Lee Wochner: Writer. Director. Writing instructor. Thinker about things.


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Rotten for the win

Monday, October 20th, 2014

The news piece I’m about to link to is my favorite thing on the Internet right now. But first, a little background.

This time last year, comedian Russell Brand was encouraging people not to vote, partly because he never has, but largely, he claimed, because voting effects no change. Well, I can predict one change for sure: If you don’t vote your interests, the votes of other people, with interests opposed to yours, will count for more. Because there will be more of them. So let’s say you’re concerned about climate change and would like to see more research and funding, but you decide that your vote doesn’t count, so you don’t show up, and that all of your pals — the cultural elite who will even know who Russell Brand is — don’t show up either. Guess who will still be coming out. I think you see where this is going.

Anyway, here’s Brand’s infamous interview from last year:

Now, a year later and in an election season, an unlikely voice of tradition and reason has shown up to give Brand the finger. Yes, I speak of none other than Johnny Rotten. Mr. Rotten, whom some of us know as probably the most influential singer of the latter half of the 20th century, and who came to prominence in a band called The Sex Pistols (still an unbeatable band name), declaims that Russell Brand is a “bumhole,” and provides the public this seemingly rather un-punk-like advice: “Get smart, read as much as you can and find out who’s using you. I did. What’s wrong with you?”

Here’s the whole story. This makes me gloriously happy. The Sex Pistols were punks because of the failure of the establishment, just as Jonathan Swift was making a moralist point when he advised that the Irish end the famine by eating their own children. Mistaking The Sex Pistols and their ilk as stupid louts always reminds me of the line Joey Ramone shared about the Ramones, who right from the start were profitable and who always, always made money: “We’re dumb, but we’re not stupid.”

Strange allies

Friday, June 20th, 2014

It isn’t every day I wake up finding out that I agree with Rand Paul, but here he is, in today’s edition of  that bastion of liberalism the Wall Street Journal, explaining why the U.S. should get out and stay out of Iraq.

Two salient quotes. Here’s one:

In 1984, Reagan’s Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger developed the following criteria for war, primarily to avoid another Vietnam. His speech, “The Uses of Military Power,” boils down to this: The United States should not commit forces to combat unless the vital national interests of the U.S. or its allies are involved and only “with the clear intention of winning.” U.S. combat troops should be committed only with “clearly defined political and military objectives” and with the capacity to accomplish those objectives and with a “reasonable assurance” of the support of U.S. public opinion and Congress and only “as a last resort.”

Much of the rationale for going to war in 2003 did not measure up to the Weinberger Doctrine, and I opposed the Iraq war. I thought we needed to be more prudent about the weightiest decision a country can make. Like Reagan, I thought we should never be eager to go to war. And now, 11 years later, we are still dealing with the consequences.

And here’s the other:

Many of those clamoring for military action now are the same people who made every false assumption imaginable about the cost, challenge and purpose of the Iraq war. They have been so wrong for so long. Why should we listen to them again?

Indeed. Why?

Race to the bottom

Monday, February 10th, 2014

What’s the best way to get millions of more people working? Why, by dropping the minimum wage — to five bucks an hour.

I know, you wouldn’t have thought of that either. But this guy who wrote an op ed in today’s Wall Street Journal did.

Granted, that’s behind a paywall — a paywall operated by no one making $5/hour, I’m sure — so let me share a few of the key points:

A Minimum Wage That Will Work
There’s a way to create millions of jobs for people the stimulus didn’t help.

The president’s call for a $10.10 minimum wage applies the worn-out notion that higher wages create more jobs. Despite repeated minimum-wage increases over the years, we have seen a continued flight to the sidelines by people who are unable to find jobs because they don’t exist. Many jobs don’t exist because employers refuse to hire people at such wages. Isn’t it obvious that, with a higher wage, McDonald’s $1 menu, for example, would cost $3, few would buy it, and Mickey D would have less revenue and far fewer jobs?

As a volunteer interviewer of the poor at a religious charitable organization in southwest Florida, I have come to believe that the most effective step we can take to ameliorate poverty, kick-start job growth and invigorate hope in every social stratum is to experiment with a $5 minimum wage.

A $5 wage will put money and hope into the lives of our poor in immediate, powerful and enduring ways. For all its $4 trillion stimulus, mere nickels of quantitative-easing funding “trickled down” to where the poor reside. But a $5 minimum wage will “trickle up,” directly from employer to employed—creating millions of jobs rapidly and putting them within reach of huge numbers of the poor.

Three enormous labor pools of can benefit immediately. The most dramatic change among the poor that our charity serves right now is in the demographic sector of hardworking lower-middle-class families who are being squeezed into poverty by ever-increasing food, housing, transport, medical, drug, insurance and other costs they are unable to pay. These include:

• Intact low-income families, where three or four persons have the capacity and desire to work, but only one has a job, often at a near-minimum wage that typically generates about $15,000 a year. A $5 wage that opens full- or part-time jobs for the remaining three can change that single survival income into a $30,000-plus income stream to help produce a life of reasonable comfort and dignity.

• Single-parent families, often headed by an educated young woman with one or two infants who supports a live-in partner on an entry-level job income. He cannot find a job and her hours are reduced: As wage-earner, mother and caregiver, she is in extreme stress and they are in crisis. A job-fostering program that helps the partner find work can bring immediate and potentially long-term relief to these folks.

You’d think no one can value making $5 an hour. But for those in poverty, a primal need is immediate and reliable access to an income of one’s own. When one has nothing, anything becomes priceless. Watch the expression on the face of a poor person when you provide him or her with $2, $3 or $5 to put gas in a neighbor’s borrowed car so he can bring free groceries, clothing, linens, housewares or furnishings from our organization back home. You’ll see then the value of such a “trivial” wage.

I’ll say just this: If we want to slide back to being a pre-Colonial banana plantation of low-wage workers, this is the way to go. Germany is the powerhouse of the EU — and they aren’t paying anyone the equivalent of five bucks an hour. Henry Ford created the $5 workday almost a hundred years ago (over the outrage of his competitors) so that people could afford to buy a Ford. Creating an economy where no one can afford anything isn’t going to serve anyone.

The 100%

Friday, February 7th, 2014

I got a letter today from my Congressman. In it, he boasts that he is proud to have earned a 100% rating from a group of organizations that he enumerates. Most of these organizations I would probably agree with some or most of the time. But here’s my thought: I don’t 100% agree with anyone. Even myself. Because, after all, I have been known to change my mind.

F. Scott Fitzgerald said that “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.” I abide by that.

My suspicion is that that anyone who agrees 100% of the time with 13 different national organizations isn’t doing much thinking for himself.

Question for today

Monday, January 20th, 2014

So evidently after the big game yesterday, some pro football player mouthed off in a way that set social media ablaze. This kind of behavior makes me wonder, “When will these football players stop acting like they’re the governor of New Jersey ???”

Oil’s well that ends well

Friday, October 4th, 2013

The United States is the world’s largest energy consumer.

Which nation is the world’s largest energy producer?

If you said the U.S. — and who would have? — you’d be right.

Oh, how I wish that my father, who lost his business 40 years ago to the Arab oil embargo, had lived to see this day.

Leadership by example

Wednesday, October 2nd, 2013

Here’s one Congressman who doesn’t think he should get paid during a government shutdown, and what he’s doing about it.

I’ve been living in California for 25 years now. For many of those years, budgets were passed way past our constitutionally mandated drop-dead date for budget passage. So a few years ago, voters approved a measure that docks the pay of legislators until a budget is passed. Here’s what has happened every year since: we’ve had budgets passed, on time.

I have little doubt what would happen if we enacted that for Congress.

Plan of inaction

Monday, September 16th, 2013

Another shooting rampage today, this time in our nation’s Capitol. Ho hum. Oh well — guess there’s nothing to be done about any of this.

As for my Congressman, he’s providing “thoughts and prayers.” Because that has been working so well.

Disaster relief

Tuesday, August 27th, 2013

Here’s a petition I fully endorse, partly because it links two sorts of disasters in exactly the way they should be linked.

Comedians everywhere mourn

Thursday, August 22nd, 2013

Looks like San Diego Mayor Bob Filner is going to step down.