The moon was a faint patch of white floating in a celestial sea of darkness when Koko and I went walking this morning. On our return, the wind contained a touch of rain that quickly transformed into a shower, but I fended off the wetness, holding my umbrella in front of me like a shield as streaks of orange and scarlet illuminated a pale band of sky between the cloud bank and the ocean.
The days are shortening dramatically — we’ll lose 27 minutes of light by month’s end — and the light has that decidedly autumn feel as we head back to work after a holiday devoted to our laborings.
The Labor Day weekend made me think of a comment that lifelong westsider Kealii Aguiar made when I interviewed him about his new position as Waimea High School’s head football coach. He said the young men on the team had been diligent about their training, which he likened to the blue collar ethic of westsiders: show up, punch in, work hard, do what needs to be done.
Each day I see the evidence of that ethic all around me, as people in so many different occupations show up and do what needs to be done to keep things functioning, for the benefit of the whole. When viewed in that context, it seems bizarre that there’s such a pay disparity between workers.
I mean, does the CEO making $10 million a year really work that much harder, or contribute that much more, than the guy earning $30,000? As the AFL-CIO observed:
CEO perks alone grew in 2008 to an average of $336,248—or nine times the median salary of a full-time worker. Meanwhile, the economy tanked for working people while many companies were bailed out with more than $700 billion in taxpayer money, as well as low-interest loans and guarantees.
And as a friend noted last night, “yeah, and those guys are the ones that destroyed the economy.”
It’s true. Folks might want to blame union workers — be they on the state payroll or GM’s — for dragging the economy down, but I think the oil companies, which were raking in record-breaking profits as the world’s economy staggered under the burden of high oil prices, had just a little bit more of an impact.
Meanwhile, a friend who never carries a balance on his credit cards was recently informed his interest rate would be increased from 12.9 percent to 23 percent. That’s just one way that many banks stuck it to consumers before the new law intended to curb some of the banks’ more vicious lending practices went into effect.
He’s got good credit, so he probably will be able to find cards with lower interest rates. But what about all those millions of Americans who are currently unemployed, or maxed out, and so can’t make the switch? They’re going to be stuck with interest rates that will ensure they remain in perpetual debt.
The same friend informed me that the retirement account he had faithfully contributed to for 30 years has lost a third of its value since the financial market meltdown. What’s the likelihood that he’ll ever recoup those losses? And do you really think that the suffering was shared by investors across the board, including those who manipulate that legal racket known as the stock market?
Then there’s the “Making Home Affordable” program. It was intended to provide relief to homeowners on the verge of foreclosure, but due to meddling by the banks, it hasn’t quite lived up to that promise. As an investigation by CNN discovered:
Housing counselors, homeowners and consumer advocates tell endless stories of banks giving homeowners the runaround: declining apparently eligible applicants; pressuring them into loans they can't afford; placing homes in foreclosure while the owners are being considered for a modified loan; lenders telling homeowners to waive their legal rights, even though the program prohibits it; or banks telling homeowners that they have to be in default to qualify, which isn't true.
According to the Treasury Department's most recent report, only 230,000 of the up to 4 million eligible homeowners have new mortgages under the program.
We’ve all been sold this bill of goods about the good life we can achieve through our laborings. Yet in reality, it eludes most people. While some live exceedingly high on the hog, others struggle, while still holding on to the dream that if they just work hard enough, or make the right investment, somebody they’ll be elevated to those coveted higher echelons.
It’s pervasive, and even in the midst of this economic crunch, it’s still alive and well and infecting the next generation.
Yesterday I was listening to three of the little boys in my neighborhood talking about what they want to do when they grow up. Their conversation went something like this:
“I’m gonna go in the Air Force. Are you?”
”No, I’m not gonna go in the Air Force, because I don’t feel like dying.”
“I just want to be a regular guy and have a regular job and buy people all kinds of things and live on the mainland because they have way more stuff there.”
“That’s all you want to do?”
“Well, maybe be a billionaire, or a millionaire.”