Friday, October 21, 2011


I was sitting in a Japanese restaurant with my friends slurping down noodles when the conversation turned to OCCUPY WALL STREET. My two friends and I agreed that the only way this movement will be taken seriously is if it either gets violent, or, and this would be the preferable solution, if they would hold the banks virtually hostage. This means mounting a viral action through the Internet of epic proportions that would force the bank executives to stop and listen.

I had been thinking about the country’s economic woes ever since our president was faced with this growing, financial meltdown crisis. Long before Congress voted to bail out AIG, before CEOs of Chrysler, and General Motors flew to the nation’s capital on their private jets to beg for money, before Fannie and Feddie, and the banks wallowed in their misery for having cheated homeowners, I had found the solution.

There are apx. 132 million households in the U.S. according to the most recent census. If you don’t know where I’m going with this, let me enlighten you. A true bailout should have consisted of dividing 2.6 trillion dollars among the 132 million American households. This would mean 20,000 dollars each. Most likely, even more if we eliminated NBA, baseball, and NFL players, top billing actors directors producers etc. I would definitely leave out politicians of course.

Imagine that. Imagine,  households adding more than 20,000 dollars to their income at a ridiculous loan rate just like the banks have (0.something?). The timing couldn’t be better. Jobs are scarce. People are struggling. Imagine…this amount is more than many families make in a year. Imagine…homes on the verge of foreclosure, rescued by moneys that didn’t go to the perpetrators, but rather to the victims. Many would have been able to pay off their loans or their homes, or at the very least lowered their mortgage rates. We might have avoided a housing market crash all together. Imagine…people putting this money in a savings account.  Instead of making the banks solvent, they would be transformed into actual service institutions. They would be dependent on us, rather than the other way around. Granted, the bank executives and CEOs would have to get by without big bonuses but I don’t think anyone that’s not an executive would care. Imagine…the post office wouldn’t go broke just yet, because these checks would be sent by mail to each household. Suddenly, they’d have more mail to deliver than in the last five years.

The advantages are endless. The added household cash would do what the bailout failed to achieve. With 20,000 dollars more in our pockets, I can speak for myself, and I think for many others when I say, we would go shopping.

However, we all know what really happened. Nothing. Nothing at all. Everything is as it was before the bailout. The housing market is in the toilet, the banks aren’t lending, the economy is at a stand still, no on is hiring. Just like before, CEOs and bankers have pulled their private jets out of the hanger for company weekend retreats in Antigua …on us.

And how about Hewlett Packard? Executives are whispering among themselves that this is the place to get hired. Mark Hurt, the previous CEO was escorted out of HP for sexual harassment. The sexual harassment paid off…literally. He left with 12 million in cash and 30 million in stocks. He was out, on to the next, new CEO of HP, Leo Apotheker. But fear not, he too was well compensated for being a failure and getting fired. He got the boot and 13 milion dollars...for 11 months on the job.

Now, I don’t know much about business, but I always thought that bonuses were for those who went beyond what is asked of them in their profession. In fact, Webster’s Dictionary gives these examples for the word ‘bonus:’

“As a bonus for good behavior you can stay up late” Well, we know this wasn’t Mark Hurt’s case, the good behavior part. Or,
“Staff members were given a bonus for finishing the project on schedule” Leo Apotheker didn’t finish anything. He got sacked.

So, what are the so-called bonuses?
Why don’t we call them by their real name. Blood Money. Blood money is made off the backs of others. It’s money they did nothing to earn and that they don’t deserve and shouldn’t get. Period.

The top 1% (anyone who makes over $250,000 a year) own 42% of the wealth. The vast majority of them work hard for their income. None of this is a problem. The problem is tightly related to the financial sector and their practices, namely Wall Street.

OCCUPY WALL STREET is a group of peace-loving people who want to make a statement and bring awareness to a variety of problems through guitar playing and lectures. Except for one thing. The people they’re trying to reach…they’re not listening. The cynicism permeating offices of upper management is stronger than ever. They intend to hold on to blood money as long as they can. In their smug way, executives live and breathe Gordon Gekko’s (Wall Street, 1987) words, “Greed is good.”

Like a virus, they need to be contained. They won’t do it themselves and government is unwilling to step in. We, the people, are feeding this virus. It should be up to us to remind them who’s really in charge. Imagine…one well thought out action plan from the people, and by the people mounted and executed thanks to social media and the Web.

Monday, October 10, 2011



Recently with the passing of the great Steve Jobs, I was jolted back to the times I faced death. In his eight-year battle with pancreatic cancer, Steve recalled the words he’d read when he was seventeen: “if you live each day as if it was your last, one day you’ll most certainly be right.” This stuck with him throughout his life, and in a small measure, contributed to his staggering career and success.  That was brilliant Steve Jobs.

Death, the very thing he thought about, I tried to forget. He lived each day as if it was his last, and I lived each day denying it was my last.  Alas…all of us can’t have deep philosophical genius like Steve. My savior was…Pride and Prejudice.

Pride and Prejudice, the BBC six-part mini series, first aired in 1995 on A&E network.
Opening credits: the most uplifting score by Carl Davis transported me to my happy place before the first scene had begun. I was already inclined to love what came next. It felt wonderful to laugh and cry with the Bennet family, especially the bold Elisabeth ‘Lizzy’ Bennet aka Jennifer Ehle (presently playing George Clooney’s wife in Ides Of March). From the couch where I lay, weak and listless, I saw myself skipping with Lizzy through the lush English countryside in Hertfordshire. I agreed with every word she spoke in that marvelously clear, yet colorful old English speech. When asked whether she plays an instrument she replies, “Aye, but very ill.”

Aye, I was very ill, and nay, I wasn’t playing. Only now, looking back, do I realize the long, dragged out nightmare of my condition. My second transplant was still three years off, but the symptoms of deterioration had already begun. Pride and Prejudice turned out to be a trusted and comforting escape.

I ignored knife-twisting pain in my liver and took pleasure watching beautiful scenes of pastoral bliss in the early nineteenth century. The Bennet girls delighted me with their antics; I felt as if I were part of the gossip. Forget ALT, AST, Alkaline Phosphatase, Creatinine and BUN (liver an kidney function values), more importantly…what?! Charlotte Lucas is marrying that buffoon Mr. Collins? The ridiculous Mr. Collins and over-the-top Mrs. Bennet kept me laughing while my spleen ached. Was my spleen really aching? Or was it laughter that made my stomach ache?

When an episode of Pride and Prejudice came on once a week, I climbed into the television, sat at the dinner table next to Lydia, the youngest and silliest of the Bennet sisters, and watched her make one childish mistake after the other. How could she? I asked when she took off with Mr. Whickam, that lying son-of-a-bitch. And of course there was Mr. Darcy, handsome, seriously handsome Colin Firth. I loved every moment Lizzy and he appeared on screen; he, the arrogant prick, and she, the no-nonsense, tell-it-like-it-is rubenesque, rosy cheeked, bulging breasted beauty; basically me, except for the rubenesque, rosy cheeked, bulging breast beauty part. Everything she said to Mr. Darcy she copied from me. I lived vicariously through healthy-looking Lizzy. Ouch! My stomach

I re-decorated in my mind the Bennet’s Longborn residence, but left Mr. Darcy’s magnificent chateau at Pemberley intact. The simplicity and innocence of life back then felt soothing: their days consisted of going from one ‘ball’ to the next, one dinner to the next, one rose branch to the next.

In 1996 Pride and Prejudice came out on DVD. I kept a copy next to my bed. As my body deteriorated, and working out at the gym wasn’t enough to stave off fear and depression, I watched P&P repeatedly. After that, the world was right again. I had regrouped; I’d found my way back to my center and my strength.  

Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice deals with deeper issues than the superficial level at which I chose to view it. It addresses everything from women’s rights, rebellious youth, pedophilia, class separation and class-consciousness, ignorance, and of course pride and prejudice.

In 2007, I underwent a partial knee replacement. I was walking with crutches towards my house when the phone rang. My coordinator at UCLA Medical Center (person who follows you after the transplant) was on the phone. He didn’t mince his words when he told me I was rejecting my second liver and had to go to the emergency room right away. Instead, I speed-dialed my doctor in Miami. Then I booked a flight, a red-eye, packed a few things and waited for my son, Daniel, to pick me up. While I waited, I elevated and iced my freshly operated knee, then popped the DVD of P&P into my computer and visited the Bennet’s…for six hours.

I’m convinced that any method you find to cope is a good one. For Steve Jobs, a sentence he had heard in his youth made something click. Pride and Prejudice was one of the tools I used when bad news kept coming. To this day, P&P is downloaded to my computer. Every now and then, I’ll watch it, because the Bennet’s and I, we’re family.