WHAT DOES MONEY SAY TO US?

By Paul M. Lewis

Not surprisingly, the decision to remove Andrew Jackson from the face of the new $20 bill has been controversial. There are those who continue to adulate Jackson. And although as a young man he could be rowdy, self-willed and quick to anger—he killed a man in a duel to defend his wife’s honor—he was also brave, self-made, and he championed everyday people, defending them, as a lawyer in court, against the elites of the day. He had an abiding hatred for the British, whom he fought against as a young teenager during the Revolutionary War, and by whom he was captured. While in captivity, an English officer ordered him to polish his boots; Jackson refused, and the soldier slashed the left side of Jackson’s face with a sword, leaving lifelong scars. Later, as an officer himself during the War of 1812, Jackson is reported to have fought bravely and was loved by his men.

That is one side of Jackson’s personality. The other side, a darker one, is that he was an owner of almost 150 slaves, whom he sometimes treated with extreme cruelty, and he had no love for American Indians. While president of the United States, he became famous, or infamous, for his terrible treatment of the Cherokee people. The Cherokee had lived for centuries in the southeastern portion of the United States, occupying much of what is now known as the state of Georgia. Although the history is a complex one, and the Cherokee were themselves undermined to an extent by their own political infighting, they were driven off their ancestral land, in no small part due to Jackson’s efforts, and ordered on a forced march to trek a thousand miles to the west to live on the southern Great Plains. This was an utterly alien land to them, where they had to make a home among other Indians whom many of the Cherokee themselves looked upon as “uncivilized.” Along the way on this exhausting march, as many as 4,000 died, and many more expired after having arrived in so-called Indian Territory, due to the disastrous effects of such an onerous and punishing journey. It has long been referred to as “The Trail of Tears.”

Again and again during the course of his presidency, Jackson proved his utter disdain for Indian peoples, in spite of the fact that he and his wife adopted an Indian child. As such, many American Indians today, perhaps the Cherokee in particular, detest his memory. They have long loathed the fact that the face of this man, who so tragically used and abused their ancestors, was on the front of one of the most commonly used bills in US currency. In the April 24, 2016 edition of the Los Angeles Times, Becky Hobbs, a contemporary member of the Cherokee Nation, says of her elders that they “wouldn’t even touch a $20 bill because they so despised Andrew Jackson.” To add insult to injury, the calamity of removal, as it was called, befell the Cherokee in large part because white men wanted what had been Cherokee land, so that they could use their black slaves to clear the land and plant cotton. And this in spite of the fact that the Cherokee had made many accommodations to white civilization and were convinced that their future, such as it was, lay in cooperation with, not opposition to, the Americans. Indeed, when forced off their land, they took the US government to the Supreme Court and won a judgment against the administration, which Jackson proceeded to ignore.

All this raises a number of questions related to the topic of who should be on the face of a country’s banknotes; what message ought to be put front and center about a nation? Take the European euro, as an example. Maybe by way of not offending anyone in so multinational, multicultural, and multilingual a political association of states as modern day Europe represents, no one individual appears on the euro. Instead, each of the seven bills (€5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200, and 500) features representations of generalized and stylized “European architectural monuments” on the obverse, and—tellingly, or maybe hopefully—bridges on the reverse. In China, not surprisingly, Chairman Mao’s face appears on many of the banknotes of the renbinmi, along with occasional pictures of various Han Chinese faces and depictions of other nationalities to be found within modern day China. Renbinmi, after all, means “the people’s currency.” The Russian ruble mostly shows famous monuments, such as St. Basil’s Cathedral, the Moscow Kremlin, as well as depictions of towns famous in Russian history and culture. The South African rand, again not surprisingly, depicts Nelson Mandela on the obverse of most bills, along with an assortment of animals native to the region, such as the lion and the water buffalo, on the reverse. But American bills have traditionally been mostly about men—white men specifically—from our storied past. Thus, Andrew Jackson on the face of the $20 bill. Countries, in other words, tend to place their heroes front and center, at least as long as the powers-that-be can agree that they are heroes (e.g. Vladimir Ilych Lenin was dropped from the Russian Ruble in 1992).

It’s perhaps an understatement to say that money means many things in the life, history, culture, and politics of a nation. Who, or what, appears on it is also fraught with meaning. In the form of bills or coins, money is used by every citizen of that country, and in the case of large and influential countries—none more so than the United States—by those living outside of the country, as well. It is handled by virtually every adult, and many children, in every country every day, often multiple times within a twenty-four hour period. As such, its look and feel sometimes may hardly register on the consciousness of those who use it. And yet, there is little doubt that most Americans can tell you who is on the one dollar bill, the five, the ten, and case in point, the twenty. Maybe especially the twenty, since almost everyone uses ATM machines these days, and they dispense only bills of that denomination. But what of the vaunted melting pot of the country? If only white men are depicted on currency, how does that in any way represent American diversity? Andrew Jackson’s picture has appeared on the $20 since 1928. Where are the women; where are black people, Latinos, Asians; and where is the depiction of the American Indian? Even the iconic “Indian head nickel” (a coin, not a banknote) is no longer issued by the US mint, and hasn’t been since 1938.

But that is about to change. The US Department of the Treasury has decided to remove Andrew Jackson from the obverse side of the $20 bill, putting him on the back instead, and replacing him with Harriet Tubman, an escaped slave, conductor on the Underground Railroad, and rescuer of countless slaves in the process—in other words, a true American hero. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, who spearheaded the effort, has said that the design will be released in 2020, although it is not clear how long after that the bill itself will come into use. Still, this is a huge change, and a major step forward, for a country whose idolization of all things white and male has been endemic.

When it does come to be, how will a black woman feel when she goes to her local ATM and sees a twenty dollar bill with the face of Harriet Tubman on it? How will Becky Hobbs, the Cherokee woman, feel when she no longer has to view Jackson’s despised face, at least on the front of the twenty? Will it actually make any difference to either of them, or to anyone else? I’m guessing that it will, since symbols, which register both consciously and unconsciously, really do mean something to people. When all you see around you in terms of the literal wealth of the nation are pictures of white men, what message does that send? It says that they have the power, the influence, the authority; it says they have mastery and control over others.

None of this is meant to suggest that all white people, men or women, have influence and authority. Just ask Donald Trump’s backers, or even Bernie Sanders’s, how much in control they feel. Still, white people are, at least for now, the majority in this country. But that too is changing fast. Whites currently represent about 62% of the US population. It is projected that they will lose that majority status within the next 30 years, and white children will be a minority by 2020. Here in California, whites are already a minority, at about 38% of the population, while Hispanic peoples are at 39%. Isn’t it, then, about time for somebody other than a white man to be represented on the face of US currency?

Trump has, of course, already declared himself against the idea of having an ex-slave black woman on the face of the $20 bill, claiming that it’s just another example of liberal overreach and political correctness. But that is what we have come to expect from the Donald. To him, political correctness is just another term for whatever he happens to be against.

The real question is why a country would not want to put its best face forward on the very thing that, literally, touches every citizen of that country (and which each of those citizens touches). Putting Harriet Tubman and others like her who have overcome monumental adversity and helped their fellow citizens in the process on the face of American currency is the right thing to do. They are among the best the country has produced, and they represent the immense richness of our social, cultural and racial heritage. For my money, it’s time we left more dubious and questionable historical figures behind and picked people whom all of us can actually look up to.

MONEY MAKES THE WORLD GO MAD

by Kevin

Money Screws Up Everything!

Sometimes I just hate money. It screws up everything. Any first grader can see that I was born to be an artist. So, of course, I’ve spent the last 22 years as a business consultant to Fortune 500 companies. It was my own fault that I didn’t make any art during most of those years, but I forgive myself. I’m not the only one who would say that if it were not for having to make money, they would be doing something else. People should do what they were born to do, shouldn’t they? Yes… but money screws up everything. For decades some of my more idealistic friends have been urging, “Give up that job! Follow your dream! You are an artist!” Well… I AM an artist, and I AM following my dream, but I don’t want to starve in the gutter. So I have worked full time at my job and then performed a second full time vocation “following my dream” as an artist.

Even pleasure is evaluated according to how much money you pay for the experience. If you go on an expensive cruise or spend time at a fancy resort, everyone assumes you had a wonderful time. If you stay at home and sit in your backyard garden, the same people feel sorry for you. Frankly, I’ve had some truly lousy times on cruises and at fancy resorts, and some of my best times in my own garden, so the price tag on a vacation is a false indicator of its value. Money does not equal fun.

Money madness takes on much more serious forms as well. To get a lot of money, or only what they perceive to be a lot of money, some people are willing to steal, murder, betray loved ones, enslave each other, demean and prostitute themselves and others, and do all manner of illegal, immoral, cruel, awful things. Money basically brings the worst out in people. Why does everyone love it so?

Money is making a mess of our society right now. The Occupy Movement has famously pointed out that the richest 1% of U.S. people holds more wealth than the other 99%. They are doing their best to hold onto more power than the lower 99% too. In fact they are attempting to destroy the middle class. Scranton, PA is broke and the mayor has announced that they are now going to pay their fire fighters and police force minimum wage! Hard working teachers, civil servants and salt-of-the-earth blue collar union members are under attack. As median household wealth drops, people are afraid that others are getting more than they do, and they resent their friends and neighbors having a retirement plan or health insurance or a decent hourly wage. Money envy yields dangerous results.

Meanwhile, the apparent Republican nominee for the presidency may be worth about a quarter billion dollars. Nobody knows, because a great deal of his wealth is hidden in offshore accounts all over the world. Like all his wealthy friends, Mitt pays less than 15% taxes on his income while you and I pay over 30%. I don’t begrudge him his wealth, unless it was ill-gotten, but I do think he should pay his fair share of taxes – as much as you and I pay. President Obama has generously proposed to extend the Bush tax cuts for all income up to $250,000. Even billionaires would get that much of a tax cut, and then the rest of their temporary Bush income tax break would be rolled back to pre-Bush levels. But Romney and the Republicans want the fat cat tax breaks to become permanent. Discrepancies in fairness, like this one, around money and taxes make everyone mad, including me. Money is power, and those who have it often prove capable of stacking the cards in their favor for getting even more.

There’s No Money in Heaven

I certainly hope there is no money in Heaven. One of the things I look forward to enthusiastically about graduating from this mudball and moving on to the next realm is getting rid of money! I cannot imagine money being part of Heaven, can you? Of course not. Money is “the root of all evil.” There couldn’t possibly be any money in Heaven. We won’t need to eat or worry about shelter, since we will be angels, sleeping on clouds or something. We won’t have to buy cars, since we will be able to fly, right? In Paradise we won’t need any possessions other than our harps and white robes, which I assume will be issued at the Pearly Gates. We won’t have to go shopping. We won’t need money! YAY!

It’s kind of amazing, actually, that more people have not tried to come up with alternatives to money here on earth, since it is such a total pain in the ass. Barter is probably the most common effort to get around money, but it isn’t very precise, and someone is always feeling cheated, as in “I think my assistance building your barn was worth more than this one old goat you gave me!” Communes have been an interesting effort to get away from money in my lifetime. Supposedly everyone works as hard as they can for the good of the community without receiving any money to show for it. But then somebody is always slipping into lazy freeloading, and that causes resentment. Besides, most people do want to have a few possessions of their own and a little bit of privacy.

In our society the conservatives loudly proclaim the supremacy of unregulated capitalism – not what I expect to find in Heaven. Even in the material world, capitalism is beginning to look a little shaky. The unfettered economy of extraction, exploitation and abuse of resources, nature and people is ruining societies and our environment. It is increasingly clear that the powerful wealthy elite 1% is succeeding in redistributing wealth from the middle and lower classes to the extremely wealthy. The Republicans are very open about wanting to shred any semblance of a security net, and get rid of all social programs – eventually even Medicare and Social Security – leaving the poor to die in the streets and the remnants of the middle class increasingly desperate and impoverished. So much for our national Christian values of feeding the poor and clothing the naked. They even seem to want to deprive all but the wealthiest families of educational opportunities, to make sure that they keep control of all the money and power. They certainly don’t want another president like Obama, because he believes in fair taxation, equal opportunity in education and work, and fair pay for work done.

It’s a battle royale on planet earth right now over money, whether you want to talk about the Arabian oil fields, or the European Union, or extreme Third World poverty, or the increasing polarization of the U.S. classes. So I guess we’ll have to wait for our halos, wings and harps before we can look forward to living without money. Capitalism will catapult us into Heaven more quickly, however.

Money Makes the World Go ‘Round

Here on earth we are caught in a veritable rat race for money, money, money! My 87-year-old dad points out that back in the 50s, when I was a kid, a good middle class life meant a small modest home with one car in the driveway, a washing machine, and a black and white TV set with three channels… maybe a radio and a stereo, too, if you could afford them. That was a good life. Now we think we are utterly deprived if we can’t have a gigantic house and a big garden shed full of lawn equipment, one car for each family member of driving age, plus some additional recreational vehicles, unlimited high speed Internet access, cable TV with hundreds of channels in almost every room, endless travel and entertainment, huge closets full of clothing, phones in every pocket, college educations for everyone, major retirement savings and more insurance than you can shake a stick at.

 Insurance… now there’s a money pit! I pay for auto insurance for three cars, home and fire insurance for two properties, phone line repair insurance, $500/month for my own health insurance and $1,000/year for professional liability insurance because I’m an independent contractor and an artist with a display room downtown, $2,250/year for disability insurance, lots of life insurance, and I probably have insurance for my insurance! I feel guilty because I don’t have dental insurance and long term care insurance. I know I’m irresponsible for not having those, but I just cannot afford anymore damn insurance! Give me a break! That’s another good thing about going to Heaven… You don’t have to buy insurance in Heaven. You’re already dead!

Money may make the world go ’round, but it makes my head spin! I hate the way people respect you more if you make a lot of money and suspect you of being subversive if you choose not to make as much money as you could, or not to display ostentatiously how much money you make. And if you ever sell your big house, pay off all your debts and radically downsize, you will find out that people resent you for dropping out of the money rat race. “How dare you reject the game! You can’t do that!”

Living With Less

Oh yes we can… we CAN live with less… a whole LOT less. It was a very short time ago that people lived with less than we can now imagine. When my father was a boy, his home had no electricity or running water or indoor plumbing. They weren’t terribly poor. Those things just hadn’t reached many of the rural areas yet. They worked the farm, milked the cows and tilled the fields by the rhythms of the rising and setting sun, the weather and the seasons. They lived close to the land and their animals. Forget the 50s with the one car, TV set, and washing machine. In my father’s youth there was virtually no technology except for a few gasoline engines and 19th Century mechanical devices. At that time he could not have imagined our smart cell phones, iPads and computers facilitating instant and constant communications and business dealings; our global jet travel; our video-game-like drone warfare; and all of our gadgetry, amenities and luxuries. A light bulb and an indoor toilet and plumbing were life-changing luxuries to him.

It is time to live more simply again. Our extraction and pollution economies and technologies are raping the planet and killing it as a livable home for plants, animals and humans. We are starting to see that all around us now. We had no winter this year. Colorado has burnt up. Thousands of heat records were shattered by the end of June. Millions of households had to survive temperatures over 100 degrees with very high humidity without any electricity for air conditioning for a week. What will August be like? We have to reverse Global Climate Change if we want to survive. We have to change how we live and be willing to live with much less. We have to become friends with the Earth and the plants and animals again. Their fate will be ours.

You Can’t Take It With You

Money is not the key. You can’t take it with you. It won’t offer you permanent happiness. Money applied intelligently might be able to improve conditions for all life on earth and for the environment, but so far we are applying it to commit suicide. So it’s not working. Money is not working for us.

But enough of this frivolity. Let’s get serious. I have bad news: We are all going to die. If we are lucky, we will get old first, and then die. I have made a personal study of the aging process. Growing old is about giving up things bit by bit until we finally have nothing and then we let go of the body. At that point we will leave the material world of money, utterly penniless, whether we had billions when we died or nothing at all. Death is the great equalizer. It enforces the ultimate equitable wealth distribution. You may have gotten the impression that s/he who dies with the most money and toys wins. But it ain’t true. Only the intangibles that have fed and defined our souls stay with us. Money, or “mammon,” will mean nothing to us at the moment of our graduation to the next realm.

I’ve never been a Bible thumper, but the words of Christ say it best. There is so much unchristian Christianity going around these days. So, don’t take my word for it… Listen to the source:

Matthew 6:19-33

19 Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: 20 But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: 21 For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

22 The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light. 23 But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness!

24 No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.

25 Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment? 26 Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they? 27 Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature? 28 And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: 29 And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith? 31 Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? 32 (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. 33 But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.