan’s garment boom into desolation.

      The last factory closed in 2009, I believe.

      The girls imported from China?

      Many are still there. A five block square area outside of the Hyatt Saipan is where they work now, offering massages with happy endings. The girls look absolutely miserable; dead eyes all.

      I write from personal experience. I have seen the devastation firsthand. The sex/slave trade is the unofficial #2 business of Saipan after tourism. I have stories which are unprintable here – but do a google search on Saipan and Massagegate. I’ve met the central character, you’ll see what I mean.

      I’m the only Chuck Sherman on FB in Key West.

  4. October 31, 2011 2:33 am

    You know how I feel about this. I’m glad you’re on my side on this as I cannot stand the other side. It’s 1850 all over again.

    • dangerboyandpixie permalink*
      October 31, 2011 2:51 am

      The irony is we both have misanthropic tendencies, yet we’re in favour of making sure the average guy has a chance at a decent life. My personal experiences do not lie; we have been hoodwinked by a group who espouse the evils of poor people, mythical welfare queens all. I knew this in 1980, but had not the experience or the skills to articulate; it has, however, come home to roost.

      Watch what happens when medicare/Medicaid get cut.

  5. Mike permalink
    November 1, 2011 12:22 am

    By way of introduction, name’s Mike, born and raised in Key West, family in KW since the late 1800’s. KWHS, Univ. of Washington, Univ. of Florida (x2), and Johns Hopkins. I put people to sleep for a living and then wake them up, officially known as a Nurse Anesthetist but because of additional schooling led to a job as a Nurse Intensivist–taking care of the most critical of the critical. Though I’d like to think I got to where I am in my debt-free life on my own I had the help of a loving and supportive family who, because of inner-ear issues that would always keep me out of the front of the 747’s I had longed to fly, agreed that I could travel to the opposite corner of the country to study/major and graduate with a degree in Philosophy, that had me working as a Fraud Investigator for AMEX until they closed their Seattle operations and moved them to SF, where I did not want to move to. Went to Montana worked on a ranch, bought some land, did odd jobs, and finally ended back “home,” where my future would be written via either a medical or nursing track. It ended up because back a HCA hospital in north Florida. Rick Scott, who ran the Co. at this time provided tuition assistance and I received by BSN and MSN degrees with his help, getting more money to continue at Hopkins finally ending with a joint DNP/MPH . Like you, I married up, way up. My wife works in a similar though slightly adjunct profession as much the same level, and we both benefit from the companies who are willing to allow us to represent and promote their products in distant places. We have certainly stepped on the same dirt from SInagore, Hong Kong/Kowloon, China, Taiwan, to Guam and Hawaii and perhaps elsewhere. Personally I’m still dreaming of the day I can take my fathers old 65ft ketch down to antarctic waters and explore the Falkland and South Sandwich in the manner the islands would prefer. Though we no longer live FT in KW we do have a home there, as well as the “other” part of the state we call home. A small condo in LaJolla doesn’t count as anything other than providing an opportunity to play Torrey Pines when I’m in the mood to visit SoCal. On the very street across from the KW Customs House can can find a statue paid for and erected by a great-grandfather long gone but never forgotten who fought for a different country than the one he lived in, because in many ways, some of the micro issues that divided us then, divide us now.
    I appreciate the time and effort it took to write your thoughts on what is one of the salient issues of our time. I love how people always talk about having a dialogue and understanding differences and then go on to say they “can’t stand” the “other side.” Mewling pussies all of them, more interested in bringing the European socialism of their youth to their naturalized home without the depth of understanding that the very same policies they advocate for this country are speedily turning southern Europe into an economic wasteland. After all, Greeks have not been known for fiscal prudence since…well, the memory of man does not run that far. I suspect that in the end they will be unable to completely transform themselves in the way the rest of the Eurozone wants them to. The Greeks are, well, Greek, and that culture will not change in the span of a year or two. Even if the Greeks wished to transform themselves, it would be a project of decades; and it is not clear that the people of that bankrupt nation are even willing to make the change. For many, a lifetime of suckling on the public teet can render one incapable of being anything but slaves to the status quo.

    Though my own political journey started liberal it ended up leaning conservative on most issues. I take umbrage at your comments and would challenge you to find any normative conservative advocating, as you seem to imply, that this nation should return to the era of “going back to a time of cart paths, hand dug wells and pit toilets.” I understand hyperbole, but if you honestly believe this, you’ve already drank the Kool-Aid I’m afraid.

    Do you not appreciate the fact that this nation is on an unsustainable course, and that often Government intervention is more the cause than the solution to our problems? How’s LBJ’s “Great Society” interventions worked out? Anti-poverty initiatives have created a class nearly incapable of employment, sequestered them in government-built ghettos, and then continues to fund their mistakes because they’re a handy and dependable voting block. Wall Street didn’t do that. The “war on drugs” has squandered the lives of thousands, imprisoned even more, and is a failure of major proportions. Wall Street didn’t do that. The EPA is almost singularly responsible for the decimation of California’s central valley, and the jobs and livelihoods of the millions who lived there. Wall Street didn’t do that. Government regulations (and union contracts) add thousands to the price of a car, a hospital bill, the cost of medicine, and yes, the unbridled access to guaranteed student loan funds that allow kids the opportunity to amass thousands of dollars in debt for a college degree/major that is useless in the real world that ought to have the majority of the OWS protestors marching on their Dean’s or University president’s office, not disobeying lawful orders to vacate public spaces that also belong to people who made financially prudent decisions in their youth. Closer to home, is there really any doubt of the role the public sector unions have played in the financial demise of Miami’s Health System/Public Health Trust, not to mention the burden of the AFSCME/teacher/police/fire pensions on the bottom line of dozens of Florida municipalities?

    You see, conservatives do not oppose tax increases because we are beholden to the rich. Rather, the question is whether wealth does more good when it is invested in the private sector, to create jobs and economic growth, or surrendered to the federal government as taxes to support the metastatic growth of a pestiferous bureaucracy. Rich liberals have always failed to understand any-collar conservatism, seeking to explain away working-class support of free enterprise as the consequence of a proto-fascist “Authoritarian Personality” or (more recently), bitter gun-and-Bible clinging. Liberalism has largely decayed into a creed of envy and resentment. It’s practically Pavlovian; they are so invested in the myth of their own righteousness that their ‘tolerance’ fetish goes right out the window whenever they suffer the slightest affront to their delusional notion of how the world works.

    It seems it’s quite impossible for you to believe that people like me are also in favor of making sure that the “average guy has a chance at a decent life,” but that there’s a path that does not require that I surrender more to a bureaucracy that is incapable of doing anything more than supporting policies which are proven failures.

    I’m kind of dismayed by the following statement, brainwashed by That Man (no respect for the President these days – it’s okay, we’re Right) in the White House. I’d like to know where these pat answer talking points originate from; their uniformity and ease by which they pop out indicate they’re not borne of independent thought. Now please correct me if I’m wrong in either a reply here or via e-mail, but I don’t recall a scintilla of respect for former president Bush. Liberals/progressives mocked him at every moment, compared him to Hitler, hung/burned him in effigy, etc, but the best people on the left can come up with is that any opposition to “that man” but somehow be racially motived. Makes a convenient scapegoat, doesn’t it…rather like blaming Wall Street on the financial crisis?

    In recent years I’ve noticed that those who most relentlessly charge others with racism are white people who, by pointing the accusing finger, seek to make a public display of their own colorblind virtue:
    Not only am I not a racist, but I am such an enlightened and courageous crusader against racism as to be able to detect the hidden hate of my fellow whites and to expose and fearlessly denounce it. Admire me!
    To these self-righteous hypocrites, I may be tempted to reply with the two most famous words of Rahm Emanuel (hint: the second word is “you”), but instead should remind them what Jesus said of their predecessors:
    Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness. Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.
    “Whited sepulchres,” indeed. They tithe the mint and cumin of racial self-righteousness, and when they make a proselyte, he is “twofold more the child of hell.” They react with predictable fury toward anyone who calls them out for their pharisaical fraudulence, as the ugly reality of their dishonest hypocrisy contradicts the virtuous reputation they covet.
    Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools. Progressives are joiners; they crave group acceptance; and it is their ability to consider themselves well-educated and politically conversant for having memorized the party line that more than anything else defines them.
    That they’ve been able to create a frame that protects and nurtures their ignorance — indeed, that elevates it to popular acceptance — is hardly surprising: it is easier to pretend to be smart than it is to learn, and, once this lesson is learned at the macro level, it is easier to get a group of people together who will all pretend to see the emperor’s topcoat than it is to find a brave few who will wonder why the old geezer’s let his balls hang out.

    In any case, if you or anyone is seriously interested in learning how this financial mess started, start with this seminal volume: Reckless Endangerment: How Outsized Ambition, Greed, and Corruption Led to Economic Armageddon. You find find them on Amazon for deadtree and digital editions, as well as the Mac App Store if you’re so inclined. If there’s one volume you consider the pertinent read I would be happy to oblige…even if it comes in comic book fashion 😉

    Hope all is well my friend, if I can call you that. If/when you return to KW it would be an honor to share an evening over a case of Yuengling’s and solve the worlds problems. In the meantime, keep up the exceptional work you do here. We’re all better off that you’re one of us, the people who commonly share an interest in making things better, but just have different solutions.

    • dangerboyandpixie permalink*
      November 1, 2011 1:57 am

      Mike –

      I appreciate the time, effort and integrity you’ve put into your response. I agree with many of your points, and I do find I disagree on others. There is nothing wrong with conservatism per se, however the brand of conservatism being offered up by an invigorated Republican party is, in my opinion, extreme. Elections have become a shell game in that the diehards in our two party system drive primaries towards extremism, and by the time low-information and values voters (not my terms, mind you) have a whack at picking somebody, they’re usually faced with two less-than-optimal choices. The problem with moderation in our current system is it has no value, no base, no constituency.

      I find I disagree on EPA; I recall not being able to breathe in LA as a kid. It’s much better now, a direct result of third party intervention. I’m sorry you’re dismayed by the “that man” comment, I would not have printed if I’d not heard it. The point is extremist Republicans have made it a point to publicly disrespect the President – I didn’t do that with President Bush, no matter what I thought of him privately.

      I’m personally appalled by the ever-widening differential between median income and the salaries paid to senior executives. Trickle-down economics was a term coined for the idea that private investment knew best – yet from the time if its inception to today, this gap has only picked up steam. Henry Ford understood the key to stimulating car sales was to pay his workers $5.00 a day. That’s $14 an hour in today’s dollars; a wage most college kids won’t earn in 2011. So the comment about cart paths and pit toilets holds up, as most of the US was this way circa 1914, when Henry implemented the increase. The reality is that it’s not trickle down economics – it’s drip down economics.

      These are not simple issues with simple answers. What I want us to do is agree that we have a problem, and figure out a way to fix it. I’m personally happy to see kids out demonstrating across the country, as it indicates a heightened awareness that something’s not quite right. Wall Street has a measure of culpability, in my opinion, as it rewarded the decision-makers of corporations who chose to hollow out the economic base of our country by moving jobs overseas.

      I’ll take you up on the beer, BTW. I’ll be back in town Mid Nov, hopefully never to leave again.

      I’ll leave you with a closing thought – it’s the one which made me see things very differently, as I had considered myself a conservative until this point:

      I read the President’s Grand Bargain. I still have a copy of it on file. The document recommended significant cuts in all areas of government – things which would make sense to the vast majority of Americans. It came down to one inviolate clause, in my opinion.

      The clause?

      Elimination of Bush Tax Cuts. Grover Norquist’s pledge prevented the passage of what would have been a seminal document.

      Curious, I researched Grover’s group, Americans for Tax Reform.

      Who funded them?

      R.j Reynolds, Philip Morris and a foundation funded by the Koch brothers.

      That a couple of corporations and a pair of individuals could hold that much influence over what is supposed to be a government by the people and for the people convinced me there’s something seriously wrong with what’s going on inside the Beltway.

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