This I Believe

Charles - Liverpool, New York
Entered on August 29, 2006

August 15, 2006

Reflections of Fifty

Well today is my fiftieth birthday, a half a century, and I’m feeling kind of philosophical. This must be a milestone, because even Marlboro sent me a birthday card. What has my life been so far? August 15th 1956 seems so long ago. I do know that history is beginning to repeat itself. And all that I want to say about the past fifty years can’t be done in one letter to NPR. This letter will focus on the present and past oil crisis.

I graduated High School in 1974 when America first experienced raising gas prices. The tone of the country was one of anger. Howard Beal, the central character in the movie Network, expresses one of the best summarizations of that time.

“I don’t have to tell you things are bad. Everybody knows things are bad. It’s a depression. Everybody’s out of work or scared of losing their job. The dollar buys a nickel’s work, banks are going bust, shopkeepers keep a gun under the counter. Punks are running wild in the street and there’s nobody anywhere who seems to know what to do, and there’s no end to it. We know the air is unfit to breathe and our food is unfit to eat, and we sit watching our TV’s while some local newscaster tells us that today we had fifteen homicides and sixty-three violent crimes, as if that’s the way it’s supposed to be. We know things are bad – worse than bad. They’re crazy. It’s like everything everywhere is going crazy, so we don’t go out anymore. We sit in the house, and slowly the world we are living in is getting smaller, and all we say is, ‘Please, at least leave us alone in our living rooms. Let me have my toaster and my TV and my steel-belted radials and I won’t say anything. Just leave us alone.’ Well, I’m not gonna leave you alone. I want you to get mad! I don’t want you to protest. I don’t want you to riot – I don’t want you to write to your congressman because I wouldn’t know what to tell you to write. I don’t know what to do about the depression and the inflation and the Russians and the crime in the street. All I know is that first you’ve got to get mad. [shouting] You’ve got to say, ‘I’m a HUMAN BEING, Goddamnit! My life has VALUE!’ So I want you to get up now. I want all of you to get up out of your chairs. I want you to get up right now and go to the window. Open it, and stick your head out, and yell, ‘I’M AS MAD AS HELL, AND I’M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE!’”

All you have to do is substitute computers and Internet for TV and SUV’s for Steel belted radials, and Terrorists for Russians, it could be true today. The working middle class American was “Mad as hell” thirty years ago and has had no recourse throughout these intervening years. Jobs by the tens of thousands have been eliminated in the last three decades, replaced by lower paying service jobs. The manufacturing base of America is moving overseas. We are a country of exlucive consumerism and certainly, the cost of living has expanded exponentially.

My opinion is that we have done nothing over the past thirty years to make our dependence to fossil fuels any better.

In 1976, Jimmy Carter had just been elected president with the hopes that he could arrest, if not correct, the direction the country was going. Gas prices were rising – lines, odd/even days, were the norm. We also realized that we were also going to have to pay more to heat and cool our homes. Unemployment was at a record high throughout his term, and interest rates were also at record highs. History records this a short recession but if you were out of work for these years or paid 14% interest on your mortgage, you may feel differently.

What’s about to unfold for our next elected President will be a repeat of what happened to Jimmy? It will not matter if we elect a Republican or a Democrat. Employers will be forced to reduce overhead, and the easiest way is to reduce the workforce (Jobs). The Federal Reserve Bank will be forced to fend off inflation by increasing interest rates. We will pay more for all goods as the snowball begins to move again.

How can we as humanity continue to claim ourselves as intelligent life forms? In my fifty years only the rich got richer, (the top 5% of the population control 90% of the world’s wealth). After two children through college and one currently in, I have no savings. I have not seen a merit earned pay increase since 2003. My school and property taxes increase at a 30% on a yearly rate. The assessed value on my house keeps increasing as people spend outrageous prices for modest homes. This year alone my assessment went up 25 %. My 17 year old breaks his elbow skateboarding and, even with health insurance, my out of pocket costs are well over $4000.00. And don’t even talk to me about braces for teeth. I’m currently into my fifth child’s braces payment.

I know that we are leaving most of these great challenges to our children. I have faith, though, in the younger generation. Most of all the young people I meet have great problem solving skills however we are leaving them with a huge burden. The next generation will need to be higher educated, multi-lingual, and develop tolerance of all human life.

I do know that things can change for the better. We have the power of the vote. Apathy is what is keeping this power from truly bringing change and equity for all. It would be nice to see a voter turnout in the 80% instead of the usual 30% for the midterm elections. So this year be “Mad as Hell” and vote.

I know though that I have it good. I know that in many parts of America, hunger is part of many children’s lives. I know that people are losing sons and daughters in war. I am aware of the blessings I have, and the almighty has lead me to a great life. I am grateful for all the almighty has given me including the trails and disappointments. I’m listening everyday to the will of the almighty, knowing that my moment will be soon at hand. Today, on my birthday, I want to state that for the years of my life, “Peace on Earth” begins with me. I want bring to everyone’s mind that “Peace on Earth” is what all of humanity demands. I know that my life will end before I ever see “Peace on Earth, good will to Humanity.” This concept is not just for the holidays you know?