Tag Archives: finances
Have you ever had a friend with whom you disagree on something? You know what I mean – someone you’ve known for a while; shared things with; commiserated with; know some of their family; treated to lunch or dinner for their birthdays. I have a few of those friends. As a bonafide introvert, I don’t have many friends in the first place, so I value those relationships I’ve managed to maintain over any length of time.
I had one such friend, Pete*, until recently. He and I have known each other for over 30 years. Ironically, we attended the same parochial grade school in Dallas. I didn’t know him back then, as he’s three years younger. Even more curious is that our fathers had known each other; they grew up in the same East Dallas neighborhood and attended the same high school. When Pete’s father died several years ago, my father was heartbroken, as the two hadn’t spoken in a while. I attended the funeral service at a church in downtown Dallas. In turn, Pete attended my father’s memorial service in 2016; his sister and her young daughter joined him.
Pete used to host annual Christmas gatherings at his apartment; his sister and her two sons, along with many of that family’s mutual friends, joining us. In effect, I became part of their family. I was fond of Pete’s parents, as he was of mine, and was truly excited when one of his nephews joined the U.S. Marine Corps in 2006.
So what happened?
Last month “The New Yorker” published an editorial on the sudden and unexpected support for Donald Trump among Latinos. In Texas trump won a larger share of the Latino vote in the last election than he did in 2016. Reading the piece left me stunned – and curious. How could a man who made such derogatory comments about Mexicans in general, the same one who hurtled rolls of paper towels at people in Puerto Rico, find greater support from others in those same groups? Even though Trump had disparaged Mexican immigrants, I felt it was just a small step away from demonizing all people of Mexican heritage or ethnicity; people whose Indian and Spanish ancestors had occupied what is now the Southwestern U.S. since before Trump’s predecessors arrived on the East Coast. Many of those people are also among the nation’s working class; the blue collar workers who form the unappreciated and under-appreciated backbone of any society. And yes, even the white collar workers, such as myself, who have struggled through the chaos of corporate America. Regardless of race or ethnicity we’re the ones who suffered the most in the last Great Recession and in the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. That an arrogant, elitist, tax-cheating buffoon of a charlatan can find kindred souls in this crowd truly boggles my mind.
Pete, on the other hand, said the editorial made “perfect sense” so him. He had already expressed some support for Trump, especially in relation to his reactions to China. He then went on to demonize both Joe Biden and Kamala Harris; dubbing them “evil” and decrying what he perceived to be their socialist agenda. In other words, Pete was reiterating the paranoid mantra of right-wing extremists.
But he went further. He bemoaned the stimulus payments coming out of Washington; claiming they were unnecessary and that anyone suffering financial distress during the pandemic and the ensuing economic downturn deserved no help or sympathy; that they should have prepared better for such a calamity.
I pointed out that I was one of those people struggling now. I had taken off a lot of time to care for my aging parents and had managed to save some money over the years; adding that a lot of that hard-earned money was now gone and reminding him I have had trouble – like so many others – finding a job. I also noted that it’s that people don’t or won’t save money; it’s that they can’t – not with both the high cost of living and stagnant wages.
Pete sounds like many evangelical Christian leaders – the folks he once denounced as the heathens of Christianity – the idiots who propagate the myth that poverty is a result of moral failings; that people choose to be poor because they have no desire to work hard and sacrifice. He got upset with me over that; he – a devout Roman Catholic – being compared to an evangelical Christian?! The people who read and study only half the Christian Bible?! How dare I make such an analogy!
But that’s how I felt. Then and now. His new-found beliefs and sudden change of attitude are one reason why I left the Catholic Church and why I no longer align with any branch of Christianity.
I reiterated my discussions with Pete to friends and a relative who his both agnostic and generally conservative. The latter considers himself a Republican and has been very successful in life. He also subscribes to “The New Yorker” and had read that particular editorial. And he found it “awful” that so many Texas Latinos supported Trump who he does not like. He also noted that anyone can experience financial problems and that a lack of personal resources isn’t always a sign of any kind of moral failings. Like me he was raised Roman Catholic, but – unlike me – is not in any way spiritual. He also reassured me that I’m not a failure. A few other friends have told me the same. At times like this, I need that kind of support.
It’s a shame I felt the need to sever ties with Pete. I mean, how does a 30-plus-year friendship come to an end over an editorial? Is that something that needed to happen? I wonder if I was overreacting or my past hyper-sensitive persona had suddenly resurrected itself.
I’d like to know if any of you folks have encountered the same dilemma. Have you ever felt the need to end a friendship with someone over such strong personal disagreements?
This COVID-19 pandemic has taken so much from the average person – no matter where in the world they live. Here in the U.S. we’re trapped in a nightmarish scenario with a disoriented leader heralding recent gains in the stock market, while millions remain unemployed. I’m sure those struggling to pay utilities are thrilled to know Fortune 1000 companies are enjoying record stock prices.
One of the most severe – and underrated – effects is the impact the scourge has had on people’s psyches. Emotional, mental and physical health always become subconscious victims of any national crisis. People are just trying to survive.
Personally, I’m in a vortex of angst and frustration. My freelance writing enterprise – as meager as it was – has pretty much collapsed. I’m fortunate I have some money saved from previous work, but I know that won’t last forever. Or even much longer. After my mother’s death this past June, though, I began to feel sick. Friends and relatives thought I was in a state of grief, which I was for the most part. But I thought I’d contracted that dreaded novel coronavirus. I had many of the symptoms. I had hoped my seasonal allergies had started to hit me early. Then again, perhaps it was the stress of dealing with my mother’s health. One friend suggested I was suffering from a lack of iron and Vitamin D. Still, I finally reconciled, it may be all of the above. Fighting so many battles at once takes a toll on the body. And mind.
Because of the pandemic, health clubs were among those businesses shuttered across the nation in an effort to contain the spread. I last visited my gym in mid-May; shortly before the rehabilitation center where my mother had been staying shoved her out because her Medicare benefits had been exhausted. (That’s another story!)
But even after my gym reopened in June, I still haven’t visited. Again it was that awful sickness. I didn’t know what was wrong. I’ve taken to doing basic calisthenics and walking along an exercise trail behind my home in recent weeks in the middle of the day. I used to go running, but I don’t have the strength right now. Key words: right now. Once you take off a long time without doing any kind of exercise besides laundry and loading and unloading the dishwasher, it’s a tad bit difficult to get back to normal. But even that little bit still makes me feel good.
Seven years ago I wrote about my tendency to visit my local gym on Saturday nights, when hardly anyone was present. I commented that only lonely fools like me did such a thing. At the turn of the century, working out on a Saturday night was unmanageable. But the gym I had at the time was open 24 hours. It was a perfect time to jog on a treadmill and lift weights, I realized, with such a sparse crowd. No one was there to be “seen”. That quiet time – with various types of music blaring from the myriad speakers lingering overhead – allowed me to think of every aspect of my life.
I left that gym in 2017 to join another local gym that closed unexpectedly a year later. After a lengthy hiatus, I joined my current gym last year. This is an old-school gym with no fancy juice bars or chic workout gear. Loud rock and rap music bounces around the concrete walls. It boasts an outside area with non-traditional workout gear, like tractor tires and tree stumps. Men can go shirtless. People there sweat – they don’t perspire! It’s not for suburban soccer moms or GQ cover models. (No offense to soccer moms!) I feel more than comfortable in such an environment.
I know it’s tough to take one’s mental and physical health into consideration if you’re unemployed or underemployed. But I also know you don’t have to belong to any kind of health club to care for your own health. Mental health experts are concerned about the severity this pandemic is having on people’s well-being. Quarantines are literally driving people crazy. And to drink too much alcohol and/or consume illegal drugs. Or contemplate hurting themselves. A bad economy helps none of that. I can identify with all of that. I really do feel that kind of pain.
Just walking the other day, carrying a water bottle and letting the sun emblazon my bare torso, helped me mentally. It didn’t make everything magically disappear once I returned home. I knew it wouldn’t. But maintaining one’s health – as best as possible, even in the worst of times – is vital. It can’t be overemphasized.
“We reaffirm that principle today and hold that the president is neither absolutely immune from state criminal subpoenas seeking his private papers nor entitled to a heightened standard of need.”
– John Roberts, Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, ruling against President Donald Trump in his ongoing effort to keep private his pre-presidential financial records.
Chief Justice John Roberts went on to state, “In our system, the public has a right to every man’s evidence,” and “since the founding of the Republic, every man has included the President of the United States.”
The 7-2 ruling is a staunch rebuke of Trump’s pathological arrogance in refusing to release all of his financial data; claiming an audit prevents it. Although it’s not law for presidential candidates to release financial documents, such as tax statements, it has been tradition for decades. Trump was the first presidential candidate in modern memory not only unwilling to release such records, but to flat out refuse to do so.
Shortly after Donald Trump was sworn into office as the 45th President of the United States, I referred to various photographs of the Trump family in their multi-million-dollar New York penthouse residence. “The Donald” is, of course, featured prominently front and center, with his (third) glamorous, trophy wife perched nearby; along with their son, Baron, and the real estate magnate’s adult children. Almost as prominent are the slew of plush, gilded furnishings spread throughout the abode. I kept thinking I’d seen similar photographs before; various pictures from newspapers and magazine, as well as recollections of a TV show that truly embodied 1980s-era chic and gluttony: “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.” (Trump was featured in the very first episode and made recurring appearances.)
At one point, though, I turned to my massive collection of books and spotted one that displayed an even more accurate depiction of the Trump family; another clan who lived long ago in similar plush surroundings, perched high above the lowly masses. Lindsey Hughes’ “The Romanovs: Ruling Russia 1613 – 1917” describes the life and times of Russia’s last monarchal family. For more than 300 years, the Romanovs directly impacted world politics with their wealth and power; creating a massive empire that – even in today’s watered-down version – stretches across two continents. From Tsar Michael to Tsar Nicholas II, the Romanovs maintained a steady grip on the region; impressing their subjects and striking fear in their enemies.
But, by the time the dynasty marked its tercentenary in 1913, that grip had begun to weaken. Like the rest of Europe’s royal families, the Romanovs remained encapsulated in their heavily-fortified palatial environs; far removed from the sundry plights tormenting their own people and oblivious to the real world lurking outside those jewel-encrusted walls. Nicholas II was the first of the European monarchs to be ousted from power, as World War I intruded into Russian territory, and a growing internal revolution stalked the Romanov family.
While the assassination of Austria’s Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife, Sophia, essentially marked the start of World War I, the death of the Romanovs signified the end – not just to the war, but also to the long-held concept that power and wealth are best held in the hands and pockets of a blessed few and that those few are part of the same bloodline that is never to be disturbed or questioned. It was shocking enough to international onlookers that a single gunman was able to kill Franz and Sophia with a few shots from a pistol; even as many outside of Europe initially wondered where was this place called Austria-Hungary. But, as news of the Romanovs’ demise trickled out, the anger and frustration of an oppressed people became brutally apparent. Nicholas and his immediate family, along with a handful of servants, were peppered with bullets in a basement far removed from their stately home; their bodies burned beyond recognition and dumped in neighboring woods.
World War I was actually the culmination of the growing anarchist movement, which had its genesis in the heated anger of economic and social inequality among Europe’s working classes, before spreading westward across the Atlantic to plant itself in the U.S. and Canada. Even México had succumbed to the wrath of the peasant masses; with outlaws Francisco “Pancho” Diaz and Emiliano Zapata joining forces to lead a revolt against a semi-monarchal dynasty of wealthy landowners and bankers.
This was the dawn of the 20th century; where ordinary people – the one who really keep a nation moving – finally stood up and collectively announced, “Enough!” The rampages continued, as Europe began losing their colonial holdings in Africa and elsewhere, and Latin American nations saw military dictatorships crumble in the face of concerted human rights’ campaigns. One of the 20th century’s last acts of peasant anarchy came with the collapse of the Soviet Union. In Romania, the chaos became lethal when leader Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife, Elena, were dragged before a court trial staged by their otherwise lowly subjects, found guilty and lynched in public. That something so horrific could happen in 1989 shocked the world. But, for the oppressed peoples of staunchly communist Romania, it was perhaps the best Christmas present they’d ever had.
To some extent, anarchism actually sprouted roots with the American Revolution, where a mass of English immigrant descendants decided they simply did not want to be slaves to the British Crown. Shortly afterwards, French commoners took a queue from their American counterparts and launched their own revolution; one where they didn’t just extract their regal hoodlums from gigantic estates, but relished in the sight of royal heads literally rolling across wooden platforms. Throughout the 19th century, Spain and Portugal stood virtually helpless as their colonial holdings in the Americas wrenched themselves from the clutches of royal decree – only to stumble through the difficulties of independence and struggles with democracy; quagmires that exist to this day.
In 1900, China’s Boxer Rebellion was a desperate attempt by commoners to boot out European interlopers, which included assaults on Christian missionaries and converts. Some 100,000 people lost their lives in the various battles that summer. But a growing dissatisfaction towards the Qing Dynasty and the family of Emperor Puyi (sometimes spelled P’u-i) compelled the working classes to descend upon the sacred and mysterious “Forbidden City.” Puyi was only 3 years old when he ascended to the throne in 1908; less than four years later he was forced to abdicate and lived out the rest of his life as an undistinguished commoner. At the start of the 20th century, it seemed that China was poised to endure the same experience as the African continent: be carved up by European colonialists. But, if the Chinese people no longer wanted single family rule, did anyone believe they’d let bands of foreigners from the other side of the globe do the same? By the 1930s, China had evicted the Europeans.
World War II fractured Europe. A few royal families managed to survive; most notably in Great Britain. But they were all financially and morally exhausted. This culminated in the U.K. losing their colonial hold on India and Pakistan in 1947. Next came the vast continent of Africa, where European decolonialization occurred over the ensuing four decades; a massive undertaking that involved millions of people on a scale the world had never experienced before.
The 20th century’s anarchist fangs reached across the globe, toppling the Philippines’ Ferdinand Marcos and Haiti’s Jean-Claude Duvalier in the 1980s. One of its high points was the release of South Africa’s Nelson Mandela in 1990 and the dismantling of that country’s brutal apartheid regime within a decade. South Africa had been the last of Europe’s many colonial assets to gain independence.
A low point, though, was Argentina’s futile attempt to wrest control of the Falkland Islands from Great Britain in 1982; a brief conflict that resulted in more than 900 military deaths. Why the U.K. insists on retaining control of this tiny cluster of isolated rocks 7500 miles from the homeland remains less of a mystery than a prime example of colonialist arrogance. (Some Britons still refer to the U.S. as “the colonies.”) While Argentina was in no political or financial position to engage in such a daring military feat at the time, they have since matured and solidified their infrastructure. In 2012, Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner blocked two British cruise ships that had visited the Falklands from docking on the mainland. Argentina has vowed to enforce further similar bans in the future, which could damage the Falklands’ vital tourist industry.
In the Middle East, anarchism produced schizophrenic results. Anti-royal sentiments led to the 1973 deposition of the Barakzai, Afghanistan’s royal family. That may have set the stage for the Soviet Union’s bloody but futile attempt to annex that country in 1979. However, the U.S. became unexpectedly mired in the antagonism of the Iranian populace towards their own royal family, the Pahlavis. Shah Reza Pahlavi had crowned himself emperor in 1967 and led a brutal regime where dissidence was punished with unprecedented violence and oppression – tools common among wicked oligarchs. Pahlavi’s 1978 ouster led to the notorious Iran Hostage Crisis, which caught both the U.S. and the world completely off-guard. Concerned more with the Soviet threat and the oddly-christened “Cold War,” the U.S. government unwittingly experienced its first battle with Islamic extremism.
Elsewhere in the Middle East, royal families held on in Jordan and Syria. The discovery of oil on the Arabian Peninsula in the 1930s allowed the region’s ruling families and their subjects to be pulled up from the doldrums of a tribal / fiefdom-style existence and dropped into the vats of unimaginable wealth. No one seemed to care that women couldn’t drive cars, much less vote.
While anarchist anger dominated the 20th century, does the same hold true now? Studying the Trump clan, I can’t help but conjure up images of the Romanovs. Economic inequality is just as great now as it was a hundred years ago. We’ve returned to that “Gilded Age” period where the bulk of the world’s wealth and power sit in the grubby hands of a privileged few. The recent “Great Recession” was the worst economic downturn the U.S. had experienced since the “Great Depression.” Both debacles were the result of greed and political incompetence; the former mess instigated by the verbally-challenged scion of another monarchal-type dynasty: the Bush family. Aside from producing two of the worst presidencies within a generation, the Bush clan’s close ties to the Saudi royal family essentially allowed planning for and execution of the 9/11 events to go unnoticed; thus culminating in one misguided war and another illegitimate one, as the economy glided atop a housing bubble that didn’t just pop – it exploded. If regulations and measures a liberal president had established some eight decades ago hadn’t been in place, both the U.S. economy and the U.S. populace would have sunk into chaotic and murderous oblivion.
Power and wealth usually go together; conjoined twins that sometimes have no mercy for the commoners squirming beneath them. The leftist “Occupy Wall Street” movement didn’t gain as much traction as the right-wing “Tea Party,” which claimed passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in 2010 as the seeds of their founding; when, in fact, it was the election of the nation’s first biracial president that pissed them off. If they were so upset about undue taxation, they would have put blame for the economic downturn where it belonged: on the backs of their own Washington leaders who keep propagating the myth of “trickle-down economics.”
But the rise of a foul-mouthed, thrice-married bombastic businessman to the highest office in the land has lit another fire beneath millions of ordinary Americans frustrated with a “jobless recovery”; no one going to jail for causing the recent banking / home loan debacle; and endless conflicts in the Middle East. The illegitimacy of Donald Trump’s placement in the White House makes a mockery of the American democratic experience. Our 18th century predecessors carefully designed a unique concept of governing and valiantly fought against the very people who brought them here. The United States was an outlandish experiment that could have gone seriously wrong if so many people hadn’t realized its true value and potential over the ensuing centuries. As a nation, we didn’t want a group of self-righteous elitists – families riddled with colorblindness, hemophilia and unbridled arrogance – to rule over us and not be questioned. Our American forbears understood that humanity must work as a unit to achieve the best possible society. The various civil rights actions of the past 200 years – from abolitionism to gay/lesbian rights – have helped to refine this strange idea known as democracy.
Looking again at the Trump clan, I still can’t help but think of the Romanovs and realize how much they all have in common. However, I don’t wish the same fate upon the Trumps. As brutal as we often seem to the international community, that’s not what Americans do or who we are.
Either way, we didn’t want or need a royal family 240 years ago to impose its fickle will upon our lives – and we don’t want or need one now.
Film footage of Tsar Nicholas II’s coronation in May 1896. It’s one of the earliest known (and one of the fewest surviving) motion pictures and the first known example of the new medium utilized to capture a major news event.