Closest Confidant – Or 30+ Years of a Schizophrenic Friendship

Ever have one of those curious friendships with someone where primary interaction – besides making dinner or bar-hopping plans – is ladled with trite insults and creative name-calling?  I have just such a relationship with one of my closest friends, Pierce*, whom I’ve known for some 30 years.  People who don’t know us very well often say Pierce and I sound like an old married couple and / or wonder how we could possibly be friends.  The reactions of the unfamiliars is funny in and of itself.

For one thing, Pierce and I are devout movie buffs, each having studied filmmaking in college.  He actually earned a B.A. in film and produced an extraordinary short film for his final thesis.  Sadly, despite many years of hard work and “paying his dues” – whatever the hell that’s supposed to mean! – his dreams of building a career in the personally brutal and emotionally unstable film industry disintegrated faster than foreskin-laced pizza rolls at a bar mitzvah.  Feeling somewhat dejected, Pierce returned to Dallas in 1996 and tried getting into the local film and TV business without any luck.  He worked in the marketing field for a bit and now labors over a hot p.c. for a company that’s as equally brutal and emotionally unstable as any cinematic enterprise.  But he also concentrates on his own personal screenplays.  So, like me with my writing, he hasn’t abandoned his dreams altogether!  Dreams, after all, keep you moving forward – especially if you’re trapped in an ergonomically-designed office chair alongside people whose ambitions usually mean just getting from one weekend to another without hurting a constituent or ending up homeless.

We’re both fans of one of the campiest films ever made, “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?”  Starring Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, the 1962 black and white classic was intended to be a psychological drama, but turned out to be a desperate attempt by two aging Hollywood film divas to remain relative in a rapidly-changing American culture.  I place it in the same realm as “Barbarella” (1968) and “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” (1975) – it’s so deliciously crass and gut-wrenchingly entertaining.  All three of those movies are hysterically bad and wrong on so many artistic levels that present-day viewers have to wonder how the cast and crew of each production managed to stay focused enough to get through the madness every day.  I’m certain surviving cast members are reluctant to admit their involvement, while remaining perplexed how such crap could metamorphose into cult classic status.  Jane Fonda usually dismisses her title role in “Barbarella” as if she was kidnaped and drugged by communist sympathizers, before being hustled off to Europe; much the same way Linda Marchiano explained her oral escapades in “Deep Throat.”

But they’re just too good to pass up!  I’ve watched them again and again for the same reason I used to watch the “Jerry Springer Show”: they’re brainlessly funny, and you just know that shit’s not real!

When I worked for a bank in downtown Dallas in the 1990s, there were two receptionists in the department whom no one really liked.  One was perpetually constipated, while the other (I’m sure) waited anxiously for the day the “Mother Ship” returned.  The cranky one elicited the most vile reactions from people, especially the women.  I jokingly referred to them as “Blanche” and “Baby Jane”, after the main characters in the aforementioned movie.  Soon, most everyone else in the department began doing the same.  I never thought sweet little me would start such a trend!

But Pierce and I often jokingly refer to each other as “Blanche” and “Baby Jane.”

“I’m like Blanche,” he tells people, “the desperate, victimized and more intelligent sibling.  He’s the tired, washed-up, alcoholic skank!”

“She may be a tired alcoholic,” I say, “but that bitch could belt out a tune like no one’s business!”

And so it goes.  He’s always mocking my appearance, and I’m always making fun of his weight.

“Mexicans who come across the border in the middle of the night, hot, hungry, thirsty and covered with burrs don’t look as half as bad as you do by 5:00 on Fridays!” he once told me.

While standing on a second-story veranda at a bar outside of down Dallas during a Friday happy hour, Pierce asked me to take a photo of him for a dating web site.  “Make me look thin,” he said.

“Oh, well then, let me drive over to Fort Worth (some 50 miles west),” I replied.

After a Friday dinner, we stepped into a curio shop where a display table overrun with stuffed animals sat in the back.  Pierce found a critter that, when wound up, would bounce around to a musical piece.  “Look!” he loudly announced to me.  “This one’s like you!  It does tricks!”  Whereupon he burst into a maniacal bwah-ha-ha type laugh.

I picked up a dachshund replica perched on its hind legs.  “And this one’s like you – it sits up and begs for it!”

Pierce and I attended the same parochial elementary school in Dallas and were altar boys at the accompanying church.  We didn’t know each other back then, but he often would tell people that we were sent there together by our frustrated parents, calling it “Bad Boys Reform School”; where he barely passed with a D-, while I ended up in a sanitarium because of my pornographic writings that involved lesbian nuns and the Mexican mafia.

Over the years I’ve cobbled together a number of the barbs Pierce and I have slung at one another.  On the surface, they may come off as a ‘Jokes for Beginning Comics’ cache.  But I it all makes for the type of goofy friendship that’s often hard to explain to outsiders.

A classic scene from a classic camp fest.

 

Pierce:  You’re so ugly, if you get lost in the woods, they just have to look for the vultures circling overhead.

The Chief: You’re so fat, if you get lost in the woods, they just have to follow the sounds of flatulence.

Pierce:  You’re so ugly grocery stores ban you from the dairy aisle.

The Chief: You’re so fat all-you-can-eat Chinese buffets turn off the ‘Open’ sign when they see you drive up.

Pierce:  You’re so ugly you scared Bigfoot.

The Chief: The last time you stepped on a scale, it said ‘Oh Jesus Christ!’

Pierce:  You’re so ugly a group of kids saw you sunbathing on the beach and said, “Look!  A dead octopus washed up!”

The Chief: You’re so fat, when you were last on the beach, Green Peace tried to drag you into the water.

Pierce:  You’re so ugly your own hands won’t masturbate you.

The Chief: You’re so fat you need two office chairs – one for your mouth, the other for your ass.

Pierce:  Your own mother denies she was there when you were born.

The Chief: How many times have you walked down the street and people ask, “Have you named the quintuplets yet?”

Pierce:  You walked into a doctor’s office and they said, “The vet’s next door!”

The Chief: People look at you and say, “Global warming is worse than I thought!  There goes Rhode Island!”

Pierce:  People see you and say, “He must have gone through hell surviving that chemical plant fire.”

The Chief: When you visited the zoo, someone announced over the loud speaker: “We found the lost elephant seal!”

Pierce:  When you took your dog to the vet, they tried to neuter YOU.

The Chief: When you ask for a seat belt extension on an airplane, they hand you a 20-foot rope.

Pierce: When you visited a plastic surgeon, they gave you a chain saw and some Super Glue®.

The Chief: Last time the Houston Ship Channel flooded, they paid you to do a cannonball into the west side of the floodwaters and force it all into the Gulf.

Pierce: You wanted to be an organ donor, and they said, “We don’t accept zombies.”

The Chief: Last time you asked someone to have sex, they said, “Great!  An orgy!”

Pierce: When you made funeral plans to be cremated, the funeral home offered you a fruit jar and a box of matches.

The Chief: Instead of a coffin, the funeral home offered you a piano case.

Pierce: You’re so fair-skinned you can’t go shirtless in the gym because people will think they’ve gone blind.

The Chief: Skin from your fat reduction surgery helped 1,000 burn victims.

Pierce: You accidentally fell into the recycle bin, and the city didn’t realize it until after they’d dragged your ass all the way to the dump.

The Chief: When you told some contractors your house had foundation problems, they said, “Move into a concrete bunker.”

Pierce: Every time you walk into a new gym, trainers say, “I don’t deal with abortion refuse.”

The Chief: Jenny Craig took one look at you and said, “Well, you win some; you lose some.”

 

One of my favorite scenes in “Barbarella” – the title character meets the “Black Queen” (Anita Pallenberg):

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Stolen Moments

A friend of mine, Preston*, has recently taken to poetry writing, or more specifically to haiku writing.  Haiku (or hokku) is a Japanese verse form of poetry that follows a very strict composition of three unrhymed lines of five, seven, and five syllables.  Not popular in Western cultures until about the early 1900s, haiku are often accompanied by an image, or a pair of images, meant to depict the essence of a particular moment in time.  Their brevity is occasionally an introduction to a longer poem or a story, but its central purpose is to focus the reader’s attention on that one single moment that struck the poet’s mind as critical or somehow significant; a moment where everything came into focus; where the complexities of life were abruptly reduced to what is – and what is not – essential.

I trust and admire Preston greatly.  I wrote about him nearly 6 years ago in “One Good Friend.”  He’s truly one of those rare individuals who is focused and level-headed.  For us writers, focus is always a challenge, while level-headedness is sometimes elusive.

Time is a bandit

Reducing our hopes and dreams

To mere memories

 

– Preston

 

*Name changed.

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Coal Black

This is a version of a poem I first composed in February 1983, when I was 19.  It reveals my long-held passion for the color black, oceans, wind and the moon.  It also highlights my obsession for women with long hair, especially long black hair.

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Coal black,

Solid black,

Deepest darkest as the night.

I have no fear.

I feel no fright.

I see your face,

With the crescent moon’s light.

And I see your hair,

In this coal black night.

I wince through the shadows,

Your tresses glisten with streaks of blue.

A river of indigo,

It makes me coo.

I must concede,

I still lust for you.

Standing on this cliff of immense height,

I remain awed with your porcelain beauty,

And owls take flight.

Your eyes gaze wickedly delicious,

From a face so blessed and kind.

My heart thunders.

What dreams do you have in mind?

The moon we both love lingers above the sea.

I feel a surge of blood within my soul.

Are you wanting to set me free?

I still want to touch that waterfall of hair,

Hold you tight,

And assure you I really do care.

Your sapphire follicles caressed by the winds.

The onyx sky bears no cloud,

A theater of stars dancing above,

Happy and proud.

They accentuate your face,

And tumble through that mass of hair.

I reach to touch you.

But I shall not dare.

You kiss the breeze and start for the sea.

Please look back.

Do you have any love for me?

But you wince and you taunt.

Deep in my heart,

You forever haunt.

“Perhaps,” you whisper,

Coy and bright.

And I remain enamored,

On this coal black night.

© 2018 Alejandro De La Garza

 

Bottom image by Alex Cherry.

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A Land Called México

They have experienced the glory and the pain.

They have weathered through generous pride and torrid shame.

They have felt the hate and the love.

They have lived through peace and seen blood.

They worshipped then, as now, both sun and moon.

They have guarded their temples and slept quietly in their tombs.

They have fought savage invaders and their very own.

They have been dragged through dirt and scraped their bones.

They have suffered through individual and collective emotions.

They have seen painful strife and been betrayed by unwanted notions.

These are the people who looked down from the mountains and built a nation on a lake they named Texcoco.

These are the people of a land called México.

 

I wrote this poem in the early 1980s and had it published in 1984 in “Our World’s Most Beloved Poems”, a compilation of poetry by the World of Poetry Press.  There’s not much information available now on WPP.  They published my poem for free, but – of course – I had to buy the gigantic book in which it appeared.  Yes, it’s amazing how naïve people can be at the age of 20.

Odd, but I never considered myself a poet.  A writer, obviously; yet poetry generally ranked somewhere between Reader’s Digest and the local classified ads, as far as I was concerned.  Still, outside of my blog, letters to a newspaper editor and a couple of anonymous romance inquiries circa 1990, it’s the only thing I’ve officially had published.

 

Image: “El Mercado de Tlatelolco” by Diego Rivera, c. 1935.

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Writers

Alejandro De La Garza, 2018

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March 9, 2018 · 12:57 AM

Knowing Jolyn

She looked a little out of place; this older woman attired in crimson red with a matching hat.  She seemed dressed for church, not a Toastmaster’s meeting.  Ironic, though, that the group met in a church every Friday evening around 6 p.m.  Most Toastmasters groups meet Monday through Thursday after work.  Some even meet before the work day starts, especially if it’s a company oriented-club.  But Friday evenings was the only time our group could schedule, when it was formed in 2000.  I joined it the following year and came up with a slogan: ‘A Different Kind of Happy Hour.’  People liked that, and it drew a wide variety of visitors.

It was just such a nondescript Friday evening in the spring of 2003, when Jolyn Robichaux arrived.  None of us realized it at that moment – and I’m certain not even she knew – but Jolyn would make an indelible impact on our lives.  Her personality was as bright as the outfit she wore that evening; her verbiage as graceful as the way she carried herself into the room.  Her worldly experiences proved she was one of those rare individuals who take life by the throat and wring every ounce of ecstasy from it.  With a vibrant smile and an infectious laugh, Jolyn had an incredible on anyone she ever met.  And I am honored to have been one of them.

Jolyn passed away a year ago this month.  She would have been 90 this coming May.  I’d last heard from her, via email, in early 2015.  I had always made it a point to mail her a birthday card; a simple gesture she knew was genuine, but – in this electronic age – she still found amazing.

“That you actually took the time to hand-write my address on it and mail it,” she once told me, “shows how compassionate you are!”

Jolyn appreciated such ordinary and inconspicuous acts; those “little things” people often overlooked or dismissed.  Her own life, however, was anything but ordinary or inconspicuous.  Born in Cairo, Illinois in 1928 to Margaret Love, a beautician, and Dr. Edward Chuny Howard, a dentist, Jolyn seemed to have two strikes against her from the start: she was female and Black; attributes that rendered her almost sub-human at the time.  Anyone growing up during the Great Depression learned how difficult life could be.  For people like Jolyn, it was almost unbearable.  Still, everyone did the best they could.  Jolyn’s father often bartered his dental services with neighboring farmers in exchange for food.  Many of those farmers were White and surely wondered how a Black man could have possibly become a dentist.  But he earned their trust and respect with his strong work ethic and concern for their dental health, at a time when dentistry often straddled the border between medieval cruelty and an unnecessary luxury.  There were joyous moments as well, she always emphasized, when discussing her younger years.  “You just have to look for them.”  And hard work is, most often, worth the effort; paying off “one way or another.”

Jolyn (back left) in 1943 beside her sister, Charlotte Howard, with brother William and their mother, Margaret.

Jolyn graduated valedictorian from Sumner High School at the age of 16.  But the happiness the Howard family felt over her academic achievements was tempered when her father fell ill with a rare blood disease.  What should have been a joyous occasion was shattered when Dr. Howard died shortly thereafter at the age of 48.

Despite the tragedy, Jolyn knew she had to move forward.  One curious attribute of successful, independent people is their ability to handle death – even the deaths of loved ones.  As painful as it was to lose her father at such a young age, Jolyn knew the world wouldn’t stop because she was sad and began attending classes at Fisk University in Nashville.  Two years later, however, Jolyn decided her mother needed help, both financially and in caring for the two youngest Howard children.  Jolyn left Fisk and moved to Chicago to work full-time, while planning to take evening classes at Roosevelt University.

Classes at Roosevelt lasted only a year, as Jolyn told me, because Chicago’s “fast life” got hold of her.  That included the bevy of handsome, well-dressed and well-spoken men she encountered.  Both of her parents would have howled in anger, Jolyn said with a laugh, at the mere thought of her “getting frisky” with any man.  Remember, this was late 1940s / early 1950s America; a post-war nation where opportunities looked endless on the personal and professional fronts – even for women and non-Whites.

Now ensconced in a more liberal and open-minded environment, Jolyn found work with the Chicago Veterans Administration and the National Labor Relations Board; as an executive secretary with two other large corporations; and even as an assistant to a renowned diagnostician.  It’s difficult to imagine now, but for a Black woman to take such jobs at the time was incredibly radical; almost rebellious.  Yet, like much of what she’d do throughout both her personal and professional lives, Jolyn wouldn’t let herself be assigned a certain role or position, as then-contemporary norms prescribed.  She was already dictating her own place in this world – not by someone else and not even by society as a whole.  Radical, indeed!  But to her, it was as natural a reaction as breathing.  There was just no alternative.

Amidst the many people she encountered in Chicago, Jolyn cited one particular individual as having, perhaps, the most significant impact: Mary McLeod Bethune.  As Jolyn would do in the coming years, Bethune didn’t let her race or gender define her or keep her from attaining success on her own terms.  Born to former slaves in South Carolina in 1875, Bethune would go on to become an acclaimed educator in the African-American community and was an especially charismatic role model for women.  Although not naïve to the traumas of racism and sexism, Bethune still felt that education was a vital tool in the pursuit of equality.

Jolyn realized how important this was to her, too, and went on to earn a degree in education from Chicago Teachers College, graduating magna cum laude in 1960.  When I made the decision several years ago to return to college and earn a degree in English, Jolyn expressed as much excitement as my parents.  I lamented the fact that I’d waited so long to complete that one life-long ambition.

“The important thing is that you get it done,” Jolyn told me via email.  “If it’s important to you, then it’s important!”

In 1950, Jolyn met Joseph Julius Robichaux at a private party in Chicago.  While dancing that same evening, he startled her by asking her to get married.  Perhaps even more surprising to him is that she didn’t say yes immediately.  Again, it’s hard to understand now, but in mid-20th century America, women normally didn’t say no to marriage.  With so few opportunities for even well-educated women – especially Black women – the roles of wife and mother were pretty much the apex of their lives.  Telling him no put her, as she eloquently described it, “the naughty girl list.”  But Joseph persisted, certainly knowing what an extraordinary woman had entered his world.  Jolyn eventually said yes to Joseph, and the couple wed in 1952.  Four years later they welcomed their first child, Sheila.  In 1964, their first son, Joseph Howard, was born.  By then, Jolyn had fallen – somewhat – into that traditional wife-mother role.  But she still managed to do so on her own terms.  Aside from completing her education, she participated in various civic activities and assisted her husband in his burgeoning political career.

Jolyn and Joseph Robichaux (center) in 1964.

In 1967, the Robichauxs entered into a new venture, when they purchased Baldwin Ice Cream Company.  Baldwin had been founded as the Seven Links Ice Cream Co. in 1921 by Kit Baldwin and six of his Black coworkers at the Chicago Post Office.  As a Black-owned and Black-operated enterprise, Baldwin stood out in the maze of corporate America.  In 1948, Baldwin bought out his partners and renamed the company after himself.

By 1971, it seemed life couldn’t be more fulfilling or more perfect for the Robichaux family.  But tragedy once again punched a hole into Jolyn’s life, when Joseph, Sr., died of leukemia.  While dealing with such a heart-wrenching event, Jolyn realized she had three choices (albeit difficult ones): continue the family’s interest in Baldwin, find work teaching, or become a full-time mother.  She chose to stay with Baldwin.  The company was in receivership by 1971, due in part, to a staid routine that no longer yielded a profit in a rapidly-changing economy and culture.

That same year Chicago Mayor Richard Daley appointed Jolyn to replace her deceased husband on the Jury Commissioners Board of Cook County.  The position – which she held until 1979 – provided a steady income.  In 1975 she earned a certificate in ice cream technology from Pennsylvania State University (Penn State).  Jolyn then re-made Baldwin into her own.  She developed business relationships with other ice cream executives in the Chicago area and increase sales in Baldwin’s 17 chain stores.

Baldwin’s phenomenal success prompted President Ronald Reagan to name Jolyn as USA Minority Business Woman of the Year for 1985.  She received the award personally from Vice-President George W. Bush.

In 1992, Jolyn sold her ice cream business and made an unexpected move: 4,130 miles (6,646 km) to Paris, France.  Still bristling with an entrepreneurial spirit, Jolyn created a one-woman business that brought American gospel singers to Paris for performances at the American Cathedral in Paris.

Shortly thereafter, Jolyn was back in the U.S., settling in Dallas to be closer to family.  But retirement appeared to be an alien concept to her.  In 1997 she participated in the Heart Disease Research Project at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center.  From 1999 to 2001 she served on the Dallas Opera’s Board of Directors.  She was a docent at Southern Methodist University’s prestigious Meadows Museum of Art; served as a mentor at Dallas Life Foundation, an organization that helps homeless people get off and stay off the streets; and even worked as a substitute teacher in the Dallas Independent School District.

I knew she loved opera and not just because she had lived in Paris.  We both shared that passion.  But not until after her death did I learn she did so much for her community and many of the people who occupied it.  It doesn’t surprise me.  Jolyn wasn’t a braggart.  Unlike some sports and entertainment celebrities and more than a few politicians, Jolyn did what she liked to do and helped whenever she could.

Jolyn with Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA) in 1974.

She was more than just a friend; she was a trustworthy mentor to me personally.  I could relate the various trials tribulations of dealing with my parents’ declining health, not really thinking that Jolyn was actually a few years older than either of them.  She was truly inspirational; choosing to celebrate other people’s accomplishments and aspirations.  After presenting one of my most passionate speeches, “A Matter of Respect,” to Toastmasters one evening, she almost jumped out of her chair to give me a hug.  “I saw the fire in your eyes and could hear it in your soul!” she proclaimed after the meeting.

She read several of my short stories and essays on this blog and predicted, “You will get published!”

If I counted my own personal achievements, they’d certainly fall short of even just half of what Jolyn did with her life.  Like me, she kept a regular journal; understanding how truly therapeutic it could be.  They were her essentially her autobiography – as are most journals – but told me via email, “They will not be published.”  That may have been a wish she asked of her family, but I honestly hope they defy her on that one.  If there’s anyone whose life story deserves (must be) told, it is that of Jolyn Robichaux.

About 5 years ago Jolyn invited me to join her at a dance class not far from where I live.  I told her I would, but a family emergency arose at the last minute.  She expressed greater concern for my welfare than for my absence at the class.  And I thought later, ‘That’s just like her; already in her mid-80s and learning something new.’

That described Jolyn perfectly – dancing to the very end.

 

“When I Die”

“When I die, when I finish living this life, when all my stakes and claims in this world are rendered null and void, I want to leave like the final swirl of smoke from a smoldering ember, rising as a smile into nothing.”

– Jolyn Robichaux, 2005

Jolyn’s family has asked that donations be made in her name to the Vivian G. Harsh Society, which maintains the largest collection of African-American history and literature in the Midwest.

 

Vivian G. Harsh Society

c/o Harold Washington Library

400 S. State St., 5th Floor

Chicago, IL 60605

http://harshsociety.org/donate/

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Voodoo You

“It just isn’t going to work, and it’s very interesting that the man who invented this type of what I call a voodoo economic policy is Art Laffer, a California economist.” – George H.W. Bush, Carnegie Mellon University, April 10, 1980

 

I’m frightened for the United States, and it’s not just because of my disdain for our faux president, Donald Trump.  I’m genuinely concerned about what could happen over the next few years.

In the above quote, George H.W. Bush was referring to the plans of fellow Republican and 1980 presidential candidate Ronald Reagan for revitalizing a stagnant U.S. economy.  Then, when Reagan won in most of the primaries, his camp offered Bush the vice-presidential position, and the former Texas congressman shut up about economics.  In 1980, the nation was in a bad financial situation.  The costs of the Vietnam War, coupled with oil embargoes from OPEC nations, had finally taken their toll.  Unemployment stood at nearly 10%; the prime interest rate was 21%; inflation was 14%; home mortgage rates were 17%; and the top marginal tax rate was 70%.  In the second quarter of 1980, the U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) declined by 8%.  By the end of the year, the overall GDP boasted about $3 trillion (in today’s dollars).

With the help of some Democrats in both houses of the U.S. Congress, Reagan was able to generate an agreement that slashed taxes down to 50% on wages, to 48% on corporate income, and to 20% on capital gains.  These measures initially jumpstarted the economy.  Average citizens had more expendable income, which they poured back into the economy by purchasing many so-called big ticket items, like vehicle and electronics.  By 1990, the size of the U.S. economy had grown from $3 trillion to $6 trillion, with roughly 4 million new businesses and 20 million new jobs created.  Although the national debt increased from $1 trillion to $4 trillion during the same period, overall revenues doubled.

Reagan’s economic policies were in line with conservative views on taxation: if we give the “investing class” (meaning, the most affluent) generous tax breaks, they will respond by expanding their businesses or starting new ones, which in turn, will create more products and / or services and more jobs.  Along with reduced business regulations (“job killers” in conservative lingo), average citizens will have more income, which of course, they will pour back into the economy.  Such growth then will expand the tax base; the additional revenue will replace any money lost to the initial tax cuts.

Ask any frustrated project manager and they will tell you that everything always looks great on paper.  While Reagan disciples keep championing his financial moves, the reality is that “Reaganomics” didn’t work out as planned.  One thing people forget is a little thing called the Garn-St. Germain Depository Institutions Act of 1982, which rolled back financial regulations that had been established by the administration of Franklin D. Roosevelt to prevent further damage caused by the 1929 stock market crash and the ensuing Great Depression.  It’s interesting that Bush’s voodoo comment was made at Carnegie Mellon University.  Founded by Andrew Carnegie in 1900 as Carnegie Technical School, it merged with the Mellon Institute of Industrial Research in 1967 to become Carnegie Mellon.  The Mellon Institute had been established in 1913 by brothers Andrew and Richard B. Mellon who, like Carnegie, were self-made businessmen and titans of early 20th century America.  Andrew Mellon served as Secretary of the Treasury from 1921 – 1932, one of the longest tenures for this position.  He created the “trickle-down” economic theory by declaring, “Give tax breaks to large corporations, so that money can trickle down to the general public, in the form of extra jobs.”

But Andrew Mellon is also known for a notoriously rotten hands-off policy with the Great Depression.  The banks that failed had put themselves in such a precarious financial position, he believed, and thus, they were responsible for extricating themselves from it.  It didn’t seem to matter that these bank failures took people’s money with them; therefore, amplifying the effects of the 1929 crash.

Still, President Reagan – like any good fiscal conservative – held onto these beliefs and eagerly signed the Garn-St. Germain bill.  That reduced the number of regulations on financial institutions and allowed them to expand and invest more of their customers’ deposits in various ventures, particularly home mortgages.  Again, that looks-great-on-paper ideology swung back around to bite everyone when the Savings & Loans Crisis erupted.  Between 1986 and 1995, 1,043 out of the 3,234 savings and loan institutions in the U.S. failed; costing $160 billion overall, with taxpayers footing $132 billion of it.  It was the worst series of bank collapses since the Great Depression.  That led to the 1990-91 Recession, the longest and most wide-spread economic downturn since the late 1940s.  I started working for a large bank in Dallas in April of 1990 and saw the S&L crisis unfold in real time.

Nonetheless, trickle-down economics saw a rebirth with George W. Bush, as his administration further deregulated the banking industry and also deregulated housing.  Combined with the costs of wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the U.S. economy almost completely collapsed at the end of 2008.  The 2007-08 Recession was the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.  Unemployment reached double digits for the first time since the start of the Reagan era, as millions of citizens lost their homes and their savings.  Had it not been for such programs as the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (the FDIC, established by Roosevelt), we surely would have plunged into another depression.

Now, with Donald Trump in office, I fear we’re headed for the same morass.  On December 22, 2017, Trump signed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act; the largest overhaul of the U.S. tax code in 30 years.  Financial prognosticators have already forecast the act will raise the federal deficit by hundreds of billions of U.S. dollars over the next 10 years.  The law cuts individual taxes temporarily, but cuts corporate tax rates permanently.  As suspected, the most affluent citizens will benefit greatly, as they experience a significant reduction in their taxes.  The rest of us lowly peons may see a tax increase after those temporary provisions expire in 2025.

You know that classic definition of insanity?  Doing the same thing over and over, while expecting different results.  It’s more like, well, if you keep doing stupid shit, stupid shit will keep happening!

Ignore Russia-gate for a moment and the fact Melania’s side of the First Bed is colder than a Chicago winter.  This past week Trump visited the World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland.  This is where the most elite members of the business world meet (conspire) with leaders of developed nations to create economic policies and decide what’s best for us peons.  Kind of like evangelical Christians often meet to decide what people should see and read.  They’ve set themselves up as the righteous few; the ones who supposedly understand exactly what works and what doesn’t and are divinely compelled to bestow such knowledge upon the rest of us.

Trump ran his presidential campaign on the wave of anti-Washington sentiment; appealing to average citizens about reviving a once-lost “Great America” with a variety of clever ruses: ban Muslims, build a wall along the Mexican border, etc.  So many people, of course, bought into it.  Like Ronald Reagan, Trump was able to tap into that sensitive nerve of everyday angst; spitting out a slew of quaint buzz words to appeal to average folks.  He had said he would never take part in a WEF convention.  Yet, there he was; leading a parade of those self-righteous few into another kind of revitalization: the Gilded Age.

I doubt if most Trump voters even know what Davos means and how it could impact their lives.  Understand, though, that Switzerland is a place where Hollywood celebrities often went for a retreat or a little vacation – code words for cosmetic surgery; long before Phyllis Diller made it openly acceptable.  That’s essentially what Donald Trump did this past week.  He flew to Davos to tell the world, “America first is not America alone.”

I’m frightened for the United States.

 

Image: Golden Spike National Historic Site, Utah.

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