The Soapbox Papers

The Soapbox Papers is my two-cents worth.

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Location: Beloit, Wisconsin, United States

I am a cross between Tinkerbell and Calamity Jane.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Middle Class and Beyond

Of late, I remember an episode or M*A*S*H from years ago. In this episode, B.J. Hunnicutt was wallowing around the camp, feeling low, grumbling about how his wife had to do menial things at home while he was away. When the guys had heard enough of it, Hawkeye sat B.J. down and told him that those who had the most stood to lose the most. B.J., with his wife and home and such, clearly had more that most of the men in camp. That was why he had more at risk.

I've been thinking of this lately because it applies now, right here and now, in the US, and probably in some other countries as well. There is such turmoil in our land today - such stress and anxiety - there are reports of people taking drastic measures, even familial murders and suicide, to resolve their financial problems.

Someone in some high-up place has decided that those Americans who earn less than 250,000 USD are (ta-da!) "Middle Class." That's an awfully wide brush with which to be painted. I have less than 250,000 USD per year to live on - much less - and I am betting you do, too. The things we have in common with those who earn over even 100,000 USD are evident, with those differences increasing expotentially as incomes rise to $250,000 that designates us and them to the same "Middle Class."

Credit card debt plays a big factor in a "Middle Class" person's or family's financial health, as well as lenders who financed mortgages far too expensive for the homebuyer's actual budget. People who "qualified" for large mortgages but had no downpayment were asking for trouble. When all the papers were signed and the keys given, the new homeowner has two liens against his property - the mortgage and the loan he had to take out for the down payment. It's scary if you step back, let the flush of new ownership fade a minute, and look at it. Worse, after a year or two the new owner may decide to take out an equity loan against the house for whatever reason. It snowballs. That's how a lot of people got themselves into their financial discomfort and how many forclosures have come about.

But - at what dollar point do we fall from "Middle Class" to "Lower Class?" No presidential candidate has mentioned that. No one has mentioned the "Lower Class" - also known as the "Working Poor" These are like the majority of B.J. Hunnicutt's co-workers on M*A*S*H, people who work every bit as hard as B.J., but who have no wife, no love-nest waiting at home. The working poor do the jobs nobody likes to do, but which are necessary to businesses who pay them as little as possible with few if any benefits. A dissatisfied worker? The waiting list of those ready to take that position is long, the competition evident. The unemployed jostle for these jobs, as low paying as they are, when the unemployment runs out because something is better than nothing when it comes to putting food on the table, a roof over the head of their families. How do they get by?

Some people take on second and third jobs. Those who can't, those who are getting on in years, and/or who are disabled find themselves grasping for these jobs, too - hence the greeters at Walmart, independent taxi drivers, the men and women who demonstrate products in the grocery store. These folks often fall below the poverty level. Their incomes consist of Social Security or Social Security Disability and sometimes food stamps. Many are on the charitable lists of various organizations at holiday time. Many of the men are veterans from WWII, Korea and Viet Nam. To most folks these people do not exist - they just escape their peripheral vision. Often they are condemned as "takers" or those seeking "entitlements," and treated as lepers from those who are but a payday or two away from joining the ranks of those below the poverty level.

So here we are with the middle class, the poor, poorer and poorest, and from the yeas and nays among us, we will select a new leader for the next four years.

I say all this because I am an independent voter, one of those both candidates want to impress with his expertise and skill and leadership and good ideas. Every four years I end up dragging out this poem from 1996 and sometimes with a change or two, serve it up again:

Apolitica 2008

And so begins the circus,
three rings, a clown and a caucus,
playing dirty, playing on fear
accusations flying through the air
in spite of third party rebuttals,
shrouded hate,
none of the dignity of
our founding fathers
who thought elections
were a wonderful idea.

Spare me the rhetoric.
My politics are a plaid blanket
lain across stiffening knees
your kind has brought me to,
threads of red, white and blue
woven closely, the warp sturdy
and twisted, and the woof patterned
after traditional speeches that
cannot stand alone;
town-hall meetings with
filtered audiences.

You seem to agree on what
is important, but cannot agree
on why, or when or how
problems should be remedied,
wars should be fought,
people made whole again
after tragedies, and who
should say how the money is spent,
on what and why, how much
to butcher that sloppy fat pig -
and who should be
served at the banquet.
There is always a banquet.

Politicking for politics sake,
not for the sake of the Union,
you've let balloons fall
in conventions of the times we live in,
scrutinized the preacher, the teacher
and the soldier who would be king.
I grew up in the 60s - I remember
hate and the murdering of good men.
I feel that fear again. The division is
that deep, the hate is that intense.
I try not to listen. I pull
my plaid blanket close to my skin,
let it breathe my scent, become me
and realize it is me
you want top convince
-an everyday person -
and millions like me
who bring out the worst in you
while we try to decide
the best for us

and I study the weave
in the only cover I have.
I tug at the edges.
It does not keep me warm.

(c) 1996-2008, Smokey Combs
All Rights Reserved

To be continued ...


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