This post was inspired by Monroe Anderson (I still can’t believe that he reads my blog. I am not worth the crossing of his t’s. He is the man.)

_________________________________

The first shop I went to when we landed here in the US two years ago was a convenience store just down the road from us. It’s called Honey Farms. Just your run-of-the-mill convenience store like a 7-Eleven. Nothing much. Bread, milk, cigarettes, Coke and chocolates. Everything I need to get through the day if pushed. That’s where I met them. The people working at Honey Farms.

The first guy I met was this old guy that must been at least 65 in the shade. But still in excellent shape. He cycles to work and back. We just called him ‘the old guy’. My lovely wife knew who I was talking about whenever I told her I had a chat with the old guy at Honey Farms. He was the first American I had a just a normal general chat with. Good guy. Exceptionally good guy.

It started off like any normal chat for us foreigners over here in smaller towns. The accent. He loved my wife’s accent. Called it “the Queen’s English”. Well, she does have a pretty good English accent even though she is South African. He made her talk just so he could listen to her accent. And then he will just be like a little kid and be all giddy. And tell all the other customers to listen to her speak. Yes, I think he had a bit of a crush on her.

I didn’t get the same treatment. But then, my accent is a bit more harsh. Less exotic, more farmer. But what can you do? We did have many good chats – me and the old guy from Honey Farms. Anything really – and he was as funny as hell.

Whenever I bought my cigarettes he would offer me “free” matches. And he used to say that they are so committed to customer service that they are happy to replace the matches if I am unhappy with them at any time. Yes, they were free to start off with.

Or the time I walked in and asked if they had dish washing liquid or tablets for the dishwasher. He made a huge scene claiming that they have the best dishwasher liquid in the whole of downtown Natick – if not in greater downtown Natick. (You can’t buy or find it anywhere else in downtown Natick.) He went to tell me how good this dishwasher liquid is. His wife swears by it. And he has never had a customer come back to say it didn’t do the job. With a smile I asked him if he has ever used it. He shook his head and said no. Never used the stuff. He still washes his dishes by hand. And then laughed a bit more. Both of us.

Yeah, he was a funny guy. Always something funny to say or a smart comment to make me leave with a smile.

But it always bugged me. Why is he still working when he should be taking it easy? When he should be retired. So I asked him. I asked him why is he still working. And he stared at me for a little while. And then just uttered a simple little concept…

“healthcare…”

“Why healthcare”, I asked. Simple, he needs to be covered if something happens to him or his wife. Especially in their old age. And he needs the extra money to pay for it. As security for when they really need it. The government will help but it might not be enough. In his old age he has to worry about that. He never had to worry about it when he was covered when he was young and healthy and looked after.

He also told me that he got his daughter a job at Honey Farms. But that he had to make her stop working there and found her another job. He was worried about her safety. When she worked the late shift. When some of the rougher and drunker guys came around. Nothing ever happened. But it wasn’t good for her to be exposed. It was good enough for the old man, but not good enough for his daughter.

He left my Honey Farms a few months back. He got a better offer to actually run a Honey Farms in the town next to ours. We still walk into each other now and again. And we still have our chats then. He still makes me laugh. And he still cycles to work.

Actually, he is doing more than that. One of the many discussions we had was about American addiction to cars. Hell, people will drive 200 yards to Honey Farms to buy their stuff. But more than that, single drivers keep on driving to work and back or to downtown Natick on a beautiful day when they could be walking. It bugged him. And he decided to do something about it. A campaign. A campaign to get Natick people to cycle more.

This old man decided to do it on his own. He got a plan together that we spoke about a few times. And he took it to the local authorities to get their backing. And convinced them to support him. Not with money. But with communications – posters, notices, free bicycles etc. And off he went. His “cycle more” campaign. Good for traffic and good for your health. This old man that should be retired did it because it bugged him. Never made a cent out of it. It was all about getting people out of their cars and start cycling when they go to downtown Natick. Yep, he was an activist in his own way.

I really liked him. Still do.

He is America for me. Him and the other people I have met at Honey Farms. The other slightly less old guy who knows everything anybody ever wants to know about the history of coins – American coins. Or the gay middle aged woman who suffers from depression. Or the woman whose kids always come to visit her when she works the late shift on a weekend. Or the young black kid from the wrong side of Natick that is taking extra jobs to stay out of trouble and build himself a future. All of them. They have been America to me. Proud. Strong. Easy to talk to. Friendly as hell.

Yes, they might not know as much of the world as what the world knows of them, but these people are good decent people that I would be happy to call my own. I can see in their eyes why America is great. Because they are great people.

So why am I telling you this? Why is this even important? I’ll tell you why…

…McCain and taxes…

What?

Yep, McCain and taxes. McCain is attacking Obama for wanting to raise the taxes of the wealthiest of Americans. One key line of argument from McCain is that the top 1% of Americans will pay almost 35% of American taxes under the Obama plan. That just doesn’t sound right. That is just unfair. It isn’t just. Why should 1% pay so much of the taxes? Well… Because that same 1% also own almost 35% of America’s net worth. That’s why. Mr McCain.

If you own 35% then it makes perfect sense that 35% of the taxes will come from you. Easy economics. Not socialism. Just easy economics.

And before I forget. Just 10% of the population owns 71% of America’s wealth… I expect that 10% to pay 71% of the taxes…

I won’t even mention that “in a survey of 120 major cities, New York was found to be the ninth most unequal in the world and Atlanta, New Orleans, Washington, and Miami had similar inequality levels to those of Nairobi, Kenya and Abidjan, Ivory Coast. Many were above an internationally recognised acceptable “alert” line used to warn governments”. I won’t go into that. Just saying that the distribution of wealth in America is beyond unfair. It ranks with the most unjust systems in the world…

Tell me why should the wealthiest not pay according to the share of wealth they have? Are they better than the old guy from Honey Farms? Do they mean more to America than the Honey Farms people? I don’t think that either group means more to America than the other. Or at least, I don’t believe that either group should mean more to America. CEO’s can be replaced as easily as the guy in Honey Farms. Don’t let them tell you otherwise. I work with CEO’s of some of the biggest American companies out there today. The biggest of the biggest. The best of the best. Make no mistake… I can count on my one hand how many of them are truly irreplaceable. And they generally earn a sh*tload of money. Way more than their counterparts from the rest of the world.

I get it that they earn more. I have no problem there. Maybe I have a problem with the extremes of what they earn, but I do get that they should earn a nice package to keep them in the job. But they are not more American than the old guy from Honey Farms. That much I know.

He has worked his backside off for this country. Never moaned. Never bitched. Never complained. When they ask him to serve he serves. When they ask him to sacrifice he sacrifices. He, and everyone else at Honey Farms, are the backbone of this country as much as what the CEO is. Without him there is no America. America is not a country of CEO’s. America is a country of Americans. And everyone should pay their share of being able to call themselves American. The old guy paid his dues. Through sweat and taxes. Even today in his old age. He kept that CEO in his job. Buying his stuff and protecting his rights. The CEO can afford to pay more taxes so that the old guy doesn’t have to work in his old age. Or that the woman suffering from depression can get good help even though she can’t afford it. She works her butt off. Each and every day. She doesn’t sit back and do nothing. She contributes. She pays taxes. According to what she can. Her share. Even though her share of the American wealth is nothing compared to the CEO. We can’t expect him to let it “trickle down”. It won’t. It never has. It’s a fallacy that Reagan tried to sell and we now know it doesn’t work. Mr CEO doesn’t buy from Honey Farms.

One more thing… Patriotism.

Conservative Republicans keep on saying that the American companies will take their business elsewhere if they don’t get the “breaks”. Can we then please question the patriotism of these companies? Who are they? Let’s all stop buying from them if they hate America so much. They made their money off the back of American sweat and American consumers. And now they want to leave? They made their American Dream come true through the hard work and money of other Americans. They made their American Dream off the back and sweat and hard earned cash of those Americans who defines the true American Dream – freedom, justice and liberty without the money attached. Let’s leave them alone if they don’t show the same commitment to America as the old guy from Honey Farms.

I like my old guy from Honey Farms. I like everyone who works at Honey Farms. They taught me about America. Not the CEO and his buddies that I have known for many years. They are also Americans. But they are not America. It was Honey Farms that made me realize what America is all about. The spirit. The belief. The patriotism. The people.

I earn more than the guy at Honey Farms. Way more. I don’t earn $250,000 p.a. (Not yet!) But I am willing to pay a little more to make sure that the old guy from Honey Farms can just ride his bicycle and not worry about the cost of his healthcare. He is America and I am willing to do what it takes to make that work. I am willing to pay my share according to the share I own and earn. That should be the American way.

Advertisements

What’s up in the news?

1. Thanks for the invite

Condoleezza Rice, or Condi to her friends, spend a bit of time in Baghdad this week. Good for you Condoleezza. It is much better than staying in that big white house up on the hill. You know that guy will work your fingers to the bone. Anyway, she spent time shopping in the “Green Zone” I think. Must be. Why else would she be saying something like this? “Obviously, the American forces are here, coalition forces are here at the invitation of the Iraqi government.” WTF? I don’t think so Condoleezza. Remember that you send those big tanks and flying objects called missiles into Iraq? I didn’t see the letter of invitation. Oh, you mean these guys in charge now? The puppets you put in place? With a fake vote that reminds us of Florida style democracy? I don’t think so Condoleezza. Crap stays crap. Whether in DC or Baghdad. Let’s get this straight Condoleezza, you are not invited to my house. With or without a gun in your hand and a tank at your feet.

2. McCain playing the age card

I think McCain might be playing the age card after weeks of playing the race card and the celeb card and the general lies and snake oil card. This time it was all about Russia and the “Georgia incident”. No. Not Atlanta. Anyway. He made another “misspoke” when commenting on the Russian invasion. And I quote, “in the 21st century, nations don’t invade other nations”. Huh? Excuse me? Did I miss something? Or is it your age playing up? Did you get a free coupon to invade Iraq? I can’t even say grow up. McCain. McCain. McCain. You are one scary dude.

For McCain

For McCain

3. This man is stupid

I really couldn’t find a better heading for this guy. A guy from Nigeria has been told to divorce his wife. No wait. His wives. He has to whittle it down to four wives and no more. So he’ll have to divorce 82 of them. WTF? Dude! Doos! I don’t know what to say? The four that are staying are asking what the hell did they do wrong that they have to stay with him? Guess how many kids he has? 170. He had just under 2 children with each wife. Lesson? They thought the first time was just a bit of a… hum… problem… anxiety. The second time? They realized it wasn’t. You can fool some of the people some of the time…

4. But he is worse…

It seems as if Mugabe has decided to not continue the talks with Tsvangirai. I am not surprised. Mugabe doesn’t give a damn. And neither does my President. Mbeki. Blood on your hands. Go share what I gave McCain further up. And up yours. If Mugabe is the African Than Shwe (Burma), then you are the African Bush. No. Not the African bush.

A dick and a prick

A dick and a prick

5. Buy at employee price… if you can find one

GM has been taking a pounding in the sales department over here in the US. But they hit back with a brilliant new ad campaign. You can now buy a car at the employee price. Cool isn’t it? We know how much discount those guys get. Should work. Shouldn’t it? It should. If you can find an employee willing to sell you a car. It seems that most of the models just don’t make it to the dealers. And the salesmen doesn’t show up either. Great plan GM. Get the people to come into the showrooms to buy a car that isn’t there from a salesman that isn’t there either. I think Toyota might have a better plan. Sell people a car they want. I know. It is way unorthodox but it might just work.

6. How to kill the American Dream

How do you kill the American Dream? Bureaucracy… We’ve seen it everywhere in America. Little kids learning the rules of making money by selling goodies at roadside stands. Simple stuff. Lemonade, veggies, ice-cream and other stuff the can grow themselves or mix themselves. Just pretty simple stuff. Nothing much. But it teaches them the basics of how to be an entrepreneur. It’s as American as apple pie. But not anymore. At least not in Clayton, California. A little girl and her brother used to sell some veggies they grew in their back yard. Until the cops showed up. And dispersed the illegal merchants. Stupid right? And you would expect the Mayor to back the kids. Think again. “They may start out with a little card-table and selling a couple of things, but then who is to say what else they have. Is all the produce made there, do they grow it themselves? Are they going to have eggs and chickens for sale next,” said Clayton Mayor Gregg Manning. Mayor Manning, go get some of that McCain coffee offer I have up there. Stupid.

Remember to read between the lies… I mean lines.

Apparently the Republicans are getting all worked up about a black woman. Again. Getting their knickers in a knot, as we would say. And no, I am not talking about Oprah tackling their favourite pastime either – eating a Quarter Pounder from Mickey D’s. (By the way – who the hell was the bright spark at McDonald’s that thought Mickey D’s would be a sexy tagline?) Nope, and neither are they still pissed at Rosa Parks for taking “their” seat. Well, not that pissed anymore anyway. Just a little. No, they are getting ready to tackle a new black woman – Michelle Obama.

They are still pissed at her for saying that, “For the first time in my adult lifetime, I am really proud of my country”. All worked up that she wasn’t “really” proud earlier in her life. You know, she was just the run of the mill kind of proud of her country. Not “really” proud. Hum. Let’s visit this statement a bit, shall we?

So here she is. Black the last time I checked. And her husband is running to become the next President. Not because he is black, but because he is the best candidate according to some. Well, at last America is getting off the race issue. Or at least somewhat. According to polls, many Americans still believe that race will play a role in their decision on who they will vote for to become the American President. She must be “really” proud of the fact that her husband (or any black guy for that matter) can run for President on a non-race ticket and actually stand a chance of winning. That must “really” piss the Republicans off. But I would also be “really” proud for the first time as it is a first…

Or maybe she said, “for the first time in my adult life, I am proud of my country because it feels like hope is finally making a comeback.” (Different sources give me different quotes. That should not make them proud of their work…) Slightly different isn’t it though. Not a “really” in sight. One could have a problem with this now can’t we? Hum, maybe. Let’s have a closer look.

Michelle was born on 17 January 1964 – in Chicago. Lived there most of her life. 1964… The year after Kennedy got killed. She was born during the rule of LBJ. Not a time that reminds us of great hope does it? Okay – I’ll give you the moon landing. But she was only 5 and it was Kennedy’s idea anyway. And then came Nixon. Need I say more? And Ford and Carter followed. Again, not the good times now was it? Some would argue that Reagan brought hope. But sorry, he didn’t. Not universal in any case. He was a great leader for the Republicans. But he brought little hope to the world. Too many wars. Too many wrong decisions. Even if he was a good guy – he didn’t bring hope. And then Bush Sr. And another war. And no hope. Clinton brought some hope early on, but divided the country and got involved in too many “outside” activities. And then Bush Jr. More war and even less hope. Consistent during all these times were the lack of hope. Good Presidents and bad Presidents. But what they didn’t bring was hope. The one thing they didn’t have was this thing called hope. A future that the American people could see and believe in.

Oh, they all had their good times and their bad times. But not one single one of them painted a picture of an American tomorrow. They told Americans of a better tomorrow. But not of an American tomorrow. Just a better tomorrow. And then they all went and sold out to some vested interest somewhere.

I mean think about it for a minute. The 40’s – a just war against a true global threat. And America played a key role in changing the shape of history on that one. The 50’s – big infrastructure expansion, “good” businesses shaping the US, the building of America and the hope of a future so clearly depicted in art, movies, literature etc. The 60’s – people and their right, civil rights and the people speaking out against the way they were ruled and taken to war. And cool music. Then the 70’s – one bad politician after the other and disco music. Really. The 80’s – corporate influence over government takes shape like never before and continues to grow each year. But it started in the 80’s. And, of course, 80’s music and big hair. The 90’s – empty promises and big smiles. But little substance and even worse music (as if that was possible). And the new millennium… need I say more.

And then here he is. Her husband. Talking about tomorrow. And the future of America. And the hope of change. A better world. A better America. An America that we know and love. That stands for something good. Where America is run by Americans. The people. Not the vested interests. And she sees this and feels proud of her country for the first time because there is hope. She didn’t say that she didn’t believe in her country before. Or that she didn’t love her country before. Just that this is the first time she is proud of her country. Maybe even “really” proud of her country. Because the leaders who represent and embody what America stands for haven’t been that hopeful since that shot ended the dream in 1963. For the first time the shadow is pulling back and America is facing itself again. Facing what it is to be American. And all the good that comes with it.

It’s not a passport. It isn’t an accent. It is “state of being”. To fight the good fight. Do the right thing. To celebrate freedom. To let people run the country. Let the people govern. Where hard working Americans can make the American Dream come true. Where the poor doesn’t get poorer and the rich doesn’t get richer just because they are rich or because they are poor. Or because of where they were born or the color of their skin or their sexual preferences or their gender or their…. Well, you get the picture. Where there isn’t a sense of entitlement because you were born into it. Where Americans can show the world once again that being good, believing in freedom, working hard, standing together and staying true are the key ingredients that make America great. And what makes American Presidents great. Something to be proud of.

I am sure she had moment when she was proud. Olympic success, moon landing, civil right etc. But those are moments. Not Presidents. America has fallen to far behind. Not behind other countries. But behind itself. China is catching up on the economic side. Human rights are seen as an European thing now. Protection mentality and exclusion are seen as the American way. America hasn’t forgotten what it is all about. Hasn’t forgotten what their leadership means. It just hasn’t always measured up to its own high standards. American Presidents haven’t really measured up against what is expected from a truly great American President.

Yes, America remains better than almost every single country out there in our little globe. But just being better than others have never been the American way. Being better isn’t the American way. The American way is being American. And everything it stands for. Measuring itself against the American ideals. Looking back and making judgements against what the Founding Father fought for. Looking in the mirror and saying, “Not good enough. Let’s go for it again tomorrow. And let’s make it work this time”. America defines America. Not others. And that has been the failure. The loss of hope. America somehow started measuring itself against others. Instead of defining itself. And that is maybe why Michelle is “proud” today. Because she sees the hope of America being America – and everything that goes with that.

Oh, CNN also told me that people will look at the spouses of the candidates when they make their decisions. Not what they stand for, but what it says about the candidates and their choices. Here is how I see it. (Just in case you asked for my opinion.)

What does Cindy tell me about the decision making of McCain? It tells me that he will flip-flop. Had a wife and then saw something else he liked. And dropped the first one. A President that will make decisions and change it just as quickly if it fits better. McFlop will flip any policy if it means more to gain I guess. In this case it was a net gain of about $100 million.

And what does it tell me about Obama? That he will stay with is choice. Even if they don’t see eye to eye on everything. And even if she says things he might not agree with. He loves them for who they are – warts and all. A President that will stick with you even if you make stupid mistakes and do stupid things. Like go into a stupid war or something.

Of course it also tells me that one picked a partner who are encouraged to think for themselves and speak out. No matter what the consequences. Speak out. Speak up. Don’t mince your words. It is the American way. Celebrating differences. Freedom of expression. And being open, direct and honest. Put your cards on the table. At least we know who she is. A bit like Eleanor Roosevelt. Speaking up on civil rights. Not just nice empty words and a pretty face. That did not make her popular with everyone now did it? But we’ll remember her and what she actually did instead of just talk about.

The other one? Not sure what she stands for. Hardly hear her speak. At least on anything substantive. Except to tell us how much she admires and agrees with Johnny M. But we know she shops at Oscar de la Renta. And that she looks “hot”. It tells me that we won’t have much to talk about if we ever meet. (Unlikely! Especially after this piece.) Because she will agree with me. And things would be all good. And she will tell me how she fights the bad stuff in a good way. Poverty and all the things the “little people” suffer from. Sorry. Seen that before.

No thanks. Give me the girl and guy who tell me things aren’t as fine as what everyone is trying to tell me. That we might just have to put a bit of effort into this. That everyone is accountable. That is America’s future is in the hands of each and every American. That it will take some effort, that it will mean some difficult choices, and everyone will have to pull their weight. But that America is worth a shot. That it is worth fighting for the American Dream and an American future defined by the American people. All of them.

Give me Michelle Obama anytime. Because at least she knows why she is proud. That it isn’t an empty word or a little flag you hang on your jacket. That it is hard work. And straight talking. It might be Kool-Aid. But it tastes just damn fine.

If you enjoyed this post, get free updates by RSS

Add to Technorati Favorites
Digg!