The unreality of the rich

I like nice things. And, like most people in our capitalist society, I believe that those of us who have done well enough to indulge themselves by acquiring nice things as a reward for their hard work and good fortune are entitled—to a point.
The old joke that there are 500 different channels to watch on TV nowadays but nothing’s on is sort of true, but I know that a lot of what is on is “reality” programming that is anything but real.
Flip on any number of shows and you will subjected to “Housewives”, “Bridezillas”, “Extreme Homes”, Wealth TV, people buying their won private islands—on and on. A common thread for many of these programs is ego-driven self indulgence where money is seemingly no object.
One program I happened to catch a family member watching one day was recounting a bedroom closet remodel for twin teenage girls. The closet remodel cost over $500,000! This was important because they needed proper storage for their clothing, which included belts that in some cases cost over $2,000 apiece. For fourteen year-old girls.
Another recent program was an installment in a series that is chronicling the construction of the new penthouse manse for Aaron Spelling’s widow, Candy Spelling in Los Angeles. Everyone knows real estate in LA can be expensive. You can imagine the two-story, 41st-floor highrise penthouse would be pretty spectacularly priced, and that since she sold her last home for what had been at the time supposedly the highest price ever paid for a private home in the U.S.—rumored to be $150 million.
Mrs. Spelling’s television program goes to great lengths to show how laboriously she pains over even the tiniest detail and in the episode I stumbled upon, shows her winging her way to New York so she could select handmade cabinet knobs, doorknobs, and hinges for her home. The price for this kind of quality craftsmanship? Anywhere from $1,000 to $20,000—each.
I don’t care who you are—except maybe the guy who makes knobs for a living—there is no way anyone is going to know the difference between a $1,000 cabinet knob and, say, a $100 knob. Unless you tell them.
Which of course is the idea.
I guess my point is I understand liking nice things but, if you have to point out to people why they’re nice, isn’t it maybe a little excessive?
If you have to wear clothes or accessories that have the designer’s label on them so people know they’re expensive are they really all that special?
Is it really any surprise why so many people in the poorest regions of the world have a hatred of the west?
I know, you hear it all the time—and it is true—people from these poorest parts of the world (the ones brave enough, the ones who can) do all they can to come here for the opportunity. That doesn’t erase the resentment they feel in this Information Age when they see television programs like the ones I’ve described or hear stories of the latest escapades of spoiled do-nothing celebrity rich kids from Hollywood or elsewhere while they try to figure out how to feed themselves or their children tomorrow.
Unlike those on the left side of the political aisle, I do not believe it is right or proper for government to determine how much, if any, of an individual’s wealth they should be entitled to keep, and how much they should consider dedicate to people and causes whose need is greater than their own. It should remain an individual decision—every case is different, and I think if people were left to make up there own minds more often, the results might truly surprise people.
It would be a welcome change, however, if people had as an entertainment option to these train-wrecks of opulence and excess some programming that championed the spirit of giving and a humbler life.


Filner: Due process…or only if you agree?

  Mayor Bob Filner’s (mostly liberal) supporters are desperately parroting his refrain that he should be given “due process” in responding to the allegations of sexual harassment and sexual battery lodged against him over the past several days. The irony of this struck me when I began to consider the very real likelihood that these same folks are loudly joining the chorus of those bemoaning the injustice of the George Zimmerman trial verdict.

  Zimmerman sought due process, but according to those who vehemently disagree with the trial’s outcome, our system has failed. This begs the question: Does “due process” only mean when you agree with the verdict?

  I marvel at the hypocrisy of people who hide behind platitudes like, “Let the people/courts decide,” yet when the decision doesn’t come down in their favor they condemn the stupidity or malfeasance of the very same institutions upon which they purported to place their faith.

  Of course, Filner’s gambit is fully wrapped in his comfortable belief his accusers will never go public out of fear of the media scrutiny, or their jobs, or the scorn of the true believers in his camp who will vilify them for not putting political ideology ahead of their petty “feelings.”

  As we have seen on far too many occasions, life isn’t fair, and due process by no means ensures an outcome to everyone’s liking. While Filner’s hope for due process to leave him vindicated seems far-fetched it’s really the hope it never gets that far that he is counting on.

  In any event, in the tradition mentioned in the opening paragraphs, should Filner have his day in court, I predict he will continue to deny his guilt and his supporters will rally to his defense and declare the system has been rigged. And San Diego will suffer through yet another embarrassing period in its political history, one that was fully aided and abetted by the would-be kingmakers of the city—on both sides of the aisle.

  I say this not because Republicans and those from the right side of the aisle had anything to do with getting this particular individual elected but rather because both major party organizations have a disturbing habit of ignoring the less than savory character flaws of some of their candidates so long as they appear “electable.” This needs to stop.

  While voters should be expected to their own due diligence on a particular candidate for office, we all know in practice party affiliation plays an important part. When a sleaze like a Bob Filner or Duke Cunningham (to name just two) can get elected, repeatedly, even when alarm bells are—or at the very least should be—ringing like a railroad crossing with the train approaching and party leaders put up no fight to have them booted, there is something really wrong.

  I’m having some difficulty understanding the reactions of the men around Filner after these revelations were made public. I have a wife and daughter. If I found out either one of them had been treated by Filner in the manner that has been described, I wouldn’t be holding a press conference—I’d punch him in the nose.

Why would anyone think Filner would resign?

  Anyone who wonders why Mayor Bob Filner stubbornly refuses to resign in the face of the mounting evidence of his appalling behavior toward women over the years needs to spend a bit more time reading the transcripts or watching the video of his accusers recounting the details of his transgressions to get their answer. This is a man who has no shame.

  How else do you explain behavior that is so outside the norm, not to mention repugnant?

  If you lack the basic filters that would tap you on the shoulder and say, “This is not the way you should act”, you might do things like belittle colleagues in front of a room full of reporters and community leaders, or pick petty fights with other elected officials simply because they are perceived to be a political threat. Or worse, you might threaten those who work for you—directly or indirectly—with job loss if they do not act according to your wishes—whatever they might be.

  It’s disgusting that Filner’s treatment of women has been under cover for so long. It’s disheartening that people accepted his bullying tactics, which often were every bit as damaging to the individuals who bore the brunt, were accepted for thirty-plus years as “just Bob being Bob”.

  One of the most interesting things that has come out of this kerfuffle and gets little to no coverage is how long Filner’s past instances of sexual harassment had apparently gone on with behind-the-scenes tongue-wagging among Democrat insiders. In Marco Gonzalez’s recent news conference comments, he alluded to behaviors known of for at least a decade or more.

  One accuser in a news interview claimed that Democrats knew about rumors surrounding Filner’s indiscretions at the time he was running for mayor, but told her they would rather have one person in office who didn’t respect women than have the office in control of an entire political party that didn’t respect them.

  Without starting a debate over which party “respects women” the most, it should be noted that both major political parties have women in the membership, both political parties have women in leadership positions, and both political parties have women representing them in elected office. And both political parties have Neanderthals among their male members—whether they openly admit it or not.

  That certain Democratic Party leaders have been complicit in keeping Filner’s proclivities from public view seems to be increasingly evident and needs to be examined. His behavior not only in office as mayor but as a congressman bears scrutiny, if only to determine what abuses of power he might have exercised while in pursuit of sexual conquest.

  Complicating everything, of course, is the somewhat understandable unwillingness of the various women accusers involved in this mess to come forward and lend more credibility to the charges that have been leveled against hizzoner. This adds to Filner’s increasingly smug assurance that he will survive. Unfortunately given his combative nature and utter belief that he will prevail, San Diego should prepare for a long and civically embarrassing ordeal. Without firm evidence, sooner or later the media storm will peter out and things at City Hall will get back to their dysfunctional “normal”.

Zimmerman: Three decisions and nothing changed

  Why is it the system is broken (according to liberals and conservatives) when a decision doesn’t go their way? SCOTUS decides in Citizens United it limits free speech and liberals are outraged, conservatives rejoice. They later decide in the case of gay marriage that gays are entitled to the same rights as straight couples under the Equal Protections Clause and liberals are overjoyed while conservatives lament the end of the republic as we know it.

  In Florida, the six women on the Zimmerman jury were tasked with determining reasonable doubt. The decision was made: Not guilty of murder in the second degree as well as to a lesser charge of manslaughter. Liberals are outraged and protester march in the streets. A great injustice has been done.

  Unless they were gifted with remarkable perceptive abilities, I cannot see how the jury could possibly determine—given the evidence presented—what was going through the minds of either of the two individuals involved in this tragic affair. To project onto Zimmerman his motives simply because he was white or a “wannabe cop” is to do the same kind of profiling of him that he was accused of doing to Trayvon Martin.

  These two young men made tragically bad decisions at a moment in time. One is dead because of it. The other, although free from prison, will never have a normal life and given the society we live in, will likely live in fear of his own for the rest of it.

  George Zimmerman was an overzealous Neighborhood Watch captain in a community that we now know had been plagued by break-ins. Why he felt the need to carry a weapon is a mystery, except the law allows it.

  Although Sanford, Florida has had some trouble with crime, these are not the mean streets of Chicago or Detroit we are talking about. Unfortunately, that wasn’t enough for Zimmerman.

  Ignoring the instructions of police after spotting someone he thought looked suspicious, Zimmerman began a cascade of events that have taken on a life of their own, thanks in no small way to the frenzy created by media junkies like Al Sharpton, who never met a potential racial powder-keg he didn’t like to exploit.

  Young Trayvon Martin chose to fight, either because he thought he had no choice when confronted by an armed man, or because he didn’t think the man was armed. We’ll never know. We do know he profiled his antagonizer prior to the fateful altercation, calling him a “cracker” when talking to a friend on his cellphone and that may have informed his decision.

  This case had all the makings of a perfect storm of racial controversy. That it happened in Florida, a Southern state with an already poor reputation for any manner of transgressions among the liberal establishment—including the theft of a presidential election, in their eyes—ensured a level of scrutiny far more intense than likely would have happened in other locales. MSNBC couldn’t have been more pleased.

  Make no mistake—the racial tension in Florida is real, even in 21st-Century America. It might be hard for some of us in the West to comprehend just how deeply ingrained racial divides are in the culture there. There are still those whites who harbor distrust—dislike even—of African-Americans for no other reason than their ethnicity and openly show it.

  What needs to be acknowledged, however, is that that tension and the profiling that goes with it, goes both ways.

  What is rarely recognized or merely gets paid lip service is the fact that many blacks are every bit as capable of and do show their own prejudices toward whites at every opportunity. I and family members of mine—including one who lived in Florida for an extended period of time—have been recipients of this type of prejudice on several occasions. There’s nothing quite as eye-opening as being treated badly by people simply because you’re white. (I know—the shoe is on the other foot, etc. It is not a lesson that should be taught, especially to people who never had the prejudices to begin with.)

  This isn’t complaining so much as it is pointing out that the “racial divide” will not be crossed until all people of all races and ethnicities agree to work together and admit that all sides are contributing to the problem.

  I believe Dr. King would agree.

What about Bob?

  Local Democratic Party leaders are all atwitter over what to do about embattled bad-boy San Diego Mayor Bob Filner. Now that former backers have gone public with accusations of behavior that has been rumored about for years, it seems the cover he had been given by the party has been blown away.

  Not unlike the cascade of events that followed disgraced former Republican Congressman Randy “Duke” Cunningham when allegations of corruption came to light, a parade of former Filner associates and acolytes is beginning to form in the direction of the exits, beating an ever speedier retreat lest they be tainted by their proximity to the beleaguered politician.

  To those who have followed Filner’s career, his fall from grace comes as no real surprise. Given his personality traits, the fact that it didn’t come earlier is.

  Conversely, given his longevity on the political scene and apparent ability to keep his worst character flaws out of the public eye for so long, the suddenness of his fall from favor can only serve to underscore how egregious his behavior had become.

  Now we have the likes of former San Diego City Councilmember Donna Frye, who not only backed Filner’s run for mayor but worked in his administration in its early days, calling for him to resign.

  Published reports have lately surfaced that another Democrat stalwart, former state Assemblywoman Lori Saldana, had reported to party leadership two years ago about six different women who approached her complaining of Filner’s “physical and verbal harassment”. Nothing was done at the time because then San Diego County Democratic Party Chairman Jess Durfee says he was satisfied by his conversation with Filner about the allegations and that the six women had never contacted him directly about the claims when he asked Saldana to have them do so.

  Excuses that these women and the women mentioned in the latest allegations have yet to come forward simply do not hold water. Of all people, Democrats who claim to be the party of the woman know better than to expect women who have been victimized by a powerful man to step forward openly and willingly—especially given empirical evidence that the system has been rigged in the past to cover up the very activities they are accusing him of.

  Should Filner resign over these latest revelations? Reprehensible as they are—but taken by themselves—probably not. He’s a jerk, and now the world knows it, if they didn’t before. The world gave Bill Clinton a pass for essentially the same thing. I’m not saying its right, just how it is.

  That said, when you couple it with the “pay for play” allegations surrounding the $100,000 Sunroad “contribution”, the high-handed treatment of the City Attorney and his staff, the questionable funding for and use of taxpayer monies in a recent junket to France, you begin to see a pattern of entitlement that permeates every action undertaken by the man.

  It seems to me Mayor Bob’s version of “celebrity rehab lite” as a penance for his churlish actions is far too little, way too late. It may be time to light his political funeral pyre, but there’s a litany of items that can be used to fuel the flames.

Chargers float another trial balloon

  Today’s issue of the San Diego Union-Tribune’s Business section contained an article that was clearly intended to reopen the long-simmering discussion and debate surrounding the notion that the San Diego Chargers need a new football stadium, and the good citizens of San Diego should be happy to pay the lion’s share of the tab.

  One can argue the questionable timing of opening the debate now, but the team’s leadership likely feels that with wholesale changes in its football operations leaving at least the impression that things will be different—and the ownership change at the U-T coinciding nicely to boot—it was worth a try.

  Why the U-T’s ownership matters in this shouldn’t be a mystery to anyone who has been following the stadium issue at all over the past several years. U-T Chairman & Publisher Douglas Manchester and his partner, Vice Chairman & CEO John T. Lynch have been vocal cheerleaders for and financial backers of efforts to gain acceptance of a taxpayer supported football stadium since it was first proposed, beginning with their ownership of sports radio station XX1090. Dean Spanos and company can be forgiven for expecting nothing less than unbridled tub-thumping from their friends at the metro paper.

  The gist of the article serves, in my view, to underscore the unmitigated gall of the National Football League and its owners in their thinking.

  Among other things, the article points out that although San Diego has hosted Super Bowls in the past, they have been assured by the league in no uncertain terms they will not host another unless they build a new stadium.

  From a business perspective, I get that. If you need to seat a particular number of spectators and your present facility doesn’t accommodate that many, that can be a problem. But that’s not San Diego’s problem, it’s the NFL’s.

  And given the NFL’s newfound willingness to play the league championship anywhere, rather than in domed stadiums or Sunbelt venues there are now thirty-one potential rivals for the right to host the big game. There is certainly no guarantee of San Diego’s hosting the game any time soon. Having the newest stadium around is probably not enough to get the event—just ask the Padres about their wait to host MLB’s All-Star Game.

  The article, and numerous others that have been published nationwide over the years, purport that the stadium is an economic engine and the implication is that hosting a Super Bowl would naturally be an even bigger boon. Many economists would disagree. Even more graphically, the city of Los Angeles might.

   Since 1995, when the late Al Davis packed his bags for the second time and moved the Raiders back to Oakland, the second largest city and media market in the country has had no NFL franchise. Why? Because city leaders had the temerity to stare down the NFL and tell them, ”You need us more than we need you.”

  Has LA collapsed under the weight of having no professional football franchise in town? Hardly.

  A modern football stadium is designed to hold approximately 70,000 fans. The estimated population of San Diego County, according to the 2010 census is 3,095,313 people. So, if everyone in San Diego wanted to attend just one football game (assuming they could afford the hundred bucks or so to get in), they could get their wish within forty-four years.

  “Well, that’s ridiculous”, you say, “Not everyone is a fan.” You’re absolutely right. But under oft discussed plans asking for public financing assistance, we all get to pay for their building.

  According to the U-T article, the NFL is now resurrecting a fund that would make $200 million available for the building of a new stadium. Dean Spanos has apparently committed another $100 million. The stadium is projected to cost $1 billion. That means there will be a gap of about $700 million.

  “I think that’s the discussion and debate that has gone on, and there should be more of it,” Derrett said. “Where will that money come from? I mean, we’ve all seen what has gone on with the discussion and debate around the Convention Center project and I think many other cities in North America have found ways to work with the tourism authorities on some kind of a tax (on hotels or car rentals). We’re not there yet, I think we’ve got to see how things unfold these next six months.”

  Here’s a novel idea: Instead of sticking taxpayers with the bill, do what any other business does when confronted with a need for capital improvements—go to a lender and get a loan. Of course, when you do that, the value of your team is offset by the liability, lowering your profit margin in a sale, but it’s not really about the money, is it?

The “Look At Me” Generation

 In a 1976 issue of New York Magazine, famed writer and novelist Tom Wolfe famously coined the moniker “Me Generation” to describe the evolution of the post-World War II progeny (of which I am a member) that has been commonly referred to as “Baby Boomers”.

  The members of this cohort—not all, to be sure, but enough to influence an age and entire society—seemed to throw tradition and convention aside during the Vietnam War years, eschewing the values of self-sacrifice and trust in institutions their elders from the Greatest Generation had embraced.

  Once the Vietnam War ended, it was as if a cloud lifted and suddenly the focus turned inward as people began to search for the meaning of life even as they were enjoying the fruits of what was the end of a 30-year economic boom created by three different wars and the government spending they engendered.

  Synanon and est seminars (remember those?), and a panoply of communes sprouting up offered new pathways to self-absorption. The message was clear: “Me” is what’s important.

  Our digital age has visited upon us many wonders: Smartphones now have computing power that exceeds that of the capsules that sent men to the moon; the miniaturization of computer chips and other electronic peripherals had made possible cameras and microphones that can easily be held in one hand; and of course, the Internet and players on it like Facebook, Google, and others, make it possible for people to communicate globally with a keystroke.

  This has led to the advent of what I call the “Look At Me” Generation. No longer content with contemplating one’s navel, today’s narcissist instead, with the assistance of Twitter, Facebook, etc., feels compelled to share with the world every detail of their life: what they eat, wear, drive, and so on.

  The truly dedicated, often athletic, sometimes pathetic, Look At Me (LAM for short) will take the extra step of acquiring a video camera like a GoPro that can be attached to a skateboard, snowboard, helmet, etc., to record their derring-do, sometimes with disastrous consequences then post it on YouTube.

  The real dimwits are the ones who commit crimes on video they record and post (no joke, this has been done often). I’m sure they think it’s a real good idea at the time. I wonder whether any thought is ever given to the possible long term consequences. Nah, who am I trying to kid?

  It’s like the trend in tattoos and piercing. Mostly of the full-sleeve, neck variety, and the ear gages that require plastic surgery if you ever want to reverse the damage they do. I’ve really tried to maintain an open mind on this. I tell myself it is the decision of the individual and times are changing. But, times have a way of changing back, too. What seemed like a cool idea at the time when you were twenty or even thirty might not be such a good idea at forty or fifty.

  I do think it’s a bit disingenuous of the wearers who, if you happen to look just a bit too long, give you the “What are you looking at?” stare when you know that’s exactly what they were going for in the first place.

  So there you have it. No more Generation X or Y. You are LAMs—the “Look At Me” Generation. Wear it with pride…just stop posting every wardrobe decision, OK? I really don’t care.