Monthly Archives: July 2011

dan savage cleans up billionaire mark cuban’s mess

There was an interesting spontaneous moment on a recent Real Time with Bill Maher that speaks to the complication of class relations.

While making a comment, Dallas Mavericks billionaire owner Mark Cuban accidentally knocked over the water of fellow panelist Christia Freeland. He apologized and continued with his thoughts. As he was speaking, someone off-camera put a towel on the table, so the water could be discreetly wiped up. As it turned out, it ended up being the third panelist, gay rights activist and sex columnist Dan Savage, who took care of the spilled water, pointedly saying as he did so, “Here’s the working class Irish guy, cleaning up after the billionaire.”

Upon first watching, I was immediately struck that the moment represented a central problem with the uber-wealthy: lack of awareness, and the expectation of others to deal with the mess you create. Cuban accidentally knocked over the water, nicely apologized, and then went on with things, paying no mind to the effects of his accident. And furthermore, it was tended to by Savage, reared in a working class household, who has been taught to do just the opposite.

But after a little reflection, it seems the class influences at work in this brief exchange between Savage and Cuban are a bit more complex.

Savage is an extremely successful columnist, radio host, published author, activist, and regularly-featured national commentator. He might not be a billionaire, but he’s more comfortable financially than most people. Of course, as he was brought up working class, maybe he still identifies with that reality, as is no doubt the case with many folks: being molded foremost by the class experiences of their childhood. But Cuban, too, was brought up working class. The grandson of Russian immigrants who were processed at Ellis Island, he sold garbage bags when he was twelve to pay for a pair of sneakers, and so forth.

So if Savage was still identifying as working class, then it seems a little unfair to negatively label Cuban as “the billionaire.”

Maybe this incident is not significant of any larger issues, class or otherwise? Maybe it was indeed an example of a class microaggression?

What to make of it?

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Filed under Accountable Wealth, Class, Lifestyle Economics

scott russell sanders breaks “the spell of money”

There’s an intriguing new essay by Scott Russell Sanders in the current issue of Orion, called “Breaking the Spell of Money,” which looks at an irony of wealth, and the corresponding challenge that the extremely affluent are failing to meet.

“The accumulation of money,” Sanders writes, “gives the richest individuals and corporations godlike power over the rest of us.

 “Yet money itself has no intrinsic value; it is a medium of exchange, a token that we have tacitly agreed to recognize and swap for things that do posses intrinsic value, such as potatoes or poetry, salmon or surgery. Money is a symbolic tool, wholly dependent for its usefulness on an underlying social compact. It is paradoxical, therefore, that those who have benefited the most financially from the existence of this compact have been the most aggressive in seeking to undermine it, by attacking unions, cooperatives, public education, independent media, social welfare programs, non-profits that serve the poor, land-use planning, and every aspect of government that doesn’t directly serve the rich. For the social compact to hold, ordinary people must feel that they are participating in a common enterprise that benefits everyone fairly, and not a pyramid scheme designed to benefit a few at the top.”

It’s easy to get lost, or dismayed, by statistics. This is especially true when trying to comprehend vast amounts of wealth. But by wondering “why … a billionaire [would] want more money” Sanders does a better job than most at illuminating the seemingly unrealistic reality of the insanely wealthy.

“Suppose you keep a billion dollars under your mattress,” Sanders explains, “where it will earn no income, and you set out to spend it;  Continue reading

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Filed under Accountable Wealth, Activism, Class, Economic Justice, Social Change

democracy vs. aristocracy

Check out this telling graphic from United for a Fair Economy, which makes me wonder: in a society where the political campaign prerequisites (read: money) are making it more and more difficult for most people to get elected as political representatives, and serve their constituency (read: not the wealthy), can our democracy survive this kind of egregious economic inequality?

It is fine to have financial incentives and rewards for those in society who value working hard toward those aims. But when the wealth of a few threatens the livelihood and economic opportunity of so many others, then it seems something is quite out of balance.

To me, this looks more like an aristocracy than a democracy. And that is not good.

 

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Filed under Accountable Wealth, American Dream, Class, Economic Justice, Economic Opportunity, Fair Taxation

boston’s moonlight graham

Here’s one I heard on local sports radio, driving home the other day from my July 4th weekend. It explains why $149 might not be such an outrageous price for a baseball after all.

Yankee Stadium. September 30, 1951. In the final game of the regular season, a young Red Sox rookie played in his first, and last, Major League Baseball game of his career. His name was Harley Hisner, and after five seasons in the minors, he was called up to be that day’s starting pitcher.

Impressively, the rookie lasted 6 innings, giving up 3 runs, and scattering 7 hits, including the final career regular season hit by Joe DiMaggio. Hisner also struck out 3 batters, twice fanning a young, promising rookie named Mickey Mantle.

Hisner began the next season back in the minors. He never made it back to the big leagues.

(Was it giving up that hit to DiMaggio?)

Today Hisner lives in Monroeville’s Village of Heritage nursing home, back in his native Indiana, where the (barely) former major-leaguer still fields (excuse the pun) dozens of requests each year to sign jerseys, bats and baseballs, one of which reportedly popped up (and again) recently on eBay for the unbelievably outrageous, or incredibly reasonable, asking price of $149.

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sports go green

Here’s my new piece on the efforts of several professional sports teams to make their stadiums and arena more environmentally sustainable. It ran in this morning’s The Valley Advocate.

Ah, sports …

SPORTS GO GREEN

It takes the viewing experience of approximately one commercial break of a televised sporting event to observe 90% of what defines sports culture in America: bad beer, big trucks, and scantily clad women. With only so many 24-hour ESPN channels, regional Comcast Sports networks, websites, fan blogs, sports sections in newspapers (yes, still newspapers), radio talk shows and glossy-print magazines, it’s easy to surmise that there isn’t room in our daily discussion of athletics for anything else. Just don’t tell that to Alan Hershkowitz, Senior Scientist for the Natural Resource Defense Council.

“If you want to change the world,” admits the crusading environmentalist, “you don’t emphasize how different you are from everybody else. You go to where Americans are at.”

A little environmentalism with your sports spectatorship, anyone? Just remember to recycle your Miller Lite can after washing down your Viagra pill, please.

It may seem unbelievable, but Hershkowitz is intent on infusing America’s spectator sports culture with an environmental ethic. And as the Senior Advisor to the Green Sports Alliance, a coalition of professional sports franchises, stadiums and arenas in the Pacific Northwest, he is attempting to do just that. And the environmental efforts are being felt far beyond the snow-capped Cascade Range.

Read on … 

 

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Filed under Accountable Wealth, Activism, Community Investing, Consumerism