The American Middle Class, Wayne Gretsky, Sisyphus, And Rock And Roll

Ed Raymond

I am not a hockey fan, but I did play a version of it on a little frozen pond near my rural school District #54 in Morrison County, Minnesota. We had about 25 students, grades 1-8, so we would form two teams out of that mess, put on our four-buckle manure-covered overshoes (none could afford skates so they were banned), carve a stick from a curvy branch, find a chunk of wood, and do battle on reed-infested ice. It was great fun. But I found out later when I was a Fargo high school principal that hockey players do not normally follow society’s rules about assault and underage drinking and what comes with it. I spent ten times the amount of time on hockey discipline than I had to for any other sport, including football. There is something about helmets, sticks, tripping, checking, no time-outs, and celebrating victories and defeats that brings out the beasts in that football game on skates.
   But I think Wayne Gretsky, perhaps the best all-around hockey player who has ever lived, gave an answer to a question one day that would serve us all well. Gretsky was not a great physical specimen, but he had a great “hockey” brain. When asked how he usually got around the puck in the battle on ice, he said, “I don’t go where the puck is. I go to where it is going to be.” I think that tells it all about his skills.
   There’s an open question right now whether the American middle class is going to withstand the assault of the rich who live in gated communities with their own parks and swimming pools, their own private security, who send their children to expensive private schools so they play with their own “kind”—and rent or buy their government that constantly works to provide the One Percent with domestic tranquility. Perhaps the only way a kid from the middle class is going to win these days is to learn where the puck is going to be.

The American Middle Class Is Now Living In Hell

   The American middle class is now living in the hell of not having any salary increases for the last thirty years. With globalization, the absolute collapse of business ethics on Wall Street and in corporation boardrooms, and the biggest rich-poor inequality gap in the history of modern vulture capitalism, the chances of the middle class recovering to their former positions in the 1950–1980 era without strong unions is problematical. The middle class has no champions, only pitchforks. It enters the daily political joust without spear, lance, helmet, shield, or chain mail. The Best Congress Money Can Buy has been bought by the richest hedge fund and CEO money ever allowed in politics by a Republican Supreme Court.
Unless we educate our poor and middle class to be the most creative and inventive economic force in the world, they will never get out of their hell. Sisyphus will be their only champion, and, frankly, Sisyphus, like our middle class, is doomed to push that huge boulder up the incline of disaster until it rolls back over him. Sisyphus committed crimes against the Greek gods just as our middle class joined forces in unions and committed the crime of share-the-wealth against the gods of Wall Street and the corporate boardrooms. Sisyphus ended up being the Greek symbol of futility, forever doomed in hell to push that huge boulder to the top of a hill during the day. Each evening he was exhausted as he reached the crest, and each evening the boulder rolled back to the bottom of the hill.
  It’s the same with the middle class. After working all day in jobs paying half of what they paid just six years ago, or working new jobs at the minimum wage, or collecting unemployment because the recession has been nearly as bad as the Great Depression, they never will reach the crest of the hill of opportunity and cross over to be inside the gate.

And Here Are Some Of The Reasons

We don’t even have to count the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars put on Bush’s Master Card. We know war is priceless for the rich.  In the last quarter, Lockheed Martin made $668 million, Northrup Grumman $506 million, and Boeing $923 million. We don’t even have to count the Bush tax cuts for the rich that eventually added about six trillion to our national debt. Instead of creating jobs in industry, they kept the money. I don’t really blame them. The middle class had no money to buy anything anyway.
If the following makes economic sense to you, I think I will find an island someplace and spear fish in the lagoon—if there are any left. The entire world production of oil amounts to 85 million barrels a day, each barrel selling for about $100, more or less, depending on who is claiming the latest panic. The actual extraction of the oil from the earth and sea costs an average of $11 a barrel. I remember the day when it cost Saudi Arabia less than a dollar to extract a barrel of its black gold. But each day in the world oil markets, well over a billion barrels a day are traded back and forth by hedge funds and Wall Street oil speculators. So far in 2012, over 1.29 billion barrels have been peddled by the big boys each day.
Remember that the speculators never take actual possession of the oil and store it for a few hours in their backyard. Besides that, they don’t pay much for their second-by-second hold on oil. The hedge funds and the speculators have so much cash on hand from screwing the poor and the middle class for three decades that they really don’t know what to do with it, so they buy oil futures, driving up the price of oil around the globe. If speculators were completely driven from the oil markets, experts estimate that oil would be at $60 a barrel instead of $100. And 87-octane gas would be at $2.749 instead of $3.749. Even the executives at ExxonMobil concede this is true.

Economists—The Pimps Of Wall Street
Sure, you are going to have some economists who are in the pockets of Wall Street, investment firms, and hedge funds say that speculation in oil futures serves a good function. They say, “It increases liquidity and better distributes risk.” It also increases pay of the pimping economists. When rich speculators tried to manipulate grain prices during the Great Depression, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt placed tough restrictions on speculative dollars because people were starving. There are about 150 million people in this country falling into the poverty class now. But evidently the Best Congress Money Can Buy is not going to do anything about oil speculation. If the speculators want to trade barrels of liquid and drive up the prices, let them buy barrels of mango juice, pineapple juice, Florida orange juice, or avocados to drive up the prices. That stuff we don’t have to eat or drink. But oil is an absolute necessity for the survival of our economy and the people who depend on it. The simplest way to knock off this speculative crap is to force the buyer to take delivery. It will be tough to find a pleasing spot on his estate.
   Bart Chilton, a commissioner on the Commodities Future Trading Commission, estimates that if you drive a Honda Civic you pay $7.30 to Wall Street speculators every time you fill up. If you drive a Lincoln it will give some billionaire hedge fund operator $10.41 a fill. A Ford 150 pickup will pay one of Mitt’s secret contributors $14.56. It truly is time for the Occupy Wall Street crowd to march to the Wall Street bronze bull, cut his big nuts off, and occupy the trading floor. That may get the attention of the Best Congress Money Can Buy.

The Vatican Boys Trying To Push Women
And Their Huge Pill Over The Cliff

I had never seen a major Western church commit suicide at the burning stake with tongues until the Pope, the Vatican, and its American soldiers, the National Conference of Roman Catholic Bishops, recently accused 98 percent of Catholic women of violating the “natural law” of the Church regarding birth control. Then just last week, the Vatican team appointed to investigate American nuns accused the most influential group, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, all 47,000 of them, of “serious doctrinal problems.” These two situations prove that the Church, guided only by men possessed by “unnatural laws” of centuries past, is trying to live in some male fantasy Land of Oz. For me, it conjured up a parallel scene with Sisyphus grunting to roll the boulder up the incline all day, but the crest always becoming an insurmountable task. Sisyphus just avoids getting killed as the boulder returns to its morning position. In my scene, Pope Benedict is first in line pushing a huge birth control pill up a long, steep incline. Behind the gold and white bejeweled Pope, we have the cardinal-red College of Cardinals and the black-cassocked Conference of Bishops pushing, grunting, and heaving with all their might to get that huge pill over the crest. It never happens.
The Vatican has more than the big pill to worry about. Catholic women match non-Catholic women in getting abortions. Gee, I suppose the Catholic Church has the same number of gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgenders as the non-Catholic population. The nuns were serving them, too. And then they have Catholic women who think they should actually wear collars, prostrate themselves, and march to the pulpits and preach Christ’s love. It seems that each day that huge pill overcomes the power of the Pope, cardinals, and bishops attempting to push it over the crest (and runs over a few), the incline gets longer and steeper for the Church. The last rites are coming for the Inquisition mossbacks.

A Few Bites Out Of
The Vatican’s Butt

The nun groups, formed by the Vatican in 1956 so that religious women would be represented, were supposed to answer to the Vatican. But the groups have been biting the Vatican boys in the butt for years. I think the tipping point came when the nuns supported Obamacare by signing an approval statement after the U.S. bishops opposed it. The Vatican investigators said that only bishops “are the authentic teachers of faith and morals.” The Vatican proclaimed that the nuns promoted “radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith.” The violations, “discovered” during the four-year investigation, included challenging the bishops on homosexuality and male-only priesthood. The Vatican also accused the nuns of concentrating too much on poverty and economic injustice while neglecting to do anything about abortion and same-sex marriage. Sister Simone Campbell, the executive director of the Catholic social justice lobby NETWORK, said, “I would imagine that it was our health care letter that made them mad.”

Here Comes That
Old-Time Inquisition

The Vatican investigators led by members of Pope Benedict’s old outfit, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, commonly known as the Inquisition, have now finished investigating all of the Catholic women’s religious orders and communities in the U.S. The last “visitation” to a group occurred last December. Why is the Inquisition taking such an inordinate amount of time preparing their final report for the pope? Will the report make the incline even longer and steeper? The Vatican said that Leadership nuns “spent too much time on poverty and social-justice concerns and not enough time condemning abortion and gay marriage, and had failed to make the Biblical view of family life and human sexuality.” A message to the cassock crowd: no matter what the report says, you have a long-term loser on your hands. Women today actually might hold up more than half the sky.
Robert Veitch of Minneapolis reacted to the Inquisition’s report on the Leadership Conference of Women Religious with a statement all of the robed pushers of the big pill should heed: “Sounds just like all the nuns I know. They’re focused on charity, caring for the poor, overcoming social injustice and welcoming all into God’s embrace. They’re not very good at denying equality to gays, minorities, women in need of health care, immigrants—documented or undocumented—or beating the drum for right-wing politicians. They are good at being like Jesus.”
Beautiful. And I say, “Pax vobiscum” to the nuns.