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Sunday: Make this the week you free yourself

Commuting to work in Copenhagen

Thursday, November 17: Shut Down Wall Street

If you haven’t had a chance to read it yet, Matt Taibbi has a piece in the Rolling Stone where he confesses that he didn’t “get” Occupy Wall Street at first, but now he does:

What both sides missed is that OWS is tired of all of this. They don’t care what we think they’re about, or should be about. They just want something different.

We’re all born wanting the freedom to imagine a better and more beautiful future. But modern America has become a place so drearily confining and predictable that it chokes the life out of that built-in desire. Everything from our pop culture to our economy to our politics feels oppressive and unresponsive. We see 10 million commercials a day, and every day is the same life-killing chase for money, money and more money; the only thing that changes from minute to minute is that every tick of the clock brings with it another space-age vendor dreaming up some new way to try to sell you something or reach into your pocket. The relentless sameness of the two-party political system is beginning to feel like a Jacob’s Ladder nightmare with no end; we’re entering another turn on the four-year merry-go-round, and the thought of having to try to get excited about yet another minor quadrennial shift in the direction of one or the other pole of alienating corporate full-of-shitness is enough to make anyone want to smash his own hand flat with a hammer.

If you think of it this way, Occupy Wall Street takes on another meaning. There’s no better symbol of the gloom and psychological repression of modern America than the banking system, a huge heartless machine that attaches itself to you at an early age, and from which there is no escape. You fail to receive a few past-due notices about a $19 payment you missed on that TV you bought at Circuit City, and next thing you know a collector has filed a judgment against you for $3,000 in fees and interest. Or maybe you wake up one morning and your car is gone, legally repossessed by Vulture Inc., the debt-buying firm that bought your loan on the Internet from Chase for two cents on the dollar. This is why people hate Wall Street. They hate it because the banks have made life for ordinary people a vicious tightrope act; you slip anywhere along the way, it’s 10,000 feet down into a vat of razor blades that you can never climb out of.

That, to me, is what Occupy Wall Street is addressing. People don’t know exactly what they want, but as one friend of mine put it, they know one thing: FUCK THIS SHIT! We want something different: a different life, with different values, or at least a chance at different values.

Personally?  I want to live in a place like Denmark.  Your mileage may vary.  And I think that’s part of the point of Occupy Wall Street.  If you want to make millions producing something useful like green technology or a new drug or some personal gadget that we can’t live without, by all means, do it!  I would *love* to make a new drug that helps people but I know that the current corporate model for doing that is dead.  But starting a new biotech in this particular kind of capitalism is extremely risky because there are predators out there who see you as nothing but a money machine ready  yoke you to their plough.  They give you the money to get the work done, you hand over whatever they want.

But what if money is not your personal endpoint?  What if doing what you love is your goal but you want to earn a wage that doesn’t leave you destitute?  What if you’re ok riding a bike to work in an urban setting?  What if your starter house doesn’t have to be 3000 sq ft?  What if you are happy living somewhere between Ikea and Pottery Barn?  Does that mean you’re a loser if you don’t want to make millions but only want to discover the next drug?  This society is telling the real producers that they are losers and that the only true winners are the ones who eat what they kill in the free market savannah.

Six months ago on my last day of work, I wrote about what was happening to us.  We are locked into the Wall Street extraction mechanism almost from the first day on the job.  Our pensions are so small and the possibility of getting one is so remote because our careers are  unstable that we are forced to turn to the marketplace to build up our nest eggs.  We invest in 401K’s that are so heavily penalized by taxes that the money becomes hostage to the Wall Street movers and shakers.  And investing in the market makes us the very same shareholders who demand our terminations.  We are forced to put our savings into the global casino so that some assholes on Wall Street can play with making a killing by porting our jobs overseas.  And we’re supposed to be grateful to them for “producing” this great wealth that only they can accumulate and spend and pay for *their* kid’s college education.  Yes, they get a bonus, you get an excise tax bill, to be paid up-front, if you need to take that money out to pay for the hardships produced by putting that money in the market in the first place.  How crazy is that??  How did we let ourselves get talked into this bizarre arrangement? And it’s not real money to Wall Street.  It’s play money.  It’s not *their* money.  And if they lose some after they skim off their bonuses and cry and complain about how unappreciated they are, it’s no big deal.  With the next working guy’s paycheck, the coffers will be renewed from all of those contributions to the retirement account.  This game is set up so that the fund managers never have to feel accountable to anyone but themselves.

I’d rather be free to live modestly than live miserably and precariously with the vague and insincere promises of riches decades down the road.  I want out.

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Oprah introduces America to civilized (socialist) Denmark

I stole this video from Lenore Skenazy at Freerangekids.  HER focus was on the fact that two month old twins were allowed to nap in the sunshine. Outside.  Unattended.  And no one called the cops on the parents for child endangerment or neglect.  It turns out the entire country is *full* of parents who leave their adorable blonde babies on the street in their prams for some crazy nut job to snatch away.  And I guess that there are so many of them hanging around that there’s not much temptation anymore.  Most kids do not get stolen.

But I digress.

The real story is that these incredibly beautiful, simplicity loving, high tax paying, Ikea addicts are the happiest people in the world.  They say they are Democrats but Oprah says they’re socialists.  Au Contraire, says the swimsuit model (presumably with a PhD in architecture).  They are merely civilized.  It is civilized to take care of the poor and the old.  It is civilized to spend time with your family and friends.  It is civilized to have fewer things so that you can have more freedom.  What a concept!

Too bad Oprah didn’t do this last year instead of helping to force that Republican lite, corporate loving, uber shmoozer on us for president. I guess it’s possible for even Oprah to get rolled every now and then.

Is she trying to atone or is she trying to get us accustomed to wanting a lot less, now that her White House friend has bungled the recovery?  Who knows?  I wouldn’t mind living a Danish life and I suspect there are a lot of Americans who when faced with another $4000/month mortgage payment on the McMansion while they wait on pins and needles to see if they still have a job, would find a small flat and a resilient social safety net in Copenhagen just charming.  I just hope it isn’t too late for America to get the message.

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