Category Archives: Brooklyn Rail

DC Traffic Via Goggle Maps

Economy: Learning from the Beltway

Originally Published by The Brooklyn Rail in September 2002

 “If you can read this, thank a teacher.”

“Visualize World Peace.”

“Maryland Terps No.1! Maryland Terps No.1!”

I’m stuck in DC traffic.

The market is driving off a bridge. I only want to cross a bridge. I wish I could fix the economy. I wish I could just get in front of the guy who’s in front of me.

Damn it, I should’ve taken 295. No, 295 is always backed up so is 95, 395, 495, 66, Georgetown Road, Old Georgetown Road, New York Avenue, Connecticut Avenue, Massachusetts Avenue, not to mention Wisconsin and 29 and 270. Yeah, 270, for the love of all that’s holy, is bumper to bumper to bumper at 5:30 a.m. What are people thinking? DC commuters are like hogs to the slaughter, or former Enron employees applying for jobs at WorldCom.

“I’d rather be fishing.”

“I’d rather be sailing.”

“Fear this!”

“My other car is a Porsche”

I’d rather invest my entire 401 (k) Plan in Tyco that sit in DC traffic. Like many my age, I have only been investing since 1999, when we were told we had to, HAD TO,get in the market. And like many my age, since then I’ve been losing money,LOSING.

If all the bragging in the late ’90s was true (“I get stock options for reading my email!”), then why do I personally know a bunch of people who used to be worth a bundle on paper but who now can’t afford to buy me a beer. To which my friends at Adelphia say, buy the beer on credit and record it as income.

Here’s the only stock tip you need: When the analysts say invest, don’t; when the experts say it’s time to sell, buy. And when someone says you’ll save time driving, take the Metro.

Remember the old saying, “Don’t trust anyone over 30; don’t trust anyone with anMBA”? Doesn’t sound so crazy now, does it? There is more insider information than information. There are more kickbacks than a rodeo. Trust is eroding faster than a Peruvian hillside during a hurricane. So now, just when you think Wall Street has hit a wall, no, it keeps on going—driving down Main Street, smashing retirement plans like bugs on the windshield.

“How’s my driving? Call 800-EATSHIT.”

“I make wide turns.”

“They can have my gun when they pry it from my cold, dead fingers.”

If only Wall Street could have been moved onto the DC beltway in the fall of 1999, it would be STUCK LIKE I AM RIGHT NOW. And sometimes going nowhere is the best destination. For instance, when standing on the edge of the Hoover Dam, it is better to stay put than step forward, young grasshopper.

Oh yes, a slow and steady market would have had the experts and analysts screaming and whining like Ned Beatty in Deliverance.“You need to keep on investing.” “Now’s a good time to be in the market, a bad time to be out.” “You need to keep pissing up a rope.” Nevertheless, had we just stayed put, the DOWJones would be over 11K, NASDAQ would be worth twice as much as it is currently, and Rob Lowe would still be on West Wing.

But I want to move. Yes, I wish the market were still on a Clinton high, but I’d rather get in front of the bastard who just got in front of me. Damn him. Who does he think he is? ASSHOLE!

“Support Choice.”

“It’s a child not a choice.”

“I have children and I vote.”

“I have children and I vote, so they have choice.”

I’m tired of sitting here, reading bumpers, listening to the radio news, hearing yesterday’s political quotes—everyone so absolute, “Let me be perfectly clear.” “Make no mistake.” “There’s no question.” Translation: “The next thing you will hear will stray from the truth and possibly from sanity.”

But let ME be perfectly clear, DC traffic sucks, make no mistake. And there’s no question that I am stuck in a goddamn backup on the beltway between the “mixing bowl” (where 95, 495 and 395 merge) and the Wilson Bridge (which leads from Virginia to Maryland—the DC beltway isn’t actually in DC). It’s 6:36 a.m.  I’ve been for in this jam for 17 minutes and have gone 0.3 miles. That’s about 1.1 miles per hour.

“You do that Math.”

“My daughter is an Honor Student.”

“Proud Grandparent of a Dean’s List Kindergartner.”

“We honor all our students at JFK Junior High.”

I wonder if that is John F. Kennedy— Junior High, of John F. Kennedy Jr.— High.

Oh, ooh, oohh, the traffic is moving. Here we go, here we go. And here we stop. Well, it wouldn’t be called stop and go traffic if it didn’t.

“Northern Virginia Drivers Suck” (on a car with Virginia Tags).

But honestly, with the second worst traffic in the nation, Northern Virginia drivers do suck. Cutely abbreviated “NoVa,” and quite accurately too, since, “No va” is Spanish for “does not go,” NoVa drivers spend an average of 89 hours per year struck in stand-still traffic.

As a Northern Virginia driver, my only response is, “Screw you, drivers everywhere suck.” In Pennsylvania, Maryland drivers suck. In Oregon, California drivers suck. In Oklahoma, Texas drivers suck (well that one’s true).

In spite of this, when stuck in traffic, one has time to ponder philosophical commuting conundrums and road rage riddles: What’s the sound of one finger rising? If you’re stuck in traffic, and having a conversation on your cell phone about how you’re on your cell phone only because you’re stuck in traffic— are you really saying anything at all? Are bad drivers drawn only to the Honda Odyssey or is there something in the Modern-Mondo-Maxi-Mini-Van that attracted them, too? Why am I obsessed about getting in front of the guy who’s in front of me?

Why? I’ll tell you why. That bastard just cut in front of me for no other reason than to cut in front of me. BASTARD. YOU BASTARD! Oh, for the love of God, he’s got a Jesus fish on his bumper. And another that reads, “WWJD?” I don’t know what Jesus would do, but I’m fairly certain he wouldn’t be DRIVING A LEXUS LIKE ANASSHOLE!!!!

That’s it. The CEO oath: “I may be a little off balance, but if it gets me ahead of the other guy, well, that’s fantastic.”

And besides, everyone’s doing it.

“Gore/Lieberman” (faded)

“Nader/LaDuke” (really faded)

“Bush/Cheney” (shiny and new)

“Don’t mess with Texas” (eternal).

If the President really wanted to save the economy, he would sell bumper stickers. Yeah, that’s the solution. Forget war bonds. Bush should sell war-on-terrorism bumper stickers. “My other car is a Patriot Missile.” “Got Bombs?” And even a stenciled decal of a “bad-boy” taking a leak on Bin Laden’s head. Heck, judging from Bush’s recent past, he could even sell them to kids. Yeah that’s right, bumper stickers and a car wash on the White House lawn. Or maybe he could do it door-to-door, kind of like Little League stickers, except the President of the United States would be doing all the selling. Come on, who wouldn’t buy a lousy bumper sticker from the President?

I see a Darwin fish on the back of a car. It’s like a Jesus fish with feet. Two lanes to the right, a Darwin fish is eating a Jesus fish. Then two cars ahead on the left, on the bumper of a Corolla, a Jesus fish that reads “Truth” is eating a Darwin fish with feet.

I drift into thought. In a survival of the fittest test, if Jesus snuffs out Darwin, isn’t Darwin the winner? And yet somehow dead?

“My kid says the pledge of allegiance with Pride.”

“God Bless America.”

“God loves America.”

“One nation under Allah.”

Shit, we’re moving. Shit, we’ve stopped. That’s why they call it moving-and-stopped traffic.

Yes, make no mistake, DC traffic sucks. But it does so with patriotic pride. Before September 11, every day, every commute, I could guarantee that you would be cut off by someone blubbering, smoking, cell-phone-talking, soccer mom, office-park-dad, asshole in a oversized SUV. But since September 11, every day, every commute I can guarantee you that you will be cut off by someone blubbering, smoking, cell-phone-talking, soccer mom, office-park-dad, asshole in a oversized SUV with an American flag in the window.

“OBX” (Outer Banks)

“MV” (Martha’s Vineyard)

“NYC” (Self Explanatory)

“ASS” (Looking at the driver, also self explanatory, [although it really means Assateaque Island])

I can’t take much more of THAT BASTARD BEING IN FRONT OF ME! Hold on a sec … It looks like … Ahhh, here we go, 15, 2, 35, 45, we’re moving … That wasn’t so bad. Only 47 minutes to go 1.7 miles. But now it’s OK, I’m creeping along to another day. I’ll get in front of that bastard later. Right now it’s all good. All nice. All shit. Shit. Why don’t you stop again, YOU FREAKIN’ MORON!!

They said that building all these big roads would eliminate traffic delays, and yet statistics show that after a roadway is widened, the average commute is either unchanged or slower. Whatever, just GET OUT OF MY AMERICAN WAY.Everything I ever needed to know I’ve learned from bumper stickers.

“Mean People Suck.”

“Nice People Suck.”

“Practice Random Acts of Kindness.”

“Teach Tolerance.”

“Save a Human—Kill an Environmentalist.”

“Nuke an Unborn Gay Baby Whale for Jesus.”

So, remember … Invest early; invest often. Stay off the DC beltway. And, do everything you possibly can to get in front of the guy who got in front of you. That, after all, is the American Dream.

All the quotes are actual bumper stickers sighted inside the DC Beltway. When this went to press, the author was still stuck in traffic.

An Outstanding Article

Outstanding, fantastic, amazing, absolutely, excellent.

The current trend in everyday conversation is to use large words—grand, or rather, grandiose words. “Outstanding” is the new “good,” “amazing!” is the new “okay,” and “Huge!” is the new “big.”

I was in a restaurant in DC last weekend, and everything I asked for was “fantastic,” every request received the same enthusiastic reply: “Absolutely!”

Me: How’s the salmon?

Server: Fantastic!!

Me: Does it come with rice?

Server: Absolutely!!

Would a “good” and a “yes” have been sufficient? Absolutely!

Yesterday, I overheard this conversation at the so-called high-tech firm where I work:

Dude: Hey, dude.

Other Dude: Hey, dude.

Dude: Hey, dude, this is brilliant, Johnny put the picture of the beer bottle on his home page.

Other Dude: Outstanding. Very, very outstanding.

I have a pretty good mind for imagining all types of possibilities. I’ve been to an implausibly high number of websites and homepages. And I’ve seen all types of beer bottles. I cannot, however, imagine any picture of any beer bottle being outstanding, and definitely not very, very outstanding. I don’t even know what very, very outstanding means. It seems to be so far outstanding as to be back “in-sitting.” The last thing I had outstanding was a library book late fee.

For this big-big trend, I blame Starbucks, OldBananaNavyGap, and the S.U.V.Why the S.U.V? I just like to blame the S.U.V. for everything. Oddly enough, it truly can be blamed for everything. Outstanding. Here are machines that make no sense, cost too much, harm the very air we breathe, and yet we flock to them like junkies to the junk. In fact, when moths see other moths rush to the light of the flame only to burn themselves to death, they say, “look, they fly just like Americans to theS.U.V.” But we keep buying these machines that simply guzzle gas and then complain that gas is too expensive. Gas prices are outrageous. Those prices are mind-bogglingly despicable.

S.U.V.s have such names as the Denali, the Tundra, the Dakotas, the Sierras. They are named for the very things that they are killing with unregulated emissions. If I wanted to market a new S.U.V., I would make it enormously wasteful, tremendously dangerous, and have it get one mile to the gallon; then, I’d call it the Rainforest. You probably won’t ever need to drive to the top  of a 145-foot tall tree, but isn’t it nice to know that in a few years all the trees will be destroyed. Boy, Man, Dude, that’s very outstanding. The Rainforest S.U.V. is gonna sell like globally-warmed hotcakes.

The other way to name an S.U.V. is oversized, disproportionate, and inappropriate. Does one really lead an Expedition by going to the grocery store? Is it really a Path Finder if it’s following a 4-lane toll road? Is it really a Rodeo if it has air shocks and an anti-vibration suspension? How is it that an Xterra never touches the terra?

The S.U.V. is therefore partly to blame for the current fixation of needing everything to be bigger than it needs to be, and our obsession to make everything seem even bigger, better, more exciting, more invigorating, more electrifying, more elucidating than it ever could possibly be.

Starbucks is to blame, too, because Starbucks did away with the small sized drink. The smallest coffee you can order at a Starbucks is a Tall. Tall would seem to indicate that there was a short, medium, and Tall, with Tall being the largest. But at Starbucks, Tall is small. Grande, which is both Italian and Spanish for large, is medium.

Likewise, at your local 7-Eleven you cannot buy a small either, as your choices are Big Gulp, Super Big Gulp, and Extreme Big Gulp. Could there possibly ever be anything bigger than extreme? Absolutely.

OldBananaNavyGap also did away with the small. As in, you cannot buy anything from the self-proclaimed-hip-clothing-chain-stores that is a “small.” My father is an average-sized man. He hasn’t gained weight (or height, for that matter) for the past 30 years. Ergo, his size remains the same. But his tee-shirt size has gone from Small/Medium to Medium to Large to Extra Large. I was in the OldBananaNavyGap a few days ago and the guy with the headset running the khaki shack and tee-shirt rack said “We have all sizes man, extra large, extra-extra large, and extra-extra-extra large.

Wow, XXXLarge. That’s huge. That’s bigger than huge. That’s gigantic. That’s immensely mammoth. That’s massively, enormously gargantuan. But does it fit? Absolutely.

Upon reflection, the reason for all this colossal-speak is clear. We are bored with our fantastic wonderful lives. We want the next-next thing now. Now! We want, no, we need, the new-new things while it’s still new-new-new. And that new-new-new thing needs to be awesome. Absolutely electrifyingly incredibly stupendous. Man! Dude! Awesome!

We want others to think that we still care, that we can still be delighted, that we know what’s great and that that’s everything. When deep inside we know it can’t be. Everything can’t be great. Hence, we live in a world where extreme is ordinary, where radical is quotidian; exceptional is pedestrian. And to not be overly delighted by the mundane is appalling. It’s horrific. And, Dude, that’s Heinous.

I mean, come on, a beer bottle on a home page. Big deal? No, no big deal. But to admit that would be to admit the feebleness of our well-planned perfect, energized world. All we have is a beer bottle on a home page, a running joke that probably wasn’t funny the first time, a world where nothing shocks us, not because nothing is shocking but because its un-cool to be shocked, a world where all we can hope for is a chance to drive the New Dodge Ozone.

I’m no scientist and my methods of proof leave a little to be desired, or a lot, or an immensity. And to be honest, I guess I’d rather live in a world where people were overly excited than overly depressed. We all could feel like Jack Nicholson in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest trying to muster enthusiasm to watch the World Series from the drugged and depressed inmates. Instead, we’re more like an Albert Camus or a Franz Kafka on speed, slipping into a realm where reality loses its meaning because of the language of the very people who populate it. Myself included. Oh, categorically. Indubitably. Relentlessly.

But really, it’s all so fantastically unreal. It’s outrageous, man. I’m an average-sized guy but I wear an extra-large tee-shirt. I go into a burger joint, order a large or rather jumbo-sized burger and then biggie-size that, and then super-size that. I see cars too big to be on the street being replaced by cars that are too huge to be on the street. And all the while I hear everyone everywhere tell everyone everywhere how amazing it all is. Outstanding. Marvelous. Stellar. Fantastic.

Listen to the voices around you. Listen to your own voice. It’s not seeping in; it’s pervasive. There is nothing on the news that is good or bad; there are only things that are Wonderful, or Devastating, or in Crisis, or a Tragedy. Even the weather is going to be Beautiful, or Horrible, Torrential, Overwhelming. When’s the last time someone was overwhelmed by a rising barometer? Listen the next time that someone asks you comething and you agree, because when you could simply say “yes,” instead you will say, “Absolutely,” or “Without Doubt,” or “Oh, yeah, unquestionably—absolutely without doubt.”

Have people just forgotten what it’s like to be OK? Simply OK with what they have and who they are? Try this experiment: Do someone a favor, for no apparent reason. They will either be mad at you, I mean, furious (which is another phenomenon—unexplainable—see the Cuckoo’s Nest example above), or they will thank you as if you saved their baby from a burning building.

Them: Thank you so much. That was soooo nice. That was soooo wonderful, sooo amazing. Thank you soooo, soooo, soooo much.

You: Don’t mention it. It’s just a cup of coffee.

Them: It’s just amazing. This is outstanding. (Then they’ll turn their back, or answer their mobile phone.)

You: But…?

If everything is outstanding, if everything is the most amazing thing ever, is anything ever amazing at all? Absolutely.

Want to Save PBS? Make it Pay-Per-View

Poor Nina Totenberg. Her name has been attached to the most widely, albeit politely, spammed email ever about the NEA, NPR and PBS. I’m sure that if you have any liberal friends with email, you’ve gotten it 57 times already—it warns about the effort in Congress to end funding for the National Endowment for the Arts, National Public Radio and Public Television. It urges you into action (by signing and forwarding the email) and validates itself by citing a report on NPR by Nina Totenberg.

This missive has been circling since January 1995, when good old Newt Gingrich (remember him?) and his Contract on America crowd wanted to eliminate funding for the NEA. For years, Jesse Helms had been trying to stop artists like Robert Mapplethorpe, Andres Serrano, and Karen Finley from committing “immoral” acts with govm’nt money, as opposed to the morally adulterous Gingrich, et al., who get their federal funding via direct paycheck deposit.

Anyways, my calculations put the percentage of the NEA’s tiny budget that Ms. Finely received at 0.001875%. Damn her. My kid needs lunch money. Stop her before she performs again.

In 1995, Congress, led by the Gingrich who stole Christmas, gutted the NEA by 40% and ended all grants to individual artists, except to writers. The paltry remainder of the money goes to museums, but mostly to big institutions like the Kennedy Center and Lincoln Center. Can you imagine the outrage if they stop being subsidized? But that’s another story. My point is, stop forwarding me the email.

If the petitioner who sent it to you really cared, wouldn’t they know they were 5 years late? The NEA is not going to be shut down by some ultra-conservative reactionary group of artist haters. Those groups are too busy trying to name things after Reagan. The NEA budget is too small for anyone to care about at this point. I mean, the budget for military bands is bigger—and they only know three songs.

With nothing to do since Clinton can no longer be impeached (or can’t he?), a reactionary group conceivably could want artists to obsess about losing the NEA,and they could want liberals to dread losing NPR so much that these folks would be blind to other things—like, say, appropriating 200 billion dollars to an un-needed missile defense system, or, perhaps, naming the aforementioned system the National Endowment for the Failed Ronald Reagan Star Wars Initiative.

But back to the problem with NPR and PBS—public television is supported, in part, by viewers like you. And you, on average overwhelmingly provide little viewing and even less supporting. So the Federal Government has to fund it just to keep it on the air. Since we the American people don’t want our government to spend our tax dollars on anything socially beneficial, we need to find constructive ways to fund the system, in order to give it a future.

My answer is to make PBS Pay-Per-View.

Since the Federal Government controls the airwaves (the FCC is headed by Colin Powell’s son Michael), it conceivably can fully decide what goes on TV and what does not. The FCC could thus take the top money-grossing shows and “regulate” those shows, or make ‘em run on PBS Pay-Per-View. That way, as the name implies, viewers like you, would have to pay-per-view.

No more fund drives, no telethons, no more coffee mugs for pledges under 65 dollars. Just simple Pay-Per-View, uniting the atheistic artist to the God-fearing artist hater. No on is forced to watch it; no one is forced to pay. It could be called the Ronal Reagan National Pay-Per-View Public Television Initiative.

Nevertheless, even a Reaganite would admit that to control broadcasting wreaks of censorship. People shouldn’t be censored. We need our freedom. That’s what both First Amendment groups and the NEA are fighting for. I mean, television now provides people with things they need, like their news, their divorce court, their “Friends,” their gossip, and chance to be a millionaire by either answering TV-centric trivia or by not being voted off the set. That’s why in the Ronald Reagan National Pay-Per-View Public Television Initiative, there would be no censorship.

To be fair, the real cries of censorship come not from Tipper Gore, but from Hollywood itself. And those cries are not really about censorship; those cries are about money. No one in Hollywood likes NOT to be able to make more and more money. It’s as un-American as those red-Commie-artist bastards who are raping the US for 0.001875% of a next-to-nothing NEA budget.

If network executives, however, were allowed to make money on PBS, they would flock to it. There would be convertibles and SUVs lining the block outside the PBS.A cottage industry of transportable schmooze support would spring up. You’d need a whole new federal agency just to read “spec.” scripts.

All political disagreements would be solved on TV. Imagine, if you will, all the bi-partisan wounds that television could heal. Even the tough questions become easy. Should there be a federal death penalty? Put the executions on PBS Pay-Per-View and let the Neilsen ratings decide. That’s “Govern-utainment.” I tell you, if they had put the McVeigh execution on Pay-Per-View, the cash cow would have been milked.

It is simple demand side-economics. Currently, the government passes rules that in effect give control of the media to 4 companies who in turn put money in the pockets of politicians who then decide where the money goes. On the other hand,PBS Pay-Per-View puts the money directly back into the system, directly where it’s needed most—the development of new TV shows. Of course, the excess money might “trickle-up” to social programs like, say, maybe hiring at least one art and one music teacher per 2000 students, or something crazy like that. Politics are odd and difficult to predict. TV, though, always follows the money. Here are a few shows ready-made for the new Ronald Reagan National Public Television Initiative:

WHO WANTS TO BE A MILLIONAIRE PRESIDENT? The Supreme Court Justices, here known as the Supremes, sing and dance their way around the Constitution. They ask questions of what would appear to be a randomly selected participants (but are secretly all white male millionaires). If the millionaire gets all the questions wrong, he gets to buy the presidency (or the next available highest office).

THE FIRST AMENDMENT SHOW. This is classic Public Television. Anyone can get up and say anything. Anyone can stand up and do anything. You never know what’s up next, and it’s shown completely uncut and uncensored. Viewer discretion is advised, but not encouraged.

THE SECOND AMENDMENT SHOW. A three-hour long weekly drama starring Charlton Heston. Each week a guy who thinks he’s Moses gets tossed into a town of people who favor gun control. With slow-motion kick-boxing and long angry speeches into the camera, he convinces most to join his side. But there’s always one who gets challenged to meet the NRA president at 10 paces. The do-gooder is then shot while trying to remove her child safety lock.

SNAGGED BY AN ANGEL. Hosted by Pat Robertson, this program is like “COPS” meets “Battle of the Network Stars.” Each week a group of illegal border crossers are rounded up and matched with a daytime Emmy-nominated actor. Together they compete in the three-legged race, the tug-of-war, and the obstacle course. The winners get a green card and “extra” role on their favorite soap, and the losers are deported.

RIGHT HERE; RIGHT NOW. A nightly late night talk show hosted by House Majority Whip, “Hot Tub Tom” DeLay. H snaps the audience into shape with his Biblical insight and rope tricks. He explains why, after years of boozing, over-eating, chewing tobacco, and womanizing, he has the right to lead the religious right. Guest hosts include other moral leaders, Rush Limbaugh, New Gingrich, Marylin Manson, and the Church Lady.


  • THE STARR REPORT—The Director’s Cut.
  • NATIONAL FOREST—The Clear Cut.


  • THAT’S MY BUSH—Bought directly, as is, from Comedy Central.

As for the last one, I say, Hey, Mr. President, if they’re going to laugh at you, you might as well make them pay.

Put Your Money Where My Vote Is

originally published in the Brooklyn Rail

Lost in all the frenzy about who won the election was the fact that more money was spent on this campaign than any other in history. In the last week of it, Bush claimed to be receiving up to $2.2 million a day in contributions. Both Bush and Gore were accepting checks of over a million dollars. In sum, the funding added up to this: $430 million to the campaigns in soft money, $490 million in hard money.

Put Your Money Where My Vote IsI have an idea that will put the fun back in funding, but I’ll get there in a minute. Here’s how campaign financing works now:

The majority of campaign money comes from corporations and special interest groups and unions. The money is then spent, ostensibly, to get your vote. For the most part, the hard money is spent on the candidate’s tour, which costs, let’s say, a lot. First there are the buses, the planes, the trains, the cars, the advisers, the groupies, the food, the printing of backstage passes. Then there are the well-planned yet seemingly random hop-skip-and-jumps across the country, touching down in any “poll-approved” city or town in America. And there are the writers, the consultants and the stump speech. In turn, the soft money is spent on advertising the events: TV commercials, radio spots, newspaper ads, heck, even some newspaper articles, bulk mailings, etc. And don’t forget the slew of spin doctors at base camp, orchestrating the whole thing, letting everyone know what it all means.

In a possible future, in a smarter government, what I would like to see is this: a streamlined political system that takes all the money raised during the campaigns and puts it in my pocket.

And into your pocket, too. I mean, that’s what the average voter wants, right? Money in pocket. Imagine if we took all the political party “soft money,” and turned it into “party money,” into beer money. Or manicure money, or mobile phone money, or Frisbee money, or whatever. Now we’re talking.

Let’s look at the hard, cold numbers. Over $900 million were raised in this past presidential election. And over another $900 million for local races, 300 million for the NY Senate race alone. Let’s take a safe number of 2 billion dollars. Now, let’s rough it out to 276 million Americans, 200 million eligible and able to vote (still waiting for the 2000 census to get its numbers straight, or just finished). Factor in the commonly known “only 45% of those eligible to vote do vote.” So let’s see, 900 million divided by 45% of 200 million equals…Ah-ha. Under my plan, with each of us getting a fair split, every voting American would leave the polling booth with 100 dollars

Not bad for 15 minutes work.

And based on location, the sum could be even more. Floridians should get an extra 150 bucks; Californians, meantime, would pocket an additional 65 in cash; and this year, New York voters would make an extra 75 smackers.

Naturally, the more you vote the more you deserve. Casting a primary ballot ought to net $125. Meanwhile, the voting-obsessed—those off-year, primary voters—should make about 160 crisp ones just for showing up.

Surely this plan would edge us closer and closer to the more perfect union our forefathers imagined. After all, it would be their portraits in our pockets.

This system would turn the whole thing on its head. No longer would we hear the moan of “low voter turnout.” Instead, the concern would be too much voter turnout. So many people would come out to vote, every polling place would become West Palm Beach. Worse yet, high voter turnout might, God forbid, lower the average voter’s paycheck. And getting paid for voting, after all, is why we’re voting in the first place.

This is where America gets its strength. We turn voting over into the hands of what has made this country strong, the free market. Capitalism mixed with Democracy.

I mean, if all you had to do was pay someone to vote for your candidate, I mean, if that little “illegality” was erased, if special interest groups could simply hand you a hundred and get your vote, well, then my friends, you’d have a pocket full of Hamiltons. Yessir, you’d have money out the wazzoo, and people showing up on election day to make you breakfast in bed.

I mean, come on, a hundred dollars here and there…please? Do you know how much the auto industry paid year after year under Reagan’s watch to get regulations lifted so they could make and market the gas-guzzling Ford FlipOver with the peel-away tires? A whole lot more than you made voting for or against anyone, ever.

Moreover, in a pure free market system, if a product or service (e.g. selling apples, trading stocks, cleaning pools) is successful, others will enter the market and eventually a steady price will be set. But thanks to American ingenuity and greed, once the business of paying for a vote is successful (and it will be), the market will become saturated, and then over-saturated, then over-over-saturated. Just you remember though, that over-indulgence is the American way.

It’s a simple matter of supply and demand. There is demand for your vote, that demand will increase, and there is only a limited supply of possible votes. Your vote is therefore an inelastic commodity. Therefore, you can raise your price and always find someone to pay it. Under this plan, we, the voters, actually stay in control.

The more we care, the more we earn. Take this last election. Once the official “election” was over on November 7, the parties were no longer restricted by hard money contribution laws. The Bush campaign was pleading for minimum donations of at least 500% higher than were legally allowed before Florida cast the un-deciding vote. Meanwhile, Gore was raising money as fast as you could say, “I won the popular vote. I won the popular vote.” Now if they could just turn that money around to the voters, well, we’d be voting all the way through the midterm elections.

Paying for your vote erases social barriers. “The rich” won’t need the money and will eventually lose the desire to vote. Actually, it will be their money, invested in you, getting the vote they want so they can make more money. The rich, in short, will cater to the poor.

It’s a dream no crazier than the founders of the country actually founding a country. Me, I’m funding a country by funding its citizens. This is, after all, campaign FUNding reform.

I’d like to hear a presidential candidate in the near future lead the way with this inevitability. I’d like to hear a candidate say, “I’m no longer going to insult the American people by pleading your vote on an expensive campaign trip, on a commercial, on a bumper sticker that was paid for by my special interest groups. I’m not takin’ money from the corporations and the lobbyists. I’m gonna have them pay you.”

After that brave leader makes that honorable stand, then honest discussions can take place. Politics will drop from the list of things “not to talk about in polite conversation,” and be added to the list of sage financial planning.

“Oh, hey, Sara, are you voting this year?”

“Are you nuts, who wouldn’t? Read my political button.”

“‘Put your money where my vote is!’ That’s too perfect.”

“So how about you? Have you decided?”

“Well, I like the Democrat, they’re willing to give me 450 dollars, an “I hate hate crimes” tee-shirt, plus dinner at Red Lobster. But I’m leaning toward the Republican, ’cause I like the stock options, I like the convenience of voting at Wal-Mart, and I sure could use that new shotgun.”

“I know, I know.”

“You know what?”

“Voting is so much fun!!!”

It will be fun. It will be great. People will not argue or hate anymore. America will be the beautiful. The American People will be happy, free, and rich. And, finally, those do-gooder Nader-types will be out of the picture once and for all. I mean, Nader may be great for America, but he’s never gonna let Exxon slip you a twenty.